Friday, February 28, 2014

Ecuador travel tips

Av Pedro Vincentemaldanado, Quito, 2014

1. If you arrive in Quito after 1 am, just follow signs toward the city. Maybe you'll find a hotel. Or not. The airport is about 45 minutes by car from the city center. Sometimes the road is closed without warning, in which case you'll be diverted onto the Pan American highway with no chance to make a U-turn for many many miles. 

2. When you bruise your big toe in Ecuador and go to a farmacia for painkillers, the best solution will be generic ibuprofen, sold for 50 centavos apiece in convenient 800 mg horsepill size. It takes a lot of water to get one down. Pop one of these every 12 hours and your toe will stop throbbing. Your body will stop hurting. You won't feel a thing all week.

3. If you want to make a fortune, open a store in Ecuador selling child strollers. They have all sorts of ways to carry kids, slung on the back or limply over a shoulder or just held in front. But they haven't yet discovered pushing-in-front-on-wheels.  

4. The place in Quito to find prostitutes is on the corner of Guayacil and Vicente Rocafuerte across the plaza from Santo Domingo Church. But this won't be listed in any guidebook. And they don't like being photographed.

5. Cars in Ecuador come with codes to deter theft. Before turning the key in the ignition, you'll need to type this five digit code into a keypad on the keyring. If the car stalls, type it again. 

6. Public elections in Ecuador are held on Sundays. For the three day period beginning Friday and ending on election eve, you cannot buy alcohol anywhere in the country. If you ask why, someone will explain in Spanish that it's to deter intoxicated voting. But they will speak too fast and you won't understand. Something about Domingo and cerrado? But por qué? So you'll try to buy alcohol somewhere else and get turned down again and again many times throughout the weekend. The bar in the Holiday Inn Express on Orellana Ave will sell you black-market beer if you look like a confused tourist. 

7. Try encebollado at your own risk.

8. To cut down on traffic congestion, certain cars are prohibited from driving during rush hour in Quito. Every day of the week, it's a different license plate number. Numbers ending in 0 or 1 can't drive Fridays for example. If you ignore this rule, playing the stupid tourist card won't keep you from getting a ticket.

9. Have you ever wondered what happened to all those dollar coins you never see, like the Sacagewea dollar or the George Washington dollar? They're in Ecuador. The dollar is the official currency, and Ecuadorans are quite happy to use these coins alongside their own centavos. Not only does Ecuador enjoy a stable currency, they have another country minting their coins for free. Very smart. 

10. The island of Isabela in the Galapagos was used as a penal colony in the years following World War II. It now hosts a thriving colony of tourists and ex-pats. With no natural predators, the small gringo colony threatens to spread unchecked.

Friday, February 14, 2014

6 ♥

A few found hearts from 2005-2009. Happy V-Day to all you lovers out there, including my wife who spent today lying on a beach 3,000 miles away, or maybe in a bar, or both, but either way definitely with a few margaritas. True love knows no distance. But that's what happens as a relationship ages. You find yourself taking his and her vacations, because getting someone to watch the kids for a week is tough. You wouldn't wish that task on your worst enemies. So unless you want to take a his and his and his and his and hers vacation, you wind up trading off, a week here, a week there. Maybe when they're grown up and out of the house you can finally spend time together a beach somewhere with faces buried in his and her books. But by that time you'll probably be dead. Relax! I'm kidding. Relax on the beach. The more likely scenario is you're just too tired to motivate. And if you can organize something it will probably be a quick flight to visit the kids! Of all places to go! You've put your time in, the world is your oyster, you've earned it. And you go there? Believe me, they don't even want you. How are they going to seduce the cute neighbor with you on the guest cot? But you miss them. Because that's fucking love, man. Right there, that's it. Several trips around the sun together. A visit to Ecuador next week. And a few found hearts. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sochi Index

If photographers were built like Olympic speed skaters...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mario Cuic: What Was He Thinking?

Mario Cuic is a photographer based in Germany.

