Saturday, December 29, 2007

more found



Friday, December 28, 2007

found from afar

I'm out of town visiting family for the second wave of Christmas, but I've got some scans of some of my favorite found photos here on my laptop.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

everything i love about photography is right in here

from the Post-Standard, Syracuse, New York, March 2, 2001


Frederick Jennis testified Thursday he walked toward two armed city police officers clutching an ax in his hand as a "symbol of justice" and was stunned when he ended up being shot twice.

"I never wanted to hurt anybody that day," Jennis said as he told his story to an Onondaga County Court jury for about 2 1/2 hours.

That jury was to hear closing arguments today from Assistant District Attorney James Cecile and defense lawyer Paul Carey and legal instructions from Judge Joseph Fahey before beginning to deliberate on whether Jennis is guilty of any criminal wrongdoing in the incident outside his home June 23. He is charged with five felonies, including attempted aggravated assault upon a police officer, and two misdemeanors.

Jennis, 41, of 104 Mooney Ave., admitted in court Thursday that he broke into the house next door to his residence, cut off the utilities, boarded up the doors, posted handmade condemnation signs and told the residents they could not go back inside.

But he repeatedly maintained his actions were a protest stemming from decades of frustration about not getting police and city officials to deal with what he said were drug dealers and other lawbreakers living in the neighboring residence.

"I remember the whole day quite vividly," he said, noting he had begun planning his attack on the house next door about a month earlier. He said he carried it out June 23 because it was a Friday and the three-month anniversary of his father's death.

Jennis detailed how he broke into the house by using a sledgehammer to get through a locked side door. He then told how he shut off the electricity, gas and water and took the utility meters to his garage.

Then he waited at his house for the neighbors to come home.

Jennis said he heard police arrive and he headed out his back door to meet them. He said he carried the ax as a symbol of justice based on a dream he had a decade ago.

"It's the spiritual gift I was given. I don't look at it as an item or a weapon or anything," he said.

He said he realized someone else might not see the ax in as benevolent a fashion as he did, and kept it lowered at his side as he began walking toward Officers Duane Rood and Jacquelyn Phinney in his driveway.

Why, Carey asked, didn't Jennis drop the ax when the officers drew their guns and began yelling at him to drop the weapon?

"That day I was trying to stand up for justice," Jennis replied. "I thought if I don't raise the ax, how can anybody interpret it as a threat?"

Jennis said his goal had been to get the police to respond so he could try to persuade them to do something about the house next door. Yet he admitted he never said a word as he walked toward the officers because he thought it was up to them to initiate conversation.

Jennis denied ever raising the ax before he was shot.

"I saw the muzzle flash and I heard the big boom," he said. That first shot struck him in the upper right leg, whipped him around and knocked him flat on the ground, he testified. Jennis said he stood and picked up the ax again because something "just kicked me in the butt" and told him to stand up for what he thought was right.

He said he raised the ax to about chest height before dropping it back to his side. That was when he was shot a second time, in the lower abdomen, he testified.

"I was surprised," he said.

"I never wanted to hurt anybody that day. It was all about the house," he said.

After the lengthy direct examination during which Jennis told his story, Cecile mounted a five-minute cross-examination. He got Jennis to admit he had no permission to enter the house next door, that doing so was a crime, that damaging property inside the house was a crime, and that he had no permission to take or possess the utility meters.

"I was standing up for my rights. That's what this whole incident is about," Jennis testified in explaining why he believed he was justified in issuing his own condemnation of the neighboring residence.

Friday, December 21, 2007

today's secret ingredient:


Joe Holmes ( 2005)

Hiroshi Watanabe (2000)

Susan Gouinlock (2007)

Johnny Jett, travel writer (October 2002)

from the film Night at the Museum (there may have been a better
image or moment, but I didn't want to watch the whole thing... again.)

And I didn't even look that hard.

