Saturday, February 28, 2009

What To Do? #17

49. SE 10th and Belmont, Portland, 2002

50. SE 12th and Hawthorne, Portland, 2003

51. SE 12th and Hawthorne, Portland, 2005

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished b/w photos from my archives)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoughts on Gearon

Tierney Gearon's Explosure series has gotten nice attention lately, with glowing reviews here, here, and here among other places. Add my name to the list of fans. Many of these images are simply mind blowing. Not to mention she has a kick-ass name. Tierney Gearon. Teirney Gearon. Tierney Gearon. It rolls off the tongue like a multiple exposure.

Frame 67, 2008 by Tierney Gearon

Gearon's work and the attention it has received sets the stage for an interesting mental experiment. Imagine that instead of creating her multiple exposures haphazardly in-camera, Gearon's had created the same images using Photoshop. The final images would be exactly the same, but the method of creation would be different. How would this effect our understanding of the pictures?

We don't have to look very far for an answer. Thousands of such images have been created by, for example, Pedro Meyer

Santa Paseo by Pedro Meyer

or Rajaram Sethuraman

Diwali by Rajaram Sethuraman

These photographs may be visually entertaining but I don't think you'll find them at Philips de Pury.

Back in the pre-digital days the same effects were achieved by Uelsmann. Although he was a wizard in the darkroom, for me Uelsmann's work hasn't aged particularly well. His photos are about as interesting as listening to someone describe their dream last night. A fun story but I tend to find waking life more compelling.

Untitled, 1983 by Jerry Uelsmann

So what's the difference with Gearon? Why should we treat her work differently?

To me, Gearon's photographs are the perfect example that process DOES matter. Her photographs are one thing with no supporting info, but when one learns how she made them they take on another dimension. You mean she made these by accident!? That's wonderful!

I don't think I'm alone in this viewpoint. Any time Gearon's images are shown in any format, it is always with a reference to Gearon's process. Process is important.

When I raised this exact point back in December it created shitstorm of comments. There are many many people out there who would disagree with me, who claim that only the image matters and not how it was arrived at. I will probably not change any minds with this post but to those people I would say consider the case of Tierney Gearon. Are her photographs the same as any Photoshopped collage? If the answer is no, then process matters.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It's on already?

From The New Yorker, February 28, 2005 by Alex Gregory

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pyramid scheme

Like some modern-day Linnaeus, DLK has attacked the chore of categorizing art blogs, and I think the results are pretty fascinating. DLK graphs various blogs by their how much they COMMENT, CURATE, or PROMOTE. The divisions may be simplistic yet they are surprisingly useful. Since reading the essay I've found myself examining my regular rounds of photoblogs in a new light, mentally assigning them to X or Y category. Here is DLK's chart.

One thing that seems missing from DLK's triangle is the diarist nature of some blogs. DLK would probably group this under the PROMOTE corner of its triangle, but to me it seems different. Writing about one's daily life isn't the same as putting your photos out there to promote sales. It seems to come more from an internal need and less to satisfy some exterior goal.

To encompass this personal aspect, I'd expand the DLK triangle into a tetrahedron with a REFLECT axis to show personal narrative.

The photoblogs I enjoy most are the ones toward the top of this pyramid, or at least raised up some from its base. 5b4 for example would be much less interesting if it weren't written from a first person perspective. It would be more of an academic study. Peter Kearns' blog is a perfect example of one which is interesting almost solely due to its personal nature. It doesn't have many photos or outside links, but he has a wonderful way of writing about his inner creative life. The counter-example is a blog like Flak Photo, which I'd find more appealing if it veered ever so slightly away from curation to reveal something, anything, about Andy Adams. I know he has good taste in photos but who is he? What makes him tick?

Every blog has a different balance and there is no one right recipe. I try to have a mix of all four in B, although perhaps leaning away from the PROMOTE corner. There, with that last sentence I've now put this post right in the center of the tetrahedron.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gadget alert

Some scenes are problematic to photograph for one reason or another. They're too fleeting, or too intimidating, or too easily altered by raising a camera to them. Or perhaps you live in a country with silly laws governing what can or can't be photographed. In such situations I've often wished I could take a photo just by blinking. Wouldn't it be nice to push some magic button and capture the moment through one's eyes without the hassle of a camera?

