This Week in Photography: Giving Thanks!

 

 

 

Thanksgiving is such a weird holiday.

(It’s beyond absurd, if you think about it.)

Can you imagine if someone dreamed up Thanksgiving, from scratch, in 2022?

 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, courtesy of the Today Show/ James Devaney/ Getty Images

 

 

 

 

 

Scene:

 

 

Ted: I’ve had an idea-gumbo cooking in my mental kitchen for a few weeks now, let me tell you.

Brad: Really, Ted?

Ted: Yes, Brad, really.

Brad: Are you just going to tease me? If I want to get teased, Ted, I can walk down to Janet’s cubicle, and she’ll do it gladly.

Ted: Wait, what? Janet’s been flirting with you? Damn, boy! Look at you!

Yes, Ted, I even bought a cheap generic Viagra just in case she flirts with me again.

Brad: (Pause.) Listen, Ted, I’m busy. Don’t you have a great idea? Isn’t that why you came over here?

Ted: Yeah, sorry, Brad. Totally. So, I’ve been thinking. Hallmark is not happy with their quarterlies, and we have to give them something good to keep the account.

What if we create a new holiday around gratitude? You know, giving thanks? I mean, what demo could possibly object to giving thanks?

Brad: Giving thanks? Ok, Ted. I’m curious. Keep going.

Ted: So then I thought, why not make it historical? How about we combine the giving-thanks part with honoring the founding of America?

Brad: I’m still listening.

Ted: OK, Brad. So who do we have to thank for the founding of America?

Brad: The crazy English fucks who sailed out into an empty, cold Ocean, and an unknown world, just to get away from England?

Ted: No, silly. We don’t thank THEM. Anyone can honor the Pilgrims. I mean, sure, we’ll mention them a little. But we’re going to thank the Native Americans who gave us the Continent, so we could found our new nation.

Let’s thank the them!

Brad: (Silence.) (Stares daggers at Ted.) Say what now, Ted? Say what?

You want us to make a holiday around thanking the people upon whom our American ancestors committed Genocide?

Do you hear yourself, Ted?

Ted: Yeah, yeah, sorry, Brad. You’re right. What was I thinking? I gotta stop eating that last edible right before bed.

It’s not doing me any favors.

 

 

End Scene:

 

 

 

 

 

Sure, Thanksgiving is batshit, but giving thanks IS a great idea.

I’m grateful for you, the audience of people who have read my musings here for the last 11 years.

And I’m beyond thankful for my lovely, amazing, supportive, incredible family. (As I’ve said, this column is older than my daughter, and she’s jealous.)

I’m also thankful to all the great artists who’ve made work that’s inspired me these many years.

Just the other day, for example, my son, (who’s 15,) wanted to show my daughter (10) his favorite childhood film: “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”

 

 

Such a brilliant movie!

(If you haven’t seen it, please do. I swear, it’s not just for kids. )

We all remembered every line, and Amelie was smitten, as it’s a perfect film.

Plus, the claymation is sooooooo laborious, the technical mastery is evident, without taking you out of the narrative.

There’s an old expression: They don’t make them like this anymore.

And in this case they actually can’t.

Peter Sallis, the voice actor who played Wallace, passed away in 2017 at the age of 96.

(RIP Wallace!)

Whether you’re an artist/critic like me, or just a “normie,” the biggest artistic touchstones will always represent a certain phase of your life.

An era.

Or an inflection point?

That’s what great art does for culture, and for our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 years ago, (in a story I shared too recently to re-tell,) I discovered a pure writing style for this column.

It was Thanksgiving, and after the night-time-drama, I woke up the next day and reviewed a massive Taryn Simon book, published by a start-up in London called MACK.

The book was titled “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters.”

Let me tell you, the book is massive!

It’s easily the biggest, thickest book I own, and I’m not sure I reopened it again before this morning.

Which means it’s time for a re-review, as this book, (like Wallace and Gromit,) is proper genius.

And just like W&G, they don’t make them like this anymore.

Seriously.

In an age of rampant inflation, I can’t imagine a publisher making a book this expensive to create.

(Unless it was a super-small-batch, limited edition.)

Not only that, I don’t think an artist working with these ideas and scope would do this project as “fine art photography” in 2022.

Let that sink in for a moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book is amazing because the idea is amazing, and thoroughly executed.

But it’s also so bleak I had to stop at Chapter 12.

Ms. Simon has basically put human nature on display, by telling disturbing stories via human family networks.

Each tale is a thread in a metaphor-tapestry that depicts a cynical, nihilistic view of PEOPLE.

Off the top of my head, (though I did just look at the book,) we’ve got a litany of family horror stories:

A South Asian Indian family that declared some members dead to steal inheritance.

Zionists who successfully colonized Israel.

Filipino tribal people paraded as zoo animals at a World’s Fair 1O0+ years ago.

Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son’s tortured body double, Hitler’s legal advisor, Scottish thalidomide sufferers, a fisherman kidnapped by North Korean secret agents, Brazilian blood feud murderers, and Bosnian massacre victims.

Ms. Simon photographed teeth and bone fragments to represent some of the people, (killed in Srebrenica) as each family member in the book sits for a straight, typological portrait, unless they were unavailable for a host of difficult reasons. (Like fear of kidnapping.)

But worst of all, more horrifying than all the humans, is the chapter about lab rabbits in Australia, who are raised to be testing victims of viral warfare, as the government in Oz tries to wipe out rabbits, (which are non-native,) and were intentionally introduced by humans.

There is a photo of rabbits shot dead in a mass grave, and if you HAVE ever seen “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” you’ll know why my brain melted at the connection.

(Like I said, 12 Chapters was enough for one sitting.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

That the book exists is a miracle, given its scope.

But how did she even get the project done?

In 2022, I can’t fathom how much money was spent to travel the globe like this.

The research, the time making the pictures.

The assistants.

The film costs, the hotel rooms, the global fixers.

The printing, the editing.

All of it.

Coming in the late aughts, on the heels of Gursky, Struth, Simon and Demand making SERIOUS money selling their over-sized prints, I can just about understand the level of collector-support necessary to raise the MILLIONS of dollars.

 

 

Maybe.

But now?

In 2022?

As art, in culture? No way.

Done now, this would definitely be financed by Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The story would be told with photos, sure. But also video, podcasts, Patreon private parties, what have you.

“Photography” has seen too much of a decline in resources and attention, as a sub-species of culture, and too big a leap in importance in mass culture.

Magazines are gone, or minimized. Blogs folded. Newspapers are a fraction the size. Many galleries have contracted or shut. And NFT’s were not the magic-golden-bullet some promised.

While the “photography” industry was shrinking over the last 11 years, the impact of Photography has never been greater.

EVERY HUMAN WITH A PHONE takes pictures now.

We have succeeded to the point of irrelevance.

(Like I said, it’s a big idea.)

And a brilliant book.

See you next time.

 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Be Excellent

 

 

Hurt people hurt people.

And helping people feel good feels good.

(Both things are true.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mention this today, because unfortunately, I was proven right about something insidious, and we’re going to talk about it.

In the past two weeks, we also saw a cultural firestorm lit by my nemesis: Kyrie Irving.

As my family, (and Twitter,) can attest, for the past couple of years, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that the Brooklyn Nets point guard was probably Bipolar, certainly narcissistic, and happy to torch any NBA team dumb enough to pay him tens of millions of dollars.

I was shouted down by everyone, who insisted the Brooklyn Nets would win so many titles, it would be worth appeasing an asshole.

Fast-forward to 2022, and the Nets, (for whom I’ve rooted since I was a boy,) a team mired in decades of mostly-losing, temporarily became the most hated team on Earth.

After two years of drama that would make Kurt Sutter blush, only then did things amp up a notch.

Kyrie Irving, (who by now has caused numerous controversies since I first went public with my critique,) promoted a virulently antisemitic film playing on Amazon Prime, and then he doubled down on his transgression.

He refused to apologize, while he gave a massive cultural boost to dangerous, antisemitic theories, which denigrated Jews, and then smugly claimed, “I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from,” which was code for:

Black people are the real Jews, and therefore can’t be antisemitic, because the people claiming to be Jews are actually imposter slave-masters.

 

 

It’s not like it’s any crazier than theories about the Rapture, but that is one dangerous, hateful, insane ideology.

My man Kyrie has dogged the media for years, calling us pawns, and worse, so now that he came after me as Jew too, I went full boycott.

Fuck that guy.

(Though I did watch Wednesday night’s drubbing of the cross-town rival NY Knicks, because the Nets finally suspended Kyrie Irving.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Antisemitism is everywhere now, unfortunately, but it felt really scary when I called out art for antisemitism, for the first time, last September.

I saw a painting by Raymond Johnson, at the UNM Art Museum, a characterization of a Jewish woman from 1919, and it set off a weird Spider Sense in my head.

(Not a good one.)

 

 

Suggesting that such an ancient prejudice might accidentally show up in the uber-liberal art world, under the cover of “we didn’t realize it,” seemed a bit of a reach.

A month later, I had the same feeling at the Art Institute of Chicago, from a David Hockney painting.

If you want to make fun of rich collectors, sure go ahead. But when you title the painting in such a way that is has a Jewish name associated, it becomes a trope.

 

 

And yet again, in March 2022, at the San Francisco Art Institute, I told you all about Diego Rivera using a “trope” in one of his murals.

He put the short, hook-nosed Jew at the literal center of a Capitalist cabal.

 

 

(Doesn’t get more trope-y than than.)

So now that Kanye has gone full Ye, Deathcon 3 to the Jews, and Kyrie went full bigot, do you believe me now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the deal.

Hating people because of the color of their skin, religion, gender, choice of romantic partners, the pronoun with which they choose to be addressed…

All these forms of judgmental hatred are lame.

They’re wrong.

Bad.

Terrible.

You dig?

Israeli Jews shouldn’t hate Palestinians any more than some faction of Black Hebrew Israelites should hate American Jews.

It’s the most uncool thing a person can do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This morning, trying to find some writing inspiration, I noticed a book on my shelf that I’d never truly considered. A book given to me in a swag-bag at a portfolio review years ago, (so it wasn’t an official submission,) and who knows why I haven’t reviewed it before?

“Gays in Military: Photographs and Interviews,” by Vincent Cianni, was published by Daylight, back in 2014.

It contains the requisite, well-written essays, and a host of interview material, but I’m not going to delve into that today. With this much to read, and the density of captured experience, I’d say it’s more a book to be picked up and experienced, bit by bit.

(It’s not a book for one sitting.)

Vincent photographed a series of men and women who were emotionally tortured, during their time as American soldiers, as warriors.

For being gay.

During the 1990’s, Bill Clinton, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell fiasco, countless gay Americans served, but had to keep their private lives secret.

Or for many, have no private lives at all. In order to do their jobs, so many people had to give up the right to privacy, to a partner, or to happiness.

That is some nasty-ass discrimination right there, and thankfully the policy was done away with.

Everyone photographed in this book suffered while protecting us. Think on that.

