Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vivian Maier

Thanks to my friend Chris Chen of My Life As A Contact Sheet for sending out this link to the work of Vivian Maier, a street photographer, who worked in 1950's - 1970's. An auction in Chicago recently discovered 40,000 mostly medium format (6x6) negatives. Read all about it here.

© Vivian Maier

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Irving Penn

Irving Penn, one of the most influential photographers of the century, died today. He was 92 years old. Read the NYT obit by photo critic and Corcoran College of Art and Design Photography Chair, Andy Grundberg.

Kate Moss 2008 © Irving Penn

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Edward Burtynsky - Oil at the Corcoran

Don't miss the Edward Burtynsky exhibit at Corcoran, opening Oct. 3rd to Dec 13. The accompanying book, Edward Burtynsky: Oil will be published by Steidl on Oct. 31, 2009. Also see the NYT blog In Focus slide show. Lens Culture has an interview with Burtynsky from 2006.

The image below is from Burtynsky's Shipbreaking series.

© Edward Burtynsky - Shipbreaking #39, 2001

Manufacturing #17,
Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, 2005
© Edward Burtynsky

Friday, August 14, 2009

New York Photographs

NYT story here:
Glitz and Grime: Photographs of Times Square

New York Photographs 42nd Street in 1997, by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, from “Glitz & Grime” at Yancey Richardson.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman is a fashion photographer from NYC whose work from the 40s to the early ’60s was published in Harper’s Bazaar. From the NYT article called Femininity, Salvaged:

Five years ago, at 87, Ms. Bassman discovered the glories of Photoshop and so began a new chapter in digital photography. She works every day in her studio, toying and reconfiguring from about 11 in the morning until dinnertime, and claims a proud proficiency with her computer. It is a skill however that does not extend to the use of e-mail or Google. “I’m not interested,” she said, “in any of that.”

NYT slideshow

Lillian Bassman, Then and Now exhibition at Staley Wise in NYC.

The book, Lillian Bassman, from 1997 is out of print but a new book will be published in the fall.

© Lillian Bassman

© Lillian Bassman, 1951

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Kodachrome Retired

Kodak announced on June 22, 2009 that Kodachrome film will be retired after 74 years.
Read A Tribute to KODACHROME: A Photography Icon in Kodak's Blog A Thousand Words. Don't miss the Kodachrome slideshow.

Elsewhere, Forture magazine editors pick their favorite Kodachrome picks in the Kodachrome Gallery. Three of these photos by W.Eugene Smith, Robert Doisneau, and Jeff Jacobson are exceptional. For me, these all have what critic Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography called punctum. The punctum is subjective. A photo has that detail, that special quality, that something that grabs you by the throat or it does not.

From Fortune magazine.

W. Eugene Smith, renowned for his photo essays for Life magazine, notably "The Country Doctor," typically chronicled working-class American life. He also typically never worked in color, but Fortune persuaded him to do so. This private moment in the headquarters of Connecticut General Life Insurance in Hartford, Conn., did not make it into the September 1957 issue of the magazine, for which Smith shot photographs to accompany an article on the company's "dramatic new office building."

© W. Eugene Smith

Robert Doisneau, the celebrated French photographer and creator of the iconic 1950 photograph, "The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville," was another photographer who rarely experimented with color.
Here Doisneau pictures a man reading in a lounge chair in Palm Springs, Calif., a photo that appeared in the magazine's February 1961 issue.

© Robert Doisneau

Fortune's editors chose this Jeff Jacobson photograph of a Shanghai billboard for their "2002: The Year in Pictures" photo gallery to symbolize the need to keep an "eye on China.""For centuries, China was Asia's sleeping dragon. Now fully awake, it is the region's most vibrant economy -- and most feared competitor," the photo's caption explained.

© Jeff Jacobson

Friday, June 26, 2009

William Eggleston at the Corcoran

The William Eggleston exhibit at the Corcoran Museum opened on June 20th and is exceptional.