The picture was taken after my first exhibition with Seconds2Real in Berlin in 2011. At night after the vernissage I had some beer with the guys. The next day with a little hangover we had the plan to do some walking around Berlin. I met Siegfried Hansen and Guido Steenkamp. We weren't focused on the surroundings. We were more talking than taking pictures. At the Potsdamer Platz, suddenly we remembered the reason we walking around. Everyone went straight on his own way to look for something. I still didn’t really feel it, and I searched for a nice place to have a rest. I found a striking yellow cable cover with a breaker box and sat on it hoping that something might be happen soon. After 15 minutes, nothing had happened. I became inattentive. Precisely when I decided to leave I saw this boy far away, wearing a jacket with a conspicuous yellow zipper. Perfect, I told myself and prayed that he came in my direction close to the yellow cable cover. My prayer was heard. The boy came directly to the yellow cable cover. I waited with the viewfinder in front of my eye for a good moment. I think I took 3 shots. During the second shot, the boy steped over the cable cover and looked straight into my lens. The surrounding people are also mostly in good position. I smiled, the boy didn't stop. He walked away and my hangover was gone.
The picture was taken at Oktoberfest in Munich, one of the biggest and famous beer festivals in the world. Every year since 2008 I've taken one week free from work to photograph Oktoberfest. On my way to the festival area and befitting my Croatian nativity and to be on the same beer level as the other people I had also a beer with me. In my left hand the beer and in the right hand my camera but as ever looking for some stuff to happen or some absurdity. In a second there was one of these absurdities. The scene came and vanished as quick as it had come. I had a small timeframe and managed to take two shots. One frame is without the woman and in the other frame is the woman on the right edge. I liked the situation, how she looks at the guys and carrying the big bag like a nanny. In this situation I had a tribute to the beer and acted clumsy because I didn’t notice that the small carrying strap of the rangefinder covered the lens just in the moment of the shot. As result, you can see the strap on the right side on the picture. No more beer, I swear! 

