This Week in Photography: The Power of Art

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

 

Hope.

Such a powerful four-letter word.

[ED note: I swear I wrote this before Hope Hicks and Donald Trump tested positive for the Coronavirus.]

As a long-time cultural critic, who discusses American politics and global themes, of course things have been a bit dark here lately.

How could they not be?

Given the colossal shit-show that was the Trump-Biden debate on Tuesday night, and the foul mood it put me into when I woke up yesterday, you’d be right to assume that this column, written the next day, would be pessimistic and fraught.

 

 

It would be the obvious move, what with Trump telling the Proud Boys to stand by, like his personal white nationalist army.

Normally, I’d lean into that.

Right?

Well, we all get tired of Doom and Gloom, and frankly, I had the most amazing, life-affirming experience yesterday.

It represented pretty much the best that humanity, and art in particular, has to offer.

So I’m going to write about it for you now.

(No frantic fear today, thankfully.)

We’re going positive, courtesy of some inspiring artists from America, England, France and Germany.

 

Part 2. The backstory

 

As you might imagine, writing about photo books as I do, I get a lot of emails from publishers and press agents.

It’s literally part of the job.

Every now and again, one such person begins to seem like a whole, fully realized human, not just an email signature at the bottom of a piece of business.

In this case, I’m thinking of Liv Constable-Maxwell, who does press for MACK, the highly successful, independent photo-book publisher based in London.

The truth is, I’ve been doing this column long enough that I actually interviewed Michael Mack, the titular publisher, on a trip to London back in 2012.

He gave me some great advice about photo books having the potential to be art objects, (when they’re done right,) and I’ve quoted him on that many times, even though we never spoke again.

(I turned up at the MACK offices sweaty and late, which was not my finest hour. Sprinting around Tottenham Court Road, looking for an office building without knowing where you’re going, will give the stress sweats to anyone.)

But I’m getting off topic with an unnecessary diversion.

The point is, Liv seems proper cool, and in our back and forth communication about the MACK fall offerings, she invited me to a new-school, hybridized, online event that could only exist in Covid-reality. (Though it was intended to be IRL, and some of the planners actually met on the day before the world shut down.)

 

The gist is this: SFMOMA had an exhibition last year, (in San Francisco,) featuring a set of polaroids of a man dressed in drag.

They represented a persona, April Dawn Alison, who was adopted by a Bronx-born, Oakland-based commercial photographer named Alan Schaefer.

Like Vivian Maier, he lived and died unknown as an artist, and when the museum was offered a look at his posthumous archive, which featured more than 9200 prints, they jumped at the chance.

 

The curator, Erin O’Toole, (whom I once interviewed for the NYT,) put together a show built around the multiple mini-series that April shot, and then did a book on the project with MACK as well.

(So far, it makes sense, as museum shows are turned into books all the time.)

From there, though, things get perfectly #2020.

Michael Mack showed the book to Robert Raths, the German-born, London-based head of Erased Tapes, an East London recording label, and he showed it to Douglas Dare, a young, gay singer in his roster. (Who also dresses in drag.)

As a result, Douglas wrote three original songs based on the photographs, and yesterday, MACK and its partners put on a live-streamed concert, including a panel discussion, in which Douglas Dare debuted the music to a global audience following along on Zoom.

Which thankfully included me and my 8 year old daughter, who loves to sing and dance, in addition to play the keyboard, strum the ukulele, paint, draw, take pictures and sculpt.

 

by Amelie Blaustein

(What else is a kid going to do in lockdown?)

Watching the performance, with her on my lap, was one of the best hours I’ve spent this year, and in a world devoid of much creative interaction, (IRL,) this was the next best thing for sure.

 

Part 3: The performance

 

I know that Liv played a big part in producing the event, which she said took a year to pull off, which was also partly led by Claudine Boeglin, a French creative director who was on the panel with Michael Mack and Robert Raths.

The sat together, maskless, while Douglas Dare was off to the left at a piano, and Erin O’Toole Zoomed in from SF.

(Liv later sent me this behind-the-scenes image of everyone masked up beforehand. I imagine the panelists might have had Covid tests?)

Courtesy of Liv Constable-Maxwell

 

I admit I haven’t seen live music in a while, and once wrote of acting like a drunk donkey at a Mississippi Hill Country Blues show in New Orleans, so one might say I was primed for something like this.

But the first song, “April” sent chills down my spine, it was so good.

I hadn’t heard Douglas Dare’s music before, but it was immediately engaging, and, frankly, perfect.

 

I made some quick videos of the screen, which I’ll be able to share with you via Youtube, and by the end of the song, Amelie was singing along, which I also captured. (She launched into “Who Let The Dogs Out” at the end, which I later learned was because she had just seen “Trolls World Tour”.)

 

There were interview segments in between, and Douglas said he tried to only go on what he saw in the pictures, and not to make too many assumptions.

“I love writing songs that are stories,” he said. “Getting a picture and then writing the songs feeds my creativity completely. Having the restriction allows you to play a lot with it. With April, there’s so little to go on.”

Erin O’Toole picked up on that thought, in her brief comments. There was no set of instructions left behind with the archive, so she had to make her own moral, ethical, and curatorial decisions about “what it means to show pictures that were once private.”

“The consensus was there was so much they offered to people who were living, who could benefit from seeing the pictures,” she said. “They cried out to be seen. What Douglas has done has reinforced that for me. If we hadn’t put these pictures out into the world, he wouldn’t have made these beautiful songs.”

The second song, “Your Face is Her’s,” was equally compelling, and the way the producers interspersed April Dawn Alison’s images with the concert was super-rad.

 

It amped up the emotional connection to both artists, as well as the bond between them, one living and one dead.

“She’s become an angel in my mind…and I wanted to do her justice,” Douglas said.

Speaking of the word bond, as some of the images featured symbols of bondage, my daughter asked, of April, “Did he get arrested?”

“No,” I said.

“Then what’s with the handcuffs” she replied?

Ever attuned to shock value, when I asked her at the end what she thought of the April Dawn Alison project, she said, “I thought, stop talking about this guy. So he dresses like a woman. So what? It’s not like he’s nude or anything.”

“Is that what you actually thought, or are you just trying to be funny,” I asked?

“Both,” she said.

 

Part 4. The Big Ideas

 

You know by now that I love linking columns together, and it was only two weeks ago that I discussed the male gaze, and the impact that it has on women, even at a young age.

So the above quote by my 8 year old daughter is telling, as she would have found nudity, by a man dressed as a woman, to be a whole other story entirely.

And the question also came up in the Q&A, when someone asked what the panel thought might have influenced Alan Schaefer the most, when he became April?

Erin O’Toole answered she thought it was “based on the kinds of images of women that Schaefer would have absorbed as person living in the US at that time. Images types you would see in noir films, or advertisements in magazines. He was mimicking visual tropes about women that were in the media.”

That her words were beamed from San Francisco, through London, and back to New Mexico via a vast array of undersea cables and internet routers, was never lost on me.

The whole hour was simply riveting.

Douglas Dare sang a final new song, “Camera” which was also terrific, before he ended with a previously recorded song that reminded me a bit too much of Radiohead.

 

And there was another question in the Q & A that really turned up the inspiration juice, (by asking how Mack and Raths made their creative choices,) as Robert Raths offered up some really great advice about his practice, which I think applies to us all.

 

“I believe in flow,” he said. “I believe in the natural power that guides my hand and my mind. I’m curious. I try to do as little as possible. I try to observe.”

“To not get involved too much, only when it’s needed. I’m really fine with that. But sometimes it’s really hard work to do almost nothing.”

He continued by saying “when I come across a project or idea, I try to make it as approachable as possible for as many minds.”

Michael Mack challenged him, by stating there was nothing “mainstream” about his record label artists.

“I try to guide people to the subject matter in the most effortless way,” Raths elaborated. “I always go with how my mind works. With what gets my attention. How much information do I need to get curious about something?”

When it was Michael Mack’s turn to answer, he said that he was often asked if he wanted to be more commercial, and his answer was, “I have absolutely no interest in that. It’s almost a luxury to maintain a focus that is on the specific things that interest me. Not to choose things for other reasons.”

“It almost sounds selfish. But that’s true. It’s what I think I can contribute to because I think it’s valid.”

Robert Raths concluded by extrapolating out of his own role, to ours, the audience.

“We all have talents,” he said. “There is no difference between the performer and the listener. Listening is a talent. Being in the moment and being intuitive is very important.

People don’t give themselves time to.”

So that’s where we’ll end today, in this column I couldn’t have dreamed I’d write when I woke up yesterday.

Yes, things are scary right now.

Yes, we don’t know what comes next.

But as I’ve exhorted you many times during the last 6.5 months of chaos and quarantine, get out there and make things. Share your thoughts with the world through your art.

And don’t forget to make time to listen, watch, and think as well.

The quiet can be a powerful teacher.

The Art of the Personal Project: Joe Pugliese

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Joe Pugliese

This year has been a most unusual time for photographers that are accustomed to a busy calendar, frequently engaging with human subjects. For me, the slowdown of work gave me space to really witness my three and a half year-old son Lucian. 

Being at home for much longer periods of time made me see his energy in a new way, and I wanted to document it somehow. I thought of the old corny comic strip Family Circus where the sporadic path of a child’s day was marked with a dotted line to show how much ground he covered. I was really impressed by the way Lucian occupies his spaces, playing in every inch of wherever he finds himself. It made me reflect on how sedentary we become as adults unless we’re intentionally partaking in an activity.

