Thursday, August 31, 2006

It Keeps Me Off the Streets

street photography
I've let my camera rest these last two weeks while I've been editing the last project and sorting out the next. So, of course, I have had a number of unphotographable moments. Three I have missed:
A man with Down's Syndrome gently swinging a child's purse and hitting an older man again and again. (The older man said: "Since you are going" whack "to live with me for two weeks" whack "we're going to need" whack "to establish" whack "some ground rules.")

A man walking casually down 1st Avenue with a plastic bag over his head, seemingly quite comfortable and at home in his bag.

A couple kissing so intensely on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum that even New Yorkers turned to look.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

An Artist Deals with Banality

street photography by ted fisher
And how do you find the mystery in the banal?

Garry Winogrand: Well, that's what's interesting. There is a transformation, you see, when you just put four edges around it. That changes it. A new world is created.

Does that discreet context make it more descriptive, and by transforming it give it a whole new layer of meaning?

Garry Winogrand: You're asking me why that happens. Aside from the fact of just taking things out of context, I don't know why. That's part of a mystery. In a way, a transformation is a mystery to me.
Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Street Photography or Documentary Photography?

street photography by Ted Fisher
If there were an actual April Fool's Parade -- instead of just a way of looking at passing daily life -- it would be the perfect test for whether one wants to practice Street Photography or Documentary Photography.

In my take -- and I'm perfectly willing to let everyone invent their own version -- two photographers might show up at the same parade. The first, practicing documentary photography, will stay with the parade, and end up telling some story out of it, though perhaps not the obvious one....

The second, engaged in street photography, will be distracted by something, somewhere off to the side of the parade route, something vaguely beautiful but difficult to see....

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Coming Soon

For now, you can read me on New York Portraits.

What I Saw on the Walls

street photography by Ted Fisher
This weekend's viewing included visits to the International Center of Photography, the Neue Galerie and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Weegee's street photography (showcased in ICP's Unknown Weegee) is fantastic, but presents a curatorial dilemma every time it is shown. Weegee's body of work is large and uneven. Do you trim a show down to the absolute gems, and lose the sense of the day-to-day Weegee, grinding out photos for cash, or do you show the less-fantastic images to tell the full story -- and thus leave Weegee's reputation suffering in comparison to photographers we only know from their best images?

Gustav Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer I -- now known as "the most expensive painting in the world" -- has made the Upper East Side's Neue Galerie a very crowded place this summer. It's a case study in how different an object can be from its photographic reproduction. Spend time with this painting in a book or on a computer screen, and then see it in person for two minutes... and decide for yourself.

It's the third time I've seen the Met's On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag. It's an excellent show that works as a collection of images, and as a way to consider the nature of photography -- and whether it functions differently than any other art.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

The Untimely Death of Henri Cartier-Bresson

street photography by Ted Fisher
Popular Photography has an interesting tidbit on Henri Cartier-Bresson:
The French photographer had been captured by Nazis in 1940, and he had spent 35 months in various prisoner-of-war camps. After two unsuccessful attempts at escape, he finally succeeded. In 1943, he dug up the Leica he had buried on a farm near Vosges and began taking pictures again.

By the end of the war, however, rumors reached America that Cartier-Bresson had been killed. MoMA's photography curator, Beaumont Newhall, went to work on a major show. Then, in 1946, it was learned that he was still alive. Cartier-Bresson decided to come to America to work on the exhibition -- a show that helped to establish him as a major figure in photography and art.
As always, chance works on its own terms.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

When Did "New Documents" Stop Being New?

Just finished reading "Two Jacks and a Jill: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, and the Judgment Seat" by A.D. Coleman, a short essay in the April / May 2005 Camera Arts magazine. (Yes, I am aware that magazine came out 16 months ago -- bear with me here.)

Coleman, referencing the February 28, 1967 "New Documents" exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, quotes Curator John Szarkowski's text introducing the show:
"In the past decade a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it. Their work betrays a sympathy -- almost an affection -- for the imperfections and frailties of society. They like the real world, in spite of its terrors, as the source of all wonder and fascination and value -- no less precious for being irrational..."
and points out that maybe -- just maybe -- there's something troubling about placing photographs that reveal "the imperfections and frailties of society" into an aesthetic that considers them as "formal play with neutral (if ironic), apolitical observation of human social behaviour...."