But policies improve, and sometimes, our lives improve, when times are good.

Let’s all do our part to battle intolerance, and discrimination.

In the words of those gentle philosophers, Bill and Ted:

Be Excellent to Each Other!

 

 

 

 

To purchase “Gays in the Military” click here

 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Wrestling in Queens

 

 

 

When I was growing up, Mike Tyson was the baddest dude around.

(Bar none.)

I watched the Buster Douglas fight live on HBO, and was witness to the dethroning of the king.

At the time, my brain could not fathom Mike Tyson getting his ass kicked, but there it was.

 

 

Courtesy of Boxingnewsonline.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These days, boxing is not nearly as important.

Instead, MMA is the most popular combat sport around.

Everyone loves the UFC, which has great rivalries, amazing athletes, and a warrior-code-of-respect thing going that feels appropriate for the 21st Century.

(True story: a boxing-fan-relative recently told me he doesn’t watch the UFC, because he thinks it’s “gay,” as the fighters hug each other, and behave nicely in the cage, once the fight is over.)

But MMA didn’t even exist 30 years ago, and when it first began, guys from different, traditional martial arts battled it out, with the Gracies, (and their Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,) proving supreme.

These days, every fighter more or less shares the same style of striking and kicking from Muay Thai, grappling from wrestling, and submissions and ground work from BJJ.

(So not only do cultural tastes change, but entire sports can too.)

And while the UFC, and MMA in general, are significantly more popular than boxing, I’m not sure there’s a UFC fighter alive who’d fancy their chances against the current Heavyweight Champ, 6’9″ 265lbs Tyson Fury, the Gypsy King.

 

Tyson Fury, Courtesy of Marca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like boxing, professional wrestling has gone through phases of popularity here in America.

Apparently, it’s huge again, (the WWE,) but I don’t follow it at all.

I know Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena became legit movie stars, and extremely charismatic actors, having started as pro wrestlers.

(And I know The Rock’s daughter is now wrestling, but I learned that from Twitter.)

When I was a kid, in the same 80’s Tyson dominated, Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and Andre the Giant were massive cultural stars, with crossover films and the rest.

 

Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Randy “Macho Man” Savage in 1987, courtesy of ESPN and the WWE

 

(You knew I was going to drop a clip of ATG in “The Princess Bride” right here, didn’t you?)

 

That said, back then, I didn’t know much about the previous generation of stars.

Nor had I ever considered attending a match.

For whatever reason, my taste in pro wrestling leaned towards “guilty pleasure” in middle school, and I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched even a minute of it.

So Jonathan Blaustein: not a fan.

Jonathan Panes, however, was a massive fan.

How is that important?

I’ll tell you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last October, Arthur Nager sent me a book, but that’s long enough ago that I was clueless when I opened it up today.

Rarely has a photo book stated its intent more clearly from the cover.

We see:

“Wrestling
Sunnyside Garden Arena
11/27/1971”

I mean, really?

What else could the book be about?

It’s a self-published affair, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but did find myself torn out of the narrative a few times, due to quirks I’ll comment on, and then move forward.

There were too many essays at the jump, so I got impatient, and started skipping ahead to the photos, before coming back.

(I was curious, given the cover’s premise.)

And I’ve been in copy-editing mode lately for a client, (apologies for the typo last week, but I fixed it after the email went out,) so I caught a couple of mistakes in this one, including one sentence that was completely repeated in separate essays by Jonathan Panes.

And the term “Sunnyside Garden Arena” was utilized three times in a row, at one point, which my brain also noticed.

The motivation behind the project was a bit random, in that Jonathan Panes, the wresting fan, invited his older cousin, Arthur Nager, the photographer and art school student, (who couldn’t have cared less about wrestling, but wanted to photograph somewhere interesting,) to the wrestling matches at the (since razed) Sunnyside Garden Arena in Long Island City, Queens.

One day in the fall of 1971.

The fight-hall had been one of a string throughout NYC, we learn, now all gone, as the size was just right for boxing and pro wrestling, but not lucrative enough to survive into the 21st C.

Mike Silver, a boxing expert, (and friend of the photographer,) writes an essay for the book, and when he calls Arthur “Artie,” I could almost hear roar of the crowd and smell the cigars on a day out in Queens:

“Artie, go get me a beer, wouldya? I’ll get ya back the 10 cents next week, I promise! Be a sport, would ya pal?”

 

 

 

 

 

But back to the book.

The photos are fun. For sure.

How could they not be?

I just wrote about this recently, (with the Michael Lesy book,) but we all know that putting negatives in a box and waiting 50 years is a tried and true way to end up with fascinating photographs.

Design-wise, though, I loved it when the second half of the book breaks sections down by wrestling match, featuring stats and info about each wrestler.

So clever.

The less said about the little-people wresting photos the better, but I’m not sure if I’d have included or excluded them, had it been me?

(Is that a cop out? On the one hand, the photos are offensive to modern tastes. On the other, they’re quite compelling, and make sense in context of the era. Tough call.)

But they made the decision to include them, and that’s on them.

Anyway, cool book.

I dig it.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Wrestling: Sunnyside Garden Arena” click here

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Embracing Change

 

 

Change is as good as a holiday.

That’s what my old friend Pappy used to say.

(And I happen to agree.)

 

 

 

 

 

Change is most often thrust upon us, as few embrace it willingly.

(Only after the fact, when we reap the spoils, do we begrudgingly admit it was worth the effort.)

That said, change has come to this column, and I’m all for it.

I’ll still be writing for you twice a month here, (which got slightly lost in my announcement last week,) but I went with the hubbub, because the week in, week out endeavor, over the past 11 years, helped define my life.

No lie.

But now it’s time for something new.

I can (occasionally) be as reluctant to change as the next person, but when we enter a new life phase, we see things differently.

Growing older, experiencing more life, and hopefully acquiring (some) wisdom means we’re able to attack the same problems with different solutions.

Or acquire different opinions from what came before.

And that last bit is motivating today’s column.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was talking with a client the other day, and referred to my un-reviewable book.

The one book I’ve picked up, time and again, but put down.

Each time, I shake my head and say, “No, not today. I don’t see how to tell this in a way that’s not offensive.”

And so I’d set the book back on the shelf, only to pick it up six months, or a year later.

Frankly, I’ve grabbed it three times in the last month, but think today, for whatever reason, I’ve finally cracked the code.

 

 

 

 

 

“Upstate,” by Tema Stauffer, published by Daylight in 2018, turned up in the mail three or four years ago.

As you already know, (having reading this far,) up until now, I’ve had a hard time expressing my thoughts about “Upstate.”

I don’t hate this book.

Not at all.

(Not even a little.)

But it is hard to write about, because I don’t like it that much either.

A few weeks ago, I discussed the idea that sometimes the established, expected format of a book, (essay, plates, essay) can do it a disservice.

(If the creative team takes no chances.)

And for me, these cultural landscape images speak to that even-steven, middle of the road, well-established, Alec-Soth-shooting-style we’ve come to know so well over the last 15 years.

Plus, the poverty reminds me of so many Appalachian books I’ve seen before, or just rural poverty porn in general.

(In this case, we’re seeing Hudson, New York.)

Yet I’m certain some of you will like the photographs a lot. Maybe even love the book.

(Art is subjective.)

For me, a book that is conventional, and reminiscent of so many other projects in its design, shooting style, and subject matter becomes, somewhat by definition, average.

Nice.

Fine.

More than acceptable.

Perfectly competent.

But it’s not memorable.

And historically, whether reviewing a book, or writing about portfolios from a festival, I like things to be distinctive.

To stick in my mind.

This book never did, until it finally did, for being something of a cautionary tale.

So there you have it.

Since this is an edgy take, I’m sure some of you will disagree with me.

(No worries.)

See you next week.

 

To purchase “Upstate” please click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: The End

 

 

 

 

This weekly column is coming to an end.

 

 

JB, 9:15 am MST, 08.26.22

 

 

 

 

I’ve sat on the news for a while, waiting for the right time to drop it.

(And today is the day.)

I should say, straight off, that I won’t be going away entirely.

You’ll still get to read my rambling, discursive musings every other week, here at APE.

But on October 7th, 11 years after I began writing for you each Friday, the streak will be snapped.

The photo industry is not remotely what it was, when I began the column in 2011, and change is a healthy and natural part of life. (Especially as this blog is supported by neither subscription fees nor ads.)

It is what it is, but I must admit, after living under the yoke of a weekly deadline for this long, I’m excited to see what it’s like without the structure.

So after today, only five (weekly) columns left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It all began when I was on the hustle, during The Great Recession.

In the late spring of 2010, Rob Haggart put out a call for images of the cataclysmic economy on APE, (a colleague was looking for photos for a story,) so I sent him a project I had.

 

Gas station grocery shelf, Antonito, CO, 2009

 

I was psyched Rob replied, liking the pics, so I told him I was about to attend two big photo festivals, back to back, and as a burgeoning blogger, perhaps I could report on them from the field for APE?

He agreed to publish my articles, and liked the work, so he then offered to pay my expenses on a trip to NYC, to cover the PDN Photo Plus Expo for the blog.

(As you might image, I was blown away, and jumped at the chance.)

A guy I knew on Twitter, Richard Bram, told me he’d be there too, so we agreed to meet up in the cavernous Jacob Javits Center on the West side of Manhattan.

We connected, and I found Richard charming, knowledgable, agreeable, and just fun and easy to be around.

In the end, I mentioned Richard in the article, and so began a long and fruitful friendship.

He’s been featured in more articles than anyone else, as off the top of my head, I recall a festival in Houston, museum visits in Brooklyn and London, eating in a little Ramen shop in the East Village, and a fish and chips joint on the Thames in 2019.

 

Fish and Chips, Limehouse, London, 2019

 

And wouldn’t you know it, but for the first time ever, Richard came to visit last Friday, and stayed the night here at our place.

The timing was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in New Jersey next week for my first major photo/writing gig for a big-time, international publication.

(I can’t share details yet.)

As such, I’ve spent weeks checking my gear, ordering new equipment, and building a battle plan to be the mobile, nimble, 21st Century digital journalist on the go.

So of course Richard and I would end up testing equipment, talking endlessly about the intricacies of fill flash, and geeking out as hard as we could.

Richard admitted he’d been in the theater growing up, with parents who acted in local community productions.

He also has a distinguished face, and knows how to use it.

Therefore, Richard modeled while I switched cameras and lenses, tested out my lighting kits, and did a deep dive into a different type of photography.

(Most of the time, I think myself more artist than photographer, but I’ve shot my share of weddings, headshots, passport photos, graduation pics, etc.)

Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Richard was there with me at the beginning, in 2010, and was here at the end too, in 2022.

{Ed note: To reiterate, this is the end of an era, not my time here as a writer. You’ll still get me 2x a month.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As gifts, Richard brought a lovely woodblock print he’d made in Oaxaca this winter, and a ‘zine that came out last year.

