Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Xmas, Seasons Greeting and all that

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Photographers of the Year - 2007

Well, I'm almost ready to take a short break for Xmas, but I wanted to recap a few photographers - my picks of the year from those I've featured on the blog over the last twelve months.

The one photographer that stood out for me - no newcomer by any means - is JoAnn Verburg (and here):

But she has to share my choice for first place (a dubious accolade at best...) with a photographer long dead - Joseph Fortuné Petiot-Groffier - who, upon his demise in 1855 left his darkroom in Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy fully intact and it was left abandoned, never to be opened until just a couple of years ago, thus giving us a unique insight into the alchemy of the early days of photography.

There are also a couple of runners up:

Mike Ryder and his wonderful "Fail Distinction" work -

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three Pictures

Three pictures that caught my eye this last week:

1. The top one here from Swiss photographer Joël Tettamanti's project Qaqortoq - photographs of the Greenlandic town of the same name (vie the Exposure blog)

2. The next one here - Partial Cover by
Kevin Miyazaki:

3. The last one is from
Lynne Cohen's current exhibition Camouflage (via Flack Photo's photo of the day):

Sometimes photographs just get caught in your mind - even if you see hundreds or thousands in a week. That's what these three did.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Emperor Kangxi's Southern Inspection Tour - Chinese Scrolls

For about a year recently I worked on the cataloguing and documentation of the new Mactaggart Collection of Chinese Art and Textiles at the University of Alberta Museums.

The Mactaggart Art Collection includes over 600 textiles, costumes and related artifacts dating from the Song (960-1279), Ming (1314-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. There are also many fine and rare examples of 17th and 18th century Chinese court costumes and silk fragments, as well as a world-class collection of Tibetan costumes. The painting collection includes works dating from the 13th century (Yuan Dynasty) to the 1980s and is comprised of hanging scrolls, hand scrolls, albums and engravings with particular strength in Qing court paintings. Notable among these is the Southern Inspection Tour Scroll from 1698, which documents the Kangxi Emperor's boat voyage of 1689 through southeast China.

Up until then I knew very little about Chinese art, but over that time, working on the individual scrolls and paintings, I became quite fascinated.

The star piece of the collection is the Southern Inspection Tour (No. 7) A hand scroll painting by Wang Hui - one of twelve commissioned by the Emperor to portray his Tour - that depicts scenes from the Emperor Kangxi's 1689 inspection tour from Wuxu to Suzhou.

This scroll - aside from it's detail and beauty - is quite fascinating as a superb example of traditional Chinese "perspective". David Hockney studied it in his own exploration of perspective and it informed this work on his photographic "joiners". The way space and depth is depicted is quite different than the tradition Western form of perspective, and yet it conveys these things - space and depth - in an entirely convincing and harmonious way.

By contrast, there is a second Inspection Tour scroll dating from the later
Emperor Qianlong's royal progress in 1751 by Xu Yang:

By this time, Western Renaissance perspective had been introduced to China and had begun to influence Chinese artists. In this scroll, both forms of perspective can be seen - the combination doesn't work terribly well in some cases and compared to the earlier scroll is feels somewhat disharmonious. Perspective is always and only cultural construct.

What is also fascinating is following the stories and details on the scrolls - you can pick out individuals and their expressions - fishmongers, a "bonsai" tree shop, families in their homes, children, old ladies etc.

But as magnificent as those scrolls are, my personal favourite has always been the "Prunus" by the Qing Dynasty artist Gao Qipei dated 1712:

As anyone who knows my work can probably see, this ink drawing of a tree and its bare branches spoke to me very strongly in relation to my own Immersive Landscapes project and the way I was trying to view similar subjects. (In addition, it is actually a 'finger painting" the artist grows his finger nail and then it was split and shaped and he used it like a pen to make the scroll - it is quite literally the artists hand at work, with no intermediary between hand and paper).

If I could own one scroll, it would be this one - but I'm not sure where I would get the couple of million needed...

It was a fascinating and very informative experience working on this unique collection and a privilege to work at first hand with these wonderful art objects - I know it has informed my work since, and will probably continue to do so for a long time to come. There are certain similarities as well as dissimilarities with photography - the scrolls are meant to be view at about arms length with a foot or so unrolled to view - so a small view, often about the size an 11x14 print, and yet it isn't hemmed in by the four sides of the frame as a photograph is - as well, the sign of a good scroll is that wherever it is unrolled to, at that point it will always present a complete picture in itself, as well as being just one part of the whole. Would that I could bring that kind of coherence to every aspect of my photographs...

