Sunday, September 30, 2007

Photography Quote of the Day

From Interviews with Master Photographers, published in 1977:
James Danziger: Do you see the camera as being generous or cruel?

Elliott Erwitt: Depends on what you do with it.

James Danziger: I mean innately.

Elliott Erwitt: Innately it's nothing. The camera doesn't do it. It's the person behind it. You make certain decisions. I was never very fond of Mr. Nixon and I once went to the wedding of one of his daughters with the specific intention of taking unpleasant pictures of certain people I didn't like. The event was so spectacular, so well done, so beautiful, that I totally failed in my mission.

James Danziger: Do you believe in the power of photography to effect social change?

Elliott Erwitt: Yes. Absolutely.

James Danziger: Does that affect a lot of your work?

Elliott Erwitt: Not all. I'm sorry. I just don't. I don't like to get into this heavy attitude towards everything. I really don't have that.

My Photography Class Starts Soon


It's time once again for my Seriously Fun Photography class. Follow the link for more information and to register. It starts Thursday, October 11, so tell your friends.

Above: two of my students during a portraiture exercise, as photographed with my Zorki 6.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tiny, White Wisps


The photo of Friday's rainstorm was taken at 6:34 p.m.

The photograph above was made about 45 minutes earlier.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sudden Rain, Hell's Kitchen


On the way to Kashkaval and Russian Samovar a storm broke out.

We took a bus up from midtown. The thing that always surprises me is that one minute you're in Times Square, surrounded by tourists, and then you're suddenly in the middle of a neighborhood, very specific and well-defined and with its own character.

We huddled in front of a fast food restaurant, and waited for the rain to lighten.

By the way, Russian Samovar has a blog.

For Comparison's Sake


Since I shot this on film previously, as I was walking in to work today I pulled out my pocket camera and made the shot above.

Errol Morris on Crimean War Photos

This blog's favorite documentarian, Errol Morris, takes a look at what we know and what we think we know on some Fenton photographs from 1855.

Morris: The Case of the Fenton Photographs

Here's Errol Morris doing his detective work on a little documentary photography history.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seeing Unseen

Something to look forward to: on Friday, November 9 I will be lining up at International Center of Photography for the Elliott Erwitt booksigning for his new book, Unseen.
"All book signing receptions take place at the ICP Museum Store on Friday evenings from 6:00 to 7:30 pm and feature a DJ and complimentary wine. Admission to the Museum from 5:00 to 8:00 pm is by donations."
They had me at "complimentary wine."

Another From The Zorki Test


Testing my Russian Rangefinder.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On 89th Street


After the talk on Lisette Model, I felt Larry Fink and the other speakers had sent me out into the world with a single idea: carrying a camera is about seeing the world and experiencing it.

On 89th I found a toilet discarded onto the curb, pulled my pocket camera out and took a few photographs. A woman walking past asked "Are you a photographer for Time Out New York?"

I said no. But there's a toilet, I told her. And I have a camera. You can't go wrong.

A Test Shot from the Zorki


Here's a shot from Coney Island, made on my Zorki 6.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wednesday Night's Photography Event

Confounding Expectations:
Photography in Context: Lisette Model and Her Successors:
September 26, 2007 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
"Model’s edgy, indelible point of view gave rise to a portrait of the United States at all social levels, from Coney Island to Fifth Avenue. Larry Fink, Gary Schneider, Ann Thomas, and Rosalind Solomon will participate in the panel discussion, which will be moderated by William Hunt of Hasted Hunt Gallery. The New School, Tishman Auditorium, 66 West 12th Street. Free."

Great Picture Exhibition Closes

If you are in the Los Angeles area, don't forget to visit The Great Picture before the exhibition closes. Saturday is the last day.
An exhibition of the largest photograph ever made. At three stories high and 11stories wide, "The Great Picture" is a gelatin silver print made using a shuttered F-18 aircraft hangar blacked out to form a giant camera obscura.

Photography in the News

Well, let's check and see what's making news in the world of photography...

Here's a story about a Nan Goldin photo.
"A Northumbria Police spokeswoman confirmed that an image of a child was removed from the exhibit and said it was being looked over by prosecutors ''to assess whether or not an offense had been committed.'' She spoke anonymously in line with force policy and declined to disclose the nature of the offense police were investigating."

Dissolve to: September


I've been quiet on this blog this week, but there's actually a lot going on.