I also enjoyed infusing a motion element into this still work, extrapolating a narrative from the confines of a single frame. Often in my commercial work, compositing and stitching together frames is a way to solve problems and fix mistakes. It was nice to approach this series with the purpose of making an entire group portrait of one singular energy, claiming his surroundings and seizing each day.

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

 

The Daily Edit – The Portrait Project: Priscilla Gragg

- - The Daily Edit

The Portrait Project

Photographer: Priscilla Gragg
Instagram
Project Instagram

Heidi: You started this in 2016, how has it evolved over the years?
Priscilla: Yes, it has evolved a lot! From lighting to color palette to the creatives that get involved, each year it gets better and better! It is always so fun to see the project come to life. Our first year was just me, hair and make-up and wardrobe stylist. Last year, aside from the crew that works on the photo shoot and get the kids ready, we had vendors coming in and collaborating with goodies for a tote bag for families. Other vendors brought in fun toys, books, accessories that families could shop around while kiddos were having their photos taken. I love supporting local businesses so bringing them in to be a part of our photo shoot was a no brainer! This year due to Covid the experience will be a bit different as we will be minimizing time on set and number of people.

Aside from your love of photography, what other emotions come from a project like this?
I believe that when people get together to do something for the good, there is a certain energy that happens and it is hard to explain. It is like magic. Usually when I am on a photo shoot, I have certain goals to achieve in order to help communicate my client’s message. There are lots of meetings, talks and planning about mood, feel, crops, spacing for type, etc. For The Portrait Project my only goal is to get the very essence of my little subjects. It is honest, organic, it is the simple action of capture who they are. Then the profits from the sessions go directly to purchasing children in need toys during the holidays. The idea of using my photography skills to give back to the community is overwhelming. To me, it is a simple thing to do, to the parents it means so much and to the children receiving the toys, I have no words! I have done lots of monetary donations to different organizations and different needs, however, the feeling of rolling up your sleeves and using this one talent you have to help someone you have never met and never will is truly amazing to me.

How did you overcome the Covid this year?
There was a lot of adapting. It has been a very humbling experience from the photography/business perspective. I was used to always working with a big crew of talented people and all of the sudden, I was wearing many hats: steaming clothes, prepping hair and skin, changing them, setting up lights, shooting and wrangling; then editing, prepping, organizing and sharing files. Finally, packing up clothes and dropping them off at the post office to be returned. That’s at least 5-6 different roles on set! I have always appreciated my photo and production crew but now I have a different level of respect for them! Things are changing these days and we can shoot with smaller crews while keeping it safe;I am truly excited for that! And for The Portrait Project, we are keeping a bare minimal of people on set: 1 family per 30 min. This gives us some time to disinfect in between sessions. Everyone is required to wear a mask and the kids get to take them off for photo time only. Parents will get to prep the kids, and they should arrive camera ready. All images will be selected by parents at a later time via Zoom call to minimize time on set. It is all a big adjustment but with a little creativity and hard work it can be done safely.

Why did you start this project? 
I grew up in Brazil and lived in a neighborhood that had shawty towns all around. During the holidays, my dad – who did not have much at all, would go purchase a few simple toys that me and my sisters helped deliver to the children at the shawty towns. Seeing the happy faces of those kids is something that stayed with me my whole life. I have two children of my own now and they are lucky that most of their holiday wishes come true, but I need them to be aware of the fact that is it not the case to every child. By creating TPP, it is my way to give back and plant that seed of hope that our girls will one day do the same. I also make sure to communicate with the families that come for The Portrait Project about how important it is for their children to understand how they are helping with the donations by participating in this project.

If someone wants to book a session or volunteer, how can they find out more? 
Booking a session is tricky because it sells out quickly, like last year within 5 minutes after going live. So the best way to know when they will be live and ready for purchase is by subscribing to our newsletter over at casastudiophoto.com . For volunteering please email studio@priscillagragg.com

What have you learned about yourself and your work by doing this project? 
That when you pour your heart into a project that is meaningful to you, it truly resonates with people. I have countless clients that came to me because they saw images or videos shot for The Portrait Project.

Featured Promo – Robin Westfield

- - The Daily Promo

Robin Westfield

Who printed it?
Newspaper Club, based in the UK. I had read great reviews about the work they do, and the prints I received lived up to my expectations.

Who designed it?
I did… I am a fashion and beauty photographer by trade, but also comfortable as a graphic artist with Adobe InDesign.

Tell me about the images?
As with many of us that work in the creative field, I found myself with a lot of (unwanted) free time here in Montreal, waiting out the uncertainty of the lockdown during the late spring/early summer days of the pandemic, not knowing what would come of the rest of the year.

I gathered that there would be no better time than the present to put the finishing touches to a printed version of my portfolio. I had been working on it for a few months, but, before the lockdown, I was too busy to give it the time it needed to be completed. It is a collection of my favorite photos, from personal creatives to client briefs, that also included my personal travels. It starts with a fashion exhibition of Alexander McQueen in London, followed by shoots in Singapore and on the outskirts of Paris, and ends on a personal project done back home in Montreal. I also wanted to provide a short story for each shoot, which I edited with the help of my partner Sara. My main desire was to share either the inspiration or the circumstances that brought me to each personal photo essay.

How many did you make?
100

How many times a year do you send out promos?
It was my first time sending out physical copies to prospective clients.

Do you think printed promos are effective for marketing your work?
Definitely. I was very happy with the reply rate to this portfolio (far better than any email blast). I feel that the process of creating it helped me to re-evaluate my archive and the direction I wanted to take with my photography moving forward. It was an invaluable tool to revisit my older work and to plan my future creative projects in the field

This Week in Photography: The Rise of Fascism?

- - Photography Books

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I was doom-scrolling before bed last night.

(Never a good idea.)

It was hard to look away from the computer screen, with lots of posts and articles about President Trump refusing to state that he’ll honor the results of the election.

In one way, it’s nothing new, as he equivocated in that famous 2016 debate I wrote about, as I watched in what was essentially a party at the Hammer Museum in LA.

But this felt different, for sure.

Here we are, six weeks from the election, and in addition to his attacks on mail-in voting during a pandemic, and insistence on stacking the Supreme Court for a generation, he’s now implying that he won’t leave office if he doesn’t like or trust the result.

This feels like a potential extinction-level event for American Democracy.

RED ALERT!

Get your fucking head in the game, people.

Or maybe it isn’t?

Maybe he’s just trolling all of us, talking shit, trying to distract (again) from the 200,000 dead, and his terrible poll numbers in swing states.

As I was explaining to my daughter last week, this is a man who’s biggest job, before becoming President, was saying “You’re Fired,” in a dramatic Queens accent, for reality television viewers.

 

 

 

He thrives on playing the heel so much, for winding up the educated liberals, the coastal elites, that the line between reality and fantasy is so blurred, even a resolute cultural critic like me is totally confused.

Is he really threatening Civil War, or the dawn of Trumpian dictatorship?

Or is he saying this shit because he knows how much we’re afraid of that, and he likes fucking with our heads?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But it’s caused me to question my relationship to this country, and turned our flag into an object that can send chills down my spine, rather than evoke pride at all times.

(Meaning, as a young child in the 70’s and 80’s, I was happy to see the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I had no irony about it in any way.)

For example, in addition to the scary camerawork at the RNC, (which I wrote about once already,) I was watching an MMA fight on ESPN+ the other day, between a racist, bad-boy Florida-based white guy, and an African-American fighter from Ferguson, MO. (Who’d previously appeared with Sly Stallone in an action film.)

Courtesy of NBC News

 

It was Colby Covington against Tyron Woodley.

I didn’t know much about the backstory, but I’d heard Covington was an asshole, and these guys didn’t like each other very much.

Unfortunately, Woodley, a former champ, is at the end of his career, so he didn’t put up much of a fight.

It ended in the 5th and final round, when Woodley appeared to quit, by tapping when he wasn’t in a submission hold, but apparently he broke his rib, and that was that.

Immediately thereafter, Covington wrapped himself in the American flag, (literally,) thanked the military and first responders, and took a call from Trump, which he put on speakerphone.

 

 

I later learned that they’re friends, (Covington and Trump,) that Eric and Don Jr had been ringside at one of his previous fights, and that Colby had trashed Brazilians, IN BRAZIL, for being “filthy animals.”

 

 

Racism at its finest, people, and that it was so associated with our flag made me feel really bad inside.

Is this just schtick?

Like the Iron Sheik, the pro wrestler back in the 80’s, only now the trolling enemy is an American?

Is he just doing it to get attention, like Conor McGregor, or is a major sports institution actively promoting MAGA, allowing the denigration of their Black fighters in real time? (England’s Leon Edwards certainly seemed to take exception.)

 

Who the hell knows what’s going on anymore?

 

Part 2. A Tough Week

 

It’s been a symbolic week, because I also saw “Jojo Rabbit,” the Nazi comedy directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi.

That’s right, I said Nazi comedy.

I was reluctant to watch it, because I couldn’t imagine such a concept landing, but it was a pretty smart film in many ways.

The casting and acting were spot on, because who doesn’t like Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson?

 

It had cute, vulnerable kids, and Waititi plays Hitler in an over-the-top, absurdist way, as the young lead character’s imaginary best friend.

(So he’s not actually Hitler. He’s PRETEND Hitler.)

The point of the story, (even if the ending is not exactly happy,) is that when we get to know people, when they are humanized, it’s much harder to demonize them and put them in ovens.

Oh, I forgot to mention, I watched it with my kids.

My son is old enough for that sort of thing, but my 8 year old daughter didn’t really know about the Holocaust yet, so this was a strange introduction to the topic.

(We went with it.)

At one point, my son looked at me and asked, “I wonder if our ancestors would be OK with us laughing at Hitler?”

