Monday, March 31, 2008

yet another thing i need to get done before i die (though i don't have any immediate plans or anything)

Henry & Ruth (in the shop right now)

I had a conversation with a photo friend the other night about obituary photos and how important they are. Neither one of us has a decent photo of ourselves. It made me think that I really would like to have a photograph of myself that isn't embarrassing or where my head's not especially egg-shaped. If not for me, then for the kids. I don't know, maybe this one from the mac camera's okay... still a little egg-shaped though.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

spreading the gospel.

One of the most exciting aspects of Spring Break '08 was finding a package of inkjet iron on transfers that I bought years ago. Sam put one to good use and made himself a t-shirt:

Following his lead (I try to do this as much as possible), I plan on making myself some t-shirts of photos I like. But to work as a t-shirt, the image can't be too complex or subtle. Also, I need to be able to scan it out of a book to get a high enough resolution. Martin Parr immediately comes to mind (and is on the bookshelf). Being such a master of marketing, I'm surprised he hasn't done this already. These three are currently under consideration:

Friday, March 28, 2008

before, during, after

I seem to have lost my blogging momentum. Lots going on around here, mostly good, and I just haven't had the time to put into it. The passion's still there, but I've been busy, tired, a little flu-ish even. Contrary to what you might think, Spring Break '08 hasn't been full of the beer-fueled ejaculatory shenanigans the mythology (of Spring Break) inspires.

Speaking of, the more I think about it, the more fascinated I am with the subject of sex in photography. Thanks for those replies that I did receive, but I was kind of surprised that there weren't more. Matthew pointed out the difficulty of my query though… photography that deals with sex without being voyeuristic? Is that even possible?

Maybe… I don't know. I wonder if the trick is photography that deals with sex while not necessarily being photographs of people having sex. I guess the thing I'm looking for is work that acknowledges sex as just another element of being human and getting through the day.

Though I haven't put too much effort, thought, or analysis into it, these pictures all come to mind as being somewhat sexual, but not necessarily voyeuristic. Perhaps "intimacy" is the word. I guess you could argue that it's a question of timing. Each strikes me as being sexual in that they could be read as either before or after:

Michael Northrup, from Beautiful Ecstasy

JoAnn Verburg, Untitled, 1989 from Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort

On a semi-related note, way behind the rest of the world, I finally sat down over the past few days and spent some time with Taryn Simon's An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar. It's the kind of project that really impresses me with it's scope, research, access, and insight. It's one of the best books I've come across in a long while, but the funny thing is that I don't love much of the actual photography. Some is pretty great, but much is maybe a little too deadpan and clinical. Still though, it's a book that excites me and makes me want to get off my ass and make something.

One of the reasons I was so slow in putting the book on my library list, even with all the buzz I've read about it this past year, is that my previous idea of Simon's work was skewed by some older work that I've seen somewhere- highly cinematic and stylized money shots. Though I can't find the image that turned me off (alright, maybe after it turned me on), here's another from the same series. Just imagine Harold Edgerton photographing sex instead of bullets shooting through apples. It's weird that I can't find any more of Simon's sex project today, but I did come across a conversation on Amy's blog from last year that dealt with the same work, but the work in question is no longer on the Richardson mag site either. That passion's gone.

Taryn Simon?, title?, date?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring Break '08

Two more days of grading odds and ends and getting my ducks in a row and then Spring Break '08 has officially begun. Now as much as I enjoy school and photography, I'll be the first to admit that it's nice to walk away every now and then and rediscover other pleasures. To that end, a Law and Order re-run forced me to the internet for my television time the other night and I've spent the past few nights streaming the series of "American Pie" movies on my laptop.

I know, it's sad. No, they're not especially good. Yes, they're very juvenile, but still, now I can't stop until I've seen them all or the free links break.

But of course it's got me thinking about sex. Specifically sex and photography and what photos or projects out there deal with sex in some way that goes beyond the voyeuristic or political? Nan Goldin immediately comes to mind as someone who's done it well, but once again, I welcome input here.

Shit, see how hard it is. Now that the subject's out there, every sentence is an unintended innuendo.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

i'm trying to avoid a knows/nose pun here.

John Baldessari, "Noses & Ears, Etc. (Part Four): Altered Person (with Blue Nose).", 2007

My favorite aspect of this blogworld is that conversations take place, information gets exchanged, and on a good day, I come away having learned something or at least having commiserated in some way. In response to my previous post, my real-world friend Mary Wheeler (yes, everyone I know uses both names every time, I'm not sure why) asked a question I have no answers for, but I can't help but wonder if some of you do? Mary works for a company that creates museum exhibits. She asks...
"we're at the very beginning stages of a project where we'll be developing media for an exhibit on scents or fragrance (to be determined) -- I've been thinking about how various media address the ineffable, and I was wondering what the field of photography has to add to this -- are there works that deal with senses other than the visual? with synesthesia? how can be? if you had to choose a photograph to represent scents or fragrance, what would it be? (and in answering that last question, you'd just be doing my homework for me, so feel free to pass).

