Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shadow of a Doubt

Errol Morris finishes his search for knowledge in two Roger Fenton photographs.

The Rocks Have Names

Well, Errol Morris is at the end of his three-part pursuit of Photographic Truth in two old photos.

Do not attempt to read this if you are in a hurry...

Newer New Rules

Finally, there's some news on those proposed new rules on photography and videography here in New York.
"The proposal would allow photographers and filmmakers who are not using vehicles or equipment like dolly tracks, lights and cables to proceed without permits on public property as long as they stay out of traffic and their activities do not prevent public use. The rules would also allow photographers and filmmakers to commandeer a portion of a public walkway without a permit, as long as they leave open at least half of its width, or eight feet, whichever is greater."

Update on the "New Rules"

An update on the status of new regulations on photography and videography in New York.
"The rules, to be released on Tuesday for public comment, would generally allow people using hand-held equipment, including tripods, to shoot for any length of time on sidewalks and in parks as long as they leave sufficient room for pedestrians."
More details Tuesday....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Midtown Cinderella

That tiny black speck on the roof, one-third from the top of the photograph? That's a woman's shoe.

There are some cigarette butts near it. Probably a grand story also, but I'm afraid I don't know it. Or I'd share it with you.

Friday, October 19, 2007

PhotoPlus Friday

I went to PhotoPlus Expo this afternoon. Strobes, softboxes, stands; backgrounds, bare bulbs, batteries; cases, cards and cameras.

Touched some Nikons, some Canons, the new Sony Alpha.

The Sony booth had one or two models posing at all times, and when two worked together, a crowd formed of a dozen men, surging forward. The cameras had huge zooms mounted on them, thick and long. (You need two hands to handle them properly, really.) The men would sometimes look at each other, comparing, then point them at the models and blast away.

I walked around the corner and tried out a Sony 28mm F2.8. When I asked to see it, the salesman put a big zoom lens on the camera instead and smiled. "No, the 28mm prime," I said. "Oh," he said. "No one has asked to see that before." It's a very unsexy lens. Not fast, not expensive. Snubnose and light. Invisible.

Photography in the News

Any news items on photography today? Well, there's this:

Britney Spears appears to run over foot of celebrity photographer
"Spears drives off. Second later, video shows what appears to be a tire mark on the unidentified paparazzo's sock. The man, wearing sandals with white socks, doesn't respond to questions from the cameraman but instead walks off without any apparent problems."
She probably shouldn't have done that, but isn't the real crime here wearing sandals with white socks?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who Ya Gonna Call?

I looked. If Pete was around, it wasn't obvious. It was the middle of the day, though, and I'm guessing Pete is not around until after dark. Way after dark.

I'm left with many questions. Does Pete really deserve the exclamation point? Is Pete related to the Fruit Guy on the Corner?

Will all the food groups be represented?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nun Bun? Canon AE1? Or Photoshop Fun?

In a post today New York Portraits' pal Photo Chick expressed her doubts about a flaming ex-pope.

Apparently you can see her on Inside Edition tonight or in repeat tomorrow discussing whether a photograph -- claimed to show Pope John Paul II mystically manifesting in a bonfire in Poland -- has been digitally manipulated....

More on the original photography "news story" here.

The theft of the original "Nun Bun" is here. Heck, here's an entire photo gallery of Nun Buns for you from the BBC. Enjoy.

Preview at Inkaland.

CFoA (Certified Friends of Actualities) Chris and Profluence member Maya have posted a trailer for their documentary-in-progress over at Inkaland.

Not that they ever link back or anything like that. But go and watch it anyway.

Photography in the Auction Houses

I managed to catch the Monday and Tuesday photography auctions at Sotheby's live on the Web. I've been to one in person, and it's an amazing thing to see: ripples go through the audience of live bidders, both of anticipation and -- sometimes -- of shock.

It's still great to watch online -- you sit at home with the catalog in hand, then see video of the auctioneer. But you don't hear the murmurs of the crowd, and you don't get to see the back and forth of the paddle-raisers.