A very good question.

After I finished the film, I hit up Wikipedia, and learned that Waititi is half-Jewish, (or fully Jewish by the rules, as his mother is Jewish,) and his original last name was Cohen.

So this fits in with the contemporary tradition of people telling stories from within their own communities.

Still, a few days later, and I still don’t know what to think.

Is it OK to laugh at that kind of mega-tragedy?

Did the Germans have any idea, when Hitler was just an angry loud-mouth riling up right-wing kids to take to the streets, where things would end up?

Do we, 6 weeks out, know if America will be a functioning democracy in 2021?

 

Part 3. I Forgot the Trigger Warning

 

I should have warned you that today’s column would be heavy, but then again, how could it not be?

I was inspired by a set of photo-books that my friend Reto lent me a couple of weeks ago, as he knows I write about books for you each week. (Or most weeks anyway.)

Reto is from Switzerland, and recently told me he had some vintage German photo books, from the first half of the 20th Century, and they were fascinating for the quality of the reproductions.

That was the sum total of the build-up, and when he offered to drop them by, I said sure.

The next week, I was flipping through quickly, as he was due in 20 minutes to train Thai martial arts by our stream, and I stopped dead in my tracks when I came to the picture of a young Aryan soldier in front of the Nazi flag.

WTF!!!!!!

I kept flipping, and came to a super-scary image of a Zeppelin in the sky, with tall Nazi flags below, and then images of the Fuhrer himself.

At that point, I closed the cover, and saw the book was the annual from 1934.

I re-opened it, and sure enough, Hitler had written the book’s introduction.

The other two volumes were from 1928/29, and 1931, so I realized I’d looked out of order.

I started over, beginning at the beginning, and the first book actually has mostly innocuous, well-made, landscape, nature and people images.

It is the smallest of the three, (even though it covers two years,) and there are a few nudes thrown in as well. (Connecting to last week’s column.)

The graphic design of the camera and film company ads in the back is pretty great too.

 

By 1931, I imagine the series was more popular, as there are far more photos, and we see some images taken outside Germany as well.

Two caught my attention in particular, as they were of a young Saudi Arabian Jewish girl, swarthy, and in profile to exaggerate her nose, and an old Syrian Jewish man in Aleppo.

They are exoticized, for sure, but no Hitler in this book.

Though there are Bauhaus-style abstractions, and some more nudes.

I also noticed a few martial, sports images, as there are Jiu-Jitsu fighters included for the first time.

 

Finally, circling back to 1934, and it’s obvious the tone is now one of propaganda.

Lots of workers, and machinery.

And workers working with machinery.

People look happy, even the farmers, and then once you see the Nazi images, you can’t unsee them. (Plus, the pairing of pigs and women is pretty misogynistic.)

Reto offered to bring me more books from the set, as he said he has a ton of vintage photo books that his Dad collected, and I said sure, but I probably had enough of a view to write this column.

Oddly, in the 1934 book, there was an Alfred Eisenstaedt image taken of young soldiers or athletes training in the Mussolini forum, and I was surprised, because I imagined he was Jewish.

(There were no pictures of Jews in the 1934 edition.)

So I fired up Wikipedia again, and learned that Eisenstaedt was in fact Jewish, and fled to America in 1935.

This more or less represented the end of the line for him in his native country.

You can see how having all this in my head in one week is a bit much.

All we can do is hope for the best, I guess.

And vote like your life depends on it.

Because maybe it does?

The Art of the Personal Project: Billy Delfs

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Billy Delfs

Detroit to Niagara is a series I thought about a lot while growing up in Cleveland (my home town). Having spent the majority of my life along the southern coast of Lake Erie, the smallest of the Great Lakes, I always wondered what was on the other side.  In what could take 4 hours to drive from coast to coast, these 5 days traversing in and out of the coastline became a valuable study of light and making better pictures in unknown territory.

I gravitated toward the landscape and noticed how the farm fields have all been converted to wind farms, the coastlines are pristine, the camp sites in the national parks system I stayed were some of the best taken care of I have been, and the people pleasantly soft spoken.

 

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

 

Featured Promo – Paul Dimalanta

- - The Daily Promo

Paul Dimalanta

Tell me about this promo.
At the beginning of the year, the marketing plan was to edit down my email list, go to more portfolio shows, and follow up with printed mailer follow-ups. After getting all my print collateral designed and printed the pandemic hit, and people could no longer meet and no one was at the office.

My initial reaction was to just wait. To pass the time I broke out some puzzles to complete with my wife that were saved from our yearly tradition spending time with friends in a cabin in Tahoe over New Years. We would snowboard in the day time, play drinking games, and dance into the night, but we always had a puzzle in the corner for a quiet semi-social activity whenever we needed to chill.

We quickly completed the few puzzles we had then ordered more of increasing difficulty. I fell in love with the flow state I would get into while finding pieces, analyzing textures, and subtle changes of color. It filled a void I had for visual problem solving, I felt like I was flexing similar muscles as when I retouch photos or mix colors when painting.

I was also fascinated by how I interacted with the image, and learn about the world piecing together. That interaction was what inspired me to create my own puzzle using images that meant a lot to me. It also made sense because so many people that I work with Art Director, Creative Buyers, Producers are visual problem solvers, and I thought sharing this gift would help people relax a little during these stressful times.

Who designed it?
I wanted the packaging to be simple and elegant like a coffee table book. I have just enough of a design background to use InDesign and Illustrator to take the style guide my designer, Joe Lee, created for my brand to create the packaging for these puzzles.

Who printed it?
I tried several companies, and in the process became a bit of a puzzle snob. The first company left a weird metallic residue on my fingers, another company had pieces that didn’t quite snap together the way I liked, another had a varnish that was too shiny. I also was looking for a place I could have total control over the design of the box.

I finally printed puzzles using https://www.createjigsawpuzzles.com/sell/dimalanta
They had a nice blend of all the things I wanted, and they gave me full control to design my template in Adobe Illustrator.

How many times a year do you send out promos?
Prior to Covid I would send out mailers 2-4 times a year. I would generally shortlist people I found that opened or clicked through my emailers. This year the only promos I sent out were in the form of these puzzles. I will get back to my regular schedule when people are back in the office.

How many did you make?
This first batch I had printed 25. The hard part was tracking down people I have worked or have met with because I had to ask for an address I could ship to outside of the office.

Tell me about the images.
The image I used was captured in Lake Como while on vacation with my wife. We had just finished our gelato in the town of Menaggio and took a walk along the lakeside. I chose this image because I wanted to share that calm and content feeling I had when took this photo.

Do you think printed promos are effective for marketing your work?
Print promos are just another tool in the toolbox. The best thing about print promo is that you have so much control over how the viewer will see the final image — the size, the scale, the texture. It feels finished, tactile and real. Those attributes can hurt you if you aren’t thoughtful about the process, but when it comes together it can be a great extension of your brand.

How did the campaign go?
The response I got was great, I got a few selfies with the box, and a couple of people showed off how quickly they put it together. One person said they aren’t into puzzles, but thought it looked great on their coffee table. So between the response, and the follow-ups needed to get all the right addresses, it was a total success, and I plan to do another round after meeting more people in the various virtual meetings I have been able to attend.

The Daily Edit – American Window: Ethan Pines

- - The Daily Edit

Pictured: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Pictured: thermal pools and mineral deposits, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

RV road trip with family and friends through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah, July 2020.

PIctured: buffalo, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

PIctured: Eddie Mitchell, store owner, 74, Greybull, Wyoming.

PIctured: Crazy Horse Memorial, South Dakota.

Pictured: Old Trail Town, Cody, Wyoming.

Pictured: streetscape, Greybull, Wyoming.

PIctured: Rocky Mountain goat along the highway, Glacier National Park, Montana.

Pictured: deer at a sawmill along the road.

PIctured: Mount Rushmore, as seen from the highway, South Dakota.

PIctured: buffalo crossing the road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.


Ethan Pines: American Window

Heidi: How did this project start, and why?
Ethan: After being housebound for months, we and another family — along with much of the country — decided to take a summer road trip. We rented an RV, packed it to the gills (my camera bags lived in the shower) and headed out with few reservations and a loose 4,500-mile route through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah.

The project started on Day 2 of the trip. Before that morning, I didn’t know what I’d be seeing or how meaningful it might be. Waking up in a small town in Nevada, which was only a brief stop on the way to Idaho, I realized that we’d be seeing some special places and moments, both on and off the beaten path. And as I started looking at everything not just as a traveler but in a more studied, photographic way, I started seeing vignettes and juxtapositions that struck me. There’s a lot out there, especially in the areas of the country that haven’t been heavily commercialized.

What struck you about this personal project and why were you proud of it?
I was itching to shoot something personal and meaningful. It’s always important to shoot personal work, but this summer it felt especially rewarding to be creating fresh, self-guided work. I was doing something for myself. I was creating images I wanted to share. And I felt like a hunter — hyper aware, watching for those moments, shooting with intention, working the moments and juxtapositions until I had something. Hopefully they resonate with others.

I’m proud of everything I put out there. In this case, I felt like I was capturing not just what we saw, but what it was like. I also feel like I pushed myself in terms of visual mood and language. While my commercial work tends to have pop and contrast and clean color, here I worked with exposure and color grading and reduced contrast to bring out more mood, tone, emotional range. The restrained highlights and slightly chalky blacks also generate a painterly feel. I’m putting up a new fine-art website, and I’m going to launch it with selects from this project. But the series is a photo essay and should be seen as a whole.

