Friday, November 30, 2007


I bought a Leica today on Ebay. Should get here within a week. Do I belong to a cult?

I can't decide if this was the most foolhardy purchase I've ever made or a smart move. Probably both. Either way it was inevitable. If I didn't buy one at some point, it would have always been the back of my head. "Hmm, I wonder...?" Lately it had been creeping from the back of my head to the front.

Fucking Leica and its headlock on art photography. They're supposed to last forever, right? Just like fine art?

I sound discouraged. I can't wait til it arrives...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The best things in life are free

My post about Betsy Karel (Fertilization, 11/17) spurred a response from her. After a short email exchange (she shoots TX using M4s. The book deal came fortuitously through a friend who showed Steidl her work...) I asked casually if she wanted to swap prints. This is my standard offer to all photographers I like, and this is how I've acquired virtually my entire photo collection.

Karel turned down the offer. Not right now, she said, too busy. Which means basically, not interested.

I don't really understand photographers who don't want to barter, and from my experience this includes most photographers. I guess the most obvious reason for refusal is that other people don't like my work. No doubt true in some cases. Still I would think that of all my photos on various websites someone would be able to find one that they like enough to want a print. I would think this is especially true for a b/w street shooter like Karel.

The more probable reason for refusal is that photographers who've made it to a certain level are beholden to galleries/collectors. Bartering or giving away prints softens the market for their photography. After all why would someone pay $800 for a photo they can get through trading? So the trade doesn't happen.

To me, this is an example of how galleries screw things up. Yes, galleries provide a necessary function curating and offering exhibition space, but for the most part they increase the inaccessibility of artwork. Most people including myself don't have $800 laying around to spend on photos. One or two collectors might, so they buy a photo or two, but most photos wind up unsold and sitting in some photographer's closet, or in a gallery drawer. Multiply this situation by several hundred and you get the state of the nation's photo market: scads of prints sitting unappreciated because of photographers unwilling to barter because the bartering would somehow damage the market. Hello? The market as it exists is damaged! There virtually is no market. Let's subvert the market. Start trading prints.

This was behind my thinking in 2006. The label on every photo that I showed that year said, "Free to the first person who requests it." No one took up my offer. Maybe no one likes my work. More likely is that people equate free with worthless. If it doesn't have a price it can't have value. The same logic that keeps people from bartering.

I am out to crush that thinking. For the record, I am willing to barter any print of mine for a print of my choosing from any other photographer. Make me an offer!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Careful With That Axe, Eugene

I was out photographing today and I realized that in Eugene the act of me photographing hasn't sparked much curiosity from bystanders. I've never been confronted while photographing, or even had anyone ask why I'm photographing their truck or yard, or them. In Portland, this was a daily occurance. Virtually every time I went out I was answering questions, occasionally hostile ones, from people curious what I was doing. In fact that was part of how I gauged if I was taking successful photos. If I got asked questions it meant I was sticking my nose in the right places.
Part of the explanation is that I'm generally less aggressive here with my camera. There are less bustling sidewalks and so I'm doing less candid street work. I'm shooting more nonpopulated scenes. I think the other part of it might be that Eugene residents are a little more carefree than in Portland. Anything goes here so long as it doesn't intrude on anyone else. It's a little more like the Wild West in that sense.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Time will tell

After the Jalbert show I found myself once again at the Knight Library (Nike sponsored?) looking through the photo stacks. The thing that makes a library qualitatively different than a bookstore is that most bookstores only shelve titles that are currently in print. Yes, used bookstores carry out of print books but even then the selection is limited. The really old stuff gets sold for scrap or given away or who knows what happens to it. But a library...a library never rarely has to dump anything old. In fact it's their job to hang on to it to keep an archive. The Knight Library is filled with obscure photographic journals from the mid 20th century on up to the present, and the book collection is massive. Up until about 15 years ago a library could actually buy just about every photo book published, and the U of O seems to have done that. It probably has the most comprehensive selection of photo books in Oregon outside of Rauschenberg's den.
You can learn a lot looking at older photo publications. I glanced through some Popular Photography magazines from the 1950s. Their message wasn't much different than what it is today: "Buy this gadget and your photos will improve!"
The publications which seemed the most dated were compilations from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Black and white images heavy on the double exposures and alternative process, usually heavy on the nature imagery. I guess they were all copying Uelsman but with less skill. Boy does that stuff age poorly. What were they thinking? Looking through some of these compilations brought up the inevitable question: Which photography being made today will seem dated in the future and which will be timeless? Which is sort of a cheap question to ask about photography because every photo is dated. That's its nature. I guess my question is, which photos will seem hopelessly stylized and thus trapped in an era? Could it be that the large canvas color prints seen in every photo gallery nowadays are a passing fad?

