Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Low Resolution

Time to check in with my New Year's resolutions from January 1, 2008. I had three:

1. Make 300 portraits of total strangers
I took roughly 110 portraits of total strangers, well short of the goal.

2. Learn to make consistently satisfying inkjet color photos.
I fell well short of this goal as well. I still cannot make a satisfactory color inkjet that looks as good as a C-print. On the plus side, I got up to speed in the color darkroom. Last January I knew nothing. Now I'm able to make consistently satisfying C-prints.

3. Sleep outside at least 20 nights
Check. I'm guessing I was close to 30.

Total Stranger #49, July 2008, Athens, Maine

My photo-related resolutions for 2009:

1. Get bored with the Diana so I can move on finally.

2. Acquire 10 photographs through barter.

3. Photograph for at least twice the hours spent watching TV.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What To Do? #8

22. Everett Lofts, Portland, 2006

23. SE 40th and Belmont, Portland, 2004

24. Marylhurst University, 2005

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished photos from my archives)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Favorite Photography Blogs of 2008

I think a photoblog should reveal something about the person behind it. I like blogs that comment on the photographic process, that give me a true personal perspective on that process, and that aren't afraid to be opinionated. All these characteristics are necessary but not sufficient. Some blogs are so personal that they function as public diaries, while others treat the personal as self promotional vehicles. Generally I find them less interesting. I think some commentary on the broader photography world is needed in addition to personal revelation. My favorites are the ones which strike a balance--personally revealing yet able to point me toward interesting discoveries at large. Here are ten that I checked in with regularly in 2008:

1. 5b4. Insightful, passionate and consistent, Jeff Ladd keeps fanning the flames. In what other medium but photography could a blog about books take the temperature of the entire art? The Hong Kong travelogue was icing on the cake.

2. The Year in Pictures. Here's how the photo world looks to New York gallery owner James Danziger. Considering his cutthroat environs, his blog is surprisingly humane and heartfelt. Danziger has a pretty reliable eye that quickly cuts to the chase.

3. Heading East. A nice mix of personal narrative and expository nods to other photographers, with enough references to nonphoto topics like his family to keep you guessing. Did parenting duties prevent him from discovering Debbie Fleming Caffery?

4. Passport to Trespass. Mikael Kennedy's ongoing photo journal offers no explanation or commentary, just a constant stream of pleasantly beguiling polaroids. This is the only nonwritten photoblog I regularly visit.

5. Lenscratch. Aline Smithson is a workhorse, with near daily posts about an astonishing array of photographers. If there is any problem it may be that she's too prolific. Miss a few weeks and you'll never catch up. Smithson doesn't reveal much about herself here, but as a quick guide to other work Lenscratch is great.

6. The Online Photographer. Kudos to Mike Johnston for managing the prolific, multi-authored granddaddy of photoblogs, which Johnston's voice somehow manages to tie together. On the downside there's a little too much gear-talk for my taste. Maybe some of that techknohow could be used to make the site load faster?

7. Dispatches. Doug Plummer offers the best insight out there into the day-to-day life and thoughts of a working pro. Written from the point of view of an old fuddy-duddy who's come to embrace the digital era, Dispatches is a snapshot of the epoch.

8. 2point8. Although this used to be essential daily reading it seems to have slipped off a bit in the past year. Still a great source for street photo nuggets like the recent Winogrand interviews. Here's hoping MDM gives it a little more energy in 09.

9. Magnum. Magnum is back, baby! Rekindled by Alec Soth, who has transformed it from tired photojournalism commentary to a multi-authored version of his late great blog questioning all things photographic. As with the old blog, the comments field is often as enjoyable to read as the original post.

10. Conscientious. Give Colberg props for casting a wide and constant net. It's rare that he showcases anyone I'm familiar with so as a source of new leads his blog is great, and the occasional forays into theory are usually enjoyable. On the downside his style can be somewhat cold and impersonal, and a lot of the photography he shows feels the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Behind the times

It's that time of year again for top-ten lists. Because I am karmically allergic to anything new, and because there are enough lists out there recapping 2008, my lists are of favorites I encountered this past year that were NOT produced in 2008. I would recommend the following titles to anyone in search of quality used material.