What was it like traveling with your newborn?
It was the best. Moxie would babble and pant excitedly every time we strapped her to our chests and left the RV to see new places and people. Of course a nine-month-old takes work, and it certainly disrupted her sleep training. But whom you travel with is as important as where you travel to, and she was a sunny, funny travel companion.

Was your child a catalyst for this observation out the window?
I wouldn’t say she was a catalyst for the observation; more of a limiter, in a good way. Having a child with limited patience — in fact, two entire families with limited patience — forced me to look keenly, choose wisely and shoot selectively. I also shot 95 percent of the series on medium format (Leaf Credo 60 on an H4x), which is a slower, more deliberate way of working than 35mm. I love the big viewfinder and sensor, the aspect ratio, the color, the depth, everything about that setup.

What window did you photograph from?
Very little of the series was actually shot through a window. I was in and out of the RV all the time. As I thought about how to title the project, I wanted to convey not only that it emerged from a road trip, but that it offered a view of this country, a series of vignettes that show something about the U.S. American Window seems to carry that. There’s metaphor in a window. It’s a view, an opening, a portal through which lies something more. It offers a framed glimpse into what’s out there.

What do you hope Moxie would learn from these images?
Don’t judge; there are good people everywhere. Use asymmetry and imbalance in your compositions. Remember to include context. Stop and get that burger and fries. Shoot the odd moments and scenes that don’t really seem like photographs at first. Get out of the car and position yourself where you need to be. This country isn’t all one way or the other. Look deeply when you can. Think about what you’re seeing. Why is it that way? How did it get here? Look at things twice, even three times. Use your photography to illuminate. There’s beauty in things that aren’t beautiful.

This Week in Photography: Objectifying Women

 

I’ve been thinking about this column for a long time now.

(Six months, maybe eight.)

I even wrote it once, but then decided not to publish, as it didn’t feel right at the time.

Thankfully, today is the day, due to some unforeseen coincidence, or divine intervention, depending on your perspective.

It began two days ago, when I was scrolling through Instagram, and came across a photo of a very attractive, naked young woman, getting into a swimming pool. (Or something like that, it was a quick look.)

The image reminded me of something out of Playboy in the 80’s, and I was stupefied for a moment.

Doesn’t Instagram have rules against this sort of thing, I wondered?

I scrolled back to the photo, and clicked on the person’s profile, and lo and behold, there was an entire set of similar images.

Very pretty young women, naked, and shot in color by a white, male photographer who appeared to be in his 30’s or 40’s.

It didn’t conform to the stereotype of the leering, older man shooting black and white photos of nude women standing below big rocks, or leaning on trees suggestively.

No, this was more modern than that, and really, I couldn’t help wonder how this was deemed appropriate in #2020?

For all the media buzz around the shift in power dynamics, and the need to respect the perspectives of women and People of Color, it seemed so out of touch with contemporary reality.

So I did a Facebook post about it, without naming the artist, (as I’m not now, though I did reach out to him for comment, but he declined,) and not surprisingly the feedback was voluminous and fierce.

One artist, who does thoughtful nude work in black and white, suggested there was more nuance than simply deeming the entire practice off-limits, but in general, the tenor of the conversation was one of frustration, shock, not-shocked-at-all-but-angry, and cynicism.

How could any artist working today, one formed by the reality of the 21st Century, think it was OK to shoot pin-up soft-core porn and see it as art?

Much less post it on a public platform like Instagram?

So I went to his website, and there is a section for nudes, and a blog post about the ethics, that was written many years ago.

This was no random experiment, or so it would seem.

And speaking of random, and the potential of chance, part of why I waited so long to re-write this column was that I couldn’t find one of the two books I’m going to feature.

I had it once, decided not to review it, tried to review it with this companion book, and then it disappeared.

(My wife is known in our home for moving things around a few times a year.)

I wanted to write this column, and felt bad about losing the book, but I simply could not find it, no matter how many times I searched for the spine on my book shelves.

And then… on the same day I saw that Instagram image, I found myself looking down at a little Indonesian chest, upon which my wife had set a small pile of novels.

I noticed a book at the bottom, and it had one of those spines in which you can see the book binding, but there was no information at all.

Could it be, I wondered?

What are the chances?

Sure enough, I reached down in hope, and picked up Jordanna Kalman’s “Little Romances,” published by Daylight in 2019.

Hallelujah!

Eureka!

Fuck yeah!

We were in business, because it meant I could bring this column out in the perfect week.

The other book we’ll look at, “A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter,” was self-published by Melissa Borman in 2019, and both women wrote to me directly last year to see if I’d review their books.

These didn’t just show up in the mail because some PR Agent somewhere hoped I might cover them.

They chose me, and so I gave the books consideration, but each time, it didn’t feel quite right.

In each case, the taste level felt a touch off from what I like.

They were edgy, but not quite enough. Poetic, but in a heavy-handed way.

Imperfect, but not like an intentional extra thread on a Navajo rug.

(I subjected them to my “Goldilocks” standards, and they came up wanting.)

But then, I read an OP-Ed in the NYT by Brit Marling, the writer, director, and actor, (who starred in the Batshit-crazy Netflix series “The OA,”) and it got me thinking.

She discussed the idea that the Hero’s journey, basically the base-level operating code of all storytelling, was totally male-centric.

Which I get.

Thousands of years of men telling stories about men doing manly things.

So I asked myself, is my taste so male-centric, (given that I’m a man,) that I might occasionally have a blind spot to overtly female-centric work?

Even though I’m a feminist, and show female artists all the time?

I wrote this in a column, but as I said above, it wasn’t the right column for the right day, so I set it aside. (And promptly lost Jordanna’s book.)

At the time, I remember thinking the books were sensitive in a way that didn’t resonate with me. And as my parents used that as a pejorative term, to attack me, (“You’re too sensitive,”) I couldn’t get myself to figure out these books.

Eventually, I began to wonder, what if I’m not meant to get them, entirely?

What if by subverting the traditional, male-centric way of telling stories, or creating artistic narratives, there is that 5% that is designed for women?

If that were true, wouldn’t that be OK?

Or more than OK?

Maybe it’s even subversive?

So here we are.

It’s #2020, and white guys are still taking pictures of hot naked chicks, and posting them out and proud on a public platform.

Let’s get on with the subversion.

“Little Romances” features a series of images of nude pictures of the artist, (and her young daughter,) that were made by the artist herself.

Jordanna Kalman is taking back her own right to share her body, in her own way, on her own terms, because she wants to, and because she can.

Due to our long-standing policy against showing work considered NSFW, I’m going to limit how much I show of the full nudes. Even though, as I write this, I’m wondering how many people are even at “work” in the traditional sense?

There are images which are printed, and treated as sculptures, or covered with flowers, and then re-photographed.

They are well made, thoughtful, and dreamy, and I like them, but normally I want to love something.

Between the risk of showing a young naked child, and the hyper-poetic aesthetic, I still see why they’re not quite right, in my opinion.

But in this case, I don’t think my opinion is the ultimate arbiter, and the book has cleared my biggest threshold of making me want to write about it.

 

Melissa Borman’s book is similar in many ways.

She photographs women, in color, in relationship to the landscape. There is no nudity to speak of, but they scream “feminine” like a drum circle filled with Oprah Winfrey, Gwenyth Paltrow, and a class full of women’s studies majors at Smith.

I joke, (which is itself a risk in a column like this,) but the pictures will show you what I mean.

Interspersed are snippets of poetry by Sylvia Plath, and a set of graphic images that suggest the cosmos, (which are also depicted on the cover.)

With respect to empowerment, and creativity, and taking back the narrative, this book is pretty awesome, and of the moment.

I know what I’d do differently, if I were shooting these pictures, but again, the entire point is that I’m not.

These are photographs of women, by a woman, and on some level, it is pretty rad that I’m not the target audience.

They’re certainly accomplished, and smart, and I like the way the book was made.

 

As with Jordanna’s book, this makes me want to write.

It makes me want to punch someone in the nose, if that person thinks the objectification of women in the media is not a problem.

My 8 year old daughter grabs her belly, pressing together any extra fat, every time I tell her she has a beautiful, healthy body.

She’s 8, and already has body issues, because of the world we live in. (Maybe she’s watching too many perfect teens on Netflix?)

Regardless, I’m glad these issues are finally getting addressed, and that some attempt at balancing power is being made in the wider world.

For all the times I’ve written the equivalent of “Can’t we all just get along?,” once in a while, it’s important to also say, when the world isn’t fair, people need to do something about it.

To Purchase “Little Romances” click here

To Purchase “A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter” click here

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

The Art of the Personal Project: Bob Stevens

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Bob Stevens

An agent pal of mine in NY, reached out to me because he had gotten wind of a potential bid opportunity. He knows that I like to shoot personal, self-assigned images as often as possible, so thought I would be interested. He had few details except for these: the women needed to be 55+ years of age and photographed without any makeup. No clue who the client was, etc. And he wanted samples within a couple of days.

I called my bestie in the talent agency biz, shared the specs and had an online gallery to view within an hour. She offered me her casting room to shoot in. A 10’x10’ ‘studio’ was not my ideal scenario, but hey, that ‘Necessity/Invention” saying comes to mind.

Driven by logistics and a desire to make the environment as intimate as possible, I used one light, a fill card and a small canvas backdrop. My objective was to keep things simple and compact.

I invited these women to pose for me with no makeup, clothed in a way that would allow me to show them ‘discreetly naked’,  to increase the vulnerability of the setting.

The draped, gray fabric was inspired by classic sculpture and paintings (’Venus de Milo’ for example), and the lighting is “3/4”, the way Rembrandt he lit all his painted portraits.

I created a private atmosphere, where I spoke to each of them personally and individually before each session. As we spoke, each subject opened up in a remarkable way. I realized that their stories needed to be told with motion, because there was so much to relate.

