Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Human Arrogance

It goes both ways. There's the arrogance that states that we humans are so unique, the very thought of anything better could only exist in some planetary kingdom so incredibly far away that we will never know of them, or they us- so for all practical purposes, they might as well not exist. That same aura of superiority also extends to our own blue sphere, where only the human species seemingly possesses the intellect for self awareness, emotion and ritual. 

Astronomers and astrophysicists readily admit they cannot account for 90% of the very stuff that constitutes the universe itself, yet still laugh and scoff at the very notion that ancient civilizations with technologies vastly surpassing ours could visit our domain as easily we visit the depths of our ocean floor- or the neighborhood termite mound...

"The missing mass problem is extremely disquieting...We are talking about 90 percent of the mass of the universe, present but not speaking. Can we really claim to know anything about the nature of the universe if we don't know the properties, or even the nature, of 90 percent of its material?"   -Prof. Ivan King

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Weird, The Old, The Wonderful

Lisa Wood (aka- "The Wife") has a quite an eye herself, as witnessed by her interesting and eclectic collection of vintage, vernacular and just plain weird photos at her Pinterest page. Something for everyone in the family...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Question

Once ya stop laughing, this is one Onion that scrapes awfully close to the truth; and the reality can certainly play like one sorry satire. If pressed, what would I have to show for my spare time obsession other than a few photos in the proverbial 21st century shoebox?

Actually, I purposely chose this P/T way of the warrior path after seeing what even successful NYC studio photographers had to go through (ie- the eternal hustle to get jobs followed by the eternal hustle just to get paid for said jobs). Perhaps, the question is not what I have to show, but what have I managed to avoid? A motorcycle would've landed me dead in my twenties for sure (smartest thing I never did)... just as sure as the latter part of that particular hustle above would have eventually caused me to do something that would have landed me in a place where I'd have every minute of every goddamn day to myself.

Nevertheless, an even greater question still remains- photography has been a private, personal joy... but has it been a salvation, or a selfish, distracting diversion that has actually prevented the achievement of a greater good, maybe even a life of actual accomplishment?

Life saving recourse, or life sucking addiction like any other? Something you may want to (re)consider- sooner rather than later. Damn, that's some scary shit...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Display vs Story Telling

Photo: Gabriele Galimberti

Both of these essays have to do with personal possessions, and for the record, I like both of them, in fact, the color essay is more uniformly well photographed (it should be, the photographer exercised greater control towards that end) than the B&W (where the photographer allowed more flexibility of presentation). That said, there's no question which has the greater impact, which I will remember over the years, which has shown me more about a certain group of people, about life and humanity, anywhere...

The most important thing Ahmed was able to bring with him is Kako, his pet monkey. Kako and Ahmed made the five-day journey from Taga to the South Sudanese border together in the back of a truck. Ahmed says he can’t imagine life without Kako, and that the most difficult thing about leaving Blue Nile was having to leave his family’s donkey behind.   Photo: Brian Sokol

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Martin Parr @ The California College Of The Arts- A Review

Went to catch ol' Marty give his song and dance at the California College of the Arts last 3/12. Rock star crowded, as to be expected. Wish I could give ya some delightful anecdotes, humorous fun facts or handy tips accrued from said event. Guess he puts it mostly in his work, which I was fortunately familiar with since I couldn't see crap in the overflow, slide show, presentation room. But it was interesting hearing how manly and commanding his disembodied voice was (coming from such a relatively slight fellow).

I'll try harder next time...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Every American MUST Read

You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.    -Tomas Young

This letter should be hung (poster size and framed) in every recruitment center in the US of A; and then, by an act of law, be required to be read aloud by every poor bastard about to sign their life away...

"Funny" how all those patriotic sons of bitches who were then clamoring for war now claim that they were lied to- How could they have possibly known??? Maybe, just maybe, if they had listened to the thousands of people marching in the streets worldwide- instead of blindly calling them idiots, fools and traitors.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Forbidden Portraits

Well, this is one post I never anticipated writing; it is both humiliating and infuriating- another promising opportunity needlessly thrown to the gutter. I am speaking of nothing less than the portrait project I've recently alluded to involving people with developmental disabilities at the non profit where I work. I had the project approved years ago with the previous administration, but didn't have the proper equipment (came down to the right lens for the job) to make it fly. Armed and ready as of last year, I finally ran it through the new admin which made a point of emphasizing that this would not just be my project, but a collaborative one with work being contributed from the clients themselves. Yes, exactly! As we all know, should by now know, portraits out of context often reveal little- other than how we the viewer wish to read them. If anything, I wanted to elaborate on that fact, and describe how these portraits could convey or emphasize contrary or secondary characteristics that may or may not be indicative of these individual's everyday personalities- as with anyone, anywhere. Their art work, photos, interviews, life goals, etc would be a most welcome, indeed, necessary addition- wouldn't think of having it any other way! It was their contribution that would ground the overall work, provide the necessary context and background to keep it from being a single myopic viewpoint. 