1. Joe Gould's Secret, Joseph Mitchell (1996)
2. A Sense of the World, Jason Roberts (2007)
3. An American Requiem, James Carroll (1996)
4. One Drop, Bliss Broyard (2007)
5. Sex and Death to the Age of 14, Spalding Gray (1986)
6. Thunderstruck, Erik Larson (2007)
7. Ada Blackjack, Jennifer Niven (2003)
8. Memoir of the Bookie's Son, Sydney Offit (1995)
9. Running the Table, L. Jon Wertheim (2007)
10. The Earth Moved, Amy Stewart (2004)

Photography books

1. American Sports, Tod Papageorge (2007)
2. Iowa, Nancy Rexroth (1977)
2. South Central, Mark Steinmetz (2007)
3. Yoknapatawpha, Alain Desvergnes (1993)
4. Hackney Flowers, Stephen Gill (2007)
5. Outside and Inside America, Bill Dane (1993)
6. On the Sixth Day, Alessandra Sanguinetti (2005)
7. Shards of America, Phil Bergerson (2004)
8. Sunset Park, Thomas Roma (1998)
9. Landscapes, Ray K. Metzker (2000)


1. Brother From Another Planet, John Sayles (1984)
2. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, Andrew Dominik (2007)
3. No Country For Old Men, Coen Bros. (2007)
4. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Peter Care (2002)
5. The Wife, Tom Noonan (1995)
6. I Like Killing Flies, Matt Mahurin (2004)
7. What Remains, Steven Cantor (2005)
8. Paranoid Park, Gus Van Sant (2007)
9. 51 Birch Street, Doug Block (2005)
10. Juno, Jason Reitman (2007)


1. Irresistable Impulse, James Chance (2003)
2. M.I.A., Kala (2007)
3. Silver and Gold, Prince Far I (1973)
4. His Band and The Street Choir, Van Morrison (1970)
5. Tago Mago, Can (1971)
6. Words Are Dead, Horse Feathers (2006)
7. Now You Know, Doug Martsch (2002)
8. End of Amnesia, M. Ward (2001)
9. One Foot In the Grave, Beck (1994)
10. Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits (1990)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Open call for advice

Regular B readers know that one of my pet peeves is the inaccessibility of certain photography books. Some books are printed in a deliberately limited run, snatched up by collectors, fall out of print, and from that point on they become relatively inaccessible to anyone without money or a strong library nearby. Jeff Ladd has taken strides to correct things with his Errata Editions series. But even those re-issues lack accessibility at a certain level. They cost money and they will probably fall out of print themselves.

I believe that the best way to increase the accessibility of out-of-print books is via the web. Beginning in January I plan to begin a new blog series showcasing out-of-print books. I will track down books from my collection or from the U of O library that I think are important and under-publicized, and post them page for page on B.

I have chosen the first few books, scanned them, and am in the process of formatting the images. My main qualm at this point is that I suspect posting an entire book without permission is illegal and could open me up for a lawsuit. I have no doubts about the act's morality. I can't see how it will have any negative impact, financially or otherwise, on any photographer. But legally I am less certain.

Does anyone out there in the photo community have good legal advice on this matter? Can out-of-print books be shown in their entirety on the web under Fair Use Copyright law? Any lawyers out there now is the time to be a good Samaritan and pass your legal opinion my way. All advice appreciated.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What To Do? #7

19. SE Morrison St, Portland, 2003

20. Burnside, Portland, 2000

21. Aqaba, Jordan, 2000

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished photos from my archives)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Do you want new wave or do you want the truth?

Amy Stein's recent interview with Graham Miller directly addresses the issue of staged images vs. found images.
Amy Stein: Sometimes people are downright angry when they learn my Domesticated photos are staged. Do you feel any push back from people when they discover your images are constructed? Why do you think people have such a hard time allowing for the personal vision and imagination of a photographer compared to a painter, musician, or writer?

Graham Miller: I've not got the downright angry reaction...more like a kind of knowing, dismissive, sigh. I guess the reason people have such a hard time with the constructed image is that for them it somehow feels like cheating. They still believe that because the photograph so closely resembles reality that somehow it must also be "true". For me photography is much like writing -in the sense that you can approach writing about a subject or photographing it as fiction or nonfiction. Both are equally valid, and both speak of the human experience in a moving and profound way. It does puzzle me when people go on about it. It just doesn't feel the right approach for me to work in a traditional photojournalistic sense.

First of all, I think everyone is free to shoot in whatever style they see fit.

That said, I tend to find found images more interesting than staged ones and here's why. When I see an image, I am immediately curious about how that image was made. What were the circumstances of its exposure? What was happening at the scene? Most importantly, WHY did the photographer find that scene interesting and compose it in that way? If the image is a found one, all of these questions seem very dynamic. I get to imagine I'm in the photographer's shoes. I get to try to see how they saw. This is some of what I've been trying to get at with my What Was He Thinking? series, to see how different people identify photographic moments and separate them out from regular life.

With staged images, all of those circumstances are basically inside the photographer's head. There's nothing to separate out, no moment to identify. I'm basically relying on the photographer to dig around in his/her brain and then let me know somehow what was happening in there, the same way painters, musicians, and writers do. I have no problem with any of those arts but I generally don't find them as interesting as photography because photography has a relationship with reality that, to me at least, seems unique among the arts.

