Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 2

 

I started reading photo blogs in 2008.

The curator Charlotte Cotton told me about a website she’d created at LACMA, called Words without Pictures.

She’d invited photo-world-types to participate, and as I perused their bios, I learned about some of the people who were blogging already.

Andy Adams’ Flak Photo was listed, and Jörg Colberg’s Conscientious came up as well.

So I started there, and through Jörg’s then-coveted blogroll, I began to follow certain other people, learning about their lives and art.

Blake Andrews had a blog back then, as did our Rob Haggart, and Bryan Formhals. (Brian Ulrich too.) It wasn’t just men, though, as I remember blogs by Elizabeth Fleming and Liz Kuball, among others.

I joined the club in 2009, with a little collaborative blog based in New Mexico called Flash Flood. (We had to change the name when a weirdo in Boston threatened to sue us.)

Regardless, it was a world of ideas and opinions, in a much longer form than the social media that would soon replace it. But blogs were cool enough that big players, like Time Magazine and the New York Times, felt compelled to get in on the game, and both of their offerings have since gone away.

We’re still here, though.

(And we have long memories.)

I mention this, because while I was standing in the middle of the open portfolio walk at Photolucida a few months ago, in the Portland Art Museum, I happened to see Andy Adams, of Flak Photo, talking to a guy who I soon realized was Blake Andrews.

As I approached and said Hello, (Andy and I go way back,) we formed a triangle of old-school, white-guy-photo-bloggers that had historical weight.

Immediately, I challenged Blake, (whom I’d never met,) for some of the difficult, troll-ish comments he used to leave here in the column, in the years when such ball-busting and strife were common.

He was surprised that I remembered, and even more surprised and offended that it was the first thing I brought up when we met.

I was mostly teasing, and laughing about it too, but at the same time, it was nostalgic. Ten years starts to feel like a long time, and the internet and the way we communicate are so different from the way they were.

The festivals have stuck around, in much the same format, though, and it’s because they work so well.

Photolucida, which might benefit from being biennial, really does take over part of the city, and has massive participation from locals and the out-of-towners who fly in. Between their association with the Portland Art Museum, and the legendary Blue Sky Gallery, having parties at such places makes the official events feel more special.

(And remember, I go to a lot of these.)

I think I ruffled Blake’s feathers, for reminding him of the all times he gave me grief back in the day, but I really was just joking around, and after reminding him of that, I excused myself.

As it happened, I saw a colleague who’d staked out a good spot to chill, and after we talked for an hour or so, he invited me to join him and another colleague at a Death Metal concert the next night.

A big part of my job lately has been to live through cool things so I can write about them, (like a proper travel writer,) so I immediately said yes, and was excited for a new opportunity.

Then I went home, went to bed, reviewed 12 portfolios the next day, went to a fun reviewer party at a local brew-pub, and then it was time to go.

The bar was called Dante’s, and yes, it was reminiscent of Hell. (But in a good way?) From the second we got within 100 feet of the place, I knew I was in for something new.

It was just so fucking loud.

My companions offered me ear plugs, which were beyond necessary, and I put them in with gusto.

Inside Dante’s.

Honestly, this entire sub-culture seemed to revolve around ear plugs, and not being able to hear shit, because I watched the ease with which the bouncers used hand signals, instead of talking.

I’m still not entirely sure if this was Death Metal or Hardcore, because a music-nerd friend insisted it was the latter.

I get that, as I could see a lot of California punk in the band’s movements. (Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers on meth.)

We were there to see “Integrity,” which came out of the Baltimore-DC 90’s hardcore scene, I was told, and the lead singer may now live in Belgium, and he may be a Satan Worshipper.

I’m not clear on the latter, (as I heard it both ways,) and the truth is, I spent a bunch of time on the patio, smoking weed, talking to people, and soaking up the difference.

Were there a lot of scary-looking, big, white-supremacist-type people?

Yes.
You bet there were.

And then, all of a sudden, the crowd parted like one of Moses’ tricks, and I saw the shaved-headed, scary-looking-white-guy-bouncers taking out a bunch of fighting, skin-head-looking dudes.

I turned to my colleague and said, “How much you want to bet those guys were white supremacists?”

“They were totally white supremacists,” he replied.

So a few minutes later, once things had calmed down, I asked one of the bouncers.

“No, they weren’t white supremacists,” he said. “They’re the guys that fight the white supremacists. This was two different gangs that fight white supremacists, and they don’t like each other.”

“Like Antifa?” I asked?

“No,” he said. “Not at all. Antifa is a whole different crowd.”

“Fair enough,” I said, and walked back to my companions.

At the end of the night, I bought a drink for the Integrity guitarist, and after that last shot, I started chatting up the security again.

One guy looked genuinely menacing, and ready to blow.

He was so fired up.

“I can’t believe those assholes came into my house and fucked with my guys. I can’t believe it! They should know better. I’ve got enough guns downstairs for each of my guys to have two a piece. I’m going to go out and find those fuckers. I know where they hang out. And I’m gonna fuck them up.”

At that point, I realized it might be a good time for me to leave.

So we did.

I promised you guys that weird shit happened in Portland, and now I hope you believe me.

But my main reason for being there was to view portfolios and share them with you here.

So let’s get to it.

The artists, as usual, are in no particular order, but these portfolios represent some of the Best Work I saw at Photolucida.

I’m going to start with Caren Winnall, because in my mind, she represents the best case scenario from what can come from the portfolio review process.

We first met at Filter in Chicago a few years ago, as she was beginning on her fine art photography adventure. Her work was fairly rudimentary, but she told me she’d had success in her first career in finance, and was dealing with grief from heavy loss.

I chose to focus on the few things that were working well in her images, (her use of the color red in particular,) and offered her as much positive reenforcement and empathy as I could.

From there, Caren did workshops, and studied with good people in the photo community, and built the equivalent of a graduate school education, a bit a time. (I believe we met one more time, as her work evolved, but my brain is too fried to be sure.)

Fast forward to April, and the same woman came to my table, showing me nakedly raw, honest, heartfelt self-portraits, made with a sharp lens, a high resolution camera, and significantly improved skills.

These images were so striking, for me, and her improvement so remarkable, that I’m pretty sure I teared up a bit. (I did, right Caren?) I’m certain you’ll love them.

To break that tension, next, we’ll look at Ira Wagner’s images, as he too was a late-in-life career shift artist. Ira went back to school and got his MFA at Hartford, so now he’s teaching in my old stomping grounds at Monmouth University in Long Branch, at the Jersey Shore.

(Ira, did you eat at Rockafellers yet?)

These photographs were made of twin houses in the greater Philly area, and represent a little sociological look into the human condition.

These double-row houses force people to share space, and the way they choose to utilize it differently is obviously visually engaging, but also allows us to think about our own personal taste and foibles.

Heather Binns had one of the most interesting personal narratives I heard, with respect to the origin of her project. Apparently, she moved to the Portland area a while back, and only then found that her Great-Grandmother had lived and died there.

She discovered that her ancestor was buried in a massive mausoleum, and went for a visit. Only then did she learn about the massive facility, in which so many people’s corpses were laid to rest, above ground. (It’s 8 floors, with 7 miles of corridors, and contains 70-75,000 dead people.)

So she began spending time there, photographing the oddity. Maybe we should have saved this one for a Halloween article, but of course the images are lovely, rather than creepy.

Now that I think about it, perhaps Sam Scoggins had the wildest story. Sam’s an Englishman, from Bristol, who was trained as a filmmaker, but now lives in Upstate New York.

A few years ago, he got turned on to a weirdo-bar scene in his local area, and thought it was interesting. When I asked him about how his work fit, in a world where insider visions are so heavily favored over outsider stories, he had quite the answer.

Apparently, a recent medical condition had changed his sexuality. His preferences were different, his self-identification was different, and he shared that this community had completely embraced him as one of their own, even if he didn’t look the same as they do.

Love it!

Cecilia Borgenstam was one of the photographers I alluded to, in earlier pieces, as she showed me these images shot in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Cecilia is Swedish, originally, is art school trained, and runs with the Richard Misrach crew. So when I first saw them, I kind of assumed that they were sculptural-type images, in which she’d manipulated the scene.

With the sad, almost Nordic light, I slowly began to wonder if they weren’t artful documents, which in fact they are. Given the homeless problem in the city, (of which I’ve written many times before,) these images reflect relics of people sleeping out, unexposed, living in this micro-version of nature in a now unaffordable city.

She admitted she’d gotten a hard time, as some folks believe you can’t photograph such things unless you’re homeless yourself. (But can still afford a camera?) I felt that the tragic tone of the pictures spoke volumes, and were more likely to create empathy in others. (And Cecilia stressed that whenever she sells work, a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Larkin Street Youth Services.)

We’ll end with Philip Sager, if for no other reason than it keeps the San Francisco connection alive. (And I’ll be there in a couple of weeks, so it’s on my mind at the moment.)

With all these insane personal narratives, perhaps Philip’s trumps them all, as like Caren and Ira, he too had a successful first career, (and still does,) as a cardiologist. Why is that so interesting, you may ask?

Because one night in the event, I heard and saw an ambulance come screaming up the Benson Hotel. I looked down from my window, and then thought, “It’s a huge hotel. What are the odds it’s someone I know?”

And then I went to bed.

Turns out, Ann Jastrab, a friend and colleague, had an allergic reaction, and almost died. Then, the hospital sent her home prematurely, she almost died again, and was only saved by Dr. Philip’s brave and timely intervention. (He’s one of Ann’s students.)

Crazy stuff.

As to the photographs, Philip also has built up his education, step by step, and showed me work of reflection images in SF. While it’s normally a trope I’d recommend avoiding, in a Post-Lee-Friedlander world, these are so lovely.

The way they capture the architecture and vibe of SF, (beautiful but with visible grit,) reminded me that it’s possible to breathe new life into almost any trope.

It’s just really hard to do.

See you next week!

 

Visiting London, Part 3

 

Part 1.  Re-visiting Tarantino

Chronological order can be boring.

Ever since “Reservoir Dogs,” which blew my mind as a youth, it’s been clear that non-linear narrative is the coolest.

(Harvey Keitel, why can’t there be more of you?)

 

As a result of that film’s success, we’re living in a different world, cinematically speaking, if not a different Universe.

It begs an important question: are we allowed to go see the new Quentin Tarantino movie?

Is it ethically appropriate?

QT came out and apologized/admitted that he knew about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory, (sorry, rapist) behavior.

Plus, his most-recent film, “The Hateful Eight” was by far his worst.

And I just remembered Uma Thurman also said Quentin Tarantino got her massively injured on “Kill Bill.”

(Pause.)

That settles it. I’m not going to see his new movie in the theater. Tarantino gets an only-for-free-on-Netflix-or-Amazon-Prime ban from now on.

Honestly, he was probably my favorite filmmaker, (as of two years ago,) and I once taught a class on cinematic tension by leading with the opening scene in “Inglorious Basterds.”

Wait a second.

Am I writing film criticism while introducing a travel piece?

Yes, I guess I am.

I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too. Which makes me a bit like Boris Johnson, according to this excellent recent profile in The New Yorker.

Boris reminds me of a hybrid of George W. Bush and Donald Trump, which is not a flattering comparison at all.

He is a good segue, though, as Boris used to be Mayor of London. And now I can jump right back into the city, and move this article along.

 

Part 2: Historical Paintings 

Just now, going through my iCloud, I was reminded that by pulling 18-hour-days for a week, I really did do a lot of cool stuff in London. We’ve got a full-travel column today, and we still won’t be halfway through the trip yet.

So let’s get on with it.

Friday morning, after the Martin Parr show, I went upstairs into the rest of the National Portrait Gallery.

There are lots of busts and paintings of old dead people in this museum, if I’m being honest, and some of them were really cool.

Of course I was personally invested in the section on the founding of the America, because how couldn’t I be?

I loved the bit about George Washington being “the son of a planter who became an inspirational leader of the American people.”

It was condescending in spirit, if accurate in fact.

Reading the text, in the context of the room, I suddenly understood “their” side of the history.

“Some of our people established a colony, and they got too big for their britches when we tried to tax them to pay for their own defense. We were too broke to defend our entire global empire, so we decided to keep India and cut the provincial ingrates loose.”

(Or something like that.)

And now, in 2019, the fact that George Washington was a slave-owner gets as much press as the fact that he founded our nation. (It is a hard fact to over-look.)

Nearby, “The Death of the Earl of Chatham,” by John Singleton Copley, was also magnificent. His dead gray pallor, compared to the pink cheeks of the dudes next to him, chills me here in New Mexico, six weeks later. (Or maybe I just need to turn off the fan?)

In a separate wing, where there were images of more-recent famous people, I liked the portrait of the Beatles next to one of the Stones. You can’t blame them for doing that, can you?

From there, I headed back out into the streets, (giving up the blessed free wifi,) and walked around a bit.

As I was heading down the road, off Leicester Square, a flyer caught my eye for a screening for a new Korean film. I was in the mood to be observant, so I went inside to see what the theater was about.

Short version: there was an art gallery inside the Korean Cultural Centre, with an exhibition featuring 19th Century-Style Korean Minhwa genre paintings, done mostly by contemporary artists.

After a long chat with the woman up front, (who was just on contract to sit there the length of the show,) and after reading the paperwork, we determined that perhaps one was vintage?

Really, though, it didn’t matter. The detail of some of the realistic ones was the same kind of time travel I’d just felt up the street at the NPG, but instead of being in 17th Century England, I was in 19th Century Korea.

And as for the funky animal paintings, dragons and tigers and magpies, if you don’t like these, you’re DEAD INSIDE.

DEAD INSIDE.

 








 

Part 3: The Eating tour of London

I lost a lot of weight in London.

I walked 60 miles, if my iPhone is to be believed, and given that I was mostly going on adrenaline and caffeine, (and maybe some gummy bears,) I didn’t eat often, but when I ate, I ate properly.

Friday morning, I ran out the door, coffee only, and never had much of a bite.

Eventually, I crossed the Thames, on my way to Tate Modern, and along the South bank of the river, came upon a street food corridor.

I gave it a good look, eyeing up options for the way back, as I was pretty sure I would be ready after my next art mission.

I noted there were four or five different countries’ versions of pita-wrapped-food.

Who had the best, I wondered?

There was someone from Greece, and Syria or was it Lebanon?, and somewhere else, and then the Afghan place.

Walking by, some Italian ladies offered me a taste of truffle sauce ravioli. Sure, why not?

What’s not to like?

An hour later, famished, I admit I took another free ravioli, walking the other way, knowing full well I wasn’t going to eat there.

Was that terrible of me? Sample abuse?

Walking back, it was clear there was a line at the Afghan place, 2 Lads Kitchen. That was enough for me.

I ordered the marinated chicken pita, noted that he had a few to make before mine, and got up close to watch him work. (Forgive me that I don’t remember his name, though I’m sure he told me.)

The chicken was marinated 24 hours in a yogurt-paste, like tandoori. And it was cooking slowly.

Slowly.

In a few minutes, he began to build one sandwich, then another. First, he put down yogurt, and fresh vegetables, and grilled potato.

His hands moved slowly. One thing at at time. One cut at a time.

The London bros waiting for their food were patient too.

Everyone was patient.

Because I was nice, I know I got extra chicken, and he put the pickled red chiles in my wrap, one at a time, where he told the other guys they could do it themselves.

I was surprised that the squeeze-bottle sauce, which looked like green chile sauce, was really a cilantro chutney. It was clear that Afghanistan’s proximity to India meant this food was hybridized, but I’ll tell you one thing, it was delicious.

And very fresh.

I did my work, and hit the city, but later in the day, having taken the tube to the Holloway Road in London, I went for a walk to stretch my legs, and got my stomach ready for the evening.

