Monday, January 31, 2011

Ashley Gilbertson- Opportunity Lost

As were many others, I too was bowled over by the sheer power and eloquence of the imagery in Bedrooms Of The Fallen, Ashley Gilbertson's moving tribute to fallen American soldiers. He is now on Kickstarter accepting funds to expand this series, and I wish him all the luck in the world. But.......

I had hoped that he would not only expand the number of images, but had also planned to expand its scope, to pay tribute to the most forgotten innocents- the men, women and children who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, be it going to school, crossing the street or eating dinner in their own homes. Yes, I know he's planning a second volume to do perhaps just that. But many of those interested in the first volume will never look beyond their own comfort zone and venture into the world of the second (assuming it does get made). Here is a project with the potential to transcend a one sided tribute to fallen comrades (exceptional as it may be- and is) and take it to a whole other level that can provide the opportunity to do what only truly great art can do- initiate conversation and offer insight to those not usually open to what their own eyes can show them.

No need to mention that Mr. Gilbertson is a well respected, thoroughly accomplished and honored conflict photojournalist who will continue to lead a most fruitful and productive life without need of my advice, opinion or criticism now or ever. He was the one taking photos and dodging bullets, he has every damn right to make his project any damn way he well sees fit. One must also then consider, and rather fairly I think, how his decisions have been influenced by the fact that he was an embed for as long as he was. Would it be presented in a more balanced format from the get go, had he not? Would either be made were he not? Regardless, there is no doubt that that singular experience can significantly alter your sympathies, priorities, loyalties.

This project, no matter the amount of images, will  serve at least indirectly, to glorify the honor, sacrifice and dignity of the one side "most worth remembering." It will not expose the one side to the other, and will foster limited insight beyond its preset, territorial boundaries of country, sacrifice and patriotism. Each volume will play to its very own preselected, predetermined choir.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Suit Yourself

Some more videos for today... One, a tranquil, casual street car ride down San Francisco's Market Street via 1905- and one hundred years later. The other is one crazy assed Sci-fi Bollywood non stop action ride that must be seen to be believed experienced...  
(via the wife who's not very diligent about places of origin)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Film Noir Festival

Went to the 9th Annual San Francisco Film Noir Festival last night where I caught Crashout and Loophole, and was also treated to a short on how they're going about finding and restoring these precious gems- along with this lovely tribute...

Friday, January 28, 2011

High Revelation


This very "normal," mid '50s, all American housewife quickly reveals how a bunch of long haired freaks ended up sounding like... hippies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Wounded Platoon

This Frontline documentary, The Wounded Platoon, accurately portrays how war's corrosive insanity, the very ingredient that can help one survive it, continues to inexorably gnaw away one's humanity until the only thing left is the insanity it instilled. Truly haunting...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Will You Be Best Remembered For?

Yesterday's post got me to thinking- what will you, fellow photographer, be best remembered for? If at all. Pristine landscapes a la Adams, revelatory documentation via Frank, stark, penetrating portraiture the likes of Avedon? Of course, becoming known while still breathing is difficult and elusive enough. For most of us, being enshrined into that hallowed pantheon of revered photographic names (be it so much as an asterisk) will forever remain the much storied quest of unfulfilled dreams. Sometime during the course of life, the lucky among us discover it's what we do behind the camera that will forever define us, the images we leave for posterity's sake left to speak and fend for themselves- not so unlike the fate of those who made them. Perhaps, that's Ms. Maier's greatest legacy to us all, the reminder to stay true to oneself while embracing the life we encounter and transforming the hand we're dealt however best we can.

 Most likely indubitably I will most likely assuredly be long remembered forgotten for pictures like this. Et vous?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Everyone Loves Maier!

 Photo: Vivian Maier

It's been quite the ride- from the complete obscurity of an anonymous, somewhat eccentric nanny, to the very public debate of exactly where she fits in the pantheon of photographic history! The fairy tale story of Vivian Maier has captivated our imagination, already stirred controversy... and fueled the secret, smoldering aspirations of unknown and unheralded photographers everywhere. A grand art coup still in the making.

