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.

Native species plants

 

Invasive plants


Finally, we have Sarah Pfohl, who is a photo professor in Indianapolis.

Sara told me that she was working on a very a personal documentary series on her family’s property in Upstate New York, as she did not expect to ever inherit it.

For her, the place represented home, but Sara felt there was limited amount of time that she’d be able to access it, and those feelings.

So her work amounted to memory-creation and capture, but also a quiet elegy to the death of her childhood, in a way. It’s a sad place to leave you, today, but then again, it’s November, with all the sad light.

See you next week!

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 6

 

I didn’t sleep well last night.

Not at all.

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

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

Ouch.
Oof.
Barf.

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

It didn’t work.

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

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

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

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

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

And so I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super-poignant stuff.

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

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

Powerful art, for sure.

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

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

An official Texas Historic Landmark, the Goliad Hanging Tree is a symbol of justice, Texas-style.
The newly freed African Americans of the Shiloh Community established a school for their children shortly after the Civil War. The one-room building was demolished in the late 1800’s and classes were held at the Shiloh Baptist Church.
The United States government has recently begun fortifying the border between the US and Mexico. This new gate actually separates American farmers from their croplands just to the south, still in the United States.
Built in 1930, Hamtramck Stadium was home to the Negro National League Detroit Stars in 1930-1931 and again in 1933. The field was also home to the Detroit Wolves of the Negro East-West League in 1932, and to the Negro American League Detroit Stars in 1937.
Houston Negro Hospital School of Nursing, built in 1931, now stands abandoned along with the hospital with which it once was associated.
Palimpsest of bricks closing the former entrance for “Colored People” at the Saenger Theatre in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
The first Mississippi state field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Medgar Evers was shot in the back in the carport of his humble home in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after midnight on June 12, 1963. He died less than a hour later at a nearby hospital.
During the Freedom Summer of 1964 three civil rights activists were jailed briefly in the small Neshoba County jail on trumped up charges. When Mickey Shwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were released that night, they were followed by Ku Klux Klan members tipped off by the sheriff’s office. They were forced off the road en route to their office in Meridian, taken to this remote backroads location and bludgeoned to death. Their bodies were later found in an earthen dam.
During the first half of the 20th century, the small community of Idlewild was known as “The Black Eden.” It was one of the few resorts in the country where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property, before discrimination was outlawed in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 5

 

I made a new friend the other day.

His name is Keith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth time: it scared me shitless.

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

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

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

Say what now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was grumpy, and spent, no question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get going!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dynamite (and tragic) stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 4

 

It’s been quite the year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

Yes, there’s a but…

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

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

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

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

And here I am complaining.

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

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

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

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

DIE, DID YOU HEAR ME?

DIE!!!!!

That’s the level of discourse these days.

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

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

Every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Do I sense a trend?
Yes I do.

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

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

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

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


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

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

The color and design elements are fantastic. Great stuff.

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

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

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


 

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

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

That said, I like these pictures a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

So here we are.

Enjoy.

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 3

 

Election season is in full swing.

(Even though we vote in 11.20)

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

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

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

Trump does it though, and it works for him.

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

(Oh, that’s right…)

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

No one would deny him that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photolucida rocks, no question.

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone was a pro, in that regard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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



 

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

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

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

Have a great summer weekend!

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 2

 

I started reading photo blogs in 2008.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re still here, though.

(And we have long memories.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was just so fucking loud.

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

Inside Dante’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.
You bet there were.

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

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

“They were totally white supremacists,” he replied.

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

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

“Like Antifa?” I asked?

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

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

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

One guy looked genuinely menacing, and ready to blow.

He was so fired up.

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

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

So we did.

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

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

So let’s get to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Ira, did you eat at Rockafellers yet?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I went to bed.

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

Crazy stuff.

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

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

It’s just really hard to do.

See you next week!

 

The Best Work I Saw at Photolucida: Part 1

 

Part I

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

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

In general, I agree with him.

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

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

Honestly, though, I never believed it.

Not for a second.

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

No matter what.

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

And here we are, in 2019.

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

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

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

Do the Republicans want to control everything forever?

One party rule?

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

At what point do we take that seriously?

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

A healthy America needs two healthy political parties.

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

 

Part II

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