Hugo and I walked up the road to Sambal Shiok, a Malaysian joint he said was top of the charts great. We’d likely have to wait in line, but he said it would be worth it.

Luckily, we got in right away, but were wedged in tight, super-duper tight, between other people on either side. (It was a bit much, but we decided to go with the flow.)

The host and wait staff were English hipster, but Hugo said the owners and people in the kitchen were from Malaysia, so the food was authentic, and we’d be good to go.

I heard a lot of American English in London, much more than I remembered from previous visits, but maybe it’s because the exchange rate is so good at the moment? (Seriously. Get on that.)

As it happened, the young American woman sitting directly to our right was rather annoying, and we had a hard time tuning her out.

Luckily, the food came quickly.

We had poached shrimp, lychee and sambal lettuce cups that were as good as that sounds.

And fried chicken fingers with peanut sauce that managed to be crunchy, soft, moist and elegant at the same time. Just writing it, I don’t know how they defied physics.

Later, the chicken and tofu skin Laksa was rich, smoky, fish-sauce tasting. Simply perfect.

But we bailed before finishing it, and the restaurant didn’t have takeout boxes, (bad for the environment,) so we chose to leave it behind.

On we walked, on a huge tour of Islington, and Hugo kept telling me about this Mongol place he wanted to take me. Where the chefs hang out. 90’s Rock playing in the background.

It was started by an alumnus of Fergus Henderson’s place, St. John. (The nose to tail stuff.)

He said they have this special type of oven. In the Mongol place.

I had the fried artichokes, which I liked, but didn’t love, and Hugo had the squid ink bread with quail egg and cod roe. I tried it, and we agreed it was like Greek taramasalata.

It hurt my head trying to figure out how that was Mongol food. (Maybe the gummy bears didn’t help?)

It wasn’t until Sunday, walking through Hackney, that I figured out the oven in the restaurant was called a Mangal.

Not Mongol.

And the restaurant was called Black Axe Mangal, which now made sense.

It’s a Turkish oven, not Mongol.

(I’m normally bright, but clearly, I was slow off the line on this one.)

Hugo loved the food at Black Axe Mangal, but for me it was just pretty good.

Probably I was too full from the Malaysian joint, and if I’d ordered differently, I might have been happier.

Walking back after dinner.

 

Part 4: The Only New Mexican food in England

Now that I think about it, I barely ate anything on Saturday. (No wonder I food-crashed at Photo London.)

Somehow, though, when I got home to Hugo’s from the fair, I decided to make a proper New Mexican meal. (Or at least as proper as I could make it, under the circumstances.)

Cooking in Hugo’s kitchen.

Will I get arrested for admitting I brought dried chiles into the country? Is that even illegal?

I stashed some powdered and dried red and green chiles, though the latter are always best frozen, and it works in a pinch if you’re traveling. (That the green chiles are not really meant to be dried means that our food wasn’t purely authentic.)

But I did the best I could under the circumstances.

Chile Rubbed, Blackened Chicken

For the chicken, I used two good, large, skin-on chicken breasts that were delivered from the farm, along with some produce.

Coat each side with a healthy amount of salt and cracked black pepper.

In a separate bowl, throw together 4 kinds of chile, (or as many as you feel like,) oregano, thyme, and cumin.

Then coat on each side of the chicken, and let sit for 20-30 minutes. (Or up to over-night, depending on how long you have.)

Chile-rubbed chicken, resting

Next, mince an onion, shallot, or leek, and caramelize it in a cast iron pan, cooking it slowly, and salting it to taste.

Remove from pan.

After 20-30 minutes, add some more olive oil to the skillet,
and then sear the chicken on each side, removing when it’s golden brown, but NOT cooked though.

Let the chicken rest for a few minutes on a cutting board, then slice it into 1/2 inch pieces.

Add the onion/leek/shallot back to the pan, and then add the chicken back, and stir a few times until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the juice of one lime.

Toss the chicken around the skillet, and then remove to a platter.

Proper (or improvised) Green Chile Sauce

In one pan, sautée some minced garlic in olive oil until it lightly browns, and season with salt.

Then, in a good skillet/sauce pan make a roux with cold butter, flour and salt. (Turn them around in the pan so they don’t burn.)

When it’s mushy and brown, add your roasted, peeled and seeded New Mexico Green Chile. (It’s available all over NM, beginning in a few weeks, through October.)

Or maybe you have some in your freezer left over from last year?

If you have to do what I did at Hugo’s house, reconstitute dried NM green chile in warm water for 20 minutes, then drain it, and add salt and lemon or lime juice.

After adding the chile to the pan, add water, chicken or veggie stock, and salt, more lime juice, and the sautéed garlic into the pan as well.

Keep cooking and seasoning until it tastes good, first by bringing to a boil, and then simmering to cook it as long as you’d like.


I like to add more lime juice, a touch of sherry vinegar, and a dash of orange juice too. Fresh oregano is also great.

(At Hugo’s, I went with a more British, autumnal theme, and used apple juice and apple cider vinegar.)

We had everything fajita style, with shredded English Cheddar, fresh tortillas from Waitrose, the Green Chile sauce smothered over the top, and chips and home made guacamole on the side.

NM in England Guacamole

2 ripe avocados
A few cherry tomatoes, diced
One big garlic clove, minced
Lemon or Lime juice (preferably both)
Salt
Pepper
Cilantro

Feel free to use any part of the recipe this summer.

It’s a crowd pleaser.

See you next week!

Visiting London, Part 2: Photo London

 

Part 1. Why travel writing?

Staircase, outside Somerset House

 

I’m having a lot of fun with these articles.

Can you tell?

After 5 solid years of book reviews, I figured you were ready for something different in the column, and Rob agreed, so here we are.

At this point, I’d say a thank you is in order, to him and to you, because I’ve never gotten so much positive feedback, over a period of time, since I began the column.

Always, though, there’s a hater.

And I wouldn’t be an internet writer, born of and from the digi-verse, if I didn’t at least acknowledge the shade. (On Facebook, of all places.) Even better, I’ve got a story about confronting an old troll in person, in Portland, that I’ll share in an upcoming piece.

As to this (admittedly slight) criticism, a Facebook friend I don’t know asked when I’d be writing about photography and photo books again?

It’s only one person, and I don’t mean to over-invest in the critique, but I do have an answer to the question.

I’ll delve deeper into Photo London today, and I also saw the Martin Parr show, and an exhibition of British photojournalism at the OXO tower, put on by the British Press Photographers Association.

 

The Offprint Fair at Tate Modern was on the docket as well, where I presumed there would be gobs of photo-books. (Not exactly.)

The plain truth is that the photography I saw, in person, was far from the most interesting art I saw in London.

I know this is a photo blog, because I’ve been writing here for 9 years.

But this column has evolved, and as much photography as I discuss, (most of the year,) it’s important to note that the medium was not doing it for me, compared to other things I saw, ate, and experienced.

So pivoting to travel writing, here in Summer 2019, is as much about being honest about what is earth-shaking out there, IMO, as it is about keeping it fresh on a long-haul column. (And again, we’ll discuss photography today.)

The architecture in London, (yes, that history again,) is so beautiful that it’s hard to put into words. Or capture on screen.

Walking the Thames riverfront feels meta and actual at the same time, like people say about the Seine in Paris, only with more grit.

 

Just last night, watching the latest episode of Luther Season 5, (Idris Elba has to be the next Bond,) I paused the screen, recognizing I’d stood in that exact spot, on the Embankment, just across the street from Somerset House last month.

Except on screen, there was a dead body hanging from a noose, wearing a scary mask that replicated the face of a psycho killer.

(England goes dark, when it goes dark.)

I was there at Somerset House, in Central London, to visit Photo London on three consecutive days, and I used it as something of a hub. (Wifi, bathrooms, friends to talk to.)

Given that I had press access, which was free, (Thanks, Photo London,) it allowed me to have a much deeper and broader experience than I would have otherwise. (Though no free lecture tickets means I can’t write about them. Nudge, nudge.)

So let’s break it down by day, as each experience was so different.

 

Part 2: Thursday at Photo London

View at Somerset House

As I said last week, I bumped into almost no one the entire weekend.

Which means I was really able to key in on the work to a far-greater-degree than I did at AIPAD.

My first move, that Thursday, was to look around the pavilion, and see if any art attracted my interest. (At that point, I was still scanning the room a bit, for people, before giving up entirely.)

Definitely some cool work by Richard Mosse, Andreas Serrano, Paul Graham, and David Goldblatt. (But nothing I hadn’t seen before.)

I know I said these fairs are more for collectors and dealers than artists and journalists, but when I tab up all the things I saw at Photo London, the good, the bad, the interesting and the tacky, there was quite a lot on display.

Models with big cats? Ouch.

I was searching for inspiration on this trip, though, (Thanks, cousin Mike,) and I didn’t get much at Photo London.

After the pavilion, I went into the West Wing, looking for the Discovery section, which was tucked away in the labyrinth. (There was a photo book fair in the East Wing that was always hard to walk through, due to crowds.)

There were emerging galleries from all over Europe in Discovery, (located on a hidden Mezzanine that was always hard to find,) and a lot of weird, construction-based work. Nothing that made me crazy, though I did photograph a few things for you guys on a Saturday return.

One weird fact: there were human sized-niches in the Discovery section, and I saw two gallery workers emerge from them, as if they had been powered down, at a standing rest. (I guess they were.) Creepy and cool simultaneously.

Scott implored me to spend some time with the very-tall postcard exhibition, into which lots of artists had been invited, and he was right.

There was some strange, really odd work, (including preggo nudes,) and some of the groupings were really interesting.

Last thought for Thursday: I was fortunate to interview Stephen Shore during my 6 year run at the NYT Lens blog, (more on that later,) and he’s a super-nice guy. I’ve traded emails with him once or twice since.

So it’s hard to admit that Scott and I saw a show of his big iPhone work, blown up large, and it wasn’t very good. He told me, a few years ago, that his Instagram feed was his primary artistic medium these days.

I believe these photos derive from that phase, and I know that not every project can be a hit, nor one creative phase as fertile as another.

But if I were Mr. Shore, I’d switch it up again.

 

Part 3: Friday at Photo London

 

Bathroom View, Somerset House

My morning was packed, with things that will come up another time, but once I finally arrived at Photo London, (Wifi and Bathroom pit-stop) I mostly wanted to talk with my Portland buddy Gregory Eddi Jones, and meet his wife Stephanie.

I wanted to get out of there quickly, though, as Hugo and I were meant to meet up, so we could head back into town to see “The Warriors,” which was playing at a revival theater in Leicester Square.

But we got to talking, and before you know it, some guy came up and asked us if we wanted a chip for a free drink.

A negroni or something else with Campari.
(I forget.)

I’m all for a free drink, and like I said, we got to talking, so of course I got home too late for the movie.

It led to an eating tour of North London, though, which combined with my Afghan lunch was one to remember. (We’ll get there too.)

 

Part 4: Saturday at Photo London (AKA Holy Shit what a coincidence)

 

Richard photographing in front of the Pavilion

 

Here’s where things got interesting.

I met my dear friend Richard Bram, quite by accident, as his message popped up as soon as my phone was live again, when I arrived at Somerset House on Saturday afternoon. We had a date for Tuesday, (again, more to tell,) but Richard was there, and I was there, so we made a plan to meet up.

I was a bit of a grump, because I needed some water, and likely some food, but Richard was kind enough to let me unwind, and then he bought me a fresh squeezed grapefruit juice to help with the blood sugar.

(Thanks, buddy. What a mensch.)

Richard is one of my favorite people to look at art with, because he’s very smart, knows a lot, but also isn’t pushy with his opinions.

We breezed through some galleries with not-so-impressive stuff, and then, again in the West Wing, encountered a full, private gallery room filled with 19th Century gems.

Julia Margaret Cameron. Gustave Le Gray. Charles Negre.

The woman behind the counter, Paula Hershkowitz turned out to be the proprietor, and she said she ran a private dealership with her husband Robert. (In Sussex and London.)

That she was the only nice, interested dealer I met might have been because she was THAT nice, that I didn’t try hard enough to engage the others, or that it’s just the way these things go.

But after we ogled her wares for a while, she told us there was a big Roger Fenton show, in the bowels of the basement, that her gallery had arranged.

If we could find it.

It took a while, as we stumbled through the Discovery section again, and also bumped into the dumb Gavin Turk Instagram egg and the boring Stephen Shore show.

Then, thankfully, we found it.

And it was breathtaking, to stay the least.

(Not inspiring, though, because I’ve seen versions of this work many times before.)

Setting aside that standard, these were amazing photographs.

I think part of the genius, beyond the patina of age, is that the best 19th Century artists were experimenting with a truly new medium.

They were making it up as they went along, and that’s the juice I think photography lacks, these days.

It’s descriptive, and expressive, but it’s not radical in any way.

(Even that photo that just came out, of the dead Salvadoran Dad with his dead daughter clinging to his body, won’t really change anything, will it?)

Richard told me a story about one of the famous manor houses featured, and how the wall of glass was almost scandalously extravagant for the time.

Also, he recounted how a statue in one photograph had been moved, during a public infrastructure project, and how the affected courtyard’s Feng Shui was forever off.

We were chatting, enjoying ourselves immensely, when a guard came over and asked us to be quiet, as there was a talk going on in an adjacent gallery.

We had no idea about it, as Richard is my witness.

But sure enough, once we shut our traps and went to explore, we found it was a one-on-one discussion between Josh Haner, NYT Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, and Meaghan Looram, who is now the Director of Photography.

Right in front of me, stood the guy who saw “The Value of a Dollar” at a portfolio review in 2010, and offered to publish it in the New York Times Lens blog.

As a result, it went viral, and made my career.

And there he was, talking to the woman who I’m told decided to shut, or “hiatus” the New York Times Lens blog, 9 years later, thereby relieving me of my duties at the Gray Lady after 6 years and 50+ articles.

There they were.
Right in front of me.
Talking to each other.

I was stunned.

Richard asked me what was up, as I was clearly shaken, and if I wanted to talk about it. I suggested we keep our voices down, as it was sensitive information, and it likely wasn’t the right place to discuss it.

I was upset, as the whole affair was still fresh, and there are details I’ve not made public.

So we decided to get the Hell out of there, after we took a second to look at Josh’s photographs.

The truth is, he’s gotten a lot of credit for his global drone work, video in particular.

His drone videos are tight, for sure, but these landscape pictures, (which I know are supposed to make me care about climate change,) failed to move me, or seem distinctive in any way.

They’re too boring, and maybe no images can do this anymore anyway? (But sometimes they can. Ask Ed Burtynsky.)

As Richard and I were leaving, (because I was afraid I might let my emotions get the best of me,) who was standing in front of me on the stairway landing, looking me in the eye, but Whitney Richardson, who was the NYT Lens blog producer, halfway through my run.

The beginning, middle and end were all there in one room, and you’d have to be a proper idiot to miss the significance.

It was my chance to say goodbye to a phase in my life, and move on.

Whitney said she was now an event producer for the NYT, living in Islington, (where I was staying,) and that life was great. In fact, she’d produced the talk for Photo London.

That was her gig now.

It was a bit much, at the end of a very long day, (in which I missed that crucial train,) and I admitted to her I was hurt at how it went down, and that it seemed like too strange a coincidence for me to handle.

I didn’t want to express anger, nor be rude, so I wished her well, congratulated her on her new job, asked her to give my regards to Josh.

Then I left, shaking my head.

The truth is, I worked with 5 producers during my experience with Lens. They all get promoted to the good jobs, and those people make lots of money, with great benefits, and new opportunities.

They have a chain of command to go to, when things go wrong. There are union reps, and all sorts of systems in place.