While some may wonder how many more unknown Maiers are out there locked in attics and basements, I'm betting extremely few, particularly of her caliber- the depth and measure of which we are still discovering as we speak. Sure, photos from back in the day will continue to fascinate and be found- but rarely of this aesthetic quality. And while her "style" definitely registers the aesthetics of her day, half a century later, they still manage to look fresh, insightful- smart. There's a very pronounced human connection in her work: empathetic, all embracing, and yet, one also gets the feel of a very practiced and selective chronicler of her observations. A very refined eye- particularly for her time.

 Photo: Vivian Maier

I don't know how her later work will hold up, from the description thus far (somewhat more abstract), I don't think it will hold up as strongly (for me, personally) as her work from the fifties and early sixties- we'll just have to wait and see. But I've already seen enough to profess my utmost respect and admiration. And it has been a joy to share in the process of discovery along with Mr. Maloof, from "the first few lucky snapshots," to an already substantial body of work that has captured the imagination of the photography world a full half century later.

Point is, this has been such an incredible breath of fresh air from the usual art beat in photography- for a variety of reasons. An artist that apparently never promoted herself in the least while alive- can you imagine? Even Van Gogh desperately sought the elusive fame game. And her number one promoter is a complete and total outsider who must now navigate (and no doubt battle) the powers that be in the established art world to secure both her legacy, and his own association to her work. Those who discovered Atget, Belloq and Disfarmer were all photo insiders already familiar with the treacherous currents of the art world.

I wish both Mr. Maloof and Ms. Maier continued luck, and I will continue to follow their progress and development. I can't wait for the book and will hopefully get to see the prints in the not too distant future. The release of the documentary film will no doubt release her name and talent unto the public at large- an occurrence the elusive Ms. Maier probably could not foresee in her wildest imaginings. And in so doing, will perhaps inspire oh so many others forever toiling on the pennies of anonymity to keep dreaming, creating, living...

 Photo: Vivian Maier

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick- What Does...

Not having to work a day in your life and having your very own museum have in common?
Answer: This man.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Livin' Large

The Extraterrestrial Highway is literally in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the desert of Nevada. The area is desolate- not even the occasional billboard. It's located near Area 51, yeah that Area 51, and hence the name.

Rachel is the only town, if one can call it that, along the entire route. A literal handful of tiny homes and trailers dotting the desert brush- along with The Little A'le'Inn. We decided to stay the night one early evening, the "motel" consisting of a trailer in back of the bar. Hot and dusty, we decided to shower before dining on what had become our standard desert fare- the hard (but not impossible) to fuck up grilled cheese, when we heard sounds, then muffled voices emanating from our bathroom. Had we come these many miles only to have our bodies dismembered and strewn about a desert too hot for even vultures to inhabit? I grabbed my pocket knife and tripod, "Who's in there?" Seems le concierge had neglected to inform us that the motel trailer consisted of two bedrooms, and one shared bathroom in between.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Well, it is Saturday...

So... just in case you haven't yet seen The Yoga Baby Syndrome (verified by none other than TIME mag- there should be one or two great parodies of this being filmed right now) or Cat W/O A Face (and yes, you were warned- it is just that). Well, after all- it is Saturday...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two To Remember...

I awoke yesterday morning to hear one of the saddest things I could ever listen to on any morning, on any day. Tragedy and sadness the likes of which could consume any mortal into rage, madness, vengeance. Instead, this man who has had his very heart and soul torn out of him in the most violent and pernicious manner possible reacts by responding with such utterly simple and sublime eloquence- "I shall not hate."

