This Week in Photography: Signing Off

 

 

Have you ever heard of behavior modeling?

(If not, that’s cool.)

 

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t, until I began teaching at Chrysalis High School, here in Taos, back in 2005.

(Shortly after we moved home from Brooklyn.)

The school started a few years prior, designed to help at-risk teenagers; children who who had abuse histories, and didn’t fit well in the structure of traditional learning.

It was a rag-tag place, for sure, (now since abandoned,) and art was a huge part of the curriculum, for all the reasons I’ve discussed in this column over the years.

Art can allow communication that is too painful, traumatic, difficult, or confusing for words.

It was at that school, teaching art in a therapeutic environment, (in a pilot program for UNM-Taos,) that I first learned the term “behavior modeling.”

And while it is much as it sounds, the concept is profound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basically, behavior modeling is the idea that acting in calm, measured, polite, adult, well-adjusted, healthy ways, around people who have not witnessed such things before, (or perhaps rarely,) can be cathartic.

We all need role models.

That’s a given.

But for people raised in dysfunctional, unhealthy families, or systems where poverty creates extreme conditions for addiction and abuse…

…just being around someone who’s nice to them, follows through on what he/she/they says, listens, doesn’t rush to judgement, gives positive feedback, doesn’t fly into a rage, or undermine one’s dreams…

…when I first started teaching there, it was stressed that behavior modeling alone could have a positive effect on the students.

So I learned to do check-ins, ask good questions, and care.

I learned how to teach a demographic with which I had little prior experience.

And ended up staying a decade.

(Because sometimes, showing works better than telling.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mention this all, because if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know this is my final column here at A Photo Editor.

It’s February 2023, and I published my first piece on the bog in June 2010.

Nearly 13 years, and my column lasted 11.5.

As I’ve written before, (and won’t get into today,) the community I’ve covered here as a blogger/journalist has changed enormously.

It’s like another Universe, as social media was not yet ascendant, when we started.

Back then, Trump was just a loudmouth on TV, and I’d never heard of Elon Musk.

I still felt like a kid, (in a way,) at 36.

Or at least, I identified with my 20’s, and still partied a bit.

Now, at nearly 49, my son is in high school, we somehow have four dogs, and I’m glad we got a decent interest rate on our mortgage.

Nothing about any of this feels remotely like my 20’s.

(Not even a little.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having four dogs is cool.

It started with a pandemic pup in August 2020, and while Summer 2022 brought her a companion, (Billy Bones,) it wasn’t until last month that our canine family became complete.

We adopted Sunshine and Olly nearly a month ago; fraternal twin sisters we brought home from Stray Hearts Animal Shelter in Taos.

 

Sunshine and Olly

 

You can choose to believe me, (or not,) but the twins are a tad magical, and kept each other alive, when they were abandoned in a box at the shelter overnight, unnoticed for more than a day.

Sunshine is hearing impaired, (not sure if it’s OK to say she’s deaf, but I am positive I’m not supposed to say she’s among The Deaf,) and has taken to following me everywhere I go.

Like a sidekick. (Or maybe I’m the sidekick?)

Frankly, it’s a long story.

But the twins have had such an impact on our lives, in a short amount of time, and between them seem to represent so many elemental things…

…I decided to name my new blog after them.

It’s called Sunshine and Olly.

 

From today’s first post on Sunshine and Olly

 

Because Sunshine and Olly is non-commercial, and just for me at the moment, I will iterate, and make it more professional over time. (The first post is live, but the homepage is broken, so I’ll try to fix it.)

I’ll learn WordPress better, (Rob was a pro at giving me an easy system to use,) and hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy reading me over there from time to time.

It is a culture and lifestyle blog, but I’ll def be writing about photography, as the whole impetus for Sunshine and Olly was to review the photo books people had sent me, before I quit.

Whether you care to read about sports, art, food, travel, politics, or such things from me, when they’re divested from photography entirely, is up to you.

(Or when they don’t come into your email inbox from Rob, or go out to his massive Twitter following.)

But it doesn’t matter.

I’m doing this for fun, as art, and because I thought it was the right thing to do, according to my personal ethical code.

That’s all.

Given how much I’ve tried to teach in this column over the years, choosing to leave, (and when and how,) seemed like some of the best behavior modeling I could do, in 2023.

(Having the guts to walk away, and the willingness to embrace the future, without knowing exactly what that future’s going to bring.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading for a while, (or maybe even all along,) you’ll be familiar with my style, and voice.

I mixed it up over the years, for sure, but then some things are probably just as they were in 2011.

Understanding when it’s time to go, or change, is so difficult.

So this is how it’s going to end.

I went to PhotoNOLA in December of last year, held at the International House Hotel in New Orleans, and as I’ve previously reported, it was a problematic affair.

Not going to land on the negative, in my last piece, so suffice to say, there were plenty of awesome moments as well.

More than enough to make great memories.

I met four artists, at the review table, whose work I thought was worthy of publication here.

One of them, Undine Groeger, (originally from Germany,) isn’t ready to release the project, before a major publication can do it justice, so of course we respect her wishes.

(But you can check out her website, and hire her!)

The other three women will share the distinction of being the last few artists I published/promoted/appreciated during my time as a world-famous-photography-blogger, who told stories to the planet from a little, horse pasture outside Taos, New Mexico.

As with all the articles in the past, the artists are in no particular order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first started looking at Anne Berry’s work, it reminded me of someone else I’d met at PhotoNOLA before, and published here: Mary Anne Mitchell.

Mary Anne had shown me moody, Southern Gothic, mysterious narrative images, (often featuring grandchildren in costumes,) and they were great.

I didn’t love that they were presented kind of like fabric curtains, and told her so.

Last year, at PhotoNOLA 2021, Mary Anne showed the prints, large and slickly framed, in the Currents show at the Ogden Museum, and I was floored.

They were dynamite, and I told her so. (It was nice to reconnect.)

When I met Anne, I mentioned her own moody, grayscale, constructed narrative images reminded me of Mary Anne’s work.

After a moment’s confusion, Anne told me that she was friends with Mary Anne, and along with some others in the Georgia photo community, they made work in a similar style.

When I came up, we tried to differentiate our work from our buddies. It was a point of pride.

Larry Bird is always talking about how players in the 80’s and 90’s hated their rivals, but the soft NBA kids today are friends with their enemies.

Times change. It’s cool that hoopers are friends today.

I’m no hater, so I adjusted to the idea that they liked making similar types of work.

And Anne’s pictures are lovely. Really well done.

(That penguin pic!)

Anne and I then talked about editing, and refining her image choices to make the most surprising, edgy, and original grouping she could.

It’s beautiful stuff, and I’m sure you’ll like it.

 

 

 

 

So of course we have to talk about Anne Walker next.

Anne used to be a pastry chef, and reported she just had hand surgery. (We hope you feel better soon, Anne!)

She also had grayscale, constructed images, though these were less about narrative, and more about object resonance.

Anne admitted she was relatively new to this, but I felt her past incarnation as an artist/craftsperson definitely informed her growth, because the selenium-toned prints were gorgeous, and flawless.

 

 

 

Finally, we have Lily Brooks, who works as Assistant Professor of Photography at Southeastern Louisiana University, and was recently named Edward G. Schlieder Foundation Endowed Professorship in Environmental Studies and Sustainability. (But she came South from New England.)

Lily showed me two projects, mixed together, and both were environmental series focusing on weather, pollution, and the effects of Climate Change.

We discussed whether two projects were actually one, and I shared I saw a divide between more emotional, moody images, and ones that were clinical/dry/academic.

How one weaves those strands together, or even understands where one project ends, and the next begins, is why art is art, and not science.

Thanks, Lily.

 

 

So I guess this calls time on the JBlau era at APE.

If you like what I do, I’m easy enough to find.

Catch me at my website, Instagram, Twitter, or again, at Sunshine and Olly.

Everyone’s welcome to follow along on my next adventure.

(Except you, George. Fuck off!)

Take care, be well everyone, and thanks for reading!

This has been the best 13 years of my life!

 

 

“Thanks for reading, everyone!” JB 2023

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Best Work I Saw at Filter Part 2

 

 

 

The end is nigh.

Today is my penultimate column at APE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long, fascinating run.

I’m both thrilled to have gone on the ride with you, and a bit relieved to move into a new phase of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many good things that have come from my time here at APE, it’s hard to quantify.

(Though I’ve reminisced since last summer about 11 years worth of adventure.)

 

Dog walk, Taos, NM, January 2023

 

Saguaro, Eastern Arizona, January 1, 2022

 

French Quarter, New Orleans, December 2021

 

Amsterdam, February 2020

 

Paddington, London, May 2019

 

Brooklyn, NYC, April 2018

 

Land’s End, San Francisco, May 2017

 

Peninsula Hotel Elevator, Chicago, September 2016

 

 

Without question, getting to meet and learn from countless photographers, over the years, has enriched my life immeasurably.

And one of my favorite things about working for Rob was that I had creative freedom the entire time.

He trusted me to write about what I wanted, and cover what was relevant.

If I wanted to change it up, spur of the moment, that’s what I’d do.

Today, for example, we’re going to pivot, even though there’s only one column left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago, I featured 9 photographers from the 2022 Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.

You might think that was that, but a few of the photographers I invited to participate were off-line for the holidays, or not-quite-able to get me their work in time.

Therefore, when they popped back up again offering jpegs, how could I refuse?

To leave them hanging, and not publish their work, would not be cool.

And that’s been the core value of this blog all along: Be Cool.

With that said, today, we’ll be featuring an impromptu Part 2 of the best work I saw at Filter last year.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess we can start with Yvette Marie Dostatni, as she and I go way back. (And I’ve shared her work here at least once over the years.)

Yvette and I met at a photo festival years ago, and then I featured her series “Conventioneers” in the one article I wrote for The New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog.

It would be fair to call me a fan of her quirky, odd, excellent work.

(Yvette is born and raised Chicago, and is as local as it gets.)

That said, when I saw her last in Portland in 2019, I challenged her to push her newer color work, “My American Dream” forward a bit.

It felt transitional, and needed tightening.

Therefore, I was super-psyched to check it out in its current iteration.

There is a vibrance to Yvette’s work that matches her personal energy, and I can’t think of a much bigger compliment.

(I’m going to share Yvette’s captions below the images, which I rarely do, because it’s important to understand the context here.)

 

 

My American Dream Captions:

 

1. A tatted biker tenderly holding his effeminately dressed chihuahua, wearing a pink sweat-shirt complemented with delicate pink pearls at The International Kennel Club Dog Show in Chicago, Illinois.

2. Anthony Alfano, living with cerebral palsy, wears a costume his Parent’smade him for Halloween.Tony and Deanna Alfano make their son an elaborate Halloween costume every year. In 2016, Anthony’soutfit was the Lincoln Memorial Snow globe.To the left of him are his neighbors, who were out trick-or-treating as well.

3. Joyce Berg is the owner-operator, curator, and docent of the Angel Museum in Beloit, Wisconsin. Shewears a glittering angel costume to give tours of her personally acquired collection of more than 15,000 angel statutes. Joyce poses next to one of three cases donated by Oprah Winfrey.

4. A professional groomer and her canine creation pose for a photo after the Creative Styling Category’ competition at the ‘All American Grooming Show’ in Wheeling, Illinois.

5. A Michael Jackson impersonator stands vigil next to the King of Pop’schildhood home in Gary, Indiana, on the ninth anniversary of his death, in 2018.Next to him, enshrined in glass, is a Michael Jackson sequinedglove.

6. Twin brothers and Professional Socialites Jon and Andrew Landon wear couture outfits in their downtown Chicago, Illinois apartment. 

7. American Patriots at a life-size diorama of a burning Twin Towers during a 9/11 outdoor memorial ceremony in Schererville, Indiana.

8. Tourists patiently wait for the jousting event at Medieval Times in Schaumburg, Illinois.

9. Michael Foley and his girlfriend Colleen wait for the doorbell to ring to pass out candy on Halloween in Chicago, Illinois. 

10. Susan Henderson puts her treasured collection of dolls away for the evening in the affluent suburb of Wilmette, Illinois. Thedolls remind Susan of her happy childhood. She changes their outfits seasonally. 

11. Vehemently anti-Trump, Bob Rogers poses with a Trump Pinata in a funeral home’sempty viewing area above which he lives.Bob was looking forward to burning the pinata during President Biden’s inauguration. 

12. King Jeremie and Haija Sidd, who work at New Style Comfort Furniture, pose in the store’sfront window display.New Style Comfort Furniture is located in the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois: Roger’s Park.

13. Samuel J. Lewis II, a professional puppeteer, holds a puppet modeled after his late Grandfather, James Aubrey Lewis, in front of his house in Skokie, IL. On this night, civil unrest was occurring less than 40 miles away in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

 

 

 

 

I’ve also known Meg Griffiths, whom I first met in Santa Fe in 2010, for quite some time too.

Meg’s been featured on the blog, for her co-curation of A Yellow Rose Project, and I’ve admired her art over the years too.

Meg showed me a Covid-era, studio project in which she got way out of her comfort zone, and made trippy, futuristic, sometimes off-putting, constructed images.

The metaphorical photos were edgy, and felt of the time they were made.

As with some of the artists I featured last time, Meg and I worked on an edit, with two piles, in which we pruned the few images that felt too safe, familiar, or both.

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Schewe and I met the moment he sat down at the table, so it was a rather different experience than the previous two artists.

