Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

This Week in Photography: The early 70’s

 

Part 1: The Intro

It’s tempting to glorify the past.

(Mighty tempting.)

I wrote recently, in my eulogy to Robert Frank, that MAGA is really one more expression of the desire to return to the 1950’s.

It’s easy to mock that desire, (and I did,) because it so easily connects to a whiter, more racist and sexist America.

If we were to try to understand it on less nefarious terms, we might agree people associate the 50’s with American dominance, and a more naive, safer, more small-town version of ourselves.

(Before Walmart and the Malls killed small-town shopping districts. Oh wait, I said I’d stay positive.)

Last week, I wrote about #1983, and it came about in the most fascinating, subconscious way.

But the more I thought about it this week, the more the connection made sense. 1983 was a year before a presidential election, with a Republican president who’d begun a massive rightward shift for this country.

As the fall of the Berlin Wall was still years away, the end-of-the-world fear of pending nuclear war, after decades of Cold War, was real.

The Apocalypse was in, as “War Games” came out around then, and then “The Terminator.” (1983 and ’84, respectively.)

 

My point is that it’s easy to pick a time, as perhaps some people are now doing with the 90’s, and think that life was easier then.

If we were to peg each decade that was once held up as the ur-decade, (like the 60’s) we’d see there was plenty of drama, strife and difficulty too.

 

Part 2: West Coast Style

I write about photography here each week, (or most weeks these days,) and sometimes I admit to getting bored of it. In my current work, I’ve begun to experiment with sculpture as a way of extending my creativity in other directions.

But in order to keep up a column that is about photography these many years, I find it fun to create mini-themes, and let them play out naturally.

(It always happens best that way.)

So the last three weeks, we’ve had Robert Frank’s photographs from the 1950’s, Hugh Mangum’s images from the early 20th Century, all that 19th Century work from last week, and now…

1972-74.

That’s right: the early 70’s.

If we’re looking for parallels to now, there are none better.

The Nixon years.

I was born in 1974, so technically I was alive when Nixon stepped down, but it’s not in my frame-of-reference. I remember TV and pop culture from about 1977 on. (Close Encounters was ’77, I just checked.)

But this mini-era came just after the raging 60’s, and represents the heart of the Vietnam War.

It was chaotic to the extreme.

Dudes wore beards. (Sound familiar?)

A criminal president got busted, and it was so egregious that his own party finally broke, so he resigned, living in ignominy for a few decades, before being re-embraced shortly before he died.

Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry was the big thing going, Charles Bronson terrorized the bad guys, and Steve McQueen was still on the scene too.

A rough-and-tumble America was fighting the Cold War, pointed straight towards a political catastrophe of epic proportions.

Yeah, I think we can all agree it’s a relevant phase to contemplate, RIGHT NOW.

How convenient that when I looked at my bookshelf, I noticed “Boardwalk Minus 40,” by Mike Mandel, published as a part of Subscription Series #5 by TBW Books in Oakland. It happened to be filed a foot or so away from “Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink” by Bill Yates, published by Fall Line Press in Atlanta. (Which Bill gave me when he came through Taos this summer.)

I grabbed Mike Mandel’s book first, and recognized some of the images from a show I’d seen of his work at SFMOMA in Spring 2017. (And I later realized I’d reviewed the Subscription series as well.)

The pictures were made around the Santa Cruz boardwalk in 1974, and it’s kind of dry, compared to some of the other work from that show. The pictures are mostly in black and white, but there are two color images that really pop, early on.

Including one featuring a perfect, vintage Pepsi can.

I once spent a long while contemplating William Eggleston’s Coca-Cola red in a show at Pier 24, but Pepsi is a totally different reference.

Pepsi?

We’re Number 2, not Number 1!

The depiction of a place-in-time feels generic, and outside the palm trees, I’m not sure what places me in California.

Is that the point?
That California was generic?

The pictures feel a little like they’re leering, and it’s something I see more clearly now, in #2019, with my 12 year old son calling out sexism on TV and media with regularity.

(They see it so easily, the young, and yet the ideals were so hard won.)

Then it gets a step beyond, as a young woman leans over to show off her breasts, and we see her nipples. Then more, as two images shows men performing or simulating cunnilingus.

It’s important to remember the artist was young at the time, and even today, people photograph sex and nudity. But it’s hard not to see this book through today’s “woke” lens as well.

As to the pictures, they owe a debt to Garry Winogrand, and Henry Wessel, (RIP,) and it makes a lot of sense. In the end text, Mike Mandel admits that as he made conceptual work at SFAI with visiting professor Robert Heinecken, his main professors, Linda Connor and the aforementioned Wessel, would not graduate him with his MFA in 1974.

So he went to Santa Cruz, leaned into a “for fun” project he’d been messing around with, and shot this series of pictures on the boardwalk, seemingly with a 35mm camera.

It was done as an “I’ll show you,” or a spite project, and it worked, because they gave him his degree. I can see why the sex photos, in that era, would have given the work an extra-edgy feel, as “Deep Throat” and “Debbie Does Dallas” came out in ’72 and ’78 respectively.

Mike Mandel’s end-notes close with a Larry David joke, (if you can believe it,) but to me, pulling these photos out, 40 years later, does justice to the aging process, rather than their inherent strengths.

 

Part 3: Florida Kids

With “Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink,” though, we have an equally compelling backstory. Bill Yates had just graduated from University of Southern Florida, after a stint in the Navy, and was soon headed to RISD for an MFA, to study with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.

He’s roaming around Florida in 1972, looking for something to photograph, and stumbles upon the Sweetheart Roller Skating Rink in a rural spot outside Orlando. He asks to photograph the place, and the owner invites him back at night, when things are hopping.

Thus began a 7-month-deep-dive into 1973 for Bill, where he came back again and again. Everything was shot with a super-crisp medium format set-up, and I think that repeated engagement, plus the extra photo juice from the bigger negative, makes these pictures more memorable.

That the two books were so close on the book shelf was coincidental, but they have so much in common. The West Coast and East Coast versions of sleepy communities about to be eaten by much larger capitalist forces.

(Silicon Valley and Disney World.)

As to the photographs, like Mike Mandel’s antecedents were clear, here the imprint of Diane Arbus is ever-present, nowhere more so than the photo, on page 76 of the wall-eyed young woman and her less-than-intelligent-looking boyfriend.

 

But that’s a time-jump, so let’s take a step back.

The book opens with a very 50’s feel to it. Some greaser hair, the old signage, and there’s that Pepsi logo.

Pepsi binding the two books together?

So strange.

It’s only bit-by-bit that the 70’s-era-hair and clothing make an impression, versus the more Southern, rural feel we get out of the locals.

These pictures are awesome, and make me think of some working class images from Northern England.

The kids smoking.

The world-weariness in the eyes.

The book also has a bit more flesh-ogling than I think you’d see today. However, there’s a photo: a guy, kissing a girl, mad-dogs the crap out of the photographer, so it’s almost like he gets his comeuppance.

Though he trained with some amazing people, (as did Mike Mandel, who’s had a long career as an artist and academic,) Bill Yates went into a career as a commercial photographer.

He more or less pulled these pictures out of a box, 40 years later, and quickly ended up with this book, and a big solo show at the Ogden Museum of Art in New Orleans.

It’s a killer project, and it comes out favorably in comparison “Boardwalk Minus 40.”

But comparing and contrasting, saying which is better, is such a 20th Century concept, man.

Now is the age of win-win, and collaboration, so I’ll just say these two books make quite the pairing, and help give us visual reminders that America, and the world, have lived through tough times before.

Photography stops time and saves it for future generations.

So I suppose these last few columns have been my attempt, (subconsciously,) to remind myself, and all of you, that the arc of history is long.

Bottom Line: two cool books showing two Americas in the early 70s

Bottom Line: two cool books showing two Americas in the early 70s

 

This Week in Photography: East of the Mississippi

 

Part 1: The Intro

I was wondering what to write about this morning.

No strong pull in any direction. (Which is rare.)

So I dropped into a kneeling-Japanese-meditation-pose I learned in Aikido.

I calmed my mind, focused on my breathing, and at first, tried to figure out what my psyche was interested in. The last few stories from London? A new book from the pile? Anything about Chicago?

But I quieted those thoughts, because why else meditate?

After a few minutes, I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw was a book I’d considered for review twice before.

Each time, it didn’t connect.

So of course I picked it up, and fell in love, as it’s perfect for today. (But we’ll get to that.)

 

Part 2: The Album

A month ago or so, I wrote about synchronicity, so of course that was the first thing I thought after re-discovering today’s book.

Synchronicity.

My mind jumped to “Synchronicity,” the album by The Police from somewhere around 1984. (Summer ’83, apparently.)

It was their biggest pop culture breakthrough, and as a kid, (I would have been 9,) I remember it as melodic, with a big anthem song.

Which was it?
(“Every Breath You Take.”)

So I go to Spotify and put on the album. (Or its digital playlist equivalent.)

What did all of America go gaga for in 1983, I asked myself?
What’s the story here?

Right away, it was clear the lyrics and energy in the music were dystopic. Some songs were downright dissonant, which goes against the band’s traditionally excellent harmonics.

And really, that title.

Synchronicity.

It implies synthesis, like connections are a good thing. But the songs were disturbing, and really, I couldn’t connect the dots at all.

It made no sense.
None.

WTF?

So I picked up my phone, and sure enough, the Spotify was stuck on Shuffle Play.

I couldn’t turn it off.

The AI broke, so I wasn’t getting the flow the band intended. Even so, the songs were almost universally creepy, disturbing or violent, even though the melodies were often pleasant.

This was the biggest album in America in #1983, and made The Police briefly the biggest band in the world? (Before they walked away on top.)

What does that all mean?

I decided to go down a rabbit hole for you.

I did some digging, found a lyrics website, hit up Wikipedia and Youtube, some other places, and got info from The Police’s official website as well.

I also listened to the album again, in sequence, manually advancing the titles so I could get the intention, while reading the lyrics.

“Synchronicity I,” the first song, speaks directly to the Jungian principles by which the album was inspired. Carl Jung wrote a book called “Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle,” and Sting read it. He was also into “The Roots of Coincidence” by Arthur Koestler, as The Police named their previous album, “Ghost in the Machine” after one of his novels as well.

Synchronicity was Jung’s theory that events otherwise deemed coincidental might in fact have meaningful connections.

So the album opens by referencing those ideas directly, in a song called “Synchronicity I.”

“A connecting principle
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectable
Nothing is invincible”

We feel you, Sting.

The next song, “Walking in Your Footsteps,” is about dinosaurs, and our relationship to extinction.

“Hey there mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past”

Extinction talk.

In 1983!
Ahead of its time!

Oh, and I should mention the album cover was shot by Duane Michals, (who gave the best lecture I’ve ever seen at theΒ Medium Photo Festival in 2014,) in which Sting posed with dinosaur bones.

 

The “coincidences” mount.

In “Oh My God,” Sting writes,

“Everyone I know is lonely
And God is so far away
And my heart belongs to no one
So now sometimes I pray

Take the space between us
And fill it up some way
Take the space between us
And fill it up”

Totally prescient, as far as our empty digital connections supplanting IRL experience in #2019.

In ‘Mother,’ maybe the less said the better, as Andy Summers screeches about a Mother like he’s Norman Bates.

(Freaky AF, as the kids say.)

Then in Miss Gradenko, Sting wails,

“Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody alive in here?
Is anybody at all in here?
Nobody but us in here
Nobody but us!”

This is one messed-up piece of art, that somehow got packaged as pop music for the masses.

I need to take a break.

The #1983 vibe is feeling a bit too much like our current moment. They were living under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, due to the Cold War, and we’ve got Trump and climate change.

So.
Let’s talk about the backstory.

Sting, according to Wikipedia, only became a musician due to “happenstance.” He grew up near the shipyards in Northeast England in Northumberland, (and was headed towards that career,) but once saw the queen, who waved at him, and that gave him the courage to turn his back on convention and become a creative person.

He worked his way up, and got married before he was famous, as the three man band laid down hits in their first four albums. (“Zenyatta Mondatta” was always my favorite.)

But by the time The Police made “Synchronicity,” their their final album, Sting was going through a nasty divorce, as he’d taken up with Trudie Styler.