Having taught introductory photo classes for a few years now, I'm familiar with that list of subjects that new students consider to be "photogenic": weathered wood, red rocks in Arizona, peeling paint in Cuba, wrinkly hands, starving people with "character," flowers, smiling children, and ornate architectural details to mention a few. Oh, and supple young breasts, preferably in a natural landscape, during sunset. With deer, or even an elk. But I get it. These are all subjects that have been officially sanctioned in mass culture as "beautiful" and to those who are coming in fresh, isn't Art just the search for beauty? I get it alright. Some days it seems like it's the most honest and straightforward way to work, by bringing it all back to the "I like this" stage. But we've got our own list too, don't we? I'm talking about those recurring subjects that seem to be all too common in the fine art photo scene. Let's start with the antelope.

While each of these photographs is interesting in their own way, the comparison leads to some obvious questions: Which shooting strategies are most effective? Which photo or photos work best? Is Gouinlock's deadpan readymade strategy enough of an artisitic gesture? Is travel writer Johnny Jet's flash pop an intentional reference to the self ala Gowin's tripod, Sultan's chair, or Friedlander's shadows and reflections? Does Watanabe get extra credit for being the first? Well, the first in my examples (I'm sure there are others). Is it even fair to call for judgment or comparison in these examples as they've now been stripped of their original context? And when I take yet another step back and look at the larger picture, the big question I'm struck with is whether antelope, or even natural history museums, or, to really open this up... taxidermy, parking lots, freeways, overpasses, power lines, empty rooms, sullen yet beautiful semi-naked twenty-somethings, depressed industrial towns, suburban tract homes, the excessive waste of Capitalism, incongruous ephemera, and nostalgia in its other varied forms, are becoming the cliches of our time? Are these our sand dunes, our jukeboxes, our barns, and our famous men? Is it possible that this is our Yosemite?

Yeah, probably.

I go back and forth with this question all the time. Where's the line in the sand that marks cliche? If I'm doing what I consider to be my job as a photographer, that is, living in the world, questioning it, and making work that asks why and how, shouldn't I be dealing with some of these subjects that are the stuff of the everday? Each of the subjects listed above (and please, chime in with more) come out of both an individual's engagement with the world and also from a dialogue that's developed over time from within the world of visual culture. It seems to me that these are subjects that in part, define our cultural/generational concerns. And yes, certain subjects get picked up and used maybe a little too heavily or without an awareness or acknowledgement of others who have dealt with such topics before. But I can't help but think that when we begin to worry about originality too much, we do ourselves a disservice and play into the world of trends and fashion. That's not to say that I'm pushing for the status quo, in fact, originality and awareness is exactly what I'm pushing for. But I don't see the challenge as reinventing the wheel, but recognizing it as such and using it to get somewhere. I guess it goes back to that earlier discussion on "personal style," and the goal of making work based on one's personal concerns, rather than a specific formula or subject. That is, who are you and what do you do with this thing? That's the only thing any one of us has that sets us apart. By all means, don't avoid antelope, in fact, go seek them out, but use them wisely and be aware of those who've gone before you. The hunt is on!

And remember, you've got my support as well as that of recent graduates from the Advanced Taxidermy Training Center of Northern Montana:

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Joel Sternfeld, from Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America

Blue Sky's bookshelves, yet another experimental Utopia in America

All the year end book talking has me indulging my own Utopian fantasies. What if there were a place where anyone could just walk in and spend an hour looking at a great photo book, or five, that they might not have access to otherwise? Here in my neck of the woods, we've got Powell's and a few other great independents, but even though they're better than most of the bookstores in the country, they still fall short when it comes to keeping up on the photo scene. Well, as I've previously mentioned, I'm on the exhibition committee at Blue Sky and among the great features of our new fancy space are these bookshelves, now only 1/3rd full at most. So, consider this: if you happen to be among the great photographers out there who have a book or two under your belt, are putting out on-demand books, or maybe just have a friend or two on the publishing side of things, consider donating, or persuading them to donate to the Blue Sky library. As Blue Sky is a non-profit, any donation would be tax-deductible, right? And if nothing else, it's building toward a great collection of photography books that puts your work directly into the hands of people who actually care about photography, accessible anytime the gallery is open. Next time you come through Portland you could spend an hour or two there yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

i can't stop laughing from all the heartbreak

Great comments on the previous post… so much room for more, but it'll have to wait as I'm out of town and saddled with a frustratingly slow internet connection. Even so, my good friend screw-top Gallo and I are loving the fact that we made it back to the hotel with our General Tso's chicken just in time to watch America's Funniest Home Videos. If you ever need to find me on a Sunday night at 7:00, chances are the boys are I are laughing hysterically in front of the television. The following is one of my all time favorites. If I could only make something this heartbreakingly sad, funny, and true in a photograph, then I'd die happy. If only someone got hit in the nuts too…

Friday, December 14, 2007

the results are in!