 

 

Normally, I look at submissions in the order they arrive, but have made exceptions over the years, (including with Nancy Baron’s ‘zine recently,) so we’re going to check it out, but keep it brief.

(Since I dropped some big news on you at the outset, we’ll go short and summery today.)

The ‘zine is called “The Red Cube,” was was published in 2021 by Bump Books.

It features many looks at Isamu Noguchi’s classic sculpture in Lower Manhattan, which was a block away from where Richard and his wife lived during their New York years. (In between stints in London, but in case it’s not clear, Richard is American.)

The ‘zine, too, (with that big red cube in the background,) spans an era, between 2011-2020.

There’s not much to say about this that the photos below won’t show.

It’s a series of street photographs in the Financial District of NYC, and feels like a love letter to the city, now that he’s moved on.

 

 

 

 

 

New York has been featured more times in this column than any other locale.

I’ve covered countless NYC gallery and museum exhibitions over the years, hit the High Line, eaten at the cronut shop, dodged snowflakes the week before Superstorm Sandy, gorged on pizza, and done a 6 year stint at the NYT, all during the time of this weekly column.

 

Me and Jessie on the High Line, 2018

 

I had a daughter, got two dogs, built a career, saved my wife from the ravages of clinical depression, made countless friends, lost some too, was a college Art Department Chair, traveled the US, blogged for The New Yorker, and learned more about the world, my craft, my community, and myself, than I ever could have imagined.

So I hope you enjoy this last 6-week run, (including today,) before I retire the weekly-columnist-mantle.

I appreciate all the time and energy you’ve given us over the years, and the opportunity Rob has provided.

Hope all is well, and catch you next week!

 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: In the Mood for Love

 

 

 

Someone was selling firewood.

In a truck.
By the side of the road.

I saw it this morning.

(Winter is coming.)

 

 

 

 

 

It’s August 11th, (high summer some places,) and my kids just went back to school.

My daughter is in 5th grade, and when I began this column, in September of 2011, she wasn’t born yet.

(It’s been a wild ride.)

Over the course of my time here, (week in, week out,) I’ve had the chance to travel to some pretty amazing places, and report back to you.

Beyond Derby, London and Amsterdam, all my city reports have come from here in the good old US of A.

 

Hotel room view, Amsterdam, Feb 2020
Taking a selfie in a room full of people talking selfies in the Eric Gyamfi exhibition, Foam, Amsterdam, Feb 2020

 

 

Off the top of my head, since 2011, I’ve written about Austin, Albuquerque, Carmel, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, LA, Marfa, Monterey, New Jersey, New Orleans, NYC, Portland, Santa Fe, San Diego, San Francisco, Taos, Tucson, and Washington, DC.

I’m a lucky guy.

As of now, I’m supposed to visit NJ, Chicago and New Orleans later this year.

 

Lake Michigan, Chicago, Oct 2021
The French Quarter, New Orleans, Dec 2021

 

So we’ll have plenty more travel content in 2022-3, with the attendant gallery, museum, restaurant reviews, etc.

It’s a far cry from pandemic lockdown, thank goodness, when so many people just stayed home.

(Including me.)

Traveling, visiting new ports of call, seeing new cities, tasting new foods…

Few things are better for our personal (and brain) development.

Doing new things makes new neural pathways in your brain, and every moment in a new travel environment counts as doing something new.

(Yes, that was 4 uses of new in one sentence.)

But getting to truly see the world, put my eyes on China and Japan, Australia and Brazil?

Egypt and India?

I mean, to see all of it?

I can’t even imagine.

Yet that’s the feeling I got, when I put down today’s book.

That I’d just taken a wild, elegant, extremely well-seen and well-crafted journey around world in the 21st Century.

The work felt current, fresh, edgy, and smart, with great technique.

But let me back up a second…

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found two boxes at the bottom of the pile today, from March 2021.

Somehow, they’d been skipped, so of course they’re both vaulted to the top of the pile.

The first of them was called “Ibidem,” by Giovanni Del Brenna; seemingly self-published with a professional team.

But I’ll flip the script, for once, and share a bit of info from the back of the book.

One essay, by Carole Naggar was dated 2011, and I thought, that’s odd?

Why publish an essay written so long ago?

Then the copyright on the next page said 2012.

Yet my initial impressions were the book was super current and of the moment, and it was submitted in 2021?

Strange.

In an excellent footnote section at the end, the artist writes he was born in Genoa, Italy, (but never lived there,) raised in Brazil in a French school, and has lived in many other places.

It seems he comes honestly by his Sofia Coppola/”Lost in Translation,” globetrotting, “In the Mood for Love”/Wong Kar-wai, seen-it-all before, and I know the best noodle shop in 30 cities vibe.

 

“In the Mood for Love,” image courtesy of RogerEbert.com
“In the Mood for Love,” courtesy of The Criterion Collection and the NY Times

 

Saying how all cities are alike in some ways.

I love it.

As I turned the page, page after page, the photographs were standout.

The edit jumps at you, like a bored dog seeking affection.

Lots of dynamic use of color and light, with emotional energy.

Inspiring stuff.

And the design was on point too, with photos bleeding onto subsequent spreads, with smaller spreads mixed within, so you’re changing paper sizes constantly. While each spread connects to the next through fabulous color, and repeating motifs, like flying fish.

The photos challenge our sense of perception, with lots of figure/ground manipulations, use of repeating patterns, and then optical illusions like advertisements or painted buildings.

Just standout.

The design and photographs also wrong-foot us by reclaiming the gutter space, where most artists fear to tread.

(I mean, it’s literally called the gutter.)

Again and again, the gutter creates a symmetrical split, with vital info right there over the seam.

Scandalous!

I found the book to be flawless, right up until the end.

Page after page of nodding my head, saying, “Yes, that’s just right!”

And then towards the back, there was one image, of some guy in a jacket and tie in the light and shadow of a doorway, and it broke the spell.

Like, every single other photo I loved, but then why this guy?

Right afterwards, there were two traditional-type-explanatory-essays, and I felt they, too, were unnecessary.

(The pictures spoke for themselves, meaning-wise.)

 

 

 

 

I recognized photographs being made in Japan and China, Italy and France, but clearly there were many more locations I couldn’t place. The excellent thumb-nail index, at the end, tells us the book records travels from 2002-8, in those places, plus London, New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, and a host of other locations.

(In fairness, I did pick out a sleeping London banker on a train, and could recognize NYC on my second viewing.)

I kept saying to myself, as I looked, “Is that Italy, France, or somewhere else entirely?”

How do these things feel chic and generic, yet universal?

Which gorgeous city are we seeing in this photo?

Does it even matter?

With the index and footnotes, we get just the right bit of context, if we MUST know which city we were seeing, or what his travels were like, where his brother lived, all from the artist’s own perspective.

Ending there, followed by an insert in French and Italian, the book sticks the landing.

And last page credits Del Brenna, Teun van der Heijden, and Fred Ritchin as editors, and Heijdens Karwei for the design, so major kudos on this one.

So glad I found it at the bottom of the pile.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Ibidem” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The 70’s

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard of Jack Reacher?

 

 

I was (mostly) unaware he existed until this year, when Amazon Prime dropped an easily-bingeable series, called “Reacher.”

At some point, I’d heard Tom Cruise starred in a movie or two called Reacher, and that a global fan base was pissed off about it, given how little he resembled the character.

 

Courtesy of Imdb.com

 

I’m mentioning it today, because a few weeks ago, I noticed a stack of soft-cover Reacher books on a new friend’s shelf.

He lent me one, and after I devoured it, he passed along 5 more.

I’m about to start the final book, so I have a better understanding of how this character, (and the extensive #1 best-selling book series Lee Child wrote based upon him,) could occupy such a powerful spot in the collective imagination of millions of people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to see why people rejected Tom Cruise.

(Despite the fact he’s since become an actual super-hero, jumping out of planes and climbing the Burj Khalifa w/o a net.)

Jack Reacher is 6’5″, 250 lbs, and that fact is repeated again and again.

(In one book, they even call him Bigfoot and The Incredible Hulk.)

 

Courtesy of jack-reacher.fandom.com

 

His sheer size makes him attractive, as he’s a true badass, in all the important ways.

(Great at hand-to-hand combat, weapons trained, you name it.)

Beyond that, Reacher is always the smartest guy in the room, and the wisest.

It’s part Sherlock Holmes, (with all the great deductive reasoning,) part Mr. Wolf from “Pulp Fiction,” (able to fix any jam, and dispose of any body,) and part Batman, minus the cape and extreme wealth. (Reacher is basically a vagrant.)

The character just roams the world, (like David Carradine in “Kung Fu,”) helping people, free of charge, based upon a moral code he learned in the US Army. (Where he was a Major as a top-level MP.)

Interestingly, Lee Child is an Englishman, (born in Coventry,) so near as I can tell, he came up with the archetype of a Wild West gunslinger meets UFC champion, and sends him into one, violent, dramatic, insane-but-slightly plausible situation after another.

And people just can’t get enough.

Because they want to be Jack Reacher.

The want to have it all.

Be the biggest, the strongest, the smartest, the wisest, the most honorable, and to always get the girl.

Reacher owns nothing but a tooth-brush, and goes when and where he pleases.

He can take out seven bikers all by himself, and is therefore the embodiment of the type of American power most people see as slipping into the dustbin of history.

So there’s also a wistful nostalgia about the whole thing.

If Dirty Harry captured the American id of the crazy 70’s, Reacher is just right for the 2020’s, as he kicks ass, but also treats people with respect.

(Were you to meet Reacher in real life, you would feel seen, and understood.)

 

 

 

 

 

I mention all this today, having just put down a photo book.

The submission came in a year ago, so I had no idea what was inside the box, and was therefore surprised to see “Snapshots 1971-77” by Michael Lesy, published by Blast Books in New York.

(I reviewed another of his books a few years ago, which also featured images from a historical archive.)

That appears to be his thing, sifting through archives, (as we learn in the opening essay,) so this fits neatly into Michael Lesy’s life obsession.

He confirms this in the essay, but also drops an interesting theory on us:

“Looked at individually, as visual documents, they reveal- or allude to- the hopes, fears, and desires of the people who made them. Sometimes snapshots tell the truth, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they do both.

Looked at in large numbers- in batches of a dozen or a hundred or a thousand- they line up lie bits of colored glass in a kaleidoscope and form patterns… patterns of shared belief, patterns of shared meaning.”

I took that to mean if you glance at archives out of the corner of your eye, and digest image after image, you get a sense of a culture.

A place in time.

(And we’ve all heard the clichés about how to make a photograph meaningful: put it in a box for 40 or 50 years.)

The book features a host of snapshots scrounged from garbage dumpster; the outtakes of a San Francisco photo lab in the early-mid 70’s, but there are also some images from a photo lab in Cleveland.

(Not the tidiest premise, mixing them both up, but hey, you get what you get.)

I came away with a few impressions.

First off, Damn!, have Instagram filters, and the ease of cell-phone-camera operation, made regular people better at photography.