But organizations like the New York Times, (or in this case, we’ll just say The New York Times,) also run on freelancers, who get paid next to nothing, have no benefits, no opportunities for advancement, and no chain of command.

As I’ve said before, my time working for the NYT benefitted me immensely, and I learned a lot.

I’m truly grateful.

But there was never a moment that I wasn’t aware of the two-tiered system. It was clear, again and again, that we were second class citizens.

The byline was the same, so to the outside world, I looked like one of them. (Before they took bylines off the home page.)

My byline said I worked for the New York Times.

But I was always disposable, with 1000 people lined up behind me to do the job for little pay.

Every time I tried to make a new connection, or ask for a new opportunity, I was told the same thing.

No.

So when I hear that blogs are closing there, political cartoons are disappearing, and perhaps other organizations are doing a better job in general, I’m not surprised.

My experience with the New York Times company was purely transactional, and they paid me more with cultural currency than hard cash.

(They could, so they did, because that’s how Capitalism works.)

And when they were done with me, I got not nary a thank you, nor even a “Good Job.”

I’m too classy to drop the details here, but it was very unpleasant.

So that’s how I wrapped up my Photo London experience.

Not fun, but highly cathartic.

(And again, those Roger Fentons.)

Thank you, Photo London, and I hope I can make it back next year. I know I got in for free, but I can honestly say the experience is worth whatever they’re charging.

Visiting London, Part 1

 

Part 1: The Departure

 

Do you believe in omens?

I’m not sure if I do, but when I got in the car to drive to Denver last month, on the first leg of my journey to London, I was feeling good.

A big adventure just up ahead, I thought.

Maybe it will even be smooth?

Two miles later, though, the tire pressure light came on in Jessie’s car. (She insisted I take it, as it has some assisted driving features that can help on mountain roads.)

Shit, I thought.
Just what I need.

I hope it’s not an omen.

I called her up and asked about it, and she reminded me it happened 10 days ago, and she’d gotten it fixed, supposedly.

Must be a slow leak.

Sorry, she said, but maybe get a little air in it on the way up.

I’d already forgotten my Benadryl to sleep on the plane, so that would make two stops, on top of the 4.5 hour drive.

(It was beginning to feel like a smooth trip might be just outside my grasp.)

But I bopped my head to some great hip hop music, driving across the Rockies, and even made a video to show Hugo, of the car moving through the Great Wild West while some good music ran in the background.

(You knew it was gonna be Old Town Road, right?)

By the North side of Pueblo, (the end of New Mexico-infused Colorado,) I knew it was time to stop in the not-so-aptly-named town of Eden.

Dusty and dry, this version of Eden.

With 18 wheelers coming at you faster-than-they-should-be-going, from every direction.

There was a truck stop there, I remembered, maybe a Loves, and surely they’d have a place to get air. I went inside to use the restroom, and buy some caffeinated drink to get quarters to use in the air machine.

That done, I drove the car from one parking spot to another, right next to the pressurized air, and got myself organized.

I pulled off each tire cap, and put them in a really obvious place, one per tire.

I took a deep breath.

Then I popped the quarters, and began testing my tires, quickly and efficiently, because you know that Damn machine is only gonna give you one minute of air, if you’re lucky.

Now, did I still manage to knock over a tire cap and have to go searching, just barely avoiding hands and knees?

Yes. Yes I did.

But it was only when I got everything together, started up the car, and began to drive away that I noticed there were people living in the car parked next to me.

They’d been in there the whole time.

Watching me, all dressed up for my big European adventure, dancing around the Subaru, quick and business-like, trying to make my plane.

The whole time, I was secretly thinking of the infused edibles I was about to buy down the hill at Strawberry Fields. (I ended up with rice crispy treats. They were delicious.)

All that while, some nameless people were in their car, not four feet away, living in a completely different America.

Right there at Loves.
In the middle of Eden.

 

Part 2. The arrival

 

I lost my watch and sunglasses at the security check in Denver, or much more likely they were stolen.

Either way, that was the bad thing that ended up happening, omen-wise.

It sucked, but then I was over it.

And Hugo handed me a nicer pair of sunglasses as soon as I walked in his door, in North London. (Plus, the watch was too fancy for me anyway.)

Other than getting jacked at the airport, I don’t think one bad thing happened to me the entire time I was in England. (Unless you count one crucially missed train connection, and a middle-of-the-night-silent-vomit excursion. But we’ll get to that.)

From the moment I arrived in Heathrow, I had the opposite of an omen. As I stood there in the security line, I noticed a pair of adult, identical twins in matching outfits, a very skinny seven foot tall white guy, an orthodox Jewish family, a wealthy Indian woman with a large and exposed midriff, and a Slavic woman wearing a tacky princess T-shirt.

It was all absurd, in a good way, and I thought, this trip is going to turn out well.

I just know it.

After clearing security, and learning the officer was a Chelsea fan, I walked the long journey in endless tunnels to get to the London Underground, which comes directly into the terminals. (Though two separate trains service the airport, so make sure you get on the right one when you head back at the end of your visit.)

The Piccadilly Line runs right into the city, and it just so happened that’s the line I needed to get to Holloway, in North London. So there was one last hour-plus train ride up ahead, but at least it would be direct.

The London public transportation system is lauded, and even New York Magazine just did a piece ogling London and Paris for the breath and variety of efficient options in their overall metropolitan areas.

In this case, I spent 50 pounds on an Oyster card, which covered every local train, (overground and underground,) and bus I took for 6 days. (And I spanked that system.)

It is easily the best transportation money I’ve spent in my life.

There wasn’t even much of an overground when I was last in London in 2013, I was told, and now it’s a thriving thing. They build and build their public infrastructure, over in London, and as an American living in car culture, I was supremely jealous.

The cranes were everywhere, too.

I recently speculated that perhaps all cool cities are undergoing a boom these days?

London certainly did its part to confirm the theory.

The city is going off, so let’s get into it.

 

Part 3. Visiting Photo London

 

Like any decent traveler who just slept on a plane, I wanted a nice hot shower once I got to Hugo’s. (After he’d handed me a coffee made with some non-dairy chocolate milk.)

Once clean, I sat down, and we caught up, as I hadn’t seen him since we hit up the Morgan Library together, and walked around New York, back in 2017.

It was a nice morning, and I was ready to stretch my legs, so it was time to head back to the underground to find Somerset House, where Photo London was being held.

I jumped off the train at Covent Garden, and as Hugo said to just roll down to the river, and I’d find it, that’s exactly what I determined to do.

I remember visiting the area 6 years ago, and that there was lots of shopping about. Back then, Russian was everywhere, and not surprisingly, it was all about Chinese tourism in 2019, and I’m not sure I heard any Russian at all.

There’s a big outdoor/indoor market and restaurant area there, and I saw my first Shake Shack, though it wouldn’t be the last. There was an Apple Store there too.

But true to the directions, I headed “down,” which in this case was South, and soon I found the sprawling Somerset House complex, which I was told was the first public building in London.

Apparently, it was once the Hall of Records, and the home of the Navy as well.

Shit has a long history in England, and it gets me every time. Plus, people do seem fond of recounting that history, (when they know it,) so the conversation seems to come up a lot.

Somerset House is built around a central courtyard, and a large-scale tent structure was constructed in the middle, to house the Photo London pavilion.

There was a pop up Negroni bar in the courtyard as well, and a cafe just for the event, but part of what makes the entire complex interesting is that there are cafes and tea houses among offices and galleries.

It’s a very cool and beautiful spot to hold a photography fair.

Hard to top.

I was afforded the opportunity of press access, and might possibly have been tipped off to the wifi codes, (unless you buy a local SIM card, your American phone only works with wifi,) so in the end I visited Photo London on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Given that we’re already at the end of this piece, I’ll write a direct review of the art viewing experience another time, as I took a ton of photos of the exhibitions, and they sprawled over multiple floors of this ancient, overwhelmingly big space.

Instead, I’ll wrap up with some general impressions.

When I was at AIPAD in New York, and Photolucida in Portland, I seemed to know almost everyone. Really, I was amazed at the degree to which I’ve encountered so much of the American photo community, between art and journalism.

Here, though, I knew almost nobody. Everywhere I went, each face was new. And I was totally anonymous.

To be clear, I’m not complaining.

Rather, it’s obvious that once you get outside your own country, even if its one as big and important as America, you realize the world is much, much bigger than you really consider on a daily basis.

It is also an art fair, and those are not really made for artists and journalists. Dealers are trying to meet and sell to collectors, and tourists can pay 30 pounds for a proper day of art viewing, coffee drinking, and lecture-attending.

So I checked it out, made some mental notes to look further as the weekend evolved, and set off to find my buddy, who was showing his work with Euqinom Gallery from San Francisco.

I had made plans to meet my friend scott b davis, and we go back a long ways. He was featured here on that Marfa trip, I’ve written many an article about his Medium Festival of Photography, and he’s teaching at my retreat this summer as well.

It was a nice counterbalance to being in a foreign country among strangers, so we left Photo London to grab a pizza at Franco Manca, which I now know is one of the big Italian chain successes that crushed Jaime Oliver’s restaurant business.

(It went into foreclosure while I was in town, but apparently Jamie himself is still worth half a billion dollars, so no worries on his end.)

I had a solid, fresh pizza Margherita, and scott got a special, with local organic vegetables. I think my pizza was 6 pounds, which is a screaming deal, and we had plenty of space and time.

After that, we chose to stretch our legs, and walk off the pizza, and found ourselves in nearby Trafalgar Square. I walked him into my favorite church, St Martin-in-the-Fields, where I heard a concert rehearsal 6 years ago that made me cry.

 

The National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery are there, next to each other, and both are free to enter. You know me by now, and great free art is one of my favorite things in the world, so off we went.

I was due at the NPG in the morning to hear Martin Parr speak about his show “Only Human,” and I’m going to review that one in a dedicated article later this summer.

Instead, we went into the National Gallery and wandered among some of the true masterpieces of Post-Renaissance painting.

Here an El Greco, there a Caravaggio.

Why, do you like this Rembrandt?
Yes, I do.

But this Velasquez is nice as well.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful it is to be able to do something like that. A casual visit to such a beautiful place, for free, chatting with a friend among the heights of human history.

There’s much more to the story, but I think we’re done for today.

I’ll share some highlights from the National Gallery with you here.

Last thought. If your museum still has a Sackler Room, it’s probably time to get on that. Those folks have caused too much misery. See you next week!

 

This Week in Photography Books: Peter Funch

 

Have you heard about the Uighurs?

In Xinjiang?

They’re people, of Muslim descent, who are getting royally screwed in China these days.

According to reports, as many as 1 million Uighurs are locked up in re-education camps, in Western China, where they’re forced to eat pork and renounce their God.

Happy times!

Seriously, as far as dark humor goes, when I was discussing the Uighur situation with friends in London, I joked that at least they weren’t getting discriminated against, really.

China will re-educate anybody!

(And of course I’m joking.)

The story got a bit of press last month, as I recall reading an editorial or two about the situation. In one article, (maybe in the Guardian?) it mentioned they were using surveillance tech, and digital tracking, to follow people by their routine.

Meaning, any deviation from your normal physical travel route, or usual digital activity, and they would have reason to be suspicious of you.

While Sartre suggested that Hell is other people, the Chinese are using tech to turn your regular routine into a form of prison, if not outright torture.

Welcome to 2019!

(Cue the creepy music. Maybe low-tone piano, with a lumbering pace?)

I’m thinking of this today, having just put down “42nd and Vanderbilt,” a superb book by Peter Funch, which came in last year from TBW Books. (But was published in 2017.)

I told you guys that in the midst of a crazy summer, filled with travel and adventure, there might come a time when I’d lean back on a book review, just to catch my breath.

To create an interval, of even a week, in which I can let my experiences settle into memories, and then decide which ones are worth sharing. (Because everything feels intense and fraught with meaning, when you’re on the road and in the moment.)

So a few minutes ago, I was on the floor stretching, when this book caught my eye on the shelf, still wrapped in plastic. Paul Schiek, a friend of the column, and publisher of TBW Books in Oakland, has been kind to send books over the years, and I haven’t had the chance to review them all.

This one, apparently, was shelved without being perused.
(My apologies.)

We’ll rectify the indignity today though, while also highlighting an amazing project that I’m glad to know about.

I mentioned previously that I’m coming out with my first book this year, and just wrote a statement about how I’m always going on about context, when I write for you.

What do you need to know to understand a book?

Well, this one cuts to the heart of it like the evil dude in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (Sorry for conjuring that visual.)

The book opens with a short statement: “Between 8:30 am and 9:30 am, from 2007 to 2016, at the southern corner of 42nd St and Vanderbilt Avenue in New York City.”

In other words, you don’t need to know anything more than that.

When I first hear 42nd St, I think Times Square.
Midtown.

All the tourist hustle.

But immediately, it becomes clear this is not a story about tourists. Given that I wrote last month about NYC becoming a global city for outsiders, this book presents a series of images that is as old school as it gets.

Shit, it makes me think of Old New York in the best possible way.

Because right away, you notice that people are repeating. With ever so slight differences.

Clothing choice.
Wind in the hair.

These people are on their morning commute!

Commuters!

I love it.

But where?

New York City is famous for a grid, and the Avenues along 42nd Street are numbered.

Where’s Vanderbilt?

I thought about it for a minute or two, and though it should have been obvious, it was not. So finally I opened up Apple Maps. (I’ve been breaking my no-research rule more often lately.)

Of course, Vanderbilt runs alongside Grand Central Station!

Not only are these people commuters, they might not even be New Yorkers. Because the photographer brilliantly stationed himself right next to the biggest transport hub in the city.

(I didn’t know Vanderbilt, because as a Jersey Boy, I’ve always used Penn Station. The trains from NJ don’t go to Grand Central.)

These pictures are so damn good.

The book is like Where’s Waldo mixed with William Christenberry, with a touch of Paul Graham thrown in for good measure.

Just fantastic.

And perfect for an early summer’s day.

I wonder if the streets of New York smell like garbage yet?

Bottom Line: Amazing, conceptual NYC street portraits that play with time

To purchase “42nd and Vanderbilt” click here

 

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 1

 

Part I

My father always said, American politics acts like a pendulum.

It swings to the left and right, at its edges, but seems to course correct before going too far in either direction.

In general, I agree with him.

But my Dad also said that Trump would be removed from office within his first year. (He was sure of it.) As did my brilliant, former graduate-school professor, and he has a PhD.

Each went so far as to pick out a 3 month window during which Trump would go down in 2017.

Honestly, though, I never believed it.

Not for a second.

I countered that no matter how guilty Trump was, no matter how obvious the crime, Republicans would always have to fold en masse for Trump to go down, and I didn’t see it happening.

No matter what.

“If the Republicans won’t turn on him, they can’t convict him in the Senate,” I said, “which means he can do whatever the fuck he pleases.”

And here we are, in 2019.

So it’s no surprise that Bob Mueller comes out and says that he didn’t charge the President because he didn’t have the constitutional authority. And then he drops, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation…”

It’s been noted that that Mueller said, “when,” not “if,” while beseeching everyone to take him at his literal word.

So we wonder how much further it can go, this erosion of our checks and balances?

Do the Republicans want to control everything forever?

One party rule?

Now Trump is again “joking” about serving 4 or 5 terms.

At what point do we take that seriously?

Countries that support one-party rule are not democracies, nor republics. They’re autocracies, or communist entities, or totalitarian states.

A healthy America needs two healthy political parties.

These days, it’s hard not to wonder if our system will withstand the Trump years?

 

Part II

I stayed with my buddy Hugo in London last week. (He made appearances in the column in 2012 and ’13.) Hugo will turn up in the London stories, for sure, though his black Porsche has been sold, I’m afraid.