The surplus of best-of-2007-booklists in the blogosphere has forced the sad truth upon me that there are a lot of great books out there, most of which I haven't seen. Seeing as how I haven't had access to the many I'd like to check out (Paul Graham's Shimmer of Possibility tops the list), how about instead I work on a list of Two Fairly Recent Books that I Happen to Have Seen in 2007 (and think are pretty good), even though I guess one came out in 2006.

Hiroshi Watanabe's Findings

Hiroshi Watanabe has made me feel like an asshole. Having seen selections of this work in Photolucida's Critical Mass 2005 competition, I knew it was good, but had kind of jumped to cynical judgment on Watanabe's work and assumed that it fit neatly into that category of romantic black and white pictures that are maybe a little too pretty; safe and traditional in their heavy use of birds, bubbles, balloons, and beauty. But this book, one of the three Photolucida book award winners, really caught me off guard when I finally sat down and spent time with it. Sure, you can smell the "Fine Art" before you've even pierced the shrink wrap and it's full of luscious black and white ethereal signifiers, but you know what, it's really good too... and smart. Watanabe's "findings" aren't as simple and romantic as they initially seemed and his cleverly seen and sequenced motifs build up like scraps of cardboard and twine to form the sturdiest of nests. Like Eggleston's Los Alamos, one of my all-time favorites for its sequencing, the connections in these pictures come out of both visual and symbolic relationships between images, thus avoiding too formulaic of an approach and bringing pleasant surprises.

*sequence from Hiroshi Watanabe's Findings

Peter Fraser's eponymous monograph stands out because, in many ways, he's doing the same thing, finding & creating connections in the small scraps of the day to day, yet his pictures look completely different than Watanabe's. Where Watanabe uses black & white selective focus and subjects that lean toward the classical (therefore familiar), Fraser uses color, close up, often with a flash that overpowers the reality of ambient light, creating new worlds out of the odd detritus of ours. I keep wanting to say that his is a more difficult process than Watanabe's, requiring that he work in that gap between what he sees and the eventual product produced by the flash, but I guess that for someone familiar with the process, that's no more abstract or difficult than reducing the world to grayscale, it's just not as pretty. Where Watanabe may lead us around with optimism and magic, Fraser uses curiosity and science, at times noting similar sources of romance & nostalgia, but like a crime scene investigator, Fraser seemingly records them as they are and studies them from a cool distance. Note the birdhouse to the child feather toy to the deadpan weight that drags us down here, only to lift us back up again. Sort of.

It seems worth noting that the title of the Essay by Gerry Badger that prefaces Fraser's book is "Eventually, Everything Connects." Damn straight. These two books may seem to come from different worlds, but they lead us toward one.

* by the way, remind me to take on this natural history museum, and specifically these particular antelope, in another post at some point. yes, it makes for a nice picture, but how many times have we seen it now? at some point it brings up the question of cliche vs. allusion.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

and even more... using "personal style" to pay the bills

Among the blogs I check out regularly, a couple of my favorites are A Photo Editor, written by an anonymous photo director for what must be a slick NYC-based magazine and Avisualsociety, written by an anonymous NYC-based photo agent. Though I'm a little wary of the anonymity (in general it can lead to a lack of civility), both have handled it well and I appreciate that these blogs provide insight into a world that I'm engaged in, but don't fully comprehend, that is, the world where making photographs can actually put dinner on the table and shoes on feet.

I came into editorial work through happenstance and, in many ways feel like I'm learning the ropes while being pummeled up against them. I see editorial work as a question of problem solving, each assignment with its own unique challenges. In a great conversation over at Conscientious between Alec Soth and Doug Dubois, Dubois (who I studied under), has this great observation, "Editorial work keeps you on your toes and in shape – the unique stress and pressure of an assignment can offer up some real surprises. The hardest part is to maintain a sense of your own work and take appropriate risks in making a good photograph."

