Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pier 24 Quickie

Here's a quickie tour through Pier 24- one of the true photographic treasures in San Francisco, California, the US of A... the world. The video is not very good at depicting the actual feel of the place, but does give you a pretty good idea of the multitude of treasures that it showcases.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Edward S. Curtis

Talented portrait photographer to the stars decides to dedicate himself to his art- and dies penniless for efforts. Quick- can you guess the contemporary portraitist (mentioned) who made a very conscious effort not to go that route, and still almost lost house and home...

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Question Of Color- The Appeal

Recently, a post ran on LENS that featured the work of Joel Meyerowitz. In it, he paired color photos with B&W shots he'd taken almost at the same time and almost from the same angle. It was somehow supposed to demonstrate how color trumps B&W when it comes to art and photography. What it actually shows (as he himself states in the article) is that color conveys more information than B&W (a given), and that color is superior to B&W in a host of situations (also a given). And that is all it shows. It didn't 'prove' color's superiority as a way of seeing or producing photographic art- the implied (and unfortunate) take away. 

Nowhere did the article state what each was best at doing, or more suited to. It emphasized color's strong points, at the expense of B&W's "flat grey" limitations. A much fairer and vastly more edifying approach would have been to demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of each medium- then we could actually see and better understand the two languages and how they tell their equally evocative but considerably divergent stories. Instead, we're treated to a one sided set up with a predetermined winner- expected more from Mr. Meyerowitz and the NY Times...

Experienced photographers know that B&W photographs must be visualized as such before the photograph is taken, they are not simply color photos with the color taken out as in the examples above- which are on the same level of abomination as the 'colorization' of movie classics.

PS- For the record- I: a) photograph exclusively in B&W, b) absolutely love looking at color and B&W equally, c) am not quite as famous as Mr. Meyerowitz.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"One For The History Books"

Or maybe they will announce the discovery of something else altogether!

Never A Straight Answer NASA already confirmed Mars was at one time loaded with water, and that pockets of it still remain to this day. So... this announcement ("one for the history books") could (should) only mean one thing- they're biding their time, crossing their t's, dotting their i's, to finally announce evidence of... LIFE! Microbial life to be sure, but... l-i-f-e all the same!!!

Curiously, NASA purposely chose to send up a microscope for the geologists, but not one for the biologists to see if we could spot their little Martian dance of life in a specially heated, specially treated, microbial stew. This is science that could have been done right now! And yet, NASA purposely chose not to. You have to ask if they first want to accustom the fragile (Christian/American) public to the very idea of "alien" life, before the absolute shock of letting us see the wee little boogers...

Friday, November 23, 2012

No One Has Apologized...

It was 1989, and if memory serves, my second full year of teaching Spec Ed in Harlem when I first heard the news, and like all the other teachers in my school (and no doubt so many others in schools throughout the immediate area)- was hoping none of them were any of ours. Praying none of our kids had done the deed- and that none had been picked up for being Black and convenient, and now in the fight of their lives...

The crime had been particularly brutal, vicious. A woman had been raped, beaten and left for dead in the showcase that is Central Park. People wanted justice, in fact, people wanted vengeance. The whole city wanted to make an example of these guys- if you had set them free in Central Park the following day, the park would have been over run by a tsunami of outraged citizenry that would have left them every bit as tattered as the jogger herself- or else hanging from trees. And one of the people leading that potential lynch mob was none other than The Trumpster with his $85,000 ads for vengeance.

They just had to be guilty. Even I pretty much succumbed to the scenario that at least some of them were probably in on it; after all, there were no other suspects, no other evidence, no other logical explanation... the best minds in criminal justice vehemently assured us so...

Only problem, of course, was that each one of The Central Park Five, each one of those vicious, (underage) sub human excuses of humanity was, in fact, as completely innocent of said crime as you or I. They finally got the real perp years later- it was his DNA that matched, theirs never did.

 Each one convicted, sentenced, jailed. And no one has apologized.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Street Shooter: Jonathan Auch

All Photos: Jonathan Auch

Many photographers do the majority of their shooting on the street, and yet, would never consider themselves "street photographers." It's a term usually reserved for that segment of photographers that involve themselves with shooting fast, candid, people shots caught in odd/unusual juxtapositions with each other and/or their immediate environment. People need not be present, but the good street photographer has a prolific assortment of people shots, usually shot up close and personal in compositions and scenarios that can range from dynamic, to surreal, to subtly off kilter.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies street photography was very much the vanguard of art photography, arguably culminating with its patron saint Glimmer Twins, Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Of course, color and more importantly, large format photography heralded a sea change in the universe of photographic art; and street photographers and their itty-bitty cameras were relegated over night to the been there, done that dust heap of photographic history.

