Thursday, May 31, 2007


Okay -if you are reading, could whoever told me about spandrels pipe up. It's been resonating with my urban/suburban photography ever since, but I can't remember who first mentioned it to me...

In architecture as well as biology - and by extension, as a metaphor for accidental spaces in the city

"Dr. Gould and Dr. Richard Lewontin soon elaborated on the importance of how organisms are built, or their architecture, in a famous paper about a feature of buildings known as a spandrel. Spandrels, the spaces above an arch, exist as a necessary outcome of building with arches. In the same way, they argued, some features of organisms exist simply as the result of how an organism develops or is built. Thus researchers, they warned, should refrain from assuming that every feature exists for some adaptive purpose."


There are four or five accepted and cognate meanings of spandrel in architectural and art history, all relating to the space between a curved figure and a rectangular boundary — such as the space between the curve of an arch and a rectilinear bounding moulding, or the wallspace bounded by adjacent arches in an arcade and the stringcourse or moulding above them, or the space between the central medallion of a carpet and its rectangular corners."


"In the context of evolution, a spandrel is a metaphor for characteristics that are or were orginally side effects and not true adaptions to the environment. This metaphorical meaning works no matter which kind of architectural spandrel is referred to: the spandrel is the un-designed gap between other features, which is then often exploited for a use of its own."

(Tim Atherton)

Alberta Provincial Art Collection

Well, what's the use of a blog if you don't blow your own horn every now and then...

I had some good news today - the Provincial Art Collection of Alberta is acquiring (through a juried selection process) two prints from my Immersive Landscape series for their collection. It's always good to know someone else actually gets - and even likes - your work.

(Thanks the JB for all the help and to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts)
- thanks Dylan - they are of course available as limited edtion prints...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mitch Epstein

I mentioned Mitch Epstein the other day and I realised it had actually been quite a while since I looked at any of his work.

There was a time when I looked at a number of his books, but I hadn't seen some of the more recent stuff. I remember when it came out, but I hadn't really looked at his whole series and book Family Business, which is very personal and has quite a back story to it.

I was 48 and living in New York when my mother called me about the fire. On a windy August night in 1999, two 12 year old boys had broken into a boarded up apartment building owned by my father in Holyoke Massachusetts and, for the hell of it, set it ablaze. The fire had spread, engulfing a 19th century Catholic church, then a city block.

The 15 million dollar lawsuit the church brought against him threatened to unravel my father's life. He had insufficient liability insurance. If he lost, my parents would be, in effect, after 50 years of a comfortable suburban life together, out on the street... more

I managed to get a copy of Family Business from the library and it was well worth it. Photography that is autobiographical very easily runs the risk of becoming introverted navel gazing and quite boring. This isn't.

In most ways, I think you can probably put Epstein int he same grouping as several of the other New Colour photographers - Shore, Sternfeld, Meyerowitz. I often find his work a little harder to notice, because what he does is often very subtle and needs spending time with. He also seems to photograph more people then many of the other New Colour types have done. He's often quite droll, and the irony is often more affectionate than biting. Indeed, there's a whole new generation of photographers doing this same kind of work now who you get a sense that they sprang right out of Epstein's work.

There are lots of pictures on Epstein's site (as well as here) as well as articles and reviews.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Simon Armitage

One of my favourite contemporary poets is Simon Armitage (though the one I'd really like to like but find almost impenetrable no matter how many attempts I make to read her is Anne Carson).

I'm just reading his recent book Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid and the poems are by turns funny, moving and poignant

I'm also looking forward to reading his new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which I've enjoyed since I first read Tolkien's version many years ago. I wouldn't mind reading his new version of the Odyssey as well, but as good as our city library is, when it comes to poetry, if it's not CanLit, then they aren't likely to have it if it's less than 50 years old


Northerner, this is your stop. This longhouse
of echoing echoes and sooted glass,
this goth pigeon hangar, this diesel roost
is the end of the line. Brace and be brisk,
commoner, carry your heart like an egg
on a spoon, be fleet through the concourse, primed
for that point in time when the world goes bust,
when the unattended holdall or case
unloads its cache of fanaticized heat.

