Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Curse Of The Darkness

Small, Dead Tree

This is the kind of image, that back in my darkroom days, would have caused me to forever waste away several nights and an entire box of paper. Getting the tonal variations just right would have driven me up the goddamn wall (this lo-res jpeg was pain enough)- and I would most definitely not be a very nice person during those days. Countless test exposures later, there'd always be that one little area somewhere that burning in or undiluted Dektol didn't rescue, or that dodging hadn't saved- and bleach sent straight to hell. Gallons of hazardous chemicals poured down our nations waterways, untold old growth forests stripped bare, precious hours of my life never to be fully lived, realized or repeated. But in the end- I would at least have a brilliant, beautiful print to gaze upon... (maybe, usually). Actually, when all was said and done, after hour upon ceaseless hour of cussing out my ancestors, friends and every historical figure and celebrity known to mankind- I'd be sick of looking at the damn thing...

And yet, there are those who insist on describing the darkroom as... "therapeutic."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Give 'em 1% of a Heimlich

UPDATE: Mea Culpa!!! Seems it was a... HOAX! Please take expressed sentiments and apply to Tea Party member described below... and all the other bankers who received government bailouts only to complain that it's the government that always fucks up and it's private enterprise that always does things best.......

I hope this filthy rich son of a bitch needs a Heimlich in a restaurant one day- and as he gags and chokes on what may very well be his last few dying breaths, I hope the waitress who serves him saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Reminds me of The Tea Party Filth who threw dollar bills at a guy with Parkinson's. And you know full well that both these sons of bitches are proud, patriotic, card carrying Republican... "Christians."

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Night At The Shore

Photo: Stephen Shore

Stephen Shore was quite resplendent in his light green suit jacket at SFMOMA this past Thursday evening (couldn't see his pants- I was in the video overflow room). He began his lecture with a short anecdote concerning the late Ansel Adams who related that he had had a burst of creativity in the forties, and had been "potboiling" ever since. Seems that really hit home with Mr. Shore, who consciously made it a point not to get mired into one particular project for the remainder of his career, or just duplicate past glories. I, for one, was unaware that he spent the '90s shooting black and white, or that he shot a digital point and shoot for a couple of years, and that most recently he was shooting with a top of the line Nikon DSLR which he likened to the camera he always wanted- a hand holdable 4X5.

I definitely applaud him for not playing it safe with the success formula that garnered him fame and fortune via Uncommon Places (it most definitely cost him at the art gallery box office). Life would have been easy riding that high note a bit longer, but it's not unusual for artistic visionaries to bounce from project to project, and even style to style, never quite repeating themselves, but never quite regaining the creative pinnacle of their original aesthetic. In other words, despite his willingness to pursue a diverse range of projects- ironically, in the end, Shore, like Adams, will be best remembered for that one, singular photographic achievement that he accomplished in a decade. He may (as he himself stated) well have continued to confront, and answer, the questions he imposed upon himself, but he will hardly be remembered for his point and shoot photos, his small, print on demand books, or his B&W work.

So, is there perhaps a third way to remain artistically potent and relevant throughout one's career? I'd point to a Mitch Epstein (amongst others), who while pursuing a variety of projects, still remains true to a central vision or core in all its variations and complexities. I'd even throw in a name like Avedon, who continued to explore the near infinite possibilities of minimalist portraiture right to the very end.

I'm certainly not suggesting there's a one size fits all blueprint for any great artist to adhere to- just trying to sort out the patterns, and peculiarities. Much as I like and admire Martin Parr's recent work, I don't think it "on par" with the sheer genius displayed in the pictures within pictures of The Last Resort- it would be an utterly exhausting, all consuming enterprise to maintain the intensity of such vision. How will Roger Ballen's continuing quest into his own fictional, self made world ultimately play out?  And would anyone have been able to have a major book publisher even consider, let alone publish, a book filled with mere close ups of film grain if their name wasn't Paul Graham? 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bob Holmgren's Mondo Holga

Photo: Bob Holmgren

I never cease to be amazed how such potent art, full of mystery and wonder, can be created from the very simplest of cameras. Photographs not only unique in their vision and presentation, but also in their very personality- and how they affect one's own perception and psyche. I'm talking of course of the humble Holga. 

