Sunday, March 30, 2008

How Not to Frame and Hang a Show

In an era when images and prints can be manipulated to tolerances not easily possible, or even imagined, just a few short years ago, I'm dumbfounded by the "primitive" manner in which some of those very same prints are then exhibited. I just saw the Basilico exhibit at SFMOMA, and although his prints don't particularly fall into the digital manipulation context, they do, unfortunately, fall victim to a particular syndrome which I've personally witnessed far too often without complaint from artist, critic or public alike.

It's been quite the thing to exhibit large unmatted photographs in recessed frames. Personally, I'd have no problem with this particular preference if it wasn't for the fact that the ceiling lights shining down at a 45 degree angle cast a horizontal band of shadow from those very frames directly across the top portion of each and every print (see recreation above)- bad enough when you got empty sky, really annoying when it's blocking out detail.

Here you have highly astute (and famous) artists, intrinsically attentive to every detail of how their work is visualized, created and promoted, who then sabotage the very last and crucial step in that long chain towards presentation of their finished product. And it's particularly vexing when the remedies are so readily available! Either mat and overmat the damn prints so the shadow isn't cast on the print itself, or place them in frames that aren't recessed (and don't cause the shadow in the first place)!

Some things I'll never understand...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pimp That Ride!!!

Luke Fortune swears you can build your very own, genuine UFO with basic high school machine shop skills and his six volume UFO How-TO series. Don't let those pesky anti-matter gremlins hold you back any longer. Needless to say- your mileage may vary...

The Clintonator!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playin' to the Hype

I don't usually (ie- never) comment on fashion photography, but must admit to quite the double take when I first saw the cover above on the newsstand. Perhaps it's not a big thing to most twenty somethings- and that's maybe (as Martha would say) "a good thing," the kind of thing that might help get an African-American elected President. But as a person of color born waaay back in the fifties, and well attuned to the intricacies and nuances of racism in these United States, it set off a myriad of conflicting responses.

Recently, a French magazine depicted life after Bush in America with the photo of a male black child as stand in for Obama (couldn't link to posts at Lens Culture and Politics, Theory and Photography). Some suggested it was purposely demeaning, referencing the old stigma of black men being addressed as "boy." Even my jaded self couldn't go there- the photograph just seemed too sincere in inspiring hope for a generation well beyond that particular legacy. But this Liebowitz Vogue cover with Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen is clearly playing up the racial card for every bit of controversy and sales it can muster. Here we have the first Black man ever on the cover of Vogue (as they themselves are keen to remind us) and he's posed like King Kong stomping onto the set of The Birth of a Nation. Yeah, I'm sure it's Lebron's way of saying- fuck all, I don't give a flyin' about any damn conventions. And normally, I'd be all for that, if it didn't play into the hands of every black racial stereotype in the history of this country- and Brazil's. Not every black athlete (or human) is blessed with the political savvy and personal sacrifice of an Ali, a Tommie Smith or John Carlos- Lebron is strictly about the dollar signs.

Like it or not, he got played by a bunch of bright lights and the white folk who hide behind them, played for the vilest of reasons and the vilest of legacies. It'll stir up old emotions and fears in some, set tongues to wagging on others, and boost sales all around- just as Hillary's not so subtle racial hints and images awaken similar negative connotations in her widening desperation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


First, apologies all around, after finally having the opportunity to actually read said article, it seems that the US did not "covertly cremate" Iraqi prisoners as recently alluded to (seems that well could have been the work of Saddam's ol' crew at Abu Ghraib). US personnel routinely tortured, and occasionally murdered only- my bad.

I found the following two concurrent sentences the most telling in the whole Ghraib/Harman article- the former concerning the inevitable chain concerning abuse of power, the latter particularly telling in a time when photography is said to have lost so much of its power:

"The only person ranked above staff sergeant to face a court martial was cleared of criminal wrong doing. No one has ever been charged for abuses at the prison that were not photographed."

