Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday Show and Tell

Posting a "Show and Tell" about a "show and tell" seems appropriate! The PRC just hosted a fun, fab event at the Paradise Lounge on Saturday. It was a PRC Member PhotoSLAM! - think poetry slam but with photos - and along the lines of, and paying homage to, the legendary SlideSlam and Slideluckpotshow events. We had 35+ people enter 5 images each and about 75 - 100 people showed up to watch. Our fair Emily Gabrian served as MC and gave away prizes such as canned air, sharpies, and cd-r's. A good time was had by all. It was a perfect note to hit to close our 30th anniversary exhibition. (Taking down a show is like putting presents back in their packages, so it was nice for me to end on a high.)

You can check out Jeremias Paul's beautiful images over at our friends at Big, RED, and Shiny, his very insightful thoughts on his blog, and a couple of my favs below. We will definitely do this again!

Photos by Jeremias Paul, TOP: the "scene" - BOTTOM: UConn'ers Becca and Dan, and myself standing. From

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Celebrity photographers, will it ever end?

While on assignment for a few weeks in Paris (!), Alec Soth left readers of his blog a "quiz" to name about 20 images by celebrity photographers (meaning celebrities who have taken photos). I have been obsessed! I know I am not alone.

I recently posted a couple of guesses and a comment online:

Who knew we’d be flexing our celebrity connoisseurship skills? Meaning, if I can’t find the exact image, but close, I think hmm, is that in the style of? Is that their typical compositional style? Is that how they use focus, color, photoshop? My poor work colleagues and students these past weeks….I’ve even learned about the work of Alyssa Milano, Rosie O’Donnell, celebrity work for Playboy, and more. One last go, as I’ve found others “in the style of” it for V (although her skills are usually be better that this example). Will it ever end?

Today, again, I spent way too much time looking at the work of Ringo Starr and finding out that Mikhail Baryshnikov also takes photos. Soth stated today that several people are very
close. Although I'd really love a signed print by him, I must reiterate: Please someone, stop the madness...soon!

Carmen Electra, From one of the sites from which I know he got a lot of images or inspiration!!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday Show and Tell

My apologies for my blog neglect. We had friends in town from Rochester for Bruce's opening at the Benton Museum of Art at UConn. We had a lovely evening in Storrs, visited the new ICA, South End galleries, the PRC, and went out to eat (several times). Overall, it was a fun and jam-packed weekend.

We took our friends to hear Pelle Cass's gallery talk at the wonderful Gallery Kayafas on Saturday. As my friends are both trained philosophers, I thought that Pelle's blend of poetry, language, and theory-turned-on-its-head was sure to please. Pelle gave a great talk: funny, subversive, and absurd (of which I think we all need a good dose). I highly recommend you check out his other "poems" as well as his newest work, especially the crosshatching and shadow work. I showed Pelle's work 3 years ago at the PRC when he first started photographing after a hiatus of over 10 years. He just keeps getting better. I couldn't be prouder. I present you with one of his poems, an earlier one that goes with a different image, and one of my favorite photographs from his newest series.

Here is what I learned this week:
Things are linked and must add up,
or rather they always do,
even if you can't count them.
That's why there are rules:
everything needs an armature.
Think of a grammar without a language:
Grip o grop si lasky sop. A language
without semantics: The been run run,
sure the run, set, set, set.
A world without hair: O Daddy-O!
A sound without vibration: tang.
A word without a voice: sand.
A hill
without dirt, ha! An island without sky: bottle.
Take flatness from paper: sculpture.
A rebus without meaning: "Enjoy Coca-Cola."
If you could subtract green from trees
you'd steal the simpleness from an apple.
You can't empty without transforming —
take sleep from night and you have endless days.
Take height from the sky and you bump your head
on the moon. Subtract feeling from the man
and you have an angry woman.
Take risk from love and you get marriage.
Take criss from cross and zig from zag,
take color from flowers, take
the last shudder from your body
and prepare the world for life without you.
— Pelle Cass