“Hugo at the bus stop”

As soon as we got to discussing American politics, (Hugo grew up in NYC, but has lived in England since 2007,) he just kept talking about “Divide and Conquer,” shaking his head.

Like, could you Americans be so stupid as to fall for this shit again?

He and I commiserated, as when we were at Pratt, in the early aughts, Post-Modern theory was all the rage then as well. Identity politics were a part of it, but back then, it was more Derrida-heavy.

Like, “Nobody can say anything about anything, because all language is a loaded construct. Every single word can be deconstructed, so nothing means anything in the end.”

It depends upon your definition of the word “is.”
That sort of thing.

These days, it’s been taken a step further, to become: “Nobody can say anything about anything that is outside their personal construct of: gender, class, social status, sexual orientation, race, age, etc.”

Strategically, “Divide and Conquer” works, which is why some rich folks dispatched Steve Bannon over to Europe to organize the far right groups, and simultaneously attack European Unity.

(If you’ve been reading the news, it’s been working. Beyond Italy and Germany and France, even in England, Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party is thriving.)

But in the American left, and especially in media and the arts, identity politics taken to this extreme is literally succumbing to a divide and conquer strategy.

I’ve written about this stay-in-your-lane-ism for several years, and was perhaps early in identifying it. So let me be the first to say, I think the wave may be cresting.

These ideas were so out there, so front-and-center at Photolucida last month, I expect that we might see a restoration of balance, with respect to any room for concepts of Universalism, or General Humanism, within the photo community.

(Has the shark been jumped?)

At the reviews, multiple photographers showed up at my table near tears, or having recently been in tears, as their work had been attacked for being improper, based upon who they were.

I really don’t know how many people I met who told me their photographs had been considered controversial because they weren’t of a certain ethnic or racial group, or class, so they should not be commenting outside their lane.

Lots of hurt feelings, that’s for sure.

 

Part III

Why ask these questions?
Why go here today?

Well, we’ve found ourselves in Part 1 of The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida, but we’ve done it in a round-about way.

Rather than do a book review, or show you jpegs of portfolios, we’re going to take a short look at three books that ended up in my bag during the week.

The first is “Across the Omo Valley: The Ethnic Groups of Southern Ethiopia,” which I was given during a review by Kelly Fogel.

Now, Kelly was obviously white, and seemed to be a young Jewish-American woman from LA. (She later added that she’s blonde.) Kelly sat down to show me photographs from Africa that seemed to hybridize fashion and art into hip, stylish documents.

I liked the photographs right away, on merit, but could see where the problem was.

Which Kelly quickly confirmed.

She said something along the lines of “What is a white, blonde female photographer from California allowed to shoot these days?”

It’s a paraphrase, yes, but I heard some version of that sentiment again and again. In each case, I assured the photographer that I was open-minded, and willing to consider their work in the context they presented to me.

(I got a lot of smiles of relief each time I said that.)

Ideas flow in cycles, just like politics, and life itself.

I agreed to show Kelly’s work here on APE immediately, but it wasn’t until this morning that I re-discovered she’d slipped me a slim book, and I’m happy to share it with you here. The text pages confirm that Kelly works with organizations, and teaches teens.

 

Now that I think about it, both of the other books I’ll show today were slipped to me by friends, one old and one new, and they both made it into the same little bag I raided this morning, looking for a story to write.

First off: “Days on the Mountain,” by Ken Rosenthal, published by Dark Spring Press in Tucson.

Ken, like Hugo, has made appearances in the column before, as he was with me on that legendary, (and scary as Hell) meth-town-pit-stop in Van Horn, Texas on the way to Marfa.

We’ve been doing these stories here for 9 years now, and I’m lucky to have had friends who pop up now and again over time.

With Ken, though, I haven’t seen much of him the last few years. You’ll have to trust me that he’s been dealing with some really difficult family issues. The kind of shit you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

He’s also a guy I helped get out of a mugging in Tucson back in 2010, and he recently had his next-door-neighbor accidentally shoot a shotgun shell through his wall, right above where his young daughter sleeps.

In other words, luck is not always kind to Ken.

But he’s also a very successful artist with gallery representation, exhibitions, books, you name it.

All the trappings of success.

So when he gave this book to me, I teared up as I flipped through it.

The work was just so different from what I was used to seeing from him. It’s raw, and personal in a way that stripped back artifice.

It’s as close as a diary-for-sanity as I’ve seen, (given that I know him,) and the beauty of the book felt sweeter to me, knowing it was well-earned.

Bugs and bats and bees and trees.
Nature and forest and summer in Washington as salvation.

Not a bad way to kick off the post-Memorial Day weekend summer season.

 

But I like to keep it real, so rather than end typically happy, like Hollywood would, I’m going to finish up with a Hollywood story, but not the one you’re expecting.

On the first morning of the festival, at the first reviewer breakfast, I had a date to meet and chat with Alison Nordstrom, and she kept a seat open for me as a result.

Next to my reserved seat was a young guy I hadn’t met yet: Gregory Eddi Jones, an artist, writer, educator and publisher based in Philly.

He got his MFA at the Visual Studies Workshop, and was a part of a Rochester-NY-educated crew that I’m just learning exists in the wide Photo Land.

Greg and I hung out a few times, and I got to see some of his new work, which is currently being exhibited at the Foam Talent exhibition in London.

In Portland, on the last morning of the event, just as people were departing, Greg gave me a copy of his 2014 book “Another Twenty-Six Gas Stations.”

(Pause.)

OK. Did you have your judgmental thoughts yet?

About how nobody can possibly bring anything new to Ed Ruscha’s classic-LA concept?

Are you done?

Because I had the thought, and I saw it flash before a few peoples’ eyes when I described the book to them too.

But…these are screenshots from gas station surveillance video feeds broadcast online.

The mayhem and horror predate the Trump era, obviously, because the project is 5 years old. Yet it feels so NOW, so of the moment, so “Cops” on Molly laced with fentanyl.

I love it, and I bet you will too.

See you next week.

Impressions from Portlandia

 

It took me 23 hours to get home from London yesterday.

No lie.

It was a walk to a train to a walk to a plane to a walk to a plane to a walk to a train to a walk to a 4.5 hour car ride.

And it was so, so, worth it.

So very, very worth it. (Trust me, the stories will be crazy!)

But London will have to wait for a bit, as I’ll likely intersperse some of those articles with the pieces we’ll be doing soon about the Best Work I Saw at the Photolucida Festival in Portland.

Not today, though.

Today, rather than drop you into London, May 2019, where about 30% of my brain still seems to reside, I want to think back, just a few weeks, to my odyssey of a trip in Portland.

Seeing the East Coast, West Coast, and then Europe in 6 six weeks is not really something I could have planned.

It just happened.

Each city has its own particular flavor, its special brand of cool, and while London may be my favorite global megapolis at the moment, Portland is a proper little, boutique city in comparison.

I flew in to Portland from Albuquerque, (via Phoenix,) and almost immediately I knew I was “there.”

Walk out the offramp, there was a Columbia outerwear store, a Pendleton blanket stand, an “Only in Oregon” wine shop, and so many cute locally owned restaurants you could blind-fold yourself, spin around, point at any of them, and it would likely be good.

(Vietnamese? Thai? Pizza? Deli? And so on.)

Returning home, I noticed a sign that said that the law required all stores to charge the same prices in the airport as they do in-town. So my amazing Pad See Yew noodles were only 8 bucks, and I saw bottles of water for sale for $1.25.

It’s the kind of thing they might mock on “Portlandia,” but really, what’s not to like?

Mostly, I think that’s my take away from Portland.

What’s not to like?

Separate your preconceived notions about twee, or meet-cutes, or whatever Carrie and Fred might have mocked, and I thought Portland was rad in just about every way.

I admit, though, I was a bit disoriented at first. Coming into the city from the airport.

Like any good city should, you can grab a train right there, (light rail in this case,) that will bring you right into the heart of town for something like $2.50, in 45 or 50 minutes.

All the way along, through, we were in tight corridors. And everything was green and lush!

Tree canopy

Train tracks cut into ravines. Or buildings pressed in on either side.

Always pressing.

I couldn’t get a sense of where I was?

It felt like the route was pinched in.
Claustrophobic.

It was weird, which was a word I heard like 573 times during the week I was in Portland.

Weird, weird, weird. (Fedora stores and steam-punk style and Satan bars.)

By the time the train found the city proper, the buildings had crept even closer, and the entire train corridor and street were seemingly 40 feet wide.

I could barely breathe.

If I were Rodney Dangerfield, and had a collar to loosen, I would have done so in just that moment.

Gulp.

But then, and only then, did the train pass the basketball arena, make a sharp bank to the Southwest, and cross the Willamette River on a multi-purpose bridge.

Steel Bridge

Whoosh!

All of a sudden, your eye is torn in two directions at once.

The cute, shiny downtown in the glowy-evening-light, set against some green hills to the Southwest, and then, off to the North, on the East bank of the river, a huge working tanker ship at an old industrial shipping dock, right there in the heart of the city.

They literally sit opposite each other.

The working, worn, and maybe-less-than-shabby-chic part of Portland, the timber town that still has logs floating in the river, to the trendy, foodie, hipster, cultured, amazing, progressive city it’s become.

But as soon as that big open view was there, it was gone.

Poof.

And we were back in the congested feeling again, on the other side of the river.

I’m not sure this is correct from above, but I felt like downtown Portland was a blanket you’ve thrown on the ground, and it folds in weird ways.

When you’re in the folds, you can’t see the blanket. (If you’re a small spider, for example.)

But my first full day, after my first session reviewing at the festival, I went on a long walk with my good friend Heather, heading back to the river to cross at the Steel Bridge, before making it back on one of the more southern bridges, which was high enough for the first big view.

Mt. Hood.
Covered in snow, conical and majestic, looming to the East.

That helped a little.

It wasn’t until the next day, though, when I climbed the biggest hill I could find to Washington Park, and then jumped on a statue pedestal to get higher, that I felt like I could breathe.

I caught a big vantage, oriented myself in space in a new town, and then things settled in nicely, vibe-wise.

Truth be told, Mary Jane is legal in Portland, as it is in Colorado, and I went to a cool dispensary called Serra, with a buddy, and picked up a little something for the off hours. (The place was both stylish and reasonably priced, and the staff was nice. Thumbs up for sure.)

Walking to Washington Park

As my Park Walk was free time, after I did my Lewis-and-clark-like survey from a peak, I dropped a bit deeper into the park, and was immediately surrounded by 100+ft tall trees.

Entrance to Washington Park

Doing my Lewis and Clark impression, I bump into a statue in their honor

View from the Pedestal

So beautiful.

But once I turned another corner, I saw a swing set, up the way.

Nobody was there, nor was anyone even around.

Noticing swing sets was more a parent-move than stoner-sensation, but soon I was there, partaking in public, (maybe a no-no, but again, no one was even around,) and then I set my stuff down.

And started swinging.

Above me, the sky was purple-blue, and the trees were touching its belly like they were tickling a new dog.

Up, I pumped the legs.

UP.

Soon, I was as high as I could go, and then I leaned back and stared up at those trees as the motion made my belly feel like Free Fall at Great Adventure in Jersey circa 1996.

For a moment, I wasn’t a Dad.
Or a portfolio reviewer.

I wasn’t a writer.
Or an artist.

I wasn’t a Democrat.
Or a martial artist.

I was a kid on a swing set, truly, humbly amazed at the beauty of the sky, and the trees, and the flowers around me.

All the while, hoping that I wouldn’t let go, or lose my grip, or vomit all over myself.

(No vomits in Portland, but I did have a proper incident in London. We’ll get to that another time.)

After playing, I headed back down the hill into downtown, and everywhere, there are clusters of street food stalls.

One after the other. With infrastructure and everything.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a street food culture like that anywhere in the US, and again: what’s not to like?

There is much more to tell, including clueing you guys in on some of the places I ate and drank, (including one bar you will NOT believe I went to,) but those will come in future articles.

I promise.

Rather, as I’ve been all praise so far, I want to keep it real and point out that Portland, too-nice or not, is far from perfect.

No place is.

Public green on the Willamette River

The stereotype of the “Portland Street Dude” that you have in your head is very real, as is the “Portland Street Dude with Pitbull,” a difficult subset of the culture.

So many gaunt, sad-looking white guys with obvious drug problems, and no proper home.

The homelessness crisis is not quite as dramatic as it is in California, but it is pretty damn obvious in Portland too.

Really, it made me think, as I’ve pieced my West Coast travel together in the past few years, that there is a permanent street class now that rivals what we saw in all those photographs of the Great Depression.

It’s a hard fact, and one that California, Oregon, and (probably) Washington will have to grapple with heavily in the coming decade.

Not to leave you on a downer, but I’m pretty jet lagged at the moment, and just dropped 1500 words on you, so I think we’ll call it a day.

PS: I got a shiny new iPhone in Portland, so as of my London trip, we’ll have 4k video and much improved photographic technology on these articles going forward.

The Best Work I Saw at the Denver Portfolio Walk

 

Tick tock, goes the clock.

Tick tock.

It’s counting down the minutes until I need to pull out of my driveway tomorrow.

(Tick tock.)

It’s an early departure to drive 5 hours to Denver, fly to Charlotte, change planes, and then end up in London on Thursday morning.

(If everything goes as it should.)

I’d by lying if I said I was back to normal after the NYC/NJ and Portland double-double.

I’m not normal at all.

But, (and this is a big BUT,) every now and again, being jet-lagged can be a good thing. Like my wife said, right now, for me, it’s the equivalent of hair of the dog.

Since I already feel like that, I should be able to get a lot more accomplished. (If I don’t sleep, so what? I’ll sleep for a week when I get home.)

If I get hungover, so what?

I won’t drink again for months.

London and more await, but first I have to get through SO MANY THINGS on my To-Do list, then pack, and then wake up before dawn too drive over the Rocky Mountains.

The likelihood of the sun being in my eyes as I drive East over La Veta Pass tomorrow? 100%!

All that hustle to get to Denver, because the flights were 1/3 the price of flying out of Albuquerque, which is two hours closer to my house.

$500 vs $1500?

One is doable, the other is not. (Editor’s note: I did pay to upgrade my seats later today, as they were going to put me in the middle, near the toilet, with no overhead bin space.)

So Denver International Airport it was.

The Mile High city.
Home of the Broncos and the Denver Nuggets.

A boom-town for sure, but are they all, these days? The good ones, I mean?

It is one thing I’ve begun to notice, as I’ve traveled around the past year or two. It seems like Denver, San Diego, LA, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and NYC are all booming.

Cranes everywhere.

Perhaps it’s time to extrapolate all those numbers about the rapid urbanization of America? I mean, I can’t speak to Des Moines, or Little Rock, or Baltimore, but I just read that they’re expecting 50% of America living in 8 states in the coming years.

That’s nuts.

People flock to places like Denver because of the confluence of economic opportunity, world class leisure activities, high-end-bougie-lifestyle, like-minded politics, clean air, (for now,) and (at this point) we have to mention legal marijuana too.

Denver just grows and grows. (Higher and Higher.)

Ask anyone who’s been around the Rocky Mountain West the last 25 years, and miles of what were once open prairie or farms, all along the I-25 corridor, have become suburbs to the point that distinct cities have nearly merged.

The Colorado Springs-Denver-Boulder-Ft.Collins metropolitan area is massive, with a serious population, and it’s nearly seamless in 2019.

(Nearly. There are still a few pockets in between, and even in places like Boulder, farms still maintain micro-pockets, like Gunbarrel.)

I was last up in Denver in late March, as you may know, because I wrote about my exploits here. It was a travel piece, sure, but it also set up the premise of today’s article.