(Though he had sent me a FB friend request the week before the event, so I recognized his name. Smart move.)

Jeff had a long-time commercial photography career, and was something of a Photoshop wiz, having written more than one book on the subject.

I didn’t much care for the first project he showed me, but as is often the case, the second was more intriguing, in which Jeff made digitally-simulated-tintype-aesthetic images of Saguaro cacti.

I know some people aren’t in for the fakery, but IRL, the effect was convincing, the prints were luscious, and I thought the form and content matched each other well.

(Weird shit has always gotten my attention, and I hope that never changes.)

 

 

 

Lastly, we have Grace Tenneh Kromah, who is the current Filter Photo Fellow, and a graduate of the SAIC.

I didn’t review Grace’s work at the table, but we hung out several times, and definitely clicked on a human level.

(Despite the fact that being from Philly, she likes the dreaded Eagles, whom I very much hope the Giants beat tomorrow.)

Grace showed me her work briefly at the Filter Portfolio Walk, and it interweaves historical, family imagery with contemporary art pictures.

Grace’s history is dramatic, with an ancestry in Liberia, a move to the Midwest, a heap of whole and part siblings, and she weaves the narrative together in her art.

And a big Shout Out to Grace for communicating me with me (via IG DM) while she’s currently in Liberia, working on the project.

These pictures are so cool!

Anyway, that’s it for today, and in two weeks, I’ll say my final goodbye, and step away from APE, after a long and successful run.

Thank you all for reading!

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Best Work I Saw at Filter

 

 

 

 

My last column was fairly critical.

I threw grenades, and they exploded, but I didn’t notice any casualties.

(So it’s all good, brah.)

Today, I’ll revert to my more-typically positive self, and reiterate why I think festivals, and IRL events, are necessary for a vibrant community.

 

 

 

 

 

If there’s one lesson I learned over my years on the festival circuit, it’s that you never know WHAT will happen, when you put a bunch of creative people together in a room.

You just know THAT something will happen.

New relationships are the byproduct of IRL get-togethers, and represent our best chance for new adventures and opportunities.

(As all human businesses are built upon human relationships.)

 

JB at the FotoFest opening party, March 2020, w/ Jeff Phillips, the current Filter Photo Board President.

 

 

In my last article, I wrote extensively of the change in the demographics of the American photo world. (If not global.)

OK.
It’s been said.

But all these years, when I would meet second-career, hobbyist, and retirement photographers at the review table, I’d treat them the same as the pros, and the emerging artists.

In fact, my spiel went something like this:

Professional photographers and artists get to be creative all the time, but always worry about money. Day-job photographers and artists might not have to stress about paying the bills, but they do worry about getting enough time and energy to be creative.

Or they worry about the years they lost when they had responsibilities to parents, spouses, children, or maybe they were just conditioned that it wasn’t OK to choose a creative, money-challenged career.

Regardless, when people fall in love with the creative process, and/or discover its power to heal, it doesn’t matter the age.

The magic of what art does to the human psyche and soul is always to be admired, IMO.

 

 

 

 

 

At the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago last September, I met only a few “professional working photographers,” as with the other festivals this year, and most were professors.

But the vibe was great, and all the artists, regardless of their background, came to the table with open minds, having done their homework, and were very receptive to feedback.

The quality of the work was high.

Today, we’re lucky to feature nine photographers I met at the Filter Photo Festival, whose styles, backgrounds, and motivations were so different.

I dig all the work, and hope you will to.

As always, the photographers are in no particular order.

 

 

 

 

I’m glad we get to share Laidric Stevenson’s work one more time, before I wrap up the blog here, as we’ve been fortunate to feature it twice before.

Though we’d only known each other online, (and the phone,) before Filter, it was nice to meet a flesh and blood human, as I really love his work.

Laidric, in from Dallas, showed me a tight body of his large format, black and white photos shot around the city. I found some contrast issues with his prints, but the pictures always look amazing on screen.

For the record, Laidric does photography for the love of it, as a side career, as he works hard to support his family. And he’s tinkered with cameras since he was a kid.

A life long artist.

All of our journeys are valid, and can result in killer work, if we learn and grow over time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Collette LaRue came from nearby Wisconsin, with a background in science, and was trying to test out the photo community waters, in her first review.

I found the photos of her husband, (who’s a veterinarian,) gardening in the yard, to have a proper freshness about them.

Very cool stuff.

Since it was Collette’s first festival, this is her first time sharing the work with an online audience, I believe.

Way to go, Collette!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyn Swett Miller definitely had the best story I heard during Filter, (and writing about her just reminded me of a humorous humiliation.)

Lyn is hard-core about her personal composting practice, as environmental activism, and incorporated it into her art, by photographing the compost piles.

The big hook is that Lyn once went to Harvard, (she lives in New Hampshire,) and actually composted her Harvard Degree!

For real!

Talk about edgy.
10 out of 10 for the idea.

(As to my humiliation…the more we said composting that day, again and again, the more it stuck in my brain. At our photo retreat two weeks later, during a critique, I kept saying composting instead of compositing, again and again, composting, composting, and everyone kept giggling, but I couldn’t figure out why.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jason Kerzinski was in from New Orleans, and we did cross paths last month down there too. (Only briefly, for fist bumps.)

Jason is a freelance journalist, who does a lot of work for leftist publications, and was hoping to figure out how to push his editorial practice forward.

I liked his portraits a lot, and thought they definitely showed that he could make people feel at ease, and that he knows his way around a camera.

We discussed the idea of a project, (as we so often do,) as I think a focus point helps us improve, as we return to the same idea/process/practice again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Long and I met at Filter a few years ago, and I published his work then too.

Jack’s a full-time commercial photographer, and last time out, he showed me some wacky images made by putting colored liquids into motion.

This time, I found his process to be super-dialed in, as the mandala-like photos are really gorgeous, and definitely have the “how did he do that?” quality.

The first time we met, there were some issues with kitschy pictures, but I found this project to be tight. (If occasionally repetitive.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beth Lilly was in from Atlanta, and showed me a black and white project made while driving on Interstates.

Atlanta is famous for them, but some of the photos were made elsewhere. It’s meant to be contemplative, and has a Buddhist title, (The Seventh Bardo,) but Beth and I worked at a tighter edit, to make sure the pictures were more memorable.

This style of work is a trope, but any time the form and content sing in an original, or fresh vision, we can tell a familiar type of story in a new way.

I thought there was certainly a strain of cool pictures, so we sifted through them for 20 minutes.

{Ed note: I just looked through the edit Beth sent me not long after our meeting, and she nailed it!}

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kelly Wright is an artist in Philly, and was showing her project “Preservation Society.”

As with Beth, the conversation turned to editing, and we sorted her pictures into two piles.

I’ve found, (over the years,) that once I introduce an editing principle, the photographers are always able to pick up on the themes, and then start editing themselves.

Kelly’s pictures are made in museums and preserved mansions, and grand homes, and I found the elegance was enhanced in the images that were more edgy and surprising.

{Ed note: Just looked at the edit Kelly sent, and it’s terrific.)

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Portesi was new to visiting festivals, but had already had success with her work, as it was showing at the Griffin Museum in Massachusetts. (Nearby her home in Vermont.)

It’s not hard to see why, as the crafted narratives, which drip with magical realism, are great in tin-type form. And she also had a video, which you watched through an old camera lens, which showed some behind the scenes work with her models.

Beautiful stuff.

Rachel admitted she’d had to put her art career on hold for a long time, to raise her kids, but was now back into it, and I was thrilled to see it was working out for her.

 

 

 

 

Last, but not least, we have Jason Lindsey, whom I met very briefly at the Filter portfolio walk at Columbia College.

Jason wanted me to take a quick peek, since I wasn’t on his reviewer list, and I was pretty smitten by his photos of corn fields.

We didn’t talk much, but his assistant sent me these jpegs, so I gather that means Jason’s doing all right as a commercial photographer.

People with that skill set often have an easy time making things look good, and these photos certainly do. But they also had a mood/vibe that drew me in immediately.

I think you’ll like them too.

See you next time.

 

This Week in Photography: American Protest 2020-2021

 

 

A month ago, I reported on impending, slow-burn-end of the photo world.

No one made a sound.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week later, I tweeted that I reported on the death of the photo word, and no one had made a sound.

The tweet got a small response.

Andrew Molitor wrote a response-blog-post, and an artist named Landry Major challenged my assertion, saying the fine art photo world was thriving, but admitted she had not read my article.

 

 

 

All in all, not a lot of ruffled feathers for such a grand pronouncement.

Secretly, I think a lot of people have been harboring these thoughts.

I traveled to four photo festivals this year, in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and New Orleans, and my observations finally came into focus in the weeks before PhotoNOLA.

So I spoke to some friends and colleagues, in person, or on the phone, to gauge their reaction.

Everyone agreed.

Let’s unpack the details.

(Trust me, this is VERY difficult to write.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I went to Review Santa Fe in 2009 and 2010, as a photographer.

It made my career.

The first year, I took notes on the 99 other photographers, because I was so “Johnny Tryhard,” and therefore I remember the group well.

Some talented, emerging and mid-career artists, editorial photographers, and photojournalists were all together, and many have gone on to massive careers.

LaToya Ruby Frazier was there, (just like the rest of us,) and has since received a MacArthur Genius Grant!

Some other folks who went on to have success in various parts of the industry, (just off the top of my head): Susan Burnstine, Jesse Burke, Susan Worsham, Ben Lowy, Emily Shur, Matt Eich, Jeff Hutchens, Kurt Tong, Ferit Kuyas, Brian Buckley and Mark Menjivar.

 

JB with Emily Shur and Jon Feinstein at RSF in 2009.

 

Nearly everyone there was a trained, working artist, photojournalist, professor, editorial photographer, or perhaps a commercial photographer.

Easily, 90% or more were working pros.

There certainly might have been a few hobbyists, or lightly-trained, career-change photographers, but none that I recall.

That was 13.5 years ago.

I’ve since attended 30+ festivals, both as a photographer and as a reviewer.

The proof is in the pudding, as I’ve written scores of articles about these portfolio reviews over the years, all published here on APE.

Of all the festivals I attended, only the New York Times review was free, so it was the most diverse and international. By far! But it was also super-difficult to get accepted, so it’s not a viable option for most people.

Every other festival was run by non-profit, artist-founded, artist-run organizations. (Sorry, I did go to one by the Art Academy of SF, and they’re a for-profit school.)

In Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, and Portland, the trend was so slow that I never noticed it.

 

A photo of someone taking a photo of someone in front of the angel wings, Chicago, 2022

 

Mea Culpa.

I missed the story of the slow disappearance of the professionals, replaced by hobbyists.

But in 2022, Post-Pandemic, it was impossible not to see the pattern.

This year, the vast majority of photographers I saw at the portfolio review table were coming from retirement, as a long-time hobby, or rekindling the passion after many years, hoping to change careers.

I’ve previously written that I had such a hard time remembering work from the PhotoAlliance review, I only featured two artists.

You still meet a few full-time professional artists, or busy freelance journalists, and their work is normally better, so it stands out quickly. There are plenty of professional educators still on the scene, as professors are under pressure to exhibit and publish, for tenure.

The educators also have stable jobs, and some schools provide professional development funds, so stipends are available for the professors.

And their work also tends to be of a MUCH higher caliber.

Post-pandemic, though, the majority were coming to the festivals now, (which are expensive, in a world with inflation, and concentrated resources,) ready to get in on the action, without realizing how little action was left.

One post-retirement-artist even told me they were ready to level up to a solo show now, because they had done the group-show thing, so now it was time.

(Like ticking boxes off a list.)

And I am not being ageist here.

Please allow me explain further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shift was gradual, but when I attended the festivals as an artist, (in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016,) I always made more money than I spent.

Eventually.

The marketing budget worked, because whether I sold prints to collectors out of the box, on the spot, sometime later on, or ended up with shows that sold work, it always panned out.

There was a professional artist/journalist class, of trained experts who’d gone to school, and put in decades of time.

There were also enough opportunities and resources to support those artists, journalists, and editorial photographers.

Now, (as I’ve previously written,) the gallery/newspaper/magazine/ad buy infrastructure is a fraction of what it was, chopped year by year, so of course the opportunities will have lessened commensurately.

Simultaneously, over those 13.5 years, the products of the photo world, glossy art on pretty white walls, or sleek photos on the home pages of the NYT or the Washington Post, were very visible markers of success.

 

 

 

And making pictures is fun!

So of course, with the photo world incessantly promoting itself, and photography getting ever easier from better digital cameras and phones, it makes sense people who put their passion aside, due to life obligations, would want to come join the party.

Who wouldn’t?

And year by year, I treated each person at the review table the same, and tried to honor and help motivate folks who were new to giving their heart to their art.

No matter the age.

Many of my consulting clients have come from this cohort, and I’ve busted my butt, and had a great creative relationship, with each of them.

But now the portfolio review community is made up primarily of people who have financial means, and many are willing to pay $35,000-$50,000 to publish a photo book, OUT OF POCKET, because it’s a marker of status and success.

(Also, because it’s a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I wrote a month ago, photography is now everyone’s passion.

It’s a visual language that belongs to THE WORLD.

Nothing has been so democratized; not even music.

A medium once dependent on cryptic chemicals, and tricky, expensive, mechanical cameras, is now fully point-and-shoot brilliant.

From Leica monochromes to great iPhones, it’s not hard to make a “professional” looking photo.

So we can cheer that our love now belongs to everyone, and we can also mourn that so many professionals have left the field.