Here’s you after the fact, found by torchlight,
being-less, heaped, boned of all thought and sense.
The camera can barely look. Or maybe,
just maybe, you live. Here’s you on the News,
shirtless, minus a limb, exiting smoke
to a backdrop of red melt, onto streets
paved with gilt, begging a junkie for help.



A walk, not more than a mile,
along the barricade of land
between the ocean and the grey lagoon.
Six of us, hand in hand,

Connected by blood. Underfoot
a billion stones and pebbles -
new potatoes, mint imperials,
the eggs of birds -

Each rock more infinitely formed
than anything we own.
Spoilt for choice - which one to throw,
which one to pocket and take home.

The present tense, although
some angle of the sun, some slant of light
back-dates us thirty years.
Home movie. Super 8.

Seaweed in ropes and rags.
The weightless, empty armour
of a crab. A jawbone, bleached
and blasted, manages a smile.

Long-shore drift,
the ocean sorts and sifts,
giving with this, getting back
with the next.

A sailboat thinks itself
across the bay.
Susan, nursing a thought of her own,
unthreads and threads.

The middle button of her coat.
a colony of nesting terns
makes one full circle of the world

then drops.
But the beach, full of itself,
each round of rock
no smaller than a bottle top,

no bigger than a nephew's fist.
One minute more, as Jonathan, three, autistic,
hypnotised by flight and fall
picks one more shape

and, underarms the last wish of the day -
look, like a stone - into the next wave.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fumimasa Hosokawa

I came across some info about Fumimasa Hosokawa last year I think it was, when he had a joint show in Pittsburgh with another Japanese photographer. I'm glad I saved a couple of the images that were online, because I could find almost no other ones online. He was also featured at PS1 in a show of "emerging" Japanese photographers.

There is a reference to his book Anonymous Scapes which I'm figuring out how to get a copy of - and there's probably some more stuff in Japanese I probably missed.

The show in Pittsburgh was Unspoken Ground: Two views of Japan at the Silver Eye Center for Photography and I did find a piece form Art in America about it:

"...In Fumimasa Hosokawa's more conceptual project, the artist researches public records going back 100 years to find obituaries of people who died on the streets in and around Tokyo in accidents, fights or from illness. Hosokawa visited the locations--determined from the descriptions and addresses in the obituaries--and photographed the sites in black and white in an "official-looking" documentary style. Both photographers point their cameras at should-be populated areas--city streets, construction sites--yet all the settings in the more than 30 works in this show are deserted. This in itself is not particularly unusual. But Kobayashi and Hosokawa focus on the implied interaction of human and site.

...More poignant than formally beautiful, Hosokawa's 22 gelatin silver prints each show the obituary that inspired the accompanying image. (The gallery placed English translations on the wall beside each piece.) He provides the forgotten histories of the locations, but because the images don't always seem to correspondto the narratives, the texts often read more like poetry than death notices. In 1901, for example, a photograph of a characterless paved road with parking signs and a smattering of trees in the background is accompanied by text describing an "approximately 60-year-old man, with thin hair, a 'low nose,' wearing an unlined livery coat ... discovered at this location, 'dead from disease.'" The photograph 1961 shows a small bar nestled between two modern high rises, where an unidentified woman with "a round face and long permed hair, carrying a Shiseido lipstick and a green comb" was found dead on the tracks, now covered up, after being struck by a train near Itabashi Station. In this compelling exhibition, a visual and conceptual dialogue unfolds between the works of two photographers who investigate the effect of human activity on this planet." full article

War then and now - follow up

Just a short follow up post on War then and now

American Photo's State of the Art blog has a short post for Memorial Day - Why We Don't See the Real Story from Iraq

Among other things it says this:

"...He also notes that since last year the military has enforced new embedding rules that require photographers to obtain consent from wounded soldiers before images of them can be published. In effect, this means photographers must get soldiers to sign wavers before they are even injured--an absurd kind of Catch 22."
which is beyond bizarre... lets wipe the Death of a Loyalist Soldier form the official record - I don't think Capa got a release from the guy between his being hit by a Republican bullet and his hitting the ground

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Almanac - new online mag

(Misty Keasler)

I think it's a good thing, but the internet makes producing a magazine - albeit online - a relatively low cost proposition compared to actually printing and distributing an actual ink and paper one.