Also, the band supposedly HATED each other.

While “Synchronicity” was made on the island of Montserrat, the three musicians, Sting, Andy Summers and Stuart Copeland, were literally recording in separate rooms.

Separate rooms!

And fistfights were reported as well.

On The Police’s official website, for heavens sake, Stuart Copeland admitted “The whole album was recorded in an unbelievably bad atmosphere.”

In the music video (for MTV,) the three band members are almost always 10-20 feet apart, lip-synching on radically different platforms, and Sting looks like a dead ringer for Billy Idol.

Synchronicity indeed.

Just to add another layer of meaning, Sting wrote some of “Synchronicity” in Jamaica, in a house called Goldeneye, sitting at the same desk where Ian Fleming wrote James Bond.

After Miss Gradenko comes “Synchronicity II,” a song about a tired worn-out-sap who’s about to snap from family, factory work and traffic, all juxtaposed by the rising of an actual monster in a Scottish loch.

Next comes “Every Breath You Take,” which is the most obvious stalker song to ever become a mainstream hit.

“Every breath you take ,and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you,”

And it only gets more specific from there. Lots of watching you, and you belong to me.

How was this song ever considered pop music material?

Sting himself later said, “I think it’s a nasty little song, really rather evil. It’s about jealousy and surveillance and ownership.”

Then in order we have “King of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” (we get it,) and “Tea in the Sahara,” which ends with women burning in the desert with cups of sand.

Finally, there’s “Murder By Numbers,” which is about becoming a serial killer.

Dark, dark, dark stuff.
Horrifying, really.

And the only reason I’m writing any of this is because I saw a book when I opened my eyes from meditation, and took it as a “sign,” which led to a creative rabbit hole, which led to this column.

 

Part 3: The Book

It was a trove of photographs from the 19th Century that captured my attention today, in “East of the Mississippi,’ an amazing photobook that turned up in the mail a couple of years ago.

It was published by Yale University Press, for an exhibition mounted by the National Galley of Art, that I eventually saw at the New Orleans Museum of Art at Photo Nola in 2017.

Why didn’t I like this book before?
Why didn’t I write about the show?

What changed?

Well, I changed.

And the day, the year, the light, the circumstance.

Perhaps I’d grown so accustomed to the Western landscape, living in the heart of the American West this last decade and a half.

Big vistas, big mountains.

GRANDIOSITY!!!

East of the Mississippi, they’ve got small mountains and clustered landscapes.

Claustrophobic spaces.
Hollers.

Not nearly as dramatic, or dynamic.

Much more subtle.

Perhaps the equivalent of a cool Bordeaux, in lieu of a bold Ribera del Duero?

There is also a lot in this book that feels historical, or at least done by “lesser” photographers. Men (because let’s be clear, it’s nearly if not all men,) made work that was preserved for us, and on this viewing, I found it all interesting, historically.

(If not brilliant.)

And just as I found myself mentally comparing to Roger Fenton and Gustave LeGray and Carleton Watkins, as opposed to the more regular-guy-work in the book, I’d turn a page and something would jump, done by a clear talent.

George Barnard, one of my favorites, emerged. Or the Bierstadt Brothers. Timothy O’Sullivan, Arthur Dow, Steichen and Stieglitz.

The more talented photographers, or at least the images that had the most gravitas, would elevate the experience. It got me excited, as a viewer, waiting for the killer stuff within the edit.

(In this way, I was introduced to Isaac Bonsall, and Thomas Johnson, whom I didn’t know.)

But the landscape is varied, too, from the Deep South through the Midwest and New England.

So many lovely ones, amid the plenty.

There are train tracks and bridges, steam ships and water falls.

Men of industry, and beasts of burden.

All dead.

It really is the perfect book for today, as it reminds us that time marches on, and no one knows what’s coming.

The people in these albumen prints could no more imagine #1983 or #2019 than we can the 2050’s.

And as for synchronicity?

Taos is finally a trendy tourist destination again; really popular, with its Instagram-ready landscape, and non-American charm.

How did I know we hit the big time again?

Sting played here over Labor Day weekend.

I heard it was off the hook.

Bottom line: Exquisite exhibition catalogue documenting half of the past of America

To purchase “East of the Mississippi” click here

 

This Week in Photography: The Archive of Hugh Mangum

 

β€œThey said I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat–that was tough to beat. Honest Abe, when he wore that hat, that was tough to beat. But I can’t do that, that hat wouldn’t work for me. But I can’t do that…Yeah, I have better hair than he did. But honest Abe was tough to beat.”

President Donald Trump, the other day, #2019

 

I remember in the height of the Great Recession, when I just couldn’t wait for 2009 to end. “Come on, January. Let’s go 2010!Β Bring, it,” I thought.

Now, I don’t need to get into the particulars, but 2010 kicked my ass too. Maybe even harder than ’09.

Afterwards, I thought that “Be careful what you wish for” clichΓ© might have something to it.

I bring this up, because honestly, who knows where all this is headed?

Donald Trump was caught red-handed, doing the one thing the entire Mueller investigation was trying to prove, under the assumption that such behavior was a priori impeachable, but they never found the smoking gun.

This time, Trump and his minions were caught together, plus a cover-up-secret-server? And then, just hours after I initially wrote this, he goes on TV to invite the Chinese government to investigate the Bidens too?

I’ve done this column for 8 years solid now, (Happy Anniversary, yay!) and I truly don’t know where this story lands anymore.

But I began the column with Trump essentially doing stand-up-comedy.

Right? He’s doing a bit?

Like Rodney Dangerfield (RIP) in “Caddyshack,” or Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas?”

That hat, it’s tough to beat. Tough to beat. Honest Abe was tough to beat in that hat.

Good Ol’ Abe.

How is that not funny, and yet with the fate of the free world hinging on this man’s behavior, (Did you read about his idea for alligator and snake moats?) maybe we all just need to laugh, or at least catch our breath for a second?

Break a pattern?

In my case, I remember when Rob set me free to do the travel and cultural criticism pieces I’ve since written over the last six months.

It was liberating.

I’d done book reviews for a few years solid, and wanted to see what would happen if I went out there for you, to eat and drink and look and investigate.

Sitting on the couch flipping through books had gotten stale, but then, after six months of pinging around the world, (East Coast, West Coast, Europe, West Coast, East Coast, Mid-West) my head is more fried than my daughter’s skin this summer when she went to the pool with a friend who didn’t have her re-apply her sunscreen properly.

(Very, very fried.)

So today, while trying to process a president doing stand-up-comedy about the millinery choices of Abe Lincoln, I thought, man, it sure would be nice to pick up a book here in my house.

To do something different.

Instead of crunching my previous experiences into an article, I’d rather read and engage with an existing story in book form.

To look at someone else’s narrative, and see what I can learn.

“Photos: Day or Night, The Archive of Hugh Mangum,” edited by Sarah Stacke, was published last year by Red Hook Editions. It seems straightforward enough, as the book exists to present the digitized, preserved history of a notable Southern photographer who died too young in 1922. (44, RIP)

Sarah Stacke edited the book, wrote one essay, and interviewed Mr. Mangum’s granddaughter, Martha Sumler, at the end of the volume as well. (And shot her portrait.)

During his lifetime, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, Hugh Mangum had a darkroom in an old tobacco barn at his family’s country property outside Durham, North Carolina. He also spent time in the city-home as a youth, in Durham, and according to one of the essays, the block was fairly integrated.

Whatever the reason, Hugh Mangum defied the mores of the South in which he was raised by photographing African American and white people, and his interracial practice would have been rare for the time.

Plus, the photographs in here are badass. I mean, like totally good. In some cases, showing me things I still can’t make sense of.

Really, when was the last time I saw something photographic that defied reality in the way Trump’s opening quote does?

(See, I always bring it back around in a book review.)

Mangum sold his prints cheaply, so that his regular-people-clients could afford them. He kept costs down by splitting glass plates into multiple exposures.

Let’s jump to page 38.

There are 15 narratives on one plate.

We’re interested in the middle row.

A woman stares at the camera, severe, in a white high-neck-top and a stylish hat that cascades dark flowers. In the background, below her, to her right, a man, who looks like a Peaky Blinder minus the trademark hat, is staring daggers through the camera.

In the second frame, she looks down and away in a new hat, and he’s in the same spot, eyes just off the camera’s center.

Then, frame three, BOOM, he’s up front, looking right through us, and she’s just off his left shoulder, her face in her left hand, the two of them looking like they just robbed a train and were about to go have sex and then spend a few dollars at the casino afterwards.

Then, he’s next to her, and in an instant, in frame five, he’s receded into the background again, and she owns the frame.

This time, no hat.

If it were a fashion shoot for W magazine, you’d think it was progressive. Or film stills from a German avant garde movie that inspired the guy who inspired the guy who inspired Wim Wenders.

My point is, these photographs exist, and they’re amazing, but they don’t make sense in any way.

Who were they, and what the hell were they doing in that studio?

They’re phantoms out of time.
Like us.

(#2019 feels like it’s ten or fifteen years mashed up into one.)

There are many other such pictures here, images that would captivate, by themselves. Together, they make for the kind of book that will reward upon multiple viewings.

But then, in the end, things get really interesting.

In the closing essay, Martha Sumler admits that as a youth, she and her friends used to throw Hugh Mangum’s glass plates at trees, smashing them to bits.

“I believe all of us regret destroying them,” she said.

Totally caught me off guard.

And then, just when I got over that one, Sarah Stacke asks Ms. Sumler about the rumor that Hugh Mangum had shot naked photographs of local wealthy women?

Say what now?

(Out of nowhere, like it’s the most natural way to end a book.)

“SS: There is this rumor that Hugh made nude images of prominent women in Durham. What do you know about that?

MS: The information came to me from my mother. She told me there were nude pictures of prominent women in Durham… Some of the relatives still had pictures, and that was fine, but she didn’t want the glass plate negatives to get out, so she destroyed them…

SS: So much mystery.

MS: There is. And a lot of things we will never know.”

I’m not sure I can adequately explain how little I expected to read those things in a book like this. One that presents a bit of history, and recontextualizes a fine, almost awkwardly good group of pictures.

This book was made in 2018, and I believe it took six years or so to make. A true labor of love.

No matter.
It’s #2019 through and through.

Bottom Line: Weird, super-interesting book of historical photos from the South

To purchase “Photos: Day or Night” click here

 

This Week in Photography Books: Robert Frank

- - Photo Books

 

My wife told me an awful story last night.

(Prepare yourself, it’s a tough one.)

Apparently, one of the kids in my daughter’s 2nd grade class gave a note to two of her best friends that read: I’m going to kill you.

They told the teacher, as you might expect, but it turns out the boy’s mom is co-workers with one of the victim’s mother.

So the perpetrator’s parent approached the victim’s mother at work, called her a “Snitch,” and started a physical altercation.

Now, the aggrieved mother told my wife, when the little boy, (who wasn’t suspended,) walks by the girls he threatened, he also whispers “Snitch” each time.

In 2nd grade.

In a charter school constantly ranked one of the best in the New Mexico.

Welcome to America in #2019!

This morning, trying to unwind from an overwhelmingly busy trip to Chicago, (a string of 18 hour days with zero downtime,) I put on “Next of Kin,” a silly-looking, late-80’s action film set in the same city.

It starred Patrick Swayze, (RIP,) rocking a mullet-ponytail, (of course,) and a thick Appalachian accent. It also featured Bill Paxton (RIP) and Liam Neeson playing “Hillbillies,” and a very young Ben Stiller as an Italian mobster.

Say what now?

Honestly, it’s no surprise we all miss the “seeming” innocence of the 80’s and 90’s.

I’m not done with the movie yet, as I took a break to write for you, but the Italian Mafia plays a central role, and we can thank them for the culture of “OmertΓ ” that evolved into the 21st Century’s “No Snitchin’.”

How on Earth did “tattletale” become the worst thing a person can be? Worse than rapist, or killer, or thief? I mean, sure, we learn in kindergarten that “no one likes a tattletale,” but how many parents out there say “Go tell the teacher?”

I know I do.

Another word for “Snitch” or “tattletale” is “whistleblower.”

Right?