To be clear, I’m not saying festivals don’t belong anymore.

But at PhotoNOLA two weeks ago, of the 9 official reviews I did, only two photographers seemed to be full-time professionals: both educators there to promote their personal work.

2 out of 9.

So I asked my colleagues, and they agreed:

Perhaps the model needs to be tweaked a bit, to accommodate the new reality?

As I said, the NYT runs free reviews, because they can.

But Filter Photo, in Chicago, has active relationships with local art schools, so you can always count on 5 or 6 students coming to the review table. The schools buy reviews in blocks, (or perhaps trade for sponsorships,) so the up-and-coming, committed students attend for free.

(That’s also a great way to keep it diverse, but I’ve only seen it done at Filter.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe it’s important to note the demographic shift, and ask if perhaps there are other ways we as a global photo community can support regular, working-stiff artists, teachers, and freelance journalists?

We need to make sure there is still a photo world for the next generation to enter.

Maybe festivals can increase their emphasis on low-cost education and exhibitions, and make the high-cost portfolio review elements a smaller part of the overall financial reality?

Or perhaps some of the non-profits can start adding more and more next-generation artists to their boards and advisory committees?

Because I hung out with a handful of 20-somethings this year, in San Diego, Chicago and New Orleans, and I can legitimately vouch for Gen Z.

 

JB with Liv, (from London,) in the French Quarter, NOLA, Dec 2022. (Photo by Bayley Mizelle)

 

They are coming to save the world, with their empathy, multi-talents, and their Internet-charged brains.

I’m here for it.

But outside of the handful of students at Filter, none of the younger generation I met were at the festivals to be reviewed, as “paying customers.”

We can welcome later-in-life artists, and career-change photographers, and support their exciting, creative journeys.

And I have.

But given what I saw on the road in 2022, if they’re now the majority of the festival community, (and the ones primarily paying-to-play,) I believe it needs to be acknowledged.

Saying “Beetlejuice” three times can be scary.

But I said it.

So let’s move on.

 

image courtesy of IFC Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in an awkward position, as I’ve already told you I quit, but Rob’s allowing me to wrap up the column here in an elegant way.

I’ve got to share the best work I saw at Filter, and PhotoNOLA, so that’s two more articles.

And I’m sitting on a sizable submission-book-stack.

At first, I thought I’d try to cram 20 mini-reviews into two articles.

Little pods of information.

But that doesn’t feel right.

It wouldn’t allow me to honor the photographers who trusted me with their books. (Their artistic babies.)

No.

So I’m announcing today that I’ll start a personal blog, in the next two months, so I can properly review every book that was sent my way.

It’s only fair, and after all, I love to write.

I promise to provide full details before I wrap up here, (and on social media,) and I’ll do a quick book review today, too, as a show of good faith.

Because I’d like to state one thing very clearly: I love the global photography community, and it’s been an honor to have such a visible platform here for so long.

If just a few of you come over and read the book reviews, (or whatever else I write about,) that’s cool with me.

I guess it will be my hobby from now on, since I’ll be doing it for free.

For myself. As art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even though there are only 3 columns left here, (after today,) I always keep it real.

I went to the book stack, and looked for the oldest submission.

Of course it’s perfect for today, because that’s how the column-magic has always worked, over the years.

“American Protest: Photographs 2020-2021,” by Mel D. Cole, was published by Damiani, and arrived in Nov of 2021.

January 6th, which is featured in the book, was still fresh, and these days, we wonder if the endgame is coming?

But man, does this book pack a punch.

The intros tell us that Mel D. Cole is, and has always been an independent journalist, and the end notes say that funding was provided by the Black Photographers’ Fund. (Which he created.)

Damiani is an expensive publisher, so clearly a lot of people came together to enable this creative vision.

It’s pretty much the best case scenario for how the photo world can support working pros. (As I wrote above.)

But it’s also a great example of how I’ve tried to promote diversity of culture, vision and perspective here, over nearly 13 years.

 

New Orleans, Dec 2022

 

This book is clearly the product of the combination of talent, grit, bravery, timing, community support, and the brilliance of the photographic medium.

History was preserved.

Art was made.

Perspective was offered.

It’s badass!

I saw no designer credits, so I’m assuming Mel D. Cole did it himself, and it grabs you from the first second.

Black men in handcuffs, but rendered in such a way that you think… Shackles… Slavery.

(The reference is not to be missed.)

That the book ends with raised firsts and Black Lives Matter signs held high, tells you what you need to know about call backs, structure, and progression.

The pictures are amazing, and speak for themselves.

Period.

But just as I found myself about to skip ahead, (because there are a lot of pictures, and the structure was getting repetitive,) BAM!!!

He drops a color photo on us, the first, of a blood-stained Philly cop in his bright blue uniform.

Shocking!

Seriously, it jolted me back into the present moment.

And that use of occasional color popped up again, a few times, always to smart effect.

This is just a terrific book.

Top class.

The critic in me will point out that I don’t love the font choice in the intro text, (including one by Jamie Lee Curtis,) and I particularly dug the honest, casual, loving, thank you page.

Today’s book is a great example of why I’d like to see the global photography community organize a bit, to make sure the life-long art voices, those countless creators who committed to the path, and continue to stick it out…

We need to maintain a system that supports these photographers.

Otherwise, what are we doing?

 

To purchase “American Protest: Photographs 2020-2021” click here

 

This Week in Photography: Quitting Time

 

 

It’s official.

I’ve joined The Great Resignation.

(For real.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m guessing the news won’t come as a shock, as I announced this summer the column was being scaled back to 2x a month.

That one was on Rob Haggart, who hosts my blog here at APE. (And I understood his position, given the changed nature of the photo industry.)

But this was on me, and as I quit a month ago, I’ve been sitting on the news, waiting for the right moment.

(Which is now.)

Along the journey, I was a blogger at the New York Times for 6 years, (which I might have mentioned 1000 times,) but I also tried it out with The New Yorker, Vice, Hyperallergic, and The New Republic.

Nothing else fit right.

So the fact I began writing here in 2010, and am finally ready to go, (nearly 13 years later,) speaks to the quality of the situation I had.

APE was my goldilocks gig.

But once the weekly-column-spell was broken, (and I spent all summer reminiscing,) in early November, I felt ready for a different challenge.

So I gave notice.

And here we are…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certainly, I’ve changed styles over the years, while hopefully presenting a consistent voice.

We covered photo books, portfolio reviews, art exhibitions, restaurants, toured cities, interviewed artists, and so much more, all to the tune of 600+ articles.

(That’s a damn good run, by anyone’s definition.)

But now?

I might want to write a book.
Or a movie.

Pitch a show to Netflix?

Open a martial arts dojo?

Who knows?

This fall, I did my first large-scale, independent photo/writing journalism, (for HuffPost,) and loved every minute of it. (The story will be out soon.)

Seriously, it was the funnest job I’ve ever had!

So that’s a start.

Or a direction, anyway.

And if I’ve learned anything as a full-time, freelance creative over 22 years, you have to trust your instincts, and be willing to step out there, not knowing what comes next.

(Exciting is just another word for scary, after all.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrapping things up, though, after this long, can take a bit of doing.

I’ve previously promised articles about three portfolio review festivals, (Medium, Filter and PhotoNOLA,) and am sitting on a big inventory of books people sent, hoping for a review.

(The famed book stack.)

So starting today, we’re on the final countdown.

I’ll begin with the best work I saw at the 2022 Medium Festival of Photography, in San Diego, and we’ll end my time here over the next four columns.

(Making today the first of JB’s Final Five.)

As has always been the case, I won’t show the artists below in any particular order.

They come from different backgrounds and areas of the photo industry, but all these nice folks bared their souls last May, when they put their work out there for critical and public reception.

I sincerely thank these artists, and the hundreds of others who shared their pictures with you over the years, because they first shared them with me at a photo festival.

 

Anh-Thuy Nguyen

Anh-Thuy is originally from Vietnam, but teaches in Tucson, after getting an MFA from SMU in Dallas. (Have you got that straight?) She studied with a good friend of mind down there, Debora Hunter, and I was super-impressed by ATN’s art practice, which includes video, performance, sculpture, photography, and food.

 

 

 

Brendan Rowlands

Brendan is English, but lives with his wife, Carmen, in Mexico City. (The series is titled after her.) Carmen suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which afflicts many people, but is not well known. As Brendan and Carmen were cooped up during Covid, they made a project together in her honor.

 

 

Rainer Hosch

Rainer is from Austria, and his wife is from Ireland, but they live with their two children in Topanga Canyon, outside LA. We hit it off, and chatted NFT’s, (as it was shortly after my NFT article dropped here,) and Rainer has had some serious success in the field, if I understand things correctly. That said, he showed me images shot from his favorite beach, where Topanga meets the sea, and they’re seriously gorgeous.

 

 

Oriana Poindexter 

Oriana is a classic Californian, based in La Jolla, and seems like the type of character someone would invent, if they wanted a cover for a female James Bond, or Indiana Jones. (I’m not kidding.) In addition to being a talented artist, she’s also a marine scientist, trained at Princeton, and scuba dives deep down into the ocean, to study kelp forests and other creatures. During her forays, she makes images which become cyanotype prints. Just remarkable stuff!

 

 

Perry Hambright

Perry is based in Santa Barbara, and he and I had the inevitable talk about taste. I wanted to know if he was in on the joke, and realized these pictures are about as tacky/kitschy as it gets. He loves working this way, and knows the pictures are bonkers, so really, I’m down with it. Self-aware and weird-as-shit is fine by me!

 

 

David Comora

David was in from the East Coast, and showed me some images made in an abandoned house. But really, it wasn’t the exact story of a dilapidated, haunted structure, but rather he knows the owner, and they let him in. That’s a bit different, and the awkward feeling extends to the black and white prints, which I thought were really well made.

 

 

Robert Welkie

Robert had a bunch of small projects, and when I just went to his website, I remembered I liked his color diptychs. But this group below is also very cool, as the textures and tonality are strong. This micro edit is almost creepy, if you ask me. (Then again, I edited it.)

 

 

Alexander Drecun

Last but not least we have Alexander, who had a really odd, but very cool project. Though he’s not Jewish himself, Alexander learned of a tradition in which physical boundaries are created by string, to cheat the Sabbath rules for Orthodox Jews. It’s called an Eruv. So he photographed these lines around LA, which are otherwise totally unseen by the outside world. Love it!

 

 

 

Hope all is well, and see you in two weeks.

 

 

This Week in Photography: Be Memorable

 

 

 

I meet a lot of photographers each year.

 

 

 

 

Going to festivals as I do, reviewing portfolios, I see a ton of work.

Each time, when you meet with someone for 20 minutes, at some point, you’re giving specific feedback about their individual project, and the component pictures.

That’s obvious.

But often, (if you’re seeing 150+ portfolios a year,) you say certain things over and over again.

It’s the meta-advice, if you will.

Some of it, you’ve heard here a million times.

(Were I substantially more popular and important, they might have a drinking game for how often I say, “Get out of your comfort zone.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2022, one thing I said, over and over again, is the goal is to be memorable.

To somehow stick in the mind of the person you’re meeting, so they hang on to tidbits about you down the line.

(When they’re far more likely to work with you than ASAP.)

This year alone, I hit festivals in San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, and I’m going to PhotoNOLA in New Orleans this December.

 

Chicago, Sept 2022

 

That’s a lot of portfolios!

How much work, how many people, can I really remember in detail?

Or perhaps, the better question is, which details did I remember at all?

 

 

 

 

Being memorable is meta-advice, because it’s not something you can do directly.

Sure, I guess you could go the obvious route and jump off your roof, while having your dumb buddy film it.

Post it on Youtube.

That might work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By definition, average is not memorable.

Exceptional is memorable.

Brilliant is memorable.

Innovative is memorable.

Heart-breaking is memorable.

(As is extreme, unfortunately.)

Show me things I haven’t seen, and I’ll remember it.

If your work is FUCKING AMAZING, I’ll remember you.

Or if it’s odd, kooky, strange-enough-to-occupy-the-Upside-Down type of art.

The weird shit.

That’s memorable too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m more-than-overdue to write about the festivals I’ve visited this year, and San Francisco came first.

I mention all this because I’m doing something new today.

If you remember, in the Spring, I wrote an extensive travel article about SF, as my visit was so traumatizing.

It was a story about the power of human feces, and the death of cool.

(Better we don’t revisit it.)

But I never wrote about the portfolio review I attended, the reason I went to SF in the first place, and critiqued that Diego Rivera mural at the SF Art Institute.

(Calling it out for antisemitism. BTW, I’ve been warning about that for a year, so hopefully you’re paying attention now.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The San Francisco Art Institute finally closed, as back then it had been hanging on by a thread.

I spent two days there at the PhotoAlliance portfolio review in March, and for some reason, I barely remember any of the work, or the people I met at the review table.

So today, for the first time ever, I’m only going to share the portfolios that stuck in my brain.

Sure, you could say it was the California weed, (and maybe it’s true,) but I’ve been stoned plenty of times and still remembered everything.

 

My 44 % THC Horchata joint

 

With respect to my few days in San Francisco, the location, the meals, walking through the city, sitting by the bay, I can recall all of it in my mind, easily.

 

View of the Golden Gate from Chrissy Field

 

$10 BBQ Pork noodle plate from Chinatown

 

(Damn, I’d eat a plate of those noodles right about now.)