Pass, I will, Mary. Pass it on. From all the great responses I've received to my teaching queries in the past, I bet someone out here has some good ideas. I'll keep thinking on it myself, but nothing immediately comes to mind.

Monday, March 17, 2008

is it the name or the context that's more important?

I'm swamped with grading these days, but can practically smell Spring Break. Identify the photographer, project, or the context of our discussion:

"Edward Norton. Picture shows the Native American life style. Edward Norton would often dress up and pose his subjects in a way that didn't really portray their lives but more so the way the rest of America pictured them."

Friday, March 14, 2008

From Chattanooga to Denver

Lee Friedlander, Galax, Virginia, 1962

While I'm here on the front lines with my last class before Spring break today, the majority of the nation's full-time tenure-track photo crowd is assembling in Denver for the national Society of Photographic Education conference. In honor of the Friedlander sub-text of late (in a sense, he's all about scale & self, isn't he?), as well as SPE, I'll reprint one of my favorite pieces of writing by John Szarkowski, his afterward to Friedlander's Self Portrait.

I once happened to attend a conference, designed to wring from photography its deepest secrets, and later to publish them in five (I think) languages, not including, of course, the language of photography, which is too difficult, ambivalent, ambiguous, or mysterious to be broken to pull in harness with languages that have dictionaries and grammars. In spite of the apparent hopelessness of the problem, the conference was attended by critics, aestheticians, other philosophers, social scientists of various specialties, prophets, and politicians, most of whom seemed dedicated to the proposition that the group might, if it put its common shoulder to the wheel, determine what photography ultimately meant, so that the question could by Sunday morning be declared dead, and never again waste the time of the panelists.

The program might have proceeded smoothly toward its goal if Friedlander had not been invited, but he was. He was also, if my memory serves me correctly, the first speaker on the program. I use the word speaker in the nominal sense, for he began by saying that he had nothing to say about his pictures, but had brought three Carousel trays of slides - three hundred and sixty pictures - to show, and would be happy to try to answer any questions that the audience might have. The pictures were carefully and intelligently chosen, and arranged chronologically, and the slides were beautifully made, so that it would have been possible to lean back and take pleasure in the view that an important twentieth-century artist had formed to describe the evolution of his own career. But this would have been rewarding only to those who believe that pictures have a life, and a life history, of their own. To those (perhaps half of those assembled) who believed that it was the function of pictures to provide ancillary proof to truths that might be formulated by wise blind men, it was deeply distressing to be asked to sit and watch pictures without dialogue or sub-titles for ten minutes, then fifteen minutes, without having been given a text that one could agree with, or disagree with, or agree with in part, with wise, witty, delightful exceptions, citing St. Augustine or Groucho Marx or Walter Benjamin or Jacques Derrida or others who, however innocent of any complicity with or even knowledge of the sins or the provisional triumphs of photography, were called upon to bear witness to its ultimate possibilities. Friedlander (perhaps innocently, or perhaps with some higher Metternichian sophistication) had momentarily foiled the philosophers and the politicians and the social scientists by giving them nothing but pictures, which was not quite the grist their mills needed.

After twenty minutes or so of this embarrassing mismatch, a public-spirited auditor in the back of the room decided to sacrifice himself by asking what was obviously a ludicrously irrelevant question, but that might serve to get the intellectual ball rolling. He asked: "Where did you make that one, Herr Friedlander?" Friedlander, obviously pleased to be asked a question that he could answer without compromising his own standards of precision and concision, promptly responded that the picture in question had been made in Toledo. Friedlander was in fact so pleased with the question (which did not concern his life in bed, or his political commitments, or his insights into the ultimate secrets of life), that he announced to the audience that he would be happy to identify the place at which each of the remaining quarter-thousand pictures were made, and he proceeded to do so: "Memphis ... New City ... Phoenix ... Cambridge ... Jackson Hole ... Syracuse ... etc." As Friedlander continued his recitation of place names a considerable part of his audience seemed to sink into a progressively deeper confusion, perhaps in some cases due to the perception that so many great ancient cities seemed to have sunk so low. Finally another voice, polite but firm, asked whether it was really relevant that he had made this particular picture in Chattanooga. Friedlander considered the question for a moment and, with a respectful seriousness of manner that I have no reason to believe feigned, said yes, he thought it was relevant that the picture had been made in Chattanooga, because if he (Friedlander) had not been in that city he would not have been able to make that picture.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

any bumper sticker ideas?

Tony Mendoza

In the midst of my drinking and schmoozing last week, I spent some time talking to a nice designer guy from California who referred to himself as a "humble, amateur" photographer. He said that he'd been really interested in photography, but found that after photographing every tree, kid, sunset, friend, etc. around him, it all began to seem redundant and boring. As if he'd approached every available subject, did what he could do with it, and wanted to move on to the next thing.

The more I think about it, the more I think that his approach to photography makes sense, but is the very source of the problem that he's encountering. More often than not, students in my intro classes come in with the notion that the success of a photograph is almost exclusively dependent upon their choice of subject matter. If a picture includes a weathered barn or a dog or a southwest desert, it must be "good." As I've gone and on about here (speaking of redundancy), my interests are in photography that is about that relationship between the photographer and the subject, whether it's a barn or a dog or a red rock arch.