And sure enough, our pathological narcissist of a President may have finally managed to kick off an impeachment trial, because someone came forward to share that he, like the Mafia Don he appears to be, leaned on a foreign government to get dirt on Ol’ Joe Biden.

No one likes to hear “I told you so,” but honestly, I called him a Mafia-like-thug in this column so many years ago I don’t even remember when I first said it.

How did we get here?

And where is here?

2019 is so fucking confusing that sometimes I don’t even know what month it is, as I feel like I was just in London, (4 months ago,) or California, (2 months ago,) but if you told me it was December right now, I might not argue with you.

The NYT, my former employer, published an op-ed this week that confirmed this sense of perpetual confusion plays right into Trump’s hands, as the more unsettled people feel, the more likely they are to vote conservatively.

Which means there’s a strong chance that DJT is courting all this chaos ON PURPOSE.

All because 40% of the American population, nearly entirely white, wishes we could just go back to the 1950’s. That mythical time when non-ethnic, hat-wearing, square-jawed White Guys went out into the world each day to their office or factory job, and came home to a cooked dinner, served by their subservient, non-working wives, who kept their mouths shut, and did what they were told.

“Alice, why I oughta!”

That’s right.
The 50’s.

Sock hops and drive ins and juke boxes. Greasers and varsity jackets and pork chops and Coca Cola.

Mickey Mantle and Johnny Unitas.
Be like Ike.

This is what Trump means about Make America Great Again.

Let’s build a fucking time machine, out of a DeLorean big enough to fit 40% of America, and let’s all go back to a time when you didn’t have to acknowledge or respect other cultures.

When Thai Food was only in Thailand.

When 16 year old Swedish girls stayed in Sweden, and did what they were told.

When date rape was acceptable, and rampant pollution had not yet ruined America’s environment enough to draw regulatory blowback.

Make America Great Again?

No thanks.

Things may be royally insane these days, with our incels and our AR-15s and our Brexit and our Kardashians.

But I’d take it over a repressive, patriarchal monoculture each and every time.

You know who else was critical of the 50’s, while still managing to capture the best it had to offer?

That’s right.

Robert Frank. (RIP.)

Given the title of the column, you probably knew I was going to get here eventually. But still, in honor of Jack Kerouac, who wrote the introduction to the never-famous-enough-to-be-too-famous masterpiece, “The Americans,” I thought I’d push my stream of consciousness skills as far as they can go.

(Hey Andy Adams, still think Blake Andrews is the most brilliant photo blogger out there?)

As anyone reading this likely knows, Robert Frank, that once-a-century-genius, passed away recently. And though I’ve had the honor to meet and interview many of photography’s legends in my 10 years as a journalist, I never met or spoke to the man.

Hell, I don’t think I was ever within a few miles of him at any given time, though friends and colleagues did know him, and I send them my condolences.

But really, Robert Frank, Swiss Jew turned proper American, and his seminal book named after all of us, belonged to everyone.

Show me a trained photographer who never saw the book, or never cared for it. I dare you! Because we all know, no such person exists.

Each and every human being who ever picked up a camera in earnest, and then devoted him or herself to the craft, found this book to be an inspiration.

And rightly so.

Robert Frank, in the middle of the middle decade of the 20th Century, that decade now considered our heyday, came across the Atlantic Ocean and showed us who we were.

He used a camera, instead of a pen, to create a rambling visual poem, (as Kerouac correctly nailed,) that wove together a story about a newborn Superpower, one that used symbols in such a specific way that it took years for anyone else to have the guts to take back the American Flag, the crucifix, and the jukebox.

Because he owned them.
He made them his, and he made them sing.

Power brokers and fat cats.
Lonely workers and nobodies.
Trans people and cowboys.
African-American nursemaids and their lilly-white charges.

It was all in there.

TV screens and shotgun shacks.
Dancehalls and Drive-ins.

Death and despair.
Life and love.

It’s all there.

As a student, nothing impacted me more, as my final project for Photo 1 at UNM, called “Ten Hours to Vegas,” aped his style so strongly that I’m lucky I got out alive.

As a professor, I used the book to teach sequencing, as the transition from covered car to covered body, and rich banker in an office full of chairs followed by a worker squeezing his ass onto a narrow curb, will never be improved upon.

Those combinations are perfect, and help anyone and everyone understand how photographs can work together to strengthen each other.

I would not be the person I am today, nor the artist, had I not encountered it back in the 90’s, that decade the Millennials and Gen Z’ers are looking to as a model of a different kind of American Ideal.

Friends and Nirvana.
Pulp Fiction and Biggie Smalls.
Michael Jordan and Beavis and Butthead.

Yeah, I guess things weren’t so bad back then. But no matter what, unless you stumble on a wormhole, or a souped-up DeLorean, there’s no returning to the past.

Onward we go, instead.

So in honor of Robert Frank’s passing, I hope we all have the chance to do something important, like he did, because Lord knows the world needs all the help it can get.

Bottom Line: The best of the best, in honor of America

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 6

 

I didn’t sleep well last night.

Not at all.

I woke up, imagining it was nearly 6, and waited for the alarm to go off.

When it didn’t, I finally looked at the clock, and it was 3:15 in the morning.

Ouch.
Oof.
Barf.

All told, I was up from 2:45-4:45am, which is atypical for me. I even found myself doing Qi Gong exercises by the light of the moon, at 4am, trying to will myself to get tired again.

It didn’t work.

Why am I telling you this? (Silly question. I get personal each week.)

Well, I’m trying to establish my right to keep the intro short and sweet today. As it stands, I’ve got to be up at 5am tomorrow to drive to Albuquerque and fly out to Chicago for the Filter Photo Festival. (One of my favorite cities, and festivals, anywhere.)

This means I’ll have a whole new set of portfolios to show you in the coming months, as I’ll be reviewing work for a few days in Chicago. (And partying my face off. Man, do they know how to have a good time there.)

But it also means that we’ve got to end our series on Photolucida, the stellar festival I attended back in April, up in the Pac Northwest in Portland.

When I began this series, “The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida,” I told you there was so much good work, I’d be writing about it for months.

And so I have.

Never have I ever done a 7 part series on a festival before, but between 5 portfolio articles, and two stories about books I picked up, it’s exactly what’s happened.

And while it’s never taken me this long to wrap up a series before, there’s a first time for everything.

Kudos to the Photolucida team for bringing together so many talented photographers. But Chicago beckons, so it’s time to put this baby to bed. (And hopefully I’ll follow. Damn do I need a nap.)

As always, the artists are in no particular order, and I hope you enjoy the work below.

Let’s begin with Alexis Pike, if only because her work is fun, and as I’m both grumpy and nauseated from exhaustion, fun sounds good to me.

Alexis showed me her project, (also a book by Ain’t Bad,) featuring work about the cult of Evil Knievel. That name might not mean anything to all the millennials out there, (truth,) but the now-dead daredevil was the biggest thing going back in the 70’s. (Yes, I feel old today.)

Alexis is from Idaho, and teaches in Montana, where Evil’s demographic still runs deep. Killer stuff. (No pun intended.)

Now things are going to get a little gloomy. First, let’s look at the work of Hillary Clements Atiyeh, who showed me a very heavy project. Apparently, her (now) ex-husband was in a small plane crash, and and suffered serious injuries.

She helped nurse him back to health, before they divorced, and these photographs document their difficult journey. One imagines the art also served as a major stress release valve for Hillary, as we all know that art is among the best ways to express our emotions in a healthy, controlled way.

Super-poignant stuff.

And let’s get the other super-heavy project out of the way now too. Joe Wallace and I had a review together, and he brought along a project about people suffering from Alzheimer’s.

It’s a disease that affects so many people, but I don’t think it gets the same recognition in media as cancer does now, or perhaps AIDS did back in the 80’s and 90’s. But with the baby boomer generation rapidly aging, caring for the (potentially) millions of dementia sufferers will soon be a nationwide problem.

Powerful art, for sure.

On a political, but also weighty note, we’ll move on to Rich Frishman, whom I first met at Photo NOLA back in 2017. While Rich then showed me a series of Americana-themed images that have since gone on to success, this time, he dove into the belly of racism in America.

He photographed places that are seminal in the racist history of America, (how’s that for a not-proud subject,) and along with Jeanine Michna-Bales’ photos about the Underground Railroad, (which we’ve published a couple of times before,) they serve as a good example of the way visual history can supplement the written word, when it comes to proper preservation.

An official Texas Historic Landmark, the Goliad Hanging Tree is a symbol of justice, Texas-style.

The newly freed African Americans of the Shiloh Community established a school for their children shortly after the Civil War. The one-room building was demolished in the late 1800’s and classes were held at the Shiloh Baptist Church.

The United States government has recently begun fortifying the border between the US and Mexico. This new gate actually separates American farmers from their croplands just to the south, still in the United States.

Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.

Houston Negro Hospital School of Nursing, built in 1931, now stands abandoned along with the hospital with which it once was associated.

Palimpsest of bricks closing the former entrance for “Colored People” at the Saenger Theatre in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The first Mississippi state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Medgar Evers was shot in the back in the carport of his humble home in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.

During the Freedom Summer of 1964 three civil rights activists were jailed briefly in the small Neshoba County jail on trumped up charges. When Mickey Shwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were released that night, they were followed by Ku Klux Klan members tipped off by the sheriff’s office. They were forced off the road en route to their office in Meridian, taken to this remote backroads location and bludgeoned to death. Their bodies were later found in an earthen dam.

During the first half of the 20th century, the small community of Idlewild was known as β€œThe Black Eden.” It was one of the few resorts in the country where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property, before discrimination was outlawed in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Richard Andrew Sharum, from Dallas, had some photographs of Cuba, and hoped that they might distinguish themselves from all the other projects shot in Cuba. (One of our Antidote students this summer also tried to claim a “different” version of Cuba, but I’m not sure it’s possible at the moment.)

As he’s a photojournalist who covers a variety of stories, Richard asked if I’d agree to look at more work online, to see if something else was appropriate for this article, and I agreed.

He sent me this very powerful project about homeless school children in Texas, and I gave him an immediate yes. (Not hard to see why, right?)

I may have my professional writer’s card taken away for using the word “Americana” twice in the same article, but since the first instance referred to an article from nearly 2 years ago, I’m going to risk it.

It’s the best way I can think of to describe Lisa Guerrero’s excellent little group of pictures, given that I’m down 10 or 15 IQ points at the moment. (Even with the coffee. There is not enough coffee in the world to make me feel better right now.)

But these pictures did put a smile on my face. It’s not that they’re glib, or overly lighthearted, but a few weeks ago I admitted that I still try hard to love this country, and pictures like this seem to channel the absurdist-yet-earnest take on the USA that I try to share, in my better moods.

Finally, we’ll finish with Rebecca Hackemann, who is English, but is a professor in Kansas. (Bet she has a hard time getting a proper fish and chips there. Hope she likes barbecue.)

As to the work, it was conceptual, and 3D/sculptural, including a stereoscopic project, and these tintype photograms featuring antiquated technology. At first, I didn’t think it would reproduce well here, but once I saw her jpegs, I realized they were well worth showing. Hope you enjoy them, and see you next week.

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 5

 

I made a new friend the other day.

His name is Keith.

He’s originally an East Coaster, like me, and now works as the security guard at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, where my “Party City is the Devil” show opens today.

Last week, while I was installing, Keith hung around a bit, and we got to talking. As the show took many hours to put together, over three days, it allowed for quite a bit of chatter.

In all honesty, when I first saw him, I did ask myself why he was the one protecting the joint. Not that he’s fat, old, or unimposing, (because he’s not,) but his look doesn’t scream dangerous either.

Keith has had an interesting life, filled with different phases, and confided he once spent years as the private chef for the CEO of Reebok.

Only after we’d gotten to know each other a bit, and he judged me cool, (I gather,) did he open up his jacket to show me his massive gun and even scarier knife.

Turns out, Keith knows some martial arts, but is a highly trained weapons specialist. A master marksman, he is quick off the draw, and is as familiar with handguns as shotguns and AR-15 rifles.

Yesterday, he showed me another knife, just as nasty, and a baton that can break bones faster than John Bolton is gonna get a tell-all book deal.

And he let me handle his Smith and Wesson .45 caliber hand cannon.

Truth time: it scared me shitless.