I like Coleman's point: these works, charged and loaded with all sorts of political and social content, were effectively "framed" as being somehow divorced from the concerns that "documentary photography" had carried previously. They were positioned to be like abstract paintings, when they were clearly the opposite.

Score: Museum Wall Text 1, Photographs, 0.

448 Pages of Elliott Erwitt

I love having something to anticipate.

On October 15th a new Elliott Erwitt book will be released: Personal Best. Amazon says:

"Elliott Erwitt personally selected this stunning collection of work, two thirds of which have never been published before."

That seems grammatically incorrect, but I'm excited about it anyway. It's a 448-page hardcover. It costs $78.75. (That's only 17 cents per page, so don't quibble.)

Let the countdown begin.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Man Ray in the Bargain Bin

Just bought a bargain-priced book on Man Ray. It had some images that don't appear in my other Man Ray books, so I felt my $6.98 was well spent.

No photographs in the book appear to have any element of accident in them. They're completely planned and constructed. I guess that you could say they are examples of what you can make up in the laboratory.

I still like them anyway, I guess, though I worry they'll make Elliott Erwitt mildly angry.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Waiting for the April Fool's Parade

On August 12th -- my one-year anniversary in Manhattan -- I shot the last photos needed to finish my first official New York street photography project. A lot of folks who know my work seem confused that I'm returning to the practice of "Street Photography," although they've all been too polite to point out the 1970s are long over.

Secretly I think it's funny that any form of art that's fun could fall out of favor. That is, I understand how it might lose its audience -- "Oh, we saw that last season in Prague" -- but I can't understand how it can lose its practitioners.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Ruth Orkin, Street Photographer

Enjoyed The Fearless Reader's post on Ruth Orkin, "a photographer and filmmaker whose pictures, since her death from cancer in 1985, are better known than her name."

"Orkin, like Lisette Model before her, practiced the art of street photography. Her images freeze recognizable human moments in the frame, catching the unexpected and the whimsical along with way. Easter Sunday shows a handsomely attired woman regarding her counterpart in a window at Saks Fifth Avenue as a policeman stands nearby, lost in thought. Several shots taken at Penn Station catch people waiting for trains: a man balancing a box on his hip; a curly-headed tot enthroned on a suitcase in the middle of a crowd; a mother absentmindedly restraining a restless child. A woman lost in thought as she selects produce at an outdoor market is another recurring theme."

Full article:

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What Would Elliott Erwitt (Not) Do?

Elliott Erwitt, in an NPR interview from Friday, March 7, 2003:
"I deplore what's happened to our craft, which has been undermined by people changing pictures electronically -- or digitally or whichever way they do it -- which undermines the entire good thing about photography, which is supposed to be a representation of what is, rather than what you can make up in the laboratory."

Right: because the real world is frozen in black and white with everything lined up just so, as it appears in Erwitt photographs....

Don't get me wrong, I love Erwitt's photography and his approach, and he seems like a wonderful guy. I think his reputation will only continue to grow, and he's one of my favorite artists. But I just don't think it matters -- outside of news photography -- if a photograph lies in some way. Of course it lies, it's a photograph -- it lies in many ways by its nature. Let it alone.

"But how is reality, or photography for that matter, threatened?"

(The Elliott Erwitt interview is available in RealMedia format and the quote is from about 5:45 into the piece.)

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Frank Lennon, 1927 - 2006

Photographer who captured Henderson's winning goal dead at 79
(From CBC Arts.)

Frank Lennon, 79: Captured Canada's joy
(From The Toronto Star.)

"Whenever somebody asked him about 'the photo,' Lennon, a lifelong jokester, delighted in telling the story of how it happened. There he was at Moscow's Luzhniki Arena, he would deadpan. He was staring up at the rafters, admiring the struts on the ceiling when this Red Army soldier walked by and accidentally bumped into him, causing him to push the shutter."

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Pyramid, or a Sphinx

photograph copyright Ted Fisher 2006
Well, what is it about a photograph that makes it alive or dead?

Garry Winogrand: How problematic it is! It's got to do with the contention between content and form. Invariably that's what's responsible for its energies, its tensions, its being interesting or not.

There are photographs that function just to give you information. I never saw a pyramid, but I've seen photographs; I know what a pyramid or a sphinx looks like. There are pictures that do that, but they satisfy a different kind of interest.