The picture was taken on my standard “photo walking” route in Munich. At this time nearly every other day I have a walk with my camera. The camera hungs as always ready over my shoulder and I am absolutely focused and observe the surroundings for interesting stuff. I passed over a bus stop and didn’t notice the guy with the porn magazine. Instead I noticed an old woman who was probably waiting for the bus and sitting beside this guy and could not stop watching him. She was totally excited and could not believe what happened here. The situation was strange. I didn't stop and went inconspicuously further directly behind the bus stop station. From this position I could see what made the lady so excited. The guy was absolutely deep in his porno magazine and didn't care about the old lady and the surroundings. I made two shots, one with and one without the lady. Both frames were good but I decided to show the picture without the woman because it already describes the situation in the best way and I don’t want present the face of the old lady in combination with the porno magazine. I was more interested to show the guy who was reading pornos in public and nothing could put him out of countenance. I also didn’t care about his behavior and I was happy that I finished my tour with a photographic orgasm.
This picture was also taken on my standard “photo walking” route in Munich. As I mentioned before, every other day I am on my way with my camera to find something intresting. Suddenly I was in the middle of a public demonstration with young people. They demonstrated the GEMA, a German agency which is currently being controversially discussed in public. The GEMA collects fees for playing copyrighted music in public. In any case, all the kids were very pleasant and I enjoyed their company. I took some pictures of the mass and I was looking for new perspectives. That's why I climbed the stairs to a monument behind the demonstration. I arrived upstairs and noticed the handmade warning sign. I liked the selfmade sign and I decided to compose a picture with it. The sign would be the focus of the frame and the background would be the people. I thought, “Hopefully something interesting might happen to make the picture perfect." And Bam, I got it. I was right and in luck. I finished composing, and one second later the guy was with his hand in the picture. That was it. I took one shot and was happy.
The picture was taken in Munich. In my company I work a two-shift system and on this day I worked the late shift. Before I went to work I had two important appointments. In a hurry and thinking don’t be too late to work, I was running from the first appointment to the second one. Inattentive and lost in thought and thinking about the second appointment. From the corner of my ey and in a hurry I saw this woman sitting behind a piano. This situation was awesome and curious. In this moment I forgot my appointment and started the long time trained procedure. I took my camera (I never leave my home without a camera), ran to the best position for taking a good frame and took two or three shots. During the last shot the woman noticed me and looked straight into my lens. I smiled at her and walked away.
The picture was taken in Munich on a Sunday. On this day my girlfriend Steffi and I got up quite late, and we had no idea what we should do for the rest of the day. But I already had a solution, go out and do some photography and search for some curiosity. We rode the subway into the city. During the ride we had a discussion about photography about different styles, about personal devolopment and how important it is to edit etc... As ever when I'm talking philosophy I sound like a schoolteacher and my girlfriend rolled her eyes (but thats a different story). We left the subway, and I already started to set the camera to be ready. We went 10 meters, and as it always happens, from one second to another, there was the scene with the guy, like out of nowhere. I went as fast as I could to the best position and did three shots from the lateral view. The situation was not changed and I was not so satisfied with the frames. I changed my position and took two additional shots. When I finished, the scene was almost gone. Lucky enough with the shots we walked away.
The picture was taken in Munich. It was a hot Sunday and I went on my standard “photo walking” route through Munich always looking for anything interesting to photograph. I stopped at a café and ordered an iced coffee. At the same time, approximately 100 meters away, the railway from the tram was being rebuilt. This situation raised my interest and I watched the situation about 10 minutes sitting in front of my coffee. After finishing the iced coffee I walked closer to the construction area. I went behind the barrier of the construction and looked toward the workers, to see if something interesting happened. Just at this moment, a new construction worker group displaced the other ones. It was shift change. One of the workers went suddenly to a political advertisement with a marker and started to paint out a tooth. Fortunately, I was in the right place. I went quickly to him and took two shoots. As fast as everything starts, in the same way the scene passed by. No one recognized me and I was so glad about my luck that I decided to stay and to have a second iced coffee.
This picture was taken in Munich. As often happens, I met my friend Holger in the city. By the way he is a great camera freak, and can speak endless hours about gear. I went to him, to present my different replacement lens for my broken lens that I bought for my rangefinder. After some time having a coffee and endless loooooong conversation, I had the urge to do a good thing and take shots with the gear. We took the subway and rode two stations. Always prepared, I set the camera properties before I left the station. My friend stayed in the subway station and took some shots in it but for me the scene in the station was not as interesting. I went outside and saw the scene which starts right now. I got in position to take some shots. During the last shot, the guy was directly looking into my lens. That made the picture more exciting for me. I lowered my camera, smiled at the guy and left. By the way, did I mention I sold the objective later because it was toooo heavy.
This picture was taken in Hamburg. I was there for a weekend trip visiting my friend Siegfried Hansen. We had great conversation and did a lot of photography in Hamburg. We talked about taking pictures, how to frame, the personal lost in pictures combined with tunnel vision, about the meaning of our pictures taken in the past, and the development process. With Siegfried I always have nice conversations about personal development. After a long walk, the day was almost over and we reached the neighborhood Hamburg Hafencity near the river Elbe. This neighborhood was renewed in the last few years and now it presents itself in a shining and futuristic design particularly suitable for shooting. We went quietly through the crowd. And it happened again, some scene that I was hoping to find for the entire day began to develop slowly in front of me. I saw the different characters and I liked the wall and I went straight to the place. I took 3-4 shots as the scene disappeared. I smiled to the people and walked slowly away. Later I found Siegfried nearby and we walked away.
This picture was taken in Frankfurt. I went to Frankfurt because of an exhibition which I was interested to see at the Museum für Moderne Kunst. For the rest of the weekend I planned sightseeing and photographing across all neighborhoods of Frankfurt. I met a friend of mine, Andrea Diener who also does some photography. So we walked together through the busy passageways of Frankfurt. The half day was already over and we got into some trouble with a guy who was not enthusiastic about the fact that Andrea took a picture of him. Some handsome words and complex and well trained negotiation skills helped us to find a solution and the world was safe in peace and love. ;) Already dusk was approaching when we arrived a construction site where I saw this "bike". I got a nice picture in my mind and thought about "what might happen here". I want to make some shot, but the traffic was heavy and I had to be very careful and fast to avoid a shot from a car and myself on the top of a hood. That's why I had to be very fast. I ran to the point, and took two shots with different image buildups.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Two wild and crazy guys

A comparative selection of diary entries by Chris Burden and Edward Weston —excerpted from Chris Burden's Extreme Measures and Edward Weston's The Daybooks with winners of each round judged by me to have best exhibited the spirit of exploration, wild abandon, and Joie de Vivre

(Burden) November 19, 1971 - At 7:45 pm I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.