Time will tell.

One book I found today which definitely does NOT seem dated is American Independents, edited by Sally Eauclaire. This is the third in a series of color photography compilations published in the 1980s by Abbevillle. Considering that the series is 20 years old it's incredible how fresh and alive the photography is. All three books are absolutely essential guides. The photography is dynamite, the printing is fine, but what is most impressive is Eauclaire's selection of photographers. It's a who's who of serious contributors to the medium. American Independents has Eggleston, Epstein, Jenshel, McGowan, Mertin, Meyerowitz, Misrach, Shore, and Sternfeld, among others. About one in two selected is a big time stud. Considering that she was choosing photographers in the early 1980s before color photography had really taken off, it's impressive that her hit count is so high. Who could know back then which of these folks would be flashes in the pan and which would stick? By comparison most of the journals I mentioned earlier compiling photographers of the 1960s and 1970s are horrible at predicting serious contributors. They are filled with forgettable photos by forgettable photographers. Eauclaire's task wasn't easy but she nailed it.
The photographer I find most impressive in American Independents isn't one of the big studs. It's Stephen Scheer. Who is this guy? I can't help thinking his name got confused with Shore and so he was forever overshadowed. Whatever the case, he is an incredible photographer, with a natural street photographer's sense of spacing, of the moment, of color, and an uncanny sense of how to stick dynamic elements together into a photo. The only place I've seen his work is in these guides. As far as I can tell he's published nothing else, although he did have a small portfolio in Aperture #91 (which has Michael Spano too. Bonus!) According to the endnotes he studied with Papageorge, had a Blue Sky show in the 1970s, and then...what? I repeat, who is this guy? I find it amazing that someone of that talent can return zilch on a Google search for his images. I think the fact that he's relatively obscure is part of his appeal for me.

Joshua Jalbert

The Laverne Krause Gallery is right next to the photo library at the U of O. On my campus visits I check out most of the shows there. From what I've seen so far, this space is second only to the Jordan Schnitzer in terms of quality photography shows in Eugene. In October was a show of undergraduate work from a student field trip that proved more interesting than the description might suggest. The MFA Thesis show currently showing continues the strong trend.

The standout in the show for me was work by Joshua Jalbert. Jalbert does framed grids of smallish black and white images printed at extremely high contrast. Very few greys. The subject matter itself was mostly abstract. One was negative images of light reflected on water. One showed the sun as a graphic circle. Because the images were small and sometimes negative and in a grid they became even more abstract, and the effect was very much like Asian calligraphy. From 5 feet away the images of negative light looked exactly like ink brushed onto paper. Like calligraphy, you know there's a message there but it's less important than the raw beauty of the form. Now usually abstract photography is a downer for me. Close ups of cars or buildings become just a pointless puzzle, and digital manipulation that tries to be painterly bores me to tears. It goes back to Strand: If you're using a camera use it for its strength.

But despite my bias I found myself liking these images quite a bit. They were something I hadn't seen before. They pushed photography in a direction I hadn't considered.

I think I may have been biased too by the fact my mom is a calligrapher.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Postcard image

Here's a photo from the past week, a beautiful postcard image of Mt. Hood rising in the background over the Steel Bridge in Portland.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Faulty memory?