The scrolls are particularly hard to present online (all the images here are just small - full height - sections). The Southern Inspection Tour Scroll for instance is close to 100 feet long - they really need to be held in the hand and viewed close up. I'd also suggest going to browse and looking at some of the albums - some wonderful stuff in those as well landscapes and flowers and figures (and how to get a good spanking... or a rather humorous horse).

The art part of the collection is now online. You can view the scrolls as well as the paintings and albums (though I note the resolution of the "scrollable" scrolls doesn't seem quite right - I guess they don't have anyone working on the photography and imaging anymore...).

(all images from the University of Alberta Museums - Mactaggart Collection)

Monday, December 17, 2007

36 Exposures & The DP3 Project

Two little bits of news that caught my eye - one about using film and one about digital permanence

Having been one myself in the past, it was interesting to have a brief chat this morning with a young photojournalist who was on assignment. He had the usual array of digital Canon D something or others - all very efficient for the job at hand and, I noticed, taking many more pictures for the job at hand than I would probably have taken on film - but he also mentioned that his girlfriend had bought him a Canon AE1 recently and was buying him a new lens this Christmas and he was going to go out and shoot some film.

So when I got an email from Andy Adams at
Flak Photo (a good site btw) about a joint project called 36 Exposures Challenge it was a nice bit of serendipity:

These days, we love our digital cameras. They give us the freedom to explore photography as never before. We get instant feedback on our photographic experiments and find out what works and what doesn't; we can easily manipulate the results and correct our blunders; and to ensure we don't miss a shot, we shoot all the pictures our memory cards will hold. When we are done, we pack our hard drives with gigabytes of images and flood the web with our work. But this ease of use and surfeit of images comes with a price.

In the analog era, when we had to pay to see what we shot, we were more careful when we took photographs. This forced a discipline that is hard to imagine today. In the words of Stephen Shore, "[Today] there seems to be a greater freedom and lack of one considers one's pictures less, one produces fewer truly considered pictures."

This is where our 36 Exposures Challenge -- brought to you by FILE and our friends at Coudal Partners and Flak Photo -- comes in. In it, we are asking you to use a film camera to explore Shore's concept of "conscious intentionality." Broadly speaking, we are challenging you to do two things: articulate a concept, project, or theme and then use a film camera to photograph the images to accompany it. There are, then, two parts: creating the idea and then acting on it. Sound interesting? Well, there is a catch (or two), and if you are interested, here are the rules.

All in all, it sounds like it could be an interesting and fun little challenge and - if you have the time and a film camera - could be well worth trying, not for the prizes, which are pretty modest, but just for taking part and seeing what comes out of it.

Now, by contrast, a news release came out of the Image Permanence Institute in Rochester about the formation of the DP3 Project which has just received close to 1 Million dollars in funding to get things rolling. The IPI is one of the leading research institutes studying conservation and permanence of photographic materials, especially for museums and archives.

DP3 or the Digital Print Preservation Portal will examine the preservation of digital prints and is a research and development project which will provide libraries, archives, and individual scholars with information regarding the permanence and care of prints created using modern digital output technologies, providing information and tools to aid in identifying digital prints and in understanding their chemical and physical nature; recommendations for storage, display, and handling; and guidance in assessing the risk of flood damage.

Which is good news for two reasons. First, this is a sign of how much various forms of digitally produced prints are entering museums, archives and libraries. Secondly, the IPI in this venture is essentially an independent body who will be making their research and advice available to anyone who needs it and helping set standards for digital print preservation.

And finally, I must say the pictures those tin film cans left me with a little feeling of nostalgia, although the ones I remember from processing film in our kitchen as a teenager were Agfa...

(Pigment Inkjet Print - cross section - IPI)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Charleston in Ruins

(Okay, I have no idea why I had Savannah stuck in my head the first time I wrote this post - it is of course, Charleston... I had even already named the image file Charleston - doh)

I've had several emails about one of the photographs I posted from the Library of Congress photo collection.

It's the one above - Charleston, South Carolina - Ruins (click on the image for a decent sized view). It shows four little boys sitting by a damaged pillar of the Circular Church on Meeting Street with a view to the destruction beyond - the result of General Sherman's March to the Sea.

