Wednesday, May 27, 2009


(William Eggleston 4.7)

I came across a flurry of posts recently about the AQUINE system - a not terribly good acronym for Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine - which is supposed to give "intelligent, unbiased and instant assessment of photos".

It is described as a machine-learning based online system for computer-based prediction of aesthetic quality for colour natural(??) photographs and is also supposed to shows that computers can learn about and exhibit "emotional responses" to visual stimuli like humans do.

Unfortunately, however, it seems right now that the folks at Penn State seem to have based it on the " algorithm". If you compare its top rated photographs with the top rated on, it's pretty hard to tell them apart. Among other things, lots of overdone HDR will get your picture a good rating...

(Atget 5.0)

Bearing in mind that Ctein found at least one pretty substantial flaw in it - that if his linked photos had a frame they scored dramatically higher than if they didn't - I decided to through it few spin balls to see how it rated some of my favourite photographers. Which means for one thing I was throwing it a good few B&W images rather than colour.

(Walker Evans 42.7)

As I had guessed, most didn't do too well - poor old Atget on got about a 5 for one 12 for another, and Egglston's tricycle got about the lowest at 4.7 (that should please a good few of the folks on APUG). Most were somewhere in the 30's or 40's - Walker Evans, Struth, Friedlander, Sugimoto. After that (yes, I know they aren't photographs exactly - well, photographs of paintings), I tried Picasso, Van Gogh - again, the poor things only scored around 20 or 30. Although Turner's 'The Fighting Temeraire' - voted the most popular painting in Britain got a 70.0.

(Van Gogh 22.7)

The only three I did get with high scores were Sudek at 91.8 (not surprising when at his most romantic, plus it has a nice black frame) and, a little more unexpected, Andreas Gursky who got 85.8. Lynne Cohen also got 87.0 - but that one also had "nice" colours in it.

(Andreas Gursky 85.8)

Now I wonder, as it is supposed to learn (and I have almost no understand of the computing aspects of this kind of artificial intelligence), that if a concerted effort was made to flood it with Eggleston, Struth, Parr, Graham etc etc photos, would it start to learn and become biased towards a sort of late 20th century New Color aesthetic instead?

But for now, if you want to work out where your work stands on a sort of 1980's Photo Club aesthetic scale, I think this is the place to go.

(Sudek 91.9)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Edge - Karin Apollonia Müller

Well, the short wait was definitely worth it. I got back after the weekend and Karin Apollonia Müller's new book On Edge was waiting for me in the mailbox.

First of all it's a lovely production by Nazraeli Press - large, but not too large (12"x15") and at 48 pages very easy to hold, which for me is important in a book of photographs. A classically simple cover in the Nazraeli style (the translucent wrapper is a nice touch), and the reproduction and colour is very very good. In fact the colour is gorgeous - in a very understated way (more on that shortly).

And no words - apart from the usual title and isbn stuff. Which is surprisingly refreshing, although me being me, I always want to know more about the work. Though as I think on it now, while I have some photo books with fantastic or important introductions and essays, often returned to, I probably have far more where the writing is somewhat helpful, but just not in the same class as the photographs.

But back to the content. In these photographs it feels like Müller has become less the visitor and more the settler or immigrant. Still not at home, but more at ease. In the course of this her pictures have become in some ways more effectively veiled while her colour has become more full (which could also be partly a function of the printing?) but still retaining the translucency that characterized her earlier book. And her eye has become both more subtle and more penetrating - even more aware of the incongruous, (though not without the odd touch of humour).

I like the way that the view M
üller presents is more often than not from above ground level, sometimes far above ground level. As well, the incongruity in so much of what she sees, woven carefully into the tapestry of the overall image. Is that house on the hillside twisted and uneven because the ground has been swept away from beneath it? Or is it the result of a local architects attempt at a postmodern Gehry like design? Is that really a very large cabbage painted on the side of that building? Why does the tattered cocoon on a building under construction appear to have been put on upside down. Her photographs aren't purely - or even - didactic.

She shows us a place where people really shouldn't really be living - at least with the current constraints of our unimaginative, budget level building and construction methods, poor planning and our insatiable desire for space.

The work shows many places - in one of the worlds most well know cities - that seem entirely provisional - on edge. Dwellings that are considered permanent, yet which are anything but, and which nature (often with our unthoughtful help) quickly make transient and temporary.

Müller also shows us so many of the in between spaces, the terrain vague, of the city where nature wages a constant campaign to retake this place in whatever way it can - gradually by vegetation or rapidly by fire or erosion.

