Archive for January, 2009

That Voice

January 31, 2009

Mahalia Jackson sings her heart out in this over the top funeral scene from Douglas Sirk’s classic Technicolor melodrama Imitation of Life.

Digital Digressions

January 30, 2009

What is it about the seduction of new technology?

I support digital photographic technology and where it seems to be headed. At the same time I’m quite reserved about how I’ve embraced it so far. I still shoot film, but I “process” or “produce” my photographs digitally as do most people these days.

Other photographers have begun embracing the digital camera itself and various other digital processes as well. I’m obviously not talking about photojournalists (who began embracing the digital process from start to finish years ago), but about people like Florian Maier Aichen, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman or even Loretta Lux.

Thomas Ruff, Nudes EZ14, 1999

I would argue that in many ways Thomas Ruff has completely reinvented what he does photographically through the digital process. Beginning with his Nude series made with appropriated images from online porn sites and continuing through his recent body of work, jpegs, Ruff has embraced digital image making and the use of photoshop.

One aspect of Ruff’s work that I admire is how each project is quite different from the one that came before. Using similar digital techniques like over-enlargement, blurring of the image and pixelation, Ruff seems unafraid to try something new, exploring the photographic image with great intensity. Not that making something new is the key to producing great art.

Richard Misrach, Untitled, 2007

Richard Misrach also seems to have entered the digital domain with new work that debuted in the Winter 2008 issue of Aperture. That same work is also getting the exhibition treatment right now over at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.

From the exhibition press release:

Misrach’s new photographs mark a radical break with his work to date, in that they are his first images made without film. Working with a state-of-the-art digital camera yielding astonishing detail, Misrach has deftly switched positive and negative along the color spectrum. The images extend the artist’s longstanding interest in landscape and seascape imagery, yet they transform nature in extreme and heretofore technologically impossible ways. Rocks vibrate with saturated tones, water’s surface shimmers as a vast enigmatic expanse, and surf takes on improbable deep red shades. Misrach’s panoramic “desert scrub” images become even more mysterious as colors are transformed into their negatives – branches become brushstrokes in a photographic “action painting.” The images are both foreign and familiar. Seen in total, the series suggests an apocalyptic vision of the natural world as we have known it.

Misrach had his first taste of digital manipulation with the last body of work, On The Beach. For some reason I was very surprised to learn that he was manipulating those photographs, but I didn’t have a problem with it. By removing extraneous people from the images, Misrach was able to better represent his visual and conceptual ideas. Now Misrach has apparently put the 8×10 view camera to rest (hopefully not forever) and picked up a digital camera, probably a medium format digital back system of some sort.

Maybe it’s a technological break but I don’t agree with the statement that this new body of work is a radical departure from Misrach’s previous work even if it was shot digitally. In my mind, the new work is a logical continuation of his previous beach photographs (and a mix of his desert images as well), except these landscapes are all presented as inverted negative images and are devoid of most people.

Although I find many of them quite beautiful, I wonder if these new images water down his previous efforts? A post on Conscientious from a few weeks ago also ponders similar questions about artists repeating themselves.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 2008

I don’t really have answers when it comes to repetition (most of us are somehow implicated) but I think it’s an interesting topic to think about concerning the photographic medium where repetitive and serial imagery is so evident and almost compulsory.

Cindy Sherman is someone who seems completely comfortable repeating herself with each new body of work. While the essential subject of her photographs rarely changes (her photographic self), Sherman continues to find new ground to cover and timely ways of exploring the ideas and issues that surround us. We can probably all take something to learn from that.

Ridiculous Late 70's Redux

January 29, 2009

Check out Claude François’ dance moves as he performs Alexandrie, Alexandra.

François was the man responsible for writing the original version of Comme d’Habitude, whose melody was the basis for My Way written by Paul Anka and popularized around the world by Frank Sinatra.