Most photographs are of life, what goes on in the world. And that's boring, generally. Life is banal, you know. Let's say that an artist deals with banality. I don't care what the discipline is.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Joe Rosenthal, 1911-2006

Iwo Jima Photographer Rosenthal Dies
From AP (via Yahoo News):
"Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen the men start the flag up. I swung my camera and shot the scene," he said a decade afterward. "That is how the picture was taken, and when you take a picture like that, you don't come away saying you got a great shot. You don't know."

Joe Rosenthal, Iwo Jima Photographer, Dies at 94
From Popular Photography:
"Probably more than any other 20th Century photographer, Joe Rosenthal was responsible for the concept of the photographic icon," says Dirck Halstead, former White House photographer for Time Magazine and editor and publisher of The Digital Journalist.

Joel Meyerowitz on iN-PUBLiC

I'm a fan of the work of Joel Meyerowitz, so I'm very pleased to find that he's joined the fine folks at iN-PUBLiC.

I remember, in the early days of the Web, meeting with many established photographers who were simply terrified of posting on the Internet. I think now folks have calmed down and realized you can have a Web presence and not give away the seed corn. So I like watching the Web slowly turn into a showcase for photography -- the sort of quick-access library for photographers that I remember wishing for when I first studied the medium.

The iN-PUBLiC Meyerowitz portfolio is here: Joel Meyerowitz.

You can also view Joel Meyerowitz Photography, LLC.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

What Would Elliott Erwitt Do?

On most days, my favorite photographer is Elliott Erwitt.

His sense of humor is obvious. Unfortunately, it's easy to miss what's more important about his work: he's visually one of the sharpest photographers out there, and he notices invisible things constantly -- and finds some way to show them to you.

His online portfolio is here: Elliott Erwitt.

Take a look, and the next time you find a camera in your hands, ask yourself: WWEED?

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

New York Street Photography

My first day in New York was August 12, 2005. One of the goals I arrived with was to go back to my roots: street photography.

I have a couple of degrees in photography, and I spent five years as a curator in a photography museum. Somehow, though, over the years I had moved far away from my first love in photography: the idea of simply wandering with a camera -- no particular place to go....

The first photos I ever saw that I felt lived up to the full potential of the medium were the street photos of photographers like Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt, Helen Levitt, Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank, and many others. I liked these for many reasons, one being that they seemed to be an effort to answer the question: "What is life like?"

So a year has passed, and I have completed my first street photography portfolio. The last day shooting was August 12, 2006.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Happy 167th Birthday

On January 7, 1839, Louis Daguerre showed the French Academie des Sciences something he just knew they were going to love: some photographs. But it was on August 19, 1839, that the process used to make the images was explained before both the Academie des Sciences and the Academie des Beaux-Arts. (Much has been made of this dual announcement, as photography is considered both art and science.)

Traditionally, this is the date known as the birthday of photography, when the process was made known to the world -- as a gift from the French government.

We know, of course, that many people experimented with the new medium before this date, and that permanent photographs were made as early as 1826. The "official" date matters, though, because the efforts of those first pioneers had little impact on the world. It is only after the new process went out into the world that something really new began.

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).

Beginnings and Endings

photograph copyright Ted Fisher 2006
Three quotes from Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography by Geoffrey Batchen:

"Faced with the invention of photography, French painter Paul Delaroche is supposed to have declared, 'From today, painting is dead!' Now, a little over 150 years later, everyone seems to want to talk about photography's death." (Page 207)

"Photography's plausibility has long rested on the uniqueness of its indexical relation to the world it images, a relation regarded as fundamental to its operation as a system of representation. As a footprint is to a foot, so is a photograph to its referent. ... For this reason, a photograph of something has generally been held to be a proof of that thing's being, even if not of its truth. Computer visualization, on the other hand, can produce photographic-style images with apparently no direct referent in an outside world. Where photography is inscribed by the things it represents, digital images may have no origin other than their own computer programs." (Pages 212 - 213)

"But how is reality, or photography for that matter, threatened? It should be clear to those familiar with the history of photography that a change in imaging technology will not, in and of itself, cause the disappearance of the photograph and the culture it sustains. Photography has never been any one technology; its nearly two centuries of development have been marked by numerous, competing instances of technological innovation and obsolescence, without any threat posed to the survival of the medium itself."

Above: an image from my street photography portfolio Waiting for the April Fool's Parade (copyright 2006 Ted Fisher).