While researching photos for the (11/22) Legacy post, there was one image I couldn't find and it really bugged me. I remember a photo by Joel Meyerowitz of his daughter Ariel. It's a nude photo taken around the time of puberty. I think it's in his Redheads book but since I don't have that one I tried to look the photo up on the web. I can find no record of that photo online, even in Meyerowitz's extensive website which seems to include most of his work. One explanation is that I am just imagining this photo. My memory is faulty and I am mixing it up with some other image by some other photographer. The other explanation, which seems more interesting, is that this photograph has been consciously removed from easy circulation by Meyerowitz, perhaps in concert with his daughter who now runs a successful NY art gallery. If this is the case it would cast an interesting light on the decision of some photographers to publish sensitive images of their kids, for here it would seem the decision was later regretted and and an attempt made at reversing it.

If anyone out there has a copy of Redheads or knows the image I'm talking about please email me to let me know if I'm crazy or not.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Wednesday was Tab's birthday. Every year since 2000 I've given her the same gift. I go through the hundreds of prints I've made in the past year of her and our 3 sons, select the best ones, and put them into small black books. This year there were 5, one for each kid, one for her, and one of photos featuring several family members.

Even though they are never a surprise, Tab loves these gifts. I do too. Many of the photos are my personal favorites not just of my family but of all the photos I've taken in the past year period. I think this is because I have a very high comfort zone shooting my family. I always have a camera, they are used to being photographed, and so the photographs have none of the self-consciousness which sometimes restricts my street photography. Beyond this is the fact that these photos are very time specific. Kids grow quickly. I can look at my books from just a few years ago and the kids look so different they may as well be aliens. In 20 or 50 years this will be even more true, and these books hopefully will be something they can treasure at that point in life.
Since moving to Eugene probably half of all the photos I shoot are of my family, and they form a large portion of what I consider my important photographs.

Which brings up a question a friend asked the other day: "Why don't you have any photos of your kids on your website?" The corollary is "Why don't you show and/or sell those photos?"

My guess is that most photographers have asked themselves a similar question, with varying answers. Since most people wind up having kids at some point and photographers are no exception, most photographers have photos of their own children. The decision to make these photographs public is a separate one. When you consider the long tradition of photography, the number of photographers who've chosen to include their children in their public ouvre is rather small. Erik and Anna turn up in many of Friedlander's photos, Nixon has shown us Sam and Clementine, Weston took many photos of all three sons at various points (it's interesting that he chose to behead his most provocative child photo --the shot of Neil's torso-- thus making it anonymous). Gowin, Callahan, Frank, and Erwitt have shown us glimpses of their children, probably because for this group there was not much separation between photography and life. More recently, Tina Barney,Todd Deutsch, and Donna Schwartz have used their families as the basis of substantial bodies of work. But these are the minority. For most photographers we have no idea what their kids look like, and I have to believe that lack of knowledge is due to a conscious decision toward privacy by most photographers.

There is one photographer I haven't mentioned yet who overshadows this entire discussion. If you are a photographer you are thinking of her right now. Her children are so central to her work that I don't even need to mention her name. Her photographs of Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia are so engrained in photographic history that they almost feel like our children as much as hers.

Just this week I found a book at the U of O library which felt a lot like Immediate Family. It's called Treadwell by Andrea Modica. It's a great book. The similarities are unavoidable. Large format black and white photos of kids in a small backwoodsy environment, with a heavy dose of strangeness/sadness and innocence lost. As in Immediate Family there are a few central figures whose portraits at different ages recur through the book, giving both books a sort of narrative quality. The main difference is that the photos aren't of Modica's kids, and for some reason that knowledge casts the whole project in a different light. When I look at Immediate Family I see great photos but I'm also thinking, "Wow! She's showing us this much of her life?" It's a very intimate glance. For Modica I see great photos but it doesn't feel as voyeuristic. I'm curious how she gained access to some of the shots but she is showing me less about herself.