Monday, January 15, 2007

Monday show and tell

I have been contemplating having a weekly blog feature, much like Alec Soth's "Friday Poem." Last week while sick, I posted a quote. Nothing was jumping out at me today, so I am broadening the offering to be a "show and tell." This might be a picture, a group of thoughts, a quote, etc. - some sage piece of advice, musing, or koan from someone else to kick off the week. Browsing the blogosphere I came across the below amusing and humbling list on Jon Gitelson's blog. Jon found this essay/poem/quotation by Paul Hester in SPOT, the publication from the Houston Center for Photography. This was likely produced on the occasion of HCP's 25th anniversary. I have been in a contemplative mood too as the PRC just turned 30 itself. As I am preparing to elucidate (hopefully) young minds in my impending class, I thought it apropos to meditate upon what we were thinking when just starting out. Since I am 33 years old myself, I wonder if I will look back in the same manner at my current state of being? It's mildy comforting to think so...

(Click on the image for a larger version if you have trouble reading it.)
Paul Hester, HCP SPOT

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Blog on Blogging

As I am a relatively new blogger, I have been spending considerable time cruising other blogs, noting what I like and learning the lingo and the format. It's a fascinating new genre of writing and exchange, which I am sure will lead to many dissertation topics someday. Maybe it's just because I am new that this is so fascinating, maybe it's just old news, but the wacky culture historian in me just feeds off of it.

Here is a great summation of the various types of photo blogs from the folks at American Photo on their blog "State of the Art." In the post Shoot it, Blog it, Share it, they go over various kinds of blogs - from the philosophical blog primarily dealing with other's work and not one's own (i.e., Alec Soth) to extensive general and interview-based photo sites such as Conscientious to blogs used mainly for promotion of one's work as well as those used as a virtual critique group. Another important blog is that of Jen Bekman, who was just named one of American Photo's gallery innovators of the year and who just happens to be the PRC's juror for our juried exhibition this year! Her blog, personism, is quite impressive, extensive, organized, and has all that stuff like feeds and delicious links that I am still learning about.

Now onto the envy part. I've noticed that either a posting idea comes to me or rack my brain for a nice topic. Recently, I thought of a juicy topic, only to find someone else had tackled it. Now, I realize that I would do it differently and I could quote the other and generate discussion, but it just seemed to deflate my excitement. I also find myself quite envious of how some execute a very short post - juicy, raw, and just begging me to click on their links. I will call this the "mystery list post". Here is an example from Modern Art Notes. I hope to learn from these examples and get over my blogging fears. I expect that blogs evolve over time and find their own rhythm.

It's also quite fascinating to see certain blog discussions ripple through other blogs and how they grow and change in each instance. Take the recent and oft-quoted and linked Soth-Polidori "where are the people" Katrina discussion as it was quoted on Modern Art Notes. However, this short quote doesn't do this very considered discussion justice. One really needs to read the original post and comments. Even Chris Jordan jumped into the discussion.

Another interesting phenomenon is what I will call "blog clusters." As you'll see on the above blogs, they have very similar lists of other blogs on their sites. Visiting these sites will often reveal a web of cross-references and interesting ripple discussions of topics. Sometimes these blog clusters are regional. There seems to be a strong mid-western blog contingent, from Soth and Todd Deutsch in Minneapolis to Brian Ulrich and Jon Gitelson in Chicago. Something really seems to be going on out there in the midwest! In fact, Brian, Jon, and Matt Siber organized a fascinating panel on intersections and regionalism at the last SPE in Chicago.

Here in Boston we have Joel Brown's Hubarts, Geoff Edger's Exhibitionist on, Greg Cook's New England Journal of Aesthtic Research, and (I think) Modern Kicks. Although not a blog, the Boston area online art journal Big, RED & Shiny is published every two weeks and I just drink it in every time it comes out. Go to the site and click on links for their list of links and blogs.

Now, I have just gone and worn myself out with what has turned out to be a much longer post than expected and linking all of these links! I think my next resolution is to use more photos and less words in my next post and work on developing my "mystery list posting" skills.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Honoring Bradford Washburn

I had intended to continue my sick theme as I am still home due to nurse's orders (apparently they are seeing 15-20 people a day with this virus). I visited to do my daily reading of the Globe, only to find that Bradford Washburn--museum director and founder, mountain climber, aerial photographer, cartographer, the list goes on--had died on Wednesday at age 96. (Read the article here.) As a child, he had breathing difficulties that he found were alleviated at high altitudes. For his honeymoon, he and his wife ascended Alaska's Mount Bertha. He founded the Museum of Science here in Boston and was its director for over 40 years. He hung out of planes with a special large format camera. Kind of makes my week at home seem like never moving beyond base camp.