A number of people asked who the photographer was, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be known. But FYI, here is the information from the object record at the LoC:

"Charleston, S.C. View of ruined buildings through porch of the Circular Church (150 Meeting Street"

Photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy -- specifically of Charleston, S.C. 1863-1865. General Gillmore's success at Fort Pulaski earned him the conduct of a much more difficult undertaking: the reduction of the defenses of Charleston Harbor, with the aid of a squadron under Rear Adm. John A. Dahlgren. Operations began early in July 1863; by October hard work and heavy losses had reduced Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg (renamed Fort Putnam by the Federals) on Morris Island, and had silenced Fort Sumter. But no further progress was made until February 18, 1865, when Gen. William T. Sherman's approach overland brought about the evacuation of Charleston. The photographers who came to record the flag-raising ceremony at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865, just 4 years after the surrender with which the Civil War opened, thoroughly documented the forts, Federal and Confederate, and the lovely old city, which fortunately had received only limited damage. Present-day addresses for the Charleton buildings are added when possible; the movement is in general inland from the Battery along Market Street, with excursions down side streets as they are reached, and left to the Arsenal at the then limits of town.

Medium 1 negative : glass, stereograph, wet collodion.

Created April 1865

Call Number LC-B811- 3448

Reproduction Number LC-DIG-cwpb-03049

BTW, if anyone is interested, I have a worked up file of the Charleston picture where I've adjusted it a bit and cleaned up a lot of the dust and spots - it's sized to 12" x12" @ 360dpi - I could probably email the file to anyone who wants. I've printed this up on Crane Museo Portfolio Rag (about the best matte paper out there) and it looks very good.

(General William Tecumseh Sherman)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Library of Congress Photograph Collection

( Marion Post Wolcott 1940)

For anyone who is at all interested in photography, the photographic collection of the Library of Congress is a treasure trove.

(Walker Evans)

It's my belief that anyone who wants to call themselves a photographer should have at least a passing knowledge of the history of photography.

(Carleton Watkins)

The Library of Congress collection provides a way to have a bit of fun exploring some of the history (mainly, but not only N. American) - from the early days of the medium itself, right through to close to the present day. Finding the work of not just some of the well known names from photography's past - Dorothea Lange, Roger Fenton, Matthew Brady, Fox Talbot, Atget, Walker Evans, Steichen, Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Muybridge, Carlton Watkins and many many more, but also lots of "vernacular" photography as well - photographs of the gold rush town of Deadwood or panoramics of bathing beauties.

(Charleston, SC)

Not only that, but a good chunk of the collection is digitised - and in many cases the scans and files available are quite high resolution. Not every digital file has a hi-res version, but many do. This means that you can often download a favourite or interesting photograph, work on it in photoshop and print up a very presentable 11x14, say, to put on your wall (I have a number of such Walker Evans prints around the house) - oh and you can also order good old fashioned prints too.

(Dorothea Lange)

In addition to the main online catalogue, there are also a number of selected collection in the American Memory site - thousands of photographs from the Farm Security Administration photographers (including a number in colour), Ansel Adams at the Manzanar Interment Camp, Civil War Images, Civil War - Brady Studio, the jazz photographs of WIlliam Gottlieb or Panoramic Photographs - to list just a few

(Lewis Payne - one of Lincon's assassins)

There also the amazing catalogue of Prokudin-Gorskii's tri-colour process images from turn of the 19th/20th Century Russia - the photographer to the Tsar.

(The Emir of Bukhara by Prokudin-Gorskii)

Now the interface in places is mildly clunky - mainly because they have been working on the digitisation and access programme for a probably 15 years at least and much of this was done before some of the main digital asset management systems came into being - but they are all workable (for example, when searching the main print and photograph catalogue, always be sure to click on "Preview Images" or you just get a text list).

(Stieglitz by Gertrube Kasebier)

My experience has been that I go there to look for one thing and end up browsing around and finding all sorts of other stuff as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More books for your Xmas list

Okay, I promise not to do too many of these "Best Books/Movies/Photographers of 2007" etc. But that said, 5B4 - which has shown itself to be one of the most interesting photo book review sources - has his fairly extensive list of the books of 2007.

He has a "Best Of" and an "Also Ran" category as well as "Favourites" and "Best Historical Books". There are also a number of what I would describe as sleepers in there as well.

And because it's late and I'm nursing two sick wee ones I'm going to be cheeky and borrow a couple of the marvelous page spread images he does for each book he looks at.