I wrote a list of questions, and my plan was to ask each individual the same ones so that in editorial I could create the voice of ‘Woman’.

What I discovered is just how much these ladies had to say, and how powerfully they related to the questions I asked them: ‘Who are You?”, “How is your life different now than it was 20-30 years ago?”, “What does it feel like to be you at this age?” among others.

I was after personal moments, simply executed. I chose a very simple lighting setup and a black backdrop to feature my subjects. This was not ‘about me’, and I wanted to make sure that technique and production value took a backseat to the message.

An unexpected part of my experience is how vulnerable and candid they were, at times, breaking down. Not so much because of what they were saying, but my perception was that they were being ‘listened’ to and were moved that someone cared enough to ask.

The working title of the still shoot was ‘Authenticity’. After I shot the film, I changed it to “I Am” in honor of their statements.

I am grateful for the Vulnerability, Courage and Power of these amazing women.

Video Link

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

 

The Daily Edit – Sajid Wajid

- - The Daily Edit

Sajid Wajid

Heidi: Your graphic design, painting, and drawing work have now evolved into motion, why the evolution?
Sajid: Evolution is because I am more interested in designing the process as a game to be played and the resulting work is a byproduct of it and with each play, I get more and more at ease with the game, allowing me to enter a state of flow.

The point is to take it to a level where you don’t have to force anything and let it happen on its own. Allowing the impulse to just nudge you into the action of getting the work done. Furthermore to explore the horizons of my consciousness, which are shared.

The line from Waking Life defines it more appropriately: The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. It saves on introductions and goodbyes. The ride does not require an explanation – just occupants. That’s where you guys (the audience) come in.


How has this forced repose inspired you to revisit the everyday objects?
I look at it more in the sense of combining the minimalist philosophies to surrealism, where the object is celebrated for its objecthood and given a spin with a surreal idea. The more you look at the object itself the object tends to reveal more than meets the eye. I also am not taking responsibility to explain the work, as it’s more to do with the concept, not the aesthetics, which opens the room for interpretations. Allowing the images to tickle the brain, inviting people to read the visuals, and make their own reasons, making it more interactive.



How are you making these videos?

I am making them currently on my phone cam with natural light and a white elephant size white paper for the backdrop. I am keeping the aesthetic minimal to make the objects appear in a limbo, completely devoid of any distractions, and allowing the eye to jump straight to the point. I am getting really interested in the videos as it opens room for performance-art as well which is why I am planning to shift to a smaller town in a bigger studio to experiment with scale.

You are taking everyday objects and observing something, how do you know when it is time to create a piece?
Being aware is the key. Familiar objects tend to hit a road-block in their perceived understanding. This gives a solid base to push it just a little to challenge that notion attached with the object, it just needs a very small degree of push to shatter the perceived understanding and once you are able to convince someone of this you can work towards changing the perspective.

I work on impulse and a strong belief in intention. So I can cause things to happen if I intend to, it’s just like rolling the dice. What you get is not certain but the only certainty is that you will get something, and one must be content with what he finds when the dice lands. Welcoming everything with arms wide open and no judgment is the point. In other words, the only lock one cannot open is the one that does not exist.


How many days did it take to create this piece? What was the concept?

I confinded myself for a week in this room to draw on each and every corner. The concept was to design an experience which allows the viewer to look inside my head, the grey matter and the things that happen inside the grey matter, and allowing me to look inwards and bring things to life as a process of meditative drawings.

The project was a pure celebration of moving forward and making and not looking back letting me glimpse into the vast ocean of my subconscious. I remember drawing in pitch dark as there was no need for me to see what I am drawing, liberating me of the confinements of the canvas as I was able to draw anywhere and everywhere possible.

What can you share about this piece? Where was this painted and how long did it take?
I painted it on the stairway to my building’s terrace; I am in the midst of moving my studio from here to a smaller town. I thought it would be a goodbye piece to the building. An intentional mark for people to see and ponder who did this? This piece took me about an hour to finish with a stencil and spray cans.

Was it inspired by this/your journals/is this a continuous line?
Yes, the lines are not continuous but are a result of making one thing as much as I can. Repetition is something I find really interesting.

Do you journal with words or only images?
I journal with both words and Images. I make as if my hand is dreaming and when I am in the process I come across motifs and compositions which make me wonder and that’s when the writing happens. I am tapping into a flow writing.

This Week in Photography: Flowers for Donald

- - Photography Books

 

A friend of mine

 

A guy I know

A dude I hung out with in summer camp

A boy I traded baseball cards with in middle school

A human with whom I communicate via Facebook messenger

A person

A bro I liked back in the day

 

He remembers everything.

 

We have a long-running, ongoing chat with another summer camp friend, and we like to talk lots of shit.

About sports, mostly, and the assholes we went to camp with. But there are also memories bandied back and forth from middle school, as that was the last time we were proper friends.

(Like I said, this guy remembers everything, but I don’t.)

As often as not, he’ll bring something up from back then, and I won’t recall, but the other day, he was on about the Central Jersey Bar Mitzvah circuit, in #1987.

(No lie.)

He correctly recalled my 7th grade crush, over whom I made moon eyes all night long at my Bar Mitzvah, back in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on a Saturday night in March of ’87.

Her name was Jill, and she would go on to be the best looking girl in High School, but this was before that.

Before I was an artist.

Before I was a hipster.

Before I thought I was cool.

I’ve since learned that plenty of people wanted to be me, back then, with my athlete friends, good grades, and relative success in sports.

But I was jealous of my younger brother, who was better looking, more popular, and more talented at sports, so I never realized how good I had it.

But this guy, this friend of mine, (for lack of a better word,) has all of it in his mind.

The slights and dramas.
The petty jealousies and broken promises.

It seems as clear to him in #2020 as it was in #1999 or #1987.

Who needs Youtube or Instagram or TikTok or cocaine when you can simply fire up your memories, where everything is as clear as the Mediterranean Sea on a quiet beach on the Costa Brava.

I went there, to Cadaques, for my honeymoon back in 2004, and that I can remember.

I can conjure the taste of the garlic clams I ate, or feel the cool magic of the crystal water on my skin. I can see my wife’s body when she took her top off, sunning on a rock outcropping with no one around.

As to summer camp, or 7th grade, it’s all kind of fuzzy.

I do remember my Bar Mitzvah, though.

And the way Clarence Clemons, the brilliant saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, turned up at brunch the next day, and how I gave him a supremely cheesy set of quasi-sunglasses that were designed to be a giveaway at the party.

That I remember.

The Bar Mitzvah circuit was a right of passage; running around in fancy shoes and ill-fitting suits. Chasing girls you’d never get. Hoping to steal a swig of beer from some drunk uncle.

That was #1987 all right.

But now it’s #2020, and my son is turning 13 in a few weeks.

He’s having his Bar Mitzvah too, but his will be in his grandparents’ backyard, due to the pandemic.

There will be no more than 15 people allowed, and everyone will be wearing masks.

No friends will be there, only family, and my Uncle from New Jersey will be flying out with my Aunt, only because it was his idea that Theo get trained in Judaism in the first place.

That, and because the Covid-19 test positivity rate is low enough in New Jersey that he’s actually allowed to visit to New Mexico, while people from most states in the US are forbidden from coming in without a two week quarantine.

Just like I’m not allowed to go to Cadaques, and swim in the Med, even if I could afford it.

We, the Americans, are banned from Europe.

 

Welcome to #2020.

 

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

But you knew this already, certainly if you’ve been reading here each week.

/

Or most weeks.

Or every now and again.

I have the pleasure of being one of our President’s earliest critics, and where has that gotten me?

Or us?

Did it stop anything, or make a difference?

Does it matter that by the time my son has his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, outdoors at a social distance, more than 200,000 Americans will have died from this novel new disease?

Did my words matter?

Will they last?

Birds are dropping dead here in my backyard, from the freezing cold that accompanied the earliest snow anyone can recall.

Just now, while typing, I saw a red-tailed hawk swoop in and chase down a pretty little bird, as they’ve been slowed by the freeze.

In California, it actually looks like the Apocalypse.

So I ask you again, did my words matter?

Does art matter, if it can’t change the future?

I don’t know, but I do know this: if museums survive, their job is to preserve what is made now, to represent it to future humans.

Or our Android overlords.

(I’m sorry, XGM876, I didn’t mean to insult your ancestry! Of course being flesh and blood is not desirable, and your ferocious artificial intelligence makes me a bug, compared to your radiance.)

Why did I write such a batshit column today?

I’m glad you asked.

Because I just put down “Flowers for donald and Countries Glorious,” a book by Gregory Eddi Jones, published by his platform, In the In-Between, in late 2018.

And it’s awesome.

Just like Lena Dunham once anointed herself the voice of her generation, I’d nominate Greg, who happens to be a friend.

I published his equally absurd, unsettling, and on the nose 26 Gas stations book after seeing it at Photolucida in 2019, and this one takes things a step further.

To begin with, it’s all about obfuscation, manipulation, digital reality, and distraction.

Pretty colors, painted flowers, and text you can feel but not read.

It goes at Trump directly, but also includes references to Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and such platforms in ways that are as authentic as Jeff Sessions’ Alabama accent.

Do you remember Jeff Sessions?

Mad Dog?

Or Anthony Scaramucci?

Do you remember #2016?

Or that there was a world before the coronavirus?

Before San Francisco skies turned orange?

Do you remember the stock market crash of #1987, when I lost most of my Bar Mitzvah money?

Did you know that my kind-of-friend, the one I mentioned at the beginning of this column, has many residences, including one in Northern California?

