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

Monday, November 26, 2007

cronyism... two from the home team

In my recent post about sour grapes, I failed to cover a facet of this issue that comes up time and time again… cronyism, or at least the appearance of it. Before I enter a juried show, I always do some research on the juror(s) to find out if my work will even be at all in line with their interests. Occasionally, after the winners have been announced, whether or not I'm among them, I've researched the winners (nothing stalkerish- just reading a bio or something) and have, in some cases, come across obvious connections between the winners and the jurors. For example, I can't help but notice that in one prominent quarterly juried exhibition, there have certainly been a high percentage of winners that come out of the school where one of the regular jurors teaches. But, truth is, I don't really see anything wrong with it. It just makes sense.

It makes sense to admire the work of people you know, doesn't it? If you like the person, chances are, you're going to better understand, and appreciate, their work. On the flipside, there are plenty of people I've never met who, judging from their work, I imagine I'd certainly get along with (here, here, here, here, here, here, ...). Of course you're going to be attracted to people you admire and respect. Chances are, in some dark corner of my mind, if I like your work, I also want to sleep with you. Shit… that being out there is going to make our meeting awkward, isn't it? Scratch that… I don't want to sleep with you. All I'm getting at is that attraction and admiration are intertwined.

The reason the topic comes up is that as I keep thinking about what I want this blog to do/be, I can't help but think that I don't want to turn this into yet another page of fan's notes to Alec, Joel, & the other heavy hitters (though they really are a couple favorites), but instead, I'd rather draw attention to others. But, that said, I also want to get beyond the simple "I like this" approach (though there are worse ways). I figure that anything worth drawing attention to, is worth thinking and writing about as well. That said, as I think of projects that I admire, many are by friends. So be it… the disclaimer's out there.

So, in what will likely be a continuing series on work I like that happens to have been made by people I like, I'll bring out two from the home team: Alexis Pike and Ron Jude. Alexis, Ron, and I all got into photography while under the spell of Brent Smith (not this one) at Boise State University, though all at separate times. The sequence of school being what it is, we've all explored similar themes, and fed off each other, without actually knowing one another outside of email for years. I didn't meet Ron until moving to Syracuse in 2000. I didn't meet Alexis until I moved to Portland in 2003.

Ron Jude, Shore Lodge, McCall, ID, 1996

Though each of them have made significant bodies of work dealing with a variety of themes, it seems fitting to bring out the work from our stomping grounds. Ron's "45th Parallel" blew me away when it was published in DoubleTake in 1999. A project that dealt with the commercialism and mythologizing of the West in his small logging-turned-resort hometown of McCall, Idaho, I was really impressed with the way that he approached the topic without the aggressive ironic punch I'd been so interested in up to that point (think David Graham). The subtlety in some of these pictures, I suppose a sort of deadpan quality, gives breathing room to the natural landscape that's being both cherished and commodified. There's a subtlety here that leads the viewer to a deeper complexity than the simple good vs. evil / nature vs. culture dichotomy.
Ron Jude, Housing Development, McCall, ID, 1998

Alexis Pike, A Teton, St. Anthony, Idaho, 2005

Alexis deals with similar issues in her series "Human Nature," through her examination of murals painted throughout Southern Idaho towns. More often than not, the murals depict a pristine natural wilderness, an idealized portrayal of nature in all its majesty, yet in image after image, it's the juxtaposition of the here and now that stands out… the peeling base of a cinder block wall or a bright garden hose & red vinyl chairs gathered at the base of a mysterious forest with a winter palette. These juxtapositions bring us back to the idea that while we may adore, glorify, and/or crave nature, we certainly don't see ourselves as part of it.

Alexis Pike, Red Chairs- Bliss, Idaho, 2006

Aside from his recent ventures into publishing (Ron and wife Danielle [more on her later- she's fucking great) have founded A-Jump books), Jude's recently had work published in Blind Spot and I've heard he's got a new project coming together. Looking forward to it. Harass your academically connected friends in coming months for Exposure, the magazine put out by SPE for a portfolio of Alexis's work, along with an interview by me that we conducted & reconducted over a beer or two.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


As great as the above fake ads are, they're only funny because of the real thing. Three real ones from the "Craigslist Scrapbook" folder I keep on my laptop:

Thanks Mary. You certainly have not become a waste of my heart.

aaah shitbag (special offer- act now)

I spent my coffee time this morning catching up on blogs and found that Christian Patterson has already beaten me to praising & writing about those "new color" books. Officially noted (and appreciated). You know, Michael Bishop (not this one) was someone I wanted to mention soon as being under-recognized and hard to find images from outside of those books. I happen to have, however, 22 small postcard books, Michael Bishop's View of the NYS Barge Canal, that Bishop put out with LightWork back in 1980. I've held on to them for about five years now, simply because I wanted them to be appreciated (I saved them from a janitor who'd had enough). Anyhow, until they're gone, just send me an address and I'll mail you one.