Some highlights:
A complete set of Camera Work -- 50 volumes of the Quarterly published between 1903-1917 -- went for $229,000 (with Buyer's Premium).

An Edward Weston Nautilus went for $1,105,000 (with Buyer's Premium). And a Weston Nude on Sand, Oceano was $193,000.

A Herb Ritts made a surprising showing: with a catalog estimate at $20,000 - $30,000, it sold for $109,000.

Yorkville in the Morning

Ah, Yorkville. In the morning, half of the people you see on the street are going to work, half are not. Instead they're running some local errand or taking the kids to school. A lot of folks on the street, but not the kind of pressing crowds you get in other neighborhoods.

No shortage of dogs.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Some Thoughts on Editing a Chase

Here are some ideas I went over with my editing class last week. The notion was that if we can understand the editing systems used in a well-made chase scene, it will help us understand editing in general.

How do we know which character is which? Does one wear a white cowboy hat and the other a black one? Does one have a red car and the other blue? Is the pickup basketball game shirts versus skins?

If we see the leader pass the big red building, then ten seconds later the chaser, we know how far apart the characters are. Often, a camera will stay at a landmark position, and pan from one character to another.

If a car is chasing a moped, the car has a clear advantage. But when the moped goes into the subway and the car driver follows on foot, now the moped has the advantage.

Is a character gaining or falling behind? A shot where the camera is pulling away, or where the character is catching up to the camera may tell us. A shot with both characters in it might reveal the relative status as well.

We want to know what the character is thinking, feeling and doing -- so a cut to a shot through the windshield might reveal the character's expression. Or a cut to the foot on the brake might tell us what's happening. Or a closeup on the gear shift. Make careful note of where the character looks -- the next shot might be their "point of view."

A camera can be low in the front of a car, can look out the rear window, can sit in the passenger seat, can look down at the brake pedal -- and all of these shots are useful. It can run alongside the moped as it plunges down the stairs. It can turn to watch the car streak by. It can shake, float, or fly.

If a car goes from screen left to screen right, we expect it to keep doing that unless we some change -- a shot where it turns, or where we "move" into the car before coming back out. And we expect the car chasing to also maintain consistent screen direction -- unless we see a change happen.

If we cut from the big black car to the little red sports car -- should the sound change right on that cut? Or should it change in other ways? Do we want to hear the sound of the car coming toward us, then going away?

Even in a short chase, all go-go-go action wears thin. It's usually more exciting to have a lot of action, then a tiny pacing "deep breath" before the big finish.

That tank chasing the laser-guided skateboard just knocked over every fruit stand in aisle 19. Maybe we could cut back to see what happened, and the angry manager shaking her fist at us? Or maybe our wheel can't take much more and is starting to wobble -- maybe a closeup to reveal that?

Will It Look Good Over the Couch?

One of the issues that comes up in a day of wandering through photo galleries is scale.

Presentation sizes for gallery / museum photographs have increased dramatically, obviously. At one point 8" by 10" photographs were common in gallery presentation, and now few contemporary photographers are selling works smaller than 30 inches wide. 60 inch prints are very common.

There are, of course, photographs that "work" at 15" wide but not at 10" wide. So, go bigger, sure.

But have no doubt that part of the, ahem, overcompensation that is happening is based on sale prices. I don't really have a problem with that -- if you can sell your 5-foot-wide photograph for a lot of money, and a collector's loft has just the perfect spot for a 5-foot photo with a lot of red in it, great. Someone spending 5 grand on a photo wants it to hold the wall.

Still, the market-driven need for size makes for some boring work. The emphasis shifts to an ultra-detailed study of a thing, or a person in solitary. That's fine -- that's something photography does very well.