So why not show my own kid photos publicly? In fact I did show photos of my kids once, at a group show at Newspace in 2006, but that was the exception that proved the rule. For the most part I've kept them out of public viewing. Aside from the obvious reason that some of these photos show sensitive material (my naked kids) which I don't want circulating beyond my control on the web, the main reason is that I don't have permission from the kids. Sure they would say yes if I asked them but really they are too young to decide whether or not they want their images out in the world, and making that decision for them doesn't feel right. Of course by similar logic a large part of my work would seem taboo. I shoot strangers all the time, often posting them on the web or in shows without their permission. But to me that is slightly different. Anyone who goes out in public by that act acknowledges they are taking part in civil society, which includes the possibility of being photographed. Call me biased but I am less worried about infringing on the privacy rights of strangers than on the the rights of my kids.

Soon the decision won't be mine. My 6 year old has already begun to demand, "Dad! Stop taking my picture!", a request I'm sure every photographer and many parents have heard on occasion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trained To Win

This portrait of Shawn Records is the latest addition in my Photographers series. Shawn is a great photographer and a nice guy but above all he is Trained To Win. Blog readers in Atlanta may be eating a meal at this very moment on top of a Shawn Records placemat.

No Comment

I understand some folks have been trouble submitting comments. This is because the blog was set to receive comments only from registered Google users (blogspot is part of their empire), probably so that Google could collect demographic information on its web surfers. As an new inexperienced blogger I didn't realize this was the default mode. I've now corrected it and the blog should receive comments anonymously. So both of my regular readers should now feel free to comment. I'll get the ball rolling by saying something preposterous: Walker Evans was a hack. Comments?

Monday, November 19, 2007

An honest appraisal

The annual Photography at Oregon auction was Sunday at the Schnitzer museum on campus. I went out of curiosity and because I had donated a print. You might think that an auction lets the buyer determine the price of the good. The buyer decides what he wants to pay and if he is the highest bidder he wins the item, which is indeed the way most auctions work.
Art auctions are a bit different. Before anyone decides what an item is worth, the auction house tells everyone roughly what the item is worth. Usually this price is on the high end so that when the bidder wins the item for less than that amount they can feel good. But the key here is that art bidders --at least in the eyes of auction houses-- are generally unable to figure out for themselves how to value artworks. They need hints. They need to know about the artist's history, how much that artist generally sells for, the piece's provenance, how the art fits into an art historical context. In short, they need to know a lot of things that have absolutely nothing to do with the specific art piece in question.

I find this troubling, and a bit mysterious. It's probably why I am generally unsuccessful at selling my photos. Here's a modest proposal: A photo auction without labels or prices. Each piece would be described by its dimensions and media, but nothing else. No author. No suggested retail. No cachet. No art context. Take away that information and let Adam Smith's invisible hand extend to the art community. Let the bids reflect a completely honest appraisal, no strings attached.

Here's what I think would happen: Some results would be similar. The George Tice in yesterday's auction would get several hundred dollars even without supporting information. It's a fine print by any standard. But for most mid-tier work in which the primary appraisal tool is the artist's resume, the game would be wide open. There would be rumors about who had done what or what each piece was worth, but no certain information. The only sure thing would be what potential bidders could see in front of them. They would be forced to look at each piece, I mean really look hard, to decide what they honestly thought of it, and to decide how valuable it would be to them personally. There would be increased focus and more attention on the art.

It's an interesting thought experiment which will probably never happen. What happened instead is that each piece was prefaced by a little speech about the artist. I was curious to hear how I would be described. I'd purposely left that part of the donation form blank because I didn't want to be described. I wanted folks to bid on my work, not on me.

A few seconds into my introduction I knew I was in trouble. They'd found something on my website and it wasn't a brief bio but a long breezy outlook on photography that I'd written 4 years ago referencing Winogrand and Siskind and the nature of looking, bla bla bla. It went on forever. I kept hoping they'd cut it short but new paragraphs kept coming. Looking around I was glad no one knew me by face. I never would've bid on a print by someone with such a long pompous introduction. Who did I think I was?

My print went for $50, the bottom bid possible. The good news is it went to the Tice buyer so at least it can sit in a drawer with good company.

The next day I pulled the rambling text from my website. It is at the end of this entry for anyone curious.

In general the auction work was pretty tame. If you ignore the past 30 years of photography, add a little more color, and throw in a large portion of inkjets you'd get a similar pool. I made one bid, at $110 on a beautiful fiber print by O. Rufus Lovett. I was quickly outbid and then sat stewing about it.

