Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Man Of Valor, Man Of Honor!

Cartoon: Mike Luckovich

Being the modest, humble, utterly truthful, and self proclaimed hero, that he is- be it in the heart of the relentless Falklands War or the protest march under his hotel, don't forget this man has also shed his blood in our name in the battlefield called... The War on Christmas. While we routinely celebrated the holidays safe and oblivious, Bill has stood his ground and survived a bloody onslaught against all odds, single handedly fighting the good fight against every imaginary foe and attacker he can possibly hurl at himself, at home and abroad!

God Bless Him! There is no quit in this man!!!
(no shame or humility either- but, what the hey!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Like A Jig... With Funny Sounds, Right?

What's everyone getting all riled up about??? When I say, "Look at that dumb ass HONKY making like an idiot!" All I mean is... "Look at that idiot in the pick up honking his horn for no good reason!"

PS- A penny for his thoughts...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

American Realities...

Photo: Joakim Eskildsen

Actually, I'm not the greatest Joakim Eskildsen fan. I have The Roma Journeys, and while most of the photos are perfectly... OK, most of them really don't light my fire. I bought it primarily because of the half dozen or so photos that I saw online and imagined the rest to be as good, but (for me) the book just didn't follow through visually (purchased online). Truth be told, I bought it for the photo of the guy in the tub- I had to have the guy in the tub. He still makes me smile just thinking of him.

But I am, very much, looking forward to American Realities.* Personal aesthetic preferences aside, Eskildsen is one very thorough photographer, who once again looks like he went into this project to break it down not just visually, but sociologically, to give us a more intimate, accurate and nuanced portrayal of how far our once common American Dream has dissipated and deteriorated. Besides, I already see a coupla photos I just have to have...  *(not yet out)

Photo: Joakim Eskildsen

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Hanging Tree Of Denial

I finally posted this tome of a comment at PetaPixel basically out of sheer frustration; it's not easy holding off all comers, one brief comment at a time when you're in the pronounced minority. In fact- one commenter actually said that I should give it up exactly because my opinion was in the minority! Not the thing to tell someone who grew up- a minority member (especially when you want to shut them down). 

"Why bother?" I'm often asked, especially when those attacking don't even know the very nature of the fight. Because it's even more ridiculous if one only preaches to the choir...

The photographic image still has power- so does history.
For the record, I do Not think that the Hanging Tree ad was intentionally racist (clear?). That said, when African Americans protested that it was potentially racist imagery, the company had ample opportunity to deescalate the situation, make peace and set things right. Instead, they chose to inflame the situation, almost hilariously so as the Wonkette post so brilliantly pointed out (must read!).

The knee jerk, White indignation and backlash of course, is always... "humorous" to behold. Blatant denials, counter accusations, reminders of all manners and instruments of death inflicted on all kinds of people for whatever infraction, in whatever geographical region of whatever time period imaginable. Funny stuff. And they make no distinctions between lawful executions by hanging, and the acts of crazed and extrajudicial lynch mobs. If I were White, if I were like most Whites, the thought of a noose as a weapon of terror would never occur to me either! I sympathize my White brethren- I really do!

Whites don't associate the threat of lynching with a noose because they weren't the ones being terrorized and lynched. They weren't the ones being strung up for not calling a White man, "Sir" or "Mister;" they weren't the ones having their head stuck in a noose for bumping into a White girl on a busy downtown street; they weren't the ones meeting death at the end of a rope from a bunch of foaming, racist savages because they dared to wear the uniform that they proudly fought in for their country- in their very hometown.

Whites don't have that visceral association of death and terror based solely on someone's mere whim- their families didn't relate those stories of woe, there's no history of this tragedy with them, no legacy of loved ones lost to a national psychosis. They just rather assume that everyone was hanging high back then, all in equal measure. Separate, of course- but equal all the same. That's why they can't bear to hear any of this symbolism, association stuff. That's why this is all a non issue, joke to them.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How Not To Save Yourself From... The Hanging Tree!