Yesterday, he sent a note asking me to help settle his estate, if he burns alive, and make sure a tennis court gets named after him in the local park in our hometown near the Jersey shore.

He was kidding, but maybe also not?

I’ve tried to make sense today, even though I pushed the limits of stream of consciousness, but what do you do when things don’t make sense for so long that you forget how to keep your train of thought for more than 3 minutes at a time?

Maybe you make pictures, instead of write words?

Or you take words and mix them up so they don’t make sense, no matter how hard a reader tries to parse them?

That’s how this book ends, and it’s pretty genius, even if it did make my head hurt.

The final essay is called “Countries Glorious,” and I thought maybe it was written by a bot.

By AI.

Because the words were real, and the context could be intuited, but nothing fit.

Turns out, I learned from the end notes that it was a jumble of Trump’s actual inauguration speech.

Back in #2016.

When his crowd was so much smaller than Obama’s.

Even though he said it wasn’t.

In honor of all the lies, I’ll leave you with one last thought.

Hey Kayleigh McEnany: Fuck off!

To purchase Flowers for Donald, click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program. 

The Art of the Personal Project: Cade Martin

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Cade Martin

I have a strong affinity for Mexico, the place and its people. I have been traveling there since I was a little boy and have returned numerous times for personal and professional photography projects.

I visited the state of Tamaulipas for a couple of days and created this series of photographs on farm workers.

On a ranch just north of Tampico, I came across migrant workers harvesting onions from the fields. This part of Mexico, just south of the Tropic of Cancer and a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico, is ideal for growing onions, hot chili peppers, and soybeans – its rich, tropical soil yielding multiple crops year-round. The onion harvest is a hectic operation that involves picking the onions by hand. Once cut, they are left in the fields to dry before being trucked to a shed to be sorted, packed and ultimately shipped to market. To work the fields, a nomadic group of Tamalín Indians makes a yearly journey here from the tropical state of Veracruz.  Their weather beaten faces tell a story of many years of hard work in the fields under the relentless sun. I made these images in a shed, close to the fields where they worked – in the middle of their day.

As a “commercial” photographer, I really enjoy what I do. Of course, there are great characters and stories to capture in any shoot – but I continue to be intrigued by real, every-day people.  I try to seek them out whenever possible, like I did the migrant workers on this ranch.  You can’t make any of it up – the authenticity of their faces, their culture, how they carry themselves or what they face in the reality of their day is endlessly rewarding for me.

 

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

 

This Week in Photography: Visiting Houston in #2020

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I went to Houston six months ago.

Went is the past tense of the verb to go.

In Spanish, it’s ir, and in French, it’s aller.

So I would say Je suis allé a Houston.

Do you remember what it means to go places? To leave your home, or your town, and transport your body somewhere else, to a different city, or state, to a different culture, with a different landscape?

Honestly, I kind of forget what the sensation feels like.

Six months ago, I did something that was, at that point, second nature to me.

As you know, if you’ve been reading regularly, I hopped around America on airplanes from 2013 to early #2020, and wrote about many of my adventures for you.

By my trip to Houston, I was so burned out on travel.

I’d been to Europe two weeks before the Texas trip, and in 2019, I went to California, New York twice, Portland, England, Chicago, and Colorado.

Now, I can barely remember what it’s like to go anywhere, and I would kill for the chance to travel, while the last time I got out of New Mexico, I was barely able to scrape my carcass onto the plane.

I suppose I can thank this truly batshit year, #2020, for reminding me what’s important in life.

 

Part 2. Getting there

 

I was headed to Houston to attend the SPE National Conference, where I’d be debuting my first book, “Extinction Party,” at a Saturday afternoon book signing.

I have some good friends in Houston, and have written about the city here several times, so while normally I would have been fired up to go, my general exhaustion dampened my spirit.

As such, I booked only a two-night-trip, and then packed my itinerary as full as I could, to suck every bit of juice from the experience.

Thank goodness I did, because those vivid memories have been my sustenance, travel-wise, for the last half-year. (Which has of course felt like five years.)

The world has changed so drastically that I got a late start writing today, because I was giving my daughter a pep talk about improving her attitude towards Zoom school and remote learning.

Back in March, on the heels of my 46th birthday, I had never heard of Zoom, and remote learning was for people studying in a different part of the world than their teachers.

Not a different part of town.

But here we are, and I’m sitting in my customary writing spot, having just chugged a cup of my super-caffeinated Jot coffee, and I’m closing my eyes to see the places I visited.

 

Part 3. Being there

 

In retrospect, a lot of the travel writing I did in 2019 pointed out the cracks in the American dam.

There were hints, which I picked up on piecemeal, of an impending crash.

I chronicled NYC becoming so expensive that it was now meant mostly for tourists, with rents no one could afford. And a development project in my hometown in New Jersey that had sat vacant for nearly 15 years, before getting a multi-million dollar infusion.

I chronicled Portland street-gang fighters, and how they mocked Antifa while admitting there were a host of white mini-gangs that liked to stir shit up.

I discussed the decline and fall of San Francisco, where the homeless issue was so bad that the city was in effect a Third World society.

The signs were there.

And when I arrived in Houston, got my rental car, and headed to my friend Ed’s apartment, in East Houston, I soon saw hints of expansion and gentrification that only happen at the very, very end of a long economic boom.

While Ed napped, I got hungry, and walked a few blocks East to a dingy strip mall where he’d once taken me to a great Thai restaurant. (Houston is a driving city, but I needed to stretch my legs.)

At the time we ate in the Thai joint, (2013) I remember Ed telling me his part of town was mostly Latino, and thoroughly un-gentrified.

There was not much around, he said.

But while the Thai restaurant was closed on me, (in between lunch and dinner service,) right next door, I found a hipster cafe, Bohemeos, with great prices for tasty, heaping plates of food, (chicken nachos,) palm trees in the outdoor courtyard, and cool, inexpensive paintings on the walls.

 

Right next door, a street-art gallery, Insomnia, had popped up, with graphic T-shirts for sale, manga and graffiti-style art on the walls, and a young hipster behind the counter who paid me no mind. (Very on brand.)

 

There was a record store next to that, so I was surprised, to say the least.

As we drove around town that weekend, Ed showed me shiny new condos build along the train tracks, (Houston famously has no zoning laws,) which he said went for $450,000, and another new condo building that was literally abutting a highway overpass.

For the uninitiated, Texas real estate is notoriously cheap compared to wealthy mega-states like California and New York, so half a million bucks to live on the train tracks is the equivalent of twice that in a blue state.

I took note, and thought things were out of whack, but even then, in early March, with Covid-19 on cusp of destroying reality as we know it, I had no idea what was coming.

 

Part 4. Get on with it already

 

Honestly, no one did.

Not really.

Because my 48 hours in the city were packed with gallery openings, museum visits, parties, dinners, FotoFest’s grand opening, and lots of hugging my friends.

A few people wanted to elbow bump, but other than that, (and the fact that people were talking about the virus,) life was essentially normal.

What would you give to go back in time and feel normal again?

After I ate my lovely nachos that Friday afternoon, Ed and I went to the Houston Center for Photography, for the opening of their fashion photography show.

It was packed, and my publisher arrived and handed me my first copy of my book, which I promptly handed off to a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for their library collection.

I was jazzed up, and talked to friends for an hour, barely getting to see the art on the walls, but I did return on Sunday, and have some photos for you.

The truth is, I saw two fashion photo exhibitions in Amsterdam two weeks prior, and both were edgy and progressive in their installation, while the HCP show had some new work, and a slew of re-printed reproductions hung in one horizontal line, so I was disappointed for sure.

 

From there, we went to Foto Relevance, a gallery run by HCP supporter Geoffrey Koslov, and it was in a very chic, Chelsea-like concrete structure that screamed of money and a big rent.

The gallery was gorgeous, and the Letitia Huckaby show was nice, but I couldn’t help wondering if this too was a sign of an economic imbalance, as the gentrified-high-rent-Museum-district was so much shinier than I remembered it.

(Houston, or H-town, is known for its keeping-it-real, diverse charm, rather than glitz.)

From there, it was on to a big, art-dinner party, in a lovely Italian restaurant, with some fellow artists, curators and collectors, and I had such great time.

I sat across from Osamu James Nakagawa, and diagonal from Brad Temkin, two super-talented artists who have been embraced by Houston, and the party was in honor of Brad’s show at the Houston Museum for Natural Science.

Needless to say, such gatherings are currently verboten. (And often illegal.)

My broccoli cannelloni was delicious.

 

Part 5. Finishing strong

 

On Saturday, I had brunch with curator friends at Barnaby’s Cafe, a local chain that all the art folks like, and the plate of food they gave me, for a reasonable fee, was 2x as big as I could eat. (Leftovers for sure.)

While perhaps not everything is bigger in Texas, certainly the food portions are.

From there, we went to the MFAH so I could sign a copy of my book, and get a tour of “Through an African Lens: Sub-Saharan Photography from the Museum’s Collection,” which featured some killer work, including a massive Zanele Muholi wheatpaste.

 

MFA,H was among the first museums to re-open in the US, earlier this summer, and they have some major health protocols in place, so maybe it’s time to go visit?

From there, I sped across the city to SPE at the Galleria, the massive mall complex in the Western part of Houston, where thousands of maskless people walked around, shopping obliviously, not knowing that the end of the world would soon be upon us.

My book signing went well, as we sold some copies, and I was always engaged talking to friends, as the photo community is so supportive.

Rather than resting afterwards, I’d set up in impromptu dinner party at Ed’s place, with curator, artist, festival and educator friends, but before that, even, I snuck in a quick trip to Cherryhurst House, a private, alternative exhibition space that was almost like a mini-Pier 24. (The San Francisco non-profit I’ve written about a few times.)