For most of us, guns, as objects, are terrifying. I don’t know how to use them, nor how to shoot, so to me, they emanate violence and misery.

I know they’re just a tool, (which Keith confirmed,) but man, are they unpleasant.

So you might be surprised to know I asked Keith to teach me how to shoot, and handle weapons properly. And he agreed.

Say what now?

Why would an artsy, hipster liberal want to know how to use a killing machine?

Because it was about as far out of my comfort zone as I could imagine going.

Over the years, I’ve come to dispense advice here, along with the art criticism, and doing things you find scary and difficult is one of the very best ways to grow as a human being. (And by extension, as an artist.)

That’s what it means, the phrase “get out of your comfort zone.” It’s about challenging yourself, and running towards the fear, and your weak spots, instead of away from them.

Another habit I think is undervalued, (or at least underutilized,) is knowing how to admit you’re wrong, and accept accountability and responsibility for your actions.

It may be the most Un-Trumpian thing a person can do, saying sorry and backtracking, but I believe it’s super-important.

Right now, I’m thinking of a particular incident that happened last April, when I was at the Photolucida festival in Portland. (We’re going to wrap up the series this and next week.)

It was on the last evening, at the closing party, when all the people from the festival were thrown together, artists and reviewers alike, and everyone was as worn down and low-functioning as they could be. (You try talking, looking, thinking and partying for 4 days straight.)

I wrote in a previous column that the photographers at this particular festival were too pushy and aggressive, for whatever reason, and that last night, people were approaching me left and right.

Someone even chastised me for removing my name tag, as if I’d broken the law.

I was grumpy, and spent, no question.

It took about 10 minutes to get from the front of the room to the back, and when I finally made it, Carol Isaak, a photographer I’ve since published here, approached me.

She asked, over the din, if I’d go outside with her for a private chat.

I was so tired, and burnt, that I was rude to her. I know I was.

“No, I said, I won’t go outside right now. But I will listen to you. Whatever you have to say, just say it here.”

Again, she implored me to go outside with her, and again I said no.

“Whatever you want to say there,” I grunted, “you can say here instead.”

I believe I mentioned in that last article that Carol is married to a Rabbi. I was courting some seriously bad Jewish karma by speaking to her like that.

So she looked me square in the eye, and took out a hearing aid. She held it up to my face, without a word, and watched me dangle on the hook like a dead hit man in a meat locker.

My face fell, I apologized profusely, and followed her to the front steps of the venue. (Sheepishly.)

As it happened, I’d asked Carol about the connection between her Buddhist-seeming India photographs, and her Jewish spirituality, and after a day or two of thinking about it, she had an answer for me. (She also accepted my apology graciously.)

Needless to say, I felt awful, but managed to salvage what I’d made of a potentially bad situation. (As a known good-guy, I really didn’t want people to think I’m an asshole.)

But now that we’re on the subject of Portland, it’s time to show the rest of the best work I saw. (This week and next week.) As usual, the artists are in no particular order, but as we have a lot to get through in the final two installments, I will be showing slightly smaller segments than I normally do.

Let’s get going!

Weldon Brewster is a successful commercial photographer based in Pasadena, who recently decided to focus more on his personal projects. He’s hardcore, for sure, as he sold his house and bought a new one with a studio, once he decided to commit.

Weldon is interested in Pictorialism, the style that was en vogue at the turn of the 20th C, before the group f.64 crew made it unfashionable in the 1920’s and 30’s. As such, the images he showed me of the California coast were intentionally soft and lush.

I liked them immediately, and later learned, (courtesy of Andy Adams,) that one of the images looked very much like a photograph on the cover of a famed Wynn Bullock book. So in our follow up, we discussed how one can stick with a project, and develop work more deeply, to move away from associations with things that have been done before.

Dawn Watson was one of several artists I met for a second time, as I’d reviewed one of her projects, (and published it here,) after the LACP Exposure portfolio review in 2017.

It was fascinating to see how it had evolved, as she clearly took some of my advice to heart, and it was strange to hear myself saying things that I’d clearly already said 2 years earlier. (Dawn and I both have good recall, I guess.)

Rather than showing the same work, though, we’re going to share a new, in-progress series she’s working on in the studio. The constructions, nature in an unnatural environment, are experimental, and very cool.

Marian Crostic, to lean into the theme, was also an artist I’d met at a previous LACP Exposure review. And she too had heard my critique, and then pushed herself much further. In particular, Marian, who lives on the West side of LA, and walks on the beach frequently, worked hard to imbue her imagery with more of a sense of Zen wonder.

They don’t need much of an explanation, (as you’ll soon see,) but are quite beautiful and lovely. No doubt you’ll be smitten, and wish that summer wasn’t 11.5 months away.

Cable Hoover is a fellow New Mexican, and was born and raised in Gallup. Anyone who’s driven through the West along I-40 might have passed through, and it presents as a dusty, hardcore Wild West town. (Not unlike Taos, but with less tourism, and no skiing.)

Rather, Gallup is in the Four Corners region, adjoining the Navajo Nation, and is known to be a properly tough town. These days, everyone likes to see “true” stories from inside a culture, rather than from without, and these images are about as raw as it gets.

Dynamite (and tragic) stuff.

Martha Ketterer, like Marian, is also smitten with the ocean. She presented a series of photographs made on the beach in Cabo, and explained a rather complicated technique she employs to create the panoramic effect.

I wasn’t sure the dividing lines made the pictures stronger, and told her so, but really, what’s not to like here?

Jesse Rieser was visiting from Arizona, and we had several friends and colleagues in common from the Phoenix photo crew. (Arizona, though I like to mock it as a place, does have a great history and tradition of photographic excellence.)

While he definitely presented me with my favorite single image, a young hipster woman wearing a unicorn hat and smoking a bowl, overall, I thought his series on Christmas in America was fucking awesome.

And now that it’s mid-September, Xmas is right around the corner, right?

Jean Sousa was one of several artists who showed headache work, as I previously mentioned. (At least I think I wrote about the phenomenon. After 5 months and six articles, it’s hard to be sure.)

They’re obviously blurry on purpose, via a lack of focus, and you’ll either love them or hate them. Personally, I’m working on some Op Art ideas myself, and didn’t love the headache these pictures induced, but still thought they were worth publishing for you.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Nate Gowdy, a documentary photographer/ photojournalist who’s spent a ton of time on the campaign trail. Given that I write about politics so often, I’m going to abstain from editorializing on the subject right here.

The work is properly excellent, and particularly relevant, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Nate is also working on something called “The American Superhero,” so be sure to check it out on his website.

Visiting California, Part 2: The Decline of San Francisco

 

Part 1. Synchronicity

 

Meaning is what we make of it.

That’s a fact.

A week ago exactly, I stood on my front porch as our Antidote event broke up, and I watched a newly formed community, people who hadn’t even known each other a few days before, split with sorrow, as if parting with family.

One student stayed a little longer, so I could set her up with a cool road trip around Southern Colorado.

Now, I’m the first to admit that our program, set in the hippie Mecca of Taos, NM, is rather progressive in the ways we teach creativity and open-mindedness.

Hell, I write about this every week for you guys, so I have no doubt you can imagine the ideas that get kicked around the breakfast table.

But a week ago, I stood there with Christina, discussing future possibilities for her art, when a red-tailed hawk began screeching loudly from the sky.

At first, I smiled and kept talking, but the hawk kept it up, so finally, I paused.

“Hey Christina, let’s go see what the hawk wants,” I said.

“Christina” photo courtesy of Hillary Johnson

So we did.

Immediately, I saw two in the sky, and began theorizing as to what they might mean for the two of us, symbolically.

Then, Christina saw a third bird, forming an upward-triangle-vortex in the deeply blue sky.

Her photographic art, both past and (potentially) future, revolves around her triplet daughters, who after some health scares are now successful young women, out in the world.

Three girls, three hawks.

The symbolism for both of us was unmissable.

Three birds.

Free.
Alive.
Glorious.

I looked at Christina and said, “Out here, on this farm, we choose to believe that the things like this can mean something. They are symbols, with power, as opposed to random events in the natural world. I know that can sound new-age, so feel free to think that’s crazy.”

But Christina lives in California, and was embedded in a very positive, life-affirming, artsy group for the weekend, so it was clear she saw those hawks in the sky, and her girls in her mind’s eye.

Photo courtesy of Hillary Johnson

In a normal year, that would have been one of the craziest moments I’ve had, fraught with metaphysical essence.

But it’s 2019, and many of you have been reading along, so you know it’s been one wild fucking ride.

 

Part 2. The sermon about San Francisco

I mentioned California just a few paragraphs up, and of course that’s where we’re headed today. But it won’t be a long, rambling visit, as we’ve had many of those.

I’ve tried to take you on the deep dive into contemporary New York this year, and New Jersey. Portland and London too.

That’s the East Coast, West Coast and Europe.

As to San Francisco, I don’t think I have it in me to drill into the core of the myriad problems.

It’s just too sad.

It’s easy to pile on San Francisco these days, but sometimes where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

I used to live in the city, from 1999-2002, back when booms were met with busts, and artists could still afford an apartment.

And I’ve reported on the growth and change here on APE since at least 2013. Year by year, we’ve discussed the rise in homelessness.

That’s what I called it at first.

Then, I reported on the rise of tent cities, and the sense of hopelessness that the problem could ever be solved, as income inequality grew to absurdist proportions.

Finally, we’ve settled on the term street class, which I wrote in last week’s book review, as the trend solidified into something normal. Something regular.

Something permanent to be tolerated.

Much as Trump’s America has given us kid jails, and ever-more-rampant spree killers, it’s also seen the final blow dropped on what was once a truly cool, vibrant, special American city.

Now it feels like one big tourist trap overlaid on a tech-bro landscape.

City Lights Bookstore

 

Part 3. Visiting a gallery in the old neighborhood

San Francisco is getting killed in the media, regularly, so it gives me no pleasure to write this. But as soon as we got to the rental car place, in Oakland, the nice Haitian woman who helped us swore that SF was so dangerous she didn’t go there anymore.

She even warned us off of the visit, if you can believe it.

But after leaving the airport only to land in Bay Area morning rush hour, with an 1.25 hour drive to go a few miles, (little did we know,) the only thing I was worried about was how long it would take to get my pupusas.

I’d promised the family some great Salvadoran food, in our old neighborhood, the Mission, and desperately hoped we could make it there before food crashes, or traffic, undermined us.

After a few close calls, in all the chaotic traffic, we made it, and stuffed our faces on masa-stuffed goodies, served with spicy salsa and a vinegary claw.

La Santaneca de la Mission, right near Mission and 24th, is so fucking good. Try it, but make sure to bring cash, as they don’t take plastic. (Note that, Europeans.)

Thinking back, the meal was perhaps the highlight of the visit, as it resonated of the Central American immigrants who used to dominate the neighborhood, back in the day.

And then then we went on a short walk, and saw several local institutions in the midst of being replaced by gentrification. (Like the old school Locatelli Ravioli, which seems to have shut the day before we got there.)

I did a loop of the old haunts, and even Mission Street, which still looked the same, felt like a zombie. Somehow, I recognized the places, but the soul was gone.

That’s the best way I can describe it.

I split off from the family, and headed to Euqinom Gallery, where I was meant to hook up with Philip, an artist I’d met in Portland. We both wanted to see “Present Objects,” curated by Emily Lambert-Clements and Monique Deschaines, which featured 5 female artists who worked in very different ways.

But just before I got there, not 100 feet from the gallery, was a tent, sitting there, in the middle of the sidewalk.

By itself.

I stopped dead, but decided I would NOT take a picture for you, so I didn’t.

My heart sank.

The gallery is about 1/4 of a mile from where I used to live. My old home. The stomping grounds.

And now people are living in tents in the middle of the sidewalk.

I mentioned it to Monique, who said it happens constantly these days, as once residents call the police, the squatters still have 3-4 days before the cops come roust them.

Sometimes, Monique says, a few tents will join once one pops up, and they’re harder to move. She mentioned a story she’d heard about someone pouring water on a tent from above.

Again, this is normal now.

As to the exhibition, the work was strong overall, featuring a variety of processes, and fairly or not, my favorite were the paper-based wall sculptures by Julia Goodman. Totally textural and sumptuous, I was told the artist makes them with composites of old t-shirts, among other things.