This article in Wonkette about the further adventures of a clueless software graphics firm called SeaSalt & Co, and their latest product called the Hanging Tree, is both hilariously funny, and accurate. They wanted to go with a dark, foreboding and maybe, just maybe... controversial image to highlight and announce their new, absolute pride and joy.

And as is so, so true so many, many times before- what do you do when you dig yourself a hole too seemingly big to crawl out of? Why... dig yourself a much, much deeper one!

Via Petapixel- where yours truly contributed "a few" choice comments of his own...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Self Serve

Earl Sampson-  arrested over 40X at the same store for trespassing... the place where he happens to  work.

Yes, I know that policing is a difficult job, one of the most difficult- no doubt. But clearly there are those who think that while the vests they wear may protect them from bullets, the uniform itself provides impunity from consequence and responsibility.

Some people to this day still refuse to believe how badly a police force can behave (with a particular segment of society). Usually they'll chalk up such "baseless accusations" to hearsay, exaggeration, ("reverse") prejudice, or the tried and true standby- "It's just a few bad apples."  

This well documented example in Florida was not about a rogue cop, or a few of the aforementioned wanton fruits of decay- this was about an entire gang of thugs in police uniforms repeatedly breaking the law to advance their own careers. And just as this wasn't a case of a covert few who did what they willed with those they are meant "To Serve and Protect," you can bet this is but one of many uniformed, criminal enterprises operating in plain sight throughout the country...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Me And My Gun!

Sometimes I just can't help myself. After reading all the PRO-GUN hype and hysteria commentary on this particular piece of Yahoo journalism... couldn't help adding my own $0.02:

Why can't people understand that you can't be a MAN in America unless you have a gun? Is that too hard to understand? American men can't feel safe, secure and masculine without having a bigger gun than the guy standing next to him. It's all there in the Constitution! 

And you have to have one to be a good Christian, Jesus was all about his guns! He never backed down- always brought his piece, and wasn't scared to use it either.

I mean, come on, take away our guns... And we're nothing!!!

UPDATE: Anytime I leave a comment anywhere on guns, it's always followed by insults, threats, and more threats. This time... crickets!?!?

Monday, February 9, 2015

An Assistant's Tale

In the late seventies I had one very brief career run as NYC's least illustrious photo assistant. One Sunday after straggling in around 6AM, I got a call some two hours later from this studio photographer I worked for once before. Of course, no amount of money was gonna get my sleeping, still drunken ass all the way back into Manhattan. N-F-W. But he pleaded, and pleaded, and pleaded some more, and not having any solid work dates lined up, I gulped down major aspirin and dragged my sorry twenty year old butt back into the subway.

Long story short, I go to collect my forty bucks at day's end (the going rate then for second assistant) and the SOB tells me he's only going to pay me... thirty. After begging me to come in, on a Sunday no less, the guy's actually gonna stiff me ten miserly bucks when he should have been paying me double! I look at the guy incredulously, ask for my money again, and get the same response.

Clearly, I had lost this argument. Leaning into his desk, I smiled into his self satisfied mug, yanked the cord and repositioned his office typewriter onto my shoulder (that's right kids, computers were just a gleam in your mama's eyes), walked out the studio, and slept soundly every Sunday morning since.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Solid Gold!

And So It Goes...

Writer's block? Don't know, particularly since I can't exactly call myself a writer. Am I a better writer, or photographer? Wouldn't know, particularly since I don't exactly get compensated for either, save for that which I reward myself.

Most likely, it's more that I've said most of what I've wanted- save for what I've yet to... So until those times occur, however infrequently- tomorrow I'll do what all aging, has been bloggers do- revisit my youthful past (and I mean just that), and repost an all time, personal fave...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Anxiety Of Seismic Proportion...

You might feel a slight pinch.

Translation:  You are about to experience a piercing, penetrating pain in an extremely sensitive area.

You may experience some pressure.

