Thursday, January 31, 2008


I received some really great responses to the post from a few days ago about juried shows and the satisfaction, or sometimes lack of, inherent in sending your work across the country to some place you can't visit and then receiving it two months later with nothing more than the assumption that someone unpacked it, hung it on a wall, and then repacked it at the end.

Among the feedback that came in was the great question of why one should even bother with gallery shows (on a side note: this brings up the great question of book vs. show, but we'll delve into that at another time)? Why do it at all? Is an exhibition the reason for making the work in the first place? Shouldn't the process itself, that mixture of inspiration, discovery, labor, and skill be enough?

In a serendipitous parallel, my recent Saturdays have been spent in gradeschool gyms, watching my son's basketball games. In the first game, our team lost 16 to 59 and didn't score a single point until the third quarter (I must admit- I choked up a little when they finally did). The second game was 12 to 48. Believe me, these kids aren't there to win.

I don't really care about basketball, but last night I caught the tail end of the Blazers game and watched them lose by one point that was scored within the final seconds. The post game commentary was pretty black and white in its conclusion that losing is losing, and that's not winning. While I was watching, I flipped through a magazine that I'd bought with the intention of scouting out in the hopes of drumming up editorial work with them. The photographs were fine and I could see what I do fitting in, but as I flipped through each page my heart sank with the realization that even the editorial content was selling something. If not a specific gizmo or t-shirt, a lifestyle at least, that was tied into the products and services that were advertised throughout. That magazines are created to make money is so obvious that it shouldn't have hit with such force. To make a magazine (or a book, or an exhibition) takes money that's got to come out of someone's pocket. This epiphany brings me to an even greater appreciation for those who trudge along and pursue their art simply because that's what they like to do. Is the show the goal? No, the gallery world is as entrenched in trend and fashion as any magazine on the rack. But ultimately, it does get the work out there, encourages dialogue, and spreads the gospel. If anything, I think the trick is the creation of even more voices & venues. Shane Lavalette & Karly Wildenhaus's Remain in Light, Humble's Group Show, Paul Schiek's These Birds Walk, and the slew of online magazines that plug away without income are as encouraging as it gets. They're not in it to win, but because they love to play.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

pardon my pride

Back to all things photo soon (grading, deadlines, etc.), but look... that's my boy. Well, one of these is one of mine, anyway.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

the saddest hot dog i ate last year

I'm too behind on other things to justify blogging at the moment, but I just came across this dumb picture on the hard drive. While it's a cheap, one-note kind of a picture, it brings up questions about sequencing, punctuation, and the difficulties of balancing subtle quiet pictures with louder, easier, sometimes even punch-in-the-nose "dumb" pictures. Those who do it well, (Robert Adams, Alec Soth, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jason Fulford, Mike Slack, Ed Panar, and Adam Bartos all immediately come to mind), can use such seemingly simple pictures as a form of punctuation in a series, like an exclamation point or a question mark; sometimes as a simple key/guide to leading the viewer through the quieter, subtler pictures. Hmm... maybe that doesn't make enough sense without clear examples. Well, to keep up the emasculated male subtext, how about I go with Soth's stallion for now?

Alec Soth, Impala, 2005

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

my handwriting sucks, but this cute dog helps

© Tracey Gaughran-Perez

If I were to chart out the reader feedback activity since starting this blogsperiment, I'd conclude that a topic especially near and dear to your hearts is rejection. You put the time, labor, love, and ego out there to create something that more often than not, gathers little more than classroom critique and/or half a dozen rejection letters, most of which you've paid somewhere between $25 and $75 to receive. Damn straight you'd better keep those. Frame 'em, wallpaper with them, or at the very least, make some type of bitter art/drinking/fiery Youtube video. In the meanwhile, accept this cute dog as a token of my understanding.

But every now and then, it all comes together and you get accepted. If it's a real-life actual physical world show though, there's more labor (and expense) ahead. Printing, framing, and shipping aren't especially cheap, easy, or quick. But still, this is offset by the satisfaction of the acceptance, right? We wouldn't subject ourselves to it otherwise, would we? But you know what's nice? When galleries post a few installation shots or mention the reception in a blog or a newsletter. For those participating artists who can't be there in person (most of them), it's nice to have that verification that your work actually hung on a wall in a room and that strangers drank wine and nibbled carrots nearby (remind me to post again in the future about depressing openings- I've had a few).