There was also an installation of fake detective novels by Rachel Phillips that was clever, but not something over which I’d swoon. The other three projects were more photographic in nature, and featured a fairly disparate set of styles. (All of which I liked, for sure, but did not love.)

As we were wrapping up, I asked Monique if there was a theme to the entirely-female group, as it didn’t seem to be “about” feminism.

She told me the gallery will always have 2 female artist for every man, and then she turned the tables on me.

“You would never have said that, if it were five men in the show.”

“Yes, I would have,” I replied.

“No, you wouldn’t have,” she countered.

“You don’t know me very well,” I said. “It’s 2019. I absolutely would have noticed if it were five men, because that would have seemed out of step with the times. Not only that, I think a lot of people in the photo world would notice, after the last few years.”

Don’t you agree?

 

Part 4. Pier 24

We spent the night in a fancy hotel on the Embarcadero, a few blocks from Chinatown and the waterfront. In retrospect, (and having just watched “Warrior,” which is set in 19th C SF,) I guess that part of San Francisco, the Barbary Coast, has been dodgy for a long time.

Hotel View, on the Embarcadero

The Transamerica Building, from the Financial District

The Ferry Building at night

But while I had seen a lot of hard-core poverty in the Tenderloin, over the years, what I witnessed by the Bay, in late July, was several degrees worse.

I knew better than to take my kids out after dark, but Jessie and I took the briefest of walks to the Ferry Building, and almost got mugged once or twice.

No exaggeration.

The collection of desperate, down-on-their-heels people would have been darkly mesmerizing, if the natural human instinct wasn’t to get back to safe harbor as quickly as possible.

In order to avoid an alley, Jessie asked that we take Market Street, and in only one block, there was a woman wailing for anyone to help her move her wheelchair, several people sprawled out on the ground, and I swear it felt like we’d descended into Hell.

I know that stories like this fit Trump’s narrative that America’s cities are in bad shape, but as I’ve reported constantly over the last year, I don’t believe that’s the case.

Desirable cities are booming, but the income inequality wave is drowning more and more people each year.

It’s a horrible set-up, I know, but part of why we stayed near the Ferry Building was that we wanted to visit Pier 24, the very excellent, free photo museum/gallery that we’ve profiled here several times before.

I’m going to avoid editorializing right now, and state only that the museum, as I’ve previously reported, houses the collection of the Pilara Foundation, which runs the space.

They allow a very limited number of people inside, and the space is enormous, so they’ve created an excellent, boutique experience for viewing some truly exceptional contemporary and vintage photography.

It’s owned by a very wealthy patron, and in the past has featured an exhibition ABOUT the collector class.

The 1%.

But the wealth is put to the benefit of the public. (If you know about it, and can reserve a space online.)

The people who work there, though, are regular folks like us. They’re neither rich, nor Upper Class.

So when I took my family, (again, for free,) we walked along the waterfront, as people slept on the sidewalk, or leaning up against the sides of buildings.

The tourists were everywhere, creating side-walk passing lanes I hadn’t seen outside of New York.

Inside, Pier 24 was celebrating its 10th Anniversary, and the first space, which was filled with the Sugimoto wax royals, set the scene nicely.

As I said, the place is sprawling, with so many prints by so many famous names. Amidst all the great work, one mini-gallery felt so subversive, I did a double-take.

There, together, were a set of original Dorothea Lange images, and as she was a Bay Area photographer, they packed an extra punch.

BOOM!

The past few years, as I tried to explain to people what this new street class looked like, I would say, “It’s like those photographs from the Great Depression. It’s happening again.”

And there they were.

In my mind, I imagined some of them were hung on walls shared with the exterior. (It’s possible.)

Maybe, some nights, while the photos hung on the inside of the walls, sad, lonely humans slept on the other side.

(Whether it happens literally or not, it happens metaphorically every day.)

Major Kudos to curators Christopher McCall and Allie Haeusslein for sharing that gallery in the middle of a city in crisis.

Three photos by Adou

There was plenty of other great work on display, including Adou, a Chinese artist I’d never heard of before, but only one thing knocked me on my heels.

And it takes us back to today’s beginning.

Symbolism.
Meaning.
Synchronicity.

Because one little gallery was filled with vintage Robert Adams images, which were clearly from Colorado. (His old stomping ground.)

The looked so familiar, but I was sure I hadn’t seen them before.

My brain was whirring, one more mystery in a crazy year, when I saw it. Things clicked.

It was Eden.

Eden, Colorado.

Where my London adventure began, on the highway to Denver, four months ago.

It was in Eden, that mythically-named spot, where I noticed people living in their cars.

As if it were normal.

Welcome to 2019.

This Week in Photography Books: Joshua Dudley Greer

 

I was six years old when Ronald Reagan was elected.

And 10 when he got another four years.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned my parents were staunch Democrats. For whatever reason, they didn’t discuss politics much at the dinner table, and in a pre-Internet era, it was hard to know as much about the issues as we do now.

These days, my son watches Hassan Minaj and John Oliver on Youtube for his news, and recently opined about Boris Johnson with one of our Antidote students.

He’s 11.

But back then, when Reagan wiped the floor with Walter Mondale in ’84, winning 49 states, I assumed everyone liked Reagan, including my parents.

I was no Alex P. Keaton, (though my Mom did dress me like him occasionally,) but as a 10 year old, a 49-1 victory looked pretty convincing.

Nancy Reagan was up on TV all the time saying “Drugs Are Bad,” so I assumed she was telling the truth. (But maybe that’s another story for a different day.)

What I’d rather emphasize is that in 2019, imagining America as that united on ANYTHING, much less a presidential election, seems quaint, quixotic and antiquated. (Three q words. Not bad.)

How could our country have ever agreed to that degree?

It’s gargantuan, and diverse in its local cultures, landscapes, and populations.

Iowa is to Hawaii as Poland is to the Philippines.

Catch my drift?

This morning, while I’m barely recovered from my crazy August, my mind drifted to the millions of miles of highways that knit this massive country together.

As the future is uncertain, I wonder if some of these places, different in so many ways, will ever again cohere around anything beyond a shared language and currency?

Is there hope for us?

Will we ever be one country again, like when everyone watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” or “Fantasy Island” on Network Television on their small cathode ray tube monitors?

I remember being at Pine Forest summer camp in 1984, chanting “USA, USA, USA” in the dining hall on July 4th with everyone, in unison, and there was no irony in sight. Patriotism was something regular people believed in, not just Red State Republicans.

Why am I feeling so nostalgic for times gone by today?
Or perhaps wistful about the majesty of America?

I’m glad you asked.

I felt like looking at a photo book, but didn’t want to leave the Portland series behind, so I picked up “Somewhere Along the Line,” by Joshua Dudley Greer, published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany.

Alexa Becker, a friend and Kehrer Verlag representative, gave me a copy of this book at the photolucida Blue Sky photo book night I mentioned in last week’s column.

She had it specifically set aside, assuming I’d like it. (As word of my taste might have gotten out over the last 8 years, she was spot on.)

I was smitten.

That a German publisher decided to run with such an exhaustive, almost categorical view of the American “on the road” landscape, along our highway system, is not surprising, really.

Not if you’ve heard of the popularity of American road trips among Europeans in the past, and now tourists from all over the world.

(The German filmmaker Wim Wenders made “Paris, Texas,” for heaven’s sake, and that may be the best American on-the-road movie ever made.)

The drawn line on the book’s cover first made me think of a county line, or state line, or even the Mason Dixon line.

But after the first few titled photographs jump from Arizona to Maine, Alabama to Alaska, you get the sense this book means business, and likely presents the title metaphorically. Photo geeks will recognize, in the sharpness and clarity, the likely use of large format cameras.

And probably film. (The end notes confirm.)

Perhaps its inevitable that Red and Blue State Americans hate each other more than they do our outward enemies.

60% of the country roots for Trump to fail, so he can be ousted before he goes for the lifetime Presidency he’s always joking about.

And Republicans hated Obama just as much.

But for me, a book like this, even with its sad photos and clear depiction of America’s tragic contemporary street class, somehow feels a bit optimistic.

The book, through the artist’s many miles, unites the country.
Literally.

He went all over, and recorded everything as one in this book.

I’m not being hokey.

It’s true.

Here is the South and the North.
The West and the East.

And it’s awesome.

Fuck all the haters.

America may be a declining empire, but we’re still cool as hell.

Bottom line: Elegiac, razor sharp look at all of America

To learn more about: “Somewhere Along The Line” click hereΒ 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 4

 

It’s been quite the year.

Denver, New York, the Jersey Shore, Albuquerque, Portland, London, San Francisco, and Monterey so far, with Philly and Chicago up next.

Just writing that, no wonder I’m so tired.

Antidote starts up again tomorrow, then my daughter turns 7 a few days later, and I hang an art show the next week.

It’s easy to give in to negative thoughts, when the exhaustion sets in, I admit.

And after being in Peak-Fitness-Shape back in June and early July, now I’ve got so many niggles and out-of-whack muscles, I feel like I just went two rounds with Mike Tyson.

(Of course in reality I’d barely last 3 seconds…)

I’ve been whining and moaning, feeling sorry for myself because I’m wiped out. I’m even writing it here, two weeks in a row.

But…

Yes, there’s a but…

Just yesterday, separately, my wife and I came to the same conclusion. The negative thoughts follow exhaustion, true, and we even have a term for it: tired brain.

You can battle it, with exercise and sleep and rest, but at least one of those is always hard to come by for us, this time of year.

You can also fight it with a mental re-frame, which is what Jessie and I realized yesterday.

My family is healthy, our retreat is thriving, I’m super-lucky to have the chance to show my work on the walls of the Harwood Museum of Art, and in a new book.

And here I am complaining.

So right now, I’m sitting on the couch, typing on a computer, and I’ve got a smile on my face.

I’m doing it on purpose, sure, but it works. Smiling.

It’s easy, in 2019, the era of Trump and Climate Change, to succumb to a near-permanent hysteria. Social media, traditional media, and even hanging around the wrong people can lead us to believe the end of the world is imminent.

If we don’t fix Climate Change in the next 6 years, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE.

DIE, DID YOU HEAR ME?

DIE!!!!!

That’s the level of discourse these days.

No wonder everyone is so fucking stressed all the time.
(Me included.)

One of my favorite things about doing Antidote, and attending all the festivals I do, is that when creative people get together in one place, ideas happen.

Every time.

You can’t predict what will come of it, but you’re guaranteed something will.

2019 is a tricky time, so if you have any additional opportunity to get out there and hang out with your favorite people, or meet new ones, get it done.

I know I had fun in Portland, and even though the early spring seems a long time ago, I’ve got a good memory, and I take notes too.

So why don’t we check out some more of The Best Work I saw at the Photolucida festival in Portland earlier this year.

Jennifer Bucheit, from Wisconsin, showed me photographs that were printed on packaging, which feels of the moment.

She recycles the value of worthless things by incorporating them into art.

I think it’s important that art pieces like these have a strong connection between the object and the image, and I could maybe quibble here or there, but really, this is a cool project.

These jpegs show front and back, obviously, but IRL you can’t see them simultaneously. It makes the digital experience inherently different from the real.


Sunjoo Lee, from Seoul, Korea, had some of my favorite work. (If I’m allowed to say such things.) It’s just so up my alley.

Zen. Spare. Beautiful. Haunting. Quiet. Austere. (But not in a bad way.)

It feels silly to stay too much about these, though I should clarify that the subtle nature makes the prints a different thing than the digital experience.

Do I sense a trend?
Yes I do.

Jody Ake, whom I hadn’t seen at a portfolio review since 2009, was at the festival showing work, as he lives in the area, and had a new project.

I knew Jody back then, when he was making wet plate portraits of people, and there wasn’t much work like that then. Now, it’s all over the place, so perhaps he was ahead of his time.

(Maybe he still is, as Jody owns a marijuana edible company.)

His new work features analog, old school images made of computer-generated landscapes in video games. These scenes, all ones and zeroes, were made for and of color, so stripping that back makes them eerie indeed.


Quinn Russell Brown, based in Seattle, had some pictures made of digital equipment from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s personal collection, which he considers a visual obituary to the deceased mogul. (I swear, I didn’t plan this theme today. It just happened.)

