Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bad (Very Bad) Photo Exhibit...

I recently went to a Blurb promotional affair at a rather "well to do" gallery in San Francisco. I'm really not familiar with said gallery so I can only tell you about the photographs that were displayed there that evening. And to tell ya the truth, I didn't take notice of the photographer's name, didn't want to. On the walls were black & white photographs taken in contact sheet format, you know the type- multiple fragmented shots of a larger scene printed together as a contact sheet of one roll of film forming one complete picture. Now I have nothing against such presentations in theory, particularly when emphasizing some additional, overall geometric, architectural or abstract design. But this was devoid of the latter to any appreciable extent. And then to add to the artifice, each completed image was in turn surrounded by thick, uneven, "painterly" black borders.

What really ticked me off though was that many of these pictures were of people who scrounge those massive garbage dumps of South/Latin America in order to make a few miserable cents to put something in their stomachs. He wasn't showing us anything new and he certainly wasn't bringing their plight to the forefront- he was merely slicing, dicing and reassembling moments of their daily lives into very dubious "art" pieces. Of course, beauty can (in life or art) sometimes trump even the most questionable content. Had they, in fact, looked great, you could at least say, "Yeah, but at least they looked great!" Sadly, even that bit of superficiality was not the case.

At this point in life, I take no great joy in putting down a particular person's work, but this goes beyond bad art or bad taste, and smacks of exploitation. Someone using the poorest of the poor to form the crux of their "artistic vision."

Maybe he (or she) will be giving all proceeds to those pictured- I hope so. At least it would provide a few needed meals or some adequate clothing. It certainly won't raise the aesthetic level of the photographs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Less is More... Noah Beil

Live long enough and one learns how life never lets up with ways to ridicule, taunt and basically lay waste to so much of what you hold dear as to ethics, values, questions of taste. Most recently I've been amazed how many times I don't want to have a woman's cleavage thrust in my face. In the street, the subway, the grocery store, even at work- please lady, put those things away! I don't want them spilling out all in front of me. Fact is, I'd much rather imagine them, and yours are not the ones I'd choose to imagine, let alone see.

A couple of years ago I saw a tape of a Sade concert, she was barefoot and swaying rhythmically to the music onstage. Sexy as all hell in a natural kinda way that your average pole dancing, video rock vixen could never ever imagine.

Obviously, what I'm trying to say is, that sometimes- less is more...

Noah Beil is a photographer based in neighboring Oakland, CA who has a rather intriguing set of landscapes. In one respect they are not that dissimilar to countless other "banal" color landscapes so prevalent to the contemporary art market for the past thirty years. His photographs however pique your visual attention with minimalist compositions that often challenge their relation to the rest of their environment in terms of both scale and function. Mr. Beil's straight on approach doesn't resort to odd angles or other photographic gimmickry to isolate the elements of his compositions, and it'll certainly be interesting to see how he applies his unique signature vision to other projects- though I sure wouldn't mind seeing more of these...
Update: More work just up!
(I've passed this scene many times and always knew there was a photograph there somewhere. Good to see somebody was able to make proper sense of it.)

Monday, October 27, 2008


Wassup '08! Brilliant, poigant & funny as hell...
(via Boing Boing- and do watch original for reference).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Heat!

Our home star, one of several billions in our galaxy (of which there are several billions). More incredible images here...

And while warming up to the view(s) above, really feel The Heat with this absorbing and comprehensive 2 hr. Frontline introduction to our current global warming crisis...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happenings in The East Bay & Beyond- UPDATE!

This Tues 10/28*, there will be a photo shindig at Gallery 291 in San Francisco brought to you by Blurb and Photography Book Now. Beth Dow, Jonathan Smith, Talia Chetrit, John Lehr, Cara Phillips, Michael Corridore, Benjamin Lowy, Ed Panar and Leah Anderson scheduled to appear... Info here.
*Sorry about mix up on date- and thank you, Noah Beil!