So yesterday I thought to look up the Toledo Friends of Photography show that I was excited to have a picture in. There I found a long list of participating artists, including myself:

Consider me a victim of my own sloppy handwriting. Now you know why I type this blog rather than writing it out.

But, aside from that, the site has this message posted below the list of names:

We are unable to post the images of the winning entries because a number of the artists were concerned about copyright protection. To satisfy all participants we are displaying no photographs on this site. We are sorry for any inconvenience. Please visit the exhibition at the Center for Visual Arts.


Perhaps these concerned artists read the recent Washington Post article William Greiner linked to about corporations such as Fox nabbing photos of cute Christmas dogs and are worried of similar violations? Can someone set me straight on what the danger of posting images that each photographer probably already has up on a website could possibly be? What am I missing here? Is this concern valid?

*please, note, this is Truman, the cute Christmas dog owned and photographed by Tracey Gaughran-Perez. Gaughran-Perez posted this image on her blog and later saw her dog appearing on a Fox promo advertising their football coverage. Of course, posting this here & now makes me wonder if this type of blog use, that is my using this image here, falls within the scope of "scholarship" considered acceptable under "Fair Use"? Does it? Am I a thieving asshole too?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Far from Heavenly

Director Todd Haynes at home

Just caught up (well, sort of) on the tearsheet section of my site and added a few that have accrued in recent months. More to come soon. We'll just have to wait and see when "soon" really is.

It brings me back to the topic of photography as business. Having gone through years of schooling in photography, I found afterwards that sure, I could make photographs, but I knew nothing about how to make a living out of them. EP (Editorial Photographers) and the APA (Advertising Photographers of America) and their online resources and newsgroup discussions are among the sources I turn to in order to learn how this world works. The online grumblings from these experienced photographers is that the business is changing, undoubtedly for the worse. The internet, the digital revolution, copyright infringement, Richard Prince, and microstock are all contributing factors to the decline of the business. Even with the downright dismal outlook, it seems to be generally agreed upon that there are more new young upstart photographers than ever. And perhaps the most commonly preached advice for the newbie is to keep your pricing consistently within range of the rest of the pack.

As in the Putney Swope clip I posted a few weeks back (which I first saw via EP), the premise is that when photographers are willing to work too cheaply, they bring the overall pricing structure down across the industry and cheapen the business for everyone. I get it. Why would an editor hire an experienced shooter for $500 a day when she could hire one of the other ten accomplished and eager photographers in the same zip code to do the job for half? Well, the trick is to prove oneself better than those other ten photographers, right? Make it worth the magazine's extra dollars to ensure the high quality product they know they can count on with the experienced shooter rather than taking chances on someone who may be a little green and untested.

But what if you're one of those other ten photographers? You're looking for someone to hire you for any job so you can break into the assignment world and build a little momentum. If, like me, you come from the art side of things, you don't have a background in assignment work or making money. So when the first offer comes, and it will, the editor will apologize for the paltry sum she can offer and you'll tell her that it's alright, you're willing to take it because you like what they do there at that magazine you've probably never even heard of and you're just glad to be working with them. And as soon as you hang up the phone, you're going to plan dinner out that very night to celebrate the fact that someone out there in the world seems to like what you do and they're going to give you enough money for making a picture that you can afford to not only make that picture, but even buy a dinner to celebrate the job that, in terms of actual net income, will pretty much only go as far as covering your expenses and buying that dinner. But still, of course you will do it, spiraling down the whole time. How could you not? Who doesn't like being appreciated and eating dinner out?

But a couple years later, it gets a little more complicated when you've had enough of this kind of work to think that you know better. Now, you realize that every job isn't exactly fun. Sometimes they're a little grueling. Sometimes the subjects are difficult. Sometimes the reimbursement/payment on the celebratory dinner you put on your credit card comes 90 days late. So what do you do when you get an offer from another small magazine with big dreams and good intentions, and a budget to match? Well, in my case, you hem and haw and put it off a little and debate the above factors and question whether or not you should do the job at all. And then you do it. Of course you fucking do it... they want you to photograph Todd Haynes. Superstar, Safe, Far From Heaven... that Todd Haynes.