William Eggleston is from Memphis, TN. Many people have wondered if Eggleston's work is "Southern" or have asked him directly about the "meaning of the South". In an interview printed in Aperture by John Howell in 1999, in response to the "meaning of the South" query, Eggleston said "I don't know what they're looking for. I don't have any idea".

Howell continues to say that "Southern" always strikes Southerners as a condescending tag.

It's taken to mean "regional," as in local, anecdotal, folkloric and outrageously melodramatic - in other words, like those novels, films and plays full of enervated aristocrats, trampy women, and idiot men-children acting out in bizarre ways. It's as if solemn phrases about the drama of the decaying South soothe those puzzled by Eggleston's pictures ("What are they about?"), and those-mostly now in the past - outraged by the "banal" subject matter.

Eggleston gives his consistent philosophic answer: "You can take a good picture of anything. A bad one too," he adds, with a chuckle. He has said many times that the subjects of his pictures were simply an excuse to make photographs. "I want to make a picture that could stand on its own, regardless of what it was a picture of.

John Szarkowski isn't quite buying this. In the Introduction to the monograph William Eggleston's Guide, Szarkowski writes that the photos are about Eggleston's home, about his place.

...the pictures reproduced here are about the photographer's home, about his place, in both important meanings of that word. One might say about his identity.

If this is true, it does not mean that the pictures are not also simultaneously about photography, for the two issues are not supplementary but coextensive. Whatever else a photograph may be about, it is inevitably about photography, the container and the vehicle of all its meanings. Whatever a photographer's intuitions or intentions, they must be cut and shaped to fit the possibilities of his art. Thus if we see the pictures clearly as photographs, we will perhaps also see, or sense, something of their other, more private, willful, and anarchic meanings.

Photography is a system of visual editing. At bottom, it is a matter of surrounding with a frame a portion of one's cone of vision, while standing in the right place at the right time. Like chess, or writing, it is a matter of choosing from among given possibilities, but in the case of photography the number of possibilities is not finite but infinite. The world now contains more photographs than bricks, and they are, astonishingly, all different. Even the most servile of photographers has not yet managed to duplicate exactly an earlier work by a great and revered master.

Photos below are from the monograph William Eggleston's Guide
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1976, 2003

© William Eggleston

© William Eggleston

© William Eggleston


Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Perfect Moment

Twenty years ago, in the summer of 1989, the Corcoran cancelled its scheduled retrospective exhibition of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe called "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment". The Institute of Contemporary Art hosted a two-day symposium Imperfect Moments: Mapplethorpe and Censorship Twenty Years Later. The original exhibit was organized by Janet Kardon from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. A must read is the Janet Kardon article from 1988. The show was partially financed by the National Endowment for the Arts. One of the reasons for the cancellation was the uproar over the Andres Serrano photograph "Piss Christ" which was also funded by the NEA and exhibited in North Carolina. See the link above for the advert for Andres Serrano's SHIT show last fall.

Sister Wendy, nun and art critic, in an 1998 article in Art in America, doesn't seem at all bothered by Serrano's Piss Christ. (sorry, someone broke my link to the article). The New York Times reviewed a 10-year Serrano retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in a 1995 article by Holland Cotter.

The Guardian.UK's Jonathan Jones, in an article from Sept. 2000, writes about the Mapplethorpe polaroid portrait of Patti Smith from 1974 shown below. He nails this one calling Patti Smith "black anger in the white light".

Patti Smith, 1974, Polaroid -©Robert Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith, 1979 - ©Robert Mapplethorpe

Piss Christ - ©Andres Serrano

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Smile and Say No Photoshop

I hope this is a trend.  Photographer Peter Linbergh's non photoshopped covers for French Elle.
Read the NYT article, Smile and Say No Photoshop.

Also, in the excellent LENS blog, the Three Faces of Reese.  Can you see the changes in Reese Witherspoon's chin, dimples and eye color?

More from the Elle news blog.