Friday, November 23, 2007

yet another thanksgiving rediscovery

While one of the things that I cherish about other blogs are the reviews and insights about new books and projects that I don't know about or can't afford, one way I plan on filling the grey Portland winter is rediscovering the books on my own shelves. For starters, in the afterglow of yesterday's meal, I flipped through some of my all time favorite books, The New Color series, by Sally Eauclaire. Published in conjunction with a traveling exhibition that originated at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY, the exhibition & books, The New Color Photography (1981), New Color/New Work (1984), and American Independents (1987), focused on many photographers who are considered the grand masters today (Shore, Sternfeld, Eggleston, Pfahl, Epstein...) and analyses the strategies that they, and others, were (and still are) using. One of the most satisfying parts of these books is seeing the early, and less touted images by some of the masters… Sternfeld's flashlit street work, for example, or Stephen Shore's "Montana Suite," a series of quiet (of course) landscapes of, more often than not, blue sky, green hills, and maybe a few patches of scrubby trees, sometimes set against the ironic hint of a more traditionally scenic snowy peak in the background. There is the majestic, and there is the everyday… these photos recognize both, yet seem to praise the latter.

Of course, the other unique pleasure of these books is seeing the work of some other photographers whose work is great, but hasn't achieved that same level of recognition and/or distribution. For example, for my money, a couple of the big highlights in the whole series of books are the projects in American Independents by Roger Mertin and Stephen Scheer, both accomplished photographers who, in these projects, direct their attention to distinctly American themes. With clear 8"x10" deadpan clarity, Mertin photographs window displays, school decorations, monuments, etc. that highlight Rochester, New York's Sesquicentennial and draw attention to the small, but significant ways that history is mythologized & commercialized in our culture. In his "Texas Tourney," Stephen Scheer takes on the big American dream, while contrasting it with the banality of reality. In one image, a father and his two daughters escape the heat by having a snack of "Thirstbusters" and "Mega" animal crackers under the shade of their truck trailer. In another, we see the edge of a suburban parking lot on parade day, a float and car, decorated with LP's and books (Ricky Nelson,"Angelica", "Alive", "The Bermuda Triangle" and others) fill the foreground, while in the background a prom queen of sorts in full finery waits patiently at the edge of a sprawling backlot of concrete and trailers, the line between fantasy and reality made clear. Good, good stuff here. I can't help but wonder if these projects were inspirational for someone like say, Greta Pratt, who's sense of fascination, humor, absurdity, and timing, are incredibly well developed (just check out "Using History.") Greta?

Roger Mertin, Great Canal Caper, Genesee Valley Park, Rochester, New York, July 8, 1984

Stephen Scheer, Supermarket Parking Lot, Beeville, Texas, 1984

note… of course, I couldn't find images from either series that I'm mentioning so I'm going to go ahead and scan them just to put more pictures from each out into the world. Again. Was anyone as disappointed as I was to realize Sally Eauclaire's interests later turned to cats?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

pep talk / sour grapes

At this point in my blogxperiment, I find that I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what this blog should and shouldn't be, rather than just being. I'm sure that'll take care of itself in time, but I came across recent posts by Liz Kuball and Cara Phillips that inspired me in that they openly dealt with the doubt and rejection that plagues all of us who spend a fair amount of time, money, and energy making work that more often than not, is met with a form letter, informing us that they're sorry, but our work just didn't make the cut. In fact, I got one just earlier this week. Two if I count the press release I just came across announcing that John Baldessari beat me out for the Whitney Biennial. Fucking Baldessari beats me out yet again. Alright, that was a long shot... I won't count that one.

I'm guessing that for most of us, the immediate response is disappointment and maybe a little bitterness. There's a good chance that you immediately check out many, if not all, of those who did make the cut, and then face the sting that either their work really was stronger, or completely different than what you do, or every now and then, it seems obvious that the judge(s) are prone to drink. Kudos to Liz for recognizing those who beat her out and, in the ultimate act of good sportsmanship, she gives praise rather than flipping shit. Shit-flipping is one thing I've decided this blog definitely isn't about. That's not to say that I don't have the occasional strong opinion about what I dislike and why, but you'll have to meet me for a beer to hear it.