The images were made at Paul Allen’s personal museum, and are super-cool. Pictorially, they’re very different than everything else today, even if they fit with the others, thematically.

The color and design elements are fantastic. Great stuff.

Lori Pond and I had a difficult conversation, at first, because I really didn’t like some of what she she showed me. I was nice about it, of course, but art is subjective, and it was not to my taste.

But we kept calm, and she had many other things to show me, including this really cool group of pictures, which marries text and imagery so well.

Like Jennifer’s work, it’s of the moment, with museums around the world having to reckon with the Colonialist past that brought in all their best loot.


 

Sage Brown, who’s based in Portland, had pictures made locally that reminded him of the vibe in his home state of Virginia.Β (He grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.)

We discussed that there is something of a trope, with pictures like this, especially in Portland, with the whole Portland-street-dude phenomenon.

That said, I like these pictures a lot.

They feel lived in, real, and authentic, and lacking in pretension in any way. They’re well constructed, and use the color palette to communicate the sadness.

We’ll finish with Soraya Zaman, whose Daylight book, “American Boys,” I saw at Blue Sky Gallery during the publisher’s night.

People lined up outside to get in, by the way, and I saw a ton of books being sold. (Good things happen when people get together.)

As to the images, I remember telling Soraya that they were way too edgy for the NYT Lens blog. (It was still going at the time.)

She asked me why and I said, “That’s their taste, not mine. I think they’re badass, and I’d publish them in a heartbeat on A Photo Editor.”

So here we are.

Enjoy.

Visiting California: Part 1

 

I didn’t want to write today.

It’s true.

It’s not that I don’t love you all.

I do.
Of course I do.

But I’m always honest, and keep you apprised, so the issue is that I’m super-exhausted.

Good things, like bad things, sometimes come in threes, and we wrapped our first session of Antidote this week, I’ve got a big museum solo show coming up next month, and we’re working on my first book as well.

I’m as cooked as a lobster after an hour in the pot.

But deadlines are not forgiving, and Friday looms just ahead.

So I tried everything I knew to boost my creativity.

I drank some coffee.
Did some stretching.
Ate some sweets.

And then I went for a walk. (The best trick of all.)

Out there, in the fresh air, with the sun on my face, I remembered that we can’t force our creativity.

It doesn’t work.

With this weekly column, 8 years old next month, I’d say I’m an expert in keeping the creative juices in regular, working order.

No column, no job.
No job, no money.

And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the creativity is the boss, and we’re the vessel.

The worker bee.

I often tell my students we don’t have an art boss, but as I sit here writing, on this day when my creativity is so battered, I realize that’s not entirely true.

The creative energy, or the force that makes it, is really in charge here.

If you want to tap into it, long term, you have to nurture it, and respect it.

That’s why I went for that walk, knowing it was my best chance of communing with the writing gods.

And idea would come, I hoped, as I couldn’t motivate to revisit London, or Portland, and the first two books I looked at weren’t right either.

London, 2019

Out there, in the sun and the breeze, I thought of how instinctual creativity really is.

So much comes from the subconscious, or through happenstance and coincidence we take to “mean something.”

We imbue things or experiences with heft, believing that certain objects, places, or days, are just THAT MUCH MORE SPECIAL than everything else.

As photographers, we believe that some things can step out of time.

Out there, on my walk up the hill, I remembered the moment, in July of 2016, as my family and I spent a little vacation on California’s Central Coast.

My wife’s family live in/on the Monterey Peninsula, so I’ve visited many times, and think it’s about as ideal a California lifestyle as I have yet seen.

Public park, Monterey

I’ll write a cultural-critique-travel-piece about California sometime soon.

I promise.

But for today’s purposes, we’re going to focus on the drop dead beauty, and the impossibly lovely feeling of the ocean moisture on your skin, in the air, no matter where you are.

Back in 2016, we were in Carmel, headed South to Jessie’s Aunt’s place in Big Sur, and the traffic, now famous, was about to REALLY get going, when I saw a sign for a historic Mission.

I wanted to pull over.

Jessie and the kids were fried, so they tried to veto it.

“Five minutes,” I said.

“Five minutes,” she growled.

My daughter, who would have been three, came in with me, while the other two stayed in the car.

Maybe because it was a wedding, the courtyard was open, and we walked right in.

A fancy photo shoot was going on, and people seemed happy. I felt a pull into the courtyard, and then further still into the limestone church.

It was an energy I can’t describe, but it said, “Things of incredible weight happened here. This place matters. It is beautiful, so very beautiful, but it is also important.”

I had five minutes, god dammit, and I marched into the chapel, and peeked around.

It felt like I’d stepped back in time.

Like I was in Zorro’s California of the late 18th or early 19th Century.

I felt like Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones were going to leap out from an alcove and challenge me to a duel.

“SeΓ±or, you did not pay the entrance fee. You have offended me, and I challenge you to the death.”

“I’m sorry, Antonio Banderas. I didn’t know there was an entrance fee. The gate was open. I only have five minutes. You really were great as Zorro. Can I go now?”

I was sure there was something special about the Mission, and when I saw the name Junipero Serra, and what appeared to be his grave, or tomb, it burned into my brain.

Look this man up.

Come back to this place.

So I got in the car, and told Jessie, “I’m going to figure out what the hell is so important about this church. And we’re going to come back as soon as we can.”

As it happened, there was a big, deadly accident on Highway 1, maybe five minutes down the road, in the direction we were headed.

Did the ghost of Junipero Serra save my family’s life?

I don’t know.

I don’t think I’m that openminded yet, even though I did once write here, in this column, about talking to Garry Shandling’s ghost through a medium via a Subaru’s bluetooth.

When I got home, I hit up Wikipedia first, and then read a biography on Junipero Serra that I purchased for my Kindle.

I read it in stages, and admittedly, this was an obsession from 3 years ago.

But the short version is that Junipero Serra, a Franciscan monk from Majorca, was an incredibly powerful, and seemingly power hungry dude.

He used to whip and flagellate himself, and walked around with an open wound on his leg, and also, he was a witch hunter for the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico.

It it undisputed that he colonized voraciously for the Catholic Church and Spanish Empire in the New World, and essentially enslaved native people when he ran things for the religious wing of Colonialism’s power.

Serra, who was recently Sainted, badly wanted to colonize California, as there were only rudimentary Jesuit missions in Baja California, and nothing but the native people up above.

After machinations, the Jesuits were removed from power, kicked out of Baja California entirely, and Serra was given license to take Alta California, with military guards for his relatively small operation.

This man, whose tomb I discovered, was the Religious Conquistador of California.

The boss of bosses.

Junipero Serra

His first mission was at San Diego, just as a beachhead, but the next, and the most important, was at Monterey and Carmel.

The 18th Century power center would be the Monterey Bay, with its proximity to fertile lands, and the abundance of the sea.

San Francisco would become bigger and more important after the gold rush in the late 1840’s, and of course Los Angeles would be the 20th Century mega-city of them all.

(Running on cars and optimism.)

But it’s in Monterey and Carmel that you can feel the 18th Century vibe, and see the best, elegant beauty of that era of Spanish Colonial art and architecture in North America.

So when my family and I were in Monterey late last month, we went back to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, in Carmel, and I paid the $9 entrance fee, which as a journalist I rarely do.

It was so, so worth it.

I know it’s silly to say that, as its a church, not a museum, but in this case there’s little difference.

The Carmel Mission was finished in 1797, rebuilt over the years, and recently underwent a major renovation, so it’s certainly looking its best these days.

I told my friend Ed about the hour we spent there, as a family, and the way my wife and two children were equally seduced.

The gardens, the fountains, the bougevvilla, the tall trees.

 

“Be careful,” he said.

“That’s how they hook you. Ever since Junipero Serra was out there making converts and crushing skulls. They know what they’re doing, the Catholic Church.”

Is it true? Were they using beauty, the limestone, the paintings, the history, to whitewash the original sin of Colonialism?

I guess, on some level, they were. It’s like a mini version of going to the Vatican, instead of the Prado.

 

It’s why my references, as an artist and occasional art historian, go to Madrid, or even Rome.

Junipero Serra lived at the Mission, and is buried there. Whether you’re a fan, or think he was a character from a horror film, either way, this was seismic ground.

I knew that something important happened there, back in 2016.

My gut was screaming, and in this case, it was totally right. The history of California ran through the walls, and by trusting my creative instincts, I had the most wondrous experience three years later.

(I even made a little promo video for you guys below. My first time in front of the camera)

 

My wife, kids and I were all entranced, so as a place to visit, I’d say this spot comes highly recommended.

Everyone else staying at our motel in Monterey was from Europe, or another continent, so this advice applies to all of you.

Next time you’re in the area, on your way to photograph like Weston at Point Lobos, stop in at the Carmel Mission.

You’ll thank me.

Martin Parr’s “Only Human” at the National Portrait Gallery

 

Where I grew up, Bruce Springsteen was a god.

He was IT, as far as New Jersey locals were concerned.

The Boss.

At some point, Bruce more or less became synonymous with the state.

Like, if the SNL guys had done a Springsteen skit, instead of one about Ditka, and if they’d gotten Stevie Van Zandt to do a parody of himself, instead of George Wendt, we’d be talking about an entirely different timeline. (Though perhaps still a good one. Is Jon Bon Jovi President in this alternate timeline, I wonder?)

I mention Bruce today, because I grew up loving his music, but lately, have begun to wonder if he is actually good at singing.

Which, you, know, with him being a singer and all, is kind of a bad question to ask, at this point.

I guess now that I’ve lived away from New Jersey longer than I lived there, the Bruce Springsteen-magic-fairy-dust is wearing off, and I’m awakening from a chloroform-like haze.

Sometimes, when the person and the place become the same thing, it can be hard to know of they’re still making the pizza with the same recipe, or of Junior is scrimping and buying cheaper mozzarella.

You know what I’m saying?

The legend can cast a large shadow, and as photographers, we all know how valuable the light is, if you feel me.

And speaking of famous institutions…

I’d like to discuss Martin Parr’s “Only Human” exhibition that I saw in May at the National Portrait Gallery in London, just before it closed.

I’d interviewed Martin Parr for an NYT Lens blog piece, back in April, and he invited me to attend a walk-through of the exhibition, if I was going to be in town.

I’ve previously covered the reasons why I was in London, so I accepted his offer, and oddly bumped into him at Photo London the afternoon before, where I confirmed I’d be attending. (He was doing a book signing at the fair.)

When I gave my name at the front desk, early in the morning, I wasn’t on the list, but when I assured the guard I was legit, I guess I seemed trustworthy, because they let me in.

I joined the talk a couple of minutes after it started, and found it all to be a bit perfunctory, really. (Like a docent tour at the zoo.)

When we spoke via Skype, Martin Parr was very funny, but we always kept the conversation with in range of our purposes. There were no off-the-wall digressions, nor any surprise details dropped.

At the talk, it was all business, but that spark of wit and charm was not on full display, unfortunately.

Below he describes people dancing.

And Brexit.

 

Here’s the selfie wall.

 

And there’s the tennis room.

 

By the way, have you seen the cafe?

Martin said the art-installation-cafe had been his idea, and so they built an extra one that served real food, though it wasn’t open yet, being morning and all.

The Autoportraits, in which he allowed himself to be photographed by local portrait photographers, in their typical style, never smiling, were pretty great.

Funny and original, I laud the idea and the effort.



And I loved the Grayson Perry family portrait.

Grayson Perry family portrait

But the rest of it left me feeling a bit cold, if I’m being honest.














Martin Parr’s often lauded for being satirical, and surely there were images critical of the English across the racial and class divides.

He pointed cameras at the Brexiteers, and the diverse English residents driving the racists bonkers. The show gives us Aristocrats and fishmongers and everyone in between.

The photographer is known for being ambiguous; influenced by the dry, new topographics style of the 1970s.

And it wouldn’t be English if it weren’t at least a little absurd.

But maybe that was my problem?

In a shocking, Post-Trumpian world, these seemed a little average.

They felt current, but not RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.

I know the Parr style of big flash, saturated colors, and flattened picture plane was radical, at one point, but collected in the museum, work from the 21st Century, it was a bit tame for me now.