Translation:  But you'll definitely feel a very pronounced and prolonged pain- so don't say that I didn't almost warn you.

Those are the inevitable and oft repeated threats I have accustomed myself to after year upon year of: cracks, crowns and fillings, et al.  But there's one I haven't quite conquered, the one far back in those reptilian recesses, the one that comes inexorably forward with every succeeding visit- because it could, just could, manifest into reality... 

What if THE BIG ONE just happened to hit right when he's plunging in the needle, or powering up the drill as you open up your widest so he can reach all the way back there?

Honestly, I try not to think of such things...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

All Ahead, Impulse...

This SOB cost me endless hrs, days... probably weeks to finally get right- Photo: © Stan B.
It's winter, and I usually undergo a quiet panic round this time each and every new year. When will I take my first worthwhile photo(s)? Every year, same story, guaranteed. And here in San Francisco, it's not even cold, so the pressure's even greater- in New York, you could always blame the weather. Fortunately, I've learned the photos will come on their own time, of their own accord (provided, of course, you do your part).

In the interim, I try to keep myself occupied, amused and somewhat productive. I explore my most recent monographs that I have yet to familiarize myself with, get busy with Photoshop, order my now traditional, 20in, annual print (see left)- and just generally try to hurry up and wait, and somehow calm the nerves. Addressing the latter, it's a guilty pleasure to catch up on: ShorpyTokyo Camera StyleIn Your BagBurn...

With the added realization that I probably won't be posting on Reciprocity Failure as regularly as before, comes both relief, and anxiety. Together with some serious familial obligations I'll have to begin attending to this year, well... I just ain't gonna can't sweat it.

And we'll go from there... Meanwhile, as someone has dutifully reminded me on a very timely basis, this is also the season when the opportunity to humiliate oneself is most nigh...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Robert Kalman- Portraits Of NYC

Recently, readers at TOP were treated to the work of Robert Kalman; and it's always one of the greatest kicks imaginable to come upon a relative unknown with a body of work that makes one actually stop and look- instead of just scan forever forward as we've become so accustomed in our current digital mindlessness.

Portraiture has always been one of the most difficult of photographic genres, perhaps because it is, in fact, such a collaborative effort. It's significantly easier to go out and make an anonymous landscape or street shot than it is to work together with subject at hand and have two divergent personalities combine to create a "work of art." And popular myths aside, while photographic portraits certainly can't reveal anyone's "soul," they can most definitely lie, deceive and manipulate every bit as much as any photographer or subject- whether intentionally or not; but I digress.

What good portraiture can deliver however, are striking images of individuals that capture our imagination and hold our attention, so much so, that we continue to wonder about the subjects long after we've stopped looking. Kalman's portraits in all their quality (and quantity) do just that, and unlike Avedon, he didn't have to go scouring about In The American West with a van load of assistants to find proper subjects. He does it without an entourage (other than his wife), in his own hometown.

What's that? You don't live in New York? Neither did Peter Feldstein- didn't stop him from shooting The Oxford Project. I make mention of the above, since so many photographers are not exactly privy to exotic locales, and must also work within the confines of (their own) very limited budgets. When all is said and done, it's the resulting images that matter, and fortunately, when it comes to portraiture- interesting subject matter can be had wherever humans can be found.


Unlike back in the day, I no longer need to know every detail of how and why someone shoots the things they do, now I mostly just... look at the work- it's the work that speaks and delivers. Every once in a great while however, I'm still captivated as to why and how someone operates- their motivations, philosophies, strategies, etc; whether it's how someone goes about attempting to photograph history, or how a young photographer goes about making an old tradition current and vital.

Intrigued by the hybrid approach and execution of Mr. Kalman's NYC street portraiture, I asked if he would agree to a brief interview, and he was kind enough to consent:

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: I suspect you're a native New Yorker. I'm always curious as to how natives perceive their fellow New Yorkers, how "immigrants" come to view their adopted hometown, and how it all relates to how one approaches and interacts with the denizens of Metropolis.