And so I set out to work, I only had a couple of hours each week to photograph- was planning on getting a minimum of twenty strong portraits before I initiated phase two of the project, where I'd present each client with a copy of their portrait and set about obtaining their contributions, then helping them edit and design the layout. My "formalized" B&W portrait on the left hand side of the print on demand book, one or more pages of their work to the right. If all went well, it could possibly be completed in about a year's time...

A month went by, one single solitary month. And my fears and apprehension began to ease and dissipate; I had seven solid portraits, not bad for a couple of hours shooting each week! I decided to send out an email that would serve to explain my project to the entire staff and facilitate scheduling of clients, but first ran it through admin for approval- and got a rather puzzling response that perhaps I had not understood the terms of the project. Huh? I then received a secondary email from my immediate supervisor stating that I somehow had misunderstood the nature of the project- I was not to be making any physical contributions to said project. This would strictly be a client project, I was there just to help assemble their work and help design the layout for the book.

Now let's get a couple of things straight, I have taught photo workshops where I presently work before. And had admin approached me about leading a class solely to create a client based print on demand book, I would have gladly done so- but don't, don't, don't take my idea, a project based on all around, mutual collaboration, and then proceed to negate my contribution without explanation. Not only was this a project that had been previously approved, this is an agency that welcomes professional photographers and videographers (ie- complete strangers) each and every year to shoot publicity and promotional pictures- while a hired hand such as myself, whose clients they have entrusted into my care for over eight years is not allowed to even take their picture (with permission of the clients, naturally) for the good of a collaborative project that perhaps had the possibility to turn into something special, something that may have initiated conversation beyond the usual confines. 

A promising possibility for all concerned needlessly gutted and squandered without any real consideration. And so I'm now left with a total of ten orphaned portraits- The Magnificent... Ten; three of which I present here in their ghostly apparitions. Although I took care to get signed releases from each subject, I have no idea what the legal implications to showing the actual images are, particularly since it can now be probably claimed that I took them without authority. As proud as I am of these images, they have been as effectively gutted of their context, as they have of their details in this presentation. Maybe one day...

Right now, I do like my job, and the people I really work for- as opposed to an admin whose dismissive attitude comes without explanation.

I remember when I first saw the Diane Arbus monograph; one eventually gets to the back where she has a few photos of people with developmental disabilities, and it's as if they were tossed in at the last second, without prior thought- even the printing is terribly off compared to the rest of the book. You can say what you will about the majority of her photography (I am a fan), but you can really feel how she purposely upped the freak factor to overload on those final photos. They're bizarre, unworldly- aliens alienated on their own planet. Unlike the previous portraits, she made no pretension at allowing any of their personality into those shots; they're held at a distance, as if to be approached with caution. But then I wondered, some thirty years ago- just how would one go about "presenting" their personality? 

A friend of mine recently asked, "What are they like?" What an ignorant, insensitive question I thought. And then, immediately, my next thought was- that's exactly the same question I'd ask. "They're all individuals, " I replied. And I think that is the only course you can take when relating to anyone, no matter their background. In the past century we have gone from portraying people with developmental disabilities as freaks, to portraying them as super heroes, constantly overcoming life's difficulties with relative ease- and always with that big wide grin planted rapturously on their face. In other words, we have gone from one dismissive stereotype to another. Perhaps it is a necessary intermittent phase. Perhaps... It just strikes me all too much of the ever happy Negro of Yore, way down South in the land of cotton when all their misery was of naught concern. Theyz just always happy!

The little project I proposed might have been a wee step in the right direction- no smiling faces on one side, a small glimpse behind the curtain on the other...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Barbara and Beyond The Hills

Two excellent films, both about people in urgent need to escape the backward world they're trapped in, both with very different outcomes. Barbara concerns a female doctor during the height of the cold war; although the pacing is very low key, it was fascinating watching the rather stunning Nina Hoss coolly going through her paces: planning, plotting, calculating- only to finally give in to her long buried better half.