My entry into the editorial world happened about three years ago when I got a call out of the blue from a photo editor who'd found out about me from another photographer/editor who I'd shown work to previously. She said she'd seen my site and loved my "style." She needed a portrait of a couple of artists here in town and wondered if I did that kind of thing and would I be interested. Truth is, I didn't do that kind of thing, and was downright terrified at the idea of doing that kind of thing; something so constructed and artificial. Up to that point, the portraiture I'd done had been made by chance- incidental, unscripted, and more often than not, of family. But for some reason, probably just because I was flattered with the attention and needed the money, I said yes.

It's embarrassing to look through the film I shot on that job. The subjects were great- kind and patient, but it was awkward and I didn't know what I was doing. I was a bumbling fool working outside my comfort zone. The majority of shooting was done with a shutter speed that was way too slow and a fill flash, resulting in a horrible combination of ghosting with the subjects and an overwhelming neon glare from reflective tape in the background (that I didn't even realize was in the shot). But the one thing that I did do right was recognize, on the spot, that I was a dumbass. I kept shooting and trying new things until I felt safe, even past the point where they were burnt out and wanted me to go. One more roll, I told them, for at least the last four.

The last one worked. In fact, it really worked. To this day, it's among the photos that I keep in that portfolio, the one I now have on hand to send to art buyers and photo editors in the hopes of drumming up more work. But the whole situation really brings up that question of how does one retain their "style" when the actual working process and environment are so far removed from one's personal work and the shooting conditions that contribute to that "style" in the first place?

APE recently posted on "photography tags," the labels that he (is it a he? why do i think that?) uses to categorize photographers and remember who does what. Among them are descriptions such as "quirky," "lyrical," "awkward," "crunchy (super sharp)," "high contrast," "egglestonish," etc. He points out that it's important for a photographer to have more than a couple tags in order to differentiate yourself, but fewer than a dozen as it gets hard to categorize.

Over at B, Blake chimed in on the issue of "personal style" with a great reference to a previous discussion on Soth's blog regarding "the sentence," the one line description used to define photographers who are recognized enough to have had sentences written about them. For example, take the following quiz and tell me who's who? Answer any or all correctly and you can win a copy of Michael Bishop's postcard book on the Erie Canal.

1) "... makes pictures of children-- luminously beautiful black-and-white images of mysteriously elfin children around [her] rural home in Lexington, Virginia."

2) Which popular post war photographer is known for his "comparisons to a modern-day de Tocqueville for his fresh and skeptical outsider's view of American society."

3) Name "an American photographer who is best known for elaborately staged, surreal scenes of American homes and neighborhoods."

4) And to make it a little harder now, name the young photographer who's been "depicting 'the simultaneous feeling of sad and funny' throughout his career"?

I guess now I'm kind of wondering if this question of "style" may have less to do with photographs and more to do with language, and our ability, or perhaps inability, to formulate a concise description of how photographs work, and how photographers use them. Are we tap dancing about poetry, using one language to inadequately discuss another? I'm reminded of Robert Adams' essay "Writing" in which he writes of Robert Frost's response to someone asking him to explain one of his poems, "'You want me to say it worse?'"

But in a world of blogs and press releases and money changing hands, the issue's certainly worthy of consideration for those of us who enter into that marketplace, that world where photo editors need to have a clear idea what they can expect from a photographer and gallery owners need to craft press releases that are going to draw attention and sales. It seems that we too are affected by the world of sound bytes.

Let us cultivate our garden...

... and keep in mind a great "letter to a young artist" from Stephen Shore in the archives of avisualsociety.

from the bookshelf

back cover of Hasselblad '66, 1981

Friday, December 7, 2007

three recent reminders that the holidays are here

1) Standing in line outside Fred Meyer from 6:30 to 7:15 this morning in order to enter a raffle just to get a chance to purchase a Nintendo Wii. Do you think if I'd have got one, I'd feel less stupid? I doubt it.