Louis Amédée Mante and Edmond Goldschmidt

January 29, 2009

Untitled, 1890’s (Private Collection) by Louis Amédée Mante and Edmond Goldschmidt

Louis Amédée Mante was most of all a chemist and an inventor while Edmond Goldschmidt was a dandy from a wealthy family with a very keen interest in photography.

Having met at a photography exposition in France, Mante and Goldschmidt discovered that they shared a mutual interest in color photography. Together they pioneered an early color photographic process which supposedly predates Lumière’s Autochrome process. Known today as Mantochromes, these color images date from right around the turn of the century.

Group of Female Nudes, 1910

Jacqueline Millet, who is Mante’s great-granddaughter, has been trying to get recognition for Mante and Goldschmidt’s colorful achievements. More information and reproductions of the photographs can be found through this link but all the text is written in French.

Cléo de Mérode, 1895 (Famille Mante)


Slumdog Skinny

January 29, 2009

still from Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire

Most people have probably seen Slumdog Millionaire by now. I certainly enjoyed the ride and was on the edge of my seat most of the time hoping (or was I waiting) for a happy ending.

In the end I came away not in awe of the film as opposed to the many viewers and critics alike who have concluded otherwise. Slumdog Millionaire is a very well done wild roller coaster ride through the slums of India but it’s hard to take too seriously as a great and memorable film.

When I think of some of the best films of the past few years (which also accommodate repeat viewings): WALL·E, Zodiac, There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, Eastern Promises, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Life of Others and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days come to mind. Comparing them to Slumdog, I can’t help but laugh at the idea that Slumdog is the best we’ve seen this past year.

Dennis Lim has written an article for Slate that is probably the first decent piece of criticism I’ve read about Slumdog Millionaire.

Here are a few snippets:

“Slumdog has been so insistently hyped as an uplifting experience (“the feel-good film of the decade!” screams the British poster) that it is also, by now, a movie that pre-empts debate. It comes with a built-in, catchall defense—it’s a fairy tale, and any attempt to engage with it in terms of, say, its ethics or politics gets written off as political correctness.

A slippery and self-conscious concoction, Slumdog has it both ways. It makes a show of being anchored in a real-world social context, then asks to be read as a fantasy. It ladles on brutality only to dispel it with frivolity. The film’s evasiveness is especially dismaying when compared with the purpose and clarity of urban-poverty fables like Luis Bunuel’s Los Olvidados, set among Mexico City street kids, or Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, set in inner-city Los Angeles. It’s hard to fault Slumdog for what it is not and never tries to be. But what it is—a simulation of “the real India,” which it hasn’t bothered to populate with real people—is dissonant to the point of incoherence.”

The full article is certainly worth your time and consideration.

Update: There is a Slumdog controversy brewing over here.

James Welling – Glass House

January 28, 2009

James Welling, 0696 (Glass House series), 2006

Originally commissioned by New York Magazine for an article about Philip Johnson, these somewhat recent photographs by James Welling are currently on exhibit at Galerie Nelson-Freeman in Paris until February 20, 2009.

James Welling, 6063 (Glass House series), 2008

From the Press Release:

The iconic theme of the glass house gives the artist the opportunity to explore the photographic medium through the element that constitutes the leitmotif of his work : light. Using different tinted filters placed in front of the objective, James Welling explores three types of themes : the house, different views of the interior, and the pavillon on the lake, thus alernating and manipulating colors in an unusual way.

Under the glass roof, James Welling presents his very first film, « Lake Pavillon », made in 2009 with a low-defintion digital camera. As for the series of photographs, the artist uses color filters placed in front of the objective of his camera, thus giving the image strong saturation and luminosity. In a loop of about six minutes, we follow and hear the artist’s steps as he paces around in the pavillon of the lake, alternating close-ups of the pavillon and the snow-covered landscape around it.

James Welling, 0745 (Glass House series), 2006

The new video piece (posted to YouTube by Mr. Welling himself):

“I thought about nesting emotional resonance within the form. In all my work, the alternation between empty and full, Kingdom and Darkness, produces a current which lights the image. In this sense my work is representational. What it represents is the invisible, seen with the aid of a conceptual baffle.”