Of course this leads to some really bad ones coming along (not that that doesn't happen in the "real" world as well). And then some also come along that a good but only last a few issues.

Anyway, I got an email this week from the Chris Callahan & Benedict Fernandez - the people who are producing Almanac, a new online photography magazine

And although it's a Flash site, it's one of the few that actually works well - that is, it basically operates in the background and the damn website doesn't dominate the work. They should get some kind of award for that alone...

The magazine so far also seems worth a look (I actually like Petra Berger's essay - although the über-grainy bits are a bit ott - but I have childhood memories of old racing cars, so it's probably what all that's about - and she basically seems racing car obsessed). The Leonard Freed interview is also worth listening to I think.

Oh and this is issue #2. Number one is also worth a look too (with a Diane Arbus interview). Not too shabby for a startup.

(Petra Berger)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shoot an Iraqi - Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension

This is worth a look Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension

...until June 4, Bilal is living his entire life inside one room at Chicago’s Flatfile Gallery, which anyone with a Web connection can log on to watch. Oh, and to shoot him. With “Domestic Tension" Bilal has turned his makeshift living quarters into a 24-hour-a-day war zone. Viewers can peep in on him anonymously at any time, and even chat with him online. On the installation’s Web site, his audience can fight for control of the camera and pan it around the room. Since the camera is affixed to a rifle-sized paintball gun—and the Web site has a button that allows viewers to fire the gun—they also have the opportunity to shoot at him, or anything else in his room. Which they have done an astonishing 40,000 times in the project’s first two and a half weeks... from Newsweek

also here and here

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Photos of old barns

I have to admit that The Onion is probably my favourite news source (I especially like that one US police department once put out a warning about Al Qaeda fundraisers using telemarketing, based on an Onion story... I'm sure there have been others).

Every now and then they are good at lampooning and skewering photography. The magazine cover above for one, and catches the whole side of photography - lets call it Guild Photography - which seems to have as it's sole purpose endlessly repetitive photographs of old barns in fields, white New England churches, Mexican colonial doorways and cloisters, nudes languishing on a rock/against a tree in the forest or yet another picture of Yosemite. In these, much thought and often monumental effort goes into choice of camera, lens, film developer and paper.

Often, the larger the camera the better. Great kudos is attained by lugging a bloody great 20x24 camera into he middle of some prairie field or the Everglades. Even better if the photo can be made using some kind of alternative process - a van dyke print or platinum maybe. The aim, of course is to enjoy the journey, not the destination. To satisfactorily expend a lot of enjoyable time and energy making another photo that replicates one of a large swatch-book of images that were already cliches by the 1890's. Which of course matters little tot he Guild practitioner - it's the fun and satisfaction they get out of it that matters - and more power to their elbow for that.

Finally, here's another area of photography that the Onion applies it's dry wit to - School Portrait Photographers:

Seminal School-Portrait Photographer Dies At 92

PHOENIX—Henry Anszczak, the photographer whose influential work revolutionized modern school portraiture, died Sunday at his family home in Eloy. He was 92.

According to longtime assistant Dave Olsen, Anszczak died of natural causes.
"On Sunday, Mr. Anszczak passed away peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his family and scores of yearbooks," Olsen said. "We will never forget his wonderful artistic achievements. He blazed the trail for thousands of school photographers nationwide. The lion of 20th-century public-educational culture roars no more." ...

Anszczak was the first to present his subjects as individuals, rather than as one tiny, grainy part of the class as a whole," said Geraldine Menzies, director of the National Academy of Classroom Arts in Philadelphia, where many of Anszczak's works are exhibited. "He lifted the school-portrait camera from its rigid confines and moved it several feet closer."