Beyond The Hills finds us in the seclusion of an Orthodox Romanian monastery where a nun's troubled friend is about to wreak havoc on the peace and tranquility of their countryside. The film portrays what are basically religious fundamentalists, who unlike their Christian counterparts of the USA, and the Muslims of the Taliban are actually kind, good hearted people. They mean well, but that darn religion of theirs just makes 'em kinda kooky. And the results don't bode well. The film starts out very slowly, gradually building and quickening to a frenetic pace, to the point where I was laughing out loud as small hordes of nuns would scurry hither and yon from one end of the screen to the other like an antiquated Monty Python animation, their frantic, lemming like frenzy leading to the inevitable disaster. 

And although it may be a predictable result, the very end of this film is where it really shines anew as we are suddenly and ungraciously thrown from the mystical, self created world of an isolated monastery back into the everyday inanities of the modern day world.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kindness, Hope And Self Delusion

Currently I teach adults with developmental disabilities; I do it from nine to three and then either job coach or work with clients where they live. The other afternoon I was with a client at a phone store, helping them purchase a replacement phone when a homeless looking guy started complaining about something or other. The guy looked unwashed and disheveled, twenty eight going on fifty eight- as if he just crashed from a week long meth binge and realized he had some pressing issues on his to do list. I couldn't make out the details since I had to pay attention to my clients needs (since we were being served at the counter), but it was apparent that it was something to do with a mistake concerning his bill payment, and because of their mistake, he didn't have any money left. The security guard came over as things got louder and more agitated, and the chances of a satisfactory compromise of any sort decreased by the second.  It was at this point that a young Black woman on line spoke up. Instantly, my mind raced- oh shit, here we go, flame to the fire, this sucker's gonna get stirred up, but good! Visions of You Tube and Jerry Springer scream sessions and mano a mano videos came to mind...

"Excuse me, are you telling me this is all about two dollars?" Someone answered in the affirmative. At this point, she reached in her bag, took out the money and handed it to down and out, White guy. Apparently he needed money for the bus. "Man has a point," she said. Mind you, this was a store that sells phones and service without contract; in other words, not the kind of place where people with money congregate. No, she didn't save someone's life- she merely got involved and did what a host of other people (including yours truly) didn't or wouldn't do- "for the least of these." In a time when many self called Christians would have rather spit on him as they exit towards their Lexus- she exemplified the "Christian thing to do."

I write this not just because it was a totally unexpected random act of kindness that occurred before my eyes (an act that inspired some small ray of hope), but because it also unveils the common prejudices that have been force fed into our own psyches- many of the same prejudices and stereotypes (regarding: race, sex, economic class, you name it)... that I have confronted throughout life. And here it was spewing up right outta me, this latent bile that infects us all...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Learning To Color

In the midst of all the Winogrand hoopla, what I've particularly enjoyed is rediscovering the work of Tod Papageorge, a photographer that plays second fiddle to no one. And although I'm quite familiar with much of his B&W work, up until recently, I hadn't come across his color work. And as you can see, that too is often as good as it gets....

Photo: Tod Papageorge

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conflicting Points Of View...

And later, we again get... "Despite his poor, almost non-existent, editing..." Hhmmm... That's not what I heard, at least not from the mouth of Tod Papageorge at SFMOMA the other eve. In fact, he remarked that Winogrand "wasn't one to miss a photo in the editing process," very much describing how he went through his negatives like a detective with a fine tooth comb. On another occasion he went on to state that Winogrand had said that a particular group of photos that he had just edited "were crying out to be published." The Guardian article leaves one with the overall impression that his lack of editing skills was in fact, his over all style, the way this fast shooting, fast talking Bronx native just happened to roll.

Perhaps his failure to actively edit (I'm assuming in his latter years in LA) had more to do with his health or deteriorating mindset than actual personal preference. Above is the blurred photo (alluded to previously) that dons the back cover of the current SOMA catalogue. There certainly is the raw subject matter for a dramatic photo there (or a hackneyed cliche), but that's as far as that particular image goes. Your average photo student would catch hell for not getting his ass outta the car and getting the shot this scenario cries out for. As Winogrand himself would've done in his earlier, healthier years (as evidenced below)...

In this iconic Winogrand photo, he was out photographing with Papageorge when Tod raced ahead and arrived at the scene first, only to be literally pushed aside after taking a frame by none other than you know who- who immediately proceeded to take the simultaneously humorous and provocative photograph we now remember that single handedly pushes more buttons, asks more questions, and raises anxiety and discomfort levels well beyond any host of great art collections that "push the edge" anywhere.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

They Reveal Their Brilliance Gradually...