And still, it refused to die. Today, street photography is a genre that can elicit equal amounts enthusiasm, or exasperated sighs. No, you won't find it hanging much on gallery walls anymore, but it lives on within the photographic diaspora, and if you grow up in any large city and have a camera- it's hard not to try your hand at a practice that so readily and effectively sharpens your eye, timing and composition skills like no other. 

So what drives present day street photographers? Why practice a genre some have likened to bygone jazz or (egads!) "classic rock;" why persist taking pictures that some would insist are little more than cliched one liners? Some practitioners proclaim that far from dead, it remains a slowly evolving art form- Bruce Gilden a more contemporary master of that evolution. And others still will shout, "Art be damned, it needs to continue if only for the sake of documenting the history of urban communities as they change and evolve all around us."

Jonathan Auch is a true believer that carries the tradition well into this digital age. You can see and feel the intensity of his passion and involvement both in the vision and quality of his imagery. His compositions are dynamic to be sure, but there's also a subtlety and well defined humanity that separate them from the "in your face," or more vulgar paparazzi style images that some shooters seek out. Chance encounters, furtive glances and wayward juxtapositions that predict and contradict- the lingua franca of the theater of the street, body language and nuances we automatically react to without consciously noticing; these photographs are anything but one note wonders, with plenty to see- not all of it obvious. That's always been the hallmark of a competent, mature street photographer: an ever varying degree of details, cues and clues that both challenge and reward- smack dab in the foreground, or hidden in plain sight.

Street photography is not that different in approach or style from standard photojournalism- except there is no story save the one before you, always changing and forever the same, and there are no celebrities, other than the anonymous crowd of potential "stars" in the making (thanks to you). Any experienced photographer knows that if you take enough pictures shooting absolutely blind (especially on the street), you'll eventually come up with a few keepers. When you look at the consistency and sheer abundance of quality pictures that Auch has made however, you quickly realize that although the compositions that he photographs may be lucky or accidental- his results are anything but.

Fortunately, in addition to sharing his images, Jonathan was also willing to engage in a little give and take on the nature, purpose and creation of his work...

SB: Cutting to the chase- why practice what many may consider a dying art form (ie- "street photography"), and what do you bring to the mix?

JA: The first question is contentious. I'm not sure that it is true. Street photography has had a sort of resurgence. Flickr, Google+, Tumbler and Facebook (to a lesser extent) have become outlets for street photography communities. Last year London put on its first Street Photography Festival. There is an increasing popularity of 'tips and tricks' websites, street photography workshops and blogs. Even well established photojournalists are trying to get a piece, as traditional outlets for paid journalism vanish.

Two books and exhibitions have recently been produced of Vivian Maier's recently unearthed street photography of 1950's Chicago. Both have been tremendously received... But the question was not whether street photography was/is popular, but rather, "is street photography dying?" There are certainly more people practicing some form of street photography than ever before, but to answer a question with a question- is any of it any good?

If any of it was really extraordinary, if there were photographers out there trying to answer the questions I need answering, or making the observations I think are important- I wouldn't be trying so damn hard to take the type of photographs I take. What do I add? How you place yourself in any given genre of art or photography? I could tell you what I think makes a good photograph... but I will let someone else place me, if I get placed at all.

Like poetry, street photography deals with metaphor, figurative language, symbols and the juxtaposition of seemingly unlike objects. Even a simple photograph, a picture of a face for example, can and should have more meaningful attributes that go beyond mere representation. The beauty of street photography, if it can be classified as a broad genre at all, is that it is free of the need of context. To beat the metaphor dry- like poetry, you do it because you love it. You don't get paid shit. Most of what you create is a failure and most of what is created, is trash.

SB: How has digital technology changed and facilitated your vision as it pertains to this work? 

JA: All of my pictures are digital, in the sense that I use digital cameras, and I process them on the computer. Being able to tone or process the images on the computer has garnered a greater aesthetic control over the image. For many years I was an exhibition printer for James Nachtwey and others.  The printing process has not become any simpler or easier, but does afford more precise control, and there are more aesthetic choices that were simply not available with traditional methods. Fundamentally, I take pictures the same as before, the same as all photographers before me. I take pictures of things that strike my interest. If you try to take photographs of what you think you should take, rather than what you want to take, you will lose interest- you will become bored. Take photographs of what interests you, combine that with a little aesthetic knowledge, and you develop style.

With digital technology, everyone has a camera and everyone can take photographs. I don't have a problem with that, but now anyone can say, "I am a photographer." That is just not the way it works! Just because you can take a photograph using affordable and incredibly efficient technology does not make the photograph any good- or you a photographer. People do not look at photographs and they do not read. Those cultural symbols and myths that are important have been turned into cliches, one line jokes and glibness. The so called democratization of photography, isn't about democratization, although there is some of that, it is about commercialization. With commercialization comes commodification, and a dumbing down to reach as broad an audience as possible. What had life and spontaneity when relating to people is then swallowed and regurgitated to sell things. Most photography is advertisement, or looks like advertisements. Street photography included.