Midtown: Outside Looking In


Monday proved to be an interesting day, with stops in the Upper East Side, The Bronx, and Midtown. Cameras are omnipresent in New York, of course, but it's in Midtown that you see people walk to a corner, put a pocket camera in front of their face, and lean back to take in all of a famous building. Foot traffic flows around them, they carefully compose the shot, wait, wait, and finally take the shot.

At one of my gigs I'm near the Chrysler building, so you see this throughout the day. Go another block over and you see it around the front of Grand Central Terminal. And a few blocks further and it's the main sport in Times Square.

Not Exactly The Steerage


As a follow up to this, here's a snapshot from last night's subway ride.

One solution to the traditional tourist problem of shoes that hurt is to stuff a napkin into the heel of your shoe. Then just go with it. No one will notice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What Would Elliott Erwitt Win?

This year's Lucie Awards will give a lifetime achievement award to this Blog's main inspiration, Elliott Erwitt. That is as it should be. I learned two things I wasn't aware of, however, in the blurb about Erwitt:
"In the ’80s Erwitt produced seventeen comedy and satire television programs for HOME BOX OFFICE. From the ’90s to the present he continues to lead a remarkably varied professional life encompassing many disparate aspects of photography. While actively working for magazine, industrial and advertising clients Erwitt devotes all his spare time toward creating books and exhibitions of his work destined for galleries and museums. To date he is the author of over 20 photography books and is preparing a new one titled “UNSEEN” for fall of 2007."
So, now I have to go and track down all those HBO shows, and patiently await his new book....

Why Photography?


So here's the thing: if I were a painter, it might occur to me to have two white shoes, two black shoes, a play between the idea of legs and chair legs, a confusion of space and directionality and depth and flatness, and so on.

But that fifth shoe stepping into a little pool of light -- that's photography. That's why using some kind of device to observe the real world is interesting.

(This was yesterday, at a get-together for art historians. The black shoes? Studying photo history. The white shoes? Interested in early photographic processes.)

Looking at Looking

I mentioned Kohei Yoshiyuki's "The Park" photographs last week. Today the New York Times has a serious look at them titled Sex in the Park, and Its Sneaky Spectator.

The exhibition, and the article, do a nice job of bringing up the issues of voyeurism and observational recording that seem inherent in photography.
Karen Irvine, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, said Mr. Yoshiyuki’s work is important because “it addresses photography’s unique capacity for observation and implication.” She locates his work in the tradition of artists who modified their cameras with decoy lenses and right-angle viewfinders to gain access to private moments. Weegee, for example, rigged his camera to capture couples kissing in darkened New York movie theaters. Walker Evans covertly photographed fellow passengers on New York subways.
A long while back I wrote about my own experience at a photo workshop photographing photographers as they took photographs.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I Wonder What They Edited Out

Over on my other blog, I've posted on watching a documentary about Annie Leibovitz. Go and read it. I wanted to note here, however, a more specific and pithy criticism of the assumption that Leibovitz is our greatest living portraitist.

In the midst of endless praise for Leibovitz' work, for balance Vicki Goldberg is allowed to take a shot. While various other fawn over the Rolling Stone Magazine "concept" pictures -- Whoopi Goldberg in a milk bath, the Blues Brothers with their faces painted blue -- Goldberg says:

"These are supposed to be 'story pictures' -- but the story is one sentence long."

That's my favorite one-line critique ever.

Life Through a Lens

As I hope to make a documentary on photographers in the near future (details soon), I've started watching all the photography-related docs I can. Last night's was Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens from the American Masters series. It was very good, and I enjoyed it, but I was left with two questions.

It's directed by Barbara Leibovitz. While the idea of a documentary Director with a connection to the film's subject is not uncommon at all -- think of Nathaniel Kahn in My Architect or Lucia Small in My Father, the Genius -- generally these are cases where the Director is "out" and obvious and often referenced in the film, amounting to a character in the drama.

Barbara is Annie's sister. While the documentary doesn't reference this, the PBS site about the film does:
Given unrestricted access, director Barbara Leibovitz spent a year documenting Annie Leibovitz at home and at work. "As her sister, I feel a serious responsibility not only to tell her story - but to tell it honestly," says Barbara Leibovitz, a writer, director and producer of award-winning documentaries. "It was a challenge, but I learned more about my sister than I ever imagined."
I'm not certain, though, that the audience did.