RK: You're correct; I'm a New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan and grew up in Queens (although most Manhattanites don't consider the outer boroughs as part of "The City").  I don't interact with the "denizens of Metropolis" any differently than people anywhere else in the world. I'm simply always on the look out for faces that move me; faces that have a certain quality of presence. I know that New Yorkers have a collective reputation for being cold, abrupt, wary and in a hurry, but my experience of the New York cultural identity has very little of that. Actually, when we stop a person in the street and ask if we can make their picture with a large format camera, rarely are we turned down. We show the person samples of our work, explain that it is an extended project and that we will send them a print. All that makes it a bit easier for them to agree. I find most people are flattered to be asked, and curious about the process. After all, there might be dozens of people passing by, and I've singled you out. (When I refer to "we" as in "we stop people," and "our" work, my wife, Linda, is my assistant. While I'm the one who selects the people I want to photograph, it's Linda who makes the initial approach. That's because it is much less threatening to have a woman do the asking. Plus, since she's from Kansas, she has this gentle mid-western demeanor that people find disarming.) What we've learned from making hundreds and hundreds of portraits in many different countries is that people everywhere are quite willing to share themselves with us and with the camera, as long as we are respectful and genuinely interested in them.

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: I noticed (thankfully) that there aren't a lot of overtly smiling faces in most of your portraits- is that a conscious decision?

RK: When you wake up in the morning and look at your face in the mirror, that is your authentic face. People tend to adopt a cheesy mask in front of the camera. When I make a portrait, what I'm after is the face that you typically present to the world, the face that initially drew me to you. So, yes, it's a conscious decision. What I'm after is an experience, for both the sitter and for myself. I want us to publicly connect for the brief, intimate moment we're drawn together. When I'm working with the person in front of the view camera I usually say to them, "Just look at me." Smiling simply isn't a desired or necessary part of the experience.

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: What makes you choose the people you do? Is there a certain look you're after with each individual, or are you cool with whatever they choose to present you? How many sheets do you average per individual; do you pretty much know when you've nailed it?

RK: As I said, I'm searching for presence. And the way I know that it's there is through a visceral response; words aren't sufficient to describe the feeling. I just know it. When I make portraits in the street, as a general rule, I only expose two sheets of film. This is something I learned from studying the portrait work of Joel Meyerowitz, who once wrote, "I need only one or two sheets of film and the patience to see it through." This usually works for me; I'm usually pleased with the results. 

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: I'm a big fan of including original text from subjects, it can lend so many additional layers of depth and meaning- one needs not look further than Jim Goldberg's landmark Rich And Poor, or Jeffrey Wolin's Written In Memory/Portraits Of The Holocaust. When did you decide to include the written component, and how do you think it adds to the overall strength of the portraits and presentation?

RK: In December 2010 I returned to a village in Nicaragua to do a series of portraits of people I had photographed twenty years before. In addition to making their photographs, I asked them to write about how their lives had changed or remained the same. Eventually, I incorporated their writing alongside their two portraits in a self-published book. I thought the writing created a poignancy and a deeper dimension to the work. Sometime in 2012 I started shooting 8x10 portraits in the street using white seamless as a background rather than my usual practice of incorporating the environment as part of the image. Although I liked the look of a neutral background, it seemed derivative; too much like Richard Avedon's pictures shot in the West in the 1980's. So I decided to move beyond the Avedon look by having the person write a brief autobiographical statement and then fashioning the words and picture into a diptych. At this point the portraits have evolved back to using the environment as background, but I've retained the practice of having the person write something.

For me, the writing alongside the portrait works on a number of levels. Just as the portrait reveals something unique about the person, so does what they choose to reveal about themselves. Lately, the writing prompt is, "So, what's life like for you right now?" It elicits all sorts of deep and intimate responses. Moreover, each person uses the spatial constraint of the single sheet of paper in an idiosyncratic way; the size of their handwriting on the page reveals something about them, as well. When the writing is juxtaposed next to the image, I think it gives the viewer a greater opportunity to build meaning and inference about the person they're looking at.