2) A holiday tradition that's unintentionally been established over the past ten years is that I spend the first day after school ends (whether as a student or an instructor), trying to make a photo for a Christmas or New Year's card. Whether or not I actually getting around to making the card, I always make a picture or two. A recent post by
Mel and this photo by Colin have me excited to get to it... in fact, I think I'm going to make myself finish my grading today so I can get out there. Damn, this one's handsome, isn't it?

Colin Blakely, "The Seeming Impenetrability of the Space Between"

3) As a child, I remember a large door poster at my grandmother's house, proclaiming that "Jesus is the reason for the season!" a slogan that I developed into a little jingle that to this day, I have a hard time shaking once it enters my head. Since receiving this in my inbox this morning, I've been humming that jingle all morning:

thanks to "skipaholic."

more, and exceptions to the rant

Miguel and Matt have chimed in with more on the notion of "personal style" and yet again, I agree wholeheartedly. The distinction should be made between "personal style" as it refers to an artist's individual personality and concerns rather than their particular stylistic approach to the medium (But of course, in many ways, the two are tied… but I'll deal with that some other time). My point is simply that far too often the misguided approach to dealing with the larger, nagging question of "who am I?" as an artist is to choose a specific subject (or aesthetic gimmick) and repeat until there are enough images to fill a book or a site or gallery. Complex questions have no simple one-subject answers.

Though I sure do like birds.

I think this where we all start with photography... with an inventory of things we like. A couple years ago I handed my son a camera for the first time and watched as he walked around the house and took stock of the things that mattered to him, those things worthy of saving, cherishing, paying homage to, in a photograph... his younger brother, the cat, his Yu-Gi-Oh cards. There's nothing wrong with this, but in a sense, this is the most basic level to use the language of photography. I guess the trick is honing in and using the language to ask questions rather than inventory favorites. Or at least to find more than one favorite thing.

Of course, there are many exceptions to my ranting about solely subject-driven projects. When done well, with consistency and insight, tight constraints can produce great depth by demanding increased scrutiny of the differences that make each picture distinct. A lesson learned from Bernd and Hilla, among many others:

Nicole Jean Hill, from the series "Critters"

Richard Avedon, from In the American West

Saul Robbins, from the series "Initial Intake"

Brian Ulrich is another whose work excites me because of the depth of the project. In terms of shows & marketing, he's got the work out all over the place and could easily have moved on, but instead, he's mining for something deeper and much more profound. His Copia is about much more than shopping malls, it's Capitalism, Patriotism, and ultimately, about our tendency to search for meaning, and definition, in the things that we can buy, and then discard.

Brian Ulrich, from the series Copia

On another note, I finally figured out how to install a stat counter on my blog and I'm blown away by how many people have come across this thing... and then came back. I tell you, it adds a little pressure to realize that other people actually read this. Again, heed the disclaimer that I'm just another fuck-up who's out in the garage, trying to make it through the winter. Hello Serbia, Michigan, Italy, Nebraska… I feel like I've been wandering around a mediocre party and finally found a great conversation in the kitchen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"personal style" 1 of ?

Over at Exposure Compensation, Miguel has a great recent post about the question of "personal style." It got me thinking... while we all want to avoid the problem of creating a portfolio that reads like a one-person group show, I can't help but take that phrase "personal style" with a grain of salt. Far too often, that search for a personal style ends up leaning toward redundancy. How many times have you stumbled onto a great picture, but after looking through the book, show, or site, does it seem that the photographer is using that same formula over and over again? That's not to say that it's not a great picture, or maybe even twenty great pictures, but unless the pictures speak to one another, build upon one another, the viewer's likely to leave through the same door they came in. My tastes lean toward those projects that, like a good novel or film, create layers and connections that warrant repeated viewings and take me beyond my initial expectations. I like to walk in, check out the basement, the attic, the medicine cabinet, etc. before I wander out through the garage.