(Weston) Sunday, January, 1924 - Lunch under the pines —tortillas, hot from the ashes of a bonfire, frijoles y carne, and plenty to drink —tequila y cerveza. The Mexicans had with them, naturally, their guns. "Let us shoot, but save a few rounds, we may need them on our return!" said Galvan. He placed a ping-pong ball forty feet away and pierced it the first shot from his pistola. The Mexicans broke beer bottles with much cracking of guns and threw knives with accuracy, but I bested them in jumping.

Round One: Burden                                     

(Burden) October 3, 1971 -  The piece began when I took of my clothes (jeans and a t-shirt) and lay on the floor on my back. A friend hammered a star-shaped stud into my sternum. I then sat in a chair and had all my hair cut off. Finally, I dressed in some FBI clothes I had bought for the piece.

(Weston) December 6, 1925 - Brett and X. and I sat down to the table for dinner together. There was a half keg of beer which we tapped —with unforeseen consequences, for not always from a few glasses of beer does one attain such hilarity. But it was a day forecast for inebriety, Bacchus in the ascendancy, and we honored him well! First X.'s eyes began to roll heavenward, then Brett suddenly turned his beer upon the bread and with a gesture quite as bombastic as a matador tossing his velvet hat, let fly the empty glass over his shoulder. There was no work that afternoon, but singing, dancing, grandiloquent words and nonsense. Brett was a burlesque worth a price of admission: we wept from laughter…

Round Two: Weston                                     

(Burden) January 14, 1972  - I was asked to do a piece on a local television station by Phyllis Lutjeans. After several proposals were censored by the station or by Phyllis, I agreed to an interview situation. I arrived at the station with my own video crew so that I could have my own tape. While the tape was in progress, I request that the show be transmitted live. Since the station was not broadcasting at the time, they complied. In the course of the interview Phyllis asked me to talk about some of the pieces I had thought of doing. I demonstrated a TV hijack. Holding a knife at her throat, I threatened her life if the station stopped live transmission. I told her that I had planned to make her perform obscene acts. At the end of the recording, I asked for the tape of the show. I unwound the reel and destroyed the show by dousing the tape with acetone. The station manager was irate, and I offered him my tape, which included the show and its destruction, but he refused.

(Weston) Monday, October, 1926 -- I smashed my camera to the tune of thirty pesos. Brett thought I had hold — I thought he had. It fell from tripod height to the cement floor of Museo Nacional. I just stood and looked at it….A sitting today — must try to find some half-decent clothes to don. Funny people who think a good photographer, or a good anything, must have money!

Round Three: Burden                                     

(Burden) November 12, 1972  - At 8 p.m. I lay down on La Cienega Boulevard and was covered completely with a canvas tarpaulin. Two fifteen minute flares were placed near me to alert cars. Just before the flares extinguished, a police car arrived. I was arrested and booked for causing the reporting of a false emergency. The trial took place in Beverly Hills. After three days of deliberation, the jury failed to reach a decision, and the judge dismissed the case.

(Weston) June, 1924 - I took Olga to her first bullfight…The fourth bull brought death to a novillero; he had killed the first bull in fine style, received acclaim and the bull's diana. They try so hard, these novilleros, to please, to show their skill and daring, to win their spurs. He met the bull's charge on his knees. He was caught and gored. He lay so quiet in the sand as the bull rushed over him toward the frantic capes which could not save him now. They carried him from the arena —his head stretched back.