While most cameras and photographers strive to present the "reality" of our waking lives in every possible detail, the Holga strives to present life on a level of consciousness somewhere down there, below whatever lurks there- it operates in dream time. For those who have mastered its technique, it offers insights and glimpses into realities unseen by hard edged precision optics; for those who gaze upon its images, it takes them well beyond whatever the subject matter might happen to be.

Photo: Bob Holmgren

(Not?) surprisingly, it's not a particularly easy technique to master successfully. Forget the technical imperfections and aesthetic implications- making it blurry does not automatically make the photo, as some would mistakenly construe. But a select few who dedicate themselves to "perfecting" the imperfect, do manage to produce some of the most startling, standout imagery in this era of digital duplication. I posted on Thomas Michael Alleman before, and more recently on a photo by Bob Holmgren, whose work ranges from the humorous to the slightly otherworldly, the carnival of life through the Bizarro mindset. 

It was a delight to see his prints recently at Rayko- they're actually printed on... tracing paper, the finished products looking every bit like a precautionary tale on how not to dry mount- a myriad of ripples run like waves throughout the surface of each print. Really not quite exactly sure what this effect is supposed to induce (a further nod down the road of imperfection?)- more importantly, while it may not necessarily enhance the experience, it doesn't sabotage or detract from the images either...

Photo: Bob Holmgren

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Interrupters- Blessed Are The Peacemakers

...For they will be called children of God.

Any teacher capable of teaching in any effective, worthwhile or measurable manner in any inner city you choose realizes that every student who enters their classroom does so with a minimum of two strikes already against them. Inadequate health care promotes chronic health conditions; lack of fresh, healthy foods at local venues exacerbates the obesity epidemic, and greater environmental stress levels add significantly to the rising asthma rates. Those are but the secondary, incidental dangers of life in the hood. Then you get to the more apparent, better publicized dangers to health and well being that few in mainstream America are willing to acknowledge long enough to confront, reassess and rectify in any meaningful recourse beyond lip service. While every inner city is home to some of the most loving, resourceful and industrious people found on earth, few are able to deny the rampant problems caused by drugs, abusive or absentee parents, and an omnipresent violence so pervasive that it ultimately perverts and dominates the way children think, interact and live their fragile, at risk lives.

Into this maddening mix walk The Interrupters, products of the very environment described above. They're the lucky ones who not only survived, but somehow managed to overcome, and are now hellbent on trying to prevent however many lives they can from going down the same wretched road they crashed and burned on- one volatile life at a time. These are the people who can reach at risk youth in their homes, on their streets, in their very minds and hearts. A special breed born of the same desperation, who now give back in ways no school teacher, social worker, preacher, and certainly no cop, could rarely, if ever, realize. We need so many more of them- but even they are ultimately a stop gap measure, a band aid on a festering, mortal wound.

There's little question that unemployment is the inner city's most insidious disease, the major usurper of dreams and aspirations, it's outright greatest killer. Employment is key to helping transform neighborhoods, where everyday life is a veritable minefield of handguns, threats and violence, into thriving environments where hope is a reality- one you can dream, achieve and live right there, with other people who look just like you. Unfortunately, we now live in an era where the cost of higher education is increasingly out of reach even for lower middle class incomes, and the most vulnerable of our youth are left to answer their nation's highest calling either by serving as the raw material for their country's latest overseas misadventure, or by "participating" in its most rapidly growing, domestic employment opportunity (for those folk furthest from the inner city)- the prison industrial complex. One of the most pervasive and pernicious "opportunities" for at risk youth to finally make it out of the ghetto!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oh, Plastic Wonder!

Photo: Bob Holmgren

If there's one annual photography show that can be consistently counted on to never fail, and always delight and satisfy- it is without question The (5th) Annual International Juried Plastic Camera Show at Rayko Photo in San Francisco. Was unfortunately only able to attend last week- good news is, it's up till 3/06, and then we get to do it all over again next year... And in a time of increasing digital sameness, these simple analogue anachronisms of blurry imperfect wonder keep on looking better and better every year!

Friday, February 17, 2012

God Bless America!

I don't know how good this flick will actually be and/or how long they can keep the joke going, but this dark satire seems as on target as it is off the wall! Could-be-a-classic...

and if it aint- there's always this!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Extra! Extra! Cruel And Unusual...