But it’s far more likely that particular group of artists did not stand out, for some reason.

Not enough juice to the work, or the conversations.

Thankfully, two artists made an impression.

(Three, if you count Pamela Gentile, whom I once wrote about for the NYT, but we didn’t really look at new work. I just remember chatting.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met Jacque Rupp at one of the online portfolio reviews, back in 2020, or ’21.

(Really, can anybody remember which year was which?)

Jacque lives in NorCal, and I remember her black and white, documentary project about immigrant, farm-worker communities along the coast, near Gilroy.

I published those images here, and wrote about our conversation, with respect to how an “outsider” can do the research, work with non-profits, and earn the right to share stories from other communities.

Which she had been doing.

So that was my context for our IRL meet in March.

I was therefore NOT expecting “The Red Purse,” a series of intimate, color self-portraits that explored middle-aged, female sexuality.

It was weird, and personal, and not like anything I could recall.

In my mind, now, when I close my eyes, I remember slip dresses. The color red. And Jacque there before me, in the flesh.

I didn’t need to go to her website to look it up, because fragments of the images were living in my mind.

Thanks, Jacque!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there was Wik Wikholm.

I don’t need to say much about Wik, (other than he was a chill, nice guy,) because the pictures speak for themselves.

OK, there IS one story I’ll share.

It’s a quote really, that popped into my head during the crit, and Wik liked it a lot.

“We start with absurdity, and move towards insanity.”

Wik made digitally composited self portraits, but at first, I refused to believe him.

The guy in front of me looked SO little like the guy in the images, it just couldn’t be.

But Wik swore he’d lost weight, it was him, and playing the characters was a part of the deal.

“Damn,” I kept yelling out loud.

(Ask Wik.)

At one point, I got up from the table, walked for a few seconds, and then came back.

So weird!

Wik’s work kept blowing my mind, at a time when my mind was (apparently) occupied with weed, food and fecal matter.

(OK, I’m exaggerating for comedic effect.)

I love this stuff, and I’m sure you will too.

See you in two weeks!

 

This Week in Photography: The Best Work from PhotoNOLA, Part 2

 

 

 

“Just as a bow kept strung loses its usefulness, so humans cannot stand continuous tension.”

Koichi Tohei, Japanese Zen/Aikido master (1920-2011)

 

“Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

An old Cajun French saying

 

 

 

 

Last week, I went all Zen on you.

What with the meditation advice and such.

 

 

I know it can seem preachy, sometimes.

So I try to be careful.

(And as I tell all my students and clients, I never give advice I don’t apply in my own life.)

Happiness doesn’t just come from self-care, be it exercise, kung fu, or movement meditation.

Humans are social creatures, and need contact.

Isolation, and even worse, loneliness, make us sick.

But wait, I promise this won’t be a heavy column!

(Nor a long one.)

So let’s move things along, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

Having fun, hanging out with friends, keeps us emotionally and physically happy.

Even if you don’t drink alcohol in your daily life, or stay out late, tying one on every now and again, hitting the town with your buddies, is a pre-pandemic habit that needs to come back ASAP.

(Or for most of you, maybe it already has.)

I went to my first post-pandemic, IRL photo festival in mid-December, as the Delta wave receded, and just before Omicron hit.

New Orleans draws certain people in, like a dumpling restaurant in the back corner of a forgotten strip-mall.

More invested, knowledgeable people than I have tried to write about New Orleans, and understand it.

I make no pretense.

I’ve been there five times in my life, always in December, and had a shit ton of fun on each occasion.

I feel comfortable in the town.

As different as it is from where I live, here in the high desert, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, there is somehow a connection between the places.

Honestly, it has to be the Spanish and French roots.

 

 

It shows wherever you look.

The 18th and 19th Century architecture is insanely gorgeous, and evokes a historical glamour I haven’t seen elsewhere in America.

 

 

(Though admittedly I haven’t been to Charleston.)

 

 

 

 

 

There’s music on the streets, on the regular, and it transforms any ordinary moment into something truly special.

Like the time I sat on some concrete steps, down at the Mississippi River, and listened to a talented busker behind me belt out “Ring of Fire.”

 

 

It was a moment.

(And yes, I gave him money.)

 

 

 

New Orleans is a city that enchants, and really, do you ever remember me saying anything like that before?

As usual, I stuck to the French Quarter and the CBD, getting bussed around the city a few times, never knowing where I was, because it was evening, the city is a maze, and I’d let loose and drank more than a few.

(So much fun, those few days.)

Let’s cut to the chase.

That’s the moral of the story, today.

Please, loosen up when you can, and have a jolly good time.

Live a little.

We’ve all gone through, or more likely are still going through, a seismic global catastrophe, with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Which is now two and a quarter years old.

No one can stand constant tension, as the great man said at this column’s outset.

We all need to break it, sometimes.

Having fun is a great way to do it.

And I speak from experience.

New Mexico weed stores opened on the first of the month, and April is normally my least favorite month, for a variety of valid reasons.

This year, though?

April’s been pretty, pretty, pretty good.

 

 

 

 

As to the real purpose of my trip to New Orleans?

Beyond eating, drinking, walking, listening, talking, and having a great time, (for the travel article I wrote in December,) my main goal was to look at photographic projects.

I went to PhotoNOLA to review portfolios, offer feedback, and then write about my favorites, here, for you.

Last week, we offered Part 1, and it was a pretty excellent mix of work, if I do say so.

This time out, as before, the artists are in no particular order.

And thanks to all of them for allowing us to share their wonderful work with you!

 

 

 

 

 

To begin with, Laurie Peek had a sad story.

Let’s get that out of the way. (Call it your trigger warning.)

She lost her son, Jackson, during the pandemic, when he tragically drowned.

Like many others, he had no funeral.

So she began making new work, “In Lieu of Flowers,” in mourning, and the pictures are quite beautiful.

Or so I imagine, as I met Laurie while Zooming from a comfortable chair in the IHH event building, during the online portion of the review.

Each image, she told me, represented one person who couldn’t have a funeral, due to the pandemic.

Like I said, super-sad.

But processing that grief through art is a powerful way to go.

(Just ask Marvin Heiferman.)

 




 

 

I met Vikesh Kapoor at a festival in Los Angeles a few years ago, (shout out to Exposure,) and have happily followed his career’s ascent.

He’s had a nice array of exhibitions lately, in Philly and Chicago, with accompanying lectures, and Vikesh had a solo show, with a talk, at the New Orleans Photo Alliance gallery during the festival.

But when we met at the the review table, he showed me something different.

Work from a commission from Leica and the BJP, in which he photographed people who were impacted by Vikesh’s mother, who was the local ob/gyn in a small, rural Pennsylvania town.

There’s a video as well.

Together, they tell a visual story of an immigrant in a far different culture, whose life intertwined with, and impacted so many people in that small world.

(Vikesh told me she delivered 3000 babies in a town of 9000.)

It’s an excellent project, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Pam Connolly and I got along swimmingly, and when I found out she lived in New Jersey, of course it all made sense.

Seriously, though, Pam showed me very-well-executed, sharp, lovely photos of constructed, tin, old doll houses.

They’re not creepy, though, as the bright colors, and seductive use of light, make it more fun and nostalgic, than anything.

(She also includes landscapes that are imaginary views out the widow of the mini-homes. )

Pam’s work made me think of Jane Szabo, who’s created some very cool work by moving miniature houses around the natural environment.

Seriously, someone needs to give these two a show together!

 

 

 

Next, we have Peter Hiatt, whom I ultimately owed an apology.

(Or, at least, I offered one.)

At the review table, Peter showed me a set of images of paint ball courses, near where he lives in Indiana.

They were nice, but not super-distinctive.

I told him I didn’t see a lot of passion there, and wondered why all the people, the crazy culture, were being elided, when that’s where many of the best details likely reside?

I suggested Peter focus on subject matter to which he felt a more intense, personal connection.

And it was a pass for this article.

However…

When I went to the portfolio walk at the Ogden Museum, I saw Peter’s work spread out on tables, with the prints arrayed in a group.

Like bashing a door-handle with your funny-bone, I immediately saw that his handling of color, in a weird, consistent palette, was spot on.

And the repeating use of shapes and compositions eluded me, viewing them one at a time, under less optimal lighting conditions.

So I apologized, and told Peter I’d be happy to publish his work, if he wanted to be included.

He did, and here we are.

Thanks, Peter!

 


 

Last, but not least, we have Sarrah Danziger, whom I briefly met at the aforementioned portfolio walk.

(Friday night of the festival.)

We didn’t get much of a chance to talk, but I thought her environmental portraits about people in the local culture, (she lives in New Orleans,) were really well done.

I offered to publish them on the spot, and again, here we are.

Thanks so much to all the artists, to the crew at PhotoNOLA for having me, and see you all next week.

 

This Week in Photography: The Best Work from PhotoNOLA, Part 1

 

 

 

I just began reading “Ki in Daily Life,” by Koichi Tohei.

Fascinating stuff.

(Tohei Sensei was a Japanese Aikido master, the most skilled in the world, after founder Morihei Ueshiba, and a major proponent of understanding ki, which is synonymous with the Chinese concept of Qi, or Chi.)

 

 

 

Though I’m not finished with the book, right off the bat, Tohei Sensei establishes we all have ki, or life energy, and can choose whether it flows in positive or negative directions.

We develop our ki by the thoughts we make, the breath we take, and the ways in which we move our bodies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In particular, Tohei Sensei guides us to drop our “one point,” or center of gravity, (what the Chinese call the Lower Dantian,) towards the ground, focusing on relaxing it, as well as our posture.

It’s really making a difference in my overall happiness, and I just began experimenting with the practice.

But once again, you’re wondering…why is he telling me this?

Because Chinese martial arts, (the various forms of Kung Fu,) use Qigong, or energy-based, movement meditation exercises, to develop fighting power, and life energy.

Koichi Tohei Sensei, one of the great Japanese martial artists of all time, advocated doing the same thing.

 

 

And he drew acclaim for helping non-martial-arts, just regular people, understand and utilize their ki, by encouraging certain movement mediations and thought-patterns.

He was explicit in teaching the extension of ki though your fingers, out towards the world, to spread the positive energy you cultivate in yourself.

Sample quote:

“Our lives are a part of the universal ki enclosed in the flesh of our bodies,” and “…practice emphasizing the sending forth of ki aims not only at improvement in the martial techniques, but also at facilitating the conflux of our ki with that of the universal. That is an extremely wholesome way to make the maximum of one’s life power.”

That’s some secrets-of-the-Universe type shit right there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only two weeks ago, I published an advice column, suggesting you figure out new ways to chill the fuck out, while the world was going insane around you.

(Buck the trend, as it were.)

So now I’m giving you some concrete suggestions for how to accomplish that lofty goal.

These ancient practices, in which we trust old-school traditions, can help us learn to meditate, calm our minds when we’re stressed, and build up our ki, so life will get better.

(Knowing how to defend oneself is a cool side-benefit, but martial arts are really about developing internal control on a deeper level.)

If you’re not interested in Japanese or Chinese martial arts, things like Yoga, Zen meditation, Tibetan Buddhist meditation, Tai Chi, walking meditation, any of these are worth integrating into your life, to better prepare you for 2022.

I was thinking about all these things this morning, on my walk, right before I wrote this for you.

So I stopped by the stream, to capture a moment of Zen.

Hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you add movement or sitting-based meditation to your self-care regimen, along with exercise, eating well, and making your art, you’ll likely find yourself a bit happier, day by day, than during the darkness of the early pandemic.

(I had to discuss photography eventually, right?)

Making art is still the most powerful self-care arrow in our quiver.

It’s why you’re reading this blog.

Because even in a world with seemingly endless forms of creative expression, so many people still love using the camera to make art.

And I’m fortunate to be able to meet a lot of photographers, view their work, and hear their stories, now that photo festivals are back, IRL.

Today, though, I chose not to do another rant about how great photo festivals are.

(As I’ve sung that song a lot lately.)

But it is finally time to show the first batch of the best work I saw at PhotoNOLA back in December.

I met a host of talented, cool, interesting artists, and am thrilled to share their work with you today.

(We’ll have another group next week.)

As usual, the artists are in no particular order, and we hope you enjoy the portfolios.

 

 

 

 

Ash Margaret is based in Houston, and showed me a bonkers project, for sure. The through-line to the series was a set of old-school gas masks, integrated into staged environments, featuring models as well.

(Talk about creative expression.)

They’re really strange, and I made a radical edit for Ash, in which we divided the images I thought were too kitschy, from the ones that were ambiguous, cool, and foreboding.

Regardless, they seem the perfect example of how to use healthy ways to get your crazy out, so you don’t shine it on others.

 


 

 

Ellen Mitchell is from the Jersey Shore area, (like me,) but unlike me, she still lives there.

While I spied a series about seagulls that I loved, at the portfolio walk, when we met for our official review, Ellen showed me a group of street photos taken on the boardwalk at Seaside Heights.

(A bit South of where I’m from.)

We must have discussed consent, as it was 2021, and considering how we commodify the visual identity of strangers is a tricky topic.

I also suggested she take good care with certain techniques, like light quality and cropping.

Overall, though, the pictures definitely represent something different, (which is hard to achieve,) and I’m glad Ellen allowed us share them with you.

{ED note: I just went through the files Ellen sent, while posting the column, and have to say, upon second viewing, I think these photos are pretty great. It was very hard to edit down even to this large selection.)

 

 

 

Chad Schneider is based in Minnesota, and also has a background making films.