There's a de-emphasis, however, on the other, more important process that photography is suited to: showing one thing in relation to another thing. If a five-foot-wide picture of the side of a barn is fascinating, great. I'm really more interested in how this person looks at that person. Or the way this person reacts to that person. Or how these two stand together. It seems more like what I want to know about the world. A visual relationship, observed.

And I don't care what size it's printed.

American, Surfaces

One of our gallery tour stops was the Alex Klotz Gallery for a show of Andreas Feininger photographs. We realized we weren't on the mailing list, and therefore signed the gallery's address book.

Stephen Shore had signed in just before. We looked around, but have no idea what he looks like now. Might have been standing right next to us.

You know, the author of The Nature of Photographs -- also featured in a recent ICP exhibition.... That Stephen Shore.

Chelsea, Lately

I forgot to mention that while touring the galleries with my wife and our friend Marc I kept trying to sort out an idea that's been buzzing around for a while: that while this is Chelsea's moment, it may not last forever.

Long-time New Yorkers point to the transformation of Soho, once the hot art gallery neighborhood. They ask: when the rents go up, or the art market dips, will only the blue-chip galleries remain? Will the scene move on, or perhaps fragment?

(From my California days I remember very well how the Santa Monica gallery scene changed quickly -- from a cruise along Colorado Boulevard's industrial spaces into a day parked in the gated-community of Bergamot Station.)

I'm not sure it can be known, yet. What's there seems very solid to me -- and I have a hard time imagining it won't stay oriented to an art scene. But I'm never surprised by change, and glad to see things as they are. All scenes are temporary, in a sense, aren't they?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Broadway, More or Less

If you're the main featured costumed character -- let's say you're wearing a giraffe costume outside of a toy store -- then crowds form and everyone wants to see you. Life is easy.

But what if you're a somewhat less-recognizable character? What if no one gets what you're doing there, and they don't seem sure what your appearance on the street signifies? And it's maybe too bright out in the sun, anyway, and there's some good shade right around this corner?

Then you just go with it. Maybe a hand gesture or two. Ignore the giraffe.

Go easy. Who needs crowds, anyway?

This Weekend in the Galleries

Spent the day in the photo galleries. Started off at the 57th Street galleries, went on to the Leica Gallery, and then -- of course -- veered back into Chelsea. The highlights:

A roomful of Garry Winogrand photographs at Deborah Bell Photographs features work from his books The Animals and Women Are Beautiful. Also, there's a snap of Winogrand at work that I had not seen before. (That's at 511 West 25th Street, Room 703 -- and they are only open Saturdays. And next Saturday is the last day of the show....)

A laugh-out-loud show of Richard Kalvar photographs at Leica Gallery. (That's at 670 Broadway, Suite 500.) The Web site doesn't show his work -- but there's a fantastic slideshow of 50 of his pictures at Magnum.

I also thought the "25 Years" show at Howard Greenberg was really a rich experience -- each image includes a very personal story of why Greenberg has collected that specific photograph and what it means to him. That's a lot of reading, but it's rewarding -- there are a number of great stories I doubt could be found anywhere else.

Above: my wife and I brought our friend Marc along on the tour.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Photography in the News

Any news items on photography today?

Well, there's a little piece about some Andres Serrano Photographs Vandalized in Sweden.
"Around 3:30, half an hour before closing, four vandals wearing black masks stormed into a space known as the Kulturen Gallery while shouting in Swedish, “We don’t support this,” plus an expletive. They pushed visitors aside, entered a darkened room where some of the photographs were displayed and began smashing the glass protecting the photographs and then hacking away at the prints.

The bumpy video, evidently shot with a hand-held camera by someone who ran into the gallery with the attackers, intersperses images of the Serrano photographs with lettered commentary in Swedish like “This is art?” before showing the vandals at work."
The video was apparently posted on YouTube.