Mr. Washburn and his gallery regularly and generously gave to the PRC's annual benefit auction. Although he lived in the Boston area, I sadly never got the privilege to meet Mr. Washburn. He didn't do lectures as often, although he was represented locally by the wonderful Panopticon Gallery. A quick visit to their site reveals that they are doing a retrospective of his favorite images. I highly recommend browsing through this online gallery of majestic images and reading the captions. To a long, amazing life!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sick stock

I am still sick, home, and now lucid enough to try to write for my day job. I will take a break and share with you photos tagged with the subject "sick" in Flickr, (Apparently, people often take pictures of their animals when they are sick.)

In addition, I found some stock photography collections that attempt to convey "being at home sick" aka "sick stock." Some instances are pretty humorous when broken down as such.

And last but not least, check out this image and note the keywords listed as search terms. I think I fit the first 20 of them. Poor little kid. I should take a picture of myself. I could make some money.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Monday quote

I am sick, it is raining, I am home from work. Thus, this pithy quote by Robert Adams from (a super site to browse) is all I can muster.

No place is boring, if you've had a good night's sleep and have a pocket full of unexposed film. - Robert Adams, "Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques," May 1995, page: 37

Sunday, January 7, 2007

When the subjects revolt

Last night Bruce and I saw a movie in a theater, a strangely rare occasion that we ought to correct in the new year. At the suggestion of a friend, we saw "Stranger than Fiction" at the lovely second-run Capitol Theatre in Arlington. This fun and though-provoking (in just the right way) comedy/tragedy bought up many interesting issues about the relationship between authors and subjects.

Will Ferrell's character comes to realize that his life is being narrated by a distraught author plagued with writer's block, played by Emma Thompson. Inspired by his visits to a literary theorist, Dustin Hoffman, he gradually attempts to determine if his story is a comedy or a tragedy as well as find out if he can affect the story or is simply a pawn within her larger narrative. The movie also makes inventive use of graphic elements, namely in the form of graphs and sku numbers, laid over the scenes to illustrate Harold Crick's love of all things numerical and mild OCD compulsion for pre-determined routines. (The geek in me thoroughly enjoyed the references to the architecture of math and science in the characters' last names, including Crick, Pascal, and Eiffel.)

This inspired me to post a few musings and links regarding when a photographic subject seems to turn the tables and attempt to take directorial control from the photographer. Although many photographers describe their work with certain subjects as collaborative, can the power really flow both ways through the cable release? Take Andrea Modica and her work with Barbara in her series Treadwell and the oft-cited case of
Sally Mann and her early work with her children, which stirred much controversy when published. Here is one of the typical ways in which the photographer-subject relationship has been couched:

From the beginning, Barbara was a striking presence: a Rubenesque urchin, sad and sweet and a little sly, who responded to Modica's rapt attention like a flower that turns toward the sun. - Village Voice

Jessie Mann, daughter of Sally Mann, recently collaborated with the photographer Len Prince in a fascinating endeavour. (She is the one with the pearls in this shot and is now 26 years old.) In a recent New Yorker, she offered some interesting insights on the photographer-subject dynamic and her effort to invert the equation:

Jessie said, of the early portraits [by her mother], “It’s very difficult to say exactly who makes the pictures”; she sees her alliance with Prince as an extension of her work with her mother, which has occasionally vexed her but has always made her proud. “People have pointed out the obvious Freudian interpretation,” she said. “And it’s true that there is this sort of surface layer to doing these photos with Len—a power struggle, to reassert my identity. But I’m a Jungian girl myself. I’m interested in the significance of being a character in the story of art."

In the film, when Harold "realizes" that he is a subject, he takes agency and "fights" back by doing absolutely nothing one day in an attempt to stall the plot and a variety of other hijinks. On Jessie's artist website she elaborates on her own quest:

My up and coming photography project with Len Prince is an examination of both the characters and the archetypes of our time and as well as those of different historical periods. It honors, as active agent the muses and numerous subjects that have given themselves over to this fictional realm of human consciousness with both extreme self-consciousness and postmodern awareness, but also, in many cases, out of some undeveloped love of the camera or desire to be known or immortalized. It examines the quest of the self-fictionalizers and the magic of those who are called 'good in front of a camera'.

