Wednesday, February 27, 2008

a letter from A.D. Coleman

within the past three minutes, this email was forwarded to me twice. Seems worthy to pass it on:

Dear Friends,

Many of us, especially in the arts community, have been waiting for
this bill to come up (again) for a quite a while.

This artist deduction bill (S.548) (H.R. 1524) would give artists the
right to deduct the fair market value of their work when donating it
to museum (and in some cases other charities). Believe me, artists are
constantly being asked to donate work to different charities for
fundraising purposes. Visual Art Fundraisers are very common and
widely used every year to support foundations that benefit cancer
research, Parkinson's, diabetes, AIDS, and other non-profit causes.

Another aspect that I find particularly interesting is that often
museums (of every size) can be hit with budget constraints and this
can be quite difficult when attempting to build or even maintain
certain collections. If an artists gets the same fair shake from the
I.R.S. that a collector might get, then artist donated pieces may more
often find their way into those collections.

As it stands now, the artist can only deduct the amount of the
material costs of creating their work (the cost of paint, canvas,
clay, paper...)

This bill is non-partisan and fair. If you can support it, please
click on this link...

...and simply by typing in your zip code a letter of support will be
sent to your senators and congressmen.



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm so biased

toward straight photography that here I find myself needing good examples of artists who work with photoshop/manipulation to add layers of image & meaning, but I'm drawing a blank. All I can think of right now is Stephen Marc, Jason Salavon, and Chris Jordan's newer work. Come on, help me out... this is for class tonight.

Speaking of Chris Jordan, have you seen this?

update: thanks already for the tips... these are great. of course, how could i forget gursky & jeff wall? two more whose work i can think of, but i'm drawing a blank on: the guy from chicago who strips the text from the world (i'll look through brian's links). the other is the guy with the new england prep school summer camp orgy scenes. hmmm... my description is lacking, but if you've seen it, you know what i mean. oh, and i just remembered two that i do love to show: kelli connell and peter freitag's "examples for communication."

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers..." more second-hand inspiration

Hey, I'm really behind on comments and correspondence, but thanks much for all the feedback. Lots of great stuff there.

As I sit out in my shop and work, I tend to get stuck on a song and play that same song over and over for a good three or four days until I'm done with it. For the past couple of days, it's been this one. Last week it was this one:

I remember an entire month last year when it was this one. And then there was this one. Oh God, and this one.

Somewhere, I've read an interview or an essay about this very phenomenon, where the writer likened this fascination for a new song as a problem, or a puzzle, that the mind needs to work out, thus the necessity of the repetition. While looking for the article (I swear it was either Dave Eggers or Nick Hornsby), I came across an older (2000) interview that had been reprinted in Harper's, between Eggers and the Harvard Advocate. The Advocate's writer asks Eggers about "selling out" and whether or not Eggers was taking any steps to "keep shit real." Ultimately, Eggers analyzes the questions as a sad cultural condition related to the consumption of cool. In a sense, it directly addresses my recent questions about that balance of making photographs, as well as a living. I'm tempted to sit here and retype the whole damn thing, it's so good, but this is a situation where I'd rather just tell you all to get a Harper's subscription and then look up their archives for August, 2000 and read the whole thing yourself. There's a lovely Crewdson photograph in the spread too.

A great portion:

"The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it's corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. And I do not get along with people who say no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I'll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no's you've said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia, or no to that night out, or no to that project, or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.
No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message. There is a point in one's life when one cares about selling out and not selling out. One worries whether or not wearing a certain shirt means that they are behind the curve or ahead of it, or that having certain music in one's collection means that they are impressive or unimpressive. Thankfully, for some, this all passes. I am here to tell you that I have, a few years ago, found my way out of that thicket of comparison and relentless suspicion and judgment. And it is a nice feeling. Because, in the end, no one will ever give a shit who has kept shit 'real' except the two or three people, sitting in their apartments, bitter and self-devouring, who take it upon themselves to wonder about such things. The keeping real of shit matters to some people, but it does not matter to me.