If you've ever wished this, your dreams may be about to come true.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Remembering the early 20s

It's been two months since Terry Toedtemeier's sudden death. I may be late reporting this but Craig Hickman has put a wonderful series of Toedtemeier portraits online here dating from roughly 1965 to 1972. Hickman and Toedtemeier grew up together in Portland, and some of these shots reach far back into boyhood. Even though I didn't know him well I found some of the photos pretty moving. Definitely worth a look for anyone involved in Portland's photo community.

St. Patrick's Day 2 by Craig Hickman

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What To Do? #16

46. Jerusalem, 2000

47. Portland, 2003

48. Portland, 2003

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished b/w photos from my archives)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Blue in the face

Check out this checkout shot:

Mirror #24 by Siegfried Hansen

I don't know the circumstances of the photo. I suppose it could be part of a project photographing supermarkets. But my guess is that it's plucked from daily life. Hansen was probably buying something at the market, saw this scene develop, and captured it perfectly.

To me this image is a reminder that potential photographs surround us constantly. Photography isn't something that can be stopped and started at different times throughout the day or the week like some assignment. Photography, at least the way I've come to practice it, is with me 100% of the time. For the past ten years I have never been without a camera. I'm guessing Hansen is the same.

There are admittedly some problems with this method. There are probably certain elements of life that are better approached without a camera, at least initially. When photography bleeds into every corner of one's world, nothing is sacred. Something is given up. I realize that. But that's just the way it has to be. I am no more able to turn on and off my photography than I am my breathing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Relatives revealed

For those of you keeping score at home, here are the answers to Quiz #10:

1. Diane Arbus
2. Tina Barney
3. Philip-Lorca diCorcia
4. Doug Dubois
5. Elliott Erwitt
6. David Hockney
7. Annie Leibovitz
8. Nicholas Nixon
9. Sylvia Plachy
10. Lee Friedlander
11. Stephen Shore
12. Larry Sultan

Although Robert Ashby didn't solve every clue he came closer than anyone. Robert, I'm willing to declare you the winner and send you a print if you email me your address.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Four shameless plugs

1. I've recently added this new section to my website.

2. I have a photo in the current issue of this magazine.

3. This site has recently been revamped, adding several hundred new photos to what was already a huge collection.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Encounters with my better halves

We're thinking of a visit to Quebec next summer and so I've begun the process of renewing my passport. The first step was the photo. Luckily my local camera shop performs this service and I was able to get it done there in less than five minutes. Here I am:

The thing you have to keep in mind about this photo is that it was a Saturday and I'd just taken my kids swimming at the Y so my hair was all chlorinated and maybe slightly ionized.

But to be honest this isn't too much different from my normal appearance. I decided during one of my first acid trips a long time ago that I was done caring how I looked, and that has proven to be one of the best decisions of my life. A real time saver.

It turns out there is one person on the planet who does care what I look like, and she reminds me of this fact fairly often. "You need to get that retaken," said Tab the first time I showed her the photo. She was worried that it would create hassles. "You look like a terrorist," she said. "Just like that Sheikh Mohammed guy. You know airport security is no joke." My wife had a point. To an authority figure, the photo might be a red flag. Maybe in this case my lack of grooming would not be a time saver.

On the other hand wouldn't security be more concerned with me than my photo? What if I showed up with chlorine hair but my photo showed me cleancut? Wouldn't that be a red flag? At least this way I was being honest with them, right? Isn't that what they like? She said she'd put it to a vote. We'd show the photo to my extended family and ask their advice. So that's where we're at now, waiting.

In the meantime I decided to test my new portrait on My Heritage, a site which tells you which celebrities you resemble. I thought my photo would be perfect for this, since I know that many people in show business go to great lengths to style their hair in a way that says they're too cool to worry about it. Tell the border agents that bedhead is totally in, baby!

According to My Heritage, the celebrity I most resemble is John Travolta. Travolta?! I think there may have been a bug in the program. I mean, come on. Travolta? There isn't a hair out of place on his head.

To my eye, a better match would be Gene Simmons or 50 Cent. Here, see for yourself. And, uh, you can call me Fitty B if you want from now on.