I saw Bruce at the auction, down from Portland with Dennis and Dierdre. Perhaps my favorite body of work of Bruce's is from 20 years ago in LA. He went into the streets and captured wonderful candid moments, and the photographs taken as a whole really tell a story about a bygone era. When Bruce shot this stuff he was basically outside the photographic community. He knew no photographers in LA. He showed his work to no one. He just went out and did it because doing it felt right. When he made those images, Bruce was basically where I am now in Eugene.

Auction introduction since removed from website:

I STARTED PHOTOGRAPHY IN 1993 but it wasn't until 9 years ago that it became a daily habit. I like working alone, I like being outside, I like exploring, I like thinking with both sides of the brain, and I like to see the tangible results of that process. Photography lets me do all of this, but of course the main reason I photograph is that I love it and it is what I am.

My photographic philosophy borrows from Winogrand and Siskind. Winogrand said he photographed things "to see what they looked like photographed." I find that happening to me constantly. I'll come to a subject and observe it, but somehow the interaction does not seem complete until I've photographed it, mostly out of pure curiosity about what it might look like as a photograph. I photograph a lot of moving objects, low-light subjects, and use infared film sometimes, all for the reason that my eye cannot show me what will be in the photo and the only way to find out is to release the shutter and it's usually a surprise and I like surprises. Life with surprises: good. Life without surprises: bad.

It was Siskind who best articulated the idea that a photograph could be something new and unique, an object existing in and of itself apart from the subject depicted. I couldn't agree more. My favorite photographs have almost nothing to do with where or when or what the original scene was. They transform the scene into a flat composition with its own magical order. Shooting black-and-white helps enforce the divorce from reality.

Not that I am an advocate of total abstraction. I want to know what the subject matter is on some level. Otherwise I might as well be an expressionist painter or something and I have no interest in that, so there's something in photography's integral connection to reality that attracts me. Yet I do not want the subject to interfere with the identity of the photograph. I want form to subjugate essence. The only counter-example I can think of is portraiture, in which the goal of the photograph is to reveal something about the subject, but I don't do many portraits so personally this is a nonfactor.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Another portrait from Halloween 2007, this one taken in downtown Eugene


I've been out photographing quite a bit the past few days. The light has been perfect, bright and overcast. Spent a few hours Tuesday walking the neighborhood near 29th and Friendly in Eugene. Then Wednesday and Thursday I was in Portland for a grid meeting and spent most of the daylight hours roaming the new grid. This is an area roughly between Burnside and Division west of SE 32nd, really the heart of Portland physically, culturally, and demographically. I lived for years in this grid and then close to it, and biked through it every which way on my way to and from downtown. It's probably the area of Portland I know best. Photographing it presents a quandary. Since the area is so familiar, it is hard to find new scenes. Yes, it is possible to rephotograph the familiar but I rely on the charge of newness to inspire me to keep poking around corners. So I spent quite a bit of time in Ladd's Addition, which I think has the best alleys in Portland. The streets are a labirynth of odd angles. Almost possible to get lost in there, and everything is new to a lost person.

The other way I found to make the area new was to take lots of portraits, something I've been trying to do more of. I need to get in the right frame of mind. I'm a quiet person and it's hard at first but once I ask a few people the mood is set and it's easier to approach people. Each time I ask someone it's like opening a new door. Each person is a little unknown universe. I don't know how they will react, or how I will react to their reaction. I don't know how the photo will look. I don't know what face they will show me. Above all I don't really know what I'm doing. I have so little experience with portraiture that each photo is an exploration. I certainly haven't developed any style or expected way for the photo to look, which is a problem I sometimes experience in my normal photogaphy. All I know is that the people in this grid generally look intesting.

The portraits I shot on medium format. For the rest of the grid I found myself using the Hexar. After the grid meeting some of us went to a bar and George revealed that he hates portraiture, which was something of a surprise since George and I generally have similar taste. He hates Avedon and thinks In the American West is overrated, and something like Gus Van Sant's 108 Portraits is just plain garbage. His expression as he told me this would've made a great portrait.