We’re all familiar with the genre of creepy/seductive twilight photographs of homes and buildings.

(I doubt Todd Hido invented it either, but it’s certainly something we know him for.)

However, some tropes are alluring for a reason.

Chad’s illuminated evening shots sucked me in, for sure.

They’re gorgeous in just the right ways, and I love them, even if we’re familiar with the style.

 

 

 

John Hesketh is a cool guy, and certainly knows New Orleans.

(He said an ancestor had been run out of Louisiana, at gunpoint, so he didn’t grow up down there, but had deep roots.)

John showed me multiple-image-composite photos of Mardi Gras revelers.

I would say I liked them; didn’t love them.

I mean, they’re fun.

What’s not to like?

But when John suggested he was done, that surprised me, as he didn’t seem bored or disengaged with the subject.

He agreed he was still excited, and then reconsidered, deciding to return to Mardi Gras 2022 to make more art.

Nothing gives me more pleasure, during an event, than knowing I can help get someone fired up to use their creativity, which is so good for our health.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, we have Diane Meyer, whom I met via Zoom, during the online portion of the reviews.

They happened simultaneously, and each reviewer found a nice spot in the hotel’s events building, (across the street from the International House Hotel,) to connect via WiFi to a photographer elsewhere in the country.

Diane is based in LA, and showed me some really amazing work.

I don’t normally disclose such things, but I voted for her for the PhotoNOLA Review Prize, and others must have too, because she won.

Congrats, Diane!

As to the work, they’re photographs of the location where the former Berlin Wall stood, in which parts of the photos have been sewn over.

Like fabric art had a baby with photography, and I loved it back in December.

That was before the Berlin Wall, and the resurrected Clash of Empires, was so firmly ensconced in everyone’s consciousness, under a resurgent, imperialistic Russia.

It’s just a killer project, technically and symbolically.

 

 

We’ll have more portfolios for you next week.

See you then!

 

 

This Week in Photography: Visiting NOLA, Part 1

 

 

Short column today.

I’ve teased easy-breezy-reads before, only to drop 1800 words on you.

But not today.

(I swear.)

 

 

 

 

It’s Thursday morning, (as usual,) but the last week-and-a-half has been anything but typical.

 

 

 

 

It began a week ago Tuesday, when I left at 8:30am for ABQ, to catch 2 planes to New Orleans for an evening arrival.

That’s not unusual, a trip taking nearly 12 hours door-to-door, but sure enough, my plane was delayed in Houston, and then cancelled, as they shut the NOLA airport due to fog.

It took two days to get there, and I spent the rest of the week schmoozing, eating, drinking, reviewing portfolios, walking around the city, seeing exhibitions, drinking some more, and having a lot of fun.

I got home Sunday evening, after waking at 3:30am for an early flight, and while I was regenerating brain cells, yesterday morning, we had a wind and ice storm knock out the power and internet for 26 hours.

Right now, I’m barely functional.

I’m asking for a tiny bit of empathy, (as it’s not like we had tornados,) so let’s get the show on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

This was my first IRL festival since the world shut in March, 2020, and man was it fun.

I spent much of 2021 on PhotoNOLA’s advisory council, and made my feelings clear, from the jump, that getting people together in-person, (safely,) creates a positive energy impossible to replicate online.

Having cool, creative, hard-working artists in the same room builds camaraderie, and the possibility of new opportunities, which form the backbone of the fine art photo world in the US.

Certainly, I laughed harder than I have in years, drank more booze in a weekend than I do in 6 months of lock-down-life, and was palpably reminded what an amazing group of people we are, as a community.

Kudos to the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and PhotoNOLA, for making this happen!

As usual, I saw a ton of great work, and will write about the best portfolios I saw in a future article.

 

 

 

 

 

I caught a killer photo installation of wet plate collodion work, in the Houston airport, by Keliy Anderson-Staley, which I’ll share with you here.

 

“In Passing,” by Keliy Anderson-Staley

 

Normally, airport art is forgettable, but I also saw some wonderful paintings in the NOLA airport by Richard C. Thomas on the way home, so let’s drop them into the narrative as well.

 

Paintings by Richard C Thomas

 

When I first arrived in New Orleans, hungry as a mistreated dog, I walked the two short blocks from the International House Hotel, (which is gorgeous,) to the French Quarter, looking for some cheap, tasty street food.

 

Hotel lobby

 

I found the aptly named Istanbul Cafe, where I got an excellent chicken shawarma wrap, which fit the bill, and I went back on Saturday night, to get some dinner that would also serve as breakfast for my early morning.

 

Istanbul Cafe in the French Quarter

Chicken Shawarma platter. So good!

 

Next, I headed to Walgreens, for a bottle of room-booze, (Bulleit Bourbon,) and a four-pack of blue Gatorade, because once you hit 47, you don’t want to be drinking heavily without a plan.

When bars charge $15 per shot, getting a full bottle of good whiskey for $24 means you can hit the streets with a nice buzz, hook up your friends for happy hour, and generally manage the hair-of-the-dog situation.

The Gatorade is great for preventing/managing hangovers, as is my nightly ritual of 2 Advil and 1 Benadryl before sleep.

The greasy follow-up breakfast is also key, and I hit the really great Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant each morning, which was literally across the street from the hotel.

Day one, bacon egg and cheese on a homemade biscuit.

So good!

Day two, (the breakfasts got bigger each day, as the hangovers stacked up,) I had their loaded hash-browns, which had cheese, jalapeños and sautéed peppers atop the potatoes, with 2 eggs, a side biscuit, and an extra side of smoked sausage. (A local speciality.)

 

Commerce. Legit.
Loaded hash-browns with smoked sausage
I don’t normally eat like this…

 

Day three, all that, plus a side of grits. (Each day, I grazed on the food, a bit at a time, to combat the encroaching hangovers.)

If you’re going to abuse your body for a few days at a time, in a party city like New Orleans, I’m telling you, a solid plan is required.

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, during the blackout, the kids and I played hangman, and laughed for a solid hour. (When your 14-year-old uses “puta” in-game, you can assume fun was had.)

I shared the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention,” as we lived all day without electricity or internet, and found new ways to amuse ourselves.

I’m glad the power is back, but honestly, that kind of out-of-routine experience is what makes memories.

It’s a lot like traveling, and I’ll remember this NOLA adventure for a long time.

Beyond the hilarious trip on a school bus, (where I was named bus captain, reporting to the driver, Ms. Jackie,) the wonderful parties, and a great visit to the Bayou Beer Garden, I also had dinner with a few friends at the über-trendy, insanely delicious Italian restaurant Sofia.

(Brilliant fresh pasta, fantastic pizzas, great meatballs, and a house-made ricotta, radish and flat bread appetizer that was so much better than it sounds.)

 

Sofia, the next morning
Enjoying a great meal with my buddy Frances

 

Art installation on the wall of Sofia

 

As we walked the streets, a group of 5 revelers, including 4 photographers, we stepped directly over a highly mutilated pigeon, and I was the only one to even notice.

I grabbed a photo for you, (trigger warning, it’s gross,) because that’s a part of the fun of seeing new things.

 

Extremely dead pigeon

 

Across the street, a white cathedral glowed in the artificial light.

 

St Patrick’s Church, 1833

 

Quite the NOLA juxtaposition.

 

 

 

In a world in which many of us stayed home for a year, not-too-long-ago, I’m here to remind you that travel really does make us smarter, happier, and richer-in-experience.

So get out there, as soon as you can…

I’ll be back next week, and will share more about NOLA when I feature photographic portfolios in early 2022.

Hasta luego!

 

 

This Week in Photography: Portfolios from the LACP Review

 

 

My grandfather was a criminal.

(Step-grandfather, actually.)

 

 

Grandpa Sam, (as he liked to be called,) came into our lives when I was about ten, since my actual grandfather died of cancer when I was three.

He was a larger-than-life character, Grandpa Sam, like a mini-Trump, as the dude couldn’t have been taller than 5’3″.

But Grandpa was as stout as he was tall, so there was nothing little about him.

 

 

While I was on the phone with my cousin Jordan the other week, we got to sharing stories about Grandpa Sam, and it occurred to me he’d make an amazing character in a film.

(Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, as we all know.)

As I was on my break from the column, (and all email and social media distraction,) I did a bit of research, and turned up proof that he was actually a crook, and not the wannabe we had assumed.

Grandpa Sam was busted by the Feds, the freaking ATF, back in the early 80’s, for running a scheme to pass French table wine off as high-end Burgundy.

They shut him down and fined him, but he avoided jail time, and given how close this was to when he met Grandma, I’m pretty sure she knew what was up.

The two of them were all about the gold and the diamonds; jetting off to casinos, where he was treated as a whale, or taking cruise ships to far-flung locales.

 

 

We all have our tales, like the time he tried to pick up my wife at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, and actually made Grandma show off her diamond ring, so that Jessie knew for sure how much better he’d treat her than I could. (As a poor, hipster artist.)

But memories are just that, and internet research is an entirely different thing.

I now have proof that he wasn’t lying about being shot down by the Nazis, in World War II, and kept as a POW until the war ended.

I even have the photographs for you: images that show his plane, the ironically named “Lucky 13,” on the ground with Hungarian fighters swarming over the wreckage.

 

 

Then, I found out his partner in the wine-scheme, a Frenchman, was himself accused of being a Nazi collaborator, so Grandpa Sam appears to have gone into the criminal business with someone who stood on the opposite side of the Holocaust.

(Again, you can’t make this shit up.)

And I only discovered it because I let my mind untether from email and social media.

There’s a lesson in that.

 

 

I’ve promised myself not to return to my previously addicted ways, because really, how many times do we need to hear Facebook manipulates its platform to maximize the hours we use it?

Or how many articles do we need to read about the toxicity of email, and how much we all hate it?

I can now see that spending hours a day, cycling between email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, was actually rotting my brain and my soul, from the inside out.

(Addiction is nasty.)

 

 

Creativity, on the other hand, keeps us young and mentally agile. It was the theme of my last couple of columns, before the break, and wouldn’t you know that while I was away, the WaPo published this great article that confirmed almost everything I’ve been telling you over the last ten years.

Vindication!

But that only works if we have the discipline to find the time to stay creative.

To focus, and grow.

(No easy task.)

Will I ever write that screenplay about Grandpa Sam?

I’m not sure.

Even without email and social media, parenting, work, bill paying, caring for elderly relatives, driving back and forth to town, all these things split our day into little chunks, which makes it difficult to find 2-5 hours a day to get the good shit done. (1000 words at a time I can handle.)

Then again, when I visit portfolio review events, (IRL or on Zoom,) I constantly meet artists who are transitioning from another career.

People who’ve taken a leap of faith, later in life, because they learned that living without art, without having that creative spark on the regular, is more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s why I constantly preach inspiration here, because many of you have day jobs, and it’s a struggle to find the juice to make things, when you’re worn out and weary.

When we do, though, it almost always gives more energy than it takes.

(I’ve recently rejoined my martial arts classes, post-vaccination, and even getting beaten and bruised gives more juice than it consumes.)

Now that I’m back from my thirteen days without writing, I can gladly say it feels good to have this sensation again.

Writing in flow.

And while Grandpa Sam may have just been an excuse for a fun opening rant, where we landed was not an accident.

I mentioned portfolio reviews because today, we’re going to jet back in my memory files to January 2021, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

Rather, that’s when I attended the virtual portfolio reviews by the Los Angeles Center of Photography, and while it’s taken longer than I might have liked, today we’ll peek at the best work I saw that day.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order, and I’d like to thank all of them for allowing us to share their creations with you here today.

 

 

Let’s start with Kat Bawden, as she’s one of the photographers I’ve met over the years who returned to show me work again, and totally blew me away.

I first reviewed Kat’s pictures in 2017, and was unimpressed by a social documentary project that didn’t seem specific, or driven by a deep need. I shared my thoughts, and according to Kat, it lit a fire in her to push towards a more authentic style that channeled her inner reality.

I tend to give credit to the artist in such situations, (and not the advice-giver,) but man, did Kat take that motivation and grow at hyper-speed.

This time around, we looked at a set of edgy, disturbing, film-noir-esque, black and white images that were inspired by childhood trauma and repressed memory.

The photographs are phenomenal, and Kat just reported she’s matriculating to get an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I expect we’ll be seeing much more from her in the future.

 

 

Galina Kurlat and I spent a few minutes trying to figure out where we might have met before, but I couldn’t place it. We were definitely at Pratt Institute at the same time, earlier this Millennium, so maybe that was it.

No matter, as when it came to checking out her new work, I was amazed from the jump.

Like Bo Burnham’s brilliant new Netflix special, “Inside,” this work could not have been made without the intense, miserable pandemic lockdown restrictions, which limited what artists could do, and where they could do it.

Living in New York during the worst of it, Galina had some photo paper, the sunlight coming in through her windows, and the fluids and hair that came out of her body. (It sounds gross when your write it like that, I know.)

The resulting images, in which she used her hair, blood, saliva and urine, along with old bathwater in the photographic process, are quite beautiful, despite the bleak reasons for their creation.

Major wow on this project, for sure.

 

Matthew Welch is based in SoCal, but showed me a series of “Flow” images he made around the world. The process is intricate and simple, in that he stands in one spot, and makes so many images that life’s natural drama is sure to unfold.

According to Matthew, in one instance he took 100,000 images near the waterfront, in Hermosa Beach, and I can’t really imagine what it’s like to do something like that.