Also, Stay Off His Lawn

Peter Greenaway has announced the Death of Cinema.
"Cinema's death date was 31 September 1983, when the remote-control zapper was introduced to the living room, because now cinema has to be interactive, multi-media art," he told a director's masterclass. ... There were gasps among film students when he took aim at some of the biggest names. "Here's a real provocation: [US video artist] Bill Viola is worth 10 Martin Scorseses. Scorsese is old-fashioned and is making the same films that [the pioneering director] DW Griffiths was making early last century," he said.
Of course, since Thirty Days Hath September, and Cinema has muddled on since that fateful (and technically nonexistent) day, one might be inclined to nominate him for a Francis Fukuyama award.

But Greenaway is a very smart guy, and a very talented guy too. So my take is this: whenever somebody that good and that studied on a subject starts ringing the alarms, there's a problem. He'll probably be wrong in what he predicts is next, or in what he thinks is the root cause. It's tough to figure that sort of thing out. But if he says there's a problem, it's worth considering.

By the way, Greenaway started out as an editor....

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Mirror More Than a Window

I looked. There was no Fruit Guy on the corner. And, actually, the corner was close enough that if you'd come looking for the Fruit Guy, you could see him from there anyway.

Or is it the world's worst advertising campaign? "Fruit Guy On The Corner." It needs something.

Maybe this was for the Fruit Guy, and not about him? "Psst. Fruit Guy? On the corner!" Was there some sort of Fruit Emergency?

You Could Google Ana Mendieta

Yes, today is the day when Spencer Tunick will pose a lot of people without clothes at the Sagamore Art Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. I don't mind that, though I find the photographs less interesting than they should be.

What I do mind is his pretense that he's an "installation artist" or a "land artist" or anything but what he is. As always, the breathless press release spins out of control:
"Creating his seminal temporary site-specific landscapes involve the recruitment of many nude figures arranged in specific public sites and follow on the tradition of the popular art of the early 70's known as land art. ... The poetic whole culminating from this sea of individual figures which are arranged in a sculptural way, further challenges traditionally held stigmas associated with nudity, privacy and social and political issues surrounding art in the public sphere."
There are only a few things wrong with this -- he's not seminal, he doesn't actually follow in the tradition of land art, and there's no culminating involved. Also no challenging.

As a documentary-film person, I've watched all of the documentaries on Tunick. They reveal him to be what he is: a guy with a big schtick.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lewiston, Maine Once Again in the Photography News

Why should you read this blog on a daily basis? Because you may have to serve as prosecutor in a case where a photographer apprehends the perp, that's why....

This week, Sun Journal photographer Russ Dillingham managed to both photograph and restrain an alleged car thief, as was noted here Thursday. Unfortunately, the prosecutor in the case has not been keeping up with this blog.
"[The suspect] was freed Friday after a prosecutor said he was not familiar with all the facts in the case, and a Superior Court judge declined to set bail. By late Friday, [the alleged perpetrator] was out of jail, and his whereabouts were unknown. ... Lewiston's deputy police chief criticized the prosecutor, saying, 'You have to be living in a cave to not know the facts of this case.'"
Exactly. Full story here: Fugitive Nabbed By Newspaper Photographer Released

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Gerda Taro and Robert Capa at ICP

Yesterday I spent the day working from home -- editing video -- but in the evening we went to International Center of Photography for four shows:

Gerda Taro

This is War! Robert Capa at Work

Other Weapons: Photography and Print Culture During the Spanish Civil War

Dark is the Room Where We Sleep: A Project By Francesc Torres

I thought the Torres project was excellent, and was glad to see the history / story of Taro being brought into light.

The Capa show, however, left me with mixed feelings: it's the best and most detailed collection of his war work I've seen, but I much preferred the exhibition that toured (from the Philadelphia Museum of Art) around 1996-1997, as captured in this book: Robert Capa: Photographs. It just seems better to me to include all sides of his work -- both war and peace -- if we're really to understand the stakes of war.

Above: 43rd Street walking back from ICP.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Morris on Fenton, Part Two

Errol Morris continues his search for the documentary truth. More or less.

IDA's 25 "Best"

The International Documentary Association announced the results of its Top 25 Documentaries member poll.