The implication that Leibovitz is our greatest living photographer goes unchallenged, with only Vicki Goldberg standing in to represent the art world, and tossing out two zingers in the midst of much fawning praise. I would love to have heard Leibovitz on the subject of where she thinks her work stands within the field.

While there are "honest" references to Leibovitz participating in the drug scene while following a Rolling Stones concert tour and eventually entering a rehab program, the tone of that section of the film is mild and vague. Do people enter rehab without major issues and problems? Does one imagine the specifics are known and could be told? Are we left dining at the children's table, unable to overhear the adults talking?

Is unrestricted access important if there are large questions left unaddressed in a film that purports to represent a person's life?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Inside, Looking Out, Part Three


So, as the fall season starts, I'm left to ask: where is photography at this very moment? The answer: it's very fragmented.

The classics roll on ... though it will be very interesting to see if the "blue chip" photographers continue selling in the auctions for record prices or not. The galleries roll on ... but there's no sense of any particular new movement, style or group arising. The museums roll on ... about the same as always.

Yet you can't help but notice, out of the corner of your eye, that more people are shooting more photographs than ever, and that cameras have become omnipresent. There must be change in the works ... but where is it?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chris Marker Photographs

Over on my New York Portraits blog I've posted a link about seeing the Chris Marker: Staring Back exhibition in Chelsea. I'm hoping to write a bit about these images soon since -- as always -- I'm very interested in where documentary film and documentary photography intersect and overlap.

Photo Chick Update

Episode One of Photo Chick has climbed past 7,000 views and Episode Two is nearing 2,000 views. So the plan is to tape Episode Three on Friday. There's also material for a more documentary-style episode recorded, so you may be seeing that soon as well....

Inside, Looking Out, Part Two


Lisette Model and Her Successors at Aperture Gallery (547 West 27th Street in Chelsea) was a good show. More exciting to me, however, was getting a look around the rest of the building.

Aperture is on the 4th floor, and it's a very beautiful space. Take the elevator to the 5th and 6th floors, however, and go see the "Alcove" -- a tiny hallway transformed into an installation space -- and the various studios and galleries throughout the building. On a quiet day, it's a very good experience. The floor creaks under your feet, but around each corner is a new and unexpected space.

Inside, Looking Out


Tuesday's trip to the Chelsea galleries included several highlights, but the real surprise for me was the Chris Marker exhibition at Peter Blum Gallery (526 West 29th Street).
"Chris Marker: Staring Back is an exhibition of almost 200 photographs taken over the course of six decades by the enigmatic and influential French filmmaker. This show, organized by Bill Horrigan at the Wexner Center for the Arts, is the first exhibition of Marker’s photographs, and consists of images selected by the artist himself from his own archive, including black-and-white portraits of individuals that Marker has encountered during the course of his world travels.

Divided into four sections, Staring Back is organized around the idea of the faces Marker has seen in his travels, and of the faces that have in turn witnessed his observant gaze –“I stare” and “They stare,” as Marker puts it. Central to the exhibition are his depictions of political demonstrations from Algerian independence protests in 1962, to the Pentagon march in 1967, to May 1968 in Paris, and continuing to 2006 in a stunning series devoted to the sustained demonstrations by French young people against punitive employment legislation. Interspersed throughout the exhibition are photographic traces of his inimitable films, including La Jetée, Letter from Siberia, The Six Face of Pentagon, Cuba Si!, Le fond de l’air est rouge, Sans Soleil, and The Case of the Grinning Cat, among others. Although some of the portraits depict well-known individuals (such as Simone Signoret and Akira Kurosawa), most are of unidentified citizens to whom Marker and his camera were drawn in the course of his global progress through Asia, South America, Scandinavia, Africa, Russia, and elsewhere. The exhibition also includes a selection of photographs of animals."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

29th Street and Southish


I had friends in from out of town today, so I returned to Chelsea to complete the round trip of all the galleries.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York Portraits

Over on my other blog -- New York Portraits -- I've been posting about my visit to the galleries in Chelsea. Of particular interest, from the standpoint of documentary, is the work of:

Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park
"For these photos, taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Mr. Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film, and flash to document the people who gathered there at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings."
Showing at Yossi Milo Gallery (525 West 25th Street) until October 20th.

Outside Looking In


One more thing on the gallery shows in Chelsea: New York wins over Los Angeles in the category of "the gallery opening experience."

There are great shows in Los Angeles, and the museum experience there is often a match for New York's offerings. But the basic idea of a night of gallery receptions works better in New York. Stroll from one to the next, drink the free beer and wine, bump into unexpected shows because the gallery is on the way to the one you planned to see. It just flows better with no cars involved and with the street life New York does so well....