… I say yes because I am curious. I want to see things… Saying no is so fucking boring. And if anyone wants to hurt me for that, or dismiss me for that, for saying yes, I say: Oh do it, do it you motherfuckers, finally, finally, finally."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

today's rejection letter

At least this one gives me a clear reason:

Dear Mr. Records,

Thank you for considering Kaiser Permanente for your Health coverage. Our medical underwriting process requires that we screen for pre-existing conditions. Based on the answers you provided on the membership application for Shawn Records, we are unable to offer you coverage for the following reason(s):

Minor height/weight variation

Rheumatism (this is that Gout I mentioned)

Well, the good news is that this is actually good news. Now that I've been officially rejected, I think the state will be forced to come to my aid and insure me.

In the meantime, I've got a personal policy that for every rejection I receive, I've got to submit to something else that week. In this case, I've got the Oregon Medical Insurance Pool, the Humble Arts grant, that New York thing I can't seem to find at the moment, and pause| to begin on my list. Pause | to begin is that fascinating new competition/publication that David Wright and Ethan Jones have cooked up. Not only are they creating a publication, but they're also visiting each selected artist and documenting the creative process as well. Sounds intriguing. I just hope they don't list my minor height/weight variation in my rejection letter.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

oh, how to live in the world?

Martin Parr, for Louis Vutton

Over the Christmas season, I mentioned that for the first time in my adult life, I'd applied for a day job that wasn't directly related to photography. Well, I recently found out that I've made it to the short(er) list of applicants so the question swimming in my head (and these waters are murky) is whether or not I'd actually want it if it were offered?

Perhaps it would be easier if the job was one that could satisfy my Utopian desires- if I were publishing photo projects I loved, legalizing gay marriage, or feeding families it'd be one thing, but it's not, the job's in advertising. Ultimately, while I can't really anticipate the specific moral dilemmas that I might encounter, I do have to face the fact that if I took the job in question I'd be putting my time and effort into the creation of cool; building up the machinery of hype that ultimately revolves around selling sneakers, beer, and video games.

Stephen Shore, for Glenfiddich

While it seems to come down to this simple truth, the arts economy isn't all that simple. Outside of teaching or commercial work, how does one make a living with photography? Even those photographers who seem to have risen to the top derive some portion of their income from advertising. Larry Sultan selling handbags for Kate Spade, Richard Renaldi's recent job for Microsoft, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, Todd Hido… And the thing about each and every one of these photographers that really hits is that they're good and consistently produce work that I admire. Work that, it seems, is partially funded through my/our consumption of Scotch and shower gel. If anything, it seems advertising fuels and supports the arts economy more than any other source. I don't know about you, but I've spent far more on beer and shoes in the past year than buying art from artists. In fact, at one point this year I bought a pair of Tommy Hilfiger shoes at the Nordstrom Rack. Accept my complicity. But you know what? Tommy Hilfiger puts on the TH Inside series of exhibitions, the most recent of which featured work by both Christian Patterson and Tim Barber, great photographers I'm happy to support in some small way through my commitment to discounted yet fashionable footwear.
here. now.

spoof ad, from

Aside from grants, and the long shot of gallery sales, is there a way to actually make money from producing/selling photographs as fine art? Have any of you tried selling on-demand books? Is there a place that gathers/highlights/promotes them? Should there be?

Is the great 20x200 phenomenon a business model that can work outside the Jen Bekman machine?

Tim Briner, does your Cannery Works donation model cover your expenses in your epic Boonville adventure? Is this a function that more non-profits should be pursuing?

In the meantime, as I continue to mull over the issues, I have decided on some clear actions that at least help create the world that I want to live in while I try to figure out the one I've got:

1) It's not certain yet, but it looks like I'll soon be saving about a hundred dollars a month on health insurance (my fingers are crossed). I haven't discussed it with the missus yet, but I've decided that half of this amount will go toward the costs of making work, and half will go into buying art directly from artists. Big Nazraeli monographs are great, but don't count. Art directly from artists.

2) I've recently joined the board of directors for Photolucida, a non-profit organization devoted to "an increased understanding of the world through photography." Photolucida puts on a big portfolio review event every other year and the Critical Mass juried competition each year. From Critical Mass, at least two monographs are published from those that receive the highest number of votes. While the books are great (Sage Sohier's just came out and Amy Stein's got one coming up), one of my main interests is finding more and more ways to promote work and get it out into the world. Please, bring on your ideas… you've got my/our ear.