 We use photographs differently now, as a society, and as photographers. The constant streaming and distribution has changed how we interact with photography. I read recently that "10% of all photos ever taken were shot in 2011." There is a certain commitment to print which I enjoy; it becomes physical, it slows time down, both for the artist and the viewer. Good photographs create an ambiguous sense of time, and deserve some time in return.

SB: Your portraits are studio like in quality but retain a gritty street edge; how did they originate?

 JA: I showed Bruce Gilden my work and he asked, "Why don't you shoot verticals, Jonathan?" I told him, "Because I don't like them." He didn't seem to think that was a very good answer, and neither did I. It was however, a truthful answer. I've never liked vertical photographs. 

My earliest reference for photography was cinema. I grew up on movies, and it was through my love of movies that I had any reference for photography when I started taking pictures. Unlike many  photographers, my family did not take pictures when I was young and I never owned a camera until I was twenty. So being the highly competitive guy that I am, I took Bruce Gilden's question as a challenge- and resolved to take only vertical portraits.

I started taking portraits by asking permission on the street, something I almost never do. All of the people in the photographs are strangers and I only take two frames of each person. I tell them what to do, so I can get the photo I want. They are close, and simple, and honest. I want the face to tell the story.

This current series of portraits is taken in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where I live. I take photos of the people who interest me, but I also want to show the diversity of a neighborhood rapidly being gentrified. All of the people in the essay were either born there or are life long residents.         

John Berger once said, "I have to concentrate my attention on a particular one and then she or he, as frequently happens in daily life, looks up and returns my gaze... But when one returns my gaze, her or his expression is such, its intensity is such, that our faces might be only a few centimeters apart. The expression, although modified by the face's character and age, is always similar. It's intensity is not a question of emotion, or of pleasure or pain. The face looks straight at me and without words, by the expression of the eyes alone, it affirms the reality of its existence. As if my gaze had called out a name, and the face by returning it, was answering, "Present.'"

SB: Finally, how do you see your work evolving in the future?

JA: Hard to say. As I shoot more, I am less concerned with a literal, journalistic style. I think it serves a purpose, I just don't find it particularly interesting to look at. I have grown weary of the cliches which proliferate the genre. I get sick of looking at the same images. When I look at photographs, the ones I pause on are more 'open.' They allow you inside, both emotionally and psychologically, and the things depicted in them are aesthetically unresolved. The trick is to keep up a sense of humanity in the photographs as they become more abstracted, which is very hard and very rare.

SB: Thanks, Jonathan, both for the insights regarding your own work and the comments on much of what is going on. I think the ring of truth most apt in that last statement- as it applies to the work and history of known artists, and as a heads up to those in mid career...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Excuse me...

Obviously, the "we make our own reality" segment of the Republican Party is still alive and healthy in some quarters despite their recent thrashing. Just listen to this dickhead trying to repeatedly force feed a logical, level headed human person the prescribed talking points that are supposed to be swallowed whole- unchallenged, unquestioned....

And speaking of dicks, and major dicks at that, Jon Stewart sets us straight on a little bit of our not so treasured, not so often discussed chapters of American history...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grassland- Phil Underdown

Photo: Phil Underdown

One of the great joys I recently had at a Photo Book Club event in SF was coming upon Phil Underdown's book called Grassland. And a joy is exactly what it is- both to hold and behold. It's a precious little thing- precious, not pretentious; it has a child's wonder about it, the magic of seeing things for the first time. The colors are bright and cheery (unlike the somewhat washed out jpegs online), but not overbearing; and despite the fact that each of its twenty or so photographs are run across the gutter, they're printed on weighty stock that unfold flat out into uninterrupted 4X6 images. The result is one petite photo exhibit of portable joy and pleasure that you can pocket anywhere!

There is one not insignificant drawback however- mainly, that it is simply no longer available. In a world of instantly forgettable and interchangeable images, this uniquely original book, this small and wondrous artifact, made for one very personal and memorable experience...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Workaday Finds...

 Morning: On Way To Work

Lunchtime 12:00 PM

Best Dog Ever
Jeannie The Dog
 15 years old/young
Jeannie tolerating the hat one second before the lip starts to quiver to display some big teeth. Jeannie took not alot of messing around! The dog had attitude and would bare teeth and growl but never would actually bite. But after you left she might turnover the garbage can...