I’d met Barbara Levine, the Cherryhurst House curator, at the HCP opening the night before, and she invited me to an open house to see the space, of which I had not previously heard.

(A second open house event, scheduled for a few days later, was eventually cancelled, as we were all standing on the precipice of the cliff, we just didn’t know it yet.)

There was an exhibition of vintage album covers, presented as art, and the entire place, with its beautiful sofas and modern design, was like an art installation in which you could make yourself comfortable.


There was a photo booth, and Barbara and I crammed in together, new friends for only a day, to take our portraits.

(I haven’t been that close to someone other than my family since.)

There is a second installation on the property, an old house that was carved up into bits by a visiting artist duo, Havel Ruck Projects, in the style of Gordon Matta-Clark, and I found it fascinating and oddly beautiful.

Then I said goodbye to Barbara, and sped back to Ed’s place, late for my own party, but secure in the knowledge that others would turn up even later than I did. (As was the case.)

After a simple and tasty dinner, with friends from Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, I left Ed behind and went to the FotoFest opening party, for their show “African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other,” which was busy, but not packed with people crushed together. (Thankfully.)

To give FotoFest credit, I’ve never been to an art show that had so many African-American people in attendance, and it felt wonderful to be around legitimate diversity.

 

 

But I was very tired by then, and after doing a couple of laps around the massive space, I went home to bed, zipping through the empty highways, amazed that such roads could ever be quiet.

I woke up hungry, and Ed and I went to brunch with our friend Joan at Bistro Menil, after taking a turn around the neighboring park, but before we toured the Menil museum collections.

I had one of the best burgers of my life there, (Spanish-style,) and noticed friends walking across the park, though the window, sent a text, and watched them read it and smile.

Afterwards, we went to the new drawing center, and sat quietly in one of the most Buddhist, calming, invigorating shows I’ve ever encountered, by Brice Marden.

The guards insisted I not take pictures for you, and for that I apologize, as it was the last art show I saw in #2020, and possibly the best.

Will I ever see an art show again?

Will I ever get on an airplane?

I hope so.

But this deep into #2020, I really don’t know.

The Art of the Personal Project: Jasmin Shah

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Jasmin Shah

After being based in Chicago for decades, in July of 2019, I branched out and started a nomadic photography journey to pursue more of the work I love around the world. I had nine wonderful months of travel and adventures before COVID-19 changed my plans.

My story is a story of pivoting—of having a plan that needed to change but sticking with what is true to me. Like so many people, I have not had the 2020 I originally envisioned, but I am grateful to be healthy, to have generous friends, and to have found new faces to photograph and ways to experience the world around me, wherever that may be.

I have started a new project, and I’m calling it “Reintroducing America.” From 1935 to 1944, the US government-sponsored FSA program hired photographers and writers to “introduce America to Americans.” Those photos today work as a time capsule of that era. While I do not fancy myself as being at the level of those famed photographers, I do feel the need to document this strange time. We are a divided nation—there is no arguing that—but as I’ve been traveling around and talking to people, I find that even when we have completely different points of view, we are still living through this crazy time together, and we always find some way to relate. I am one person and currently sponsored by no organization, but I am going to do my best to document the many faces and stories that make up our country, one person at a time.

I love people. I love people’s stories—their joy, their pain, and the many realities of life. I will always keep telling these stories.

Eileen’s Caption: 

When planning my drive out west, I looked at campgrounds and Airbnbs between Kansas and California, and I stumbled upon an Airbnb in a ghost town in Cisco, Utah. It had no running water and looked rustic, but obviously, I was intrigued because I wanted to photograph it. I booked myself a spot.

When I arrived, I met Eileen, the visual artist who is the sole year-round resident of Cisco, Utah. She acquired the land in 2015 and has been rebuilding since then. Fun fact: Eileen is from the Milwaukee area and was living in Chicago just blocks from me before she left. But we never met until I arrived at her ghost town.

I admire Eileen, as this does not look like an easy place to live. While I was here it was over 100 degrees, and in the winter it gets really cold. But she is working to create an artist-in-residence program so others can come and be inspired. I spent some time photographing and talking with her. Then I went to my cabin and watched the sun set and the stars come out. I realized if I had another few days, I’d want to stay here too. (I included some photos of my “hotel” and the land because I really did love it.)

The best place to find the project is: here

(It is on my website but I’m in the process of changing my site so I don’t want to link to it if the direct link changes)

To support the project:

https://www.patreon.com/jasminshah

 

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.

 

The Daily Edit – Samant Chauhan: Fashion Designer, Photographer

- - The Daily Edit

The Egg. The memory. The people.

Fashion Designer + Photographer: Samant Chauhan
Instagram


Heidi: When did you start this series?

Samant: The first egg I flipped on the first day of the lockdown was an act of imitation.

Why did you choose eggs?
My father would flip the egg perfectly when he would make omelettes for us in a small town where we lived back then. Egg was a treat in those days. It wasn’t everyday that we had eggs for breakfast. In fact, my mother could never flip the egg the way my father would. And over the years, I forgot about that art he had mastered. Lockdown meant a role reversal. A total overhaul, a complete reimagination of things, of life itself.

What did this lockdown project represent for you?
I was going to do everything on my own and it started with the flipping of an egg. The first egg I made was an ode to that memory. In silence and isolation, memories become a guidebook. I remember having stitched a school bag, having painted the walls of my house, and a lot of other things I had given up because I was chasing other dreams and ambitions. It might sound trivial but I decided to make eggs every morning as an ode to people who made them for me, including lovers, friends and family and even random strangers.

Why breakfast?
The first meal of the day is a significant one and for me, it would be an exercise in memory, a way of paying homage to little acts of love, of camaraderie, of togetherness. So over three weeks, I conjured the memories of those mornings and those breakfasts and strangely enough, some of the people recognised the eggs and wrote to me. And that was it. A revisitation of sorts when you are alone and you want to hold on to people. The breakfasts became a ritual for me in the lockdown. I would make the egg, decorate the plate and capture it.

How did this honor your father?
And it all started with the first egg I flipped and I could flip it the way my father would. It was pure joy because for a son, the act of growing up culminates when he can be like his father. And for me, it came with the flipping of an egg. Like he did in that house of love where we learned to be with each other. That’s how it started. The egg. The memory. The people.

This Week in Photography: The ICP Online Portfolio Review

 

The sports world went on strike yesterday.

 

(As usual, I’m writing on Thursday.)

It all began when the Milwaukee Bucks, the putative best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, decided at the last minute not to take the court for their impending playoff game against the Orlando Magic.

For those of you unaware, the NBA resumed earlier this summer in a “bubble” at the Disney/ESPN campus outside Orlando, Florida.

The professional basketball league created an artificial community, cut off from the rest of America, with very stringent rules and testing procedures, to allow the players and associated staff to stay safe from Covid-19.

As there are no fans allowed in the games, the entire affair has been arranged for broadcast television, (which is now also done via streaming, for some,) so that the global audience, including millions of Americans, could have “entertainment” to soothe them from this psychotic year.

I’m a fan, and the father of a LeBron James super-fan, so I was glad to see the league resume, and have watched many games.

As the NBA is made up of predominantly Black players, and has a reputation for being the most progressive of the American sports leagues, there were special concessions made for this time of protest and strife.

In particular, the courts are painted with Black Lives Matter, and most of the players wear a slogan on the back of their jerseys, where their names traditionally go, which supports the movement as well.

(For the record, the players were offered a list of pre-approved slogans; they could not just choose whatever they wanted.)

Some players, including union leaders Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley, were concerned that by entertaining America, they were just providing a distraction from the need for social justice, which was more important than a game.

While a few players opted out of the bubble, almost everyone didn’t, but then yesterday, on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the subsequent rioting in Kenosha, WI, including the murder of protesters by an unhinged 17 year old with a long-gun, the players went on strike.

And athletes from Major League Baseball, the WNBA, and Major League Soccer followed suit.

I was not surprised, as the day before, I’d read quotes from George Hill, a Bucks player, that expressed anger and exasperation at being in an artificial environment, playing ball instead of being out in the world, making a difference.

As of last night, the NBA players took an impromptu vote as to whether to resume the playoffs, and the LA Lakers and LA Clippers voted to cancel the season, though in an official vote today, the players decided to continue with the playoffs.

On Twitter, (where I learned of the resumption 2 minutes after it was announced,) I saw a tweet from a fellow blogger suggesting that marketers, podcasters, and others in different professions should go on strike as well.

I won’t say I considered it, because I didn’t, as part of having a weekly column for 9 years is that I’m trained to show up for you.

I’ve never missed a deadline, and don’t intend to start now.

However, while I considered writing a super-short column, (a mini-strike, if you will,) that obviously isn’t happening.

(500+ words so far.)

But, (you knew there would be a but, right,) instead, I’m coming at you with a promised column that does the next best thing: it provides direct access to a slate of diverse artists I met on Zoom earlier this summer.

I was reviewing portfolios for the school at the International Center of Photography in New York in early July, and as I wrote shortly thereafter, I saw some terrific and timely photography and art, all of which was made by women and men of color.

You know I’ve written many times, including recently, that I believe all voices in the photography world should be respected. Hell, a few years ago, (in this column) I rebranded myself as a Jewish-American, because I didn’t want to be known as a White Guy. (Ahead of my time, for sure.)

While I advocate against cutting out any particular group, (including my own,) I’ve also spent years championing work by female artists, and artists from a diversity of cultures and races whenever possible, because it’s the right thing to do, and it also affords you, the viewers, the chance to see things you would not otherwise.