He includes John Gossage's Putting Back the Wall which he hasn't actually reviewed yet and which is in the mail to me as I write and which I am awaiting with some anticipation (I have a feeling it may be my pick of the year)

All in all plenty to put on your last minute Xmas list

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


(Brigitte Lustenberger)

Mrs. Deane linked to this online French magazine Purpose. I hadn't seen it before, but after having a good look through, I can pretty much say that if there was a paper version I'd be getting my subscription in pronto.

(Isabelle Hayeur)

I'm not that keen on a lot of online "mags" (does anyone still call them ezines?) - they either aren't done very well, they don't last very long, or the poor design and editing is the reason they are on the internet and not on paper. But this one does it pretty well - there's quite a lot of Flash stuff - but it's not too obtrusive - though pages were a little slow to load for me. But I also like the idea of the custom soundtrack for each issue (at least you have something to listen too while it loads - and it's not the ubiquitous euro-techno that so many photogs seem to favour on their websites - thank god).

(Francoise Huguier)

Anyway, I went back through a few of the past editions as well as the current one, and there's some pretty good stuff - a lot of it European and which isn't seen so much on this side of the Pond. Lots to mine.

(Laurent Gueneau)

(Yves Arcand)

Monday, December 10, 2007

DIY Panoramic Camera

Now, I've always fancied trying out a "real' panoramic camera (i.e. a swing lens design, not one of those 6cmx17cm or 4"x10" etc slices of larger format - which seems a bit pointless to me).

I've often been tempted by the idea of a fully functioning Cirkut camera and the little Kodak "shoebox" Panoramic cameras with their velvet bellows look fun - though more realistically a Noblex would be the better route to take - if cost wasn't an issue...

So, when I saw a recent post on the Streetphoto list about a DIY Panoramic Camera I had to take a look - but boy oh boy, I'm not sure I'm up to taking this on in my garage. Sure, i go an A in Metalwork at school, but this beastie looks like it would be great on your shelf along with one of those big old bronze diving helmets.

Sure, it looks cool, but in the end I think I'd rather save up for the Noblex. Mind you, if you could upscale it to take 10" aero roll film that might be another matter...
But if anyone decides to tackle the project, let me know how it goes!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Fulvio Bortolozzo revisited

Earlier in the year I posted about Fulvio Bortolozzo. Today, Mrs. Deane linked to an interview with him on a new blog called Hippolyte Bayard (though I'm assuming the early inventor/practitioner of the medium and person who first invented and used the term "photography" isn't actually still around writing a blog...).

It's an interesting interview, and I also saw Bortolozzo has revamped his site with some new and interesting work.

Scene di passaggio (Soap Opera) has been greatly expanded since I last looked, but there is other work there as well.

The interview is in Italian, but luckily there is an English translation that follows:

"...Then I discovered in the Agorà Bookshop, in Turin, a book that really overwhelmed me: Kodachrome by Luigi Ghirri. Since then, even if slowly, I grew a need to focus all my energies on a personal research in photography...

...Yes, indeed the first period of Ghirri – Paesaggi di cartone, Topografia Iconografia, Atlante, for example— showed me the path to abandon the seduction for the pure form. He made me realise that form, even if fundamental, must also be ‘necessary’, a mean and not an end. The real end is always the idea becoming a vision, the stream of consciousness ignited by perception. The peculiar power of photography became then to my eyes that of transferring, dislocating perceptions over bi-dimensional surfaces which could become, by that single fact, thoughts over things, over life. A fantastic form of observation and knowledge...

.. (HB)Regarding Basilico, you made an interesting remark on the risks of placing our own grid (or more grids) over every place we intend to photograph, opposed to try to be ‘crossed’ by places, merging our own vision with the diversity of every place. You made
Shift:Bari in 2006. Did you have the chance to see Basilico’s work Bari0607?

(FB) I only saw like thirty images on the Internet, not enough to have a clear idea. I’d only say one thing about the differences in our respective approach towards the same places. I was already thinking about this while I was working on Olimpia in areas where he was working himself for the public commission that led to the exhibition Six for Turin.

Given for granted that Basilico is an indispensable reference for anyone who deals with urban landscape in Italy and that I got many useful suggestions by studying his work, I still believe our paths diverge right on the issue of the relationship with the urban space.

I think Basilico sees a town through the filter of a strong architectural knowledge, derived from Enlightenment and from modernism, constantly trying to find a reconciling order, even if only hypothetically.

For what concerns me, space is not only urban, it is first of all something holding potential perceptions: it is a scene. My aim is to personally experience the perceptive possibilities of a place and to try to bring them to space and time through an object, which is photography, which even if it might scatter most part, is able to keep a veritable trace.