Another Chelsea Note


Part of the fun of going to Chelsea exhibitions, of course, is everything else that's there: the restaurants, bars and general feel of the place. That's always a good time. On a Saturday night, almost everyone looks as if they're having a great time.

I did note, however, that for those living in Chelsea, dog ownership is now apparently mandatory.

In Chelsea on a Saturday


Took a trip to the Chelsea galleries. An honest appraisal: most of what I saw was weak, bad, or a retread. But not everything, and I get as much out of seeing things I don't like as those I do. Sometimes more. What I do recommend:

Kohei Yoshiyuki: The Park
"For these photos, taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Mr. Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film, and flash to document the people who gathered there at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings."
That continues at Yossi Milo Gallery (525 West 25th Street) until October 20th.

Jeon Joonho
"Jeon has created his first multi-channel work for this New York debut. The 527 West 23rd Street space features a 5 channel video installation; each of the 5 computer animations exist on their own, yet, when presented together take a different shape both literally and figuratively. In one, an anime character is left crying after a brief encounter in a hotel room, the score resembling the music played in a Hitchcock film just before the climactic moment. Another shows a line drawing of General MacArthur, notorious leader of the United Nations Command Force, repeating the same phrase ("I shall return")."
The highlight for me was the ice skating toy soldiers of "Hyper Realism (Statue of Brother). The show continues through October 13th.

I also enjoyed and recommend both shows at Yancey Richardson Gallery (535 West 22nd), but should note I'm not an untirely unbiased observer. The photographs of Laura Letinsky illustrate an interesting point for me, as well: some photographs work differently at web-presentation size than at full size on the wall. The gentle dashes of color in the large white and grey expanses of these images need to be seen at full scale.

As well, I recommend Candida Hofer's work at Sonnabend (536 West 22nd Street), but I've seen this work a number of times already in other venues . If you haven't, though, definitely take a look.

Of course, since we were just there as a quick trip, we left about half of the galleries undone. Next trip.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

New York Times on Joe O'Donnell

The most interesting photo caption I've seen in a long time: "Joe O’Donnell didn’t snap this photo of John F. Kennedy Jr."

Known for Famous Photos, Not All of Them His
"Joe O’Donnell’s glowing legacy outlived him by less than a week. The man recalled by some as “The Presidential Photographer” with a knack for having a camera to his eye at just the right moment, became instead someone described as a fraud who hijacked some of the 20th century’s most famous images and claimed them as his own."

This Weekend: The Chelsea Galleries


Tonight I'm going to the galleries in Chelsea. Since coming to New York, that's been one of my favorite experiences. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Era of Dumb and Loud Continues

My post on Learning from YouTube was written early in the morning, before the story made its way to the "weird news" section of the news sites. Since then, of course, the story has shown up on Fark.com, and become a subject for the commenters there.

Those of you with an interest in the divergence between facts and opinion in our current social model may want to take a look. Why is it we're reduced to stereotypes, loudly-voiced opinions that wouldn't hold up to facts found in the most basic google-search, and the lowest-common-denominator opinions of those suffering Internet Tough Guy Syndrome?

Any chance for a return to reasoned discourse in the forseeable future?

Photographers to Know: Environmental Portraiture

How do we integrate portrait subject and background? What's the connection between a representation of a person and the environment we see them in? Does the evidence surrounding a person reveal anything?

Three photographers to know in the field of environmental portraiture:
Arnold Newman

Yousuf Karsh

Annie Leibovitz

Back and Forth

The dialogue between photography and the world of fashion is a fascinating one. Michael Kors show at New York Fashion Week, for example, referenced the work of photographer Slim Aarons.

An article on Aaron's life is here, and David Patrick Columbia's visit with Aarons is worth checking out as well.

TOOTS is opening in New York


Kristi Jacobsen's "Toots" is opening today. She emailed:
"There are 16 films opening in New York this weekend and this little film with our modest advertising budget is going to depend almost exclusively on word-of-mouth. So, if you haven't made your plans to see TOOTS this weekend please get on the phone and invite some friends and they’ll be happy you did. Our biggest challenge is not getting people to enjoy the film, it's getting people to come to see it.
It is showing at:

THE QUAD 34 W. 13th St. (bet. 5th/6th)

CLEARVIEW CINEMA 1st Ave & 62nd St

and there is a Filmmaker Q&A Friday night and Saturday all shows at the Quad and Sunday all shows at Clearview. Follow these links for tickets and for more info: www.tootsthemovie.com.