Fresh out of the Army in 1946, armed with a Graflex Speed Graphic camera and a tripod, Anszczak began his school-photography career relatively late in life. The 34-year-old entered a stagnant field, where the standard practice of shooting black-and white snapshots of entire classes from a distance had gone unquestioned for decades. While it saved on film and developing costs, the process resulted in a final portrait in which many subjects were out of focus, too small to see, or obscured altogether. When Anszczak retired in 1986, he left a field that had fully embraced his color close-ups and woodland backdrops.

Anszczak is credited with having invented the classroom composite, in which many small, rectangular portraits are arranged in rows for display. "Anszczak single-handedly standardized the wallet-size," Menzies said. "It was his discovery that, in addition to a 5"x7" portrait suitable for framing, a student might like a number of smaller photos to offer to those peers with whom he or she plans to remain best friends forever." ...

Anszczak was the first school photographer to offer matte finish. He was the first to seat subjects on a stool, to direct them in proper placement of their hands, and to offer them the use of a black plastic comb before the photo was taken. He pioneered use of soft-focus, previously seen only in Hollywood glamour portraits, in senior-year photos. And he introduced the now-famous "fence post, wagon wheel, and bale of hay" tableau, which became an industry standard.

"Scholars debate whether it was Anszczak or his assistant who invented the double-exposure, in which a profile of the student's face appears over the shoulder of the forward-facing subject," Menzies said. "But there is no question that they were the first to use the technique in the portable studio."

Anszczak's innovations, now universally accepted, were initially criticized. Parents thought that the individual close-ups bore an uncomfortable similarity to police mug shots. Additionally, many argued that the process of focusing so closely on the subject placed students under undue stress.

Following the Vietnam war, a new batch of critics argued that Anszczak's work had reactionary, antisocial tendencies. In a famous essay for Mrs. Larsen's tenth-grade English class at Sherman High School in Little Rock, AR, sophomore Wayne Kleiff derided the photographer's individual portraits as "a physical manifestation of the isolation produced from postwar suburbanization." ... more

War then and now

story about soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq was linked over on Conscientious - with first class reportage from Michael Kambar of the NY Times (all pictures here his except the last two). A patrol searching for missing US troops is itself ambushed and takes fatal casualites. As Conscientious notes, the Times is having a Vietnam Moment.

Up until perhaps 10 or 12 years ago, a story like this might have received several consecutive pages as photo essay in Life or Time or Newsweek or the Observer or Paris Match. Now, while the flash slide show and sound is very good to watch - and I haven't seen the issue of the NY Times the print story is in, I wonder if it has the same impact as that "old" photo essays did?

I wouldn't be surprised if more people actually watch the flash video than would have seen the story in Life (okay, I'm not 100% sure on that). But I also wonder if watching it on a computer screen - at work, in the home office, has quite the same impact as the story laying there on the kitchen table, or the coffee table, or in the dentists office, to be leafed through several times, and maybe leafed through again when you come across it a few months later when you are clearing out the magazine rack?

As someone recently said, analogue (and maybe print - even if the photos were originally digital) is about traces, digital is about flow. I wonder if these things now flow past us too quickly on the Internet. Maybe we need the traces to linger longer in our hands and homes and memories?

(And as Joerg said, watch it now before it disappears behind the NY Times commercial firewall - another thing that didn't happen with your old copies of Life...)

(Larry Burrows)

I don't think I'm just being nostalgic here for the "glory days of photojournalism". Despite all the information quickly and easily available now, there seems to still be a substantial difference - flow and trace.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Photography Lost Its Virginity on the Way to the Bank

I'd seen a couple of articles about Duiane Michals new book Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity on the Way to the Bank:

