Sunday, June 30, 2013

New York Confidential 2013

This time around, seemed as if half of Manhattan was under construction/renovation, and along with the incessant crowds, noise and heat, it made one anxious to flee the island for the outer boroughs which, not surprisingly, have long exceeded their saturation point for sopping up the excess overflow of flotsam and humanity. And regardless of borough, there's just no escaping the 90 degree heat and humidity which guarantees you end your day as one soggy, exhausted, sweat encrusted salt lick.

What was considerably more disappointing was the lack of photo books and exhibits that I could genuinely get excited about. I did get to see the much ado about nothing exhibit The Neighbors- and the controversy doth exceed the reality. First off, they look more like paintings than photographs due to their diffuse, unsaturated colors (shot through smog smeared windows), and are, if anything, so conservatively cropped with such a minimum of detail, that there's really little there, there for any kind or real controversy (let alone illegality), other than what some clever publicity campaign may seek to embellish.                                               

Photo: Charles Johnstone

What should be mentioned about this particular show however is that the smaller adjacent room harbored the best exhibit I saw while there- Charles Johnstone's Handball Courts feature a lovely series of square format color "portraits." Handball courts were as crowded and rowdy as basketball courts back in the sixties, but in the seventies they fell into disuse, and ever since (far as I know) pretty much exist as solitary, urban tombstones. Smashing a tiny rubber ball repeatedly into a cement wall with your hand is considerably harder than it sounds (try it), just as making these minimalist monuments look the cute and chiseled "perfections" they appear in this series certainly took more than the casual snapshooter's luck. An absolute joy to behold!

Photo: Charles Johnstone


The only book that seriously grabbed my attention was Gerry Johansson's Deutchland featuring small, B&W, square format photos featuring "architectural" landscapes of German cities listed in alphabetical order. Each of the small prints within the book are individually fascinating in their own subtle way which, in turn, make for one overall mesmerizing experience!

Photo: Gerry Johansson


I was hoping that Stephen Dupont's Raskols: The Gangs Of Papua New Guinea would be a keeper (I've posted on them here previously), but the maddeningly muddied contrast employed within the book is a sad disservice to these truly outstanding portraits! This is the second time that the contrast/print quality of a pH book has truly belittled the experience of the work involved... These powerful portraits deserve so much better (as w/Vivian Maier).


The one personal photo op of considerable interest this time around was Brooklyn Bridge Park, particularly the small mound of earth that constitutes the area directly under the... Manhattan Bridge. Bordering the East River in DUMBO, this miniscule swath of dirt, shore and greenery harbors a plethora of photo ops in all its little nooks and crannies with its constant, ever changing mix of visitors imbibing in a myriad of activities. Managed to spend a few afternoons there, and will hopefully have a few decent results to show for it.

Last and not least, I actually had the honor to meet up with the good professor himself, John Edwin Mason, as we enthusiastically reviewed The Brooklyn Fence exhibit and the state of mankind in general; and thanks to reader and pro photographer Michael Meyer for reaching out and meeting up despite the sweltering heat...

More to follow...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

San Francisco Dreamin'...

I grew up in New York, and I'm certainly not about to sell a bill of goods about it being better to grow up in than any other place in the world. It just happens to be where I grew up- with all its seeming advantages, and disadvantages. And as Jimmy Breslin was fond of saying, many a New Yorker might as well live in Ohio for all they identify with or take advantage of it.*

One thing New York does spoil you with is food, the best from every far region of the world. For those on a limited culinary budget, it's also the only place in the world (bar none) where you can get great bagels and consistently delicious pizza in a variety of places. Step outta NY and you only have a handful (literally) of places in America that even knows what good pizza (by the slice) tastes like, or even what a bagel is supposed to look like- definitely not a doughnut, or "a roll with a hole." But I digress...

Top Hat,  Photo: S. Banos
Been living in San Francisco for round about a decade now, my "retirement villa" as I like to call it (despite the fact that I'll be working till I drop)- because things are, well... considerably more laid back. How laid back? The first thing I noticed when I moved here were all the squashed pigeons on the street, red feathered blotches peppering the downtown asphalt. Unlike their street smart NY counterparts, these guys can't seem to grasp that unless they actually move, oncoming cars will cease their ability to live. Very laid back.