In order to visit a few friends, I drove up to Denver to attend the open portfolio night at the Month of Photography 2019, which took place in downtown Denver on a Saturday night.

I parked in a spot that while convenient to the hotel bars, seemed like it would feel sketchy by the end of the night, and sure enough, I was griping my pocket knife like it was a Hattori Hanzu sword.

But that was the end of the night.

I turned up at the space, and after heading up the stairs, I met a very large crowd. The event was definitely well attended, but there was little of the pushing and shoving that you get in other cities. (Maybe none? I’m not sure anyone pushed or shoved at all.)

Almost immediately, after saying hi to a lot of people, I decided to look at the work seriously, and I met Stephanie Burchett, who reminded me we’d hung out at an after party at Medium in San Diego last October.

(For the record, as I learned the other week in Portland, I always remember a person’s name, work, face, or the circumstances under which we met. Sometimes some of the above, but always one.)

Stephanie had recently graduated from an MFA program in Tucson, and was displaying a small fabrication of images on both sides of the border wall.

I asked if it was a mockup, and she seemed surprised, even though she admitted she made large scale installation in grad school.

It was only meant to be what it was, she said. And I kind of like that, as its intent makes it weird and a little sad. Throw in the video-still she showed me from a grad school show, in which she facial recognition tagged white people in lynching photos, and I knew there was material in Denver to publish.

I told Stephanie that if I could find even a few more people to feature, I’d do an article. Then it became a game and a race, because my friends had worked all day, and wanted to leave to party.

Needless to say, there were enough people, or there would be no article.

 

So rather than go in order, which we never do anyway, I’ll tell you about Ellen Friedlander.

Ellen was one of those few people who stick in my mind, because these days, I try to publish as much work as I can. Very rarely, I’ll say no to someone, and then think about it afterwards, because I feel like perhaps I should have given them the benefit of the doubt.

Ellen qualifies, as I met her at Medium in October as well, (small circuit, the portfolio reviews,) and we spent the entire 20 minutes, or most of it, doing critical feedback. I spent so much time telling her how to improve that I didn’t really get to evaluate her work properly.

Well, here Ellen was, and with her daughter and sister to boot! I got to tell all three that I regretted not helping her, and then I offered to publish her work on the spot.

There was a very happy woman before me, it’s true, but she also said that the critique had been very helpful, and that her new work had grown as a result.

A win win for sure. As to the pictures, they’re street photography horizontal composites, as Ellen spent years living in Hong Kong, and traveling the world.

Chris Sessions was a good sport about my smash-and-grab approach. My friend and colleague, Jennifer Murray, the Executive Director of Filter Photo told me I needed to see his stuff, and within ONE photograph, I knew we were good to go.

Chris is doing a long-term personal project on Charros, Mexican horse riders in the greater Denver area. The image of the dude hovering in air may be one of the best individual photographs I’ve ever seen at a review.

A lot of what I saw that night was not to my taste, which is not uncommon in non-juried reviews. The community spirit and vitality are as important as anything. But it does mean that the good work jumps right out.

Especially when the light/color/sky leap off of an indoor table, at night, under artificial lighting conditions.

That’s what happened with Kevin Hoth.

I saw the images, told him who I was, and said I’d like to show them just for how beautiful they were.

Aren’t they?

Speaking of beauty, I thought Angela Faris Belt poetic landscapes were also gorgeous. Exquisite.

But then I learned they depict ancient, endangered Bristlecone Pines, and she photographed with expired Polaroid film.

Normally I’d write more, but sometimes it isn’t necessary.

It’s funny how sometimes you need to travel to see people from back home. (Not far, in this case.) I went up to Philip V. Augustin’s table like a shark, as he’s a Santa Fe guy, and I’ve seen his work many times over the years.

I wanted to look at some of his perfect gelatin silver prints, made of real light shapes in the studio. Coincidentally, I saw a few on the wall, framed, at Obscura Gallery in Santa Fe last Thursday, and they were really sharp.

Last, but not least, (as I often say,) we have Carl Bower, who I met on the portfolio review circuit 9 years ago, and probably hadn’t seen in 6 or 7 years.

I’d known Carl for his work about beauty pageants in Colombia, but this work was very different. The images were presented with text on the white background, as Carl was asking people to discuss their Private Fears, as he used his art to combat the same.

 

NYC in the 21st Century, Part 2

 

Change is hard.

That’s the truth.

As much as change makes us better, though, we rarely seek it out.

People don’t choose it, if left to our own devices. One needs training, which art school often provides, to temper our natural fear of change, and to learn to trust its inherent process.

Most of the time, though, change is thrust upon us.

It drops out of the sky, like an asteroid, ready to lay waste to the dumb dinosaurs below.

That’s far more common, right?

I mentioned this today, (writing on Wednesday,) because by the time you read this, it will likely be public knowledge that the New York Times Lens blog, my erstwhile employer, is shutting down at the end of this month.

Dead.
Done.
Kaput.

You guys know me, and writing as I do here, straight from me to you, is my particular speciality. Yet for 6 years, I learned how to write like a proper journalist.

No fucks, or shits. No first person narrative.

Thanks, NYT, I appreciate it!

But I only wrote a handful of times a year at Lens, by the end, and the money won’t make a difference in my life. (Though, like working with teenagers, I’ll miss the action.)

Rather, I feel for all the photographers who won’t be spot-lit across the globe. That blog had reach, and reach can = impact.

Speaking from experience, having “The Value of a Dollar” go viral from Lens MADE my photo career. That work is on the wall in a museum in Germany now, in 2019, and that never, ever would have happened without Lens.

These days, there are other places to publish such work. Sure. But for the photographers, losing Lens means losing opportunities.

And other places will have to pick up the slack.

Here in my column in APE, I’ll tell you that we intend to do just that.

For the rest of the summer, we’ll have portfolio review articles, exhibition reviews, and adventure pieces from the field. Between Denver, Portland, and wherever the hell I end up in Europe next week, there will be many stories to tell.

And I intend to show you the work of DOZENS of photographers.

There will be much to see, and after years of book reviews, we’re going to chill a bit on that, and bring them back at the end of summer. (Unless I need a brief break from all the action.)

Speaking of action, given the headline on this piece, I should be talking about my take on New York City and New Jersey in the 21st Century.

The Big Apple, and one of its primary suburban arms.
(Two thirds of the Tri-State Area, if you will.)

When last I left you, we’d talked about the development of NYC architecture, specifically Hudson Yards, and how a new NYC was rising in the ashes of the old.

View of Hudson Yards from the South

Global replacing local.

Sure enough, when I spoke with a long-time New Yorker in Portland, and mentioned that I’d written about the Hudson Yards Project, his first comment was to complain about how it impacts locals.

I shit you not.

The first words out of his mouth.

Change is not only scary, but it doesn’t always work out for everyone. Particularly, when people aren’t actively working to embrace change: to learn and grow from it on purpose.

(Or when they perpetually get the crap end of the stick b/c of Capitalism, Racism, etc.)

I’ve had some nasty headaches the last few weeks, and I’m sure it’s because I’ve been pushing myself so hard to have new experiences this past month.

Making new neural pathways makes us smarter and better, but I’ve found that it can nearly cause a migraine. (As did all the Op-Art I saw in Portland, but that’s another story for a different day.)

Whether it’s the New York Times deciding there’s no money in a photojournalism blog, or a proud city regaining it’s mojo in 2019, change is only predictable in its unpredictability.

So while I can laud NYC for its ability to provide the most amazing 14 miles of eating, walking and looking a husband and wife could ask for, and will tell you about it briefly, I get that the “New” New York has more than its share of detractors.

As I’m pretending to be my former mentor Tony Bourdain for the summer, (#RIP Tony,) I’ll first share that Grand Sichuan, on 9th between 24th & 25th, on the edge of the Chelsea galleries, is totally boss.

I love it, have always loved it, and recommend it highly.

As Jessie and I ate our cold spicy noodles and egg rolls, sipping our (complimentary) tea on an extended walking break, she reminded me of the time my cousin Ron took us there for the night with his wife.

Back in the early aughts.

Ron was something of a foodie, had gone to culinary school, and knew to order off the Chinese Only menu. (We had chicken that was killed that afternoon.)

We drank, ate too much, and laughed all night. A few months later, Jessie and I had Christmas dinner at Ron’s house, and decided to move back to New Mexico.

Unfortunately, Ron died a few years later.

He was one of the early victims of the opioid epidemic. A nice Jewish guy from Jersey.

The canary in the coal mine.

(Hard to segue off of this, now that I think about it, so let’s just keep going.)

Jessie and I ate our way across New York, and thank god we were burning the calories.

Concrete architecture at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel

Because as soon as we walked East from the Tribeca waterfront, near the Holland Tunnel this time, we stumbled, quite literally, upon the cronut place.

THE cronut place.

Dominique Ansel Bakery

Dominique Ansel Bakery. We read a sign about the line as we were walking by, but there were only 5 people in it. So we joined up, waited a few minutes, and then had some great coffee and pastries.

The salted caramel eclair was divine, the almond coconut chocolate croissant was really good, and the Nutella milk bread was highly disappointing.

They have a lovely outdoor courtyard that was quiet and spacious, which I highly recommend, and the massive Cafe Au Lait powered me up for the walk back to our hotel in Koreatown.

At the recommendation of Darren Ching, of Brooklyn’s Klompching gallery, we went across the street from our hotel to Madangsui, a Korean BBQ place, and ended up eating everything the next morning as breakfast. (As I told you in Part 1.) The food was brilliant: kimchee pancake, and a stone bowl bulgogi bibimbap that the waitress turned over table-side.

Koreatown

Yes, we ate in New York. The food was so good, and surprisingly affordable. As for the art, Jessie and I visited the Rubin Museum, in Chelsea, and saw some transcendental Tibetan and Buddhist work, including a re-created shrine that gave me goosebumps.

Recreations of Buddhist art depicting Yogic poses.

Five stars for sure.

But anyone can tell you about New York City.

New Jersey, though, requires a deft touch. (Me and David Chase. A short list.)

New Jersey never really changes, I thought. The shore, the nasty refineries along the Turnpike.

Bruce Springsteen, and the Best Pizza in America.
Skee ball and strip malls and Down-to-Earth people.

The world I knew was made of 2nd and 3rd generation Americans, the children and grand-children of immigrants who arrived at and ultimately fled New York City.

Mostly Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and Jewish-Americans, with some Central European/Slavic folks thrown in there as well.

In my town, though, we also had a large contingent of Asian-Americans, which was somewhat rare. (Back then, I didn’t distinguish between Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans, Indian-Americans and Pakistani-Americans, as I would now.)

We had all sorts of Asian-Americans growing up in my hometown of Holmdel, NJ, because there was a gargantuan Bell Labs facility in the center of town.

A massive complex, set a half-mile back off the road, with a trippy-ass-space-ship looking tower in the front, which was as strange as it sounds.

For the uninitiated, Bell Labs was an offshoot of Alexander Graham Bell, and for much of the 20th Century was the most important research facility in the world.

In the world?

Sure. Why not.
Along with Livermore and Los Alamos, I guess.

It was right there in the heart of Holmdel, a place where they discovered, invented or refined radio wave technology, lasers, internet stuff, and all sorts of things.

It was a Nobel Prize factory, in the middle of corn fields that had been tended by Dutch colonists since the 17th Century. (Legit 1600’s for sure.)

And then…

Mergers. Breakups. Bankruptcies.

All of a sudden, it was Lucent, and then it was gone.

Out of business.
Permanently.

So an enormous building sat there empty, for years, reeking of the ghosts of America’s past

Until…

Now.
2019.

The present.

An Orthodox Jewish developer came along, called it Bell Works, and turned the entire Saarinen-designed-space into a mixed use development. Hotel, conference center, restaurants, shops, an indoor soccer field.

What?
And indoor soccer field?

Bell Works

Saarinen’s design touch.

The Holmdel Public Library moved in, and they have a museum area dedicated to Bell Labs and its history. Plus, the place backs up on public park land, so it can be accessed on foot as well as by car.

I was flabbergasted.

Jessie and I ate samosas from an Indian-American-run convenience store INSIDE Bell Labs. With tamarind and cilantro chutneys. And it was really good!

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, you could have pizza or Chinese food, burgers in bar joints, or maybe Jewish Deli, and that was about it.

But it’s not the 20th Century anymore.

Not by a long shot.

And New Jersey, like its big brother NYC, also suffered tremendously from Hurricane Sandy as well, which I wrote about here back in 2013 or ’14. (Even I lose track sometimes.)

Sure enough, just like NYC, the Jersey Shore, which had been annihilated by Sandy, is now thriving.

Booming. Exploding!

I read in the Star Ledger that Pier Village, a shore development in Long Branch that DID NOT EXIST when I was in high school, was adding an additional 450 condominium units.

450!

And then I went there, as my buddy Felt moved into an ocean-front apartment last year. (My wife and I helped him decorate the place on a stoner ramble through NYC last April that I didn’t write about…)

Me and Felt, (who’s real name is Matt,) hung out at the Bat Mitzvah in North Jersey that drew me East, where thankfully the Italian-American food was flowing, and I drank Hennessy all day like it was going out of style.

Then I got to visit Felt’s apartment a couple of days later, and walked down a corridor so long that I got scared of “The Shining,” forgot about the reference, and then got scared of “The Shining” again, because the walk was 3 minutes long.

Looking Northeast at Pier Village

Looking Southeast at Pier Village

That’s how big they’re building these things.

And as Sandy destroyed so many buildings, clearing land, new developments were everywhere, trying to peddle chic.

Chic?

“South Beach at Long Branch” is a thing.

It’s not a joke. It’s real.

My theory is that once the Millennials decided Asbury Park was cool, as it gentrified, and they lacked the same biases against Jersey that their parents had, (Hamptons or bust,) it only made sense that these other beach towns, closer and MORE accessible, would start getting hot.

But trendy?
Like Miami?

I don’t buy it.

Rather, I think anyone who hangs out at the Jersey Shore will just end up getting Jersified.

So do ya-self a favuh, eat some great calamari at Rockafellers, ride some waves this summuh, and make sure ta tell ya friends.

You know what I’m sayin’?

My Aunt and kids after dinner at Rockafellers.

 

This Week in Photography Books: Trace

 

Let’s be honest.

The right piece of advice, at just the right time, can make all the difference.

For example, a friend once told me, when the voices in your head get too loud, turn the music up even louder.

(That’s wisdom, people.)

I decided to try it on Tuesday, as I twitched and shook from the collective exhaustion of a full-week on the road in Portland, followed by a 2-day-trip-home, after flight cancellations and delays saw me land in Albuquerque in the middle of the night.

I had one song that I thought might do the trick, once I finally got home, so I ran a hot bath, and turned that shit up as loud as it would go.

What was my magic musical potion, you ask?

The “Old Town Road Remix” by Lil’ Nas X.

Have you heard it yet?

That shit is so hot it makes my eyeballs melt. A genuine 2019 fusion that shakes the rump and boggles the mind.

And given that not ONE but TWO top African-American NFL draft picks ran videos of them riding their horses, last week during the draft telecast, this song is totally of the now.

Straight out of the Dirty South.

Who knows why places have their moment at a given time?

In Hip-Hop, of course there’s the Bronx and Queens for the early days, and the world would be very different if Ice Cube and Dre had never come along out there in California. (You too, EZ.)

But that Atlanta trap sound over the last few years, with artists like Migos, has felt like a true cultural breakthrough in the age of Trump.

And perhaps it actually arose in opposition?

It’s definitely a theme I discovered at Photolucida last week. So many photographers, (including me,) had their stories of a project, or image, that was catalyzed by the campaign/election/inauguration/Trump’s first two years.