Finally, very much look forward to Standard Operating Procedure (as I do all Errol Morris films), which can be found here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4,000 v 1,191,246

As in US v Iraqi dead, and there will yet be more, much more if McCain is elected. And each and every one- for what? What did the deaths of our soldiers accomplish in Viet Nam? Did it stop communism then; have we destroyed terrorism today? Did it make the Viet Namese freer, safer- as we claimed? And did it make us any more so? Agent Orange will continue to maim, disfigure and poison that land and its people for decades to come. Depleted uranium has been doing much the same in Iraq. And we have yet to compensate anyone in Viet Nam, despite willfully raping and killing its land and people.

And we continue that ass backward legacy to this day- and "they hate us because of our freedom." Puh-lease!!!

Big Dog the Fly/Dog

You think they would have figured out a way to keep out the flies by now when teletransporting the family dog. This guy's got one wicked gyro on him...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"Freedom on the March" News...

What was the last country to imprison, torture and covertly cremate its victims? If you said Nazi Germany, seems you thought wrong- the answer may be a lot closer to home than you think... (scroll down to Ex-Soldiers Reveal New Details of Abuses at Abu Ghraib).

Remember how funny it was to laugh and make fun of Hans Blix? You know, that super nerd of a weapons inspector who couldn't find WMD if ya gave him a whole country chock full of 'em- if anyone has the right to laugh last...

Ya think Lou Dobbs participated in gathering the data for this study???

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Photo Review

The Photo Review will be accepting submissions for the 2008 version of their annual competition in early May (yours truly made it into the "close but no cigar" 2007 Competition Entries online exhibit under the Menageries and Places categories).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Reading The Fine Print (of the Drones)

As previously stated, the funny thing about UFO photos is that if they're blurry, "they don't prove anything," and god forbid if they're sharp- "they gotta be Photoshop!" A purposeful Lose-Lose all around.

It's been round about a year since these photos were first posted, and I have no idea to this day if they're real, authentic, whatever... But what I do find incredibly interesting is that after that same year, neither has anyone proven that they've been digitally manipulated- particularly in these days of such advanced digital forensics tools that can isolate exactly where and how they have been altered.

Also fascinating to contemplate is the contention on this site that the writing/markings found on these contraptions go well beyond the parameters of mere language...

Philip Jones Griffiths- RIP

One of the greats- in his photography, and humanity.

Recent post and Aperture interview here, Colin Pantall's interview here, Magnum tribute here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Years-- No Pictures

To counteract the media self censorship and "celebrate" five years of "Iraqi liberation," I googled "Iraq war casualties- photos." I don't recommend it-- then again, every American should be forced to view the results of our "Freedom on the March!" The Iraqis have no choice.

Viewer safe reminders:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tamas Dezso

Ever walk into a gallery and just be flat out humbled by a photographer's work? I feel that way just looking at Tamas Dezso's work... online.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

State of the Union

It's hard getting it up to write about politics these days... at least for me. There's just been so many "gotcha" moments, so many "you can't make this up" moments, so many "there's no way in hell they can get away with this" moments. And the truth is, they'll continue to get away with it, till the very end. Our country has been led by a cadre of war criminals, supported by their own chosen phalanx of flag draped, war profiteers- and anyone ignorant of that fact, is so by choice. Those are neither opinions, nor the emotional rantings of exaggerated accusations, they are the facts- facts that even when reported, and made available, never see the light of day.

For the last seven years our country has been led by a documented deserter, who lied us into his fantasy war made flesh that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of lives beyond the breath and scope of anything that Saddam or Osama could have ever possibly entertained. Thousands of those lives, innocent women and children, many at the hands of our own forsaken military. We knew what this man was like before any of this- this man who actually took pleasure in mocking a female prisoner in child like sing-song minutes before her execution.

Presidents, statesmen, public servants can strive to bring out the best in us, even when they fall so humanly short. Or they can ferment an atmosphere of fear, appeal to our basic greed, and let loose the dogs of war. We have learned nothing from Watergate, nothing from Joe McCarthy, nothing from Viet Nam. In exchange, we have learned to torture.

They have stripped us of our dignity, and we have let them, willingly. And we may have $600 to show for it yet...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Sticks and Stones, & Lee...