Sat 10/25, The Oxford Project's Peter Feldstein will be giving a lecture and presentation at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, 105 North Gate Hall, corner of Euclid & Hearst, 7-8:30pm. The incredible Oxford Project will also be featured on CBS Sunday Morning, check local TV listings...(Photo: Peter Feldstein)

The Scarlet Letter

I just heard about the attack of the McCain volunteer and couldn't help but recall the last time a right winger was "attacked" in like manner. Morton Downey, Jr. also ended up with suspicious mirror image markings on his face...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Portraiture- Jean Francois Joly

Save for the image above, it's almost a disservice to view Jean Francois Joly's work on such a small scale via the internet, and yet even by this most inadequate of means, it's still obvious how much his portraiture truly shines. I'm sure it must be the case that once again I'm just the last to know (hell, I just heard of Vanessa Winship the other day), but this guy pumps out these incredibly moving and memorable B&W portraits on location like second nature. Sure, you say, but the image above is taken in a pretty dramatic environment- of course it's gonna be intense. But take a good look at all his work- wherever he works, whomever he shoots, he still somehow, someway manages to identify and emphasize those elements that most bring that particular portrait to life. The picture above in lesser hands could just as easily ended up as yet another "pity the child in a dump" shot, instead of rising to the iconic level of... god, where does one begin?!

Contrast his work with those new and celebrated portrait photographers who depict everyone with all the strength and conviction of yesterday's Kleenex. Perhaps Joly's style is just too old school or photojournalistic to be celebrated as "fine art" in today's market. I don't know (or care), I'm just happy to have "discovered" him!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Protest The War- Judith Joy Ross

I just bought Protest The War by Judith Joy Ross for under ten dollars. The paperback (copublished by Steidl/Pace Macguill) measures five by six and one half inches and consists of 22 plates of admirable reproduction. These reflective portraits are the absolute epitome of simplicity and directness, subtlety and power by one of portraiture's most gifted practitioners. And the obvious question that comes to mind is why aren't more photographic books of this format and cost available?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Soldiers of Conscience

This powerful documentary introduces us to some of the bravest, most honorable individuals ever to don the uniform- and known as conscientious objectors. More, here and here...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

W- The Movie

Well, leave it to Oliver to make ol' W sympathetic- and it was a smart move, 'cause any way ya cut it, he still comes out the presidential fool. Actually, the movie is a pretty superficial take overall- and yet, it still delivers for the simple fact that his entire life has been such a long, long trail of unabashed missteps and blunders, ignorance and arrogance. So you shake your head and smile at a life of continual failure doomed to success. All at the cost of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives.

The assembled Cabinet is fun to behold with very credible performances all around, though none could touch Thandie Newton's Condie Rice- the ultimate White House yes man in Lilly Tomlin drag!

There's so much material to cover, it's no surprise so much got left out (eg- Katrina, his National Guard service, the never ending myriad of Bushisms, 9/11, Abu Ghraib). Yes, there's still a more serious, in depth film to be made on this most superficial of American tragic characters. And it must start with the death of his beloved older sister in their preschool years, whose body was buried the very next day, never to be mentioned again- while the Bushes played golf at their country club, and little W pedaled his tricycle relentlessly about, forever lost.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Some Friendly (Photographic) Advice...

The Fall issue of Photographer's Forum magazine features two photographers who offer some some very sage advice addressing: age, creativity, and persistence...

Gary Monroe: As I get older I have to work harder to maintain an edge to my photographs. I make a conscious effort to stay as enthralled by the world as when I first discovered how my photographs transformed it in pictures. I see so many photographer's works become plastic with age and time. Some things have not changed at all. I use the same camera, the same two lenses, the same developer I've always used.

John Humble: I started photographing seriously in 1974. My first solo show was in 1992. I worked for a long time with no support, no recognition, no nothing. The important thing is that if you have something that you are interested in saying, something that speaks to you in a way that you have a personal response to, it's important to keep at it, to continue and not give up!!!

Fast Forward to November!

When all is said and done, this is what it's all about. And it can't be addressed soon enough...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Extreme Travel Photo Competition (A Proposal)

I was thinking of once in a lifetime places to photograph and experience, so I got to dreaming about a travel photo competition where top prize would not consist of some lame cruise or vacation resort, but more like an all expense paid trip that puts you in the driver's seat (make that the passenger's seat) of the ultimate road trip... Bolivia's Road of Death!

Here you have a place where people literally risk their lives simply to get from point A to point B on any given day, and they're not even in a war zone! Not to say that it doesn't exist, but I have yet to see the quintessential photo essay documenting this infamous sojourn. Regardless- I sure know I'd love to give it a shot! Personal risk? You bet (part of the challenge, part of the reward), and although not quite on the level of The Wages of Fear, we're still talking 2-300 deaths per year. Of course, with my luck, if such a competition actually existed, I'd probably take second prize- a lame vacation cruise... from which I'd probably drown in drunken boredom.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Photo: S. Banos; Badlands, SD
I used to have these very strong deja vu episodes. Most of the times I'd just tell myself that I'd done similar things before, in similar places, under similar circumstances- and I'd be right. Other times it just felt a whole lot stronger, a whole lot stranger, and not quite so easily explained away. Once passing through Glasgow, a barfly approached me and as soon she started to speak, I had the overwhelming sensation that I had this conversation before with this very same person who I somehow, very much recognized. It spooked me enough to hastily finish my drink and run out the bar. Still, though I had never been in that particular city before, I had definitely been in enough bars in arguably similar circumstances to hastily file away the episode in the over active imagination file...