It’s a pretty good expression of focus, determination, and drive, to which I alluded at the beginning of the column. Cool stuff.

 

 

Next, we’ve got Natalie Obermaier, who works as a lighting expert in the fashion and commercial photography community in LA. She mentioned how hard it is to do that work, and stay creative as a photographer, so her style evolved into something more tactile, and constructive.

Literally, as she makes collages out of strips of images, which critique the fashion industry, while still celebrating a bit of glamour.

 

 

At first, I must admit, I was dubious when I met Jamie Johnson, because I was aware she made photographs of Irish Travelers, the Gypsy/Roma community in Ireland, and that is a subject I’ve seen many times before.

Like Cuba, it’s on the photo-tour-circuit, so I told her I’d expect her more of a reason than just taking a trip with a guide, and she certainly had the right answers.

Jamie has photographed children for years, in various projects, and considers it her area of expertise, so she’s invested a lot of time visiting with the Traveler children, including a copious amount of interviews.

The series became a book, published by Kehrer Verlag, and it’s a compelling offering for sure.

 

 

Jacque Rupp is a photographer who made a later-in-life career change, in Northern California, and became interested in how little she knew about the community of people who grow the food that’s eaten in California, and across the country.

(The Central Valley grows much of the produce for the US.)

She did the deep dive, getting to know people in the farm-worker community, doing the research, creating relationships, and the resulting documentary photos are well worth looking at.

It’s another example of outside-the-community projects that have been frowned upon over the last few years, but I believe that if photographers are earnest, care for the right reasons, and put in the leg work, we should consider what they’ve made with kindness, and an open heart. (Not everyone agrees. I get it.)

 

 

Last, but certainly not least, we have Benjamin Dimmitt, whom I knew from social media, but not IRL. (I guess even these meetings were on Zoom, so Benjamin, hope we can connect in meat-space one of these days!)

Benjamin was a long-time New Yorker who relocated to the South, but he’s originally from Florida, where his project was shot.

Literally every day now, we’re reading stories about how bad Climate Change has become, and how reservoirs are drying up across the West, and sea levels are rising on the coasts.

It’s abstract, in a frog-getting-boiled-alive-in-a-pot-of-water kind of way.

Many of Benjamin’s photos, which were shot in Florida, about 70 miles North of Tampa, show the changes wrought, as they were made with large time gaps. (Between 10 and 34 years, depending on the diptych.)

But from a technical and asethetic perspective, I preferred the single, square images he showed me, which were made more recently.

They’re beautiful and disturbing at the same time.

 

 

That’s it for today, though, so see you next week, and stay cool out there!

This Week in Photography: Projects from PhotoNOLA, Part 2

 

Metro Pictures is going out of business this year.

 

The NYC mega-gallery announced it a couple of weeks ago, and there were plenty of lamentations on Twitter.

Catherine Edelman, the long-time Chicago photo gallerist, closed her space to the public recently as well.

A week or two ago, a colleague wrote in a Facebook post that they didn’t make a lot of money in the arts, and felt like a failure.

These are not unrelated situations.

There is a significant lack of funding for creative fields here in the US, and I suspect even arts-rich places like England, France and Germany will be lucky to keep up their systems in the coming decades.

That’s where we’re at in the 21st Century.

But then again, someone seemingly dropped 69 million crypto-dollars on a massive jpeg, which set the world aflame, but also also begat questions about financial shenanigans rather quickly.

 

I’ve written extensively over the years, (but not in quite some time,) that the high-end-art-world is an unregulated commodities market, with all sorts of machinations, money laundering, and conflicts of interest.

Why am I writing about this, when there are so many other things to discuss?

Well, this is eventually going to be an article about the final batch of artists I reviewed at PhotoNOLA online in December, and as I didn’t go to New Orleans, there are no juicy travel details to share, nor tidbits about the humming sound in the review room, the yummy food at lunch, or the length of the bathroom breaks.

So I had to manufacture an opening rant out of other material.

But the more important reason is that I understand art very well, having devoted my entire adult life to the process, and I’m here to tell you making money off your pictures is not a good reason to be here.

Neither is fame, nor acclaim.

All three goals are elusive, unlikely, and fleeting.

 

Rather, art practice is about self-improvement and self-expression.

And those things are priceless.

I know that sounds cliché, or idealistic, but it is unquestionably legit.

In a world rife with stress, misery, and difficulty, making art on the regular makes us happier, more confident, and potentially more self-aware.

Those of us who commit our full souls to the endeavor, work extremely hard at our craft, and study art history, might occasionally have a moment where we make some real cash, or everyone is talking about us.

But that happens to very few people, and again, even if it does, it never lasts.

(Outside of a handful of photographers in the entire world. Seriously, the odds of becoming the next Cindy Sherman or Andreas Gursky are negligible.)

 

image courtesy of Artnews.com

 

I understand it seems like I’m being negative, or trying to project a “realistic” attitude, but I’m not.

Quite the opposite.

What we do as artists is extremely important, because like being a proper Buddhist monk or nun, it allows us to clean up the energy we put out into the world, and make the human collective healthier, even if it’s in small amounts.

That’s the big news.

Having shows, selling prints, publishing books, being written or talked about, getting compliments, they are all nice accomplishments, and fortunately I can speak from experience.

But beyond a year or two when I sold a lot of art, I don’t make a lot of money either.

In the real world, businesspeople would laugh at my annual income, and I’m cool with that.

Because Capitalism is an imperfect system, and just because something doesn’t have a high financial value doesn’t mean it’s not extremely valuable in other ways. (Karmically, for example.)

I say all this because the world is in the process of slowly re-opening, and only now are people beginning to realize that 2019 might not be the best model to shoot for.

I traveled so much in 2019 that I grew sick of it, and ungrateful.

The things I took for granted now seem like platinum-and-gold-plated diamonds, but all the same, being on the road that much was not healthy.

(Not for my carbon footprint, my children’s mental health, or my hangovers.)

I’ve been preaching for years that endless growth is not only unattainable, and unsustainable, but unachievable.

Efficiency of resources, and energy, is a far more important goal.

And if you push yourself in your art practice, the difference it will make in your self-confidence and self-esteem will give you back so much energy you would otherwise waste on anxiety.

That’s the truth.

So today, we’ll look at work from six artists I met during the online reviews at PhotoNOLA, and tomorrow I’ll meet a whole new batch of photographers at the online reviews for the Month of Photography Denver.

That said, let’s pivot to sharing the second batch of my favorite portfolios with you, and honor the hard work these women and men put in to get their projects in front of my Zoom screen.

(As usual, the artists are in no particular order.)

We’ll start with George Nobechi, whom I met at PhotoNOLA in 2017, and published his work after that festival as well. George is a perfect example of what I’m talking about today, as he switched careers to commit to his photography, and studied in workshops with people like Sam Abell to learn his craft.

As a half-Japanese guy who moved back to his ancestral homeland in 2017, after living away for many years, he has a complicated relationship with Japan, and its history. So he poured himself into a project to understand the country, and himself better.

I’ve written many times of my love for Japanese literature and the 19th Century woodblock printers Hokusai and Hiroshige, and these photos channel some of that genius. Not saying they’re at the same level of brilliance, but there are commonalities in the vibe, and energy the work projects.

I’m sure you’ll love these photographs.

 

When I met Eric Kunsman, I had a bit of a laugh, as I’d heard of him obliquely only a few weeks earlier, in one of my Antidote online classes.

A student was experimenting with the idea of photographing pay phones, and after a polite amount of time, someone cleared their throat, and announced there was an artist out there who had committed to the subject so well that it was kind-of off limits to others at the moment.

And that artist, who remained unnamed that night, was Eric Kunsman, a professor and master printer in Rochester, NY. Eric told me he’d moved into a lower-income neighborhood, and in order to get to know his community and surroundings, he looked very hard, and noticed that pay phones were broken down relics in plain sight, as not everyone can afford a cell phone, or the attendant bill.

So he became a legit expert in the social and community dynamics behind pay phones, both in Rochester, and then around the US. The images themselves are both bleak and beautiful, which is a style I always appreciate when it’s done well, as it is here.

 

Ruth Lauer Manenti is another artist I’d met previously, and I published her work after the Filter Photo Festival back in 2019. She’d been trained as a painter, and I loved the delicate and gorgeous sensibility she created with objects, though at the time, I recall re-editing her work on the review table, as I thought there were essentially two groups in one.

Ironically, I did it again this time, (virtually,) as Ruth had moved outside with her camera, in pandemic reality, and photographed poetic, artful landscapes in her surroundings in upstate New York. I was most enamored of the photographs that seemed to step out of time, and will share them with you here.

 

Fernanda de Icaza joined me from Mexico, but I fell in love with a series she made while living in Japan. Frankly, Fernanda had two series from Japan, with her primary project being in a monastery where she lived for some time, in silence.

Those pictures were cool, for sure, but during a short break from that monastic life, Fernanda went to Tokyo to party her face off at dance clubs, and the wild, colorful, chaotic energy she captured was dynamite.

I suspect she appreciated this world all the more, for living most days with the quiet, but we’ll let you decide for yourself.

 

Stephen Starkman, from Canada, is an example of an artist whose work grew on me over the course of our 20 minutes. At first, the images seemed disjointed, as they were not “about” a subject or concept, per se.

But as you look at them, there is a consistency of vision, and a sense of beauty, that I really came to enjoy. I think you’ll dig them too.

 

Last, but not least, we have Rosalie Rosenthal, who makes photographs with her teen-aged daughter that consider mid-life.

There are Dutch vanitas-style still lives, and quiet portraits, which were quiet and thoughtful.

So to wrap it up, I’d like to thank Rosalie, and all the artists, for allowing us to share their hard work with you, wherever you are.


This Week in Photography: Projects from PhotoNOLA, Part 1

 

I was just standing outside, with my face in the sun.

 

The season change is always obvious here, in the Rocky Mountains, and it’s most definitely spring outside.

Thankfully, winter is over.
(I swear.)

I stood there, and after a moment, became aware of the musical arrangement of bird calls happening all around me.

(Mostly from the trees near the stream, as it’s no longer frozen.)

The chirp sounds were beautiful, and I noted them, but after another moment, realized they’d been gone all winter.

The bird music.

I hadn’t heard the calls since September or October. And you might not remember, but in the first week of September #2020, we had such an unusual freeze that birds fell dead from the sky.

By the thousands.

#2020 was that kind of year.

Back to the bird calls, though, and the truth is, over this evil-Covid-winter, I’d forgotten such things existed.

When you’re that deep in the hole, (or have lived in a cave for generations, like The Croods,) you begin to forget that light is a reality too, just like darkness.

 

And here we are.

Green grass is growing in our field.
My children are (supposedly) going back to school.
Checks are headed to many mail boxes.

After years of mental torture by you-know-who, capped off by a whopper of a year that gave us house arrest, (for some people solitary confinement,) and a half million dead people, we should all forgive ourselves if things like hope are slow to return.

It will take a while for the collective PTSD to wear off, for those who can shake it.

But spring follows winter.
That’s the way it works.

So what will you do when you emerge from your shell?

In a way, we can all honor the Americans, (and people everywhere, really,) who didn’t make it out of the pandemic alive.

We can love more deeply, cherish new experiences, embrace personal growth, make fresh things.

Because our art is an expression of our personality, our vision, our sense of self.

Even in the worst of winter, (you knew the hook was coming, right?) I was still able to look at photography portfolios, by a talented and diverse group of artists at the PhotoNOLA festival online, back in December, and today, I’m happy to share some of my favorite portfolios with you.

We’ll have a Part 2 as well, and as usual, the artists are in no particular order.

Cathy Cone showed me work that looked good on a computer screen, but is the kind of thing that I’d really love to see in person. Her work involves scanning old tintypes, and then painting directly onto the output prints.

They’re beautiful.

And in the “spring is here” vibe of this column, I can only hope IRL festivals come back this year, so we can all resume the habit of appreciating art in person, with our physical senses activated.

Diana Nicolette Jeon’s work is the perfect follow up, given the tactility, as her prints are mounted to, and exhibited in Altoids tin lids.

I first saw this work at Photolucida in 2019, loved it, and meant to publish it then, but a miscommunication on my part meant it didn’t happen. Fortunately, Diana, who’s based in Hawaii, gave me a second chance.

The images come from film noir, and definitely channel that energy, minus the scary soundtrack.

Elizabeth Clark Libert showed me a set of razor sharp images, shot with a medium format digital camera, of her young boys playing, fighting, and growing together. (The first two being intimately related, when brothers are close in age.)

It’s a meditation on masculinity, as the artist grapples with how to raise her boys in a post-me-too era. There are some nudity issues, which open another set of questions, but as we’re not publishing those, we’ll save that debate for another occasion.


Nathalie Seaver showed me some work that I didn’t necessarily appreciate. But as I’ve written many times, if you have other options to pivot to during a review, it allows the situation to be salvaged. (Proper preparation is key.)

The last project we discussed was quarantine related, as Nathalie made still lives of objects from her home, (since she couldn’t leave,) and they were grouped by color.

They’re kitschy, but also cool, IMO.

Rene Algesheimer shared images of ice caves in Alaska and Iceland, and I suppose they qualify as some of the least-lockdown-pictures I saw last December.

They’re haunting, and need little explication, right?

Last but not least, Suzette Bross will help us land the idea that travel, which was practically impossible in #2020, may rejoin us again in #2021. Exotic countries, or even just the county across the State line, will become more accessible, once things improve.