Despite New York being a pedestrian city, cars very much rule when crossing the street there. Anytime one attempts to cross at a stop sign in NY, one must confront the driver, stare him (or her) full in the face and negotiate terms before either of you makes the move to advance- several false starts by either party are not unusual, the stop sign a mere pleasantry. The first time I attempted crossing a street in SF at a stop sign, the car slowed, stopped (and stayed stopped) before I even arrived at the corner. What manner of devilry is this, I pondered!? This son of a bitch is actually waiting for me to play chicken with!!! It never crossed my mind that he was simply preparing to wait for me to cross. Culture shock.

Another thing that (some) New Yorkers are at least familiar with is style. I'm certainly not anywhere near a clothes horse, but even this aging geezer can still appreciate a sense of fashion, be attuned to it, recognize what works and what doesn't. And as with most anything else, good style (no matter the taste) can be a rare commodity, and fashion sense is pretty much non existent in San Francisco. Guys have the CA slacker/hipster thang down pretty good and little else, and even gays (except for the drag queens, natch) are lacking; the women... sorry, gals- I have never seen a more hopelessly lost conglomeration of every mismatched mixture of costume regalia from every decade imaginable so thoughtlessly and unimaginatively thrown together! Yeah, that about sums it up- clueless. But that doesn't stop these guys and gals from trying to dress up at every possible excuse!

Bay To Breakers,  Photo: S. Banos
And it doesn't stop there! Practically every home town fan that goes to a Giants game is wearing coordinated bits and pieces of various kinds of SF Giants uniforms: hats, jackets, shirts and other official team sanctioned regalia of every hue, size and mutation. It's like mothers throughout the town dress up their grown, adult sons and daughters to go to the ballgame for Chrissakes!

Every holiday, parade or celebration in this town is, in fact, a costume party. The annual Bay To Breakers Race is supposedly some kind of actual race- but what the Bay To Breakers really is, is yet another excuse for every twenty something in town to get badly dressed and costumed (yet) again, while getting slobbering drunk and urinating their way through various neighborhoods in their breakneck pace towards inebriation... And achieving, at long last, a fitting excuse as to why they look like shit.

* BTW-  Before you profess your own personal hatred of New York, no one hates New Yorkers more than... New Yorkers- those who live in the rest of the state, well apart the maddening city limits and must nevertheless suffer the brunt of being labelled "New Yorkers."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

True That.

"Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American..."  --Edward Snowden

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pandora's Promise

The trailer for Pandora's Promise starts off briefly mentioning the names of our most infamous, peace time, nuclear catastrophes: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. It sounds like yet another hard hitting expose of our dreaded "Friendly Atom." Midway through however, it injects the argument(s) favored by pro nuclear, "pro environmental" advocates (insert sarcastic oxymoron jokes here). They point out that we cannot continue our current (let alone increased) power consumption without incorporating nuclear into the mix on a large scale, global basis- not to do so they warn, will result in unprecedented global warming. What they don't tell you, won't tell you, is that it's a short term, short sighted fix that will poison our planet for millenia to come. And, of course, what they will tell you is that it can now be done in a safer, cleaner and more efficient manner... Bull, bull, and bull. The same decades old promises (of a broken, failed industry) spilling from the mouths of brand spanking new converts.

No matter how you color, dress and disguise it, nuclear power is the deadly poison that keeps on poisoning en masse for untold hundreds of years to come. And nuclear power plants no matter how brand spanking new and efficient are still vulnerable to catastrophes of biblical proportions due to human error, terrorism and natural calamities; and to this day we still have no safe method to store their deadly waste (again, deadly for centuries- now there's a slogan) or the needed areas "guaranteed" geologically sound for that required period of time. It's an industry essentially built on a house of cards from start to never ending finish with millions of lives at stake for thousands of years. Cool!!!