We’ve got a lot of bad crops, blurry images, and downright strange compositions overall.

The fashion is great, (as it is in all old pictures,) but mostly we see celebrations, or human gatherings.

Birthdays, weddings, confirmations, funerals, and drinking with one’s buddies.

There are a few images that would have been described as “racy” at the time, and one in which a topless, awkward woman is juxtaposed against a photo of a painting of a clown, which I thought was unnecessarily mean.

Overall, though, the book is fun.

It was a funky, crazy, powerful, illogical time, the 70’s, and I was reminded of “Airplane,” which mocked the whole era.

 

 

 

 

 

Just the other day, I encouraged my daughter to read a book alongside me, and we found “Deenie,” by Judy Blume, on a shelf in a closet.

 

 

It was written in 1973, and I was aghast at how much culture has changed.

Everyone was named Midge.

It was acceptable to insult people based upon appearances.

And there were words used that aren’t even in the dictionary anymore. (Have you ever heard of Klunk?)

I’m not sure I learned too much more about 1970’s America, looking at today’s photo book, but then again, I lived through it.

So maybe it’s important, that books like this explain the past to the future.

All those Gen Z kids need to know what it looked like back then, to understand where the world was, and where it’s going.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Snapshots 1971-77” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: An Elegy

 

 

 

I published Jim Ferguson’s work in the column a while back.

(Probably five years ago, if I had to guess.)

 

 

 

 

I met Jim at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, but had already heard of him, as he was buddies with my client Allen.

I always encourage artists to build out their friend and peer network, (especially at festivals,) because no matter how much we cross our fingers and hope the gallerist/curator/publisher/editor across the table will give you your “big break,” as often as not, it’s your friends who hook you up.

(Anyone who’s gone to art school knows this is true, and of course it’s not like I invented the concept.)

Art education is literally built upon the idea that other peoples’ informed opinions help you grow.

Of course, knowing whom to trust is a learning process, and occasionally we all have to tune out the noise and listen to our internal compass.

But 9 times out of 10, if your peer network is telling you the same thing, that means something.

So when Allen said he and Jim did that for each other, and were in critique groups together, I took that as a good sign.

By the time I met Jim, I expected to like his work, and in fact I did.

He showed me a series of urban, abstracted (but not abstract) images he made that reflected his “compromised” vision.

As I recall, Jim had little-to-no depth perception, so his photographs flattened out the picture plane, to the point a viewer could sense how that type of vision might affect a person.

Most of his photos were black and white, and the compositions and tonality were also strong, so it was easy for me to include him in one of my lengthy, rambling articles featuring the best work I saw at Filter that year.

 

Images courtesy of jimfphoto.com

 

I’m pretty sure I bumped into Jim once or twice again in Chicago, but wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Regardless, I was impressed by the man, and his talent, but I meet more than a hundred photographers each year, (due to my regular travels on the festival circuit,) and that was that.

Not-quite-a-year ago, I noticed a book come in the mail, with Jim’s return address, so I chucked it in the submission pile with the rest of the books, and didn’t give it another thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not long thereafter, (probably a month or two,) Allen reached out to tell me Jim had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and was very ill.

The end was imminent, Allen wrote, and then he followed up a day or two later to tell me Jim had passed away.

It caught me off guard, because within a year or so, I’d also learned of the passing of two artists I’d reviewed at festivals: Paula Riff and Nicholas Fedak.

Everyone dies.

I get it.

But I have a near-photographic memory, (for faces as well,) so I remember almost everyone I’ve met in the photo world over the past 13 years.

(Since I attended my first portfolio review in 2009.)

And up until that point, everyone was still around, as far as I knew.

They say things come in threes.

I get it.

This, however, was no fun at all.

And as soon as Allen told me about Jim’s death, I realized eventually, I’d need to open the book package and see what lay inside.

Today is that day.

 

 

 

 

 

Two days ago, here in Taos, the season changed.

It went from high summer to late summer, and it happens every freaking year, right around now.

The light shifts, and if you didn’t live here, (and weren’t a photographer,) you might not notice.

But the temperature changes subtly as well, so you need a long-sleeve shirt and sweat-pants in the mornings, and an extra blanket at night.

My daughter actually grabbed a fleece jacket this morning, when she woke up, and I didn’t blame her.

While much of America basks in pure-summer-frivolity, at the end of July here, I start thinking about winter.

It’s strange, I admit, but then again, my next-door-neighbor still has lights on a Christmas tree, inside his insanely-expensive-but-abandoned barn, so things just work differently in New Mexico.

(I’m not in Jersey anymore, that’s for sure.)

 

 

 

 

 

Frankly, if Jim hadn’t passed away, I’m not sure I’d be reviewing this book.

It’s a self-published, Blurb-book-type offering, called “Deflated Xmas,” and inside it has the subtitle: Ohhh, the plasticity!

The pictures read like point-and-shoot-pics, (more likely from a cell phone,) and given the rigorous craftsmanship of Jim’s previous work, I was taken aback.

This doesn’t seem like a serious art project, but it is fascinating as a cultural artifact, without question.

(Where I live, houses don’t look like this.)

And no one has inflatable Santas.

Nor reindeers, Olafs, or Abominable Snow Men.

But in Chicago, (or perhaps the Greater MidWest,) they’re obviously popular, because Jim was able to fill a small book with images of sad, wilted, nearly-dead Santas.

What stands for celebration, joy, and seasonal good cheer, when they’re inflated, reads as garbage when they’re crumpled on the brown, dead grass.

(Though more than one image featured a verdant lawn, so I guess Sad Santa sat out there for a while.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

True story: I had an inflatable Elmo balloon in my “Party City is the Devil” exhibition at the Harwood Museum of Art, here in Taos, in 2019.

(It closed one month before Covid was discovered in Wuhan.)

One night, a new janitor walked through my show, decided Elmo must be trash, (despite the accompanying placard, and the fact he was tethered to the wall,) so he cut the ribbon and threw it away.

The museum called me the next day, mortified, and they actually went to Santa Fe to get a replacement.

Deflated Elmo was so pathetic, the janitor could not conceive of him as art, so tossed him in the bin.

 

 

And that’s what this book feels like.

It’s a well-observed take on a strange-ass phenomenon, one I definitely have not seen before.

(Which makes it review-worthy.)

I don’t know the circumstances under which this book was made, and I can’t ask Jim Ferguson.

I feel like he’d be psyched to have it reviewed, and perhaps he used this little side-project as a distraction, while his body betrayed him.

I guess we’ll never know.

But this summer has felt like an inflection point, where big changes are afoot, even beyond the calendar ticking from high to late summer.

And no one really knows what’s up ahead, do they?

See you next week, and I hope you’re enjoying some relaxation, or vacation, should you have the chance to take it down a notch.

 

To purchase “Deflated Xmas,” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: City vs Country

 

 

 

I just had some friends in from Houston.

(Texas clears out in summer.)

As is our custom with visitors, I took them on a big hike around the farm and adjoining neighborhood.

It was a gorgeous, sunny morning, perfect for a nice long walk, and as they’d already acclimated to the altitude, all was good.

Except for Houston. (The dog. And her name is pronounced HOW-ston, like the street in lower Manhattan.)

 

Houston St, NYC. (Image courtesy of Joshua Bright and the NYT.)

 

Houston, from Houston, had the time of her life.

A city-dog, born and raised, she was used to civilized walks around her Texas-urban neighborhood. (Meaning, low-density, car-driving city life, unlike NYC.)

Apparently, Houston has a best friend in Houston named Gracie, and they play together in dog parks.

(Those small patches of land devoted to off-leash dogs; a city-dog salvation.)

Here, however, on a 60 acre spread, with hills, cliffs, a stream, and an acequia, Houston went ape-shit.

For real.

That cute little terrier was sprinting around, smelling everything, rolling in horse dung, splashing through the water, and generally acting like a proper-wild-animal.

Given she resembled a black-and-white version of the famous dog from “Frazier,” it was quite the visual, and definitely entertaining.

Little Houston even snarled at, and backed down, our part-Pit Bull Haley, who is Wild-West-battle-tested.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but that little city-dog came out to the country, and made it her turf.

Well done, Houston!

 

Houston. (Image courtesy of her parent.)

 

 

 

 

Of course, I had no idea she’d inspire the column.

I hadn’t looked at a book yet, much less grabbed one from the submission stack.

But once I did, everything fell into place.

I happened to pull a package from Wray Sinclair, which arrived in August of 2021, so I was clueless as to what laid within.

I found “Kyanite Miners,” a well-produced, self-published book, which was made in a remote, rare-mineral mine in Central Virginia.

One of my oldest desires as a critic is for a book, (or any work of art, really,) to show me something I haven’t seen before.

To introduce me to a world, a micro-community, or subculture that gives me more insight into existence than I had before.

These days, I review pretty-much every book that comes in, but some obviously are able to open my eyes, (or my mind,) while others leave me wanting more.

Today’s book, “Kyanite Miners,” fits the bill, because I’ve never even heard of Kyanite before.

Much less had I any knowledge of the landscape or culture of Central Virginia, so that’s one point for Wray Sinclair right there.

(Yes, I use the point system IRL, but only brought it to the column last week, for Nancy Baron’s cool ‘Zine.)

The book opens with a contextualizing essay, (as so many do,) but it took a slightly more philosophical approach, specifically referencing the detrimental nature of the Urban/Rural divide in America.

We all know it’s there, and I remember calling out John McCain, in 2008, for his coded Republican Presidential campaign slogan, “Country First,” which is a double-entendre, if you think about it.

 

(Image courtesy of Mary Altaffer/AP, via the NYT.)

 

These days, Country folk love to mock City folk, and vice versa.

Hating the other side has become a force of habit, yet how many people ask themselves whether America can properly function without either crew respecting the other?

Everyone knows that personal interaction can minimize prejudice, but also that Americans have self-segregated into area-bubbles that reinforce their worldview.

(And that’s likely to get worse, once people start choosing their State based upon abortion access, or a lack thereof.)

 

 

 

 

 

So, to get to the point, I like this book.

The portraits are well-made, and show the subjects in a respectful light.

(This is one of those books where the dudes will appreciate the way they’re depicted.)

The flow of portraits, “action” shots, and landscapes is good, especially as it’s a short book, and I love that the proper “establishment shot” is saved for the end.

(Most editors would have started there.)

The closing credits admit that Kyanite Mining was a client here, so we need to keep that in mind.

These images were likely NOT made solely as art, or a personal project, but I don’t think we ought to consider that a black mark on the artist.

(Everyone’s got to eat, after all.)

Wray wrote me a nice note, in which he admitted being a fan of the column, so I’ll return the favor.

Nice job, Wray!

Thanks for sending your book along.

As to the rest of you, see you next week!

 

To purchase “Kyanite Miners” click here

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Riders on the Storm

 

 

 

 

I’m binge-watching “Power” at the moment.

(Season 6, the last of the original series, before it begat 3 spinoffs.)