Suzette’s project was shot in Rwanda, and is a reflection of the grief she felt due to a family loss. Rather than photograph the countryside, Suzette presents hacked-panorama-iPhone-images shot from a moving bus, as she crossed the country.

The resulting photographs are strange and compelling.
Don’t you think?

See you next week!

This Week in Photography: Welcome to 2021

 

Happy New Year, everybody!

 

I’m back, and writing on Thursday as usual, which makes this the last day of #2020. (Though by the time you read this, the calendar will have turned, giving the world a fresh start.)

What will become of us in 2021?

I wish I could tell you, but honestly, I have no idea.

Even though I just had a week off, my powers of prediction are not as sharp as I might like.

(And nobody could have guessed #2020 would go off the rails to the extent that it did.)

I vaguely remember last January, in which I put the final touches on my first book, the aptly named “Extinction Party.”

And I certainly remember February, in which I traveled to Amsterdam for a week, reveling in the soon-to-disappear pleasure of chatting up random strangers, visiting art museums, and smoking tons of weed and hash in the city’s rightfully-lauded coffee shops.

(Shout out to the Jolly Joker.)

 

 

While roaming Amsterdam, I met two men named Mohammed, and one named Godsend. For the first time in my life, I said “As Salaam Alaikum” to Muslims, and it felt so good to be out of my New Mexican bubble.

Then came early March, and after my brief visit to Houston to launch the book, I got home… and never left.

As awful as some parts of the year were, and I mean horrible in the truest sense, I was also given some unbelievable gifts: namely, after discovering my wife was suffering from clinical depression, by the end of #2020, I can report that she’s happier and healthier than she’s been in years.

 

How can I hate a year that so changed my family’s life for the better?

And once she recovered, my wife suggested we get the kids a dog, with whom they are now totally obsessed.

No #2020, no healthy wife, no dog, no happy kids.

(There is something to be said for the old adage, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.)

But I also wrote a column for you in March, correctly predicting that the virus, with its imposition of “social distance,” would create chaos within our society, as people fought, and ultimately died, to protect personal space, or “individual freedom.”

So much bad, so much good, all in one calendar year, and I’m pretty sure it will take me decades to digest it all.

By May, I did my first online portfolio reviews, for the Los Angles Center of Photography, and at that point, I barely knew how to use Zoom.

Then we had to cancel our Antidote Photo Retreat program, for obvious reasons, (which sucked,) but as a result, it forced me to migrate our community online, and now I have a successful Antidote online educational program.

By September, I was fully-Zoom-literate, and participated in the Filter Photo Festival online, as my favorite week of the year, when I normally get to party with my best friends in Chicago, became a Saturday of sitting at my computer, meeting new people, virtually, and looking at their work from my bedroom.

(Things that would have been LITERALLY unimaginable in #2019 became commonplace by the Fall of #2020, and that’s about the best way I can sum up this cluster-fuck of a year.)

In the Pre-Covid reality, I went to festivals all the time, and reported on cities, restaurants, galleries and museums for you, before writing about the best photographic portfolios I saw.

It was a huge part of our regular content, as you long-time readers know.

But #2020 being #2020, (even though it’s now 2021,) I’m only just getting around to writing about the cool work I saw via the Filter Photo Festival a few months ago.

Thankfully, online festivals are much better than no festivals, and I recently saw work online at Photo NOLA, with online festivals in LA and Denver lined up between now and March.

Meaning, I’ll have lots of interesting work to share with you in the coming months, from artists spread around the world, as one of the obvious benefits to online festivals is that the lower cost, due to lack of travel budgets, means people can “attend” from their bedrooms in Sao Paulo, Mexico City, or Japan. (All places that artists were residing at Photo NOLA.)

So with all that as a background, (and a kind-of-year-in-review,) today, I’ll show you the best work I saw at Filter, back in September #2020, while simultaneously wishing you a happy, healthy, safe, and perhaps much-better year in 2021.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order, and I hope you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

I first met Paula Riff poolside, at an afterparty for a festival in San Diego, back in 2018. But I’d never reviewed her work before, despite seeing her name pop up in gallery announcements from time to time.

Paula showed me a perfect series for #2020, as it involved cutting up leftover prints, and mistakes from the past, and turning them into something entirely new. The images are gorgeous, as you’ll see, and provide inspiration for all of us to make something positive out of the waste in our lives.

 

I reviewed Adam Frint’s work at Filter in 2019, loved it, and shared it with you here in the column. (That project involved snooping on people during their smoke breaks around the city.) So I was excited to see what he would come up with next… and he didn’t disappoint.

Interested in graffiti cover-ups, and riffing on color blocks like an oddball 21st Century Mondrian, Adam set up his wife, and brother-in-law, to hold up color-shapes, as he arranged them against buildings, so the blocks would be in relationship to each other.

Not much more needs to be said, as they’re funny, charming, and visually appealing, all at once.

 

Matthew David Crowther had a very different take for his Chicago-centric series. It was all made in one small nature preserve, set within the city limits, in which he went walking for more than three years.

We discussed how to communicate the urbanity to the viewer, as the images are so poetic and pastoral, but apparently there is some serious urban-scape surrounding the seemingly-rural place. Do you also shoot establishment images outside the park for context? Or use sound recordings of all the noise heard within?

Given the mood of the images, I suggested poetry might also be an option, and just this morning, Matthew sent me a poem he’d written to accompany the project. It’s lovely, so I’ll include it here:

“The bones of one world
are the soil of another
We walk the looping paths
With our children
Lost in the ash borer trails
And receding water lines
Moving with the steady force
Of generation after generation
We hear the birds singing along
With the passing planes
And the jackhammer
Of woodpeckers and road crews
Fall winter spring summer fall
The patterns shift yet remain
Loops within cycles within
Wheels within wheels”

 

Kambua Chema and I met at Filter years ago, and she’s one of those people whose positive energy is simply infectious. (Perhaps not the best adjective for #2020, now that I think about it.)

Stuck at home like the rest of us, Kambua used a telephoto lens to document the Chicagoans who used the parking lot below her apartment as a lockdown-recreational-area. As the idea is so relevant, we spent most of our review discussing the importance of the edit, and making sure the color/contrast palette stood up to the strength of her concept.

 

I spoke with Jane Yudelman, who was in lockdown in her studio in Maine, and she showed me two digital composite projects that I liked, despite the fact that I often have a bias against such strategies. Both were visually arresting, but I’m showing you the one that offered me a proper surprise.

I can’t tell you how many sea/sky images I’ve seen over the years, and I’ve shot my share of them too. (Nothing original, I’m afraid.)

Yet these image are not real horizons. So it’s more Rothko than Sugimoto, and the colors and vibe are just right, IMO.

I had a nice chat with Karen Osdieck, a Midwestern photographer and accountant, who mostly makes work out of her young boys’ lives. We discussed her antecedents, and the mentors she’d developed, as Karen has studied with some excellent female artists in the photo world.

I thought her primary project, which had achieved some success, was lacking in the color and light palette, despite the occasionally taut narratives. But her secondary project, in which she photographed one son in all the outfits he wanted to wear to Zoom school, in the pandemic, was really cool, and so #2020.

 

Last, but not least, we have Sandra Ullmann, who was trained as a psychoanalyst, and showed me a vintage, black and white project from her archive. Apparently, when one of her children had a baby, she had to drive three hours to the hospital multiple times, and discovered these wrapped trees.

There was a Jungian feeling to the project, for sure, and we discussed ways that she could shoot new subjects that might fit together with the older group. I loved them!

See you next week, and hope you all have a safe, healthy, and amazing 2021!

 

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 4

 

Hark!

What’s that I see up ahead?

Do you see it?

Why, I daresay it’s light up there, far away, at the end of that tunnel yonder.

I’m sure I see it.

Do you?

It was 46 degrees F yesterday, with a deep blue sky and lots of sunshine.

At the hottest point of the day, in the sun, that feels like 56F, which means there was an illusion of Spring yesterday, for the first time this year.

Spring, I say.
Spring!

At one point, I was only wearing a T-shirt, it was so warm.

A T-shirt!

Now, beyond that, (not that I need more ammunition,) my father-in-law has lived here for nearly 50 years, on this piece of land, and when we moved back to town, almost 15 years ago, he gave me a good piece of advice.

He doesn’t say much, most of the time, my father-in-law.

With the grizzled look of a cowboy, country doctor, you can get him going on certain subjects, like the health care system, or local politics.

Mostly, though, he likes to grunt.

So imagine him thusly, back in 2005.

SCENE:

Grunt.

“Hey Jon. December 15th to January 15th. Coldest time a year. Every year.”

Grunt.

END SCENE:

So, as I write this, it’s January 15th, and yesterday felt like Spring, for heaven’s sake.

How can you not feel just a bit better?

How can you not revel in silliness, as I am now?

Did you not read my column last week, in which I postulated it was rational to laugh at a terrifying world? Did that not give you permission?

What’s wrong with you?

War with Iran, you say?

Pish tosh, I say.

Impeachment?

Poppycock!

And just to prove it, to sit down in the muck of my own good humor, today, we’re going to look at the final group of photographers I met at the Filter Photo Festival last September.

It so happens that I like to mix up the column these days, between travel stories, book reviews, and portfolio review articles.

It’s a feel thing, in which I assume if I’m ready to shake it up, writing wise, you’ll be ready for something different as a reader.

These following artists, therefore, represent the last batch of The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.

And normally, almost always, I’d say that the artists are in no particular order. That they’re seemingly disconnected, because I don’t really plan which photographer ends up in which piece.

Sure, that’s still the case. But when I looked through the last group of portfolios, I kept thinking the same thing.

Sad pictures.
More sad pictures.

Then, even when the pictures weren’t overtly sad, because of the other pictures, contextually, they still felt sad.

It was like the sad energy from Deep Winter was trying to creep back into my psyche, here, one day into the far-less-daunting Mid-Winter.

Do you see what I did there?

I bait-and-switched you.

Silly opening, depressing photos.

Here we go.

First up, we’ve got Bernadette Fox, who was visiting from Minnesota. She told me she was a filmmaker before she was a photographer, and that her career had taken many twists and turns.

We looked at one group of photos she shot in Morocco, of an arranged wedding, and they were really cool, for sure.

But I was perhaps a bit more interested in her next group of photos, a long-term project shot on film, and we jumped right into editing mode.

Yes to this, no to that: we separated the prints into two groups.

In the best of theses photographs, (which were edited down in the ensuing months,) the energy, the sweet vibe of loss, comes through via color and light palette, as much as anything.

The ever-so-slight color shifts that come with time.

It’s the good kind of pain, like pulling out a splinter with a sharp pair of tweezers.

 

Next, we’ve got William Davis, an artist I met at the portfolio walk. I have to admit, I was multi-tasking, as I’d just come back from dinner with a student, was doing a tour of the room with another student, while simultaneously trying to scout projects for you guys.

But I noticed William’s night-time pictures out of the corner of my eye, and made a move straight to them, knowing almost from the glowing glance that I’d like them.

(Is it OK to have developed the 6th sense, after so many festivals?)

He said the project was all about documenting light pollution, on multiple continents. From Cusco, Peru to Kalamazoo.

They’re super-cool, even if the subject is (literally) dark.

 

Next up is Kari Laine, and maybe this work was meant for today?

These tabletop constructions, and multi-image panels, feature dolls, little plastic tigers, but also dead creatures? They’re sad, bleak, macabre tableaux, but also, maybe a little funny too?

I was on the fence for a minute, but then I decided I like them.

Weird should always be good.

 

Moving along, we’ve got Sarah Malakoff, and her project was strange as well.

Sarah photographs interior spaces that are designed around cultural or historical themes. If ever there were a project to embrace kitsch, this would be the one.

We ended up having a technical conversation, Sarah and I, as her prints were super-glossy, way too glossy, and it created a reflectivity bomb that was hard to get past.

I told her that as I publish digitally, I was sure her jpegs would be good enough to show, and so they are.

Really strong portraits of people, through their personal spaces.

I have a tiki lounge, therefore I am?

Subsequently, one of my students, visiting the festival, also saw the prints and had the same problem with the gloss, so I was glad when Sarah told me she was experimenting with a different paper.

I can’t stress enough, these subtle choices make a huge difference in how our work is received, IRL.

anns 003

 

Finally, we’ve got a series of pictures by Daniel J. McInnis, and I admit I did hold these last for a reason. Because they’re not overtly sad, (my theme today,) so I wanted to set them up after all the other projects.

Daniel accompanied his wife on a business trip to Japan, and used a digital camera for the first time, after a long time working with analog materials. (We’d previously published some of his portraits of artists, after a prior Filter, and he was using a large format camera at the time.)

Maybe it’s the color palette, or the dry, formal sensibility, (in a formal country,) but I think the cool remove makes these photos a little lonely.

A little cold.

And after I wrote my first draft of this column, wouldn’t you know, but a night-time blizzard rolled into town.

Last night.

So everything is covered in powdery white.

See you next week.

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 3

 

Part 1: The Intro

Hi there, everybody.

How are you?

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, and Christmas will be here before you know it, most people are ready to wind down a bit.

To slow the pace, bitch about the weather, fantasize about being on a warm beach somewhere, and then begin to plan for 2020.

(You know it’s true.)

Honestly, my ass would have been in coasting mode weeks ago, if it hadn’t been for the (now successful) Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming book, “Extinction Party.”