Round Four: Burden                                     

(Burden) April 23, 1974 -  Inside a small garage on Speedway Avenue. I stood on the rear bumper of a Volkswagen. I lay on my back over the rear section of the car, stretching my arms onto the roof. Nails were driven through my palms into the roof of the car. The garage door was opened and the car was pushed halfway out into the speedway. Screaming for me, the engine was run at full speed for two minutes. After two minutes, the engine was turned off and the car pushed back into the garage. The door was closed.

(Weston) November 12th, 1925 - I was shaving when A. came, hardly expecting her on such a gloomy, drizzling day. I made excuses, having no desire, no "inspiration" to work. I dragged out my shaving, hinting that the light was poor, that she would shiver in the unheated room: but she took no hints, undressing while I reluctantly prepared my camera….And then appeared to me the most exquisite lines, forms, volumes, —and I accepted, —working easily, rapidly, surely.

Round Five: Weston                                     

(Burden) April 11, 1975 -- My performance consisted of three elements: myself, an institutional wall clock, and a five-by-eight inch sheet of plate glass. The sheet of glass was placed horizontally and leaned against the wall at a forty-five degree angle; the clock was placed to the left of the glass at eye level. When the performance began the clock was running at the correct time. I entered the room and reset the clock to twelve midnight. I crawled into the space between the glass and the wall, and lay on my back. I was prepared to lie in this position indefinitely, until one of the three elements was disturbed or altered. The responsibility for ending the piece rested with the museum staff, but they were unaware of this crucial aspect. The piece ended when Dennis O'Shea placed a container of water inside the space between the wall and the glass. Forty-five hours and ten minutes after the start of the piece, I immediately got up and smashed the face of the clock with a hammer, recording the exact amount of time that had elapsed form beginning to end. 

(Weston) February 3, 1927 - Peter's party was one of the gayest ever. Dressed as a fine lady, evening gown and trimmings, I had a chance to burlesque the ladies, and did. The "bootlegger" failed us, but we did not miss him. Only dawn ended the fun. Peter made great cartoons which covered the walls; they were far more than jokes, he achieved creative expression. One was of E. W. with his camera, another Dr. Frankl, knife in hand, after decapitating a patient. Galka Scheyer had begged my leather breaches, putees, pistol and Texano, so I got in exchange her outfit even down to panties, and a marvelous make-up job to boot. As a ravishing woman I was a success with the women.

Round Six: Weston                                     

(Burden) March 1979 - I was invited to Vancouver for  a week to be a visiting artist by the Emily Carr College of Art and Simon Fraser University. Rather than meet with students to present and discuss my past work in a teaching context, I request that I be provided with a  wheelbarrow, a shovel, and pickax. On the first day of my visit, I immediately began, in a vacant lot that had bee provided for me, to dig a straight ditch about two and a half feet wide and three feet deep. Each following day students could find me digging from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. I did not have a specific length or goal, except that I would be digging during the times of day that I had designated. Occasionally, someone would offer to dig for me, but after trying for a few minutes they would return the job to me.

(Weston) November 14, 1925 - This afternoon billions of diamonds fell from the sky. The sun shone upon a terrific hail storm backed by leaden thunder clouds. Arched high over all, framing the downpour of brilliants were two complete rainbows. We were printing in the little dark-room on the azotea. Hail stones attacked our paper-roof like fire from machine guns: work became impossible from actual confusion of the senses.

Round Seven: Weston                                     

(Burden) March 21, 1979  - For one hour, live on FM radio, I repeatedly asked the listeners to "consider the possibility of sending money directly to me, to Chris Burden, 823 Oceanfront Walk, Venice, California, 90291." Interjected between my continues appeals to send money directly to me at my address, I would explain that I was not selling anything and that I was not part of any charitable or religious organization. I emphasized that I was not asking for two or three big individual contributions, rather, I wanted everyone to send me a little, even as little as a quarter. I tried to emphasize that working together they could make me rich, and that their loss would be invisible, whereas my gain would be substantial. 

(Weston) Monday, November, 1924 - After experiencing the ever-recurrent condition of being "broke", I have sold two prints: "Palma Cuernavaca", and a nude; besides, I have four definite dates for sittings. Such prosperity is overwhelming!…Tomorrow I dine at a luncheon in honor of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. God knows his name —I don't— but duty calls. In preparation I trimmed the fringe from my trousers and borrowed a hat from Rafael. Now to buy a collar and I shall be ready for the fray.