 

Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

 

 

What brought me to this moment, (having now invested countless hours in a televised story,) is a classic case of Capitalism, straight out of one of my Economics textbooks at Duke University, back in the day.

They even have a name for it: the drug-dealer model.

Give someone a free sample of a (potentially) addictive product, and you may have yourself a customer for life.

The tactic is so good, it even works on people who know the potential risk.

In my case, a few weeks ago, I realized a new season of “Outlander” had come and gone, which meant I could probably watch it with a free week of Starz, courtesy of Amazon Prime.

(The world knows no better Capitalist than Future-Emperor Jeffrey Bezos.)

Now, in admitting I like “Outlander,” I’m outing myself as a sucker for high-quality-production values, and solid acting, in an immersive, period show, featuring great-looking leads with cool accents.

OK.
You got me.
It’s true.

But even if you take out the period element, (I majored in History as well as Economics in college,) if a show is truly immersive, and does a deep-dive into a subculture that teaches me about the world, I’ll probably get hooked.

So after I finished “Outlander,” knowing full-well I might risk overstaying my free week, I jumped into “Power” through the backdoor.

I began with a 2022 Spinoff, “Power Book IV: Force,” because I thought Joseph Sikora did a great job in “Ozark,” and his face was on the photo/graphic advertising the show.

 

Courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

 

Set in Chicago, it’s only one season, so I was quickly ready for “Power,” Season 1, the NYC-based OG of the Power-Verse, (produced by low-key, mega-mogul 50 Cent,) and it’s been living in my brain ever since.

Do you want to know their trick?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drop the viewer into the middle of an ongoing story.

Whatever semblance of stability might have existed with the main characters, as the series begins, interrupt that status quo with some SERIOUS drama.

Basically…shit goes wrong, right away.

And then… it never stops.

Drama, violence, sex, loyalty, betrayal, shady-backroom-dealing, exploding skulls, slit necks, slip-skirts slipping off in yet another sex scene… just never let it stop.

I’ve since learned that “Power” was one of the most highly watched shows in the history of Pay Cable, (or what used to be Pay Cable,) and I’m not surprised it spawned ongoing storytelling.

Once you have, (against all odds,) created rock-solid, original IP, that shit doesn’t EVER stop making money.

(It’s why we have Harry Potter theme parks.)

And even though “Stranger Things” and “The Boys” haven’t even ended their runs yet, deep down, we know we’ll be absorbing some version of that IP until we die.

Now, where was I?

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I watched “Power,” paying attention to the story-telling tricks, (including taboo-for-shock-value, to keep them hooked,) it made me think of one story-telling, IP-Empire in particular.

I was consistently reminded of “Sons of Anarchy” which I binge-watched on Netflix 4 or 5 years ago.

(Honestly, who can remember?)

 

Courtesy of Imdb.com

 

SoA first taught me the cardinal rule of addictive television: Make crazy shit happen to your characters, ALWAYS, and then amp it up, CONSTANTLY.

If you never give the characters a minute to breathe, and are willing to put outer-edge violence and violation on-screen, with good actors in a fascinating sub-culture, you’re good to go.

“Sons of Anarchy,” created by Jersey Boy Kurt Sutter, was set in an Outlaw biker gang in Southern California.

I knew nothing about that world, but quickly learned some Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs function like Mexican drug cartels. (Who were also featured prominently in the show.)

Bit by bit, SoA shares a fictionalized version of the Biker-Gang-world, complete with its own lingo, and set of rituals.

To be clear, (as far as I know,) not all Motorcycle clubs are gangs, nor criminal organizations.

But some are, which means if you see a certain type of biker, with a certain type of cut, (or leather sleeveless vest,) and he comes up behind your car on his chopper, looking like a movie-bad-guy-henchman, well, you let that guy pass as soon as he wants to.

Which I did.
Yesterday.

As I drove my daughter to her summer camp, where she’d be playing a pirate in a local children’s production.

My daughter asked about the biker on the chopper, and even though she’s 9, it quickly led to a conversation about Capitalism, and the international market for illegal drugs, which is dominated by organized, criminal gangs in every country on Earth.

(I swear, that’s just how it happened.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told her how to read the Motorcycle club, and local chapter, from the guy’s cut, or sleeveless leather vest.

(Brother’s Keeper, Alamosa, Colorado.)

Then I said, because selling “drugs” was illegal, but people still wanted to buy them, someone always had, and always would, rise up to sell it to them.

(The concepts of Supply and Demand are the core of Economics.)

She asked about which countries had big Mafias, so we discussed Italy, Mexico, Russia, China, and how as far as I knew, the Yakuza mostly stayed in Japan.

All the while, the guy on the chopper was right in front of us, cruising the highway into Taos.

Out of nowhere, the dude had became an official “topic of discussion,” which lead to a chat about the Global Drug Economy, with an inquisitive 9-year-old.

I’m telling you, those bikers have a SERIOUS presence.

 

 

 

 

 

OK, let’s keep it moving.

Photographer Nancy Baron, from Southern California, reached out a couple of weeks ago, and offered to send a little ‘Zine she’d just made.

From what I gathered, it had something to do with bikers on the highway.

In Southern California.

“Riders on the Ten” opens with a backwards orientation, and while I did peek at the accompanying post-card, which told me where to be begin, the other side says “Do Not Enter/ Wrong Way,” so design-wise, it’s a nice clue.

(Score one point for Nancy Baron.)

The title makes me think of “Riders on the Storm,” by The Doors, so then I’ve got Jim Morrison in my head.

And I fucking love that song.

 

 

(Score another point for Nancy Baron.)

From there, after the opening paragraph, informing us it’s the road between LA and Palm Springs, what you see is what you get.

(The front cover is actually a portly guy in a funny-visor helmet, on a Vespa, which is funny, so one more point for Nancy.)

It’s such a cute, little ‘Zine.

None of the dudes is as menacing as the guy we saw here in New Mexico, but just as you’re settling in to the whimsy, we have a run of images where the riders start staring Nancy down.

It’s such a tonal change, you notice right away.

And loved it, as I write here, all the time, how much I enjoy a good change of pace, to help hold a viewer’s attention.

Just when I wondered how far she’d take the stare-down pictures, we get a photo of a cop, giving us the peace sign, and then the ‘Zine is done.

Short and sweet.

Which is more than I can say for this week’s column.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Riders on the Ten” click here

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Vanishing Points

 

 

 

Last Friday, I took the day off.

 

 

Normally, I tell you ahead of time, (and plan a proper get-away,) to help rejuvenate my creativity.

It’s a solid trick, and normally works well, but this time was different.

Rather than taking an actual vacation, I used the week-off to deal with some serious life stress.

Just like a mental-health-day isn’t really a “day off,” last week was about crisis management, and I guess the crises were averted.

But I can’t exactly say I feel refreshed.

(C’est la vie.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not mentioning this to complain.

(Though I know it might look like that.)

Rather, at the end of June, I gave a webinar for the Los Angeles Center of Photography, which was all about sharing strategies to maintain and support our creativity, over the long-term.

 

 

I’ve been a working artist for 25 years, so I created a list of 25 ideas that enable our creativity to flourish.

Much of the teaching would be familiar to you, (if you’ve been reading the column for years,) but of course some of it was new.

Somewhere in the middle of the lecture, I discussed the fact that outside forces in our lives, be they relational or geo-political, can have a massive impact on our creativity. (In addition to our happiness.)

Perpetual stress is hard on the body, and while creative practice is a brilliant form of self-care, sometimes it can get overwhelmed, and then diminished.

So today, feeling really bad, deep in my heart, I wondered how I was going to force myself to write the column, when all I wanted to do was put on my headphones and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist?

Denial doesn’t work, though, so I unboxed a book, read/looked at it, and went for a short walk to prep my thoughts. (As I often do.)

Don’t worry, I’m giving you all this context for a reason.

The truth is, I want you to decide for yourself whether the rest of this column, (the actual book review part,) is being colored by a bad mood, or whether I’m able to separate my emotions from my thoughts, on an admittedly difficult day.

Let’s get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

“Vanishing Points,” by Michael Sherwin, published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany, showed up in the mail a year ago.

This is one I remember requesting, and I even recalled a bit about its concept, which seemed promising.

So I wasn’t flying blind.

I was excited to receive it, because the book directly challenged the current status quo, with respect to theories about staying in one’s lane.

Near as I can tell, it’s a book by a White, male American, that attempts to tell stories, and gather information, about historical, Indigenous/ Native American sacred sites across the United States.

“Vanishing Points” is the exact book we’ve been hearing, for several years now, should not be made.

It’s the opposite of a project made by an inside member of a culture, and as I believe we should be allowed our creative freedom, I was hoping the book would be awesome, enlightening, fascinating.

(Alas, I’m not loving it, though I really hoped I would.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it because I’m in a bad mood?

I really don’t think so.

“Vanishing Points” begins with a typical writerly essay, and then we get a statement by the artist, providing the backstory.

As I understand it, Michael Sherwin believes Indigenous philosophies might hold the key to a healthier relationship with nature, in a Climate Change era, and of course we’ve heard such things a million times before.

(I am not immune, living as I do in the midst of a historical Indigenous community in Taos, NM. Many gringos have been similarly seduced, through the centuries. And a more holistic relationship with the Earth would absolutely be a good thing.)

Again, I actually believe the roots of Michael Sherwin’s investigation are valid, and should be on-limits, so my problem lies with the execution.

The book is a jumble of actual landscapes, cultural landscapes, obvious tropes, and trash artifacts removed from sacred sites, then photographed in a studio environment.

While there are captions at the end, to give us the specifics, it reads too much like a typical-photo-book template, (replete with a final, academic essay telling us what we just saw,) and the solid, but expected quality of the story-telling, and image-making, left me wanting.

The photographs of earthen-mound-architecture were the stand-outs, and given how little most people know about the grassy structures, (which are so different from Mexico’s pyramids,) I think there could have been a much stronger project, had the artist done a deep-dive there.

With a dearth of general-cultural-knowledge about ancient, large-scale settlements like Cahokia, I believe this could have been something special, as a book.

But just as a Lenni Lenape warrior in 1700, in what is now New Jersey, could not have imagined Chaco Canyon, in New Mexico, linking so much of Native America together this way, through the experiences of a wandering, White photographer… I couldn’t make it work, as a critic.

And I wanted to.
Truly.

I sat there, after putting the book down, and asked myself how to write the review?

How to honor the artist’s right to his vision, and applaud the effort that went into crafting it, while still finding fault with the results?

Being a critic can be hard sometimes.

But so can being an artist.

As always, we do the best we can, and take one day at a time.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “Vanishing Points,” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Hitting the Beach

 

 

“There is something deeply Universal about this human instinct to rest and rejuvenate by the sea.”

Jonathan Blaustein, January 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never quoted myself to open the column.

(That’s a new one, for sure.)

But there’s a reason, I promise, and we’ll get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The other day, my daughter asked what I used to do in Summer, when I was her age?

I told her my folks sent my brother and me to sleep-away-camp, beginning when we were 6 and 8 respectively.