Basically, we've painted ourselves into a radioactive, smoked filled corner of our own making. The time to adequately prepare ourselves has long past, we should have been heavily investing into alternative R & D as our #1 priority since the '70s. But Grandpa Ronnie told us not to worry. And like the children that we are- we didn't.

And so here we sit in a brand new century, royally fucked with the worst yet to come- and we got warmed over shit served on a brand new platter for today's menu...

*Just a little something for all to ponder while I'm away (see yas full force come July- preposted a coupla things for the interim).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

God Bless Edward Snowdon

He had it all. He could have easily kept his well paying job, his beautiful beyond words girl friend, and his successful lifestyle and career. No one ever threatened him, no one ever pressured him in the slightest, and there was certainly no prize to be had when all was said and done. He didn't have to do anything but continue living his rather fortunate life, unscathed and unconcerned- and yet act he did, and for the right reason... not that most people will ever give a flying fuck that he did it for them.

And now he must forever look behind his back for the remainder of his young life, looking back at a life that was once his.

"I will never feel safe," he said. "Things are very difficult for me in all terms, but speaking truth to power is never without risk."

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

La Rue- Sam Grant

There I was 10:30 sharp, waiting for the start of the nude bicycle race (well, more like bicycle ride); that's right, yet another opportunity for a plethora of photos featuring nude, sixty year old men- everyone's favorites! But after waiting a half hour with only one (zebra striped) participant in view, I took off on my bike (fully clothed). Went to South Park a quarter mile away, smoked a stogie, and went to Rayko Photo to see what's up on the walls. It's there that I spotted La Rue by Sam Grant (actually, Blake Andrews mentioned it while visiting recently- but I admittedly clean done forgot).

Photo: Sam Grant
It's quite small, and lovely, and something you just instantly want. The photos were taken with a cheap plastic camera, and unlike so much of the digital stuff out there today have a warmth, a personality, an endearing, charming quality that makes you want to return to them like the lovely little poems that they are! If only more people were as obsessed with taking photos worth remembering, as they were about pixels, noise and ISO...

Anyway, the stogie and La Rue made for one thoroughly enjoyable weekend respite, before I found myself returning to where I started- this time to find a sizable contingent of the aforementioned nude and wrinkled bodies. Was able to get in a few shots after all, but no doubt whose images had won the day, and for many a day thereafter...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dirty Wars...

"The American Taliban- that is what we call the American soldiers with beards." 
--Afghan grandfather who had half his family killed (mistakenly) by American Special Ops

One has to wonder if the dozens, hundreds, thousands of new enemies we create every single time we kill innocent men, women and children all over the world is the real goal all along- a never ceasing supply of potential enemies the world over to feed the perpetual war machine ad infinitum!?!? An endless stream of money for the merchants of death- Gen. Smedley Butler's War Is A Racket on remote control steroids...

Monday, June 10, 2013

In The Interim....

Will be traveling to hometown NYC this 6/15 for ten days, so things will be kinda crickety the two weeks following... Time for the annual, obligatory sojourn to visit the folks (one already in, the other near their ninth decade). These days I get a kind of perverse kick visiting NY as a "tourist." Hopefully, catch a worthwhile show, and take a photo, or two. Will be traveling light with my FM3 w/20mm, and a Widelux F8 for laughs in my comfy new bag- and always up for a beer if you are...

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Shadow Dancer

The film begins brilliantly with a reaction shot, a small girl's reaction to her brother dying before her. No explanation needed thereafter...

Despite the action montage of the trailer, the movie is actually quite low key but winds up as quickly as it begins. And in a manner both unsettling and unsuspected- not unlike The Troubles themselves...

Friday, June 7, 2013

So What's The Rush?

People act like all this radioactive shit leaking all over the place could get into their water supply or something!

"In all, since that very first leak in the 1950s, at least 69 tanks are known to have excreted more than 1 million gallons of waste — and possibly far more — into the soil."

The tanks create their own chemical environment. Between the heat and the radionuclides and the chemicals that are already in there, they're just their own nuclear reactors," Whalen said. "They're generating their own little world in there."