Does that make sense?

Like, when I heard “Born in the USA,” in the 80’s, I fucking loved that song, but now, when I hear it, I think, we’ll, that’s a bit dated, isn’t it?

I like to be moved, or feel inspired, and that didn’t happen in the “Only Human” exhibition.

If I were English, or hadn’t spent time looking at all the images in the catalog, preparing for my article, I might have felt there was more freshness.

When you see the photos and video I’ve included, you may think I’m off the mark.

(There were positives, of course. I’m not saying the show was bad, only that it was unremarkable.)

I was impressed that a wall placard gave credit to those behind the scenes, which was very decent, and it was clear the audience treated Martin Parr like a rock star.

And they lined up to meet him in the gift shop.

Ah, the gift shop.

I can’t not write about it.

I just can’t.

In my lede for Lens, I referred to Mr Parr as a cottage industry, and the variety of products on sale were staggering.

Chocolate bars, flip flops, t shirts, you name it.


Along with the Instagram wall, the entire gift shop felt like it was designed to be on the Gram as well. I suspect the merch on offer, and the hashtags generated, were a part of the show’s allure for the crowds too.

I know that for an opinionated critic, not taking a stand here is very unlike me.

Why bother spilling ink, if it was just OK?

Well, to begin with, I promised the review three times, so it would be lame to back out.

I normally love funny, and absurd, and English, but I willed myself to love “Only Human,” but only found it “Meh.”

What can I say?

The heart wants what it wants.

Visiting London, Part 4

 

Part 1: The Intro

I just spent the week in California.

(Well, most of a week anyway.)

As a reporter, or journalist, or whatever it is that I am, (when I’m not being an artist/teacher/dad/husband,) I’ve written about the Golden State, here, on many occasions.

Needless to say, California in the age of over-tourism is not a pretty sight.

Perhaps that’s the wrong turn of phrase, because it’s the undeniable prettiness that’s led to the insane overcrowding, and now the ridiculous tourist hordes.

The Pacific Ocean in Carmel, looking towards Point Lobos

But as a travel writer, bashing tourism, (in general,) would qualify as biting the hand that feeds me.

And while I may occasionally tend towards the quixotic, people rarely call me stupid.

Therefore, I’m going to let my California experiences marinate a bit, (as usual,) so I can return to the subject in the future, without the road-weary-bitterness I’m feeling at the moment.

Rather than rip on Gavin Newsom’s hair, or the now-legendary homelessness problem, (which I first reported here 3 years ago,) I’m going to step back into my memory, and re-visit my life-changing trip to London.

 

Part 2: The Sifu

“Whatever you do, don’t be late,” said Hugo, and those were his last words before I headed out the door.

“Right,” I replied, “don’t be late. Got it.”

Hugo had set me up with City Mapper, an app that was meant to offer directions, even without an internet connection. And we’d planned the route carefully.

I had to change trains a couple of times from Holloway, so we discussed the track I’d need, and that I ought to check with one of the rail workers before I boarded.

He even told me to make sure I saw New Malden on the electric ticker, as there were multiple trains that left from each track. (I was headed from North London to Surrey, so it was going to be a long-ish trip.)

And where was I headed?

I’d booked a private lesson with Sifu Leo Au Yeung, one of the most impressive Kung Fu masters, and instructors, in the world.

Am I exaggerating?

You decide.

Sifu Leo, who is seemingly only in his 30’s, was the Wing Chun choreographer and instructor for Ip Man 1, 2, and 3, which happened to be the most popular Kung Fu movies of the new millennium.

 

Ip Man, if you don’t know, is credited with popularizing Wing Chun around the world, via his dojo in Hong Kong, where he trained Bruce Lee, among other greats.

Sifu Leo was also the Kung Fu teacher for Iron Fist Season 2, the now-departed Netflix-Marvel show that was notable mainly for being better than the genuinely bad Iron Fist Season 1. (How Marvel missed the moment, and cast Danny Rand as a whiny, rich, entitled white guy is beyond me.)

In addition to his star-connections, Sifu Leo also has a thriving Kung Fu program in London and Wimbledon, and unlike many a closed-minded martial artist, travels the world to study with other teachers, and learn from other arts.

In other words, he’s a genuine badass, and the nicest guy you’d ever meet.

Or so I’d been told by Hugo, after I’d recommend he study with Sifu Leo, after watching a few of his videos on Youtube. Hugo’s trained with him once a week for well over a year now, so oddly, after I recommended my friend to him, my friend now recommended me right back so I could book a lesson.

And his final words were, “Whatever you do, don’t be late.”

I left with plenty of time, (though perhaps not enough,) and did exactly as I was told. I double-checked with an attendant that I had the right track, and then watched “Malden” scroll by on the ticker before I boarded the train.

It was supposed to take 20 minutes or so, so I settled in for the ride, nervous as hell to train with a genuine Kung Fu master.

On the train with Red Bull and Instagram

After about 15 minutes, I checked with a conductor who confirmed we were headed to Malden.

But then at 30 minutes, I started to get a funny feeling in my chest.

Something seemed off. Not right.

So I got up, took a good look at the map, and noticed that there were in fact two Maldens: New Malden, where I was headed, and Malden Manor… where apparently the train was headed instead.

On the convoluted map, I could see where the spurs diverged, and that I was already two stops past where the train cut towards my putative destination.

Shit!
Double-shit!

I jumped off the train at Malden Manor, and considered taking the next train back in the opposite direction.

Thankfully, the uber-polite English folks on the platform were uniformly helpful, and assured me that would be a mistake. They said head into town and wait for the K1 bus, it would be faster.

I had about 20 minutes, before I’d be late, and my heart was pumping harder than Donald Trump’s, while he’s digesting an after-dinner snack of 2 Big Macs, an order of Chicken McNuggets, and a large fries.

I ran to the nearest bus station, as I could see a bus approaching, but the folks waiting assured me it was going the wrong way, and that the proper stop was around the traffic circle.

No worries, they said, they come every 10-12 minutes.
You’ve still got time.

So I sat, and tried unsuccessfully to poach wifi from a nearby food co-op.

Eventually, a nice English lady sat down next to me, in her late 50’s, and then a gentleman around the same age, of South Asian descent.

They could see I was miserable, so I told them the story, and they assured me it was best to wait, rather than walk, or try to find a nonexistent cab.

Sure enough, the next bus that came was also headed in the wrong direction, and then I was officially late. The lady had a calming voice, and told me things would turn out alright.

The nice man offered me his phone, so I could text, but at the last minute, the free wifi kicked in, and I was able to send an email to Sifu’s assistant, explaining the circumstances. (I assumed she was down the street, but later learned she lives in Japan, and therefore my message went from Malden Manor to Tokyo and back to New Malden.)

Eventually the bus came, and the nice lady took my hand, determined to see me off to my destination. So we sat next to each other, and she told me of her travels to Las Vegas, as her husband’s brother was a renown musician, who’d worked on the original James Bond theme.

The bus moved slowly, and all I could hear in my mind was the opening riff to James Bond, mixed with Hugo telling me, “Whatever you do, don’t be late.”

Late, I was.

I feel awful that I never asked my friend her name, as I was so frazzled, mostly because I wanted to turn up suave and calm, and that plan was clearly out the window.

New Malden was a fair bit shinier than Malden Manor, with a cute little High Street, and then I finally made it.

New Malden, Surrey

Of course, Sifu was as gracious about my lateness as anyone could be, and his assistant Crystal wrote that she’d made the same mistake herself once. (Taking the wrong train.)

Plus, I was paying for the time I’d lost anyway, so in the end, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

I went in with expectations, hoping to mix it up a bit to test my skills, and maybe practice on the wooden dummy, but when Sifu asked what I wanted to learn, I said, “Whatever you want to teach me. You’re the Sifu.”

I’ve heard from other teachers, (as I am one,) that the experience of getting a proper teacher, of being subordinate in the learning environment, can be a liberating and exciting feeling, and I must agree.

So Sifu Leo, instead, felt my body structure, appropriately detected my weak spots, and gave me some tips on how to improve.

Then, he taught me a technique of releasing my joints simultaneously, from the inside, with my mind, so that I could always regain leverage in any situation.

It was as close to a Jedi Mind Trick as I’m likely to ever encounter, and he demonstrated it by reversing position, every time I had the upper hand.

Rather than fight, or tussle, or show off his strength of body, Sifu showed me how the mind-body connection can be taken to levels I’d not previously considered.

And in the end, he even let me snap a few photos to share with you.

For my UK readers out there, I cannot recommend Sifu highly enough. If you’re looking for an opportunity to build up your mind, body and spirit, this guy is for real.

And in the end, my biggest fear came true, and it wasn’t that big a deal after all.

 

Part 3: Speaking of Violence…

I’m rewatching “Luther” this week, from the beginning, as I’m desperately trying to get a little bit of rest before Antidote, (our photo retreat program,) begins next week here in Taos.

For those of you who don’t know, (though I referenced it once already in the London series,) Idris Elba plays John Luther, a super-cop who’s such a badass, he seems more like a super-hero than an actual guy. (Which could probably be said about Elba himself.)

The series is as dark as it gets, with enough gruesome murders, haunting killers, and proper wing-nuts to give you a permanent set of nightmares.

The show fetishizes the grotesque, and the Gothic, in a way that sheds light on the recesses of the English soul. (Much the way Stieg Larsson’s books seemed to plumb the depths of Sweden’s buried-Viking-persona.)

I love “Luther,” and if there’s a better anti-hero than Ruth Wilson’s Alice Morgan character, I’d like you to show me.

But much the way John Luther is the hero England wants and perhaps needs, over here in America, it’s another John we’re all crazy for: John Wick.

As it happens, Keanu Reeves’ “John Wick 3: Parabellum” opened while I was in London, and I managed to score a ticket on opening weekend, without even waiting in line.

I bought the ticket from a robot, because there are few humans doing such jobs in London, from what I could gather. (Look out, American movie-ticket sellers… I’m betting the robots are coming for your jobs soon.)

The film opened with commercials, which are the norm over there, I was told, as TV didn’t used to have commercials, so they were on the cinema instead. And when I saw Jeff Bridges, in full “Dude” character, pimping beer in Amsterdam, instead of weed, I was sure we were living in 2019.

I wrote on Twitter the other day that everyone’s on the hustle these days, and you know it’s true.

As for the film, I’m an action-movie junkie, and have seen more martial arts/action movies in my life than I could possibly count.

I know my Donnie Yen from my Jackie Chan from my Jet Li from my Bruce Lee from my Steven Seagal from my Keanu Reeves, is what I’m saying.

And the world is right to love the John Wick movies, which are so fucking stylish. World building is in these days, (Just ask Marvel,) and the John Wick films do it brilliantly, with their gold coins, assassin hotels, and intelligent use of Ian McShane. (And now Boban Marjanovich?)

I mention this, though, not to write a proper movie review, but because so much of the film felt made for the audience. It was fake-real, with trained dogs, kicking horses, and knife-throwing scenes that managed to bring humor and awe to a lot of blood.

Until.

Until a scene near the end, when John Wick decides that the only way forward is to get the biggest gun he can, with armor piercing bullets, and start shooing the bad guys one bullet a time.

Bang.
You’re dead.

Bang.
You’re dead.

The sound was so deafening I covered my ears, and the feeling was one of mass shooter on the rampage.

Immediately, I was taken out of the narrative, and thrust into my head again, thinking about all the AR-15 wielding, racist lunatics roaming my country, which at that point was 3000 miles across a big ocean.

I’ve never been near a mass shooting, thankfully, (before I drove past the Gilroy Garlic festival on Sunday, two hours before the shooting started,) but the references were unmissable.

If I thought it was political commentary, I might not have minded.

Instead, it felt wrong, and exploitative, and awful, and sad, and misguided, and strange, and I don’t know why they included it.

7 minutes of reality, in the midst of a violent fantasy.

And maybe that’s the problem?

I’ve been raised on fantastical violence, in all those movies, and maybe it was wrong to romanticize it in the first place?

This Week in Photography Books: Alice Wheeler

 

I’ve been lobbing bombs all summer.

(If you’ve been reading, you’re likely aware.)