Later in the day I would again be reminded of that father's predicament, this time from a mother's point off view-  
many of them...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Framing Innocence

Framing Innocence by Lynn Powell is the story of Cynthia Stewart, mother and amateur photographer of her 8 yr old daughter. In 1999, she sent 11 rolls out for processing- they included two shots of her naked daughter in the shower. She soon found herself arrested and in cuffs. This is the true story of that ordeal. 

I have not read it- yet...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Race And Photography- A (Very) Brief Review

Looking back on this Martin Luther King Day (in a century when Pentagon officials assure us that Dr. King, despite his pronounced anti war activism, would no doubt approve and support their wars), wasn't all that long ago when we had a rather lively discussion on various aspects concerning race and photography, and one of the more positive consequences was that the discussion was to continue on a larger scale on a platform being constructed specifically for an online symposium the following year. Unfortunately, 2010 came and went, along with any further mention of that enterprise...

That said, a few mea culpas from yours truly, for in my initial zeal to gather images for said project which I now display here, I very much neglected to note the sites from which they were appropriated. And so my apologies straight off- and I'll be happy to post their sites of origin if so alerted.

One of the things some people had some difficulty with in our original discussion was why anyone would be so "hyper" sensitive to essays like Nollywood, or the fact that the PDN competition in question had no discernible people of color as judges. What I and several others attempted to explain was that since the advent of photography, "the other" (ie- people of color) was usually displayed and depicted in a variety of demeaning, subordinate, and disparaging poses and situations- and in the control or supervision of their white "overlords." Colonial empires would go into these far away, exotic lands and capture images that would play to the curiosity of those back home. Those in front of the lens had little say in how they would be represented- one would certainly be hard pressed to argue that that basic modus operandi has changed significantly to this day.

Often these photographs would fall into several categories in which the image makers would attempt to portray people of color as: inherently primitive (physically, mentally, culturally), childlike, comical, servile.

  "The Other" as trophy of "The Great White Hunter"

"The Other" as servant born.

"The Other" as physical curiosity.

"The Other" as cultural and physical  primitive (a penny for their thoughts).

"The Other" saved by the sanctity of "The Great White God."

The buffoonish, cartoon "Other."

Intentionally racist imagery today...

Conspicuously absent here are photographs of lynchings. They can be viewed at Without Sanctuary. And with all due respect- viewing them is best done on that site. Ken Gonzales-Day has done a series in which he removes the victims from their hanging trees, I suppose in part to help the viewer concentrate on the faces and actions of the people in the crowd, many who seem as if they are at the long awaited, much anticipated annual county fair. Personally, I never needed such training wheels to direct my attention where most required in this particular "genre."

From Pieter Hugo's Nollywood series- highly charged images such as this can be easily taken out of its intended context, and in turn fall victim to the Black (sexual) predator motif. They also fall into the historical context of presenting the other as primitive, less than human, not worthy of personal identity, and generally out of sorts with "civilized culture."

Of course, many would argue that the historical photos above bear no semblance to today's photojournalism and/or fine art photo essays. All some of us were trying to say was that even to this day, the image of the "The Other" is being controlled, judged and presented by a majority white minority. And that people of color have been overwhelmingly represented in front of the lens, with Whites setting both narrative and context in print and electronic media. The latter two assertions are beyond dispute, they are simply fact- which is why I originally took such exception with the PDN judges- it's a different century, and time to start creating a more proportional balance beyond the mere token presentation (ominously absent even in the '09 PDN judging). They would never have allowed an all male jury to stand in this day and age- the outrage and protest would have been  fast, furious, and all too well predictable and justified.  And yet, not so much as a second thought when it came to creating such an obviously homogeneous racial representation.

It was an observation which initially went unnoticed, until Benjamin Chesterton entered the fray. Yes, it took a white man to bring the issue to the floor- there is hope! Unfortunately, he is one of very few young (white) advocates actively trying to give voice to people of color particularly in developing countries by: a) encouraging young photographers to let those they photograph in developing countries speak for themselves in multi-media presentations, b) encouraging burgeoning photographers in developing countries to document their own people, affairs and environment, and c) to call for more proportional representation of people of color in positions of decision in editing, judging and presentation. And I make due notice of the fact that he is White because people of color have been clamoring about this for years, mostly on deaf ears since the sixties/seventies.