Wright Morris

Len Jenshel

If I were going to lose money by producing photography related bumper stickers, the first sticker I'd make would be "DON'T TAKE PICTURES, MAKE PICTURES" for it's reinforcement of the call for individual action. It's rare that passivity is used to advantage, maybe in terms of personal interaction, but not in terms of the actual picture-making. But still, the question is one of balance. Making work that's honest and personal, yet not so manipulated or indulgent that it becomes excessive or narcissistic. A favorite quote from Robert Adams, a perfect example of a photographer who doesn't appear to have ever gotten bored with trees:

"When we think of pictures in the documentary style we think of views that tend to be frontal, that are made from enough distance to put the subject in context but not so far away as to reduce the scene to an abstraction of oriental planes, and pictures that are printed so that they are not difficult to retranslate back into life. There are, to be sure, as many varieties and degrees of this style as there are photographers who use it, but its distinguishing characteristic is always the same, restraint- an avoidance of bizarre camera angles, extreme lenses and formats, and exotic darkroom manipulations. That rationale is respect, a deference for the subject on its own terms a deference afforded naturally to what is itself eloquent. The photographer's chief effort is to be fair."
-from Why People Photograph ("Michael Schmidt")

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

a little more on my relative size

Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1974

It's been days since I've posted, but believe me, I 'm still small.

Yesterday morning my email inbox poured forth with 177 messages, 173 of which were old messages that I'd already received months ago. On top of that, when I tried replying to one of those four emails that mattered, I found I was able to receive, but unable to send emails. Four hours and two calls to tech support later, I got it back up and running, but somewhere in the process I've lost my entire email history. Yesterday morning, I had 17,000 emails in my account, now it's about 300.

Ultimately, my frustration is born out of scale, and it's accompanying lack of control. Like love, death, or the weather, the internet seems a little too large for my full comprehension. At least without putting in more work than it's worth. That's the issue, isn't it? Control. Whether it's with a camera, a microscope, or an equation, we look for patterns and boundaries as a way to map possibilities, as a way to have a little bit of control.

In previous posts I've written of how I'd applied for a job in advertising, but was unsure about whether or not I'd even want it. Well last week there was a two day meet-and-greet that involved bringing us applicants together to meet one another and then culminating in a casual party that was very much like a portfolio review, but with music and beer.

It was fun. I met some nice people and spent thirty six hours outside my house, in a world of money and cool. Though we didn't actually talk about advertising much, I've been thinking about it a lot since. I also see it within the context of scale. Ultimately, it's not just me, we're all small. Advertising makes people feel bigger by making them part of something larger than themselves. It sells the illusion of control. Like photography itself, it's kind of a complicit lie:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I am a small man.

Adam Golfer, from the series Pioneers

Years ago, when I was just discovering photography, I was driving down Broadway Avenue in Boise, Idaho and noticed that just beyond the shadow of the giant football stadium, on the outskirts of the hundreds of cars in the parking lot, two neighborhood kids had borrowed a couple traffic cones to set up a makeshift roller hockey court. At the time, I was struck by how small and oblivious they seemed in relation to the machinery of the world and I cursed myself for not having a camera on hand.

There are plenty of photographs I haven't made that stick in my head, the ones that got away, but for some reason, this one keeps coming back, even now, at least ten years later. I'm guessing that it has something to do with scale. Not just the physical scale of the kids in relation to the stadium, but that constant questioning of the scale of me/us in relation to the world. I can't help but think that photography, if not all photography, at least the kind that I practice and gravitate towards, is nothing but an examination of scale; the constant questioning of what's out there (in both the physical and emotional worlds) and how I/we relate to it. The small person in a big space isn't the only way to deal with that, especially if it becomes formulaic, but it can be pretty effective.

Mitch Epstein, West Side Highway, New York City 1977

from the Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames

Joel Sternfeld, Approximately 17 of 41 Sperm Whales That Beached and Subsequently Died, Florence, Oregon, June 1979

not the same whales (this is from 1970), but certainly of interest:

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


my less squawking more rocking Wednesdays are coming together. Lots of new work.

I'm especially excited about a new project: Harbor. It's quiet, but starting to come together.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

spread the word

Carrie Mae Weems, When Did You Leave Heaven? 2001

Anybody have a friend with leanings toward the romantic and a spare $5000? I'm long on the former, but not exactly swimming in cash right now.

Well, tell your money-having collector friends about Photolucida's Great Northwest Portfolio.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

the week in review

One thing I'm still learning about teaching- sometimes it's difficult to drive the computer and talk at the same time. The cadence is one of fits and starts. That being the case, oftentimes the hand clicks and pauses while the mind and/or mouth race to catch up.

Three times in the past week, I found myself kind of pausing midstream to make a point and when I surfaced I realized that I was standing next to a 9 foot projection of each of these images. How much do you want to bet that no one heard a word I said?

Upon the realization, I think I looked something like this:

rendering via

But with a red beard and a sweater.

Speaking of class, thanks again for all the great digi photographer tips.