Round Eight: Burden                                     

(Burden) June 19, 1974 - At twelve noon I was kicked down two flights on concrete stairs in the Mustermesse at the public opening of the Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland. I lay down at the top of the stairs and Charles Hill repeatedly kicked my body, which fell two or three steps at a time.

(Weston) November 26, 1928 - I am having another reactions, from my statement that I could go through life with one woman! Ridiculous thought! Imagine never again having the thrill of courting, —the conquest,— new lips to find, —new bodies to caress. It would be analogous to making my last print, nailing it to the wall forever, seeing it there, until I would despise it or no longer notice it was there. No! — let me stay free!

Round Nine: Weston                                     

(Burden) April 26-30, 1971 - I was locked in a locker for five consecutive days and did not leave the locker during this time. The locker measured two feet high, two feet wide, and three feet deep. I stopped eating several days prior to entry. The locker directly above me contained five gallons of bottled water. The locker immediately below me contained an empty five-gallon bottle.

(Weston) February 18, 1930 - I worked with a newly discovered group of eroded rocks, —some in quite different forms than any I have done before: making twelve negatives from 9:00 to 5:00, with no rest but a ten minute plunge in the ocean, naked, of course, —then  more drying in the hot sun.

Round Ten: Weston                                     

Friday, February 7, 2014

Used Book Reviews

Thomas Consilvio - Snapshooters (1973)

Consilvio is probably best known as Winogrand's printer, and this book won't do anything to improve on that legacy. It's a series of b/w snaps from the 1970s focused around the idea of snapshooting --each photo is of someone taking a photo. I don't know, maybe the concept seemed promising at the time. Somehow it got the green light. But the material here is tired and uninspiring, and the most unfortunate irony is that the printing is lousy. A book for the Winogrand completists maybe. Others should steer clear.

Tipper Gore - Picture This (1996)

Tipper Gore's first job was as a photojournalist for the Nashville Tennessean. She set her career aside as family and politics assumed a larger role in her life, but kept shooting photos for herself. The results are mixed. This book has a little bit of everything, from family snapshots to humanitarian missions to political galas, joined together with short reflections by Tipper. The twist that gives her photos some kick is her incredible access. There are a few photos here of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and their inner circle that would've been difficult for any regular photographer to get. But she was there on the scene, usually with camera. The photos hold interest only as far as their subject matter goes. Probably most appealing to political junkies or curiosity seekers.

Eric Paddock - Belonging To The West (1996)

Who the fuck is Eric Paddock and why haven't I heard of him? Those were my immediate questions after finding his monograph buried in the stacks as Smith. This is a gorgeous book all around, carefully designed and written, with enough white space around each image to simulate a museum experience. But none of that would matter if it weren't for the photos. They're a real treat. Colorado color landscapes which remind me of Stephen Shore, Gregory Conniff, or Missy Prince. Actually the central influence here is probably Robert Adams, and indeed he contributes an excited blurb on the rear cover —"visionary work..." But these pictures are craftier than Adams and probably more accessible. I love books like this that come out of nowhere and hit me on the head before they're quickly forgotten again. Turns out Eric Paddock is now a photography curator in Denver. Not sure if he's still making photos.

Tim Davis - The New Antiquity (2009)

Rome and the Italian landscape get the Tim Davis treatment. That means nothing fancy, few "moments", just sharply seen vernacular grabs. Davis has a nose for material and knows how to put a photo together. That much is beyond dispute. But I can't help wondering if he's preaching to the converted. The main audience for this work is probably a small group of other elite photographers who shoot in the same style. But when it comes down to it, that's something. In fact it's probably as much as any photographer can hope for. You work your ass off creating wonderful pictures and for what? So Tipper Gore can outsell you? So your precious baby can be forgotten and wind up in some used book review? Goddamn. I need a drink.