Photo: Deborah Luster

The indefatigable Pete Brook of Prison Photography and Kickstarter fame, and Hester Keijser of Mrs. Deane (who may also be every bit as indefatigable for all I know- and if not, I'm sure is possessed of other fine personal attributes) have teamed up to curate a show, and publish... a "newspaper!" The latter is available online (took a few seconds to load on my toy machine) and if you're at all interested in documentary photography and interviews with the top notch photographers who made the work- Cruel and Unusual is very much worth the look.

Photos: Richard Ross

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Part Of Too Hot Or Too Cold Do You Not Understand!?!?

Seems the race to build the perfect Goldilocks "not quite as big as a DSLR, but almost/just as good" camera is running full tilt. But so far, except for one notable exception, the classic camera companies of yore just keep screwing up the too hot or too cold portion of the storyline- you know, the part where they actually get it "just right."

Olympus seems obsessed with reruns, as they continue to regurgitate past triumphs into present day mediocrities. Pentax screams to be taken seriously by innovatively stuffing much wanted "big" camera features into an admittedly smaller- but garishly clown costumed, Fisher Price body. Nikon figures they're probably gonna catch shit no matter what, so they opt for maximum return on the cute end of the mass consumption market. And Canon's response is to shoot their favorite point and shoot with their official embiggenizer ray.

Meanwhile, Fujifilm are the only cats approaching the whole scenario in a serious, innovative manner from start to finish, with results nothing short of impressive- just wish I could afford the damn thing (even if it can't manually focus)...

Personally, I'd be partial to one of these!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Truth To Power

Of course, one could make an equally edifying, fact filled rebuttal to just about anything and everything that any Republican says... It's just that our celebrity obsessed media (and the overwhelmingly vast majority of spineless Dems) have allowed them such a vast, free and wide open expanse to entertain and spread their malicious lies and innuendos ever since Reagan discovered he could get away with it, repeatedly and without consequence whatsoever.

Friday, February 10, 2012


After the previous post on Shelby Lee Adams, I had the thought of ending this blog- on a high note with great imagery, kinda like how a pro athlete should end a long, illustrious career before they linger and start to fester. As I've alluded to before, it's getting to be a little less fun, and a little more work these days. Perhaps it's just this damn cold talking. Dunno... But I will be posting less in the future. Yes, it's a fine line balancing something like my photography, the reward of which is strictly personal (the one thing it is strictly not meant to be) with something like writing this blog, the reward of which is strictly personal (the one thing...).

Anyway, we'll see what the morning brings- a retrospective at MOMA, a Fujifilm X-Pro 1, a Zagat rating???

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Salt And Truth

Big Hort- Shelby lee Adams
If you look as an observer different from the observed then you are bound to create conflict, therefore further suffering. When you have the insight, the truth of it, that the observer is the observed, then conflict ceases altogether.   -Jiddu Krishnamurti

Salt And Truth is a book that should have been on the top of every photo book list of 2011. True, Shelby Lee Adams is hardly the up and coming hipster- as for his subjects, they're as "old" as the hills themselves. But then, these iconic photos are meant to survive history, not capitalize on the latest market trend.

Lloyd Deane with Family & Coal- Shelby Lee Adams

The reproductions in this latest venture are somewhat muted- not a deep black or brilliant white to be found anywhere. That said, the sheer quality of the content and compositions to be found here quickly transcends and overwhelms my petty considerations- these images will simply not be denied. As always, Shelby Lee Adams presents a veritable tour de force in environmental portraiture, and his signature picture within a picture compositions are much in evidence once again as he guides us into the homes and environs of a people shunned by society at large, a community quite understandably mistrustful of outsiders. I suppose one could say he's the rural equivalent of Bruce Davidson, with one important caveat- Mr. Adams himself has his own family roots in the very same "hollers" he so knowingly portrays.

Tammy in Culvert- Shelby Lee Adams

That is no small distinction, and one that is made most clear in the the book's Foreward, which introduces us to the people, land and culture that are often misconstrued, misinterpreted and misrepresented- often resulting in a contentious existence on both sides, as myths and realities are interspersed into a vague conglomeration of mistrust, fear and general avoidance. Fortunately, we have these photographs to shed some manner of insight, some ray of understanding between subject and viewer alike.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pomona And Beyond...