One blatant example that comes to mind is Mitch Epstein's The City, a collection of mostly color street work emphasizing small moments of beauty and layered incongruity that sing of the endless possibilities of New York. In a sense, the street work jumps around in the way it's made- some pictures seem to have been shot quickly on the fly, some are much more deliberate in their framing, some have a shallow depth of field, some deep, and then in the middle of the book, Epstein has broken in with something even more jarring, a sort of sub-series of much more formal black and white environmental portraiture of family and friends. In Epstein's Work, a different book in which he writes about the ideas and process behind his projects, he writes that the shift toward the intimacy of the black and white portraiture came out of a desire to acknowledge both public and private space. "New York could not be summed up in its jostling streets. It had to be defined by its hidden sanctuaries as well, where friendship and family sustained people as they navigated the anonymous public sphere." Does this mixture of frenetic color street shooting and static large-format black and white portraiture mean that Epstein fails in the quest for a "personal style"? Hardly. It simply means that he's taken on a different approach, a different voice, in order to add another layer to his project. It's a book in which the individual photographs don't follow a formula, but still speak to one another and make connections.

More on this later. This is a topic I could ramble on about for days. If it keeps raining, I just might. In the meantime, re-read Miguel's post. In a sense, I'm just singing along.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

another inspirational bookshelf re-discovery

"... I want to add one thing that relates to the question of people asking, "Why did he take that picture?" It has to do with impact. I've told the story before of going to a symposium at the International Center of Photography with Jay Maisel and Jay telling me that the problem with my pictures is that they don't have impact. He then proceeded to show slides to the group gathered there. He put on a tray of slides and had them changed at five second intervals. each time a new photograph appeared, the audience went, "Ah!" And before they could finish their "Ah!" or their "Ooh!", the next picture was there. Evidently, he was interested in the first five seconds of a person's reaction to a photograph. My hunch is that the people who ask, "Why did Stephen Shore take that picture?" are people used to seeing photographs that are high in initial impact. and my view is very different. The first five seconds aren't as important to me. I'm interested in things that are more sustaining."

Shore, in conversation with Michael Auping, from Stephen Shore, Photographs, a catalog from the show at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, in Daytona Beach, Florida, 1981.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Timothy O'Sullivan, Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho, 1874

May 1, 1865: The motive does not seem to justify the inconvenience, the anxiety, the suspense that must be endured. Yet how would the great West be peopled were it not so? God knows best. It is, without doubt, this spirit of restlessness, and unsatisfied longing, or ambition—if you please—which is implanted in our nature by an all wise Creator that has peopled the whole earth. --Sarah Raymond Herndon

Die, Twin Falls, Idaho 1999

If I splat against that canyon wall or I'm killed in a car wreck or just lay down and die as an old man, it makes no difference. I'll just be getting to where you're going someday, and I'll be waiting for you… with a cool one.
-Robert Craig Knievel, September 1974 (pre-jump)

You've probably heard by now that Evel Knievel has taken his last spill, dying from natural causes yesterday at the age of 69.

In Southern Idaho, where I'm from, Knievel is second only to potatoes as our claim to fame. Sure, thousands of pioneers passed through via the Oregon trail in the mid 1800s, Clint Eastwood filmed Bronco Billy in Meridian in 1982, and Nikki Sixx's grandmother lived in Jerome, but the cultural contribution southern Idaho is best recognized for is Knievel's attempt to jump the Snake River in September of 1974. "I'm doing this fucking town a favor," he said when confronted with concerns about the thousands of spectators who showed up to line the canyon's edge. Having read a bit about him, both Knievel's daredevil antics and his attitudes seem built into the mythology of the place, in both marketing and metaphor. Practically every visitor to Twin Falls parks their car or rv in an oversized parking lot, gazes out over the canyon from the bridge, looks at the monument commemorating Knievel's attempt, and then gets back in their car and keeps on driving. Well, nowadays, there is a Chili's and a mall nearby. Some stop for the babyback ribs.

For the record, Knievel's attempt to jump the canyon wasn't on a motorcycle, it was a steam-powered rocket called the SkyCycle X-2. Before the launch, Knievel had boasted that he was doing it for the money (rumored to be about 6 million dollars), the women, and the fame. Thousands of ticketholders lined the canyon walls, ABC covered it on ABC's Wide World of Sports, and the Hells Angels hijacked an entire truckload of beer, drinking it, trashing the truck, and building a bonfire to jump their own bikes over. Though Knievel's attempt secured his goals regardless of whether or not he actually made it over, the result itself was less than spectacular- in a gesture that seems perfectly apt for Twin Falls, Idaho, where I went to high school, Knievel's chute opened prematurely and fluttered down into the canyon below, not even making it to the other side of the river.