Gary Stochl - On City Streets (2005)

This guy was Vivian Maier before there was a Vivian Maier. Self taught and working in isolation, he wandered into a curator's office in 2003 with a box of Chicago street photos. The result was this book. I think we all know the drill by now, b/w street, Tri-X, a 50 mm lens on an M3, looking for downtown moments. On the whole Stochl was pretty good at it. Not worldclass — certainly not in Maier's class— but definitely talented. There are a few photos here which are absolute killers. If you're into street photography it's probably worth buying the book just to have them. But for me On City Streets has too many photos which don't achieve liftoff. It took 40 years to get these? He does the Ray Metzker thing dividing light and dark. Then he does it again. And so on. Recommended if you're into street photos, Chicago or fairy tale discoveries. Not for others.

Brad Zellar - Suburban World - The Norling Photos (2008)

There has been a glut of books in recent years re-examining and recontextualizing old photographs. Suburban World is one of the better ones. Norling was town photographer in Bloomington, Indiana during the 50s and 60s. He was seemingly everywhere with a camera, documenting civic functions, accidents, sporting events, and everything in between. His photographs, discovered in a basement by Zellar in 2002, depict a typical town life in snapshots. But the photographs here aren't just historically valuable. They are consistently entertaining as photographs, on a par with Teenie Harris, Weegee, Metinides, or other civic shooters. How much of that is due to Norling's genius and how much to Zellar's careful editing is unclear. In any case it works. As a sidenote, this is the first published collaboration between Zellar and Soth (he wrote the forward) before they teamed up later for LBM Dispatches. 

Richard Simpkin - Richard & Famous (2007)

What started off as a lark —a snapshot with a touring rock group —became a lifelong mission for Simpkin. Over the next two decades Simpkin's goal was to track down and have himself photographed with as many celebrities as possible. I care nothing about celebrity, but even I can grudgingly admire his achievement. The volume and range of portraits here is extraordinary. Each one comes with a little story about how he got the shot. In fact the book's intro offers tips for those hoping to get their own celebrity portraits. The fascinating subtext is the life of Simpkin. In the earliest photos he is a pre-teen. By the end of the book (2007) he's in his thirties. We come to realize that these photos aren't so much about famous faces but about Simpkin's development. Although marketed as a cheesy Hollywood exposé, this book could fit into the Kessels In Almost Every Picture series.

Betsy and Jeffrey A. Wolin Stirratt - Peek  (2000)

Culled from 75,000+ photos in the Kinsey archives, the selections here transform one of the most compelling and widely relatable aspects of human life —Sex— into a medical catalog of possibilities. All manner of sexual combination, taste, and behavior is represented. Some of the photos are fascinating. Others are rather exhausting. All are presented in a spirit of scientific inquiry reminiscent of the Burns Archive photographs. In other words these sex shots are not very sexy.  Most will kill the mood while leaving you curious to see more. Sex? Who has time for sex when there are photos to see.

Ken Graves & Michael Payne - American Snapshots (1977)

Compilations of old found photos are a dime a dozen now but back in 1977 that wasn't the case. I'm not sure if this was the first one but it was definitely a pioneer. Grave and Payne found material by going door to door and asking for old photos. They unearthed some gems. Unfortunately the book's print quality is stuck in the muddy 1970s, and now the material itself has been surpassed by the found-photo revolution (by Robert E. Jackson, for example). Maybe its time has passed. Nevertheless, with historical value, some great photos, and available on Amazon for a penny, what's there to lose?

Jerry L. Thompson - The Last Years of Walker Evans (1997)

The title says it all. This a memoir written by a student/assistant of Walker Evans during the last few years of Evans' life when his photographic reputation was once again on the rise after years of dormancy. The prose is entertaining and readable, not too academic. It reads more like a diary than photo essay. For Evans fans it's full of factoids, tips, and anecdotes. For the more general reader it's a nice summation of a fertile period in the 1970s when photography was undergoing seismic shifts. Mostly text, but contains many photos (several Polaroid) by Evans and some by Thompson.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Non-discussion topic

Photographers are like magicians. They don't reveal their tricks. A photo is supposed to carry its own weight without any help from words. No explanation. No story. Even a descriptive caption is considered poor form. Instead, the classic photo caption simply lists place and time. Or sometimes just Untitled

Why? Because ambiguity is a key component in photography. One viewer might see one thing in a photo. Another person might see something completely different. Maybe that kitten was about to conquer New York. Or maybe it was just a twist of perspective. Maybe the whole thing was created in Photoshop. Who knows? Without extra information, all you've got to go on is what's visible in the frame, and we all know photos can lie. And lies are wonderful. Lies are magic. That's why instead of adding to a photo, an explanation can often take something away from it. 