Me main mate (Dig that English affectation? Didn't think so.) Mark Page from Expiration Notice days just completed a diverse and loving documentation of an area in Manchester known as Pomona. Included in his photo essay are shots of flowers which he then supplemented with actual flower pressings.

Not saying this is some altogether new concept, but perhaps this "something extra motif" is what will ultimately separate professional and "fine art" photographers from your more ubiquitous Instagram/Hipstamatic practitioners. Maybe the multimedia of the future will not only include the now customary video and interviews, but a much broader range of mixed media possibilities- whatever it takes to bring the particular photographic experience that much closer to home. Kinda like a full course meal as opposed to the usual a la carte- not a bad proposition actually, long as the main meal doesn't suffer.

Believe it was none other than Robert Frank who said something to the effect that words would be the death of photography when someone suggested he use captions.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Man Of Honor

So asks Colonel Davis asks in an article summarizing his views titled “Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down.   *Any similarity between this quote and John Kerry's in the previous post is simply a case of history repeating itself.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our Legacy Of Freedom

After Russia finally admitted to the world (by quietly exiting as had the countless nations before them throughout history) that Afghanistan was unwinnable, just as we most certainly shall, be it this year, the next or the decade after that, John Kerry's quote comes inevitably to mind- the quote when his mind was young, and clear, and free of the political baggage that would later so compromise his ability to act, much as his wounds did his body in Viet Nam.

Photo: Rodrigo Abd—AP

The Iraq War is "over." It was a war we initiated on a country half a world away whose people never threatened us with harm; a war predicated on lies in the rush to make millions for a select few corporations and weapons manufacturers. The promise of cheap and everlasting oil blew up in their face as if caught staring down an upcoming geyser. And those who so vehemently supported the war, now claim they were lied to- surely, how could they have known? Perhaps, if they had stopped, just once, from ridiculing and laughing at Hans Blix, and anyone else who vigorously denounced the most obvious set of over exaggerations.

And when we finally declared it over, we left Iraq not as victors, or the liberators only we proclaimed ourselves to be, but as those that left a totally needless trail and legacy of carnage, torture and death. We massacred thousands of children, hundreds of thousands of civilians (those too poor to flee) right in their own homes, in their own country, as we destroyed the infrastructure of a land now on the very brink of civil war that will be plagued for decades with cancer and infant deformities from the depleted uranium we bequeathed them. Damn, you can smell that stench of freedom halfway across the world!

When the Russians turned tail (with the help of our Stingers), Congress was asked for a couple of bucks to help build some schools and hospitals in Afghanistan. They responded that they just didn't have the cash. They don't have a few spare bucks for building things that would establish goodwill or cooperation, they only have countless hundreds of billions to destroy homes, support child raping, drug profiteering warlords, build prisons, and fly people in planes to be tortured elsewhere- when they're not killing them outright. And that is the legacy we will leave in Afghanistan, whenever we leave Afghanistan.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Doing It Right

Photo: Lee Jeffries

Recently I ran a post on the ironies of B&W photography which featured some "beautifully lit homeless photos" I had shot on the run. Homelessness, as in so many other major cities worldwide, is rampant here in San Francisco. And homelessness as a photo "project" is often every bit as ubiquitous, exploitative and overdone. And yet, on those ever so rare occasions when it's real, one can still sense the originality, as well as the genuine emotion inherent in work that is both authentic and true. I'm not a great fan of tightly cropped portraits, but many of these do succeed, and of those that do, I haven't seen work as soulful and transcendent since Robert Bergman's A Kind Of Rapture.

Photo: Lee Jeffries

Lee Jeffries could have kept on walking, instead he chose to enter the very world he chose to photograph, not as voyeur, but as witness- and fellow human. You may dismissively conclude that he just takes pretty pictures of "unfortunates," but his photographs speak well beyond that, as do his personal interactions with those he photographs. If he's guilty of anything, it's of recognizing the innate beauty and humanity we all possess, and demonstrating beyond doubt that it lives within us all- no matter how much we choose to ignore or deny it.

Photo: Lee Jeffries