Quick synopsis: the trip was genuinely brilliant, and one of the best I’ve ever had.

But I’m far to tired and woozy, (or Bad and Bougie,) to get into the details today.

Especially as Portland will certainly be a 3 or 4 part series in the coming months.

Rather, we’re going to do a short-ish book review, so I can go drool on myself in the corner and try not to operate heavy machinery.

A few months ago, “Trace,” a little, sleek, 3-book-collection turned up in the mail from Yoffy Press in, (you guessed it,) Atlanta, GA.

I’ve reviewed two of their publications before, the experimental “1864,” by Matthew Brandt, and the excellent, photography-to-combat-depression-movement-building “Too Tired For Sunshine,” by Tara Wray.

In a world of true confessions, the publisher, Jennifer Yoffy, is a long time colleague who came out to ski this February, and we’re in discussions to do a book together, which will be my first. (If you can believe it.)

I’ve gone on the record before with these relationships, so you can decide for yourself if I’m showing you good work, or being nepotistic. (Or both.)

But in this case, I’ve supported her program in the column before, and this book arrived before we even decided to work together, so I feel like we’re in the clear. (You may, of course, disagree.)

“Trace” is a compilation of 3 small books, as I said, and it’s not hard to keep them in order, once they come out of the slip, because the title spells itself out across the collection.

Kota Ezawa’s book is first, and it’s a head trip for sure. The truth is, they all are. This book is a literal embodiment of how I feel as a human being right now, and for that, I love it.

For his book, Kota Ezawa presents an image that builds piece by piece, and is clearly not photographic. Only at the end, or nearly the end, do we realize that it’s built upon one of the most iconic images ever made: JFK’s family by his graveside.

The image grows, section by section, and then you know what it is. Of course that last picture, adding in John Jr, tugs at your heart in a surprising way.

Book 2 is by my long-time colleague Tabitha Soren, by now an acclaimed artist, who was once known as a very-young VJ on MTV, in another lifetime.

I saw these pictures, from the project “Surface Tension,” at Euqinom Gallery in San Francisco in 2017, and thought they were incredible. Ironically, she’d once showed me an early version, on a tablet, at a festival, and I didn’t get it.

I was dubious.

But as prints on the wall, and in book form, (and fully finished,) this project is as smart as it is visually arresting. Scary cats, scary Harvey Weinstein, it’s all the same.

Our made marks, and our attentions spun, are all pulsing through our devices these days.

The Matrix has arrived, and we’re all plugging in willingly.

Final shout out to the title page on Tabitha’s book, as they are surprisingly good. I’ll be sure to photograph it for below.

Finally, the package has a book by Penelope Umbrico, an artist I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak twice, and have interviewed for the column as well. (Check out the long read here.)

Penelope is easily one of the smartest artists I’ve encountered, and yet she manages to use visuals well too. (Total package.)

This project features just the digital circles and made marks, the trace lines around defects on used screens being sold on Ebay.

She spends hours and hours, collectively years of her life, pursuing the digital rabbit holes that help us understand the world around us.

Penelope, I salute you.

And now, as I still have to work today, and even tomorrow, (before I get the nap I so dearly deserve,) I will leave you.

Bottom Line: Beautiful, smart, killer little compilation

To purchase “Trace” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

NYC in the 21st Century, Part 1

 

I’m just back from New York, and am off to Portland tomorrow, where I’ll be when this article drops.

(Yes, I have a headache.)

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and there’s plenty more to come, so today it’s time to tell you what I observed, as a journalist, in New York and New Jersey earlier this month.

It’s important to date it, because in 2019, these places I know so well have finally stood up tall and joined the 21st Century.

Proudly.

They’ve developed, or grown, in ways that feel authentic, and at times exciting. (As someone who grew up and lived there.) It’s a funny word to use, development, because among a certain political class, it’s almost always seen as a bad thing.

Gentrification –> Development = Low-income residents getting pushed out.

That’s normally the equation, and I get it. (My MFA thesis project in 2004 was about corn fields in my suburban hometown getting turned into McMansions.)

Sure, it was a Dutch farming village for 300 years before my parents got there, but I didn’t want those farms to become more suburbs.

No more people like me moving in to spoil it!

I gentrified the Southern end of the Mission District in San Francisco in 1999, and then Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 2002, and left both places as they were getting too trendy.

Hell, Jessie and I moved back to Taos in 2005 expecting hordes of Gen Xers to follow us, but instead it’s been the Millennials who’ve gotten in on the action in the last three or four years.

All of which is to say, I’ve been a gentrifier, and one who took pains at each new farm that was plowed under for another house like my own.

In general, over the course of my life, I’d say I tended towards the condemnation of massive real estate developments, and appreciated when things stayed the same, as they did in San Francisco for 10 years after I left.

But now, the San Francisco skyline has been ruined by Salesforce, the local culture is supposedly all about tech bros, and I’d have to think hard about how many people I know who live in the city these days, rather than in the surrounding area.

New York City, though, is something different. (As is New Jersey, which we’ll get to in Part 2.)

Yes, it’s my home turf, and I’m biased. I’ve written before that I grew up able to see the Twin Towers from my hometown, gleaming across the bay.

I took it personally when the towers were destroyed in 2001, but I think something of New York’s soul was taken too. Not that it’s people were cowed, because that will never happen.

(Not in my lifetime, anyway.)

Old New York near Herald Square

Rather, the skyline was ruptured so badly, and then the local politicking, which is always dirty in New York, kept the Freedom tower from getting built FOREVER.

Really, you can look it up.

When did the Freedom Tower open to the public?

(Rare Google break…)

OK. I’m back. 2014.

That’s when the first tenant moved in.

It took New York City 13 years to replace it’s iconic Southern anchor to the skyline.

And even then, the building is just OK.

In the interim, there was a phase where some very average looking, minimalistic residential super-towers were built, which made the city lean wrong, and all that visual weight went towards the super-rich, with their part time crash pads. (I accidentally wrote cash pads, which is a good Freudian slip.)

Looking South from the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel

Nowadays, in 2019, finally, I’m thrilled to report that New York City has grown in exciting and beautiful ways. (Revitalizing growth that sometimes gets a bad rap, I think.)

In my experience, New York City has become a global tourism Mecca. In the sense that, like Paris, it now belongs to everyone.

And sometimes that comes at the expense of the locals.

Certainly, Manhattan, Brooklyn and now probably Queens are not affordable for “regular” people. Not unless you live “all-the-fuck-out-there” by the ocean.

And even where I’m from, in New Jersey, or in other outlying areas like Long Island or Westchester, the cost of living is high across the board. (Food, rent/home prices, transportation…)

Manhattan just adopted congestion pricing for the first time, to charge people for driving in the heart of the city, and the cost of tolls at bridges is nearly $20 as is.

In particular, though, I’d like to discuss Hudson Yards, the new mega-development by Stephen Ross, which recently opened in what used to be called Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s in Midtown’s Far West Side.

Approaching Hudson Yards from the North

It was supposedly built on a $1 Billion platform over a railyard, and I’ve seen that tactic used in public parks in Chicago and Dallas to good effect. (In Dallas it was over highway, but still…)

Hudson Yards has gotten panned, from what I’ve heard, because it really was built for rich people, and tourists. (I guess I’m kind of the latter, these days.)

 

Looking East towards Old New York

Looking West to Hudson Yards

Looking up at the Hudson Yards skyscrapers

There are something like six new blue-glass skyscrapers by Starchitects, and they surround a big public courtyard with the the Shed, a public art space, and the massively expensive “Vessel,” a glowing bronze public art project for which you have to get a free ticket.

The Vessel

Getting the shot for Instagram

View from inside the Vessel

Looking down off the platform


It is literally a stairway that goes nowhere, built to be an Instagram backdrop, and it does that job well. I was little confused by the physical placement within the city skyline, if it’s meant to be iconic, but then I noticed this ad in The New Yorker, which about sums up the demographic.

The Vessel is apparently visible from New Jersey

On the lower levels of one of the buildings is a huge shopping mall and food court featuring very expensive and/or trendy brands. (Muji is not fancy, but it is cool.)

I understand my point may be somewhat controversial, but I’ve been to that part of town, over the years, and it was a bit of a wasteland.

I can also attest, at 45, that New York has always been about money.

It’s the heart of Capitalism, for crying out loud.

So as a former resident, and now regular visitor, I accept that it was always going to become too expensive for people like me to actually live there.

Hell, I don’t want to live there.

The air quality and weather suck, and it’s too busy for every day.

But seeing such beautiful, gleaming buildings in Hudson Yards, it inspired me.

They’re gorgeous.

And everywhere you look, including in odd places like the Lower East Side, there are new-looking skyscrapers that balance the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, and support the Freedom Tower, which was never meant to carry downtown alone.

(Brooklyn has tons of new hi-rise buildings too, so many that when my father-in-law last visited in 2004, there were none, he confirmed.)

Sticking with Manhattan, though, Hudson Yards blends right into the northern end of the High Line through Chelsea, which is itself a phenomenal piece of design and public space.

Whereas in the past, right at the junction between the two, there might have been a locally owned pizza place, now, it’s a restaurant by Jose Andres and the Adria Brothers. That’s a massive change, and I can see how some people might hate it. (I still miss the ubiquity of a great slice.)

Between the architecture that’s grown around the High Line, like the Zaha Hadid masterpiece, to the nature planted within it, the High Line is always popular, and rightly so.

(We went twice, and each time it was wall-to-wall people, speaking countless languages.)

The High Line ends in the new Whitney, which conveniently flows into Hudson River park, which goes south along the waterfront along the city.

Looking North from the beginning of the High Line

Zaha Hadid building along the High Line

It’s fantastic, frankly.

And none of it was there when I moved back to town in 2002.

I haven’t mentioned Hurricane Sandy, yet, which hit in 2012, but that was a real punch in the nose for the Tri-State Area.

Given that New York is a money town, between 9/11, the following market crash, the 2008 crash, and then Sandy, the city was properly down on its knees.

Maybe not like the big bad 70s, but New York looked stale, visually, and I’d argue maybe it was.

As cities like Shanghai and Dubai raced towards the future, New York seemed stuck in the past.

But no longer.

On a Pier looking South towards the Freedom Tower

These days, I think it’s pretty badass that New York has opened itself proudly to the world.

It’s thriving, and looks pretty great too. (Except for the garbage on the streets, because New York is always gonna New York.)

There’s so much more to tell, (including a few anecdotes about AIPAD,) but we’re nearing 1500 words, and I’ve got photos this time!

There’s no need to over-do it, so I’ll run it back with Part 2 next week.

Have a good one.

This Week in Photography Books: Alexa Vachon

 

It’s Passover coming up this weekend.

(Or Easter, depending on your religious affiliation.)

It’s a holy time of year for the Jewish people, as it represents the Israelites escape from Egypt, fleeing slavery. According to the Torah, (or the Old Testament,) the Jews then spent 40 years in the desert before being allowed into the kingdom of Israel.

To Christians, Jesus was killed during Passover, crucified for his beliefs. Then, according to the New Testament, he was resurrected, as Jesus was the son of God.

I know that in Iran, they have a New Year, or renewal celebration in Spring as well.

Maybe it’s called Narwaz?

(Pause…rare Google break…)

Nowruz. (So close.)

Just like pagan mid-winter celebrations became Christmas, and Catholic churches were built atop Aztec religious sites, ancient belief structures are embedded within later ones, and some human behaviors have remained constant.

Chief among them: when groups of people are threatened with death, they flee.

Whether Jews from the Pharaoh, (or the Nazis thousands of years later,) or Syrians and Afghans in the 21st Century, running for your life is nothing new.

And even countries like ours, famed for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis-Island ethos, have also turned backs on immigrant groups in the past, be they Chinese, Jewish, or Mexican.

To me, little in life is more evil than demonizing the very people who are running from killers. Whether threatened by criminal gangs, like MS-13 in El Salvador, or political groups like the Taliban or ISIS, refugees choose between certain death if they stay put, or the hope of a better life if they make way successfully to the US, Germany, or Sweden.

That a nationalistic counter-reaction was also launched is no surprise, given what we know of history. That DARK, DARK past, from the 19-teens through the mid-1940’s is a reminder that we must take nativism very seriously.

Propagating positive narratives, and humanizing refugees is a pretty excellent way to spend one’s time, if you believe any of what I wrote above to be true.

So big shout out to Alexa Vachon, who sent me her new book “Rise” late last year. It arrived from Berlin with a nice note, and the book is in English, German, and several Central Asian languages I didn’t recognize. (Persian, for sure.)

I think it’s self-published, and there is grant funding thanked at the end, so it seems plausible, despite the excellent production values.

Early on, I parsed that the hand-written text, on certain picture pages, was diaristic by the artist. It is in English, and she mentions being an immigrant, so while I’d normally think American, something reminded me that she could be Canadian as well.

The end notes confirm a Canadian Council for the Arts grant, so we can assume that Ms. Vachon is a Canadian artist living in Berlin, and it seems like she’s been around a while.

The narrative, which I’d call super-inspiring, centers upon CHAMPIONS ohne GRENZEN, a Berlin organization that hooks up native Germans with new refugee immigrants, so they can play soccer together.

Many of the young women have not played before, so it’s a way of integrating people and culture simultaneously.

There are a lot of excellent photos, and also various forms of interview text confirming that running for your life from ISIS, or the Taliban is not for the faint of heart.

If I have any criticism, (and I do,) it’s that there is probably too much of everything here. It could do with a trim of images and text, just because it would tighten the impact of both, I’d suggest.

On balance, though, it’s an excellent book, and in particular I like the subsection of dot-grain-type-black-and-white pictures. I always recommend something to break up the narrative, and this is both clever and cool.

The aforementioned thank you page includes some big names, (including oft-thanked-Alec-Soth,) so it’s clear that Ms. Vachon has some good mentors and/or teachers.

No surprise, given the book’s quality.

But since she sent it to me, I’ll stress the lesson that sometimes, or most of the time, really, less is more. Especially when the heart of your story is so compelling.

Overall, though, a great, inspiring book for the season of renewal and rebirth.

See you next week.

Bottom Line: Lovely, heart-warming book about refugee soccer players in Berlin

To purchase “Rise” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

This Week in Photography Books: Katherine Longly

 

America is a fast food nation.

We know this.

You may not eat at McDonalds, or Wendy’s, or Burger King, but millions of other people do.

Why?

Because it’s fast, cheap, and packed with flavor and fat. (Of course, all cooks know those last two go together.) Sure, chemical companies supply products that boost the food’s tastiness, but most people don’t care what’s in the crap, as long as it fills them up.

This is not news to you, of course, as billions of words have been written about America’s obesity crisis, and whether anything can be done to slim down our collective waist line.

I know how to keep myself fit, these days, mostly because I’ve had phases in life when I put on weight. I was never obese, thankfully, but chubby, fat, heavy, puffy, or rotund would not have been inappropriate adjectives for me at different times. (As a youth, at my wedding, or the summer of 2016, when I had knee tendinitis.)

Eventually, I realized the body weight math is pretty simple. If you burn more calories than you ingest, you won’t get fat. If you eat a lot more than you burn, consistently, you’re screwed.

In my life, times of weight gain tended to track with stress and unhappiness, but were ALWAYS accompanied by a lack of exercise.

If you eat lots of pizza, drink plenty of beer, and don’t exercise, you’re going to gain weight.

It’s just math.

These days, I’ve added exercise into my life in several ways, and it can be as addictive as the bad substances. So keeping fit, and not going too heavy on the sweets has helped me reach an equilibrium.

(But it took 42 years to figure that shit out, which is nothing to brag about.)