Just east of the grid at Powell's on Hawthorne I stumbled on a wonderful book of photographs, Bombay Jadoo by Betsy Karel. This book is an absolute gem, black and white street photos of Bombay straight out of the mold of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Helen Levitt. The photos looked like they could've been taken 50 years ago when street photography was not yet ironic, before it had been revamped and turned inside out by Friedlander and Winogrand. But they were taken in the past 5 years. The composition, spacing, timing is excellent.

I think the reason I found this book impressive is twofold. One is that as someone who attempts to take similar photos I know how hard it is to get these shots. There are a million ways to screw up a photo and only one way to get it right. You can be slightly in the wrong spot, or the wrong arm part could move unexpectedly or a car could drive ino the background or you might misexpose or get camera shake or, or, or.... Most photos I take, and I'm sure most photos that Betsy Karel takes, have something wrong with them and they never get shown to anyone. So each one that made it into the book is a minor miracle. It's like the one in a million sperm which fertilized the egg. And unlike many books which seem akin to spraying zygotes in all directions hoping that something sticks, this one only shows us the successful fertilizations.

The other reason I love this book is that it reaffirms my love of b/w street photography. Street photography is somewhat of a dying art, running counter to most trends in the fine art photo world. So it's great to learn Karel made these recently and that there are still folks out there mixing the ancient arts. I enjoy all sorts of methods and styles and have toyed with many in my own photography. But when I see a book like this it reaffirms my first true love. There is nothing which grabs me like a well done b/w street photo.

Monday, November 12, 2007

As if it matters

My favorite photo from today. What the heck is happening here? Answer correctly and I'll send you a free print.


If I was truly hardcore I would've pulled a Parr and gone out today in the rain and howling wind to shoot photos. Probably some interesting scenes out there. But I don't really enjoy getting wet and I especially don't enjoy my cameras getting wet. Looking at my photographs you'd think I lived in California or something. Oregon's infamous wet weather rarely turns up in my work, not because it doesn't rain here but because I'm usually inside on days like that. So in that sense my photography poorly represents the world I know. Which shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, photography is by nature selective. Every photo is an edit of reality. But considering the type of photography I do --I go out each day into the world and record what's interesting-- it's interesting that such a large chunk of reality has gone missing. It makes me wonder, what else am I missing? Photos of myself asleep?

It's the photographic corollary to the parable about the guy looking for his lost watch under a street lamp. Someone asks him, where'd you lose it? A few blocks that way, he says, but the light is better here. Bada-bing!

On the subject of light and weather, it's only in the past few years that I've come to appreciate Oregon's light. My photographer friends raved about the light here but the dampness and dim skies didn't excite me. I waited for sunny days to shoot. Now I avoid the sun. I love to shoot in diffuse light. You can shoot straight into sun because, well, there isn't any sun.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


My old N90s has started working again. It sat broken in a drawer for 2 years. I pulled it out the other day hoping to salvage the strap and it worked. Great. So that's what I've been using the past few days. I took it to Zane's soccer tournament yesterday. I keep a 50 mm f1.4 lens on it which for me is like a telephoto. Looking through the viewfinder feels like tunnelvision compared to my Hexar. Where the thing really shines is for low light portraits. The camera feels heavy. It feels real. The shutter makes a clunk-whirr which feels like you've done something.

At this point many of you may be wondering "there are still folks out there shooting film?" Yes. As the digital age wears on, I periodically ask myself why don't I switch? I'm a bit like a musician who refuses to record on cd and only produces records. But usually the act of asking "Why?" reaffirms my attachment to film. I have a little digital camera. I make snapshots with it. I download them to my hard-drive. I look at them there. I rarely print any of them. They exist in a heavily mediated state. Meanwhile binders of old negatives surround the walls of my office in a very tangible way. If I knocked a binder to the floor it would probably sound like whirr-clunk.

