Friday, August 28, 2009

Crosspostings - design, art and other stuff

I've been doing a lot of reading and looking at areas outside of photography recently - art (books and blogs and shows when I can), design - everything from clothes to industrial to goodness knows what. As well as things like fountain pens and paper products (in my last job as an archivists I was sort of known at the tech go-to-guy, so it tended to amuse people when I turned up at meetings with a Filofax and a fountain pen instead of a Blackberry...) - and I must say I do have a fondness for cool and funky looking office stuff, like cast aluminium pencil sharpeners from Denmark or industrial looking bookends from Japan or soft chrome magnetic paperweight planes that catch your paper clips as well....

So, just putting you all on notice that I'll be doing a bit of cross-posting on here every now and then when I come across something that takes my fancy.

For today, here's something from the UK designer Paul Smith. Rhodia notebooks from France are often to be found in the offices of architects, film directors and graphic designers (indeed, the paper is of a rather nice quality). Their mouse-pad/notepad is one of the most handy things I have on my desk.

Anyway, Paul Smith has taken the standard classic orange Rhodia cover and added his own twist to a limited edition run. I also thought them quite suitable for the photog crowd - although you would have to order them from the UK...

But to finish on a more sombre note - I don't quite get the whole US political dynasty thing, but here is what is imo one of the best Ted Kennedy photos - quite wonderful - by Dave Burnett (and, I'm guessing here, is probably a result of his Speed Graphic/Aero Ektar setup?)

(Photo - David Burnett)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Man-bags and stuff

I'm sure there are many readers of this blog who are also charter members of the camera bag a month club... I have what family refers to as my "camera bag mountain".

Well, I've actually been doing a lot of reading, writing and research lately (about the archive, photographs, Derrida, visual literacy and more) and I've been looking around for a nice hip (I need all the help I can get...) bag to transport around all the notes and books etc. Sure I could just use some clunky old messenger bag - but hey, a cool bag is a cool bag. And a re-purposed camera bag might do the trick if my old Domkes weren't so worn that the bottom has just about come out of them; my 26 year old canvas Billingham seems to have gone mouldy in the garage and the more recent bags were all for carrying around an 8x10.

I haven't found the holy grail of man-bags yet, though I did see one in a local store that sells everything from flowers to fountain pens to laser cut aluminium decorations to French pocket knives. Lovely black oiled leather bag, but it turned out to be by an "actual" Italian/French designer and cost nearly $600.00 - yeah, right.

(bag - Isaac Reina)

However, hunting around on the web I did come across these folk in Vancouver, BC - Palmer & Sons. Not the kind of bags I actually want right now (and probably not my price range either), but I just love that there's someone in Vancouver in this day and age making these kinds of beautiful hand-crafted pieces. Kudos to them for even making the effort! (On their blog, you can also see how they put some of them together).

Either way, my search for a cool murse continues...

Monday, August 24, 2009

How long is a photograph able to sustain our gaze - Exergue

(Thomas Nozkowski - Untitled)

I read two things in the last few days that both seem to come together and point to something I've been thinking about regarding the nature of photography:

About Painter Thomas Nozkowski in a Globe & Mail review (by Sarah Milroy - note: G&M articles are time limited) of his show at the National Gallery of Canada:
"....As well, he abandoned the anonymity of concept-driven art. “All of us are interested in having an un-alienated life,” he says. “What is the point of having a craft if you cannot use it to speak about the things that interest you outside the studio?” His art would be rooted in his own life experience."


"...So, I ask him, what can painting do that nothing else can?

“Oh, that's easy,” he says, his voice relaxing affectionately. “There is no other tool that can unite images and emotions so efficiently, that can bring together what you see and what you feel about it. Painting is really about pursuing what you desire. I mean, we all walk down the street, but we see completely different things. Here we are, sharing DNA and two million years of evolutionary history. Why is it that you are looking over there and I'm looking over here?”..."

(Jon Feinstein)

From Jon Feinstein talking about his work
Pure Aesthetics:

"Pure Aesthetics rejects the tendency to find meaning and substance from superficial visual experience. Building on Clement Greenberg's ideas about abstract expressionism and the need for a tactile and purely visual perception of artwork, the images have little concept beyond their physical properties. Shiny, colorful, ostensibly inviting materials are laid flat and rendered into abstract patterns that at times appear to descend back into space or contain some code of visual complexity. While the "critical" viewer may demand a layered concept, there is actually nothing to explore beyond the purely physical surface."