Dressed in Verse, Ace?

Since Monday's visit to Click Chic I've been asking a question that I more-or-less always ask: What is sophistication?

I ask because certain "seams" are painfully obvious to me -- in both the fashion photography I saw in that show and in most of the visuals I saw during New York Fashion week -- and I think you can learn as much by what doesn't work as from what does.

Here's what I'm saying: reference without depth is unsophisticated. A fashion photograph that calls to mind Helmut Newton's work, or Guy Bourdin's -- work that now forms a sort of fashion-photography canon, for better or worse -- cannot simply reference the older work and call it a day. A reference without some change of perspective is just bad copywork.

Putting up something derivative seems to me to imply a low opinion of the audience. It says "I know the reference, I'm copying the reference, but you wouldn't know it." Or perhaps it says "what do you mean, now go further?"

In any case, ironically, it's an attempt to be sophisticated that falls flat if the audience is, in fact, not stupid. I think real sophistication takes the opposite tack -- assuming an audience that knows, that wants to know, and that gets the joke.

Start with This One


Here's the "Intro to Learning from YouTube" video.

Learning from YouTube

Yes, I have made videos for YouTube presentation. And yes, I did attend the Claremont Colleges.

So I was entertained to see the news article SoCal college offers YouTube class.
CLAREMONT, Calif. - Here's a dream-come-true for Web addicts: college credit for watching YouTube.

Pitzer College this fall began offering what may be the first course about the video-sharing site. About 35 students meet in a classroom but work mostly online, where they view YouTube content and post their comments.
Now, I happen to know that the teacher for the class, Alexandra Juhasz, is a very serious media scholar and a documentary maker as well. So, while the tone of the story is jokey, I'm sure it will actually be a very good media literacy course. You can visit the YouTube Group for the class and see how it goes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Last Note on Fashion

One of the things I find very odd about Fashion Week: it sounds like it would be great fun to be a runway shooter, perched at the key viewpoint, firing away and then quickly filing all the images for distribution to the world. Strangely, though, every runway shot I've seen this season looks more-or-less identical. And by coincidence I've spoken recently to two people who do exactly that kind of shooting -- and gotten the impression that the goal is in fact to provide that generic set of shots.... That's why the check gets cut. Still, it brings up an interesting question: what would a unique eye do with the runway situation?

I've seen some interesting "behind the scenes" coverage from Martin Fuchs and there have been books like Runway Madness. Yet I've never noticed any alternative take on the basic premise: a dress is paraded down a runway, seated people on each side. Click.

Are there no other ways to shoot this?

From the "Ah Well" File

I'm told my Hunter Continuing Education photography class won't run this time. Not enough enrollment. (I'm not sure why they moved it from Friday to Thursday, since it was enrolling enough on Fridays. That end-of-the-week feeling was something I enjoyed about the class, and I assume that others looked at it the same way -- a creative outlet early Friday evening seems fun.)

Maybe it's time to re-write and restructure that class anyway -- my initial idea was that there was already a basic "how do I use my camera" class, so it became a class about creating your first project portfolio: learn control of your photography technique, find a topic, and create a portfolio of images on that topic. Have fun while doing it.

Perhaps, however, the nature of things has changed. DSLR cameras have become omnipresent, almost, and online sites have become the main place where people present their photos. So, maybe something else makes more sense. What would the Art Students League be like if it started today? Or any of the camera clubs that started in the first half of the twentieth century?

I'll have some time to think about that, I suppose.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An Honor to be Nominated and All That

Matt Gross emailed to let me know that Frugal Traveler: American Road Trip has been nominated as a finalist for Outstanding Use of Digital Media by the Online Newspaper Association.
New York, (September 11, 2007) – Finalists for the 8th annual Online Journalism Awards, honoring excellence in digital journalism, have been announced by the Online News Association and the USC Annenberg School for Communication.... The winners will be announced at the OJA Awards Banquet during the 8th annual national conference of the Online News Association, which will be held October 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Centre, Toronto.

A Tiny Clarification

Just wanted to clarify my comments on fashion design and fashion photography: I'm for both.