No real surprises -- all popular, excellent documentaries -- but one thing did strike me: how many of these films have more than one editor. Of the 25 films, 13 have multiple editors. More than half.

Meaning that now I have to teach my editing students that they'll have to learn an additional skill: shared vision.

(I'm an IDA member, and I did vote. One thing to note: it wasn't a process where you just voted for one favorite "best" film -- but checked off a number of films. I expect that produces a different result than a simple "vote for one" process. In this case, I think it may have made for a better, if mainstream, list.)

Focused Butterfly, Blurry Background

Recently I mentioned the usual MFA hating that photographers love to take part in, especially in photography forums. While this is typically at the level of "Those darn MFA kids will never match my great closeup shots of a butterfly -- now get off my lawn!", a more intriguing note just went up at The Online Photographer. Mike Johnston, who runs the popular site and uploads a lot of images and good comments in photography forums as well, noted his difficulties getting jobs teaching photography without the MFA.

Which was a great post. Unfortunately, it was followed by a lot of MFA-bashing posts. So I posted a comment, which I'll share here, for what it's worth.
Excellent post, Mike.

I'd like to address the comments here, however. They are very similar to others posted on many photography forums -- they reflect the idea that somehow the MFA degree is only a piece of paper, and that the process of getting that degree is somehow based in fake academic pursuits rather than "real" photographic pursuits.

It's just not true. A good MFA program means two or three years of really intense, valuable work. It means creating multiple exhibitions -- not just a slapdash portfolio of images -- and going through a lot of intense critique with very informed professors with decades of experience (both professional and academic). It means understanding the history of the medium, the best current and cutting-edge practices, and the work of your fellow students.

It means a really deep commitment to photography that the usual suggestion -- "go work as an assistant" -- just can't match. One can leave five years as an assistant without any gain but a lot of skill in one vary narrow part of the field, but a good MFA program can open up a photographer's full potential, if they are willing to do the work.

There are many great photographers without the MFA. But I'm puzzled why many of the commenters don't get that those same photographers could advance if they had two years to focus on their work, and a lot of people surrounding them with the goal of giving them a bit of help....

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Photography in the News

Newspaper photographer grabs images, then grabs fugitive
"A newspaper photographer who captured dramatic images of a fugitive jumping from a third-floor balcony before capturing the suspected car thief drew applause from co-workers when he arrived for work the following day."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Then There's Google Search

The Bechers versus The Bechers.

Surprisingly, there are some similarities.

What is an MFA?

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the degree everyone lacking one says you don't need.

The world of photography is a strange one. It's filled with people who have succeeded and failed in many different ways. It's filled with every possible opinion. It's filled with distrust for the opinions of others -- because obviously yours are correct, and it's likely some of theirs will be directly opposed. And therefore obstinately wrongheaded.

It's always been a field with distrust of intellectual ideas -- after all, I already know how to make a good exposure and a good picture, why would I possibly want to read some dense book referencing French philosophers? -- and a lot of self-taught successes.

Since I did go and get my M.F.A., but also teach a lot of beginning and intermediate and hobbyist and trying-to-break-into-the-profession photographers, I feel I have a foot in both camps. I realize you don't answer a question about exposure with a quote from Barthes, and that you don't evaluate a sports photo without a knowledge of the nuts-and-bolts realities of the sports page. But I also realize that among hobbyists -- and even "working pros" -- the opinions are often very strong and very uninformed: The Bechers? I could take a better picture than that, and -- heck! -- I could do it in color!

So sometimes I find myself, when I meet people in the photography world, feeling like a spy: trying to figure out what they know and don't know, and what they think they know. I find myself trying to deal with them on their own terms. I listen when they say, sometimes subtly, that you don't need much education to deal with images. Or that you only need practical education, or a good long-weekend workshop, or to work as an assistant.

And then I see what photographs they like, and what photographs they make, and what they think is most important. That's a very educational moment.