As for the cold and the gray, I spent the better part of Saturday plotting and planning to drive to a clean, beautiful beach, where we could swim in the warm water, and feel free.

I searched and searched, finally settling on South Padre Island in Texas, on the Gulf Coast next to Mexico, before realizing that a 16 hour drive each way would wash off any bliss imparted by the serene salt water.

(Staycation #2019 instead.)

As for the planning, I think right around now, people begin to look at the calendar in earnest, visualizing the trips they might take in 2020.

One year ends, the next begins.

I know it’s a big lede, but I was building to a point, which is that people often ask me which photo festival they should attend, or which ones are the best?

It happened twice in the past week, and once was a public query on Twitter.

Thomas Patterson, a photographer and writer for PDN, asked me and a few others the following:

 

As I’m currently in the middle of my series on the Best Work I saw at the Filter Photo Festival, and have said many times that Filter does it right, it seemed like a great way to answer the questions for you ahead of time, in case it helps you book out next year.

So let’s get to it.

 

Part 2: Which Festival is Best?

I’m going to cut to the chase, and let you down, simultaneously.

There is no “best” festival, though of course I might have a personal favorite.

There are now so many options, in almost every major city, that I think a photographer can base his or her decision on a number of factors. And I will say this, there are several annual festivals that I think are at the top of the heap, and I name-check them all the time.

Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.
PhotoNOLA in New Orleans.
Medium Photo Festival in San Diego.

All three have different strengths, but few weaknesses, and all share some common strategies, with respect to wraparound programming.

I’ve already written that I know the staff at each place, and think they’re amazing people. The three cities are beautiful tourist destinations, with superb leisure activities and incredible food.

Each of the three features lectures, exhibitions, parties, keynote speakers, partnerships with important local museums, and are run by artist-driven non-profit organizations.

They’ve had stability in leadership and staff, and take place in excellent venues, where they remain each year.

(Cohesion and teamwork are important.)

Basically, I’d vouch for all three festivals, strongly. They’re different of course, as Filter has the massive-city-blue-collar vibe, New Orleans is a party-forward city, and Medium is a bit smaller and homier, set in a poolside, SoCal hipster hotel.

I’ve been on gallery tours in both Chicago and New Orleans before, and Medium now does one in Tijuana.

You will get your money’s worth in each place, and that money is going to support a non-profit that gives back massively to its local community.

As to the biennial festivals, I had a good experience at Photolucida in Portland, which I chronicled here this year, and it too has great relationships with its local city. (And amazing food, music, and legal reefer.)

FotoFest, which is coming up this March, is the oldest American portfolio review festival, and I made two of my best friends in the world while attending. (In 2012 and 2016.)

Ironically, though, I think it’s the least social of the festivals I’ve gone to. I love Houston, but the downtown business district, (where FotoFest is held,) is not super-lively in the evenings, and while it’s a great city in which to have a car, parking downtown is expensive.

FotoFest a place to get business done, as you’ll have approximately 20 portfolio reviews, and I know colleagues who go for two sessions each year, as they always make enough money to justify it.

So there’s my two cents.

And just to reiterate, in my copious experience, it’s the partying, the social experiences, the eating and drinking, that really brings people together.

(It’s not an accident, as human beings like working with people they know and like.)

If you get out there, invest the time in broadening your network and making new friends, it will have a positive impact on your life in so many ways.

And with that, we’ll move on to the final piece of today’s puzzle: more of the Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival in September.

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

 

Part 3: The Photographers

Sometimes, a project just jumps off the table at you, often due to technical prowess. And as a teacher and a critic, I typically recommend artists make work about what they’re expert in, or something they’re so curious about that the art practice itself makes them an expert.

With Christoper Barrett, it was an interesting confluence, as he works as a professional architectural photographer in Chicago, and chose an art project that allowed him to put those skills to use.

He began taking walks around his neighborhood, photographing the mishmash of local architectural styles. At the same time, he created a tense, boxed in, claustrophobic view of emo Americana.

The series feels like a snapshot of an empire in Decline, devoid of color. And the formal constructions, super sharpness, and solid tonal range make for a powerful group of pictures.


Speaking of expertise, Colleen Woolpert must have found it strange to tell me her story, given the massive coincidence we shared. She described a rare eye condition called strabismus, in which vision and depth perception can be severely impaired.

Colleen is a twin, and her sister has it, but she does not. (The coincidence is my son has strabismus, and after nearly 10 years of treatment, one surgery, and some strong eye-glasses, he sees really well.)

Apparently, Colleen wanted to help her sister, (as the impairment was believed to be permanent if not fixed in childhood, ) so she built a stereoscopic device to help her sister improve her vision, and it worked!

Then she patented it, and now it’s in pubic use.

You can’t make this shit up!

Her art project uses the stereoscope to depict images of Colleen and her sister, where they blend together into one person. Radical stuff!

Next, we have Mitch Eckert, who’s a professor at Louisville University in Kentucky. I always ask photographers about their background, and then dispense advice accordingly.

Mitch told me he was trained up, and that he thought his work was ready to go, so I was prepared to be a tough critic. Thankfully, I found his work to be cool and a bit exciting.

Normally, I think zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and museums are too easy as subjects, but Mitch brought a hyper-real compression of space to the game.

His plants, trapped behind glass, sweating, breathing, pushing up against the see-through constraints, feel very compelling as environmental pieces in #2019.

Ruth Adams and I had an editing session, as we discussed how to create solid through-lines, or connection points, via subject matter and style.

Ruth had been shooting in Berlin, and what she first described as being about Jewish cemeteries quickly expanded to include other religions as well, and other cities.

I zeroed in on the images that felt most connected to each other, and encouraged her to keep things tight and make more work. As with Christoper’s project, the tonal range here really is impressive.

Anastasia Davis, in from Pittsburgh, let me know she had studied with good people, and was connected in her community. She also said that she used her work to cope with, or process, her history of panic disorder and depression, which is of course one of art’s highest and best uses.

Anastasia showed me two groups of photographs, both of which were meant to conjure a different emotional experience. And as the images are made separately, and then edited together, it does share much with poetry, vibe-wise.

Really lovely stuff.

 

Last, but not least, we have James Kuan, whose work caught my eye at the portfolio walk at Filter.

I always make sure to do a quick visit at a festival’s portfolio walk, (always,) because I ALWAYS find cool stuff to show you from people I would not otherwise meet.

In this case, I learned that James is a surgeon based in Seattle, and has studied at PCNW.

This project, about identity, is all about cutting and pasting. Slicing and replacing.

Cool stuff, and I’m sure you’ll like it.

See you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival: Part 2

 

I never have a hard time writing.

It’s true.

It must be muscle memory, as words normally flow from my brain to my fingers, like wet snow dropping from a gray sky.

Then, we get to this time of year, when the days are shorter, the light is less intense, and the column gets more difficult.

Especially as I’m spent, having just finished a run of 8 big trips in 8 months.

It ended a few days ago, when we returned from a family Bar Mitzvah in Boulder. (Partying with the same extended family for the third time this year.)

It was both exhausting and perfunctory, which is an odd combination.

(And if my cousins are reading this, apologies, you threw a great shindig.)

Rather, the joy and surprise of such family reunion-type-events lie in the typical time-gap between them: people change, and have new stories to tell.

By the third get-together in a year, it’s only natural that people have run through their prime “life-story” material, and the conversations get a bit stale.

What I found, though, is that it’s not always the big, dramatic moments that burn their way into memory. Or that are even the most pleasurable, necessarily.

I told my kids about, and then actively noticed, the random, seemingly-meaningless-in-between moments that can come to feel important in a family bonding narrative.

Like the time we were sprinting though an underground parking garage, the four of us, desperate not to be late for (always boring) Temple, and I heard our shoes clicking on the concrete as I looked at my daughter and smiled.

Or the four of us huddled over a few plates of Thai noodles, sucking up the city-food-goodness, while the mountains and shopping malls of Boulder looked on beyond the fifth floor, hotel windows.

It’s not always the glamour, I’ve found, that pulls us out of our respective reveries, and helps us revel in the moment.

Right now, I’m actually thinking of a perfect moment in Chicago, back in September, when I visited for the Filter Photo Festival.

If you’ve been reading this year, you know I used food, architecture, and travel as methods of inspiration, rather than just photographs, paintings and sculptures.

As an artist, I’ve done more writing, drawing and installation work lately than I have photography.

(Each step in our creative journey is different, and things change over time.)

But rather than repeating my old patterns in Chicago, (as I discussed last week,) I went to Pilsen to have a Kung Fu lesson with a great teacher in town.

It took two subway trains and a bus to get there, and wouldn’t you know, but that’s where one of those little moments managed to find me.

On the bus heading North.

I was late, (again,) but this time, I’d texted Sifu to give him a heads up, and I was assured it was no drama. (So I settled in for the ride.)

By the time I got to that bus, though, I was ready to be there.

It wasn’t a long journey, only a mile, and I’d normally walk, but again, I was late, and didn’t know where I was going.

So after the third or fourth bus stop in a row, I was properly impatient, and must have had a sour look on my face.

Then the fifth stop was the doozy.

An elderly Latino man got on the bus, walking very slowly. He had on a dapper hat, (not a fedora, more short and peaked,) a sharp outfit, and these glittery, oversized sunglasses.

(If Elton John had ever looked as good in his sunglasses as this guy did, I’d be surprised.)

I noticed him immediately, and then time stopped.

Literally.

Because the man had his bus ticket in his wallet, in his back pocket, but he couldn’t get it out to save his life.

I watched as his hand slowly tried to work the wallet back and forth, bit by bit hoping it would slide out from its overstuffed home.

He stood there, motionless, but for the little bit his arm and hand moved, as they fruitlessly tried to access his bus pass.

30 seconds went by.

Then a minute.

I was transfixed.

90 seconds, and finally he had progress.

The last bit was easier than you might think, he paid his fare, then came and sat down near me.

It was like I was in the presence of a proper showman, a rock star from a previous era, and I’d watched him in a mini-life movie, right there on the bus in Chicago.

I tell you this story, today, while I’m fighting off the winter blues, because as much as I’m thrilled to be facing a 4 month travel break, to recharge and restore…sometimes we do need to get out of our own little worlds to realize how big it is out there.

In the best case, art can help us do that too.

It’s the reason people like these portfolio review articles, I think, because it allows you to see so many different viewpoints and perspectives in each piece.

And at every festival I go to, the range of photographic work I see is as broad as Lake Michigan.

So here were are, speak of the devil, in Part 2 of “The Best Work I Saw at the Filter Photo Festival.”

As usual, the artists are in no particular order.

We’ll begin today with one of my favorite Chicago photographers, Yvette Marie Dostatni. We met at a festival a few years ago, and I loved her quirky, funny, and definitely absurd series, “The Conventioneers,” which I wrote about at the time.

Yvette and I stayed in touch, and I admit I’m a big fan of her work. But when I saw her at Photolucida this past Spring, I didn’t love some of what she showed me, and gave her a tough critique.

In the follow up, Yvette told me about a project she’d done visiting Indiana, where her family comes from, which she thought I might like.

(Boy, did I.)

As I didn’t get to feature Yvette in my Portland series, and she’s both Chicago through-and-through, and a former Filter participant, I thought it would be perfect to include her in this series.

I admired Thomas Brasch’s intention in his work immediately, as he described his desire to make healing, positive work out of terrorism against humanity.

Not an easy goal, to be sure.

He described an intensive digital process through which photographs taken at or near the scene of mass shootings were digitally manipulated into mandala-like creations.

I liked some more than others, but as I got to look at them consecutively, I got a sense of the good juju coming off of them. I’m actually showing a large selection below, because it creates a pretty cool sensation.

Thomas and I had a great chat about how such restrictions, (on process and form/shape,) which originally inspire us, eventually can be constraining, so it’s good to stay fluid.

Like Margaret LeJeune last week, I had one of “those” chats with Nina Riggio. The one where I explain why I think one project falls short, only to have the artist show me, with the next series in the box, that they had it all sorted already.

In Nina’s case, she had a documentary photo project about some Venus flytrap poachers in North Carolina that felt very “parachute journalism” to me, despite her passion.

I asked about things more personal, or connected to her life experience, and she brought out these images of Tesla factory workers who live in their vehicles.

As Nina had already told me she is based in a van, the intersection was powerful. I’ve written a lot about the West Coast, (and perhaps American) homelessness epidemic, and this is a really intriguing, poignant and visceral way to convey a part of the story.

Next, we’ve got Ruth Lauer Manenti, from the Catskills in NY, whom I met early on the first day of the festival. Ruth is a great example of what I wrote earlier, as she told me she was trained in painting and drawing, but had come to photography when she inherited an old large format camera.

Much as I’m currently using my photo skills to learn how to draw, (seeing is seeing,) Ruth figured out her own way of communicating photographically.

It’s spare, Zen, and very, very beautiful.

Love it!


Sam Scoggins is back in the column, as likely the first person to be featured twice, with different work, from two different festivals in the same year.

(Quite the achievement, if you think about it.)

After Photolucida, I published Sam’s black and white documentary photographs of Upstate NY night time party creatures. Then, he went on to have success with a artificial, digital landscape project.

But in Chicago, I noted him toting around a huge box of prints, but couldn’t see what they were. During the portfolio walk on Saturday night, based on their size and the edges that stuck out, I found that Sam had also been working on a cyanotype series as well.

Talk about prolific!

There are two groups, featuring endangered native species toned in oil, and then an invasive species bunch as well, all from near his home.

What a talented guy.