My remark on the ‘visual grid’ that you mention is to be read in connection with another aspect of Basilico’s work: the repetition of a series of choices of composition, without substantial variations, applied to different contexts. A sort of universal and independent grid that, I think, holds a real risk of self-referentially." More here

Friday, December 07, 2007

More on re-photographing: Iconic Moments of the Twentieth Century

In a follow up to discussion on the Richard prince post, Struan Gray linked to this body of work: Iconic Moments of the Twentieth Century .

I like the somewhat subversive use of humour. A couple of tatsers (click the little forward > arrow there to view):
"The series of photographs entitled The Iconic Moments of the 20th Century emerged in the processual work with the pensioners in a home for the elderly in Glasgow emanates the same impression. A group of aged volunteers pose in their everyday outfits and in their daily environment (the vicinity of the Home) to re-enact the scenes from well-known newspaper photographs taken from history books and encyclopaedias. The images in question depict ‘historical moments’ that took place in their lifetime: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at the Yalta Conference during the World War II, the Napalm Attack and the killing a Vietcong from the Vietnam War, or the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, which was depicted live on a TV programme. Each of these images represents an immediately recognisable cultural leitmotif of its époque, the representation that overshadows the event it documents."

(P.S. - on Prince's work - and his comments on thinking the original adverts didn't really have an author - as copy photographs of 2D artwork aren't generally protected by copyright, his photographs could very well be in the Public Domain... something to think about...)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original?

(Jim Krantz)

Interesting little piece in the NY Times about Richard Prince's high priced appropriations of Marlboro Man ads etc into his conceptual photography and his show at the Guggenheim.

Mind you, this isn't exactly news, or something new within the photography and art world - think everything from Warhol's soup cans to Sherry Levine's rephotographed Evans' to Misrach's Playboy and painting re-photographs and more. And what tends to happen in discussions following on from this is a number of photographers getting all up in arms about the unethical ( and/or illegal) misappropriation of images - which gets a bit boring after a while (though perhaps the courtesy of a credit??).

(Richard Prince)

I should add that Prince's photography has never really done it for me, though I can see his appeal. And as an afterthought, it would be fun to see him do this with some of your typical national Geographic stereotype photographs....
"Since the late 1970s, when Richard Prince became known as a pioneer of appropriation art — photographing other photographs, usually from magazine ads, then enlarging and exhibiting them in galleries — the question has always hovered just outside the frames: What do the photographers who took the original pictures think of these pictures of their pictures, apotheosized into art but without their names anywhere in sight?

Recently a successful commercial photographer from Chicago named Jim Krantz was in New York and paid a quick visit to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, where Mr. Prince is having a well-regarded 30-year retrospective that continues through Jan. 9.

But even before Mr. Krantz entered the museum’s spiral, he was stopped short by an image on a poster outside advertising the show, a rough-hewn close-up of a cowboy’s hat and outstretched arm.
Mr. Krantz knew it quite well. He had shot it in the late 1990s on a ranch in the small town of Albany, Tex., for a Marlboro advertisement. “Like anyone who knows his work,” Mr. Krantz said of his picture in a telephone interview, “it’s like seeing yourself in a mirror.” He did not investigate much further to see if any other photos hanging in the museum might be his own, but said of his visit that day, “When I left, I didn’t know if I should be proud, or if I looked like an idiot.”...

...But with the exhibition now up at the Guggenheim — and the posters using his image on sale for $9.95 — he said he simply wanted viewers to know that “there are actually people behind these images, and I’m one of them.”
“I’m not a mean person, and I’m not a vindictive person,” he said. “I just want some recognition, and I want some understanding.”...

...Mr. Krantz said he considered his ad work distinctive, not simply the kind of anonymous commercial imagery that he feels Mr. Prince considers it to be. “People hire me to do big American brands to help elevate their images to these kinds of iconic images,” he said.

He has considered trying to correspond with Mr. Prince to complain more directly but said he felt it would probably do no good. “At this point it’s been done, and it’s out there,” he said. “My whole issue with this, truly, is attribution and recognition. It’s an unusual thing to see an artist who doesn’t create his own work, and I don’t understand the frenzy around it.”

He added: “If I italicized ‘Moby-Dick,’ then would it be my book? I don’t know. But I don’t think so.” ... More here

And a final comment: "Mr. Prince declined to comment for this article, saying in an e-mail message only, “I never associated advertisements with having an author.”" :-)