So, consider this both a confession and an apology to all of you out there trying to make a living while starstruck pansies like myself are willing to dwell off the bottom and use our cameras as passports to get us places where we wouldn't normally be invited. Like Todd Haynes' house. Sorry, really, but I couldn't help it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

you can't make a photo without a camera

Michael David Murphy, from the series Jim Crow Road

I don't know if anyone who reads my blog doesn't already read 2point8 or Conscientious, but just in case, Michael David Murphy, author of 2point8 and the photographer whose work I wrote about just a week or two ago, had his apartment broken into and his camera gear cleaned out right around the same time. Three cameras and accessories gone like that. A friend's set up a spot for donations via paypal to help him get back out in the world with camera in hand. You can make a donation here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

stink, stank, stuck

I haven't been able to post much recently. Partly because I'm really busy (in a good way- some shows and editorial work), but also because I've been stuck. For the past few days I've been trying to write a post that interweaves my adoration for my new favorite sweater, more adoration (and downright respect) for Brian Ulrich and his show at Quality pictures, my apprehension/resignation/sometimes adoration of adjunct teaching, and the notion of "sell out" as addressed by Dave Eggers in an old Harper's article and it's relevance in my recent decision to apply for a day job unrelated to photography.

Maybe I'm trying to do bite too much off here, but I'm not ready to abandon it quite yet. It seems interesting that others are writing about similar themes (separately- maybe I need to break it down) and that's what I love in the blogosphere- I'm not alone in my head. In the meantime, while I go back to the other work (the work that pays the bills) and masticate on this blog stuff, I want to point out:

Exposure Compensation on real authentic photographic prints -
- my two cents: I used to think that editioning prints was just a sales gimmick and resented it being used in photography. Now I'm of the opinion that to make a really good print, is an act of craftsmanship that is actually respected in the process. The hassle of making a good 30x40 is something I don't want to have to go through more than 1/2 a dozen times. Keeping the prints editioned keeps the quality high. That said though, I love Jen Bekman's 20x200 approach, a best of both worlds approach.

the Jackanory on turning down a desk job (my case is a quite a bit different- I haven't been offered anything. In fact, I don't know if I want the one I applied for or am even qualified)

Conscientious on the future of ideas (and your bank balance)

Cara Phillips on the necessity of a day job and the inherent difficulties of balancing work (for pay) with, well, work. Boy, I'd love to chime in on this, but the truth is, I've got paying work I have to get to right now (I told myself I'd start at 9:00- I'm 17 minutes late) I'm juggling every day. I do love though that in mentioning the importance of support from foundations such as Guggenheim, she shows a Sternfeld photograph made out in this neck of the woods. I don't have my copy of the book handy, but I think that picture's Pendleton, Oregon, is that right? I'm not positive on her selection, but I know that this one, one of my favorites in the book, is from Gresham, Oregon, near my own day job. Well, one of them. Maybe I can use GoogleEarth to find the street and photograph it these days?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

contact sheet depression

Timothy Briner, from Vacancy, 2004-2005

Over on Timothy Briner's Boonville blog, he writes about reviewing some of his own recent work and finding it disappointing, "as it always is when I first see it." My diagnosis leads to a pure case of "Contact Sheet Depression." Somewhere along my own path, I realized that rather than being giddy with my first view of new work, instead, the initial review process undoubtedly left me with a sinking feeling. Eager to spin toward hope (maybe sometimes rather than objectivity), I now try to remind myself that this disappointment is an important and necessary part of the process.
In the early days, the excitement of fresh pictures is related to the magic of discovering the new world created within the frame, that manipulation of the reality before us. I can't help but think that the disappointment Briner and I share when reviewing fresh pictures is a result of being experienced enough to adequately pre-visualize the final product, rather than discovering some new exciting world in the gap between what you see and what you get. That process of discovery (which keeps me motivated & excited) is now, more often than not, happening there on the spot, with camera in hand. You can only discover something once.
Briner does note that "after a few hours and a few beers, it wasn't so bad." Exactly. The only treatment that seems to do the trick for me is to put the pictures away and come back later, once the mindset of disappointment and embarrassment are fully ingrained. Then, with a loupe and a lack of expectations, usually a picture or two tend to rise up and make the whole damn thing salvageable. I hear you brother. Maybe we should start a support group? Wait, maybe we just did.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