(get used to the phrase: posthumous digital reproduction scanned from original negative)
So said Tod Papageorge regarding the genius that are Garry Winogrand's photographs, as he spoke for a good two and one half hours (the closest I'll ever get to the Yale MFA photography program) at SFMOMA about his good friend and mentor. Few bowl you over, but they definitely deliver the goods with a very definite but subtle delivery system that has you scouring throughout the frame for the poetic ironies, quirks and humor that Winogrand delighted in. Not a particularly subtle person in real life, his photographs nonetheless reveal a nuanced balance between suggestion and affirmation that many a street shooter well into this new century clumsily imitate, exaggerate and often never convincingly incorporate.

I have yet to see the show itself (which Mr. Papageorge states is a landmark photo exhibit), but I did peruse the rather extensive exhibition catalogue with its 401 plates. Those expecting a vast new treasure trove of Winogrand wonders produced from his latter day archives will be sadly disappointed. There is "new work" to be seen here for sure, but (and this from a ten minute perusal of said book) seems a good half of it is from the late '50s/early '60s, the other half split between his peak years and his post NYC days. Off hand, I'd say a third of the "new stuff" is classic Winogrand that would have (possibly)* met his stringent standards, the other third consisting of "almosts" divided between his formative and mid career years, with most of the later, unseen work (compromising the last "third") not really up to snuff- including the one predominantly plastered on the back cover of said catalogue. Seems they really did get the cream of the crop from that latter period in Winogrand: Fragments From The Real World. Can't say I heartily recommend the current book, but if you're short on his work- it's more than well worth the fifty! Look forward to seeing the show, and all the old friends I grew up with (come April 9th when the museum's free)!

BTW- What did (ahem!) Walker Evans think about Winogrand's work... "tasteless."
* Mr. Papageorge stated Garry wasn't one to miss a photo in the editing process. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"...I See Blood Everywhere."

"We were in a room in the library... and I'm looking around I see blood everywhere."
-photographer, Gilles Peress

I'm not naive enough to think that the US never tortured until the Iraq/Afghanistan debacles. But at the very least, it was against our official policy- a policy that actually served to prevent or curtail torture at least on (more than one) occasion, and served (again- at the very least) as the ideal that we supposedly tried to honor and perhaps someday achieve. Then tough guy types like four time deferment Cheney decided to take the gloves off and pacify his inherent blood lust by making "enhanced interrogation" (the same nomenclature used by the Nazis to refer to torture) legal.

There's uhhh... something about torture which just sickens and incites me to no end. It's the lowest of the absolute low in human interaction- a humane way of putting it. At least we were headed in the right direction pre 9/11- if only in theory. Post 9/11 we learned to embrace, promote and revel in it- the biggest bullies on the world block. Presently, we say we don't (nod nod, wink wink), while we still ship 'em out for others to do the dirty work and still hold "the right" to do it ourselves-  whenever the "proper" occasion(s) somehow arise.

It's a shame on this current administration- an even greater shame we all share in and choose to ignore- long as it's somebody else...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Time And Space On The Lower East Side- The Dillon Gallery

Can't say how happy I am that things turned out as well as they have for Brian Rose and his decades encompassing project Time And Space On The Lower East Side. Thank god someone went to the trouble of documenting this historical and life changing area of one of the greatest, most important cities the world has ever seen. A city made great not by its blood sucking Trumps and Wall St. financiers, but by the "little people" who continued to trudge through its life long inequities- people like my folks who came to its shores from a small island in the Caribbean to eke out an existence in a $30 cold water flat back in the fifties. And their offspring who survived the seventies as the infrastructure crumbled, the Bronx burned and Loisaida went through the ravages of yet another heroin epidemic, followed by the scourge of crack, before finally being thrown into the onslaught of wholesale depravity known as gentrification. Many of The Lower East Side's remaining poor scrambled onward to Brooklyn, only to be chased out yet again in the nineties.

NYC is hardly the place that stops to shed a tear, the inexorable shark that must keep swimming, must keep moving, whether for its own good, or not. Rose has managed to document one of the most representational sections of that city's history (culturally, geographically, ethnically) that now exists only in the long term memories of its long time residents, and then takes the extra step to show how it has transformed into the city that we see before us today.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My Personal Pellegrin

Photo: S. Banos

Above is my latest classic car restoration, finally completed and now selling at the historic villa I recently purchased- a little fixer upper near a remote Tuscan hill town not far from the week long Italia Photo Expo I recently showed my portfolio at cosponsored and helped judge.    OK, OK- snapshot on the way to the local supermarket (same difference).