Still, I think commercial work, advertising and that sort of thing is not -- despite a lot of claims made to the contrary, some by very fine thinkers -- the art of our time. I've studied the history of advertising and where photography fits into it, and taught classes where I've looked deeply at persuasion and the use of art, and I just don't agree that future art historians will feel fashion ads and political commercials mark the height of our era's art. They'll be studied as significant, as saying a lot about us, and as often pushing technique and style forward. Still, I don't think that type of work will be seen as the best of our time.

There's a fine line, of course, especially with the best work in those fields. Elliott Erwitt's portfolio mixes both "pure" street photography -- where a situation was found by chance and prepared luck -- with his advertising work, including images that are set up. That's fine.

Yet I'm adamant that there's a distinction -- that fashion designers can be brilliant, important and worth admiring, but that they don't address the same concerns as art. As well, while I like and admire fashion photographers -- and I think there's no reason someone can't be one of our best artists and shoot fashion too -- I don't think the boundaries and goals of the field allow exploration of the concerns of art.

Sometimes the point is to sell shoes.

Last Call for Photo Class

Starting Thursday -- as in tomorrow -- I'll be teaching Seriously Fun Photography at Hunter College Continuing Education. As long as enough people sign up, of course. So if you had plans to do so, now would be the time....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Artlessly Artful

As Inigo Montoya said: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

While I'm fascinated, as a relatively new New Yorker, by Fashion Week and all that it entails, I am also amused by the conceit that it is Art.*

Fashion is great. It's part of our visual culture, and as a competitive and ever-churning field, it produces something worth watching. Some of its practitioners are fantastic. But please stop calling designers Artists. It's a different thing, with different concerns. Celebrate Fashion for what it is, but stop pretending or -- worse yet -- sincerely thinking it's art. Saying that only means you are insincere, or ill-informed.

And if you are going to have a show that is about the works of fashion shooters as works of art in their own right, be prepared for laughter if what you really show, weighed objectively, is just pretty / decent fashion shooting. It makes you look like you don't know what art is, and you probably do.

*(This is relatively rarely expressed by those succeeding in fashion -- and all-too-often expressed by those watching from the sidelines. Still, it is heard constantly, so it becomes fair game for critique, no?)

All Official Like

Well, my certificate from The New School arrived in the mail today. So, my brief time as a member of the first class in the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies program is officially at an end.

The envelope it arrived in said in large letters: DO NOT BEND. As with all my mailing needs, the U.S. Postal Service performed inadequately: the bottom of the envelope was bent, and the certificate had a slight crease in it. (After my previous mailing woes -- lost mail, never-received mail, never-sent mail, and completely-smushed mail -- I was just sort of grateful they hadn't set it on fire or put it through a blender and used it as confetti for a postal worker parade. It's the little things that count.)

I think that first class will prove to be a group you'll hear from again and again. Perhaps I'll post a "where are they now?" sometime soon....

Monday, September 10, 2007

Say No More, Say No More


There is one place, of course, that people photograph themselves even more than in museums: at gallery openings.

I went to School of Visual Arts to see Click Chic: The Fine Art of Fashion Photography. I was entertained.

Above: cell phone picture of Fashion TV interview crew at work.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Photography on Thursday Nights

It is time once again for my Seriously Fun Photography class. I'm flexible, though. You don't have to enjoy it if you don't want to.

It starts this Thursday, so register now....

Saturday, September 08, 2007

And More on the Rule of Thirds


The above image of a man photographing a museum label was a quick snapshot taken with my pocket camera. Still, I tend to compose using the Rule of Thirds.

Saturday in MoMA


To follow Friday's visit to the Met, we spent Saturday at MoMA and ICP. The cliché of people shuffling past the art with a thoughtful expression or puzzled look is gone. Now, everyone photographs the art and each other with the art.

Above: Man Photographing Label, Museum of Modern Art, September 8, 2007.

The Rule of Thirds


On Friday night, we stopped by the Met for a gallery talk on David's The Death of Socrates. Great lecture. Of interest to photographers: this painting serves as a perfect example of composition using the "rule of thirds."

The basic idea photographers can learn from this: rather than automatically placing the subject dead center of the frame, explore what happens when you place the main subject -- in this case, Socrates face -- at one a point 1/3 from the top of the frame, or 1/3 from the side of the frame, or at the "node" 1/3 from each.

While life will rarely unfold in front of you in perfect composition, thinking of the photographic rectangle of film or digital cameras as divided into three parts is a powerful strategy. For many images, setting up a 2/3 versus 1/3 arrangement creates a much more dynamic composition.