3) Put this post to rest, take a shower, and go make a picture or two. Less squawking, more rocking.

Todd Hido, for Axe shower gel

Monday, February 18, 2008

HOW TO: boudouir photography

One thing we all want is good solid advice on how to make better pictures. And one of the few perks of adjunct teaching is the occasional free desk copy of a textbook I have absolutely no use for. It's usually a pretty direct path from my mailbox to the sales desk at Powell's, but Digital Boudoir Photography is a book that stays around for it's practical "step-by-step guide to creating fabulous images of any woman." I figure I should share the wealth:

- On using your car in the shot:
"The next step is to clean out all of the clutter. the car doesn't have to be perfectly clean inside, but old fast food bags and CDs lying about will detract from the photograph you are creating. The outside of the car and the windows should be reasonably clean. Either do it yourself or take it to a car wash. Once the car is clean, decide on a costume or two. Mini dresses, lingerie, swimwear, or even a pair of overalls will work. Think in terms of what is sexy to you about a car. A bit of thigh showing as a woman gets out of the car in a short skirt is one thing. Showing cleavage while bending over to work on the car is another. Then there is bending over to retrieve something from the car. All of these ideas show a bit of the private side of a woman, and that is what makes them sexy."

Other tips from the top: placing a bathtub outdoors, using a feather boa, creating a "sexy secretary" scenario, and using a hand mixer to make large batches of bubbles. And remember, when draping your model in caution tape, "you should be careful when wrapping to keep it professional and not be 'grabby' or accidentally brush your hand against her. Your photographs may suffer if she does not appreciate the familiarity, because it will be difficult for her to conceal her feelings while posing. The expressions will definitely show her discomfort. the reputation you develop as a photographer is based on how you behave. Even if the model is your wife or girlfriend, keep it professional."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

this one's pretty good for class

we're going on a night photo field trip next week.
i heart youtube:

ask & you shall receive

lots of great tips came in on the video front. Thanks much. If only you had as much knowledge about health insurance.

Speaking of, I worry that my recent post regarding my lack of health care may have given you the wrong idea. Please note for the record that I have gout, not erectile dysfunction. Perhaps it's just coincidence (or maybe it's just Valentine's day marketing), but there seems to be concern out there that I might be suffering from ED. I swear, I've probably received at least ten emails in the past two days with great offers for Viagra at discounted prices. Apparently, with the right pills, hidden in my pants is "a Hollywood story that's incredibly huge..."

And actually, immediately after posting the call for videos to show in class, I got an email advertising a video featuring "Paris Hilton + 2 black guys." Sorry, but at the heavily Christian suburban community college where I teach, between Sally Mann's naked kids and Alec Soth's penis pictures, I feel like I'm pushing the boundary as far as I can.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

some of the videos i'd love to show in class this week, but can't find anywhere

Sally Mann on Art:21

Bruce Gilden/Cindy Sherman/Ernest Gaines on the Egg

Crewdson on the Egg

is there anything out there on Nan Goldin?

any tips? anything else come to mind? Among those I do have access to and come to time and time again:

magnuminmotion (the Bruce Gilden, Martine Franck, Alec Soth, Alex Webb, Martin Parr, and Thomas Dworzak essays are really great)

that Winogrand/Bill Moyers video (but where O where is the Emmet Gowin section that preceded it? Having been in love with his work (and his wife) for years, the first time I watched it I was really struck with how, well, ordinary their lives were. At first it was kind of a disappointment, but in hindsight it makes the pictures that much more magical.

Also, any leads on technical videos that aren't full of cliche work and might be more interesting than me explaining cameras are always welcome.

Monday, February 11, 2008

on graduate school

All images, Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalents, 1925-27

The recent conversation on "mentors" over at Ground Glass has had me thinking about that complex relationship of studying under and learning from someone, yet striving to stand alone and claim one's independence. Perhaps nowhere in one's adult life is this rehashing of the parent-child relationship more painfully obvious, yet in so many ways, necessary. To this day, I've got a few photo professors whose voices echo doubt & encouragement in my head daily, like Yoda (not this one), Qui-Gon, or Obi Wan.

