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


  1. I try so hard to interpet all by myself ... but I always need help. Most of the time, I just really enjoy what I see, and decide that I like it, without knowing what their objective was.

  2. I do like that Varvatos ad. Pop's face is nakedly ripped instead of his usually bare torso.

  3. It was great meeting you at the Co-op, really like the blog Matt! :)

  4. I agree that the Clinch shot is better, but it's also a better example of a constructed, fashion-style, portrait, as opposed to Ogden's more documentary approach (assuming Iggy actually spends a lot of his time walking around shirtless).

  5. Chris, you are absolutely right, that's an excellent point. For me, the Danny Clinch portrait speaks volumes. The choice of black and white is classic. It looks like a shot of a "mod" from the 60's. Iggy and the Stooges were in their prime in the late 60's. Iggy's got a giant golf umbrella. Iggy (James Osterberg) is a big golfer. I know it's hard to believe. Now that would be a great documentary shot, Iggy playing golf! My point is that the Danny Clinch shot has much going on below the surface.

  6. Interesting to discover that he's a golfer. I'm not totally surprised since he's from Ann Arbor, I think? I used to work w/a woman who went to high school w/him & said "He was a such shy, nerdy guy, but then he went to college & discovered dope . . ." Yes, there must be a great shot of him playing golf . . . shirtless, of course.

  7. I'm sure a lot of rock stars are golfers. Can't say for the other way around, although, expanding the genre reminds me of John McEnroe, a formerly disgruntled pro tennis player who now seeks stardom on the stage and by making snarky (but true) comments for various networks.
    I do prefer the Clinch portrait but not so much on a photographic level, but more on a behind the scene here is the rock star with his clothes on level. Iggy appears to have let the icon facade down and presents himself as having a bit of personality shall we say.

  8. Awesome Iggy shot! One of the few I've seen with his shirt on! LOL! That's the magic of photography--a good picture can say so much without ever saying a word.