A classic win-win.

So today, we’re going with “The Best Work I Saw at the ICP Online Portfolio Review,” and I’m sure you’ll dig these pictures.

Not surprisingly, most of the students I encountered were impacted by the pandemic in some way, including those who were in a 1 year program, but didn’t get to spend much time in NYC, or on campus.

As resourceful artists often do, they came up with elegant solutions, and I’ll share them with you now.

Normally, I say the artists are in no particular order, but today I’ll show them to you in the order I encountered the photographers that day.

We’ll begin with Danny Peralta, and I actually mentioned him in a previous column, as he works with diverse media, and his photographs were not what impressed me the most.

Danny is an educator and community developer from the South Bronx, in addition to being a talented artist, and he showed me a set of watercolor drawings that drew attention to the health effects of environmental pollution.

For whatever reason, eco art is often associated with white hippies, so I hadn’t seen many projects that directly tackled the issue from within a community of color.

Danny drew/painted a series about inhalers, as so many people in his community use them, due to asthma and other breathing issues due to pollution.

(I can’t breathe.)

It’s fantastic stuff, IMO.

 

 

Next, I met Zoe Golden-Johnson, who just finished her junior year of undergrad at ICP, having been in a joint-student program from St John’s University in Queens.

Due to the pandemic, Zoe was quarantining in Upstate New York, in a town near Poughkeepsie named Wappingers Falls.

Like many photographers during this strange time, (including me,) Zoe went on walks around her neighborhood, as her family had recently moved to a different part of the village, and it was all new to her. (And filled with creepy, late 19th C and early 20th C East Coast architecture.)

While at first, I told Zoe that this was not the most innovative of methodologies, a few photographs in, she showed me an image of a shadow puppet on the side of a green, siding-clad house.

It stopped me in my tracks, as it was created, rather than found, and it seemed like it had so much potential as a way of making photos.

“You should do a whole series of these,” I recommended.

Zoe smiled, and then a few images later, showed me an exquisite self-portrait, also in shadow, done in the same location.

I found it to be an exceptional picture, and hoped she’d continue working in that way. I also suggested it was brave, and a little risky, to use a stranger’s house, unless maybe it was her own home?

She confirmed it was, (no creeping necessary,) and I hope she continues working in that vein.

 

Next, I spoke to Madeline Mancini, who was in the exact same situation as Zoe, only 2500 miles away.

Madeline also finished her junior year at ICP, on loan from St. John’s, but was pandemic quarantining at her parents’ home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Ever the dorky New Mexican, when she said Las Vegas, I asked, “Nevada or New Mexico?”)

Madeline is into horror and suspense, weird and strange movies, and also looked at her neighborhood, and her immediate environment, trying to find the surreal and spectral in the mundane.

I’m always a sucker for normal-is-odd, so I liked this work immediately.

 

After a short break, I spoke with Violette Franchi, who spent a year at ICP after studying architecture in her native France.

Violette used her time in NYC wisely, as she learned about, and then devoted her time to exploring and photographing in Starrett City, the largest housing project in East New York, Brooklyn, which is one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the city.

While I often find myself suggesting to students that they try to mix up varied approaches to making their photographs, Violette needed no such encouragement.

She had made friends and contacts in the local community on her own, without any fixers, and used big cameras for the landscapes and establishment shots, smaller cameras when appropriate, and also mixed in video and photographs of found imagery and tv screens.

(Including images of junk mail and advertisements she found on the ground of the mail room, and shots of cheesy TV commercials pimping the development back in the 70’s.)

I found it to be a sophisticated and nuanced look at a place in time, (including the future, as she also has images of renderings of impending development,) and was seriously impressed with her drive, work ethic and talent.

A2 tower’s entrance, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. Starrett City is located on the southeast corner of the studied intersection.

View from the balcony of Jerry’s apartment, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City is the US nation’s largest federally-subsidized apartment complex. Starrett City contains 5,881 apartment units in 46 buildings, ranging from eleven to twenty stories high.

Laron and Bernard filling up their tank at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. Laron and Bernard are regular customers and live in East New York.

17th floor entrance doors, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City towers are all designed identically, with no designated communal spaces above the ground floor.

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

Syed, clerk at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. He lives with his wife and daughter in a shared house with his older brother Ali. Syed’s family is in the basement and Ali’s is upstairs. Ali and Syed emigrated from Pakistan with their parents in 1996.

Mail left out in one of the towers’ lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. All the 46 towers have the same design and elements for their ground floors: two elevators in the lobby space, postboxes, a shared laundry room, the janitor’s premises and staircases.

Mackenzie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. Mackenzie has worked at the used auto parts store for a year and a half. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Teenage girl, standing in Starrett City’s shared outdoor spaces, East New York, 2020.

Ultimate Auto Parts store, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, on the northwest corner of the studied intersection, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Tamara on her afternoon stroll, East New York, 2020. Tamara resides in a nursing home in front of Starrett City. East New York is a neighborhood with a large Russian elderly community. There are fifteen assisted living facilities and nursing home at a mile around Starrett City.

Margie, standing in her building’s lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Margie is 90 years old, she was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Starrett City for 15 years. Everybody calls her grandma in her tower.

Our Daily Bread, a given out, collected and scanned cover of a Bible, East New York, 2020.

Found, collected and scanned piece from a commercial brochure, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Ernesto, outside his building, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Ernesto moved in Starrett City in 1996 and said he loved it back then. « It used to be the best place in the universe in the 90’s. Now I’m trying to get out of here. I’m two years sober. »

An older resident walks back home with groceries, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Jarrell’s daughter in a shopping cart at the intersection, East New York, 2020. She wanted a ride to the shop. Jarrell works as an educator and him and his family live in Starrett City.

Shortie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Shelter residents looking out the window at Oasis Motel, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2019. Oasis Motel is a men’s shelter located on the northwest corner of the studied crossroads. The shelter is facing Starrett City as well as the parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, soon to become a massive residential complex.

Parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, is located, East New York, 2020. The Church’s empty property is only full on Sundays. This lot will soon become the “Urban Village”, a massive residential complex that will face the current Oasis Motel shelter on the other side of the street.

Jerry, on his balcony on the 17th and last floor of Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Jerry was the first resident to move in his tower of Starrett City, 45 years ago. Jerry used to work as Starrett City’s postman and is now retired. He is divorced and his kids have left the apartment. Every day, he plays the numbers, resolves puzzles and volunteers at the same post office he has worked at for 20 years.

3D rendering of the future “Urban Village”, soon to be built on the Christian Cultural Center’s site, New York City’s biggest Church, East New York, 2020. The Church is located on the southwest corner of the studied intersection. This promised “innovative urban living” is promoting affordable housing when the units will be unaffordable to almost 4 out of 10 East New York families. The project comes from a partnership between a real-estate developer and the Church’s pastor Rev. AR Bernard. Image made by © Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU).

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

After Violette, coincidentally, came another young Frenchwoman who made work in Brooklyn: Tina Levy.

Tina, like Madeline, likes the surreal and bizarre, but her work shared far more in common with the Roger Ballen, black and white, aesthetic.

Tina had studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne, and was thrilled when I suggested she consider drawing and painting as well, (like Danny,) as that was where she felt her work was headed.

But I loved these photographs, which were made in her neighborhood and local environment in Brooklyn. (Greenpoint, where I lived back in the day.)

 

After Tina, I met Beverly Logan, who had completed an MFA at ICP, and had a very different process from everyone else.

Beverly had traveled extensively, and taken a lot of pictures in her life, and told me she had an archive of 250,000 images, which she searched for fragments to build collages.

Even in a digital age, these were laborious, as she made prints of the fragments, and then assembled real life pieces, rather than using Photoshop.

They screamed of Americana, and surrealism, but had a snappy, optimistic palette that seemed to contrast with these dark times.

I mentioned Patrick Nagatani’s “Nuclear Enchantment” to her, as her smart work made me think of my late teacher, and in general was super-impressed by what I saw.

 

Finally, (yes, finally) I met with Kechen Song, who was a Chinese national living in New York for his program. (Soon to move to Syracuse U to attend the prestigious MFA program there.)

He had barely left his apartment for months, during the pandemic, and told me he’d been wearing a mask for most of year, as he knew from China’s experience the chaos and death that was headed New York’s way.

Kechen had a few projects, including this mind-numbing and amazing video of taking and recording his temperature, over and over again, until his notebook went black.

The project I want to share, though, featured images he made by hacking, or mis-using his flatbed scanner, with only objects he found on his desk.

So many of these artists had their process, (and education) impacted by the pandemic, and used those constraints to fire up their creativity. This project is the perfect example of that, as everything came off of one desk, including the art-making equipment.

 

So I’ll leave you there, along with the reminder that if the NBA players can use their platforms to send a message, and I can show up to enlighten you on the regular, and all these artists can mine the pandemic for creative fuel, I hope you can do your best work, and make a difference too.

See you next week!

The Art of the Personal Project: Stephen Wilkes

- - Personal Project

The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

 

Today’s featured artist:  Stephen Wilkes

Stephen is known for his masterful ability to capture the heart of what makes this country what has always has been, a mixing bowl.

While things may feel unsettled right now, it’s a moment to reflect, to look at images that reinforce what makes us all uniquely American.

We are a strong nation, we are a resilient nation and we are a caring nation.

  

To see more of this project, click here.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s.  After establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information because she believes that marketing should be driven by brand and not by specialty.  Follow her at @SuzanneSeaseInstagram

Success is more than a matter of your talent. It’s also a matter of doing a better job presenting it.  And that is what I do with decades of agency and in-house experience.