For me half the power of a photograph like this

Frank by Graham Miller

comes from wondering how he found it. When I learn it was constructed instead of found, I guess I become one of the dismissive sighers. I admit I had the same reaction when I realized Stein's Domesticated series was staged. I'd prefer her Stranded stuff or her Halloween portraits any day.

Then there's the fun factor. I think finding photographs is downright fun. The "Aha!" moment when a photograph comes together and you snatch an image out of reality like a rabbit from a hat, that is a buzz. Honestly it is the reason I photograph. Is constructing photographs fun? Maybe it is for some people. To see an image through from idea to final print is probably very satisfying. But not for me. It seems less "Aha!" than a series of menial steps toward illustration Again, that's just me.

Miller compares photography to writing, with its division of fiction vs. nonfiction. I have to say that even by that standard I am the same. Although I am serious bookworm, I haven't read a novel in years. I like nonfiction. I prefer documentary movies. I admit I have strange tastes but I can't do anything about that. The truth of them is stranger than anything I could invent.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Steve Rockoff: What Was He Thinking?

Steve Rockoff is a photographer based in Vancouver, WA. He shoots primarily 35 mm b/w film using a Contax rangefinder. A small selection of other images can be seen here.

Ascona, Switzerland

"Before college tuitions, travel was a passion. On a late afternoon returning to my bus stop from the bay, I spotted a very athletic man aglow in white. He was walking towards me so I thought ‘background’. The town was having a tourist street exposition of older photo posters so I stepped into a doorway, composed the background , and waited for him to enter the viewfinder. Not exactly sure where he would be or who might enter as well; there was one shutter click and a fair amount of luck in creating the image."

Portland , Oregon

"With less travel in recent years I am drawn to nearby downtown with camera in hand, sometimes long walks just looking if weather allows, and sometimes just waiting for family to reunite. The light was at a nice angle later in the day. I was waiting outside a movie house when a man in a hat stepped up to look at a city-wide block excavation surrounded by fences on which cloth murals were suspended. I liked the shared sense of looking together and the balance of mural and real men with hats. I recall vividly my excitement of the composition creating itself. I don’t remember what movie we saw."

Portland , Oregon

"Portland is alive with some very talented, and some pretty quirky and not-so-talented, street performers whose dedication to art is sometimes very evident by their braving the crummy fall and winter weather. Across from Finnegan’s and Art Media, by the parking structure, one will often find Tim with his fiddle, practicing, performing, and most certainly entertaining all within range. He is very good. Since taking this shot I have often stopped to just listen and donate a buck to help him continue. He also teaches and plays in band gigs when he can. Catch his music and donate some cash if you happen to cross paths. Better yet buy a CD. It has this image on it."

Portland, Oregon

"I was on a walk in town with my camera when a growing police presence and blocked street became evident. About 75 young protesters were demonstrating against bank support of the Iraq war. The police had confined them to the sidewalk, not allowing any entry to bank steps or street. When one protester got a little angry the SWAT team arrived. Ten rather ominous officers on running boards of a white unmarked van with a few more inside pulled up in front of my vantage point with other observers across the street, and piled out to reinforce the police line. All soon calmed down and the protesters dispersed. The underexposed negative seems to darken their human presence and maybe capture my feeling of the event."

Portland, Oregon

"When my car odometer stopped at 214K I thought it might be a good idea to check out the used car market. Waiting for a test drive I noticed a typical northwest sky reflected in the curved windshield and grabbed an image. Usually a good idea to look up, down, and behind, as well as where you’re going, when hunting for images."

Zurich, Switzerland

"Another Swiss view. Family in the department store while I was on the street with camera. The window display was rather sexist with none of the pedestrians taking notice. I thought the 2 bicycles balanced the foreground and was waiting for an interesting single or group of pedestrians to pass when a man came to claim the right bike. Luckily another male and no others entered before the scene dissolved. I think the image lends itself to a fair amount of social interpretation."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Muntader al-Zaidi's moment

I love this photo from Monday:
Saul Loeb, Agence France-Presse, 2008

In one brief moment, Saul Loeb has managed to encapsulate Iraq. Six years ago, Bush took down the Iraqi government to save the poor defenseless people of that country. Now the situation is exactly reversed. Poor defenseless Bush requires the Iraqi government to protect him from its people. There aren't many photos which can communicate such clear symbolism without any fluff.