People’s relationship to food often determines whether they’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight, but even more, it depends on their relationships with other people. Over-eating and under-eating, both of which can make a person sick, are often coping strategies, or outlets, for people with unresolved emotional issues.

It’s a fact.

Once the pounds are on, of course, they’re much harder to take off. And when it happens to an entire society, as it has here in America, who the fuck knows how to solve the problem?

Today, though, I’m not actually thinking about it as an American issue. Rather, as most of the world knows, the United States has exported many, if not most, of our major fast food franchises.

So other countries, and their citizenries, are now forced to deal with the same issues, even in places that have long had their own, indigenous, healthy cuisines.

How messed up is that? Our corporations actively make some people, in far-flung places, fat and sick.

USA!
USA!
USA!

(Yes, that was an ironic chant.)

Why am I on about this today? Why not write about all the brilliant food I ate in NYC this week? (I’ll get to that in an upcoming travel piece. With photos this time!)

Well, my musings were inspired by “To tell my real intentions, I want to eat only haze like a hermit.”, a small-batch photo-book that turned up in the mail late last year by Belgian artist Katherine Longly.

Man, is this book cool. Honestly, if I can get more edgy, artsy projects like this from you guys, I’m willing to step off my soap-box and stop bitching about how all photo books look alike.

This submission is different than any before, as Ms. Longly reached out, and offered to send the book to me, if I’d sent it back. (She provided return postage.)

When she explained that it was a prototype, one built by hand, with countless hours of exacting labor, I said, “Sure, why not?” and eventually it turned up in the mail.

Apparently, Ms. Longly spent some time doing residencies in Japan, and this amazing little object was the result.

It opens up with a photo in a sleeve, facing backwards, and when you take it out, you see a photo of a chubby young girl. Right away, I assumed it was the artist. (Not sure why.)

Overall, the book does a deep dive into Japan’s relationship to food, as men have seen an uptick in obesity over the years, some of which is directly attributable to a more Americanized diet. (In particular in Okinawa, due to its US Military history.)

Women, though, face the opposite problem. Due to cultural pressures that are, and are not unique to Japan, (media saturation with young, skinny models and actresses,) many young Japanese women are underweight.

In a society of plenty, (as opposed to their Post-WWII scarcity,) Japanese women are seeing higher rates of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

This is not something for which we can blame Trump, (despite his love of fast food,) but it does seem as if the West has made Japan sicker. (Simultaneously, we fell in love with sushi, which we’ve imported over here like crazy, despite the falling rates of fish in the sea.)

The book features some slick, weird photos at the outset, but then switches to a conceptual approach, in which a set of people living in Japan were asked to make disposable-camera-photographs of their food intake, and share stories about their relationship to it.

Some have eating disorders, some battle with childhood fears of being fat, and others long to cook the best food they possibly can. (Even if it means changing up the type of apples in a family cake recipe.)

Throughout, really cool graphics and research documentation are included, so that facts and stats are mixed with the personal narratives.

And then in the end, we get to see another 4×6 photo of the artist, this time as a grown-up, in a plastic sleeve. (A nice connection to the beginning.)

Like last week, this is a book begging to be photographed, so I’ll make sure to include a lot of pictures down below.

Today wasn’t the day to brag about my New York gluttony, but I’ll get to that in the coming weeks. (Thankfully, I walked so many miles in the city that I came home without any extra pounds.)

Rather, I’ll leave you to contemplate this killer book, which somehow manages to be personal, while also exposing the artist, (and by extension, us,) to an alien culture filled with flavored kit kats and fermented bar snacks.

Bon Appetit!

Bottom Line: Fantastic, original maquette about Japanese food culture

To contact the artist about the book, click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

This Week in Photography Books: Oliver Wasow

 

Last week, I dropped 1800 words on you.

That’s a lot.

I also resuscitated a dormant format here on the blog, by writing what was essentially a straight travel piece. (And only one measly picture at the end?)

This morning, I received an email from a Denver-based reader suggesting that they have quite enough people living there, thank you very much, and perhaps I shouldn’t entice any more.

Point taken.

Before too long, they’ll have a solid line of helicopters flying the rich folks West to the ski areas, while the plebes sit in 7 hour traffic on I-70.

I mention it here today, because it felt good to fire up my creativity and take the column in a new direction. But also… because after asking you to read what was essentially an extra column last week, today, as I strive for balance, I’ll keep it short.

Might it have something to do with the massive to-do list I’ve got to check off before I leave town Thursday morning?

Yes, it might.

But the bigger reason is that I love the week-to-week connections that develop in a platform like this. The way ideas can drop with the last period of a column, and pick up again the next week.

One of the things I’ve been banging on about lately is that so many photo books look alike. Just last week, in an unsuccessful 3-book-run through the book pile before I decided to go off-script, I looked at a book for the second time, and still, couldn’t get to the end, because it looked so much like everything else.

Landscape.
Portrait.
Interior.
Pretty picture.

Landscape.
Landscape.
Portrait.
Interior.
Ugly landscape.

Pick any place, anywhere, and then substitute all the other places that look like it, (or are similar culturally,) and your mind slowly begins to rot from the inside.

I also made a plea for more submissions of the weird, small batch, artsy stuff I used to get from photo-eye, in the years they lent books for the column.

So imagine my surprise when I reached into the same stack, sifted through a box of books, and came out with “Friends Enemies and Strangers,” a photobook by Oliver Wasow, published last year by Saint Lucy Books in Baltimore.

(Speaking of Baltimore, random tangent, but I’m sure you’ve all seen David Simon’s seminal “The Wire” by now. But if you haven’t seen “Treme,” his subsequent, far-less-well-known love letter to New Orleans, check it now for free on Prime Video.)

I gather from reading the stellar essays by Rabih Almeddine and Matthew Weinstein that Oliver Wasow has been around for a while, and is something of an art world darling. Certainly, the essays suggest he was messing around with digital manipulations in the 80’s, and that Photoshop is his jam.

The title, and the structure of the book hint at the concept, as it contains “made” photos of people Mr. Wasow knows, found images that we later learn were sourced from the internet, and then tackily-on-purpose altered renderings of Republican political enemies, as an act of post-2016 rebellion.

Honestly, I wish I’d thought of fucking with pictures of Bannon, Miller, Trump, Don Jr, Eric, Ivanka, Jared, Sarah Sanders, Sean Spicer and the whole lot of them.

You may be surprised that I didn’t write a Trump column after the Mueller report landed, but really, what is there left to say that I haven’t already said?

I promised you a short column, and I aim to deliver.

This book is mental, as the English might say, but I mean that as a compliment. It’s strange, weird, odd, and off-putting in all the right ways. But it also has a heart, as the photos of friends and family against painted backgrounds are cool, and not totally ironic either.

I’ll photograph a few extra pics below, so you can get a proper feel for this one.

Now I’m off to strike another item of my to-do list. (Yes, I wrote it by hand on a yellow legal pad. Old school!)

Bottom Line: Odd, fun, political, cool book of manipulated pictures

To Purchase: “Friends Enemies and Strangers” click here

PS: I normally don’t notice (or mention) these things, but this book is only $30 with free US shipping

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

Traveling to Denver for the Month of Photography 2019

 

There was a time, years ago, when I wrote travel pieces in the column.

I regaled with tales of cities near and far.

I also reviewed photography exhibitions, and for years I interviewed photo industry types, transcribed them myself, (yes, it was laborious,) and shared lightly-edited-long-reads with you, our loyal audience.

That this column has evolved into mostly book reviews, with a few portfolio review stories sprinkled in is mostly a function of habit, and the fact that I am a much busier person than I was when I began writing here nearly 9 years ago.

But…(there’s always a but,) I do try hard to freshen things up from time to time, because lord knows I don’t want to bore you.

This year, my upcoming travel schedule is immense. Like, I’m not sure how I’m going to make it all work.

It’s a good problem to have, and I promise I won’t complain about it, but I’m hoping to turn it to our advantage.

With Portland upcoming, two trips to NY and California, plus Chicago and possibly Europe, I’m going to eat a lot of great food, meet fascinating people, see interesting things, and hopefully listen to great music.

Most, if not all of the trips will have a photographic context, so I’m hoping to review more exhibitions this year, and write about the cities themselves. (Like the old days.)

I bring this up because last Saturday morning, shortly after breakfast, I hopped into my black SUV and hit the road North to Denver.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going into Casa Cannabis, the first weed dispensary across the state line, and buying some legal marijuana. That the guys working there know your name when you walk in, and hand you a $4 Willie Nelson joint as soon as you say “I’m heading north to Denver,” makes it all the sweeter.

You’ve likely heard about the fact that legal marijuana has become a more frequent occurrence here in the US, with 10 of 50 states legalizing it. (And more that allow it for medicinal purposes.)

That New Jersey and New Mexico, my OG and adopted homes, both narrowly rejected legalization in the same month was a cruel irony for me.

From San Luis it’s only 15 miles or so up to the feet of Blanca Peak in Ft Garland, and then it was a straight shot over La Veta Pass, crossing the Rocky Mountains at a fairly low point. (Fairly low being only 9.426 feet.)

On the Western side of the pass, you’re in the San Luis Valley, at 8000 feet, and the places smells more like the Wild West than Bill Hickok’s underwear.

Cross over, through last summer’s fire damage, and you find yourself staring at 1000 miles of the Great Plains. The light and colors are different.

(The altitude is lower on the Eastern side, so much so that heading home I lost 20 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 miles.)

After a quick pee stop at a surprisingly crowded gas station in Walsenburg, (an insanely photogenic town, if you’ve never been,) at the junction to I-25, I got on the interstate and made great time, at 80 miles an hour, until I hit the north side of Colorado Springs.

C Springs, as we call it in Taos, or The Springs, as I’ve heard it called elsewhere, is one of the most conservative places in America. The Evangelical preacher James Dobson has his Focus on the Family there, and gobs of churches abound.

The Air Force academy is there as well, and you can add the military to Evangelical Christians as the two most consistently conservative blocks in the US.

It’s a pocket, though, one that sits above the predominantly New-Mexican-derived Southern part of the state. (Pueblo is traditionally considered the dividing line between Northern and Southern Colorado.)

All was well, and I was imagining the food treats I would buy at the outlet mall at Castle Rock, when I ran into a nasty construction-traffic-monster-fuck just outside Monument.

If I were smarter man, I might have gone online to discover such problems. Instead, I drove straight into a 1 hour cluster-bomb, and found myself licking the barbecue flavor off my fingers, after eating every potato chip in my car. (Yes, I’m exaggerating.)

Now, I was about to tell you about my shopping adventures, because I got a great deal on a cheap suit, but realized that was just one step too far. (Even for a travel piece.)

Plus, I want to give Denver some love before this column is over.

Really, it’s about Denver up there in Colorado.

They call it the Mile High City because it sits just above 5000 feet. (These days, Gen Z might get confused and assume it’s because of the Green Rush.)

As you know, I’ve been to most of the major cities in America, and Denver is the biggest boom town I’ve seen in this country over the last ten years.

I had a couple of shows there years ago, but because I have
family in Denver and Boulder, every trip gets eaten up by the kids and cousins.

Every time.

I never carve out a chunk of time to work, so I haven’t been to the galleries or the museums, with few exceptions.

Why was this time different, you ask?

What changed?

Well, the fact is, I give you all so much advice. It became my motivator. I always say, “Get out of your comfort zone. Do things you haven’t done before. Go see people in the real world.”

Right?

Don’t I say that a lot?

When I heard that one of my best friends was invited to be a portfolio reviewer at Denver’s Month of Photography 2019, I told him I’d drive up to say hello and check out their scene.

I admit, it was a first, going to a portfolio walk at a place where I wasn’t invited. (The portfolio walk in downtown Denver, like at most festivals, was free and open to the public.)

There were a few “what are you doing heres?” and a bunch of people who came up to say hello with a bemused look on their face.

When I was asked why I’d come, I told the truth.

I get flown around the US to all these festivals, but I didn’t really know the folks in the Denver scene. So I took it upon myself, on my dime, to go see what things were about.

(And to visit my friends, as another had decided to come hang out as well.)

If you want to meet people, sometimes, it’s better not to wait around and hope.

You just make it happen.

As it turns out, I saw enough cool work that night that I’ll be writing an upcoming article about “The Best Work I saw at the MoP2019 Portfolio Walk.”

The folks at the review told me it had been run for years, (as had the festival,) by Denver’s photo guru Mark Sink, but that CPAC, the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, would be taking it over for the 2021 festival. (It’s a biennial.)

My friends and I walked around downtown Denver a bit, which was quiet, and then Ubered it to Union Station. (Thanks, Jeff.) My brother, who’s a Republican and works in commercial real estate, told me its the most exciting development in the State of Colorado.

There were trains right outside that you had to walk around, in the open air, which was kind of cool, and inside are a bunch of food shops and a big restaurant/bar, The Terminal Bar, where we had some drinks and food.

The Apricot beer I drank was pretty badass, if I’m being honest, but the blackened chicken and prosciutto sandwich that the perky, nose-ringed waitress recommended was bland.

The bread was very white, as is the city, in most cases. And it’s hard to feel like there’s a strongly beating soul within.

But maybe I was looking in the wrong place?

Maybe the skyscrapers, grand public spaces and business auditoria are not best to judge the city?

What about a little strip mall, miles from LoDo or the hotel strip?

What about a place, on South Colorado Blvd, just off the I-25 highway interchange, a bit past a big Dave and Busters.

Not much to look at, really.

Kind of a dump.

But what if I told you that this little strip mall contained a Salvadoran restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant, a Middle Eastern market, a Syrian restaurant, and Moroccan joint, all all within 100 yards.

There’s a great recreational dispensary called The Clinic a block away as well.

Is that cool or what?

Does that count as soul, when judging a city?

I’d say so.

The next morning, I met my artist/curator/filmmaker friend Jina for breakfast at the transcendent The Delectable Egg in Lowry. It is officially my favorite breakfast place in America, so that’s something.

The waitress was sassy like out of a sitcom, and I let her steer me gently, as I’d apparently chosen her favorite thing on the menu, a tortilla pie, (like enchiladas but with flour tortillas,) but she said I needed to sub bacon for boring old chicken.

She never rushed us, not for a second, even as the tables turned around us and the line formed outside. (Our conversation was engaging enough, in fairness, that neither of us noticed the crowd.)

But it was that table turnover that I want to mention, specifically.

It’s where I’ll end.

I’m only outing my brother’s politics because he expressly complained that the new Democratic regime, which controls the governorship and legislature, might mess up this mega-boom, which has gone on for so long that they’ve begun lighting the cranes purple at night. (No lie.)

Denver is now so blue that it’s hard to believe it’s changed this fast.

Changed, like that table to my right.

When I first got there, a friendly couple of African-American women were sitting opposite each other to my right. They looked like friends in their late thirties.

The woman on the left said, “Happy Sunday, how are you!”

We had a nice little chat, as we were both excited to be there. Her daughter, who hadn’t been there before, was more dubious. (I would have guessed sisters before mother and daughter.)

They were replaced, after 30 minutes or so, by a heavy-set, middle-aged lesbian couple. One wore a baseball hat, and we never really spoke or made eye contact at all.

Only on the third seating did a nuclear, young, white, (probably,) Christian family sit down next to us.

1 out of 3.

In the recent past, it would have been 3 out of 3.

(That kind of energy, where diversity is burgeoning, is exciting.)

Now, I know that a thriving, wealthy city, with all sorts of undiscovered pockets and cultural resources, is only 4 hours from my house in Taos.

I’m ready to spend more time in Denver.

I’m convinced.

This Week in Photography Books: Ingvar Kenne

 

I’m going back to Jersey next month.

(It’s been a while.)

My cousin’s daughter is having a Bat Mitzvah in early April, and if I told you it took me two months to plan my trip, you’ll have to trust that I mean it.