more Photo Business

directed by Richard Avedon, 1979:

thanks pikensaver

Photo Business 101

from the 1969 film Putney Swope:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

travels near and far, but not far enough

old film / fresh scan - I drove down this road every day for a week last year

"Place for me is the locus of desire. Places have influenced my life as much as, perhaps more than, people. I fall for (or into) places faster and less conditionally than I do for people. I can drive through a landscape and vividly picture myself in that disintegrating mining cabin, that saltwater farm, that little porched house in the barrio."
- Lucy Lippard, from Lure of the Local

I don't know if we all travel through the world in the way that Lippard describes, but I certainly do. Whether that landscape is two blocks away or across the world, I can't help but imagine myself in that scene, usually sitting, maybe with a book, maybe with a cup of coffee, never with a laptop. Inherent in the concept of landscape, there's always that element of possession & interaction.

Beth Dow, Lawn, Hall Place

Yesterday, Beth Dow gave a talk at Blue Sky where her "In the Gardens" work is currently on view. This work's fascinating in part because of what's not there- the hard edges and sharp details of reality. Dow's work resonates because of its removal from reality and an overall smoothness of texture and value. This is due in part to a great combination of large platinum palladium prints, England's all too beautiful light, pollution and mist, and a healthy dose of old-school compositional balance. Ultimately, the result is backdrop for fantasy- dozens of wonderful little places to let your mind wander.

Michael David Murphy, from the series Jim Crow Road

On the flipside of the equation, Michael David Murphy has just scared the hell out of me with reality. Murphy's subtle photographs made along the path of Georgia's Jim Crow Road only gain momentum when viewed along with his other series/Youtube slideshow on the Jena 6. For those who don't know about this case (and I didn't), the "Jena 6" refers to a recent case in Louisiana that began when a black student asked permission from a school administrator to sit under what had traditionally been a "whites only" tree. Later, three white students hung nooses from the branches of the tree. That led to a high school fight, and once the dust cleared, six black students were charged with beating a white student. The first to be tried, Mychal Bell, faced charges of attempted murder and had an all white jury. Fortunately, those charges were reduced, but Bell was still ultimately sentenced to 18 months, with charges still pending on the other five.

I guess I'm not the only one who fantasizes about just checking out and relaxing under a tree. Much as I'd like to hide inside Beth Dow's work, Murphy's reminds me how important it is to check back in with reality.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

why stop with recipes?

Seeing as how I'm deep in the midst of gathering materials and prepping for classes I'll begin teaching next week, I'm once again confronted with the major obstacles I face with each new group of students: talking about pictures & making sense of art.

Anne Geddes, Armen in Lotus Flower

Each time I start a new class, I hand out a questionnaire on the first day that includes the question "Are there any photographers whose work you particularly enjoy?" My unofficial tally leads to 10% noting Ansel Adams, 25% Anne Geddes, 63% remain blank, and 2% enjoy Cindy Sherman, Joel Peter-Witkin, and Steve McCurry.

The difficulty of teaching isn't in getting students to learn how their cameras work, but in being clear enough, accessible enough, and thorough enough that we can bridge the gap between beauty and bullshit. That is, the beauty that they recognize and aspire to find in icons such as flowers, barns, bumblebees, etc. and the bullshit they call when they hear of someone like Richard Prince selling someone else's great cowboy picture for millions. There's no quick fix to the problem either. The Anne Geddes fans aren't necessarily quick to convert to Sally Mann. And just because of the black & white and shallow depth of field, she's a lot easier for them than Loretta Lux. Still though, kids are a great place to start.

One way that I deal with both the question of technical decision-making and this problem of art is "naked pictures of kids day" (though really, only about 1/3 of the kids we look at are naked). We start with family snapshots & studio portraits and the idealization of kids/family that we're all familiar with. Anyhow, from there we move into Tamara Lischka, Sally Mann, Todd Deutsch, Helen Levitt, Tierney Gearon, Simen Johan, Loretta Lux, and whatever else we find time for. This particular day has turned out to be academic comfort food for me, working pretty well in filling a day, giving them a good chance to discover, and chime in about approaches they hadn’t given much thought to before, but with a subject they're all familiar with.
Todd Deutsch, from the series "Family Days"

As I gear up for the next go-round, I'm interested in shaking things up and maybe trying some new stuff out. Therefore, I'm calling on you to please chime in with any assignments you may have given, or received, that you found particularly insightful or inspiring. What made it all click in your mind? Keep in mind, I'm teaching photography at the intro level in suburban community colleges. You can go ahead and hold onto Sherrie Levine and your Zone system handouts. For now anyway.

a real question from a reader!