This photo is somewhat unusual for me. Usually I pay little attention to what is in a photo. I'm more concerned with the photo itself. I'm a sucker for form, composition, color, framing, synchronicity, the things that distinguish an image of reality from that reality. I won't say I'm completely in the Winogrand camp of "The only thing that matters is the photograph" but I definitely lean toward that outlook. But with this image none of that seems to matter. As a photo it's not particularly noteworthy. If the two people were not Bush and al-Maliki the photo would be worthless. But that's just the point. In this case the actual content of the photo makes it a strong image.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beer generates consensus

Following up on my post from a few weeks ago, Mark Barnes's Down River series is currently showing at Blue Sky. His prints are old-school 8 x 10 contacts and they're rad. A lot of the work can be seen online here, but as with much photography it's not quite the same as seeing prints on the wall.

Holiday by Mark Barnes

Speaking of Blue Sky someone recently showed me an old (May 13, 1980) Willamette Week interview which sheds a little light on their early days. I thought it was especially timely considering the recent death of Terry Toedtemeier. Here is an excerpt:

Paul Sutinen: How did you arrive at the name Blue Sky?

Christopher Rauschenberg: We argued about it for about two months and finally one night we put our foot down and said, "We're going over to that tavern and drink beer until we agree on the name and we're not leaving before that." So we just kept drinking beer until we agreed with each other. We wanted to have it set up so that everybody would agree on it. If one person didn't like it then it was no good. And that's basically been the way that we've done business ever since.

PS: How did you get to the point that you had a gallery that needed a name?

CR: Well, Ann Hughes and Bob Di Franco were sharing darkroom space which was the third room in from the street on NW Lovejoy St., the first room being the storefront with a big window, but it was not being put to good use and Ann came up with the idea of putting a gallery there so that there would be a place where photographers could have some communication with each other. As it was, there was no place. If there were two photographers in town there was no chance that they would run into each other except maybe at the camera store. There was no center. There were some galleries, but they didn't have that kind of function.

That was the original inspiration and the group expanded to include Craig Hickman, Terry Toedtemeier, me -- and those five basically did the gallery for two and a half years, something like that.

PS: Legend has it that the early financing of the gallery came from unemployment checks.

Robert Di Franco: That's correct.

CR: Three out of five people were on unemployment.

PS: And the original space was only $40?

CR: Right. And we didn't have a phone. Basically the idea was to have no overhead because we knew we weren't going to make any money, so any overhead that we had had to come out of our pockets. The idea was to run the gallery on no money. To start it we had a dance at Euphoria. That raised enough money to buy some sheets of particle board and some burlap that we stretched and stapled to cover the walls. And then all we spent money on was the posters and then this little dribble for the rent and the electric. We never used any heat because the lightbulbs heated up the space so much.

But the basic idea in putting together the gallery was just to sort of accumulate enough people who were interested in putting in time and money into a gallery that wouldn't particularly help their careers. It was just to promote photography in general and the idea always was that it would be open to new people to join when somebody wanted to put in a bunch of time on something.

Blue Sky Gal Airy

Anyone who has been to their gorgeous new space along Portland's park blocks knows that Blue Sky has come a long way since the days described in this interview. It showcases photographers from all over the world, and its track record of shows stands up against any other gallery. And yes, the gallery now has a phone and heat along with other amenities.

But in many ways the 1970s DIY spirit of Blue Sky's early roots is still evident. There is still a space in the gallery --now just a small corner-- where anyone can sign up to show whatever photos they want for one week, completely unjuried. There are two paid staffers but many of the daily tasks like manning the front desk or hanging shows are handled by volunteers. Anyone can submit work to the gallery at any time. And what might be considered the core of Blue Sky, the exhibition committee which decides what work to show and when, is open to anyone who shows dedication to the meetings and functions as consensus democracy. All of these aspects of the gallery seem to run counter to the prevailing trends of the contemporary photo world, and the art world more generally.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What To Do? #6

16. Eureka, CA, 2004

17. Longview, WA, 2004

18. SW 4th and Salmon, Portland, 2003

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished photos from my archives)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Terry Norman Toedtemeier, 1947 - 2008

Terry Toedtemeier by Craig Hickman, 1976

The death of Terry Toedtemeier on Wednesday came as a shock. Born and raised in Portland, Toedtemeier became thoroughly enmeshed in the city's photographic community, first as a founding member of Blue Sky Gallery and later at the Portland Art Museum where he was the curator of photography from 1985 until his death this week. His crowning curatorial achievement, Wild Beauty, is on display at the museum until January 11, 2009. A brief obituary is here, public comments on his life and legacy are here, and some of his photos are here:

From Some Twenty Odd Visions (1978)

From the 80s and 90s

Indian Cove


Tide Sweep, Cape Meares, 2004

From Basalt Exposures (1995)

Owl and Pussy Cat Rocks, 1990

Contraction Fracture, 1994

Recent work

Steam Plume, Hawaii, 2006

Pu'u O'o Crater Vents, Hawaii, 2006

Stone Trees, 2007

Skylight, Hawaii, 2008