I had hoped that the 2010 online symposium that never occurred would continue to explain, bring light and further this cause through continued exchange and discussion. For those who still believe I am exaggerating a "non issue," and that the racism I speak of  ("passive" or otherwise) is limited to a handful of bigoted whackos- I leave you with this observation (see next to last paragraph of original post).

Remember, that is a renowned white photographer that made that observation. It happened a little less than three years ago, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if that very festival organizer would adamantly describe himself as a "Liberal." Now ask yourselves how many of you would have believed his behavior, if one of the Blacks in that audience was the messenger of said incident?  Or had I been the narrator? How many other Whites in that theatre made note of that egregious slap in the face- I'm betting it wasn't the first time for many of the other half of that audience. And that's why while it may all feel well and good for white folk to tell themselves that they just don't see color (particularly when they're in control), we already know how myopic that vision can sometimes be...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Must Reading...

Two very important commentaries, on two very related issues...

William Eggleston- For Now

Oh, no! Not again... The much revered artist (or someone acting in their stead) scrapes around their attic, basement, garage "one last time" for something, anything to throw together for a few bucks. A torn and discolored drawing or two, a short film strip, a few discarded Kodachromes or work prints along with some  partially soiled fast food wrappers- it's all good to fill an "art" book for some loose change from a legacy name.

Pause, Relief... (semi)-Amazement. Yeah, it is- and it isn't. Someone did rummage through the sacred files yet again, but instead of coming up with vintage outtakes and non sequiturs, he actually managed to come up with a lotta work that seems to belong in the "unabridged" version of Guide. For Now, is one fairly impressive compilation. There are some real winners here that have that same sensibility, composition and overall commanding presence that so wowed us at the start. And the reproductions are drop dead gorgeous; if you're a fan- this is a must by.

PS- Loved the part when asked if photography revealed some kinda truth- to which the Big E responds that he always thought himself somewhat the liar.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Portrait In Narcissism (and worse)

I was really trying to transition back to photography today from the recent madness, and yet the insanity (as in The Godfather) just seems to pull me back in. Perhaps you're already familiar with this (apparently it's not a hoax), but since I neither Tweet, Tumble or Face...

This "Comment" on Sarah Palin's Facebook page and the "history" surrounding it is the kind of cold blooded insanity that follows and represents this woman (remember that Christina Taylor Green was the nine year old shot dead in Tucson):

 It's ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as 'they' say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.

Self absorbed, narcissistic, sociopathic...
and also not a witch

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Necessity Will Have Changed Us...

Right now we are merely a semi intelligent virus- contaminating and violating everything we come into contact with. There is no guarantee that we will ever make it off this planet before we pollute, overpopulate and inevitably destroy ourselves or our planet's very life force. Sometimes it seems only a question of which will happen first. Our own history emphatically reveals that we do not learn from our mistakes, in fact, we usually magnify them.

In the meantime, let Carl Sagan's soothing, mellifluous voice calmly guide us from our very worst fears to our very finest hopes...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No Connection My Ass!!!

The Right Wing Bastards are in full Denial Mode, but with a track record like this, there is no denying a long, and directly linkable connection to the most recent tragedy and shooting that happened over the weekend. Only those in the most infantile, fingers in their ears denial cannot, will not make the connection... This is not a matter of extremes on both sides- this is clearly what occurs when one side is allowed to freely bully the other for years on end while everyone else says nothing, does nothing.

The person who ran against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords- by encouraging people to fire guns.