-James Welling


January 28, 2009

PIXXXEL by Jean-Yves Lemoigne

These recent PIXXXEL shots by Jean-Yves Lemoigne seem to have an interesting idea and process that went into their making.

PIXXXEL by Jean-Yves Lemoigne

Looking at the accompanying how-to illustration somehow doesn’t really help me grasp how these pixels were made physical.


Lemoigne has some larger files on display using his fullscreen website (in the editorial section) where you can see the building blocks of these pixelated girls up-close and personal.

John M. Stahl & Douglas Sirk

January 28, 2009

still from John M. Stahl’s Magnificant Obsession, 1935

John M. Stahl was an American filmmaker who worked in Hollywood during the silent era and transitioned to making talkies in the 1930’s.

still from Douglas Sirk’s Magnificant Obsession, 1954

Douglas Sirk (born Hans Detlef Sierck) was a German born filmmaker who left for Hollywood in 1937 to avoid the Nazis as well as to protect his Jewish wife.

still from John M. Stahl’s Imitation of Life, 1934

What these two filmmakers have in common is that Sirk remade three of Stahl’s classic 1930’s women’s melodramas or “weepies” as they were know back then: Imitation of Life, Magnificant Obsession, and When Tomorrow Comes which became Interlude.

still from Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, 1959

Sirk has been one of my favorite filmmakers for quite some time now but I’ve never actually seen any of the Stahl originals (although I’ve seen his 1945 lush noir, Leave Her To Heaven shot in glorious Technicolor.

Luckily, starting tomorrow and continuing through the weekend, Anthology Film Archives will be screening both versions of all three films. If you aren’t in New York City, you can probably get these titles on DVD. The Criterion Collection recently released both versions of Magnificant Obsession in one totally magnificant package.

While Stahl’s original versions are generally considered more straightforward black and white affairs, Sirk’s versions, made in the 1950’s, are techni-colorful and over the top melodramatic. As much as I’ve been a fan of Sirk’s Imitation of Life and Magnificant Obsession, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how they relate to Stahl’s originals as I’ve heard great things about them too.

I highly recommend trying to see these films but one thing worth remembering is that these are old school Hollywood melodramas and they need to be understood and watched within that context.

One might find certain scenes and moments completely outdated and too hard to swallow or suddenly a scene might seem more humorous than was originally intended. Try to put yourself back in time to when these films were originally made. Then consider that these powerful films were ahead of their time for capturing and exploring the lives of women as nothing else that came before them.

Photographic: 02-09

January 26, 2009

To request the above photograph:

Send an email (Subject: Photographic: 02-09) to horses [at] with your name and address.

If you are the first person to respond after the posting, you will receive the photograph in the mail.

* This photograph is no longer available.

The Walkmen – You & Me

January 24, 2009

The Walkmen’s latest album You & Me is definitely one of my favorites of 2008. I still find myself listening to it quite frequently which says a lot considering the rate I can plow through new music these days.

The Walkmen’s music moves forward with a stirring velocity that can be both intimate and expansive. The mostly guitar driven sound is rooted with Hamilton Leithauser’s lead vocals. His voice manages to be both scratchy and soft, yet haunting and mysterious. All together it’s a great sound which they’ve balanced quite nicely throughout their time together.

If you haven’t listened to them yet, start with the new album as it’s my favorite so far and then work your way backwards to 2004’s Bows + Arrows and then to 2002’s debut Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone.

You & Me is streaming on the band’s MySpace page and a bunch of songs from various albums are streaming at the official website.

Lastly, check out this wonderful rendition of On the Water from You & Me as recorded for La Blogothèque’s In a Van Sessions. The acoustic sound recording is gorgeous in its rich and raw simplicity and I love the whistles as they come in towards the end.

The Walkmen – On the Water from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.