The amount of phone calls, texts, internet searches, Orbitz fuckovers, and general stress that went into it were enough to give me an ulcer.

Well, that’s not true.
I don’t have an ulcer.

I don’t even really know what that means.

It just sounded good.

You could imagine me shaking my finger at you, raging like a grumpy old man, about how much stress my travel plans caused me.

(It’s all because Mercury is in retrograde, I was recently told.)

Things are mostly locked down now, thankfully, and I can officially report I’ll be visiting AIPAD on Friday April 5th, in the early afternoon, in case you’d like to say hello. (APE audience meet-up?)

It looks like I’ll be taking cars, trains, planes, monorails, cabs, Ubers, boats, and an airport shuttle, all just to ping around the Tri-State area like the pinball that is Donald Trump Jr’s attention span.

“Dad, can I have a puppy? I mean a new go-kart. I mean Richard Pryor. No, I mean a gold fish. No, a football team. Daddy, can you buy me a football team? Buy me a football team, Daddy! But not in the NFL. I want a team in the USFL, Daddy, the USFL!”

The upshot is, I’m going to get drunk at a 13 year old girl’s birthday party.

Now, if you know me, you probably think I’m being ironic here. That I’m making fun of the situation. (Or taking the piss, as the English say.)

But I’d never do that because it would get back to my cousin Stefanie, and she’s so tough she’d cut me.

So I’m definitely not making fun of this party.

Rather, I’m excited.

People go all out back there in Jersey, when it comes to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Great food, booze, entertainment, music, dancing.

Everyone’s in a good mood.

Dancing Grandma’s are always a great visual, and needless to say people always hide out in the parking lot to smoke a ton of @#$#%$#$.

For whatever reason, this ancient Jewish rite of passage, in which 13 signifies being a grown up, (I’m sure it probably all comes from marrying kids off young. Yes, it’s gross. But that’s not the point today,) morphed into a 20th/21st Century tradition of getting dressed up, dropping a ton of cash on the whole experience, and partying like the caviar is running out of the sea.

(Oh wait. Bad example.)

I haven’t been to one of these in a few years, and even that one was in Boulder, which is the Jewish equivalent of Norway, compared to the mother-land of the greater NYC area.

I’m properly fired up.

I mean, it’s not like I’m gearing up for a bachelor party.

That would be inauthentic, as I’ve never been to one. (Not even my own.) I had a bougie weekend with my brother and two friends, eating prosciutto-wrapped, barbecued oysters and drinking expensive wine in Napa, and if I had it to do over again, I’m pretty sure I’d go in a different direction.

My Australian buddy Pappy was there with me, enjoying each and every bit of the gluttony, but secretly, deep down, I think he knew that I was copping out.

Hard.

Those Aussies.

They don’t do partying half-way.
No, sir.

Don’t you wish you could be a fly on the wall for all that insanity, when the Australians really let it go?

I bet you do.

What’s that?
Can I help you?

Why yes, I suppose I can.

I could show you “The Ball,” by Ingvar Kenne, published by Journal, which turned up in the mail early this year. (Can you believe 2019 is already 1/4 over? WTF?)

This book is exactly, perfectly, just what I was looking for today.

(Thank you, party gods.)

I’m being serious, though, as I set down the first book I looked at today, a book I liked. It was perfectly nice, had nice-looking pictures with good light, and great color, but it didn’t have a POV that I could discern.

The pictures were taken all over the world, and I found them pleasing. They were likable, like Beto O’Rourke. But the second I put the book down and tried to write, my fingers wouldn’t move.

I asked myself to remember one image.
Just one.

But I couldn’t do it.

(Even though they were really good.)

Instead, I thought of the negative review I could write. Telling this person to get herself or himself some deeper life experience, if she or he were going to submit these photographs, these “reality fragments,” for our collective viewing.

I always tell my students, the aesthetics are the punch in the face. The thing that gets people’s attention and stops them in their tracks.

Then what?

What do you have to say?

That comes next, once your viewer is paying attention.

With that book I put down, I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything about the world, beyond the fact that the photographer was a good technician, and had a massive travel budget.

But here, with this new book, “The Ball,” I had no worries for lack of opinionated content.

No one, today, needs to worry about a wishy-washy book, nor of seeing things that they’ve seen before. (Unless you’re young and Australian.)

According to some smart-yet-spare end text, (including a written correspondence with Australian writer Tim Winton,) we learn that the Bachelor and Spinster Balls are a part of the culture.

Upon second examination, I realized I still don’t know that that means. Are they bachelor and bachelorette parties rolled into one?

(Pause.)

OK, I’m back.

Took a rare Google break. Looks like they’re just big parties for young people, out in the bush.

So…

The writings discuss ideas like the historical role of initiation rituals, and whether this fits in as a cultural right-of-passage.

Like when the Amish kids go wild.
What do they call that? Rumspringa?

As a photo critic who very recently was complaining of getting tired of the same old thing…

I give you, the Bachelor and Spinster Ball.

Humans doing disgusting things!

Enjoy.

And see you next week.

Bottom Line: Awesome, crazy pictures of Aussie kids behaving badly

To purchase “The Ball” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

This Week in Photography Books: Peggy Levison Nolan

 

Parenting isn’t glamourous.

That’s for sure.

I always knew I’d have kids, and given how much I relish being a Dad, I guess I had it right.

(I used the word “relish” here, because I don’t know if “enjoy” is quite right.)

I love my children more than anything, and would take a bullet for either of them, as I would for my wife.

No question.

And each of the kids, both 21st creatures through and through, are funny, thoughtful, sweet and smart.

I enjoy them as people, no question. They’re awesome.

Just last night, when I was putting my daughter to bed, I tickled her, she ripped a huge fart as a result, and we laughed so hard my belly hurt. (Or maybe that was the lard-bomb-enchiladas my wife brought home…)

I cherish being a parent.
I value it.
It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done.

Being a parent has made me a smarter, more capable, more compassionate, empathetic, successful person.

But it’s not “fun.” (And I don’t love the parenting, I love the kids.)

It’s way too hard to be fun, generally speaking.

There are parts of the experience that are great, and specific time periods or vacations that, as an exception, might be pure bliss.

But on a macro-level, it is grueling to constantly find the energy to be a full-time professional, and a full-time Dad.

We hear about that all the time, with respect to the impossibility of working Moms having it all, or being perfect in each arena, but we guys have the same problem too!

With each successive generation, new parents learn just how comprehensive it is to give life, and then sustain it.

But with each successive generation, one group of people get to have all the fun, without (almost) any of the responsibility: the grandparents.

Hell, Jessie and I moved back to Taos so that we could raise our children, (then hypothetical,) among two sets of grandparents: for the help, the support, the encouragement, the diapers funds, and all sorts of privileges that come from having built-in help.

It’s likely that I haven’t said thank you often enough, (though it’s a word I bandy about often,) because the grandparents treat the entire experience, (the same one that’s giving me gray beard-hairs,) like it’s a big trip to Six Flags on Ecstasy all day, every day.

Who wants more ice cream?
How about some chocolate sauce on top?

And don’t let me forget to pour the whipped cream directly into your mouth! (Just joking, Dad, you know I think it’s cute.)

Grand-parenting looks like the “fun-do-over” that all parents realize they want, (too late with their own kids,) because they were too stressed and freaked out to enjoy it when their babies were young and adorable.

I mention this now, having just put down “Real Pictures,” a book that arrived last fall from Peggy Levison Nolan, published by Daylight. According to the end text, Ms. Nolan is the mother of 7 children, whom she’s photographed all along, but this book focuses squarely on their lives as adult children, with a slew of grand-kids in tow.

This is one of the books I mentioned recently, as I’d looked at it once and deemed it too similar to “Born,” which I reviewed not too long ago. But it seemed like it was worth re-visiting, as I knew I’d first viewed it in a bad mood, and it was at least intriguing enough to get into the maybe stack.

(In fairness, I missed the page with the subtitle “Tales of a Badass Grandma” the first time around.)

Today, the book’s bright, reddish-orange color caught the sunlight, and I picked it up again with fresh eyes.

Almost immediately, I was attracted to the cheeky insouciance with which these parenting adventures were photographed. There’s a brief opening statement in which the artist shares that she has kids, and honors her oldest daughter, who apparently led her younger siblings on a Western migration.

I was consistently intrigued by this sense of remove, of watching the action from the slightest distance, while still being in the room.

The pictures certainly don’t feel like they’re made of strangers, especially given the intimacy of the several baby butt shots. (Which I won’t photograph below, for obvious reasons.)

The kid in the diaper up the pole is a great image, and it’s paired with the dirty, painted feet standing on a chair. Most of the images use color and light well, (Thanks, California,) while also showing the behind-the-curtain, absurdist mundanity of it all.

The end text shares that Peggy Levison Nolan makes photo albums for each of her children, and the pictures are the same ones in this book. They may look like art, but to her, (and her family,) they are a personal history that we all get to share.

Just before the essays, there’s a short poem about (presumably) the artist waking up to thrift-store-painted portraits on the wall, rather than the sounds of her family.

And the last photo is (presumably) of her aged feet in bed.

It’s a powerful way to bring the story home, and I’m glad I gave this strong book another look.

Bottom Line: Visions from a hip grandma

To Purchase “Real Pictures” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We’re particularly interested in submissions from female photographers, and artists of color, so we may maintain a diverse program. 

This Week in Photography Books: Nick St. Oegger

 

Sometimes, I feel like an armchair Tony Bourdain.

(Minus the depression, thankfully.)

I still have a hard time thinking about Tony, as his death both hit me hard, and exposed the power of his through-the-camera-charm.

When Tony killed himself, there was an outpouring of global grief that I’ve seen very few times.

It was big when Pope John Paul died.
Sure.

And David Bowie.
People got really upset about that one.

But even a President like Ronald Fucking Reagan made barely a blip, when he finally gave up the ghost, while a Jewish-French Jersey boy, a former heroin addict who eventually got hooked on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, managed to shake the world with his passing.

Why?

It’s a fair question to ask, now that it’s been long enough for the emotions to have settled.

Tony lived a huge chunk of his late life on camera, and the guy that emerged for his audience was cool, smart, curious, funny, interested, intellectual, and above all, respectful.

He treated each person he met, in every country, with an innate dignity that made that person like and respect him right back.

Beyond the cool, party-guy, hard-drinking persona, there was the soul of an artist, as well as a cook. (Cooks don’t often call themselves chefs, and vice versa.)

I can’t imagine how a guy with that much to live for could feel so awful as to believe that a noose was his only way out.

He must have felt really, really shitty to do what he did.

But I can imagine how it must have felt, all those years into the job, when he began to truly understand just how alike all the places in the world were.

At some point, (the law of diminishing returns,) it simply must have been impossible to summon the energy to ask one more question, no matter how interesting his counterpart might be.

(I’m not saying I’m burned out, because that’s not true.)

Last week, I went into my own memory to pull out an important book to share with you, because I could. That creative freedom is special, and probably the number one reason why I have avoided boredom or flamed out.

Rather, after 7.5 years of doing this each week, the world has come to me several times over. A few years back, I wrote that I’d reviewed projects from every continent, and now it’s likely been twice.

These days, there are really few places that I haven’t seen, virtually, via photographs.

As such, all the meta-stories become really obvious.

Most people just try to raise their families in a safe environment, get as nice a lifestyle as they can, and live in an area that offers economic opportunity, a clean environment, and lots of social and cultural options.

Good luck finding a magic place like that.

And the ones that do exist, and are well known, have become inaccessibly expensive for most “regular” people. (I’m looking at you New York, San Francisco, and from, what I hear, LA.)

Money and power have always ruled the world, and always will. Those resources congregate in cities, which means that there is deep rural poverty across much of the world.

In those out-of-the-way places, young people flock to cities for the aforementioned reasons. Older people are left to run the vestiges of an agricultural economy, with a dwindling population, and few resources.

The natural resources that sustain these rural communities, (unless they’re in some of the few global countries that have strong, enforceable environmental protections,) will likely be manipulated by larger, governmental and corporate interests.

Those power players often trade environmental degradation for cash, or energy development, at the expense of those poor rural villagers who lack the funds, education, and/or organizing capacity to fight back in any meaningful way.

(Or, just as likely, the country in which that happens lacks the rule of law at all.)

So I was both engaged, and not entirely surprised, to read of the plight of the Vjosa river in Albania.

I was looking at “Kuçedra: Portraits of Life on Europe’s Last Wild River,” by Nick St. Oegger, which was self-published last year. (With funding from Patagonia and several other environmental organizations.)

It showed up from Ireland, though the bio at the end says that Nick was born in California. (So I’m not sure if he’s an American living in Ireland, or an Irishman who was born in America.)

Though it’s far from brilliant, I like this book, and am writing about it, which is always the number one compliment I can give. It inspired my creativity, and made me think about something.

(In this case, Tony Bourdain.)

I’ve never been to Albania, and outside of working for an Albanian guy in a restaurant in the East Village, (he fired me,) I don’t know much about the place.

It occupies that Macedonian region, south of the old Yugoslavia, but North of that whole Greece/Turkey axis.

What’s it like?

An early map shows how much Adriatic coastline it sports, (and it made me think, hmmmm, I bet there are some cool beach towns there,) but the Vjosa only dead ends in the sea, so this is a more inland affair.

(With wandering, ambling, fresh water, in lieu of the endless, salty horizon of the sea. Like I said last week, I need a vacation.)

The Vjosa interlinks ancient rural communities who indeed face the problems I wrote of above.

Dwindling populations, no jobs.

A strong, clear essay at the beginning, by a professor in Slovenia, tells us that women used to marry upriver, and move into their husbands’ communities over the generations.

The metaphor she uses, of upstream representing fresh and new, of young and vibrant, makes sense in an old-school DNA way, as in small villages, if you keep moving in one direction, your cousins will always be behind you. (Meaning, you won’t marry them.)

It keeps the genetics fresh, which is so important in isolated, rural communities. (Remember, I live in one.)

As the federal power structure has begun to dam the river, in search of hydro power, the culture and environment are both at risk, and communities have organized to battle.

But really, in 2019, how many of us think the villagers will win?

The text tells us the EU is trying to strong-arm Albania into behaving better, environmentally, but they’re doing what they want now, in case they do ever join the EU, and give up sovereignty.

I like the pictures, and the light in particular. They’re certainly lovely, in some cases outright beautiful. One concern, though, before I knew whether Nick was Irish or American, was why he was in Albania in the first place?

Where was the intentionality, or deep connection to time and place?

And these did not seem like they were shot over a long duration.

In the portraits, the villagers are often guarded, or look away, which is a tell-tale sign that there is a large chasm between the photographer and the subject.

Last week, I bemoaned the fact that so many of these books look alike these days. (A plea, perhaps, for some edgy submissions?)

This one is not dramatically different in style or content from most books, and I know I’ve equated Albania with many other places, but overall, the book does give us a sense of the smell in the air, I’d say.

And it is undoubtedly the first book I’ve seen from Albania, which is always high on my list of getting a review: showing us perspectives we’ve never seen before.

As I looked at it, I did wonder if its raison d’être might be that it was funded by environmental interests, or a national tourism board.

It’s got something of that feel, and in the end, we learn that’s what transpired. Eco-tourism is one of the few potentially clean economic engines for places like the Vjosa, so I wish those warriors well as they fight the powers that be.

Now I can say I know what rural, agricultural Albania looks like, and so can you.

We’re along for the ride together, and I never forget it.

Bottom Line: An beautiful eco-tale from Albania

To purchase “Kuçedra” click here 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We currently have a several month backlog, and are particularly interested in submissions from female photographers so we may maintain a balanced program.