We’d go off to rural Pennsylvania, (or later Upstate New York,) for two months at a time, over an 8 year period.

 

JB at Pine Forest Camp, circa 1985. (Can you tell which one is me?)

 

She was surprised, as that is wildly out of her life experience, growing up here in Northern New Mexico.

But, I assured her, though we weren’t packing her off like that, it was pretty common among suburban, Jersey Jewish kids, back in the day.

Before and after we left for camp, though, on nice days we went to the beach.

Down the Shore.

(Jersey in the 80’s was like living in a John Hughes’ film.)

 

Image courtesy of Sebastian Galaviz/ Spotify

 

It was pretty rad, I must say.

In fact, given it’s June 23rd, (as I’m writing,) there’s a good chance I would have been at the beach on this exact date, 40 years ago.

Damn!

I miss it.

Living in the mountains, the nearest, large body of water is 700 miles away, and that’s the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico in Texas, the Pacific Ocean in SoCal, and the Great Lakes, all are nearly 1000 miles from here.

(It’s enough to make a Jersey-Shore-boy heartsick.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But wouldn’t you know it?

I had a vicarious trip to the sea in a photo-book today.

(We’ll get there in a minute.)

After looking at the book, and ruminating on that urge to be near the ocean, I laid down on a rug in the living room, imagining the waves crashing and cresting.

Back in Jersey, on the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a particular smell to the water.

(Like sweetly rotting clams.)

I’d love to have that odor in my nose right now.

But that’s 2000 miles away.

(At least California is closer.)

So I started thinking of the big, blue waves of the Pacific.

“Wait a second,” I thought.

I have a solution to this.

We just need to get digital!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed my phone, and ran to a closet.

Finger-scrolling furiously, I found a video I made on the beach in San Diego, nearly six months ago, and it was as if past-me were speaking to current-me.

(Some legit, time-travel-type shit.)

Check it out.

 

 

OK, I know most of you don’t watch the videos.

Fine.

But context matters, such that (except for the embarrassing fingers-on-the-lens moment,) I was strolling along the oceanfront, narrating for you guys, (and my current-self,) how nice it is to relax by the ocean when you can.

(It’s where the column-opening-quote came from.)

Standing in the closet, remembering how nice the sounds and breezes were, I felt the heartsickness subsiding.

Then I found a video of my last look at the Pacific, seconds before we turned away, to head back East across the Great American West.

It’s so lovely, that one perfect moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, enough of the waxing philosophical.

(I saw a photo-book that put me on this rant. It wasn’t planned.)

My book stack is big, as I’ve said, so I reached in and pulled out a box from Summer 2021, published in 2020, so it’s not exactly ripped from the headlines.

Surely, I had no idea what would be inside.

I found the attention-grabbing “Aquas De Ouro,” from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, published by Radius Books in Santa Fe.

Straight up, Radius is known for craftsmanship and design, and I mean this cover!

Shimmering Gold!

I don’t speak Portuguese, but as I know some Spanish, Italian and French, I guessed the title meant Waters of Gold, and the coastline in the graphic made me think of Rio de Janeiro, though I’ve never been.

Sure enough, that’s what the book’s about, as it seems the artist was born there, spent a chunk of her life in England, and then returned to make these photos.

(I’m not clear if it was a part-time, or full-time return to make the work in the book.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter.

I write all the time that books are experiences, and this one actually felt like that was the main point.

Creating a real, lived-in experience for the viewer.

All those close-ups!

The movement, in and out of the crowds.

In and out of the water.

I was re-watching “Friday Night Lights” recently, and after looking over my shoulder, my wife said she’d forgotten how the many jump-cuts, and constant change of camera-angle coverage, made her feel like she really was in that small, West Texas town.

That’s what this book did for me.

It brought me to Ipanema Beach for a few minutes.

(Which is pretty cool.)

The print quality is super-high, as I’d expect from Radius, and frankly, I bought some weed in Santa Fe recently that got me super-high, so shout out to the quality that city’s turning out!

Big Ups to Santa Fe!

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the book, though.

The photos are dynamic, as I said, and there are a lot of them.

Probably, if I’d been editing, I’d have chopped it just a tad.

But text bits, in Portuguese and English, are sprinkled throughout, on different paper stock, so that does keep the narrative moving, and alleviates any potential viewer boredom.

(Especially as none of the text is overly-long.)

In keeping with my shorter, breezier, Summer style… this is a very well-made book.

I enjoyed my time with it, both for the art itself, and the fact it sent me back to my own digital archive, to re-live memories of the sea, from past sunny days.

(As I can’t get quite get there at the moment.)

Hope you’re enjoying your Summer so far.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Aguas De Ouro,” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Hustle Hard

 

 

 

 

I’m a loyal dude, if you have my back.

 

 

 

Earlier this month, it was my 12th Anniversary writing for this website.

My wife and I have been together nearly 25 years, (married for 18,) and I’ve kept up this weekly column since September 2011.

(I also wrote for the New York Times for 6 years, until they shut our blog.)

If you turn on me though, or treat me badly these days, I’m out the door.

It’s a new development, and I’ve been trying it on for size.

Stress chemicals prematurely age us, make us sick, and can kill us in various ways.

So I’m currently trying to limit my exposure to toxic people.

But I’m only here, at this new point in mid-life, because I made so many mistakes, over and over again.

Failure is the best teacher, if you’re willing to listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My son was 2 years old when I began writing for A Photo Editor.

I was 36.

(A youngish, new father to a toddler.)

 

36 years old, covering a portfolio review for APE

 

Now it’s 2022, and I’m the 48-year-old Dad to a teenager, and a soon-to-be tween daughter.

All along, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, and this blog has become interwoven with my life.

That’s quite the run here, and I think it’s because Rob and I share common values and beliefs.

One core tenet: Respect the Hustle.

It’s a hard world out there, and very few of us are ever given anything at all.

(If we are, let’s hope we’re humble and appreciative.)

To become successful in any field takes intelligence, planning, social skills, hard work, grit and determination.

Battling rejection.

Handling the almost moments, when it didn’t happen.

I mean, I once got accepted into a big NYC gallery, less than a year out of graduate school, only to have it fall apart when they didn’t like the color of my picture frames.

(Now that’s a kick in the nuts.)

Perseverance is a valuable trait; one that’s only learned through suffering.

 

 

 

 

 

As always, there’s a point to my musings.

We’re going to talk about a book today; one that waited quite a while for review.

It arrived in May 2021, and sat patiently in its red plastic pouch.

When it’s been that long, I never have any idea what’s inside, and this one was a self-published book by Alex Palombo called “The 20 2020 Project: The Pursuit of a Dream.”

There are two ways to talk about this book, and I aim to investigate both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First off, I respect the hustle this book entails.

The photographer shares, in the opening statement, how tricky it was going to be, to photograph and interview 20 athletes training for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

It was a budget stretch, and Alex meant to stick to the Northeast corridor of the US, from DC to the South to Montreal in the North.

(He lives in New York.)

There is an anecdote about a highway mishap in Upstate NY, which lead to driving 5 hours in the wrong direction towards Buffalo.

Ouch.

(Can’t not share here that my Mom and Dad inadvertently headed West from Vail not-too-long-ago, instead of East towards Denver, and only realized it when they were well into Utah. Must have been some strong-ass reefer.)

 

Image courtesy of Turn the Page

 

Sorry.

Back on topic.

There was a lot of effort funneled into this book, as a passion project, BEFORE Covid hit, and then it became nearly impossible.

But somehow, here it is.

Hard-cover, serious business.

We have athletes, and their stories, which are themselves inspiring.

Each had to sacrifice.

To suffer.

To chase a dream.

In the world of sports, no cliché is ever too big.

All the meta-narratives have been told, (certainly since the US Hockey team won Gold in 1980,) yet they get us every time, such is their power.

{ED note: Just last night, Stephen Curry and his buddies proved the “aging vets who still have one more in the tank” narrative never gets old.}

 

Courtesy of NBC Sports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m the first person to admit I’ve become more cynical since 2016, and try to push back against those instincts.

Sports help me do that.

Not only do I admire the Grit’N’Grind that saw this book through to creation, self-published, but also how it amplifies that positive message with the powerful stories within.

These moments motivate us to do more.
Be better.
Dig deep.

That is the context through which I prefer to view this book, and one for which I have much admiration.

However…

 

 

 

 

 

The other context.

Do I think the photographs are special?

Is the pacing spot on?

Can I groove with the graphic design?

What about the fonts, image placement, and the balance of text and image?

Weekly, I judge books on those merits, and in many ways this one comes up short.

So I don’t want to wimp out, and not say what I’m thinking.

It’s not a “great” book.

But I don’t want to over-invest in that narrative, as the kids say these days.

The truth is, I review books of all types, intentions, and levels of craftsmanship.

Context matters.

I hope some, or even most of these fencers, wrestlers, sprinters, judokas, boxers, and synchronized swimmers made it to Tokyo in 2021.

And I hope you dig this fun, positive book on a warm summer day.

Wherever you are.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “The 20 2020 Project: The Pursuit of a Dream” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

This Week in Photography: Finding Inspiration

 

 

 

Throughout 2022, I’ve been bombarding you with think-pieces.

 

 

Week after week, I’ve delved deep into massive, often depressing subjects.

It was fun when those two stories went viral, (about photo-book publishing and NFT’s,) but as a reader, if you’re here each week, it can be intense.

I get it.

But now it’s Summer.

Things slow down when it’s hot outside.

We seek out the water.
Listen to the leaves quake in the breeze.
Smell the flowers.
Bask in the color of the sky.

Because nature is soothing.
It makes us feel better.

(Thank goodness.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, knowing I wanted to keep it short and sweet, I took a look at the book-submission-pile, but it was too daunting.

And I’ve mined my shelves enough to know that wasn’t going to work either.

(We can only use the same trick so many times.)

No travel stories or portfolio review articles were ready to go.

“What’s a hard-working columnist to do,” I wondered?

At that exact moment, (I swear, no lie,) I looked down and saw two coffee-table-books on the arm of the couch.

They’d clearly been moved there from the cedar-chest-coffee-table, for children’s play, and I hadn’t noticed them before.

Immediately, I recognized a coffee-table-book that used to reside on my mother-in-law’s shelf, one of only four or five art books in their massive library.

(So it was memorable.)

The book is by one of my all-time-favorite artists: Andy Goldsworthy.

Yet somehow, I’d never picked it up before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in graduate school, I had to go into Manhattan one day to catch a film at an indie-cinema-house.

It was assigned: “Rivers and Tides,” about Andy Goldsworthy.

 

 

(I should give it a re-watch, because it’s so damn inspirational.)

The art in the film, and in this book, “Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature,” published by Abrams in 1990,  is among the most remarkable I’ve ever seen.

And I’m not alone.

Just yesterday, after I’d finished this review, my daughter picked up the book, flipped page-by-page, and it was like a blind person restored to sight.