Because I work with film, and I have to wait to see the result, I make it a practice to wait to read what the person writes until it's time to scan the writing into the computer. This allows me to be open to feelings of delight, surprise or disappointment when I finally read the subject's work. This is similar to what I may feel when I develop the film and view my own work: astonishment, pleasure or distress. Using their words with the portrait essentially makes us collaborators. And I find this extremely energizing.

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: What have you learned since you started this particular series, about: life, people, photography (especially in relation to the strengths and limitations of the medium)?

RK: I've learned that people from very different cultures can behave in very similar ways when standing for a portrait. The large format camera is almost like a third person,and its presence makes the experience for the sitter somewhat of an event. Consider for a moment how many photographs of you have been made in your lifetime. How many photographs of yourself can you look at and also recall the experience with the photographer? It’s my hope that years from now, when a person looks at the photo we made together, they'll remember that experience. I think the view camera helps make that happen. There is a physical limitation in  using the big equipment, however. While I can walk about with a 4x5 on a tripod perched off my shoulder and find subjects as we walk along, I have to plant the 8x10 in one spot and wait for people to come to me. Right now, I'm partial to the 8x10 so I'm living with that limit.

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: Finally, and forgive me, but I think it a fair question if only because of the current phenomena and the similarity, if only on the most superficial of levels- that is, how would you differentiate your work from say... something called- HONY? I find them one broad universe apart, but would be interested in how you would interpret and analyze the two. I've tried to be fair and not quite so critical, but Stanton's purely feel good, snapshot imagery often seems to undermine and devalue the very strength of the narrative that he is supposedly trying to emphasize. Or perhaps, that is, in fact, the strategy all along- bite sized pieces of occasionally somber narrative balanced by the accompanying happy shots, so that no one walks away thinking too much or feeling too down.

RK: Someone that I photographed recently posted this comment on her Facebook page: “Before there was Humans of New York, there was Robert Kalman, who saw us walking down 6th Ave in the W. Village back in 2009 when I was pregnant with Mariel. He was doing a photo book of interracial couples- would we pose for him?”

Every so often while we're photographing in the street, people ask if we are "Humans of NY." I find this mildly amusing since what Brandon Stanton is trying to accomplish is very different from my outcome. Clearly Stanton has very successfully tapped into an emotional link for people who want to "humanize" New Yorkers. People who appreciate Stanton's work appear willing to set aside their notion of the New York stereotype and make an empathic connection. I think his work is more about  the person's story than their picture. I've seen You Tube clips of Brandon talking about his work and he acknowledges that he's only been shooting portraits for a few years. What seems to drive him is his passion to meet strangers, get at their story and make that story accessible through the Internet. Shooting the portrait seems merely how he breaks the ice so that he can conduct an interview. It's clearly worked out for him; his pictures and stories have great popular appeal.

For me, however, it's the image of a compelling face that matters most, followed by the relationship and experience I have with the sitter. The words that my subjects offer are confined to a limited space and are presented side by side as a diptych with their image. I think having the words displayed in the person's own handwriting creates a gestalt that is more intimate and unique than the HONY design concept. I guess I just have to wait to have the public figure that out so that I can have my work become as widely shown as Mr. Stanton's.

Photo: © Robert Kalman

SB: Has there been any interest from any institutions on the publication or exhibition of your work; a possible Kickstarter drive or the like?

RK: Some of my work has lately come to the attention of a few galleries through contests that I’ve entered, but I'm possibly the oldest emerging photographer on the planet. One of these days someone will be pleased to discover my work and represent me. Until that happens, I just hope people buy my art before I'm dead.

SB: Robert, thank you for the effort involved in creating this window of insight into what is always the work in progress we call "New York City." And I sincerely hope that discerning eyes considerably higher up the food chain will soon recognize and acknowledge your work for its sheer visual merit, and the diverse cultural and historical relevance it so effectively documents and celebrates.