Monica Belluci Photo by Peter Lindbergh

Monica Belluci Photo by Peter Lindbergh

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Originals - Robert Maxwell

There is a beautiful full page portrait of the surfer Clay Marzo by photographer Robert Maxwell in Sundays, NYT's Style Magazine. Summer Travel 2009.

Clay Marzo Aqua Man
While the rest of us surf the Web, Clay Marzo hangs ten off some of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Tahiti, El Salvador, Micronesia, Spain, Bali — the world is Marzo’s tidal wave. ‘‘My favorite place to surf is Fiji,’’ he says. ‘‘There is a surfing island called Tavarua that is like paradise.’’ In search of the perfect break, he always comes prepared, typically taking four or five boards with him; he’d like to visit the coast of Western Australia next. Although Marzo has the developmental disorder known as Asperger’s syndrome, it’s never slowed him down: he got his start riding on the front of his father’s long board at the age of 1; now 19, he is one of the most lauded beach bums in the world. ‘‘I get most inspired by seeing photos of faraway breaks and sick, slablike waves.’’

Clay Marzo by Robert Maxwell

New York Times Style Magazine, May 17, 2009
More from Robert Maxwell's Originals Series

Wes Anderson - by Robert Maxwell

Gordon Parks - by Robert Maxwell

Michele Oka Doner, Artist by Robert Maxwell

The lone hunter in the Akira Kurosawa film ''Dersu Uzala'' inspired Michele Oka Doner to rethink her own clutter. ''That's when I began to want things to be more elemental,'' she says. Doner tossed the extraneous but kept a firm grip on all things functional -- and beautiful -- even in her well-known public art projects. The tiled floors she designed for Miami International Airport include celestial depictions of saltwater plants and invertebrate creatures; for the Herald Square subway stop in New York, she gold-tiled the walls to add ''radiance and reflectivity'' to a tedious commute. She's also conscious of beauty in the little things, from her sculptural jewelry (including a collection for Christofle) to her line of crystal objects for Steuben Glass.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jeff Riedel - A Night On the Streets

I just got the May 2009 issue of PDN, the Photo Annual 2009. One of the winners from the magazine/editorial category was Jeff Riedel for the New York Magazine story called A Night On the Streets. Kudos to New York Mag's photo director Jody Quon and photo editor Alex Pollack.

William Thompson 5:30 p.m., the Bronx © Jeff Riedel
Nancy Quinn, Midnight, the Bronx © Jeff Riedel

Lorraine Zier, 5 a.m., midtown © Jeff Riedel

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pulitzer for Damon Winter NYT

Congrats to NYT photographer Damon Winter, who won the Pulitzer Prize today for feature photography, for his images of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Check out the winning photos in the NYT slideshow A Vision of History.

Also, in the NYT multimedia presentation, Damon Winter recounts documenting the crowds, security and Senator Barack Obama on the campaign trail in 2008.

3-3-2008, San Antonio, TX, Damon Winter, NYT.

11-07-2008, Cinncinati, OH, Damon Winter, NYT

Pictures Generation

The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984, exhibit opens at the Met on Tuesday. The Pictures Generation was a group show at Aritsts Space in NYC in 1977 that exhibited work from Robert Longo, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine and Troy Brauntuch. Other artists that were associated with the "Pictures Generation" school or movement were Barbara Kruger, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman.

Douglas Eklund in his essay from the Pictures Generation exhibit at the Met quotes semiotician Ronald Barthes and opines about why it's important for photographers to know their history.

Barthes infamously extended this concept to question the very possibility of originality and authenticity in his 1967 manifesto "The Death of the Author," in which he stated that any text (or image), rather than emitting a fixed meaning from a singular voice, was but a tissue of quotations that were themselves references to yet other texts, and so on.

The famous last line of Barthes' essay, that "the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author," was a call to arms for the loosely knit group of artists working in photography, film, video, and performance that would become known as the "Pictures" generation...