There now- ya see, things just have a way of... working their way out!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

It was most refreshing to see a major photo blog mention, even in passing, the economics of present day photodom. No, not about how to save pennies on the latest, greatest software- but how the whole shebang we (somewhat) know and love has priced itself into the stratosphere. Forget about collecting prints, you're damn lucky if you can afford to make your own!

Museums cost $20, photographic paper costs more without silver than it did with. Work this one gig for free, and you're guaranteed more nonpaying jobs than your fastest burst rate will allow! Yes, you're in control... only you can choose between Canon or Nikon, Photoshop or Lightroom! New lenses, bodies, software, apps- ever forward... It's the digital age; if you can't take advantage of all the new and wondrous opportunities all around- you have no one to blame but yourself!

Of course, it's not just photography. When my parents first came to NYC in the early '50s, they had a host of unskilled jobs to choose from. No, they sure didn't pay much, but they kept you off the street- their first place of residence on mainland USA was in... SOHO- a $15 cold water flat that afforded them enough to save up for an apartment in Brooklyn. And work they did, every year's end my father also worked the PO for the Christmas rush. That was always the American dream- work your ass off and you'll survive, no matter who you are (and we'll even let ya pick up a couple of chachkas along the way). And if you had skills, an education- the whole damn oyster was yours!

Today, unskilled jobs that provide an actual living wage are as nostalgic a dream as the the sixties themselves. And a quality education will rocket you into fast debt and a guaranteed death race with the thousands of others competing for the same job. The middle class has been quietly killed off while we work harder, longer hours for less pay, less benefits and little hope of upward mobility. The fifties brought education and prosperity; and in turn, the sixties brought self awareness and a certain degree of enlightenment as to how things actually work- and the one percent has been reclaiming their sovereignty with every trick and low blow ever since. It's no longer about a successful working class, it's about a subservient and cheap labor class. Equality, shared responsibility and proportional rewards are for losers.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review And Renewal...

Photo: Garry Winogrand

Finally got to see the Winogrand exhibit just before the whole damn museum shut down. SFMOMA is now shut for three years, to renovate, expand and add ten floors of... luxury whatever- cause ya know whatever they're gonna add is gonna be luxury something. And it'll probably cost a cool $25 (way above my hourly wage) to get in once it reopens, and I just found out my rent went up $30- all of which doesn't jive with my recent 1% raise. But at least it was free last weekend.

The newly exhibited work concentrated particularly on early sixties, even fifties stuff and made for a very nostalgic, Mad Men kinda viewing experience. You could see all the greatness that was yet to come imbedded in those early photos, just as you could see the remaining shadows of what once was in his last work. The meat and potatoes being the old familiar hits one knows and loves.

Amazing to see everyone looking at little grey prints in a museum, no colossal wall sized anything to be seen anywhere, and they were, in fact, surprisingly... grey  (yes, like old friends at a reunion)- the majority of his prints being surprisingly lower in contrast than I remembered, despite having seen them on many an occasion prior. Anyway, what can I say that hasn't already, except that I do take exception to his being described as "the first digital photographer." As prodigious and prolific a shooter as he was, Winogrand never burdened the viewer with his outtakes and almosts- as do the digital dispensers of today. If anyone owns that title it would be Friedlander- most of whose books could well profit from a tighter edit.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Nikon And Canon To Cease Pro DSLR Production!?

The last few days has witnessed first the announcement of the end of professional photographers followed by the en masse redundancy of an entire photographic staff with yet more like actions likely to follow... So what, oh what, is to become of "professional level" camera equipment and $7,000 top of the line Canon and Nikon DSLR bodies? Why would they continue to pump money into pro level R&D and then build equipment for people that are no longer hired and no longer exist?

And will we soon have pro-level iPhones for "professional" unpaid citizen journalists, and low budget consumer models for the great unwashed?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pioneer Camera Club

Noah Beil has started a photo book/discussion club here in San Francisco which is one pretty cool undertaking- good luck, and look forward to attending.  First event- 6/06!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Because Canada Doesn't Want It..."

Their own environmental disaster of near biblical proportions that is...  Yes, sir! May I have another!?