The America by Car exhibit got me to thinking how I've never been a rabid Friedlander fan, although I've always admired the general cleverness of his photos and had many a personal favorite- and I distinctly remember how his book on nudes caused near irreparable harm to my libido. That all kind of changed with the publication of Sticks and Stones. Here was a a photographer operating with a near Jordanesque fluidity and confidence, capturing the kind of stuff that I have repeatedly strived for, alluded to, and mostly failed at- and nailing it time and time again with absolute clarity and precision. Of course, I could choose to delude myself into thinking that the only reason I haven't reached such maturity of vision is because I just don't own his Hasselblad SWC (uh-huh).

The first half of Sticks and Stones depicts traditional small town and suburban America at virtual war with its own surroundings- the commercial, industrial and security detritus that passes for so much of modern American architecture and landscape. And Friedlander's dynamic, wide angle compositions and graphic use of space juxtaposes those opposing forces with all the visual irony and drama that can be arranged within a squared viewfinder.

The "second half" still has its share of winners, to be sure, but it seems to suffer from a visual fatigue, as if Lee somehow got preoccupied with the minutiae of it all and got lost in the resulting clutter. Texture replaces space, and the view gets muddled to the point of being downright claustrophobic. In part that's due to the more urban environment where space is at an absolute premium, but this is also territory that Friedlander has explored before. Even in the vastness of The Desert Seen he seemed to relish squeezing as many twigs, sticks and bushes into one frame as humanly possible, even likening it to running his nails across the chalkboard (agreed).

Sometimes ya just gotta stomach the "eccentricities" to enjoy the genius, and there's more than enough of the latter in Sticks and Stones to make it unto my all time favorites' list (and
I'd still love to get my hands on a Hasselblad SWC).

PS- To familiarize yourself with his prolific history, you can get the handsome 480p. SFMOMA retrospective catalog for a mere $45- and catch the final paragraph in this article!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lee Friedlander's Used Cars

It's Lee Friedlander season in San Francisco with a major retrospective at SFMOMA and the America by Car exhibit at The Fraenkel Gallery. The latter concentrates on landscapes which prominently incorporate some section of car interior (usually the door). Some of these were published in his phenomenal Sticks and Stones- but a whole show of these, particularly from a photographer whose major weakness may be his utter reluctance to edit in a disciplined manner? Well... the guy pulls it off, and most admirably at that! With his trusty Hasselblad SWC (talk about camera envy) and fill flash, Friedlander incorporates various car door interiors into organic compositions that both frame and accentuate the outdoor landscapes in his viewfinder. And he does it so well that you anxiously anticipate what unlikely conglomeration he'll pull together for the next composition! The prints proudly resonate with the beauty and clarity that is B&W, and they're handsomely displayed at the Fraenkel.

Also included in the Fraenkel exhibit are a host of Mr. Friedlander's earlier 35mm work from the sixties and seventies that he also shot from his car. Taken with a more moderate wide angle, these shots insert small bits and pieces of the car (eg- side view mirror, windshield panel, etc) in the foreground that compete with, and sometimes divide and distort the larger details of the exterior landscape. They are more subtle (and smaller) than the Blad prints, like haiku to the medium format paragraphs.

That said, it's amazing how someone Friedlander's age can so keenly identify and utilize so much of the visual noise and stimulus that continues to metastasize throughout today's environment. And no doubt it's the very fact that he has been doing it for so long that enables him to so acutely identify and portray those very changes as they occur and manifest all around us. It also gives hope that one can continue to see, react and create in an original manner well into our latter years.

On to the retrospective...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Poverty Tours

Rather than having a knee jerk "this is despicable and can't be tolerated" approach, I think if properly coordinated and executed, this can be something beneficial to both parties, and an educational introduction for those with no previous experience with "the other." And an introduction is all it is and can be. A group tour doesn't mean you've lived there or even truly experienced it, it only means you've been allowed a highly selective and controlled glimpse- one that may hopefully lead to further exploration, education and ultimately, participation.