Untitled Film Still #14, 1978 © Cindy Sherman

from Men In The Cities series, © Robert Longo

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tough and Beautiful

Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand met in the early 1960's in New York City. Meyerowitz would go out and photograph with Winogrand, just about everyday, from 1962 to 1965 according to the book, Bystander: A History Of Street Photography. Meyerowitz talks about what makes an image "Tough".

"Tough" was a term we used to use a lot. Stark, spare, hard, demanding, tough: these were the values that we applied to the act of making photographs.

Tough meant the image was uncompromising. It was something made out of your guts, out of your instinct, and it was unwieldy in some way, not capable of being categorized by ordinary standards. So it was tough. It was tough to like, tough to see, tough to make, tough to draw meaning from. It wasn't what most photographs looked like. ... It was a type of picture that made you uncomfortable sometimes. You didn't quite understand it. It made you grind your teeth.

At the same time, though you knew it was beautiful, because tough also meant that - it meant beautiful too. ... The two words - "tough" and "beautiful" --became synonyms somehow. They were what street photography was all about.

Fifth Avenue and Fifty-second Street, NY, 1974 ⓒ Joel Meyerowitz

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Two Problems

"Every photographer has two problems: To find what to photograph, and to find how to photograph it. The way I see it, you find the what, nail it to the cross, and the how will take care of itself." ~ Garry Winogrand

It's difficult to talk about Street Photography without talking about Garry Winogrand. Winogrand would typically carry two Leica M4's with 28mm lens attached, loaded with Tri-X film and shoot copiously. He died in 1984 at age 56, leaving behind 2500 rolls of unprocessed film. Read the excellent essay by Frank Van Riper and another by Mason Resnick called Coffee and Workprints: A Workshop with Garry Winogrand.

One of my favorite images from Winogrand is below, from the book, Garry Winogrand: The Animals. The Getty museum has this to say about this photo.

Garry Winogrand confronted tough issues like racism with a sense of humor, as he did here by photographing this black man and white woman holding apes. The chimpanzees are dressed like children and resemble the human child standing behind the couple. The photographer's close vantage point, the crowd, the dramatic winter light-all add a sense of spectacle. Winogrand was not simply reacting to a strange moment, but probably also to racial tensions sweeping the country at the height of the Civil Rights movement. The year this picture was made, black actors won Academy Awards, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state laws banning interracial marriage. It is not clear whether this man and woman were actually a couple, but Winogrand must have known that their togetherness was as unsettling to some people as their circumstances were comical.

Garry Winogrand, 1967. Central Park Zoo

Garry Winogrand, 1952. Coney Island, NY

YouTube Video of Winogrand:
Interview Part 1
Interview Part 2

Out of Print Winogrand book, Winogrand 1964

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So you wanna be a photo editor...

The Magnum Photo blog has a photo editing competition called Your Magnum Edit. You browse through the Magnum archive and select 10-14 images that illustrate the following Oscar Wilde quote.

"A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction." - Oscar Wilde

Sign up on the Magnum site to use the lightbox and submit image numbers to the contest form. Submit your images by Friday, April 10th, 2009 at 12pm. I am curious to see what other people choose for their edit.

Below is an image from my edit from Bruce Davidson.

Subway, 1980
Copyright Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Monday, April 6, 2009

Shoot Your Idols

On Saturday I met with a few photographer friends (Paul, Josh, Graeme, Praveen, Steve, Chris) to shoot the Cherry Blossom Parade (DCist Weekend Gallery) and see the Character Project Exhibit. After the exhibit, we had lunch and discussed a wide range of topics ranging from the influence of the French New Wave in film, to Ryan McGinley’s obsession with Moz, to what work we loved and loathed in the Character Project, to bad photo editing and visual literacy.

I was trying to remember this quote about music criticism that was attributed to Elvis Costello.

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really stupid thing to want to do."

- Elvis Costello, in an interview by Timothy White entitled "A Man out of Time Beats the Clock." Musician magazine No. 60 (October 1983), p. 52.