Fifteen years later, to the day, my friend Ralf and I watched from the edge of the same canyon as a clever hot air balloon designer who called himself Evil KaDick, floated over the canyon on a tricycle attached to a hot air balloon. No shit. And he made it.

Such stories fascinate me, not just for the events themselves, but for the way that history and its subsequent mythology can define a place. I can't drive through southern Idaho today without noticing that faint fog of absurdity that lies over the Snake River. Let's see… Miami, Yellowstone, Hollywood, Detroit, and Memphis, to name a few off the top of my head, each location has a pretty clear mythology built up around it, thus when we see photographs of such places, we're already dealing with a set of assumptions, a certain context, that has already been established. I suppose this baggage can be challenging at times (who can photograph L.A. for example, without standing in Winogrand's shadow), but with awareness of what's come before, these layers of history can make a project rich.

For example, in his book Turning Back, Robert Adams photographs the path of Lewis and Clark, headed in the opposite direction this time, consistently questioning the course of "progress" and asking what it is that we've done with our land, and ourselves, since? Other projects that take specific sites or histories into account: Sternfeld's On this Site, Simon Norfolk's Bosnia: Bleed, Drex Brook's Sweet Medicine, Susan Seubert's "10 Most Popular Places to Dump a Body in the Columbia River Gorge," John Huddleston's Killing Ground, and the many rephotographic projects that have been done in recent years (here, here, here…) These are just off the top of my head… by all means, give me more. What am I missing? I'm looking forward to seeing more of Christian Patterson's "Out There" too, but what else comes to mind? Help me out...

Friday, November 30, 2007

wish you were here

hey thanks all for the feedback so far... much appreciated.

There's much I want to write about, but not much time right now as I'm in L.A. for an editorial shoot. I scouted locations yesterday with the (at that time) forecast of sunny and 70 in mind, only to wake up this morning to find rain and a forecast for more. Seeing as how I keep the process really simple... no assistant, no lights, just a bald guy with a camera and a tripod, the options are limited. It looks like it's lightening up though... my fingers are crossed, but I'm off to find an umbrella or two...

An interesting discussion on APE that's been sticking in my head.

Thanks to Liz yet again for taking me over to Shotgun Space. A personal favorite from that show. I want this print.

Brian Widdis

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"People in general are not that attractive"

Kudos to Liz for her self-directed yet public assignment to make one portrait of a stranger each day throughout the month of December. It's like a photo version of an advent calendar. If only I had the courage...

Though I've made a fair number of pictures with people in them, and admire those who do it well, I find solace in Eggleston's response to a query about why he photographs flowers and dogs, "... I approach a picture of a dog exactly the same way I do any other picture. The compositions are free. I've never known why there are so goddamned many pictures of people. People in general are not that attractive."

For me, the challenge of portraiture is in capturing, or perhaps inducing, some sense of authenticity in a contrived situation. My favorite portraiture leans toward the incidental- sure the framing, and perhaps even the location has been arranged and thought out, sometimes there's even been hair and makeup, lights, assistants, etc., but in the final picture that makes its way to my eyes, there's still an element of tension, of authenticy, that comes out of a fleeting moment, gesture, or relationship. Or, in some cases, the person photographed is simply just another another element in an interesting picture.

Doug Dubois

Chris Buck, Wes Anderson for Premiere, 2004

Michael Schmelling?, MIA, for Spin, 2004

Tierney Gearon, Diane Keaton for the NYTimes Mag, 2005

Joel Sternfeld, from Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

superf(o)und heartbreak

Page from Sandy's journal found in a huge pile of trash dumped down at the superfund site where I met Mary for a dog walk over the weekend. Previous superfinds include a dead body and these amazing polaroids (both compliments of Mary):

More from Mary about the site here. Also, John Ganis, in his book Consuming the American Landscape, has a photo from the other side of the railroad bridge:

John Ganis, Superfund Cleanup Site Williamette River, Portland, OR