Yes, there's plenty of room for abuse, degradation and exploitation with such enterprises. That's why the tour operators must not only be "reputable" entrepreneurs, but a proven benefit to the poor they attest to serve- not the local criminal element. I remember reading just a while back (think it was also in the NY Times) about some similar type tour in India where the itinerary included a visit to a hospice- where one tourist began to vociferously complain how a certain someone was holding things up taking way too long to... die.
Photo: John Maier

Sunday, March 9, 2008

GORT- Klaatu, Barada, Nikto!

Alas! Never thought I'd see ol' Gort himself up for sale on ebay, even if only in facsimile. Back in the day he could destroy the very Earth itself, not to mention star in his very own Hollywood extravaganza- The Day The Earth Stood Still. Still one of the greatest sci-fi epics ever... and who can forget the Theremin!

To compound all the above- it's being redone... with Keanu Reeves, no less. And I'll probably wake up hating myself one morning later this year- after the vain and futile attempt to recapture the childhood wanderlust the first inspired...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Food Fight!

Just in case you haven't seen it- bloody brilliant
parody by Stefan Nadelman using ethnic foods
as stand ins for warring nations...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

White Girl from the Hood-- Not!

Presley, Pat Boone, Vanilla Ice, Margaret Seltzer (AKA- The Notorious B. Jones)... The last name(s) on the exploitation roster is just the latest lame attempt at appropriating and repackaging black life and culture in the US of A through that ever prescient white filter of success!

The truly sad thing in all this, of course, is that there are people of color born and raised in every hood throughout the country who could tell the real story, describe the real problems, and yes, offer up real solutions. People who work minor miracles each and every working day as teachers, counselors, community activists... But their book deals, bonuses and other assorted media perks are not quite so forthcoming.
(photo: Susan Seubert)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Classic Beauty

While the following may seem somewhat irrational to some, it's really no less than admiring both car, and ride. And Lord knows it has nothing to do with the pros and cons of digital v analogue technologies. This is simply about aesthetics, camera aesthetics, or to put it another way- when was the last time you saw a good looking dSLR?

Taking the car analogy one step further, the styling of a lot of today's cars remind me of dSLRs- they all have that cast from one giant plastic mold look to them. Gone are the little bits of chrome and detail that gave both cars and cameras their individual flair and sensuality.

Compact cuties aside, digital cameras are the saddest, butt ugliest "class" of cameras to ever hit the market. Granted, many early film SLRs were absolute clunkers and many later models, plastic uglies for sure, but even the more expensive, metal clad digital bodies of today have an undeniably cheap, awkward look to them. There's just no way that those plastic LCD screens and unsightly rubber portal covers can enhance the overall aesthetics of any camera.

I recently saw a stack of Voigtlander R4 rangefinders at a camera store, and damn if those "cheap," illegitimate Leica cousins didn't look sexy beyond all belief. Yes, there was always a distinct visual pleasure when looking at the classic, sensual lines of a Leica M, the minimalist chrome allure of a 2 1/4 Hasselblad, or even the the hard edged masculinity of a Nikon F. Today, all I see are functional polycarbonate embodiments of various multi-pixelated, digital recording devices. Analogue tech may be passe, but its camera aesthetics have yet to be rivaled.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Street...

My attempts at becoming a street photographer were mostly frustrating at best- the end result never as great as I envisioned, and considerably less than the iconic images that preceded and inspired it. Still, it is a genre I much respect and admire, so it's heartening that it stubbornly persists to this day- and no doubt the addition of color to this traditionally B&W domain has contributed to its continuation. People like Jeff Mermelstein with his eye for ironic detail and humor, Gus Powell's nuanced compositions of coincidence and serendipity, and Trent Parke's dramatic, almost surreal lighting have picked up where early master Joel Meyerowitz left off, and run with it.

The thing that I found most intriguing about this article overall however, were the comments. Not only is everyone a photographer these days- everyone is also quite the critic!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Comeback Quip of '08!!!

You don't have long to get to it (last sentence, 4th para). So why wasn't Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (or Exxon) laughing?