I share below one image from the series, but many more can be found at Danziger Projects that showed "Self-Possessed" just this past fall. In most of the photographs, Jessie visibly holds the shutter release--sometimes assertively, sometimes limply, instead of the photographer--enacting what she has described as "making art by being in art." I ought to end here my faithful readers, as I wouldn't want to continue to influence your opinion and affect the outcome? Hmm, you say you are getting sleepy now...?

Len Prince (and Jessie Mann), From Danziger Projects

Friday, January 5, 2007

From the Archive

My father worked for Kodak in various departments for over 33 years. That was his arena, thus I painted and drew and eventually grew up to be an art/photohistorian, but it was inevitable that I got into the business in some way. He often shares some amazing stories from his days at the yellow giant and all the people he worked with and met, and if it's ok with him I will share some from time to time here. In addition, I fear that these oral stories from the golden days of the photo industry giants are being lost, and especially those from the people who were behind the scenes and in the technical trenches. (I heard similar stories from Polaroid employees, in particular the self-proclaimed "the goo people," when doing a Polaroid exhibition.) Growing up in Kodak town was and still is a huge part of my life. While in Oxford one summer in college, for example, we met a British professor who asked us if we really could throw our film into the Genesee river to develop it.

Here is a fun picture of my Dad in his darkroom, circa 1968. I remember him saying this was a special enlarger head, one that hadn't been released. I will check again with him on the identity various accouterments and post the details later. Long live the darkroom (or at least film!).

Addendum: 1/6 I just found this old IM exchange that I saved
Leslie: what kind of enlarger is that??
Leslie: i am doing a powerpoint presentation, thus my flurry of images
Gordon: That was an experimental Kodak enlarger with an attached color computer that would set the right color filtration automatically.
Leslie: in 1968???
Gordon: It was based upon the old Kodak Precision B enlarger, but was highly modified. It never went into production but I got it working

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Follow the Links

I am realizing that having a blog is akin to joining a gym: you always mean to participate and you run the chance of feeling guilty if you don't. I and my partner Bruce just joined a gym on January 1 and we have not yet gone yet, but mean to when we have the energy (insert irony here). In my own daily blog reading, I was inspired to post on how I came upon to link to a couple of interesting tidbits. Think of this as the ancestry of a link or an insight into my thought process and web habits (interesting, boring, or scary? you decide).

While performing my daily visit to the Boston Globe's artblog,
The Exhibitionist, by Geoff Edgers, I found that his blog made it to the top 10 blogs submitted to the Walker Art Center by Tyler Green, who writes another blog, Modern Art Notes. In Green's list, he lists Alec Soth's blog as well as the Walker's own employee blog (a great idea). Poking around the Walker blog, I came across a great post sharing John Szarkowski's thoughts on what makes a "perfect photo." It's worth returning to look for more from Paul Schmelzer and re-quoting the quote:

In a bad photograph, a lot of the time, the frame isn't altogether understood -- there are big areas of unexplained chemicals. It's especially difficult as the picture gets bigger. If it's small, a little piece of black can look like a dark place, right? But as it gets bigger, eventually it just turns into a black shape. And you look at the surface of the picture and it reminds you of the chemical factories on Lake Erie, creating pollution problems by making synthetic materials out of soybeans and petroleum derivatives. And you don't want that. The basic material of photographs is not intrinsically beautiful. It's not like ivory or tapestry or bronze or oil on canvas. You're not supposed to look at the thing, you're supposed to look through it. It's a window. And everything behind it has got to be organized as a space full of stuff, even if it's only air.

Some photographers think the idea is enough. I told a good story in my Getty talk, a beautiful story, to the point: Ducasse says to his friend Mallarmé -- I think this is a true story -- he says, "You know, I've got a lot of good ideas for poems, but the poems are never very good." Mallarmé says, "Of course, you don't make poems out of ideas, you make poems out of words." Really good, huh? Really true. So, photographers who aren't so good think that you make photographs out of ideas. And they generally get only about halfway to the photograph and think that they're done. ....

- JS