Of this satirical look at contemporary photography, Duane Michals has said, "The more serious you are, the sillier you have to be. I have a great capacity for foolishness. It's essential." Whether parodying Wolfgang Tillmans or Andres Serrano, Sherrie Levine ("A Duane Michals Photograph of a Sherrie Levine Photograph of a Walker Evans Photograph") or Cindy Sherman ("Who is Sydney Sherman?"), Michals uses his ferocious wit and keen eye to create images at once humorous and penetrating. As "The New York Times" described "Gursky's Gherkin," the work "explores as never before the sense of picklehood, or what it means to be a pickle." The "Times" also testified that "this high-humored sendup of arty photography should be required viewing for all art-world heavies, particularly critics, curators and collectors." Michals takes aim at pretensions that are often perceived as deliberately obscuring contemporary art, and in doing so he exemplifies his mastery of both the visual world and the written word, while providing the elemental pleasure of a good laugh.

than I came across this post about his talk at the Strand on The View from the Edge of the Universe - and I just had to list Michals' quotes:

"At 75, he pretty much calls it like it is... Here are several of Michals' comments:

"I've always relied on the kindness of ideas"

"Everything you think makes sense doesn't. Get out of the fuckin' box."

"My gift to you is that I'm not you"

"As long as you believe in consensus reality, you will never experience true reality"

"What a cheap joint, I have to do my own slides" .... and .... "Jesus, what do I have to do to get fucked around here"

"You are the alpha, the omega. You are the event"

"You affect what you see through the participation of your observations"

"Have you ever thought about the not-nowness of now?"

"I love to photograph what cannot be seen"

"Reality is not a set of observable facts walking down the street."

"Photography is not about looking, its about feeling"

"Can you imagine defining your life so narrowly that Nirvana is sex with 72 virgins"

"Someone just paid $3 million for a Gursky. $2.5 million I can see, but 3?"

"You should always be a beginner"

"I love ideas I've never thought of before"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Edward Steichen Autochromes come to light

Interesting story in the NY Times on two Autochromes by Edward Steichen (via the LF list)

"At first glance the two pictures seem to be gorgeous anachronisms, full-color blasts from the black-and-white world of 1908, the year Ford introduced the Model T and Theodore Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term...

...Almost as intriguing as the pictures themselves, however, is the story of how they recently made their way from a house in Buffalo, where they apparently sat unseen for decades, to the collection of the George Eastman House in Rochester, one of the world’s leading photography museums, where they will be exhibited for the first time this fall.

Eastman House has a substantial collection of Steichen works, including 22 of the same kind of color photographs, known as autochromes. But when Anthony Bannon, the museum’s director, received a call last summer from a Buffalo lawyer, who said his client, Charlotte Albright, a 96-year-old painter, wanted to donate three examples of what were probably antique glass-plate negatives, Mr. Bannon assumed they were the works of her mother, Charlotte Spaulding...

...In August Mr. Bannon drove to Buffalo to meet the lawyer, Robert J. Plache. Because of the two men’s erratic schedules, they arranged on the fly to meet in the parking lot of an ice cream parlor in a Buffalo suburb, where Mr. Plache emerged from his car with a plastic-wrapped package.

Upon opening it, Mr. Bannon saw that one item inside was a Spaulding glass-plate negative. Then, almost immediately, he realized that the other two 5-by-7-inch pieces of glass, portraits of a beautiful young woman in an Edwardian gown
and pearls, were not.

They were Steichens, one of them signed... more

As someone pointed out, the first one is decidedly Klimt-ish


Yesterday was a holiday here in the great white north - Victoria Day - yep, we still celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday (who btw was a great patron of photography).

Far better than what the dung beetle rolled in (i.e. Adobe Acrobat 8) - Nitro PDF seems to do a far better job for most of what I want to do so far, is simpler and cheaper..

Mitch Epstein bid on my Phillips Explorer - didn't win it, but that would have been kinda cool - I'm sure wooden cameras have a memory. It would have been neat to see how the echoes from my work subverted his :-)

(mitch epstein)


Apparently the comments option for posts has disappeared... It's still set as an option in the control panel, so I'm going to have to try and figure out what's happened...hmmm

- well, for some strange reason the three preceeding posts won't allow comments - feel free to comment here on them if you wish!