Do Democrats urge fellow party members to throw bricks through the windows of Republican candidate headquarters? How many Republican candidate headquarters have had their windows shot out? How many Democrats shoot doctors in their churches? How many Democrats are so frighteningly insecure in their own manhood that they feel obliged to show up at peaceful rallies brandishing firearms? How many Democrats have threatened Republican candidates by proclaiming that they should fear leaving their very own home?

And finally…
Was it a Democrat that had his assassination quest interrupted only to engage cops in a shootout on a CA highway after listening to, AND QUOTING Right Wing/Nut Job Radio and TV? The question is not whether this repeated vitriol promotes incivility in the general population, and further incites the unhinged towards violence. The real question is whether they are doing this on purpose for the exact results that we experienced this past weekend, and then conveniently blaming the mentally ill (whose funding they continually cut).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Natan Dvir- Eighteen

This photo essay by Natan Dvir @ Lensculture on non Jewish citizens of Israel is both well done, and insightful.

The New Sheriff In Town...

Has actually been there for quite some time- the same person who issued this humbling bit of common sense this weekend:

This law is unwise, this law is stupid, and it's racist. It's a national embarrassment. ... If I were a Hispanic person in the state, I would be humiliated and angered. From that point of view, I think it's morally wrong.
-Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik

Yup, and "law and order" Conservatives already have him targeted, in their gun sights, errrr... cross hairs, errr........

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"We Have Become The Mecca For Prejudice And Bigotry"

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."    --Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik

We used to go through the motions of "discussing" gun control whenever there was a mass shooting/killing in these semi United States.  But that's so last century. Now we have politicians who target opposing politicians in gun sight cross hairs.

"Don't Retreat- Instead, Reload" Sarah had Gabrielle Richards fourth on her "Target List."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On The Record...

Filled with more off the wall whacko sightings, reports, and observations from: generals, pilots, scientists...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Katy Grannan- Boulevard

Katy Grannan's Boulevard at The Fraenkel Gallery features high key color portraits that are stunningly striking, so I really wanted to like these. Then why did I leave the gallery feeling somewhat unconvinced?

The subject matter certainly is not new- what is? But that wasn't it either. Throughout the exhibit I felt as if I was wandering from one illuminated microscopic slide study to another. The prostitutes, cross dressers and other characters that fill her Boulevard lens are certainly colorful enough- every which way imaginable. But with the exception of a handful of images, instead of seeing individuals, I was seeing a lot of surface detail, and having surveyed the surface, had little desire to look further- characters lost within their own personal landscape.

I couldn't help but think of Avedon's In The American West. Those portraits were rich with the detail of individual character that would command you to try and divine what was hidden underneath. There's little chance of that here.

I walked to the back room and found a vintage Arbus portrait of a US vet. It was an early 35mm shot that I don't think I've ever seen before, an absorbing image that demanded my attention, and held it all the way home.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Assholes Chop Down The Nevada Shoe Tree!

We passed this very tree this past summer driving east from California on The Loneliest Road in America. And it looks considerably more imposing than this simple snapshot suggests. Unfortunately, the last kiss of sunlight had just departed, and even though it would have probably amounted to nothing more than a well lit picture postcard- at the time, I was nonetheless pissed I didn't at least get a chance at it. The thing is, it's it was an impressive monument just to look at and be in the presence of. The experience magnified by the fact that it was the largest living thing for miles... In fact, the terrain leading east from the tree makes the surface of Mars look absolutely hospitable- oven baked earth that doesn't even support desert shrub for miles...

Gone forever- totally unnecessary, totally asinine! Something like this makes me hope whoever's responsible gets a good butt kicking on a regular basis for a prolonged period of time just to remind them what a severely bent bunch of assholes they really, truly are!

Elizabeth Fleming v Jock Sturges v Pedophilia v The Internet...

Wow,  this is the kind of discussion that ultimately gets intimately revealing about all concerned. I have been aware of (and admired) Jock Sturges' work for quite some time, and while it most definitely walks a fine line, I never found it prurient by any means. Until now, I was most definitely not aware of his most definite "indiscretion," and while it certainly tends to cast a shadow on his character- it's ridiculous to say that... ah yes, I see it now, his work has clearly crossed the line all along...