I was recently talking with a poet friend (does that sound like a cliche?) who writes constantly, but doesn't bother sending her work out for fear of rejection. To a certain extent, I understand and admire the idea that the work itself remains the most important thing, and she's the rare exception who can remain inspired and dedicated enough to just keep plugging along and produce work without recognition. Yet, I can't help but think that there's more than ego at play for those of us who do send it out… that it's important to put the work out there in order to share the story you're trying to tell. Sure, I make the work because I've got something to say. But it sure is nice when there's someone listening. And an audience is a great motivator to make better work.

Anyhow, I've received my fair share of rejection letters, and to add insult to injury, my checkbook suffers far too often from the application fees associated with juried shows. But when I consider the alternative- keeping the work in my hard drive and/or closet, and spending those dollars on more paper, film, burritos, etc., I keep coming back to the idea that for me at least, it's worth it to try and subsequently fail than to not give it that shot in the first place. One keen insight I remember hearing from an instructor long ago was to always be expecting something in the mail. Always.

A few years ago, I joined the exhibition committee at Blue Sky Gallery, a great gallery with an amazing dedication to quality photography and democracy in our process. Joining the committee is simple- you have to care about photography enough to just keep showing up. After a few meetings, you're given the power to vote. For those who are just dabblers, two nights of consecutive weeks is usually enough to make them see that they really don't have enough interest to sustain the effort. Aside from being able to see, and learn from, submissions from photographers all over the world, one great thing I take home each Tuesday night, is how the process of getting your work shown isn't necessarily as simple as making good work. You try getting a group of people to agree on what "quality" photography is. I can think of at least three great photographers whose work has been rejected simply because a majority of the committee, on that particular night (or nights), wasn't into it. Like all families, it's a complex relationship, and at times, personalities seem to come into play. There have been times that I've wondered if someone's vote in one direction might come more out of opposition to a vote on the other side than from an interest in the work itself. And sometimes I come away far more discouraged than inspired, but somehow, if you look through the gallery's track record, we still end up with lots of great work on the walls, year after year after year. And other than my mental inventory, nobody keeps track of the work we haven't shown (but should have... sigh).

It seems fitting to point out that my own show at Blue Sky, back in 2003, accepted before I knew anyone here or moved to Portland, was initially rejected. Sure, it stung and I spent a little time sulking, but in addition to sulking, I fine tuned my submission, rewrote my cover letter and statement, and sent it back and asked them to look again. The second time it worked. Now maybe I just caught them at the right time, maybe the dissenters from the first go-round were tired or vacationing or even changed their minds, but in any case, it worked. Whenever the subject of rejection comes up with students or friends, I simply encourage them to feed off the rejection, look at the work, look at the jury, make the work stronger, and find the audience who'll appreciate it. Good work gets rejected from good places all the time. If the work's strong, you just need to find the people who'll recognize it as such. Lord knows that can take some time. Anyhow, I'm sure that this is just the first of many posts on these issues. I think my next rejection is scheduled for another week or two down the line.

By the way, as for my rejection earlier in the week, I haven't looked up any of the winners yet. I was too busy working on a submission for something else.

Friday, November 16, 2007

what it all comes down to

I spent a little time in L.A. earlier in the week and I found myself both fascinated and terrified. As I've spent very little time there in the past, I find it hard to see through the mythology. That is, it was difficult to see from outside the cliches of such a mythologized place. I saw a lot of surface showiness, a thin facade of glamour stretched over another sprawling wasteland.

The photo I wasn't able to make that described it so well- an older stretch limo, tagged with graffiti, and seemingly abandoned on the edge of a four lane highway, against a lone palm tree.

One important discovery though, is that I was staying in the wrong part of town. I was in Marina Del Ray, near Santa Monica, and four of the five things on my list of things to check out, for example Ari Marcopolous's show at MC Kunst and my group show at Shotgun Space, were across town, up to 1hour40 minutes away, depending on traffic, according to googlemaps. So, there's a lot I didn't get around to. But in the midst of a thirty minute, $55 cab ride I found myself thinking about all that money that flows through the entertainment industry, and the world that sustains it. What kind of world do we live in where it's okay to spend 200 million dollars to make Evan Almighty?

I think to a certain extent it all comes down to purpose & meaning. That is, we're all looking for purpose and meaning on an individual level. And by that, I mean that ultimately, movies are more than entertainment, they are stories and stories, whether they be in the form of books, movies, photos, religion, etc., are probably the main way of giving meaning to our lives. Isn't that what we all look for on a daily basis, stories that either justify feelings we already have, or stories that inspire new thoughts and ideas? Truth be told, the first movie Sam ever saw in a theater, with Max and I, on a hot summer day, was Evan Almighty. And you know what? It was pretty fun.

I wouldn't necessarily say that it inspired me and/or gave me a clear reason to live, but for my kids, maybe it did, in some small way. Maybe that combination of morality and comedy, does a pretty good job of helping them get through the small challenges of the day by day.