Monday, May 21, 2007

More on the the Humble Arts Foundation

(Dana Miller)

Since Julian Thomas linked in for me to the picture he had in one of the Humble Foundation's group shows, I've been able to hunt around the work of a lot of the photographers they are dealing with and their work.

(Matt Lucas)

(Andrea Chu)

There's some very good stuff hidden in there - a much better selection of new work - imo - than at many other venues. Someone certainly has a good eye and it's a pretty good cross-section of people to keep an eye on. Good stuff . In fact, it's great if they can continue showing and supporting this kind of work.

(Meredith Allen)

Okay, and I've got to ask - apart from the emails I've recently started getting from them, has everyone else been seeing these monthly shows for ages as they come along and I've been living in some kind of bubble..?

(Adi Lavy)

(Bryan Schneide)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

5B4 - Photography and Books

Time to point to a new blog - 5B4 - a blog a bout photo books. It's pretty prolific so far, so I hope the author can keep it up.

There are a lot of quite in depth reviews, and an eclectic selection of books.
A few of my favourites so far - a selection of books about Walker Evans at work

Swiss Policeman Arnold Odermatt's (who I talked about here) new book On Duty

And John Davies The British Landscape

But there's also Laura Letinsky, Tony Ray Jones, Friedlander and many more.

And the writing about books is good - here's a sample from the Odermatt review:

"Armed with Rolliflex cameras and color film, Odermatt “documents” his buddies laying speed traps on highways, looking over files of fingerprints, taking part in water rescue scenarios, and investigating car accidents. I say “documents” because most of the images are staged. The participants literally acted out moments from their daily routine under Odermatt’s direction.

All members of the force are in on the fun and are obviously having a great time playing their individual parts in these small photo plays. Their postures and poses indicate their “ideal” image of what they must actually look like when performing these duties in real life. This creates a sense of stiffness in the photos. It is as if the individual personality of each man has been removed and we are left with a group of law enforcing automatons. This quality adds a great deal of humor to these images.

Even though the acting may be stiff, or Odermatt’s ability to direct people is poor, he is a hell of a natural photographer. These images use the vocabulary of advertising images with their clear and sharp descriptions and enticing color palette, but are often so well made that they are not of the lowest common denominator. Odermatt uses all of the information in the frame to his advantage. These are not just pictures where the subject dominates and the rest of the frame or background description is left without regard. From foreground to background, side to side and top to bottom, these frames are masterfully constructed.

Often we are faced with the absurd. Whether conscious of it or not, Odermatt has a flair for organization and timing that creates an absurdist humor or drama to some of the photos. In one, a man aims a machine gun while wearing full protective vest and head covering while in the background a neon blue water pitcher (the brightest color in the frame) mocks the shape of the head covering and the barrel of the gun. In another photo, two chalk outlines of cars are left alone on the road and look as if they themselves have skidded and crashed into one another."
Of course, you are probably going to end up buying more books...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Michael Wesely... oh, no, it's not

At first glance, these "Netropolis" pictures look to be Michael Wesely's, of the reconstruction of Berlin, re-modelling of MoMA - but they aren't.

In fact they're by Michael Najjar (a funky if slightly annoying website...). He has a lot of other stuff on his site - most of it a lot slicker and some rather more conceptual (I rather like the idea of his Iraq pictures, but not quite their execution)

Back to Netropolis, whereas Wesely produced his pictures from a fixed point with long or multiple exposures, Najjar takes multiple images and combines them:

"The complexity of the city is visually apparent in Michael Najjar's multi-layered photographic prints. Like Fritz Lang whose 1926 film Metropolis envisioned the futuristic city, Najjar’s Netropolis series carries the notion a step further, positing the city as a locus of computer networks and digital information. In Netropolis/Shanghai, 2003, he photographed from the tallest building in the city of Shanghai. Using a conventional camera, Najjar shot to the north, south, east and west. These images were converted to digital files and combined into a single image that was manipulated on the computer. In the final stage the work is converted back and produced as a traditional silver gelatin print. The resulting image gives the viewer a sense of seeing through time".