Every now and then, the pros and cons of grad school come up in conversation and it seems that this mentorship aspect is among the best reasons to go. School's not the only way to achieve this relationship (assisting might be better in some cases), and lord knows it's not the cheapest, but for some, it's a good way that your financiers will understand and support. But that's not to say that everyone should go to grad school.

My own decision was an especially big one, primarily because it wasn't just me. At the time, I had a wife, dog, child, and home. My wife had a job she was good at and liked. We owned a great house with a spare bedroom and a color darkroom in the basement. I owned a bright yellow pickup truck with a backseat for kids and dogs. On top of that, we had family and lots of friends nearby. But, even with all that, we made the decision that the possible gain was worth the risk. Pardon the cliché, but I see no way around it; photography was something that I was really passionate about. At the time, it seemed like grad school was the only choice.

Having made my decision to go, I narrowed down my choice of schools to apply to by researching the photographers I really liked. Long story short, midway through my first semester in Syracuse in the Fall of 2000, having sold our home, and moved the family across the country, I had to face the facts that grad school wasn't exactly the serious dialogue and community I'd been expecting. That night in our grad critique class we looked at, and spent a good two hours discussing two projects classmates had obviously been thrown together at the last minute. My apologies if I'm confusing any of the specifics, but I swear they still seem pretty clear in my head...

In one, the photographer had fashioned shiny golden halos out of pipe cleaners and wedged them into cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes that she would then hang from fishing line attached to a stick. Though she hadn't done so yet, her concept involved taking these "Guardian Vegetables" out into the world with an accomplice, and photographing them while they hung behind the backs and over the shoulders of unsuspecting victims. Though my memories of our discussion are a little hazy, I do remember being surprised that at no point was it mentioned that the student had obviously put this idea together in half an hour to fill the time or that it was flat out fucking stupid. In fact, this "conceptual" work led us into a long and thorough conversation about the history of photography and the paranormal and the obvious performance aspects of dangling a cucumber from a fishing pole in a Walmart parking lot. Perhaps this was a piece that would be better served through video than photography?

The other project that night was also food-based. For this project, the photographer had created a series of photographs of pumpkins, sometimes singular, sometimes in pairs or groups, all with studio-ish black backgrounds, all shot completely out of focus so the "punkins" were reduced to these blurry orange orbs in the center of the frame. These strategies were meant to strip the pumpkin of its inherent object-ness and lead the viewer towards a "meditative state" similar to the one the photographer had experienced while photographing the "punkins" and listening to Radiohead. In this case, our conversation turned to Stieglitz's "equivalents," Rothko's color-field paintings, and the Italian cab driver in Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth who confessed to having sex with pumpkins.

For me, the profound insight of that night was that I'd made a huge mistake, at a great cost. I'd been suspicious of Art previously, but this seemed to confirm my suspicions that Art was an excuse utilized by slackers who were trying to avoid jobs. I had imagined grad school as an intense time of making work and hanging out in bars and classrooms with people who would argue about The Americans vs. American Prospects. Instead, the debate was zucchini vs. punkins. During the long walk home that night, I decided that I should cut my losses and drop out the next day.

But while I slept that night my brain had a chance to sort it all out without my biases getting in the way. I realized that while it wasn't exactly what I had in mind, grad school offered a pretty unique opportunity: I was in a place where the meditation and decoration of vegetables was considered a worthwhile pursuit. That being the case, more than anything else, what grad school offers is an officially sanctioned opportunity to work. If you choose your school well, you can not only build up that mentor relationship that Cara describes, but you can also get yourself three years with time, a little money, and a darkroom key in your pocket. And while the direction of my classmate's work had initially disappointed me, I learned to loosen up and let Art be fun and silly sometimes too. I guess I learned to be less of a dick. I'll be damned, I learned something in grad school. It's weird, but I guess I kind of feel like someone, or perhaps something, was watching out for me that night. You know, like an Angel or a Cucumber or something.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Zwischenstadt Battle Photo

If I lived in Los Angeles, two things I'd do this month would be:

listen, eat, converse, and drink with Matthew Stadler and others at the clockshop. $40 gets you a gourmet meal and great company. Wednesday, February 20th.

Matthew's a great friend, writer, arts advocate, and all-around good guy. My Beaverton work comes out of a loose and inspiring collaboration with him that began with a trip out there to eat tacos, buy Totoro t-shirts, and embrace the ruptures inherent in the Zwischenstadt.