Stephen Shore says that when he did his large format color negatives in the 70s, each sheet of film cost several dollars. Before making an exposure he really had to think about it. Was it worth it? Would it be a keeper? One perspective on the digital age is it has freed us from that restraint. You can shoot as many digital images as you want until you get it right, and see the results as you shoot them, at virtually no marginal cost. Theoretically this should be a benefit. It should reward experimentation, lower the barrier to fine art, etc. The other side of that --the side I find myself leaning toward-- is to say, maybe there should be a cost to each photo. When each negative is virtually costless, what does that say about the value of each image? Shore's example is an extreme since most 35 mm film is much cheaper than what he was using, but the point holds. Perhaps an exposure should require a little labor of love, a little expense, a little pain in the butt. Perhaps convenience should not be the sole characteristic on which everything in the world is judged.

As I write this I'm thinking about an image by my friend Faulkner Short that I saw for the first time the other night. It was taken with a Minox camera on the last frame of the roll. The sprocket holes run right through the photo, and he's printed it as if they were part of the original scene. Who knows. Maybe they were. There's probably some Photoshop filter called "Sprocket Hole" which would duplicate the effect but somehow an image created that way would feel lighter, not as heavy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Picture Qualities

I saw the Oliver Boberg show at Quality Pictures yesterday. At first I didn't think much of it. Huge color prints of subdued industrial sites --very German-- selling for tens of thousands of dollars, the same crap you see more and more of as photographers attempt to please nonphotographers. But after reading the description the whole show turned on its head. He had created these scenes as models, then photographed them to look real. And believe me, they looked quite real. The lighting was just right, very outdoorsy. I had to closely examine several of them before irregularities started jumping out at me. Twigs and leaves looked a little off, texture of walls was fudged, etc. But overall, kudos to him for creating his own brave new worlds.

I suppose this show is the counter to a trend that's been popular in the photo world recently, which is to shoot distant scenes using a severely tilted large format camera so that just a very small slice of the frame is in focus. Since up close macro shots often have narrow depth of field, the effect is to make real scenes look like smallscale models. It's the opposite of Boberg: instead of creating models that look real, these photos make reality look like a model.
In both cases the grand old photographic question comes up: What is the relationship of the photograph to what is depicted in the photograph? It's the question that makes photography photography, and don't expect any clear answer to it. An interesting thought experiment is to ask what if Boberg had used digital methods to create his worlds instead of real models? He could cut and paste real photographs to create montages that would probably look more "realistic" than what he has achieved with models. Instead of being very close to real looking they would be indistinguishable from reality, and in fact many people follow that course creating worlds in photoshop. What makes Boberg's photos different is that they depict the real world. Even if it's just a simulated model of the world, at least the model itself is real. With digital montage that connection is kaput. But what if you created the digital montage, then took a photograph of your computer screen with the image on it? Wouldn't that depict a real scene? In this case you could argue that a photo of something could be more "real" than the scene itself. As I said, don't expect any clear answers, at least not from me. From me just expect latenight ramblings.

The other interesting show I saw yesterday was Carly Bodnar's work at PSU's White gallery. These were extreme closeups of rotting fruit that I found quite interesting. Very visceral images. The textures seemed nearly human, and could probably pass unnoticed in a collection of Ann Mandelbaum human body part photos. Sadly, as is often the case, the artist statement was a complete load of shit illuminating nothing and darkening all sorts of things.

Those two galleries are on opposite ends of downtown Portland. Walking between them I shot 7 rolls of HP5.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Amy Stein, this series is blowing my mind

As if on cue, a little while after posting my Halloween portraits I stumbled on Amy Stein's newly updated series Halloween in Harlem. These are wonderful photographs, much better than mine. Go have a look. Great composition. Great colors. And how does she manage to convey a sense of the character even when the face is hidden behind a mask? Not easy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Caveat Emptor

These are some portraits I made on Halloween at the U of O. I'm not sure what I think of them yet. They don't really look like the rest of my work, and that's one thing I like about them. My main criticism is that they seem too posed. But I didn't pose them. I said, "Can I take your photograph?" then "Stand over there," and that was it. When you ask for a portrait the first (and usually only) question people ask is "What for?" Halloween provides an easy answer, but now I need one for everyday scenes. And it can't be "because you look interesting and I'd like to explore that..."