So you can see why photographers are often reluctant to discuss their images. When I've been turned down for my What-Was-He-Thinking? series, it's been for that reason. Photographers want to preserve some mystery.

And that's cool. I can dig that. But...

I also love it when photographers discuss their images. It's a view behind the curtain. Such commentaries are relatively rare —maybe that explains my fascination with them— but I've encountered two great publications in the past few weeks which break the photographic taboo and discuss pictures freely. Both are out of Germany. 

The first is romka magazine, a journal entirely dedicated to What-Was-He-Thinking? style essays. It's simply various photographers telling the stories behind selected photos. 

Romka's been around for a few years, steadily improving with each iteration. After a few years as an online entity, the last few issues have been available in print. I've got #7 and  #8 and both are great. 

The mix of material is consistently diverse. Photographers range from amateur to professional, from anonymous to notorious, and represent all corners of the globe. There are some photo stars included, but the celebrity factor is muted. The focus is on the stories. Some of the essays are as short as a few sentences. Some go on for pages. There's no rhyme or reason as far as I can tell, but each issue is entertaining. And the production quality improves with each one. Number eight, the most recent issue, is the slickest yet. Glossy pages, clever design, Joscha Bruckert and crew have got it going on.

If you want a taste, see for yourself. Most photo/essay combos from past issues are available online.

The other book I've stumbled on recently is Juergen Teller's Pictures and Text. I can't remember where I first learned of it. Through Alec Soth? But somehow it wound up on my photobook list, where it sat for a while before getting caught up in my annual book gleaning last December. And I'm sure glad it did. It's an awesome book.

Juergen Teller is considered L'enfant terrible of the photo world for good reason. His work doesn't exhibit much taste or boundaries or humility. The style is casual, exhibitionist, over-exposed, and infantile. He photographs nudes in uncomfortable positions, such as groveling in garbage among puppies. Or laying in a wheelbarrow like compost. He uses silly props. He shoots himself a lot, sometimes with his anus pointed at the lens. And he's even convinced beautiful models to do the same.

But you know what? His schtick works. And I've grown to like his photos quite a bit. They're quite unpredictable. Sometimes near, sometimes far, sometimes serious but often not. I think his style might fit into 100 different portfolios. What I like best is he seems to be having fun. So if he's infantile he gets a pass. Because kids play. Kids laugh. And I can imagine Teller laughing while making these pictures. 

Pictures and Text contains several dozen photos accompanied by the stories behind them. The descriptions are sometimes absurd, often quite personal, and consistently interesting. Teller's writing style is simple and straight forward. Downright poetic actually, with not a hint of academic bullshit language. If the descriptions remove some ambiguity from the photos, they more than make up for that in entertainment value.

The photos in Pictures and Text originally appeared as a weekly series in ZEIT Magazine. I don't know much about ZEIT but I gather it's a general interest journal for intellectuals, roughly the German equivalent of the NY Times Sunday Magazine

As might be expected, Teller's photos created quite a backlash upon publication. Intellectuals like to think of themselves as open-minded...until they encounter a photographer's cock in their face while drinking morning coffee. That's just too far, dammit. Someone needs to write a letter of complaint!

A selection of these letters is contained in a side volume called Literature. They are just as entertaining as Teller's photo essays. Thin-skinned people are one of the great comic foils and I can imagine Teller laughing to himself while browsing his inbox. Their inclusion here is in keeping with Teller's unconcealed in-your-face style. Instead of reacting to the letters or attempting to put his spin on them, Teller simply presents them as-is. He's a magician on stage performing tricks right in front of you. There's nowhere to hide. But you still can't figure out how he does it.