On The Way Home...
Photos: S. Banos

Monday, November 12, 2012


For those of you who can afford cable, and those of us who may at some time have access to it elsewhere- this may be quite the worthwhile...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sadness In Their Eyes

Honestly, I'm not gloating here (hell, my candidate didn't win either). But this is hilarious- hilarious in the kind of way that prudently prevents you from lecturing people to grow up, hilarious in the way that stops you from screaming at people for being the self absorbed hypocrites that they are, hilarious in the way that impedes your desire to pimp slap someone for purposely ignoring reality and seeing only what they want to see, when they want to see it.

Shock(ed) and Awe(d).

These folks genuinely believe they have been wronged, betrayed and rejected by their fellow Americans who are all too willing in their ignorant misguidedness to fall under the mind altering spell of a Muslim from Kenya who has bankrupted our entire country into moral and economic oblivion...

They were happily silent and content when W raped and ravaged our nation's surplus (created by a Democratic President they desperately sought to impeach) for eight long years and launched two wars (one based solely on a torrent of hubris and deception)- each at the cost of two hundred million dollars each and every damn day! Some reason, they just never bring that up. There's never a problem when venal, rich, White men completely gut a company or an entire economy before our very eyes, and then take flight in it's last dying days for someone else to clean up and take blame. Shit, that's what we got people the color of Obama for anyway- but they take orders, they're not supposed to... give them.

And that's why these particular Americans can now see, that's why they have awakened from their undisturbed slumber en masse as the cold night water ruthlessly encroaches on their 1st Class, luxury cruise ship suites; only to awaken to their true nightmare- a "darkie" fervently trying to right a desperately leaking and rudderless vessel they had contently let sail on an eight year odyssey of economic blunder. Who let him on deck- let alone take the wheel?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You Feel OK?

 Then ya may not wanna read this...

Years ago, one of my favorite public-health professors, Harvard surgeon Dr. Lucian Leape, opened the keynote speech at a national surgeons’ conference by asking the thousands of doctors there to “raise your hand if you know of a physician you work with who should not be practicing because he or she is too dangerous.” Every hand went up...

The number of U.S. patients killed annually by medical errors is equivalent to 4 jumbo jets crashing each week. (Chris Ryan / OJO Images-Getty Images)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It's Finally Over...

Benito Juarez

Wish I could gloat- but living in a non battleground state, I voted Jill Stein (Green Party) for President. Anyway, we can now all safely return to the joys of drug commercials for geriatric old farts like me, while eating our tumor inducing, genetically modified organisms.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party has to figure out how the hell they're gonna win anything on a national level when they can no longer rely on all the White men in the country to buy them the vote. The changing demographics in the US of A puts them in one helluva predicament- without letting in the very people they so absolutely abhor (all those nasty, yucky people the color of the earth), they won't be able to win the big ones. Maybe I can gloat after all...

And congratulations- Elizabeth Warren!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Coupla Thoughts (& 3 Iconic Images)

Right now (actually for the past coupla days during early voting), racist Republican motherfuckers (let's call these shameless lowlife turds what they really are) are trying to suppress voters (and voting) in predominantly African American and minority neighborhoods. From your stereotypical White Trash bullies, all the way to the governor's office, they are trying anything and everything to stop non-Whites from voting. And that includes: curtailing voting hours, giving out false voter information and outright voter intimidation- as they have countless times before in history (from Jim Crow right up until this election). All for a draft dodging, say anything, tax cheat, son a bitch, rich kid (no, not our last Republican President). Is there a pattern here?

For the life of me, why is it, how is it, that a rich brat, a rich spoiled brat that any working class son would happily take a swing at in any grade school playground... that same spoiled shit, somehow grows up to be their redemptive savior- after never earning an honest day's pay in their entire life!

Must be- that ol' Black Magic...


And now for something completely different...

How it was shot and how you can help...

Best self portrait in the history of mankind.

The Future Present- get used to it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's At Stake...

In short, vote for Obama and you get maybe 40-45% of everything he ever promised; vote Romney-  medicare is fucked, our infrastructure is fucked, social security is fucked, our schools are fucked, and if you think our economy is FUBAR now after eight years of wanton Republican mismanagement of a surplus...

On the bright side- Global Warming will do just peachy!!!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Yes On #37

GMO's + Roundup = Cancer + Birth Defects
California has a chance to lead the nation this Tuesday- and catch up with the rest of the civilized world...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New York Minutes

Photos: S.Banos

Both of these pictures were taken in NYC this year during the heat of summer. The one taken directly above on the outskirts of Chinatown was a fleetingly blessed nanosecond of solitude in an area that does not experience such isolation in real time, not in this era. I was thinking of that this week when Sandy has stilled much of my home town, and many of its homes (like my folks) and streets are without power.

Rare as it was, stillness was once a regular part of this city's natural rhythm- as in its weekends and holidays, when one could almost claim ownership to certain parts of Gotham. Nowadays, with its ever maddening throngs of non stop consumers, it literally takes a disaster, be it man made or natural, to slow the city down to a pace that actually allows... reflection.