I've been meaning to ask.
It's a silly question, but I bugs me every time I go to your blog.

40 Watt: A low but steady hum.

If it's a hum, shouldn't it be 40 Hertz: A low but steady hum ?

I've never heard a 40W bulb hum. But, at 40Hz, that's a low steady hum.

Sorry, I had to ask.

Hi Anonymous Reader,
Don't be sorry, I'm glad to explain. Years ago, back when I was young and even more naive, I fantasized about starting a small press and calling it "Humming Bulb," the idea being that it's a slow steady surge of creativity and work that's necessary to get things done. Back in October, when I first entertained the notion of starting this blog as a way to deal with the constant photo-related questions and conversations that take place in my head, that was the first phrase that came to mind when I was faced with the empty title box. However, after typing it in, I couldn't help but think that the phrase could possibly be misinterpreted for some sort of creative sexual innuendo. I didn't want to soil my blog in the same way that I've soiled so many awkward dinner parties, thus the change to 40 watt.

Now, as to the question of whether or not a 40 watt bulb hums, trust me, if you're in a room that's quiet enough, it does.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

more new years feel-goodery

two favorites from the Google image search results for "fried chicken"

My dearest reader, please believe me, I don't want to bore you with the mundane details about my personal life. I really want this blog to stay on task and keep moving forward with an ongoing discussion about pictures and ideas, but this holiday break has reinforced the fact that the mundane details of my daily life are integrally tied to my photographic pursuits & interests. So, please indulge me while I take this opportunity to tell you that I made the most amazing fried chicken over the break!

Amy Stein recently posted about her love of tacos and the importance of getting away from photography for the holiday. I couldn't agree more. One of the great pleasures I took in the holidays this year was leaving my camera in the bag (for the most part) and indulging other fancies. Of course, what this really translates to is eating & drinking. My personal holiday highlights include:

• Frying my own chicken (and some tofu, for the veg crowd).
• The soup my mom made out of Velveeta and hamburger. Really. It was an amazing fantastic creation, like nachos with reversed proportions.
• Finally figuring out how to make a decent omelet (it really does take the right pan- and high heat).
• Using those new pans to make blueberry crepes with Max (note, he was so inspired that he's now making pancakes as I type this).
• Cracking open the whiskey my dad gave me and staying up late to watch Prime Suspect 7. Then repeating with the Bad News Bears and the kids. And then repeating yet again with the Karate Kid. And I've still got half the bottle.

• Spending four hours in Carver, Oregon while waiting for the tow-truck driver to show up. By the way, apparently the driver's grandfather is the man who trained noted painter Bob Ross.

So, I promise to get back to the task at hand soon, but really needed to sing of my enthusiasm for the new year. Consider me recharged, invigorated, and raring to go. Well, and maybe a little pudgier than I was two weeks ago.

And please, in addition to your comments and photographs, send recipes. In exchange for each recipe I receive, I'll send you a copy of Michael Bishop's Views of the NYS Barge Canal. Oh shit, Ed, did I ever send yours? I can't remember.

some guidance (or perhaps, on embracing the lack of)

In a September, 2001 New Yorker interview, the writer W.G. Sebald describes the process of discovery as "random" and "haphazard," but asserts that "one can find something only in that way." Likening his process to that of a dog running through a field in a "completely unplottable manner," Sebald notes that the dog, following his nose and instinct "invariably finds what he is looking for." Sebald compares this to his own process in the sense that "... you accumulate things, and it grows, and one thing takes you to another, and you make something out of these haphazardly assembled materials. And, as they have been assembled in this random fashion, you have to strain your imagination in order to create a connection between the two things."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

the photo i want to use for my first post in the new year

is not mine.

and the only resolution i'm writing down: start keywording