Both of these sets of words raise issues about the nature and meaning of photography that I hope to explore over two or three posts to come.

(btw Clement Greenberg, when asked if he thought photography was an art or a craft, considered for a moment and then replied; "I thought it was a hobby?"... which isn't necessarily a bad thing)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Being a designer...

Sometimes - just occasionally - I wish I was a designer.

It's when I come across something like this:

Late one recent hot northern evening I was turning off the lights and saw this moth flitting around the house and I quickly became enthralled by it's patterns and colours.

The only camera I could lay my hands on was our little family Canon Cybershot. So it was direct flash and trying to figure out how the macro worked as I followed the moth around (it was still around next morning, but I only got a shot of its upper wings before it flew away into the garden).

But those patterns - the black and cream on it's upper wings and then the wonderful orange/red on it's under-wings. I just felt like I need to design a shirt or a dress or a book cover or fabric wall coverings or something - to take those patterns and colours and translate them into something else. Of course I'm not what you might call a designer, so I didn't... (you really don't want to see me draw or even try and design the dogs house).

But the pattern and colour still flits around in my mind.

BTW, it's a Tiger Moth.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

a shimmer of possibility - Paul Graham

Last year I got rather bummed out when the pre-publication order I placed with a well known bookstore for the original edition of this book/collection never got filled. And when I looked around elsewhere it had already gone out of print.

Because it was such a popular book (for a photobook that is) Steidl decided to reprint it in a new, softcover, somewhat cheaper, all-in-one edition and, having come across my blog, were kind enough to send me a copy of the new edition. You may remember that the original was published as a set of twelve thin hardcover books together in one case - which, although I have never seen a set first hand - looked quite elegant and seemed a very suitable way to present the work.

Now, as I had only ever seen the original set in the catalogues, and hadn't read all the little technical detail, for some reason I had come to assume that this was a set of smallish books in a case. So imagine my surprise when this all-in-one version arrived in a rather large package which, when opened, presented something as large as the yellow pages for a metropolitan city and which was quite a bit heavier as it's 375 pages were made of nice, heavy, glossy paper.

It was only then that I looked back to the original version in the catalogue and realised that the individual books were about 9.5" x 12.5" in size. Aha... now it makes sense.

Anyway, this is a very physical book due to the size and heft, which makes it materially different from the original edition which, while still presenting the same size of page real estate, is made up of the the twelve individual books.

Physical appearance aside, the photographs are much as I had hoped. In one sense, this is pretty much postmodern street photography at its best (zenith?). And yet the blurb around the book also indicates that Graham was inspired by Chekov's short stories. In many ways I can see that their form is indeed inspired by Chekov's 201 short stories, but in terms of content it is very much Chekov by way of Don DeLillo.

There is a whole play and interplay not only between the "narrative" content of each individual story, but also between the stories themselves. I hesitate to use the term "narrative" because to me there is a certain implied forward motion in that word whereas these photographs (as with almost all photographs) not only look back, but their meanings also comes from complex interrelationships which move both backwards and forwards within the book form as well as between the books - and which is probably even more apparent in this one volume set. Their nature is in many ways very different from the textual story or narrative form. It is the sequencing, and the ability of the viewer to manipulate the sequencing, that gives these photographs much of their power and potential. And as the two different editions allow for different levels of manipulation by the viewer I would suggest that they allow for two different sets of meaning making. In essence, they aren't quite the same book.

If I hadn't seen the list of widely varied locations at the back of the book I might have titled these photographs "Walks With My Dog". Not in any negative sense, but in the sense that they really do illuminate the ordinary in a way which so many photographers attempt and yet fail at. Like DeLillo's stories they depend absolutely on an acute observation of the everyday. Yet like many of Chekov's short stories they take an ordinary event and find the one small spark of the other that so often permeates what we frequently fail to notice around us.

As Graham says:"I know it seems crazy, but I'm asking you to trust me and enjoy this quiet journey. Just slow down and look at this ordinary moment of life. See how beautiful it is, see how life flows around us, how everything shimmers with possibility."

My only wish would be that Steidl publish them/this in a smaller sized edition - a set of the 12 books but produced around the size of a regular - if thin - paperback. Perhaps a bit bigger then the Photo Poche series, or about the size of Moleskine's bigger notebooks. Big enough to still be able to read the pictures easily, but small enough to fit two or three of the individual books in a pocket or messenger bag pouch. I think that would probably be the best edition of what would then be three. Perfect jewels.

(All photos Paul Graham)