She simply could not believe what she saw, continuously exclaiming, “What! How! How did he do that? Insane! What! How? I don’t even understand! Amazing! What? How did he do that?”

(And I’m not exaggerating. It went on for five minutes.)

To make art in nature, out of nature, that conjures the powerful feelings and emotions that nature engenders?

Simply genius.

 

 

 

 

 

Though he’s super-famous, in case you’re unfamiliar, Andy Goldsworthy uses everything from snow, ice, rocks, trees, leaves, sand, and decaying heron feathers, in locations as far flung as England, Wales, Scotland, Arizona, The North Pole, France and Japan.

He builds sculptures, or nature installations, and many (if not most,) are temporary.

So the photographs become the evidence; the record of art made for the moment, rather than for an audience of humans.

The execution, creativity, patience, and connection to the Zen spirit of the world, are breathtaking.

But the grounded, Down-to-Earth, whimsical magnificence Andy Goldsworthy projects, (in “Rivers and Tides,”) his general likability, adds to the enjoyment as well.

And it always boiled down to one scene for me. (Which became an in-joke with Jessie, when we lived in New York.)

In the film, the camera captures Andy laying on the ground, spread eagle, on the grass outside, along the road, and a kindly neighbor strolls up.

“Hey, Andy. What are you doing there,” the neighbor asks?

A fair question.

“Working,” he replies, with a grin on his face.

In the book, we see how he landed that particular investigation, as the outline of his human form is recorded on the Earth, with powders.

(It doesn’t get much better than that.)

 

 

 

 

 

The past few years, (when I’ve been able to travel,) I mostly lost the taste for hitting up the galleries and museums.

It felt a bit “been-there-done-that,” as if I’d seen so much, over the years, that all the art began to blend together.

I forgot just how powerful it can be to experience the type of greatness that makes you want to strive for more.

(To leave a mark, even if it’s a small one.)

The last 2.5 years have felt like 10, and I don’t want to get old too quickly.

Exhaustion, cynicism, and horrific-world-events can rightly get us down.

But this book, from my Alzheimer’s-ridden mother-in-law, Bonnie, rekindled my passion to see great art again.

(What a gift.)

See you next week!

 

 

This Week in Photography: Say What?

 

 

 

Let’s be real.

 

To keep this weekly column going, for 10.5 years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

If I were an actor, the “self” I share would be considered a character, like when Jerry Seinfeld played a “version” of Jerry Seinfeld on his hit 90’s television show, “Seinfeld.”

 

Image courtesy of Seinfeld Memes

 

But I’m not an actor.

I’m a blogger.

So people assume the “me” I’m sharing is authentic, whole, and thoroughly considered.

Really, it’s two out of three, as I present a slightly more daring, absurd, and risky side of myself here, for entertainment purposes.

 

Why am I telling you today?

Good question.

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, I wrote a passionate long-read, taking down all of San Francisco as “uncool,” due to decades of unabated gentrification, rabid capitalism, raging income inequality, and failed public policy.

I held nothing back, and was heavily motivated by the heavenly metaphors embedded in the human shit I kept finding at my feet.

(Not subtle, those metaphor gods, when I was in San Francisco.)

But the “aging hipster calls whole city uncool, as way of reifying his own cool status” narrative…

I get it.

So when I got called out on Twitter by my buddy Matjaz Tancic, who last I checked was in a LITERAL FUCKING LOCKDOWN in Shanghai, I heard what he said.

There is more to every story, and unless you’re running around late at night, seeing what the parties look like, listening to the bands, checking out the underground galleries, it’s not exactly fair to judge.

 

 

I hear you, Matjaz!

So I admitted my “take” was a little reductive.

But I’m claiming the columnist’s privilege:

Sometimes, we see a particular narrative form in our heads, think it over for a bit, and then write it up as it happened, because it makes for such a great story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matjaz was not alone in his critique, though.

Over the many years of this column, one person has kept reading all along, while consistently sticking his neck out to share opinions in the comment section.

(It’s like having a super-fan, but one who cares enough about books, ideas, and photography that he’s willing to add his perspective, making the article better for the extra chunks of wisdom at the end.)

This person is Stan Banos, based in San Francisco, and I’ve certainly given him random shout outs over the years.

In my opinion, Stan is always intelligent, considered, historical, and contextual in his commenting.

I don’t know if I’ve ever disagreed with anything he’s written, in all my years.

His karma is good by me.

So when Stan commented that I need to get out of my SF bubble, even in jest, I felt it was worth hearing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to the book stack this morning.

I found a package from May 2021, and it seemed the one for today.

But just below it was a Blurb book, which must have come in around the same time.

Certainly, it had been here so long I didn’t know what it was, and the post-mark was beyond-smudged.

There was no way to know exactly how old the book was, but it felt right.

So I opened the Blurb book box, (with the smudged postmark,) and would you believe what I found?

A beautiful, little production named “SAY WHAT?” by none other than Stan Banos himself.

Perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I treated his work with the same critical eye I would anyone else’s, but it made me think of a theory I just shared with a client the other day.

“Remember,” I said,  “a book is an experience.”

From start to finish.

So as artists, we need to plan every aspect of that viewing experience.

How long does it take to get through?

Where does it lag?

How can we keep the viewer’s attention locked in our story, whatever it may be?

This book, “SAY WHAT?”, totally nailed that for me.

It’s short, poignant, focused, and uses text very well.

Good job, Stan!

 

 

 

 

 

The cover and page 1 show us images of graffiti in an urban environment, and sure enough, that’s the theme.

Page 2 has a concise, direct statement from the artist, (Stan,) theorizing there are declarations of need, cries for help, hidden messages, and occasional wit encoded on the streets and super-structures, if only one would take the time to look.

Again and again, we see images of messages; things I would have walked past.

Things so many of us HAVE walked past.

But not Stan.

 

 

 

 

 

Collecting these photos in one sequence, as a book, is a home run for me.

It’s lovely.

At one point, we see an image of some sort of screed, or manifesto up on a wall, by Zoe Leonard, and after I squinted to read it, realized it was printed right there for me, below.

Page after page, I took time to read each piece of graffiti, and then imagined the photographer, walking slowly around his neglected city.

It made me think about how quickly I rushed up and down the hills.

How quickly I rushed to judgement.

Because this book is cool, and Stan’s cool.

So there must be other great things still going on in San Francisco.

Right?

Mea culpa.

See you next week.

 

To purchase “SAY WHAT?” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

This Week in Photography: The Boys

 

 

It’s been a long week.

(A long year, really.)

Fuck. Maybe we should just say a long decade?

But it’s Thursday, and you know what that means.

(As I said in San Diego last Friday, everyone dicks around until the deadline.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was in California on Saturday.

 

Poolside, on a break at the Medium Festival of Photography

 

Sunday was a blur.

And I’ve been tending to sick kids all week, while beating back the self-destructive tendencies of a normally-great teenager.

(Like I said, I’m beat.)

Then again, my teenager reads the column, and we were discussing photo books as we waited at the fire-house-bus-stop this morning.

 

The fire-house-bus-stop

 

(He really liked both books we featured the past two weeks.)

For the first time, I brought my camera along on the morning ritual, as yesterday, I noticed the light was gorgeous at 7am.

Unfortunately, the light wasn’t spot on today, as there were high clouds, which burned off shortly thereafter, returning our hyper-dry, uber-blue-sky days.

I’d had a shot in mind since yesterday, and as I lined it up, the light, which glimmered a second before, flattened out.

I stood there, camera to my eye, and decided to pass on clicking the shutter.

Just then, literally a second after I lowered the camera, I saw a flash of brown to my left.

(Thankfully, not the kind of brown flash that killed a soldier in Alaska recently.)

Rather, it was a deer, bounding across the field, less than 50 feet away.

As I’ve written before, I’ve been shooting here in Taos since late December 2020, and have images of all sorts of animals: dogs, snakes, cows, spiders, horses.

 

Odessa, who died in March of this year

 

But no deer.

I’ve wanted the deer, but really, how often are you standing there, with your camera all dialed in, and a deer wanders into the frame?

Turns out, it was a whole family of deer, hopping along, one at a time, so I got a few shots.

The light wasn’t perfect, but the whole thing was so random.

Right place.
Right time.

 

 

 

 

 

Some artists have an idea in mind, and make the art to fit the vision.

Others shoot whatever they see, over months or years, then build a jigsaw puzzle out of the resulting edit.

Neither way is “better,” but in my copious experience, I’ve come to believe groups of images that are pre-conceived, or made to cohere to a concept or structure, often have a slightly enhanced sense of intent.

(That’s my two cents, anyway.)

And the last two weeks, it seemed like we featured books where the images were shot, and then the story was built after-the-fact.

(Can’t be sure with Stacy’s amazing “The Moon Belongs to Everyone,” but that was the vibe, anyway.)

 

 

Today, we’re going in a completely different direction.

Let’s look at a book that represents a very personal story.

A book that’s about life, death, and friendship.

A book that melds archival imagery, poignant vignettes, intricate design, and well-crafted, large-format, contemporary portraiture.

Let’s look at “The Boys,” by Rick Schatzberg, published in 2020, by powerHouse in Brooklyn.

 

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure, before I say anything else, I worked with Rick during the book’s production process.

I’ve written before that I consult with artists on photo books, and have a policy not to review books I’ve created with my clients.

(I am included in the final credits for “The Boys.”)

However, this time, the maquette was made, most of the text was written, the photos were shot, and in retrospect, my role was quite minimal.

As such, since it’s an excellent book, and he sent it to me with no expectation of review, I decided it was fair game.

Let’s get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like me, Rick grew up Jewish, in the suburbs of NYC.

Unlike me, Rick is from Long Island, and as he’s 20 years older, he and his friends are really the test-case for suburban living in the United States.

(Total coincidence, but I saw this hilarious tweet this morning, as a Slovakian tried to make sense of America’s suburbs in 2022.)

 

 

“The Boys” is not about me, in any way, but I think all suburban kids can relate to what these guys used to do.

Find some woods behind the neighborhood, before everything was developed, and wander.

Hang out.

Go somewhere, even if it was an empty field, as there really was nowhere else.

But I was a total goody-goody, and Rick and his crew were proto-Jewish hipsters.

Stoners.

Disaffected kids, listening to music, drinking, and scattering when the cops showed up at their favorite hangout: The Pits.

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, I reviewed a book by Karen Marshall, in which she followed a group of New York kids, and then reconnected with them when they were grown.

This flips that methodology on its head, as in “The Boys,” Rick gives us photos of his bros, (as we call them today,) with their Jewfros, jean jackets, bandanas, and beers.

We see these guys in various stages of life, including the 80’s power suits, and the vacation photos, from when they went on Boys Trips.

As a pure Pisces, always moving forward, always changing, I don’t hang out with my middle/high school buddies anymore.

I don’t have a frame of reference for the love these men feel for each other.

Nor for what it’s like as they pass away, one by one.

(A group of 14 is now down to 10.)

Tragically, for Rick and The Boys, two men chronicled in the book actually died before final publication.