For whatever reason, I’ve been inspired to channel the earlier me, the younger me, who courted controversy in this column, regularly, when it first began.

Perhaps it’s because I was “liberated” from my 6 year gig at the NYT, or maybe it’s just a coincidence?

I’m not really sure, but the last few months, I’ve done my best to speak truth to power, risking the opprobrium of my former bosses, portfolio review attendees, and some angry wankers on Twitter. (Not naming names this time…)

All of which is to say, after several months of writing 2500 word, 4 part mega-columns, in which I bare my soul, (and create new formats for the blog,) I’m pretty worn out.

Plus, I’m leaving for NorCal for a wedding this week, and am therefore writing on a Tuesday, so that everything can be done and dusted early. (Practicality is required, if you never miss a deadline in nearly 8 years.)

So here I sat, wondering how to summon the energy to tilt at windmills again, when I had a great idea.

Wouldn’t it be nice to look at a photo book, think for a few minutes, and then write a short, sweet column?

(If I’m ready for a break, maybe you readers are too?)

How about something that comes in under 1000 words, so we can all go about our business without trying to shake the Earth? (Maybe that’s a bad metaphor, as I’m headed to Earthquake country.)

As a result, I went to my book stack, which has been packed away for a few months, and grabbed the first box I saw.

Thank goodness for luck, because I discovered “Outcasts & Innocents,” by Alice Wheeler, which was published a few years ago by Minor Matters Books in Seattle.

And boy, is this book perfect for today.

I was just reading a few pages of “The Medium is the Massage,” by the great media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and he said the following, back in 1967:

“Innumerable confusions and a profound feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transitions.”

(Everything old is new again indeed.)

If I, or anyone else, had written that about 2019, it would sound just about right.

But what about 1999?

Might it not make sense then too, on the cusp of the new Millennium?

Or what about 1992 for that matter? (The First Gulf War, the end of the (extended) Reagan Era, the birth of Grunge, etc?)

This book takes me back, and features a group of musicians, artists, cool kids, anarchists, weirdos, and street freaks that remind me why I became an artist in the first place.

My wife and I just binge-watched “Mozart in the Jungle,” on Amazon, and were inspired/entertained/enthralled by the deep dive into the power of art, and the mysterious need to create that so many of us feel. (4 stars, highly recommended.)

While some people are out there shouting “Make America White Again,” or “Send her back,” or “Jews will not replace us,” all across this (great?) country, there are an equal if not greater number of people who embrace difference, push boundaries, and don’t hate people based on the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation.

Rather, they hate people for being racist, exploiting the poor, or for running corporations that ravage the planet.

This book shows us Nirvana, before they were huge. And WTO protesters, who claimed that Globalization would impact us in nefarious ways not yet contemplated.

It gives us transvestites alive and well, and lying supine in coffins, perhaps dead of AIDS?

There are references to the Green River Killer, who preyed on women, and Bikini Kill, a female punk band that probably would have shoved a drumstick up his ass, and broken it off, if they’d been given half the chance.

We see black and white, and “living” color, but all of it represents a time, now gone, before the internet and social media changed everything?

Or did they?

Students of history know that revolutions in technology have ripped apart existing world orders many times before, and likely will again.

So this summer, which for most has been the hottest ever, (thankfully not for us in Taos,) is a good time to remember that if humanity survives, we’ll likely solve one batch of problems just in time for another to crop up.

That’s just the way it goes.

Bottom Line: Cool, edgy, life-affirming look at the Seattle music scene, back in the day

To purchase “Outcasts & Innocents,” click hereΒ 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 3

 

Election season is in full swing.

(Even though we vote in 11.20)

We know this, because Trump is back on the campaign trail, and according to the news, he’s now got his hordes shouting “Send her back” instead of “Lock her up.”

Kids are in jail at the borders, and our president is publicly declaring that brown-skinned, natural born Americans should go back to the country of their parents’ origin.

Racism is about in the world, and always has been, but only at certain times does it climb the Empire State Building, shake a woman in its fist, and scream at the top of its lungs, out and proud in all its simian fury.

Trump does it though, and it works for him.

He knows how to communicate his message, and to read his audience. It’s almost as if he spent 10 years digesting highly specific demographic data about the preferences of the low-information voters who watched him scream at and insult people for a living on television.

(Oh, that’s right…)

He’s an entertainer, and he knows how to work the room.

No one would deny him that.

Only now, instead of deciding which sycophantic businessperson to fake-fire, he gets to lord over a system that incarcerates children, denies them tooth brushes and soap, and also encourages outright racism and awful vilification by his MAGA marauders.

As I wrote last week, though, right-wingers don’t have a monopoly on violent, nut-bar gangs who intimidate, and battle in public places. (Honestly, the look on that bouncer’s face when I said, “Antifa?” was just priceless.)

Trump, for his lack of traditional markers of intelligence, is definitely street smart. He knows human nature, and understands what makes people tick.

It’s gotten him where is now, just as Reagan and W. Bush also presented as dumb in public, perhaps to appease a base that is so openly anti-intellectual?

But it’s human nature I want to talk about, right now, as I think back to the Photolucida festival, where I spent the better part of a week in late April.

I often wait a couple of months before I revisit a photo festival in earnest, here on the blog, because giving it time helps the meaningful bits settle into memory, and the less-important stuff falls by the wayside.

For instance, I don’t remember which Thai Noodle cart I stopped at, because it looked like a thousand others, and while the noodles were a solid 7.5 or 8, they were not distinctive in any way.

While the chicken meatball parmigiana sandwich I had at 24th and Meatballs, where the owner in the back was from New Jersey, was something to write home about.

With respect to people, though, as I’ve already written, I had a tremendous time in Portland, at parties and concerts, and certainly at the review table, where I met 48 photographers over 4 days. With 12 additional reviews, (at the portfolio walk and such,) I easily saw 60 portfolios, and will ultimately show quite a few here too.

Photolucida rocks, no question.

Perhaps because the festival is biennial, it was really well-attended, and there were a shockingly large number of people that I knew from previous reviews as well.

It must have been a coincidence, but as I wrote in the London articles, while in Europe I was anonymous, but in Portland, I seemed to know everyone.

This will sound like a shitty thing to complain about, I well understand, but the problem was, in Portland, that people weren’t respecting my personal space. Or my personal time.

I’ve been to many a review as a photographer, and I’ve also written extensively about the past phenomenon of photographers showing up at the review table totally unprepared, not knowing who they were meeting, or what the person’s background was at all.

Other colleagues also wrote blogs about that behavior, and the appropriate professional etiquette became more widespread. Since the word got out, “Do your research,” that doesn’t happen so much anymore, and it didn’t happen once at Photolucida.

Everyone was a pro, in that regard.

But I was not the only reviewer at the festival that was constantly using the side door, or sprinting to the elevator, and others mentioned that the hotel lobby was a no-go zone for them as well.

It got to the point that when one person who’d paid to be reviewed by me at the table wanted to have a quick chat, we met outside, on the side of the building, like something out of a detective novel, rather than be seen in public.

It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. People were THAT aggressive.

I even had one person approach me as I stepped out of my hotel room, with garbage in my hand, to give to the housemaid who was standing across the hall.

(How someone managed to time that I’ll never know.)

I remember once, at FotoFest in 2012, when I was a photographer, waiting outside the main doors for the reviewers to come out on their break.

One woman, whom I’d just had a review with, looked at me with abject fear when she saw me standing there, and I lowered my eyes and let her go to the bathroom in peace, as I was ashamed.

But I didn’t understand how she felt until this April.

Because a lot of you read this, and do attend reviews, I have to say this specifically, even if I risk sounding like a jerk.

Everyone deserves the right to go to the bathroom, or head to their hotel room, or catch up with a friend, without being approached like a celebrity.

When you attend a review, social cues can be subtle, but it’s really important that you not “bother” someone, as that is totally counterproductive, in a professional environment.

If you’re there to have someone look at your work, and hopefully help you and your career, then pissing that person off is inherently a bad idea.

So while I tried to be patient each time it happened, the regularity of the occurrence was too much to miss, and too much of a theme not to mention.

If you remember that the person across the table is a human, with hunger, and headaches, and children at home, it might help you abstain from trying to make that one last connection, or pass along one last business card.

I know I didn’t get to talk with people I wanted to, people I actually know, because I was so constantly being interrupted by someone who wanted a moment of my time.

For the record, I’m not in a bad mood, and think it’s time to move on before I sound like a scolding grandma, threatening to take your cookies away if you don’t do as I say.

Photolucida, as I’ve said before, was a really excellent festival, and I saw more work that I can write about than at any review I’ve ever visited.

Last week, I showed you the first batch of portfolios, so let’s get on with it, and feature the next round of the Best Work I Saw at Photolucida.

We’ll begin with Carol Isaak, because we had such an interesting conversation. Carol is based in the Portland area, and is also married to a Rabbi. (Sending good wishes to the Rabbi is a great way to end a conversation.)

Though Carol is obviously Jewish, she had photographs from India that seemed to convey a sense of Zen, or meditativeness, that spoke of a religious feeling. She hadn’t considered the work that way, but after our conversation, she mentioned to me a Jewish concept of Kavanah, or intention, that she does feel flows though the imagery.

James Lattanzio is a Queens guy, originally, but has lived in New Jersey for years. He’s a working commercial photographer, and several years ago, decided he needed to push himself out of his comfort zone.

The best art projects often come when we decide to do something radically new, and adopt a process where we don’t know what the result will be before we begin.

James hadn’t done much portraiture work, so he chose to use some window light in his garage, and photograph local high school athletes, as his daughter had been an athlete in school, and he just wanted to do it.

That’s often all the motivation one needs to reinvent one’s practice, and I think the resulting photos are excellent. (Though more than one teenager does appear to be trying hard to think deep thoughts. Age appropriate, I suppose.)

 

I met Sarah Knobel at the portfolio walk, and it was pretty clear that she was art school trained. (The strong use of light, color, texture and sharpness were dead give aways.) She confirmed my suspicion, and told me she’s a photo professor as well. (At St. Lawrence University in New York.)

She’s photographed building supplies, (insulation, primarily,) and made what look like temporary sculptures that she then photographed. As my most recent project was about party supplies, I had a personal bias towards her thought process, but really, how can you not think these pictures are rad?

 

Next, we’ll look at Lee Nelson’s project. Like many before him, (me included,) Lee was heavily influenced by Hokusai’s famed Japanese woodblock print project, “36 Views of Mt Fuji.”

Living in the Oakland, and working often in the LA area, Lee thought the Hollywood sign had a similar visual impact on the city, so he’s engaged in a long-term project looking at 36 views of the Hollywood sign.

I admit I’ve seen concepts like this before, (though not in this specific instance,) but I thought the pictures were fun and cool. As I tell people at the review table, not every project has to be political.

If you keep it real, and make work about what you know, care about, or want to explore, the rest normally takes care of itself.

 

Which is a great segue to look at Miska Draskoczy’s photographs of ice climbers. Miska told me he had done work for ICP, making documentary videos, but that he was an active ice climber in his spare time. (Lots of New York today, in a column about Portland…)

It’s basic advice, to tell artists or writers to focus on what they know, to marry their primary life passions with their artwork, but not everyone gets the memo. You’d be surprised how often people tell me, “No, I don’t want to do that,” and then I remind them I’m not their art boss, and we move on.

In Miska’s case, I told him I thought his project could evolve over time, and his imagery might develop a bit more “special sauce,” as it were, but I thought the photographs, based on inside access, and so visually cold, were strong already.



 

Finally, we’ll end today’s piece by looking at Sue Bailey’s photographs of trees at night. It’s also based mostly in NYC, but Sue mentioned she had images from two other cities, so I recommended she expand it out, to create a better balance of locations.

The subject matter, though, is less about specific cities, and more about what the urban light-scape does to trees at night. I’ve seen similar work, and reviewed one of Lynn Saville’s books a few years ago, but just as all work need not be political, not everything needs to break new ground.

These are beautiful, and I’d hate to see the day when that wasn’t enough for me.

Have a great summer weekend!

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 JΓΆrg Colberg’s Conscientious came up as well.

So I started there, and through JΓΆrg’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. Β 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 PaintingsΒ 

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, sautΓ©e 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 sautΓ©ed 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!