One summer however, the aforementioned ambivalence would give way to quite another level of discovery, uncertainty and wonder. It started in spring with a dream in which I met two young college students, one a thin male, the other a short female. We all get into a car and after a brief ride emerge to find ourselves flanked on either side by long thin figures in earthen colored robes. The three of us all walk down the middle of a long alley, the robed figures walking silently along adobe like walls. The male student then exclaims, "Jeez, aint this fun!?" And I reply, "Fun my ass, they could all be marching us to our death!" End of dream. Unusual in itself for my actually remembering it.

That summer I went to Spain and gradually made my way southward one tinto de verano at a time. Having reached the appropriately named La Linea, I proceeded directly across to that most famous of grand British rocks; and while peering across the Strait of Gibraltar decided, all spur of the moment like, to hop a quick plane to Marrakesh, just so I'd be able to claim that I had, in fact, stepped upon the great continent of Africa.

Once there, I jumped into a taxi with a couple of other passengers who were also looking for a place to stay near the center of the old town. Emerging from the taxi we were immediately surrounded by... you guessed it- numerous, lean, brown robed figures that would supposedly guide us to a hotel. And there I was walking down a long, narrow alleyway with two young college students, one a thin male, the other a shorter female, and flanked on either side by the aforementioned, now silently pacing, robed figures. Needless to say, I was growing a tad apprehensive surrounded in a nightmare labyrinth where even street signs would be useless, had they existed. I also sensed another wayward presence, vaguely familiar but equally foreign all the same- the very strong feeling of deja vu. And when the male student cried out, "Jeez, aint this fun," it literally felt as if I was walking into some interdimensional portal, a living, breathing, three dimensional photograph of my own making- as I found myself mouthing my preordained reply.

Somehow, someway, I had been allowed a very short glimpse into my future, purpose and reason unknown. Probably not the first time, but definitely the first time I had actual "proof" (if unverifiable to anyone save myself) that deja vu wasn't always just some weird vague combination of familiarity and imagination.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Art v Torture

While you and I talk(ed) art over cappuccino, US citizens (like Jose Padilla) were imprisoned and tortured to the point of insanity, without criminal charges. And, of course, this is to say nothing of the hundreds of foreign nationals who have been tortured, and killed, in Afghanistan, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and (thanks to "rendition") other highly secret jails throughout the world... all in our name.

Kinda puts things in perspective, don't it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Black & White of it...

It never ceases to amaze how a finely printed B&W print (more so than its more informative color cousin) can sing like a million bucks and transcend not only the material it was created on, but the very reality it purports to depict. And how a more poorly printed version of the same image seems to lessen the worth of the very paper it was printed on. Not to discount the role of subject matter- I don't care how well printed that long exposure of a mountain stream flowing over primordial rocks is (or isn't).

Fortunately that overall sense of quality (and originality) can even translate unto the computer screen, as witnessed by the recent monochromatic efforts of both: Platon and Vanessa Winship (via APAD and The Colin Pantall Blog, respectively). Although the latter has received much deserved accolades for her recent large format portraiture- it's her moody, exquisite, small format reportage that really fills my rectangle. As for the former, both his portraits and reportage triumph in balancing that difficult, tenuous equation between formal studio glitz and street savvy grit- beauty and emotion in one potent package.

And while you're at it, don't forget: Jeffrey Ladd, Beth Dow and George Georgiou all of whom have been lauded here for their various shades of grey...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Lazy Day...

Had my first lazy afternoon in a looooonng time recently, and when left to my own devices... spent way too much time perusing the hallowed vaults of LP Cover Lover, only to enjoy every damn second of it. Some weird, wonderful combination of nostalgia, post modern retro chic and online cabinet of curiosities. Somebody stop me...

-via Boing Boing (also see Bad Album Covers)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Story Breaks...

I have no idea what will be revealed 10/03/08 via James Nachtwey (click on title), other than to note how truly rare it is for a man, and his work, to be so deserving of the accolades they receive.

For those who haven't seen War Photographer, do so...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008