What a bummer.

 

 

 

 

 

I like almost everything about this book, though I don’t think the insert essay at the back, by Rick Moody, was particularly necessary.

Often, publishers like to see big name writers attached to a project, to make it easier to market.

It’s the done-thing, and I don’t blame Rick for going that route.

Hell, he and I spent time brainstorming which writer would be a good fit, before he networked his way to the other Rick.

But it’s a compliment, what I’m saying. For an untrained writer, Rick S.’s stories pop.

They engage, and present the kind of first-person narrative that reels viewers in, and allows our imaginations to fill in the details.

Strong stuff, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the personal, though, a case can be made that “The Boys” also explores the reality of the aging, White Baby Boomer.

Those dudes take a lot of shit these days for destroying the world. Maybe rightly so.

(OK Boomer?)

But Rick made the interesting choice to photograph his remaining friends shirtless.

We see the aging flesh, mottled with spots.

We see the scars.

The sagging muscles.

You might disagree, but I think there’s bravery in being vulnerable for the camera like this.

There is a vignette in which Rick describes why he chose to include himself, with the high-end selfies.

And how hard it was to overcome vanity, and not create more flattering portraits for himself than he did for Joelie, Brad, and the crew.

 

 

 

 

 

Just the other week, I wrote about the passing of my friend, Dave.

This week, his sister Monica gifted me Dave’s Aikido gi.

(He switched to Kung Fu about 15 years ago, which we trained together, but he kept his Japanese fighting robe.)

And now it’s mine.

My Sensei suggested I wear it to train, to honor my friend.

I’ve been under the weather since I got it, (the whole family has,) and haven’t had the chance to put it on yet.

But I’m excited to feel that connection to my departed compadre.

Lately, I find myself talking to Dave. Almost daily.

I haven’t lost many people before, so I don’t know if that’s normal. Thinking they’re up there, somewhere.

Listening.

So I’d like to offer Rick my condolences, and also my compliments, for a job well done.

See you next week!

 

To purchase a copy of “The Boys” click here

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Moon Belongs to Everyone

 

 

It’s Monday, and the skies are clear.

(Thank goodness.)

 

 

 

Yesterday, the smoke from New Mexico wildfires was unpleasant enough that we stayed inside all day. (Until it filtered out in the evening.)

To have fires here in April and early May is something I simply cannot recall.

Sure, it’s a drought, and La Niña is a bitch.

 

 

 

But early-spring fires?

Never.

(Climate Change is NOT joking around.)

 

 

 

 

 

In art school, we learned that Kant considered the Sublime to contain a degree of the awful, or the terrifying.

(Maybe awe-inspiring is the better term? I graduated in 2004, so it’s a little rusty.)

But as I remember, it’s more than just beauty, the Sublime.

Three quarters of a day with my reality constrained by smoke pollution, and as soon as I got outside again, the world shimmered.

 

Sunday evening, after the smoke blew out
This morning, before the smoke blew in

 

 

Yet billions of people live with pollution every day.

(I consider myself fortunate.)

Frankly, people around the planet live in all sorts of places, and all manner of ways.

It’s a big world out there.

 

 

 

 

 

I bring this up right now, having just put down “The Moon Belongs To Everyone,” a phenomenal photo-book that arrived in the mail last June, by Stacy Arezou Mehrfar, published by GOST.

(Like I said to Shawn Records last week, thanks for your patience, Stacy!)

Really, this book is terrific.

I love it.

Last week, I wrote that because of the clear, Joseph-Campbell-inspired-structure, Shawn’s book didn’t make us think too hard.

This one is the opposite, as its lack of text, and great variety of imagery types and styles, make you guess what the heck is going on, as you turn each page.

No lie, we see frozen waterfalls, jungles, desert, oceans, and rock formations, just off the top of my head.

The paper changes, through the book, which I also loved, including these eerie portraits that seem almost like silver ink on black paper.

(Though I can’t say for sure.)

We see nature, and food, in various forms, including a killer photo of a super-intense-looking pomegranate.

The pomegranate was also featured in a design-trick I thought was clever, in which some images have a color sampled from within, and it’s turned into an entire color-block-page.

This happened a few times.

(Orange, magenta and red, if I recall.)

 

 

 

 

 

Books like this, which use only photos to tell non-linear, abstracted stories, are often called “poetic.”

And sure enough, the only text in the entire book, (beyond the credits,) was a poem by the artist that I read twice, much as I did with the photos.

If I’m being honest, at first I was a bit skeptical, but kept an open mind, (all those slashes,) but by the time I was done with the second pass, I was convinced.

Cool rhythms, repeating motifs, and if you pay attention, the message is there.

Like the imagery, it’s non-linear and abstracted, so it makes for a fitting close.

The poem speaks to immigrants, and emigrants.

To where we begin, where we end up, and who are we anyway?

How does it always come down to the patch of Earth on which you were born, or the spot you choose to put down your roots?

This book definitely qualifies as a work of art, in my opinion.

Sleek and pretty, but with just a hint of menace.

Job well done.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “The Moon Belongs to Everyone” click here 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: A Real Life Hero

 

 

 

My friend, Dave, died last week.

On Friday.

Of Covid.

(Not long after I posted the column.)

 

 

 

 

It’s been rough.

I’m 48, yet lack significant experience with grief.

(Knock on wood.)

I hadn’t known anyone who suffered horribly from Covid, much less perished.

Man, what a shitty situation.

A million dead, here in the US, and so many friends and loved ones left with holes in their hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was particularly cruel, though, as I’d begged Dave to get a booster shot.

(He’d only had the J&J vaccine, last summer, due to an employer mandate.)

But he said no, despite knowing his lifestyle, weight-lifting at the gym, working security at the local bar, meant he was almost certain to contract the virus at some point.

 

Dave in Kit Carson Park, Taos, September 2021

 

Dave, who was conservative politically, and came from a religious background, wasn’t willing to engage in further vaccination.

We even spoke about what would happen if he got Covid.

That he would end up with unpayable medical bills.

That he might die, due to pre-existing conditions.

And now he’s gone.

(Such a bummer.)

 

 

 

 

 

In my mind, Dave was a hero.

He was kind, selfless, curious, and wise.

He went out of his way to help people, and took his job in security seriously.

(This week, I saw an FB comment that Dave used to walk a woman into work each day, at 4am, during his rounds.)

When we’d train in the public park, (for hours at a time,) unhoused, or very drunk people would stop to talk to us, or watch what we were doing.

Every time, Dave treated the person with so much respect and compassion.

It was amazing to see how polite he was, under the circumstances.

(An inspiration, really.)

When that neighbor pulled a gun on me last year, Dave was the first person I texted for advice.

When I had a beef with my Sifu, Dave pushed me to grow, repeatedly advising me to be humble, apologize, and move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

Dave was an action-movie hero, but in real life.

An experienced Aikidoka, and Wing Chun Kung Fu expert, (in addition to his knowledge of firearms,) Dave should have been the next Danny Trejo.

 

Danny Trejo, Courtesy of Estevan Oriol/Getty and The Daily Beast

 

Dave lived through things, and it showed.

Plus, his deep, gravely voice, (from years of smoking cigarettes,) was a perfect complement to his massive biceps, and calm demeanor.

While training in the park last year, I pitched Dave on the idea of being an action-movie hero, for real.

I suggested we write a film, in which he could star, so we could get him the type of recognition he deserved.

He was dubious, but I developed plot points, and as we punched and kicked at each other, he began to see the possibilities.

But a fucking virus put a stop to that.

 

 

 

 

 

Hero is such a powerful word.

It gets tossed around, willy-nilly, but what does it mean?

Maybe it’s someone who does the right thing, even in difficult circumstances?

A person who rises to the challenge, lives by a code of honor, and tries to improve every day?

Maybe, like Spiderman, a hero believes she/he/they has a responsibility to help, and if blessed with being strong and powerful, uses that to the benefit of others?

(That can serve as a working definition, anyway.)

But as long as there have been humans who could walk and talk, there have been heroes.

The protagonists of our stories.

The leaders we admire.

The guideposts for how to live.

How do I know?

Just ask Joseph Campbell.

 

 

 

 

If you’re reading this, you likely work in a creative field, or are at least creative-adjacent.

So you’ve probably heard of Joseph Campbell.

He was a genius academic, writer, lecturer and researcher who, like Jung, delved deep into the human consciousness.

Predominantly, he did this by researching origin stories, myths, and cultural bedrock tales, from around the world, to look for commonalities.

Like pyramids being built in Egypt and Peru simultaneously, thousands of years ago, with no possibly of crossover, certain creation mythologies popped up again and again, across the world.

One of Campbell’s seminal books, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” breaks down traditional narratives structures, from different cultures through time, in the ancient world.

 

 

It’s fascinating, if you’ve never read it. (I have, in bits and pieces, but never cover-to-cover.)

And trust me, it’s relevant to today’s discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

Because I’m finally reviewing photo-book today!

Feels like it’s been a month, (or more,) since we last did a book review, but today, it’s back to the bread and butter.

And what book did I grab, randomly, from the book pile?

Glad you asked!

It’s “Hero,” by Shawn Records, published by aint bad, which turned up in the mail nearly a year ago.

(Thanks for your patience, Shawn!)

It’s a cool little book, for sure, but not one that needs deep analysis.

(No pun intended.)

Because it presents its structure in an obvious way, then tells the story abstractly, but in a manner that will make many a photo-book lover happy.

In this one, it’s all about the pictures, and many are very good.

(Not brilliant, but they don’t need be.)

 

 

 

 

There is almost no text in the book.

We have the end credits, and a crucial title page, which apes the structure of “The Hero’s Journey.”

Literally.

Each supposed chapter has a page number, and that’s it. (And only those pages are numbered.)

So I looked at it twice.

First, I flipped slowly, taking it in.

There were strong photos, for sure.

Like the dog peeking its head out of a hole in a garage door, and the great monkey shot, (as we saw in Rich-Joseph Facun’s excellent “Black Diamonds,”) makes me wonder if that’s not the new “put a bird on it.”

But surely, I liked the images, because they are very photographic.

Implied narratives, cool compositions, impending drama, dynamic colors, well-captured light.

It’s all there.

As I said about John Hesketh’s work last week, what’s not to like?

 

 

 

 

 

On second viewing, I tracked the chapter titles to specific images, and sure, they are suggested in the photos.

Not screamed, or shouted.

(Perhaps murmured would be a better verb.)

The credits page tells us the images were made between 2006-19, so this strikes me as the product of a photographer who shot for years, and then found the through-line after-the-fact.

Nothing wrong with that methodology, and it likely adds to the ambiguity.

So, to wrap it up, as my brain is tired from grief, (and a long trip to the pediatric dentist in Los Alamos yesterday,) I think this is the kind of book that collectors, and photo lovers, will like a lot.

It’s smart in its allusions, but doesn’t make you think too hard.

You can just look, admire the quality, then move on with your day.

Speaking of which… see you next week.

 

To purchase “Hero” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review.