Forever is Opening



Heddy Honigmann's Forever is probably my favorite documentary I've seen in the last year. It will be opening in New York and then the rest of the country in the upcoming weeks. Go and see it.

The New Fall Looks -- in Cameras

A while back I noted Canon's new cameras:

Canon EOS 40D 10.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III 21.1MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)


Nikon has since announced new cameras also, including:

Nikon D300 DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)


And Sony has followed as well:

Sony Alpha A700 12.24MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

All are amazingly capable, and all are moving toward incredible resolution, great high ISO performance, and other capabilities that surpass what was once possible with film. At the same time other aspects of photography -- from image storage to printing to software -- advance.

Is a sort of photography renaissance moving forward -- or have our ideas been surpassed by our tools?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fashion Week Documentaries

If it turns out you aren't invited to any of the shows in the Bryant Park tents, are there any good documentaries to watch during New York Fashion Week?

Yes, there are. Here are three.
Notebook on Cities and Clothes

Seamless

Unzipped

Gotta Catch 'Em All


I'm always amazed at how many people photograph in museums, and at how they do it.

In the Guggenheim, of course, people want photographs of the building. A good number, though, want photographs of themselves standing near the art. Do they make photo albums, and later flip through them while saying "...and here I am with the Kandinsky..." or do they collect them like sports trading cards?

My paintings: let me show you them.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

And So Fashion Week Begins

Every so often I run around the reservoir in Central Park. It's a pleasant loop. There was good weather today, so after I finished two short editing projects and put one of them in the hands of a bicycle messenger and the other in my stack of materials for tomorrow, I went for the run.

On the back stretch, by the West side of the park, I looked up to admire the trees and the usual collection of people. And then I noticed a large umbrella, black outside and silver inside, and a man holding a medium-format camera at waist level. Flash. As I ran on, I saw a model holding one of those poses photographers get out of posing books. Flash.

"No," I thought, "you've got to move her hip forward. You're doing it wrong."

And then I remembered why I hate that sort of thing: even if you're doing it right, you're doing it wrong.

Or Could It Be the Poor Quality of the Product?

Is the Internet killing cinema?
"The Hollywood director, Ridley Scott, warned yesterday that new technology is killing off the big-screen experience. The Oscar-winning County Durham-born movie mogul said mobile phones and computers threatened movie-making on an epic scale.

He insisted that the best way to experience great film was still in a cinema with a big screen and state-of-the art acoustics."
To stories like this I say the same thing I have said to every "we're losing the old way!" story in the last 15 years: let it go.

Let it go. The 35-million-dollar-budget model of filmmaking needs a good thorough killing. More precisely, it needs something better to compete for the same resources. That's the only way art forms have ever developed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Reflex Redux

The first Labor Day celebration took place in Union Square, and by coincidence we went to Union Square -- on Labor Day.

We stopped into Trader Joe's for a few groceries, and the woman at the check out counter noticed I had a magazine in my hand. I explained I was planning to use it in a photo class to talk about the use of lighting in contemporary fashion photography.

It turned out she was a photographer, and had just finished a year at the school at International Center of Photography. We talked a bit, and it wasn't until about 15 minutes after I left that I realized why she seemed so familiar.

I'm 99% certain she was the woman from this post.

Running and Gunning

I've been discussing and thinking about the theory behind editing run-and-gun footage lately, so I really enjoyed David Bordwell's post on the use of that style in The Bourne Ultimatum and the other Bourne films.
In general, the run-and-gun look says, I’m realer than what you normally see. In the DVD supplement to Supremacy, “Keeping It Real,” the producers claimed that they hired Greengrass because they wanted a “documentary feel” for Bourne’s second outing. Greengrass in turn affirms that he wanted to shoot it “like a live event.” And he justifies it, as directors have been justifying camera flourishes and fast cutting for fifty years, as yielding “energy. When you get it, you get magic.”

The Great Picture

The Great Picture -- now in the Guinness Book of World Records under "World’s Biggest Camera" and "World’s Biggest Photograph" -- is finally going on exhibition.

The image, created by Jerry Burchfield, Mark Chamberlain, Jacques Garnier, Rob Johnson, Douglas McCulloh, and Clayton Spada, will show at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design in the South Campus Wind Tunnel, Pasadena, California September 6 through 29, 2007.