Untitled, from the series Beaverton

Also, Amy Stein's Domesticated is up at Paul Kopeikin. This is one of those galleries I've never had a chance to set foot in, but they show so much good work there that I've got to do so soon. The opening's February 16th from 6 to 8.

Amy Stein, Broken Home

* please note, the idea of the "Battle photo" comes directly from Amy's blog and is one of my favorite things out there. Actually, another blog favorite used to be Matthew Stadler's Personal Weblog where Matthew used's "Mechanical Turk" service to hire strangers from around the globe to write his personal blog for him, without letting the readers in on it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

i officially declare Wednesdays

the day of less squawking and more rocking. Less class prep, analysis, or excessive blogging, and more picture making. Besides, this morning's Conscientious post about portraiture is all any of us need today. So much good stuff there.

Random dirty scans of interest fresh from the machine:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday Grab Bag: will work for health care

You know, I'd love to spend some time thinking/writing/discussing photography, but Sam's home sick and I've got another issue that's taking precedence: health insurance. I've got a letter here from my insurance company that says my benefits are going to expire in three weeks. Also, due to a series of premature and slightly embarrassing previously diagnosed afflictions (do you have gout? I sure do.), no insurance company will touch me unless they're required to cover me by law. That said, between my monthly premiums for insurance and my out of pocket expenses for medications, the health insurance costs for my family of four run over $10,000 per year, with over half of that just being mine. And gout is known as the "rich man's disease"? Anyone want to trade? I'll offer up a 30 x 40 print in exchange for Allopurinol and Lisinopril. Any suggestions? Well, besides diet and exercise.

Aside from solving my health care problems, perhaps I can get you to solve a teaching dilemma too:

In my Friday class this week, I want to give my students an assignment centered on the theme of love/Valentine's Day, but still need to gather up more resources and examples to show and inspire. Aside from that great "Niagara" Magnum photo essay (one of my favorite things on the internet), what else comes to mind? Loosely related is fine. In fact, that's probably best. Maybe Jason Fulford's "Crushed"?

Aside from these dilemmas, it's been a pretty good week. For others from the Gem State too:



and myself

Frank Arisman giving a talk at the Rooke gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I think that's the edge of my picture there.

Aside from all the people & photographs in the photo above, I see an elephant in the room. Plenty of my previous posts have dealt with, and brought in great commiseration on, rejection. But now I've got another issue to deal with- how do I write about it when I get in? With all my bitching/pontificating about rejection, it feels false to ignore the occasional acceptance.

It ends up that while I was writing my previous post about making work for the sake of making work and not for getting in to this or that show, the scene above was going on at the Rooke gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa where the selections of the Society of Photographers 6x6 competition were being announced. I got the good news a little later that day.

So yeah, I'm excited. I'm happy. But then again, I have at least two friends (not Alexis or Ron) who were also under consideration but didn't get chosen. If I were to draw attention to their work here would it be embarrassing for them? The last time I had a go at Jen Bekman's Hey Hot Shot I was featured on their blog as "coming back for round two" and then rejected the next day. At the time I certainly would have preferred stewing alone in my basement to the publicized rejection.

Well, as i've previously ranted about, I think it always helps, whether the work's in or out, to take the jurying process with a big hunk o' salt. By design, any committee decision leads to the common denominator(s), not necessarily what any one of us might think is the best work.

There were a few things about this Society of Photographers process that I really liked. For starters, everyone who submitted work got to view all the entries as well as vote on them (though our votes didn't count worth as much as the guest jurors). I also like the fact that there was more of an International mix in this, some great work from Africa and Eastern Europe that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Also, comments were heavily encouraged and the comments given are printed right there alongside the work in the book. Ultimately, as an artist, I don't really want that baggage printed right there alongside the pictures (even when it's positive), but as a participant, I do welcome the feedback. It's pretty interesting (and a little frustrating) to see how some that I'd thought were shoe-ins didn't make it in. And of course, I can't help but keep in mind that the same pictures I'd submitted have seen plenty of rejections in the past as well.

Anyhow, I'll just take this for what it is- a lucky break that justifies buying the next round. Just remind me that the next time you see me, I owe you a beer.

Just don't tell my doctor.