In the photography world the obvious precursor to these morphs is Nancy Burson's work in the early 80s combining faces. Not only did Burson create many powerful images but she was instrumental in developing the software behind it all. I wouldn't be surprised if the MyHeritage program was based on her code.

Nancy Burson, 1982

Isn't it amazing how far we've come? Back then you had to spend months coding in some obscure digital language, probably using a computer the size of a phone booth, to develop a grainy b/w morph. Now the whole process is accessible to anyone who spends five minutes on a website. A real time saver.

Monday, February 16, 2009

But will it fit in a back pocket?

Alex Gregory, from The New Yorker, March 10, 2008

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What To Do? #15

43. Eureka, CA, 2006

44. Civic Stadium, Eugene, 2007

45. Washington, DC, 2007

(What To Do? is a weekly installment of previously unpublished b/w photos from my archives)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How two former lovers shot each other

Ralph with Mask, 1972 by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen at Hotel Du Cap, Cap D'Antibes, 1977 by Ralph Gibson

Happy Valentine's Day to all.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Somewhere in Canada

Like the hook of a good melody, I've had this image by Thomas E. Gardiner lodged in my brain for about a week now.

I love everything about this photo: the strange vantage point looking slightly down its nose, the delicate composition of separate elements scattered deliberately through the photo, everything relating together yet shyly keeping to itself. I love the many layers from foreground to the horizon, the mix of natural and human landscape, and the fact that the shot seems to encapsulate an entire town in one image. And that plain red truck in the corner which anchors the whole damn thing is simply perfect.

Out shooting lately, this photograph has been my guide. I know it's futile to copy what's been done. But sometimes it's helpful to hold an image in the back of one's head as a sort of mental angel lighting the path.

Keep on truckin', Mr. Gardiner. Keep on truckin'...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Payne Fresco

Local photographer and good friend Payne Fresco has recently started a blog. Payne has been shooting and thinking about photos for a long time, and now some of his experiences will finally be shared online.

In Payne's own words, he is

"a photographer and part-time philosopher living in Filbert Springs, a small town located in the southern Willamette Valley. (Don’t worry if you can’t find it on the map.) At one time I was planning on being the world’s greatest photographer, but now I’ve set my sights lower."

Payne's blog reminds me of one of those cigarette vending machines you used to find in markets and malls back in the 70s before they realized it was an easy channel for kids to get hooked on tobacco. Well, if you substituted shiny pearls of wisdom for cigarettes, that would be Payne's blog. Did I mention his studio doubles as a freight truck?

Welcome to cyberspace, Payne!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quiz #10

Today's challenge is to identify photographers from portraits of their immediate relatives. For example, if I showed you the photo below with the clue Wife

the correct answer would be Harry Callahan, since the photograph is of his wife Eleanor.

Below are twelve such photographs showing close family relatives of prominent photographers. I've chosen a mix of blood relatives (who might be identified by facial features) and relatives by marriage, and a mix of well-known images and lesser known ones. Many of them were taken by the photographers themselves, in which case I've cropped the photo to disguise their style. Some are by unknown sources.

As always, the first complete set of correct answers (or in the case of group contributions, the last clue correctly identified) wins a free print. Good luck.

1. Daughter

2. Sister

3. Brother

4. Father

5. Wife and daughter

6. Mother

7. Mother

8. Wife

9. Grandparents

10. Son-in-law

11. Father-in-law

12. Mother

Monday, February 9, 2009

Just call him "O"

This photo ran in our local paper yesterday alongside a profile of Obama.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

The article was a general puff piece. It didn't require that particular image, just any old photo of Obama, which makes it all the more interesting that that photo was chosen.

Just three weeks into his presidency Obama has already been so mythologized that we hardly notice when he's given a halo. As with most depictions of Christ from a certain era, it's become a routine visual accessory.

Detail Showing Jesus Christ in the Fresco Cycle from the Upper Church of the Basilica of San Francesco by Giotto and Cimabue

Before the presidential seal became his backdrop, the Obama campaign logo was used for similar effect. A quick Google image search for "Obama Halo" turned up almost half a million images, many with links to rather bizarre citations. (Sorry for the lack of credits. They were difficult to trace)

Am I the only one worried that we may be burdening our president with impossible expectations? After all, look what happened the last time we anointed a holy man as our leader.