(There are more detailed descriptions of his work on the website - but it's all Flash junk)

Friday, May 18, 2007

What exactly is the humble arts foundation?

I started getting emails from the humble arts foundation (barely a capital letter to be found on their site) as a result, I think, of this blog.

Informing me of their shows and projects. They have a website up with some information "about us" and their founder Amani Olu. And some of the photography is quite interesting - Amy Stein for one has been up in their shows.

But I'm still not entirely certain who (or perhaps better what) they are.

"a not for profit organisation that seeks to advance the careers of emerging photographers by providing grants, professional support, and exhibition and publication opportunities...". The internet in one way or another seems to have encouraged a number of these sorts of ventures (they often seem to revolve around Flickr in some way). None quite exactly the same, but most apparently philanthropic in some way towards artists. Jason Fulford of J+L Books would be another example - a publishing house run as a not-for-profit (or at least it was last time I looked). Some more overtly capitalist (such as Jen Bekman?). It sounds good - certainly good for artists and photographers- and I certainly hope it is.

Now I'm not suggesting their anything nefarious about all this, just that my Late Baby Boomer/Sputnik Generation brain is having a bit of trouble wrapping itself around it all... But I'm left with a little feeling of mystery about it all. Who is getting what out of it? The artists I hope. I'm also wondering about the success of them - it must be something of an uphill struggle to get something of this nature going and keeping momentum.

But if all this good stuff is the case, then I'm all for them!

POSTSCRIPT - rather than post this in the comments, which nobody ever reads, I'll post this here. First, Julian Thomas made a helpful comment about Humble 9see comments). And also Jon Feinstein from Humble responded:

Thanks for blogging about us. I completely understand the mystery of it all. With so many "organizations", blogs etc popping up left and right I think it is completely fair to view some with skeptisism. Our main goal is to gain further exposure for photographers we work with, whether it be through publications like STORY, online press, online and physical group shows, or grant opportuities (coming in the fall--stay tuned!)... ,Jon Feinstein Curatorial Director

Julian's recommendation is good value for one thing...

And it wasn't my intention that the post come across a skeptical or even cynical - more captiously curious (maybe from having been burned by "art" start-ups in the past...) but certainly a genuine curiosity about how this is all being fuelled (hopefully sustainably) - I'm guessing lots of youthful energy among other things? All the more so in an age when artists are being asked to plonk more and more dough on the table (reviews, curatorial" competitions", publication) - $40, $50 $60 or more just to get someone to look at their work - which I actually notice an absence of at Humble so far. And it certainly looks good. The more of this kind of thing that "on the side of the artist" the better imo

POST-POSTSCRIPT... Just for Julian, here's one curator's take on Portfolio Reviews:
...they had entered into an informal partnership, planning regular portfolio reviews and inviting curators, editors, art buyers, agents, and gallery owners to be the reviewers. Neither had lofty expectations about discovering the new cutting edge of art photography in the process, and occasionally it all began to seem like a terrible waste of the photographers’ money and the reviewers’ time; on the upside, though, there was a fair amount of networking amongst the reviewers, and a few additional collaborations sprang up out of it. A. and J. spent their lunch breaks discussing current exhibitions, ideas for various projects, and their own careers...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Mark Klett's Rephotographics

"We now view landscape photographs, both past and present, much like the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave. They are artifacts of what we think we know about the land, and how we have come to know it." Mark Klett.

Klett is now apparently beyond his Rephotographic Survey Project, the re-photographing the work of the likes of O'Sullivan and W.H. Jackson on the various historic Western Surveys, and on to a re-re-photographic project, what he calls the Third View

I find I really want to like Klett's work but have a hard time completley doing so. The original RSP project was a fine and innovative idea, as well as something of a reaction to the New Topographics movement of the same era (although I must say I think the two groups actually have more in common than they like to admit).