To bring it back to photography, one of my earliest inspirators, Emmet Gowin, comes to mind, specifically because of his subjective use of the medium. For example:

Nancy, Danville, Virginia, 1965

This photograph is one of those that, back at the beginning, when my obsession with photographs was just coming up, really made me realize the subjective nature of the medium. That is, up to that point, I'd maintained a snapshot attitude that photographers take pictures of things. This photo plays with that in such a simple clever way though... yes, there's the cute/dreamy aspect of this child, Nancy, lying in the sun with her dolls, but Gowin didn't crop in on that, instead, he pulled back and used the shadow of his tripod and himself, as a way of making a picture not of cute girl with dolls, but of his relationship to her. That act of self-acknowledgement, the idea that his photographs are not of things, but of his relationship with the world, inspires to this day. In this way, the story told by the photo isn't about her, but of him and his adoration with her & complicity in the play/fantasy life she's immersed in.

Another family portrait from the file of things I love, that works in a similar way:

Larry Sultan, from Pictures from Home

It may seem a far cry to associate this photo with the comedy capers of Steve Carell as Noah, but in the same way that seemingly trite films help my kids make sense of their lives, a photo like this does the same for me. The flash pop/self identification on the wall, the chair in the center, the distance between each member of the family, the sunglasses & keys on the table, etc... this is a photograph about a hell of a lot more than what his parents look like.

Thanks to Matthew for relaying the story of Sultan moving the chair in the making of the picture (note the trail on the carpet).

Friday, November 9, 2007

the problem with this blog

is that, today at least, it becomes an acceptable distraction. i tell you, what i should be doing right now is photographing. it's that simple, the weather's not an issue, i have the next three hours free, and if for no other reason, i've got a grid project meeting coming up next week. i'm reminded of that great essay by robert adams, where he talks about the fear that makes it difficult to get started, because none of us ever knows exactly where that next picture's going to come from (does anyone know which one it is or am i going to have to look it up?). chris rauschenberg, one of the most prolific and inspiring photographers i know, used to teach with a grading policy that was wholly based on quantity. his point was that students would make a lot of bad pictures, but we need to make those bad pictures to make some good ones. i guess what i do know right now is that i'm not going to make any pictures, good or bad, with my ass in this chair. then again...
what do i look like? some kind of asshole? maybe i should send that in to the accounts payable guy.

the downside

this morning's been a little tough... last july i took on a great editorial job for a magazine that will remain nameless. the photo editor was great, the art director, who accompanied me on the shoot, was great, and the pay, relative to teaching as a community college adjunct, was great. but of course, there's a downside... since finishing the job (which the photo editor and art director both loved), i've sent no fewer than a half dozen emails following up on payment. i've gone from the photo editor to three different people in accounts payable, back to the photo editor's assistant, back to the art director, all because no one has replied to tell me why it's taking so long and when i can expect to get paid. to make matters worse, i shucked out $700 in travel and rental expenses to do the job.

so, this morning i tried to call yet again and got the same voicemail box i've left previously unreturned messages on. today though, i did a little snooping around, found another number, and lo and behold, i found myself talking to the person in accounts payable who'd failed to respond to any of my previous attempts. long story short, i still don't know why they haven't paid me (the story i was given doesn't make sense) and i'm a little embarassed at how i let my hostility get the better of me (i hung up on him after making some inarticulate legal threats), but i have been assured that i should have money in hand within one week. my fingers are crossed... that my car doesn't completely die in the next week. i think the problem's in the fuel injection.

anyhow, i guess the larger question for consideration here is at what point is it no longer worth it? at what point does the juggling act no longer pay off? it seems my situation is fairly common, the work i make for myself, my artwork, i'm lucky to have pay for itself in the long run. ultimately, at this point, it loses money, but still brings me much satisfaction. it's just what i do. but to live, i juggle teaching and freelance work. all in all, it's great on paper, but mornings like this make me realize that it's not always the dream life.


one reason why i'm tempted to learn how to make videos:

Thursday, November 8, 2007


as you can tell, my attempt to gain blogmentum didn't seem to work. but i'm not giving up yet. yesterday, while having lunch with my laptop and a bowl of soup, i checked out a photo editor, who led me to Andrew Hetherington, who's roll led me around like a dog for the past day. apart from a few distractions like picking my kids up from school and the like, it's now 36 hours later and i've probably gone through at least two or three dozen. and the truth is, i love them all.

now, that's not to say that i'm in agreement with the editorial, curatorial, or musical content, but i guess what i get from this, is what the academic system seemed to miss... that is, a community of people who care about this absurd act of plucking rectangles out of the world and like talking about it.