There is an opening reception and performance set for Thursday, September 6, 6 - 9 p.m. and an artists’ lecture set for Thursday, September 20, 7 - 9 p.m.
The Great Picture is a history-making gelatin silver photographic image three stories high by eleven stories wide. The $65,000 photograph was made using a shuttered Southern California F-18 jet aircraft hangar transformed into a gigantic camera obscura—the largest camera ever made.
More information is here.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Frugal Reminiscence

There's a new Frugal Traveler up at The New York Times. (I didn't edit this one, though I'm hoping to do some future episodes.) Worth watching anyhow.

A Parallel of Sorts


One of the things the field of photography wrestled with as it became one of the key practices in art was a sort of reaction against professionalism.

That is, if you were a conceptual artist in the 1970s, it was likely you would describe yourself as "an artist using photography" or perhaps a "photo artist" rather than as a photographer. Photographers were interested in craft, and you, as an artist, would have been interested in ideas and the concerns of art. To a degree, since the piece you might create for a museum or gallery was likely about the ideas or evidence photographs held rather than their aesthetic quality, it became common practice to avoid being "slick" -- the photographs should be rough and unpolished, unconcerned with traditional technique.

A trip to the Guggenheim this weekend brought up a related question: as artists use more video in their work -- at times essentially documentary video -- can they have disdain for the "craft" of documentary making? Strangely, this isn't manifesting in a lack of technical quality -- a lot of artists are able to get high definition equipment and show the work on ultra-slick plasma monitors -- but in a disdain for giving the viewer any welcome to the work.

I walk up to the piece -- odds are in the middle and not the beginning -- and I have little clue as to whether it's 3 minutes or 2 hours in length. I have no clues, often, to how the video is related to the rest of the installation. And my hope that the artist might keep the traditional concern of documentary production for "watchability" in mind is quickly abandoned -- shots go on for long, unedited stretches, bad audio combines with unrevealing camera angles, and I struggle to make sense of what I'm seeing.

It's notable that today few artists using photography feel they can present unpolished images. Will artists using video make that same leap? Should they?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New Fall Gig

As I've mentioned on Actualities I've started teaching a video editing class at Bronx Community College. It's been great so far, and I'm looking forward to an enjoyable term.

It's also made me realize I haven't shot enough photographs in The Bronx. While I have visited Stickball Boulevard, I haven't seen most of the borough. I'll see if I can remedy that soon....

And Water is Wet


Enjoyed the Guggenheim's show The Shapes of Space.

Still, I want to be perfectly clear so that future generations don't think we were all fooled: Pipilotti Rist is boring. I know many of my generation and a number of institutions have been fooled, and once fooled can't go back on their investment. It's clear though: her work is boring.

The museum's didactic text claims:
"The work simulates a dimly lit interior cluttered with found objects—retro furnishings, piles of books and magazines, assorted bric-a-brac—seemingly in casual disarray, but in fact carefully arranged by the artist. Videos from hidden projectors are cast onto the surfaces of various static objects, animating them in uncanny ways: on a side table, the artist presses her face against a windowpane; a lamp is lit by a close-up view of the open mouth of a woman standing in the snow; liquor bottles atop a 1950s-era bar glow with tiny films of an athlete and a landscape."
It is worth noting that the way the work simulates a dimly lit interior cluttered with found objects is by being a dimly lit interior with found objects. It is also worth noting that the "hidden" projectors are not. And that the ways of animating the static objects are canny. Also, the piece is not good. Just to be clear.

Ah well, mine is a minority opinion. Next thing you know they'll be showing Tracey Emin in major museums.

Fashion Photography

And while we're on the subject of fashion photography, here's a portfolio I think you may enjoy:
Rodney Smith

As Fall Approaches


It seems half of New York has left the city for one last attempt at Summer vacation.

So on Saturday, we went out and took advantage of the things our neighborhood offers: a good brunch, a walk through the Guggenheim, and coffee and sachertorte at Cafe Sabarsky. The weather keeps hinting about Fall, Fashion Week approaches, and you can sense a transition ahead.

Above: A woman making a self portrait at the Guggenheim, September 1, 2007.

Fashionesque

With New York Fashion Week approaching, here are three photography blogs that take a more-or-less documentary approach to fashion on the street. I think what I admire is that these sites depict the stylized in an unstyled manner: point the camera at the subject, let the interest emerge from that.
The Sartorialist

stpiduko

HEL Looks

New Gig

I've started teaching a video editing class at Bronx Community College. I'm really happy about it -- there's a very good program in place, and it's part of the C.U.N.Y. system.

I'm keeping the old gigs, of course.