Is it the same for photography? Is writing about photography a really stupid thing to want to do? I don’t think so, hence this blog. Visual Literacy is the ability to understand and better appreciate visual images and being able to use visual imagery to communicate to others. Photographs need to be decoded and interpreted in order to be fully understood and appreciated. A good starting point for interpreting a photograph is by asking the following questions:

What is this photograph about? (what is obvious and what is implied)
Does the photograph work and why?

A photograph can communicate complex messages. They are not objective but reflect the photographer’s aesthetic.

The first photo is Iggy Pop, photographed by Eric Ogden for his series on Detroit musicians in the USA network's Character Project. The second portrait of Iggy is by Danny Clinch for a John Varvatos advert. Danny Clinch's portrait is sublime. It goes beyond the scores of cliched images of Iggy with his shirt off, to reveal a true rock and roll icon.

Eric Ogden, 2008 (As seen in the Character Project exhibit)

Danny Clinch, 2006, Iggy Pop, Central Park, NYC

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remembering Helen Levitt

James Agee, author of the seminal documentary work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families had this to say about Helen Levitt's work.

“At least a dozen of Helen Levitt’s photographs seem to me as beautiful, perceptive, satisfying, and enduring as any lyrical work that I know. In their general quality and coherence, moreover, the photographs as a whole body, as a book, seem to me to combine into a unified view of the world, an uninsistent but irrefutable manifesto of a way of seeing, and in a gently and wholly unpretentious way, a major poetic work.”

NYT article from March 30, 2009, Art and Design.
NPR's All Things Considered story from 2002.
James Agee's forward to A Way of Seeing from Masters of Photography (Thanks Paul S.)

Helen Levitt - New York, 1974 from the book,
Slide Show: The Color Photographs of Helen Levitt

Helen Levitt - NYC, 1940

More Helen Levitt Books

Monday, March 30, 2009

This is Not a Pipe

Photography is the great democratic medium. Anyone can do it. You don't need artistic talent or training, you just need to know how to trip the shutter on your camera. Everyone seems to be taking pictures and these pictures show up in print and on local blogs, Facebook and Flickr. But all photographs are not created equal. Some photographs are more equal than others. What is it that makes a photograph compelling? In the book Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Roland Barthes, talks in depth about what makes a good photograph.

..all we can say is that the object [the photograph] speaks, it induces us, vaguely, to think. And further: even this risks being perceived as dangerous. At the limit, no meaning at all is safer: the editors of Life rejected Kertesz’s photographs when he arrived in the United States in 1937 because, they said, his images “spoke too much”; they made us reflect, suggested a meaning – a different meaning from the literal one. Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels or stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.

Photographs have both a denotation and a connotation. The denotation is the obvious, literal meaning. The connotation is the symbolic or metaphoric meaning. Below are images from
Andre Kertesz. Do these images "speak too much"?

Andre Kertesz, Martinique

Andre Kertesz - Satiric Dancer, 1926.

Rene Magritte, 1928-29, The Treachery of Images

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let's Be Frank

Robert Frank is in DC today for a lecture/conversation with with Sarah Greenough, senior curator and head of the department of photographs, National Gallery of Art. A Conversation with Robert Frank at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, March 26, 2009 @ 3:30p.m.

In an interview with Art in America in 1996, Robert Frank talked about the photo below from The Americans.

I am still affected by that one photograph of the man on the hill in San Francisco, the way he looked back at me. I think that's why that's my favorite picture in the book. But it was, you know, forty years ago, a long time ago, a different time.

Robert Frank - from The Americans, San Francisco, 1956

The Americans first published in 1958 and 1959, changed the course of 20th-century photography. John Szarkowski, critic, author and curator at MOMA said that Robert Frank established a new iconography for contemporary America. Other books by Robert Frank include, Peru: Photographs and Paris.

The photograph below was one of the last still photographs Frank made before he devoted his creative energy to filmmaking in the early 1960s.

Fourth of July, Coney Island, 1958
Robert Frank (American, born Switzerland, 1924)