I think of some of the villages and towns in Italy and Greece which, for a few hundred years or so, seem to have managed to find ways to co-exist with such landscapes and wonder why this isn't so here.

The book presents us with a very contemporary sublime - not Turner's or Cozens' sublime of the awe-full, unknown Alps - but a sublime constructed of our own dreamlike fantasies of "civilization" projected onto a landscape which constantly resists our imposition.

On Edge is certainly one of my favourite photo books of the year so far.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Eagerly awaiting Apollonia

I'm eagerly awaiting Karin Apollonia Müller's new book On Edge

I've talked in the past about Karin's first book Angels in Fall - which, by the way, you no longer have to fork out $400+ as it's been reprinted and is once more affordable for us photo-peasants.

I've seen a few of the pictures from the book on websites, but I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing. One of the main things about her work that draws me into it is the way she is able to convey the quiet strangeness of the city which she knows intimately yet is still an outsider in it.

From the publisher's blurb:

"On Edge is Karin Apollonia Müller’s second monograph, and the first to be published by Nazraeli Press. While Angels in Fall (2001) dealt with the disconnect between human beings and their environment, On Edge shows the earth “crumbling away”, and our futile efforts to control or hide the subtle invasion of nature into cultivated spaces. Working in color with a muted palette and low contrast, Müller creates powerful images which evoke a sense of displacement in keeping with the artist’s “visitor status” as a foreigner in Los Angeles."

I'll give an update once I have the book in my hands.

p.s. - I love parents who give their children names like "Apollonia" (like my colleague Pandora). Possibly teased at school, but it sure is a great hook when you want to be an artist...

New Cliches of Photography #'s 7, 8, 9

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Grange Prize

There's a fairly new (2007) Canadian photography prize - The Grange Prize - sponsored by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Aeroplan which seems to manage to keep a fairly low profile and its light under a bushell (or at least it feels like it does), but which offers the winning photography some serious benefits. For one thing, after the short list of four photographers is chosen, the winner is picked by popular (internet) vote. Then the winner also gets a couple of good exhibitions - one at the AGO in Toronto and another with their partner institution for the year - which this year is the Centro de la Imagen in Mexico City. There is also a residency included. Finally, the purse is $50,000(CDN), which is pretty damn good for any photography prize or award. Certainly enough to fund a new project for a good while without having to get a day job...

This years shortlist includes one of my favourite photographers - Lynne Cohen. I've talked about her at least a couple of times before.

As an aside, reading the bios I note Cohen has recently been photographing in Cuba. When I hear that phrase (as I did from another wonderful Canadian photographer recently) there's a little part of me that cringes. So many good photographers seem to have gone to Cuba in recent years and stumbled. Somehow they get entranced by the whole old crumbling Havana, peeling colours, 1950's old cars, Buena Vista Social Club thing and apparently manage to lose all the sensibilities that usually makes their work compelling or unique and end up producing something that would look just fine in National Geographic... but Dave Harvey has already done an excellent job at covering that base and it's been overdone ever since. Somehow everyone seems to forget Walker Evan's Cuba - among others.

I've only been to Cuba once, but did travel a bit (and never went to Havana). Where are the pictures of the isolated tourist resorts? Or the parade ground in Santa Clara built on a scale on the Communists could imagine? Or what photographer has been allowed to photograph on their own terms inside the physically oppressive yet aura filled Che Guevara Mausoleum? Or the Motorway/Freeway that just... peters out on the ground well before it does on the map - because it was designed and funded by the East Germans and work just stopped when the Berlin Wall fell?

So when I hear of a photographer whose work I like and admire photographing in Cuba, I both cringe a little bit inside as I say to myself; "oh no, I hope not...?" and at the same time there's also some excited anticipation as I think; "hmm... this could be good".

Back to the Grange Prize, the other three shortlisted photographers are Marco Antonio Cruz:

and Federico Gama:

and Jin-me Yoon:

All worthy contenders. You don't have to be Canadian to vote - so why not head over to their website and vote for your favourite of the three. You've got until May 24th to make your choice.

(P.S. I had some trouble logging on to the Grange Prize website - it may have just been my browser, but let me know if it's more widespread than that...)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Sugimoto & U2

Nice to see a Sugimoto photo on the front of the new U2 album No Line On The Horizon - I guess he has to look for new markets now that gallery prices have fallen from insane to merely outrageous

Oh - and I think I prefer the CD cover image to the contents as far as U2's latest effort goes....

(BTW Should be back to more regular posts hopefully - life has just been rather crazy)