But at times it all seems like a good idea pushed a bit too far to the Nth degree. The rephotographing of Muybridge's historic panorama of San Francisco sounds like a good idea on paper - but I don't feel it quite worked. And the Third View seems much more valuable to the participants than as a wider, more public work. Indeed, Klett explicit likens it to field work with students as with other disciplines such as anthropology or archeology. And in truth, we all know that the value of much of the student work on such trips are often mainly educational - and that Professors easily get bogged down and prevented from following their own course of research as rigorously as they could or should. There is a sense as well that it is trying to adopt a sort of scientific methodology for the project, but without abandoning the chance and poetry such photographic endeavours generate - but that it somehow doesn't always manage to get the best of both worlds. (either way, the Third View website has lots of interactive stuff on it that you can hunt around and enjoy).

And yet despite all this, there are many of Klett's individual images that I really rather like - occasionally whole sequences. His project Ideas About Time, for example (I'm not sure if that may be one of the personal projects that is pursued alongside the "official" survey work of the Third View work?). In fact, apart from the general essence of the original RSP, I find it is Klett's more personal work that appeals to me.

Photoeye has a gallery of quite a number of his images, with links to his books. I also came across an interesting essay on his work - a few quotes:

"...But perhaps the greatest conceptual achievement of the Rephotographic Survey Project, with their seemingly affectless pairs of images, was to create stereo "photographs" in the fourth dimension, their exposure time a virtual century. The real interest of these pairs is typically the space in-between, where all the changes occurred, or failed to. Are the housing developments and highways that appear, and the mines that occasionally disappear, developments or depredations? From the point of view of a century, the distinction begins to dissolve. Sometimes the absence of change is most salient. On isolated mountainsides the positions of individual rocks can be compared across what is, after all, only a blink in geologic time.

In one of his most deftly tongue-in-cheek tales, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells of "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote," the twentieth-century Symbolist poet whose magnum opus consisted in the precise recreation, in flawless seventeenth-century Spanish, of select chapters from Miguel de Cervantes's classic novel, Don Quixote. "He did not want to compose another Don Quixote--which would be easy--but the Don Quixote." This was not to be a matter of copying, either. "His admirable ambition was to produce pages which would coincide--word for word and line for line--with those of Miguel de Cervantes." Needless to say, he did not bother to reread the "original" first--that would be child's play. His goal, rather, was to discover whether a seventeenth-century literary masterpiece could be written in the twentieth century. Or, in Menard's own words, "I have contracted the mysterious duty of reconstructing literally his spontaneous work." Because of the irony of this circumstance, Borges's narrator in sists, "The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer." Indeed, he goes so far as to venture, "I often imagine that he finished and that I am reading Don Quixote--the entire work--as if Menard had conceived it."

Klett had also contracted the mysterious duty of reconstructing literally what his predecessors did spontaneously, and in doing so he has enriched the historical record with countless ironies. (Not least of them, as Verburg wrote in Second View, was that, "Unlike our predecessors, we did not take what we thought would be appealing shots." ) In the context of this oddly Borgesian enterprise, the question naturally arose, what would it be to conceive a photographic survey of the American West today, when the frontier is long closed and none of the original purposes--assessing the land's mineral wealth and its potential for defense and development--can realistically be served, but the consequences of these projects are more or less apparent? As it was for Menard, copying was the path to creation for Klett. The way to mount a latter-day photographic survey of the West that would not simply prove received assumptions about land use (like so much of the New Topographics work against which the RSP chafed) was to copy the classics, word for word, knowing the inflections would be new with the passage of time. Never mind that the nineteenth-century surveys, led by scientists like Clarence King or military men like George Wheeler, were not strictly photographic surveys--they were geographical and geological surveys that took photographers along. The RSP never followed the routes of the original survey parties for long--instead they honed in on the photographers they admired and followed in their footsteps, willfully begging the question of how much agency these individuals had. By repeating views, they established that O'Sullivan in particular was not above twisting his camera dramatically to make natural conditions, like the slant of a hillside, conform to his ideals of wildness. They brought the historical record to life, putting it in the hands of working photographers..."

and of course, there's always the Twin Peaks rephotographic project...