This subject matter is definitely not one for blatant generalizations. But I find it curious that while Elizabeth Fleming may raise some pertinent questions as to how Mr. Sturges' work might be shown and construed on the internet, despite some very obvious differences in style, motivation and even content, if we're talking interpretation- the same could very much be said in relation to her work!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye, Yana!

One of my students died over the weekend. Unlike when I taught adolescents in inner city schools, it did not come by violence. In fact, she was approaching senior citizen status, and despite her disability/health issues- it comes as a shock nonetheless. You see, she could be quite the handful; and I didn't think I'd say this, but I miss her ranting and kvetching already. Did I mention she spoke only Russian? Yeah, I would've bitched plenty too (if I couldn't understand or be understood). Nevertheless, we somehow managed to communicate the basic necessities, including the fact that we both kinda liked each other.

I don't know how the plan works for people beset with intellectual and physical disabilities: I don't know how it works for any of us. But she will be missed, and I hope she enjoys her vodka and cigarettes up there- something she couldn't allow herself here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Polidori Story- A Little Guidance, Please

OK. So maybe, maybe, the guy's a bit of a scumbag, or a complete shit. Or maybe, just maybe...

After yesterday's bit o' soul searching, couldn't help but amp it up a notch into this still festering wound...  Perhaps I just haven't done my homework; perhaps I am excusing the means for the end. What I had read was off putting- but it all became real to me upon finally seeing Some Points Between... Up Till Now. The photographs are beautiful. Not only beautiful, but they speak to the human condition in this big, unfair, often ironic and sometimes brutal world of ours. And the moral compass is left uncharacteristically wavering and veering wildly.

Supposedly he broke into people's homes, to take pictures during Katrina, supposedly he "broke" into peoples' homes while they were still inside- and very much dead. And if that wasn't enough, you then learn that some of the photos were then used for an anti smoking campaign in Brazil... Huh? Wha?

Again, how does one begin to sort that out? Or, is this where one simply says, do you really have to ask? But then there's the troubling detail (in addition to his explanation) of the photos in that book- photographs alive with color, beautiful with decay, and reverberating with the life and destruction that (alas!) has been humanity since inception. Leni Riefenstahl created art for the sake of propaganda- pretty cut and dried. Mr. Polidori ponders and reflects on the very mortality of our human achievements. And seems he'll do exactly that even by means some of us may find objectionable.

Any one of his essays (eg- Beirut, Havana, Chernobyl, New Orleans) taken by itself may sound the singular note of the now fatigued interior decay motif- together they flesh out a greater whole, a larger truth, a grander vision (the online jpgs provide little of that insight). So I'm left with the photographs, which will speak well beyond his actions for the eternity of their existence- which does not necessarily justify their existence or make any of this "fair."

Do we then reconsider, learn to separate the man from his art, or condemn them both?

Monday, January 3, 2011

1 Corinthians 13:11

When I was a child I couldn't get it through my head how there could be people literally living, and dying, on the streets of India- with other people walking by them plain as day, not a worry in the world. How could that possibly be? What manner of humans can live with such utter disregard and lack of sympathy for their fellow man? 

Then the seventies came along, and by the end of the decade, it was just common day ordinary to see yet another "bag lady" asking for change, another homeless person eating out of the garbage. Now, it's a whole decade into a brand new century, and no longer the child, on a good day, I get to take pretty, sometimes even scenic snaps of the homeless on my way to and from a job that keeps me but one pay check removed from... them. Goddamnit, didn't ya just know things would kinda all work out one day?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

When Science Rejects Science

Religion once condemned and ostracized scientific evidence based on the beliefs of its own mythology. Today, the renowned world of science itself disputes and belittles its own scientific findings based on... its own mythology.