One woman agreed to her portrait but with the caveat, "As long as it doesn't wind up on the web or something." To that woman, if you see this posting, I'm sorry about that. Email me for a free print.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Deerhoof way

In my ears this week: Jackson Browne's Saturate Before Using, Radiohead's In Rainbows, Greg Brown's Down In There, and lastly Deerhoof's Apple O'. The thing about Deerhoof is they just don't give a shit what others care about them or how they come across. They don't care that their music is largely inaccessible, sometimes totally unlistenable, but with nuggets of genius buried here and there. The album covers are bizarre, uninterpretable, with no explanation about the music or attempt to interpret it or ease the way for someone coming to them for the first time. Most people finding their cd at a record store might give it a 30 second listen before dismissing them forever as just weird noise. And I get the feeling from their music that they're ok with that. Some people get them, most don't, but they're just going to keep making albums their own way regardless.

That's the way I want to make photos and it's the the only way, really, to make anything. Not necessarily obtuse on purpose, but made so that the eventual audience has no effect on the creative process.

Less is more?

One of my fundamental tenants is that photographs can happen anywhere, and often do. You don't need to go to foreign lands or have special access to events to get good photos. In fact those types of photos are often the most boring because their perspective becomes homogenized through redundancy. All those photos of indigent buskers and fingertip receptions tend to blur together. Can you remember who photographed any of them? Yet walk outside your doorstep and you are guaranteed to experience your very own personal slice of the world.

About a year ago I put my fundamental tenant to the test when we moved from Portland to Eugene. Although I was sure I would find subject matter here I knew it would be different. In Portland I could spend an hour right outside my doorstep and run through 2 rolls of film. Eugene requires a little more exploration, often with a car. There are less concentrated crowds here, less anonymity. I go through less film here. So instead of taking shots like this Portland scene

in Eugene my work looks more like this

Both scenes just outside the front door, but the door has moved 100 miles south.

I think the fundamental tentant is why I've been so drawn to the Grid Project. The whole idea of the grid thing is that wonderful scenes are all around us. We don't need to go to foreign lands, and we don't need to construct exotic scenes in a studio. The world right here right now is mindblowing. In photography as in life.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The New West

I found an old copy of Robert Adams The New West at the U of O library this week. It was published in 1974 and is now out of print and costs several hundred dollars and so a library is the only way to see it. I'd seen some of the pictures before, including several original prints at a Reed College show a few years back, but never studied the book as an integral subject. Photobooks are sort of like music albums. Listening to an original album is a much different experience than listening to the same songs in a different context, like on the radio or (ug!) on a greatest hits collection. In the same way, to get a sense of how the photos were edited and contemplated in their original context it helps to see the photo book.

Anyway, The New West is the book that put Adams on the map. The photos are of Denver's soulless suburbs. Prefaced with a (more anti-development than pro-photography) Szarkowski essay the book took a clear shot at Western Sunbelt sprawl. Yeah, I know that point of view is so commonplace today it's almost thoughtless but back then it was original, especially for a photographer. Landscape photographers were supposed to shoot waterfalls. The other Adams, that was the standard. Robert Adams? A voice from the fringe.

What I like about the book, and about Adams photos in general, is that they aren't exotic. In fact they seem to be the exact opposite of exotic. He just goes around where he lives (now Astoria, in the northern tip of Kyrgyzstan) and documents it. He often shoots mid-day and includes telephone wires, boring signs, etc, stuff that most professional photographers would exclude. The viewpoints seem haphazard at times, like he could've moved 5 feet either way and gotten just as much meaning in the shot.

I used to hate those types of photos, and I used to hate Adams photos. I couldn't understand what the fuss was about. His photos seemed too nonspecific. They weren't especially well timed or placed, and since I thought a photo was a guy jumping over a puddle in Paris I didn't get them. And I think that's the other thing I like about his photos, that my attitude toward them has shifted. My mind has had to open a bit.


I read Kafka's The Castle while in deep woods the summer after college. The main character goes by a single initial, K. I've always liked that book. At the time I read it, I'd never taken a photo in my life. That was roughly half a million exposures ago.