Archive for December, 2009

2009 – Highlights

December 31, 2009

This is not a top ten list by any means, moreover it’s just a compilation of things (not necessarily new) that kept me interested and inspired throughout the year.

In alphabetical order:

1. The Americans – Robert Frank

americans-frankRobert Frank, Trolley—New Orleans, 1955

I can honestly admit that although Robert Frank’s The Americans has been collecting dust on my bookshelf for many years, my love of photography just didn’t encompass this brilliant little book until now.

Maybe it’s the fact that the book is 50 years old and that Frank had a huge year in terms of never ending press and exhibitions, but 2009 will be forever stamped on my brain as the year I learned to truly appreciate Frank’s amazing accomplishment.

The Metropolitan’s Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans was the exhibition that helped open my eyes. Looking at all 83 photographs that make up the book and seeing them in sequential order hung up on a wall totally confounded me and made me realize how much was on the mind of this great visual thinker and how intelligently edited and put together the overall project was. These photographs are wonderful and witty, ironic and beautiful.

I guess I should have realized these things years ago by looking at the book on my shelf but sometimes one can’t see past the hype that surrounds a highly regarded project or the work is just way ahead of and smarter than most viewers including myself.

Make sure to see the exhibition before it closes on January 3rd, you won’t regret it.

2. Bradford Cox – Atlas Sound, Deerhunter

walkabout-cover

There isn’t much to say that I haven’t already said before about Bradford Cox, Deerhunter or Atlas Sound. Logos was definitely one of my favorite and most listened to albums released this year.

Let’s not forget about all great extra music Cox releases on his blog: new tracks, unreleased recordings and wonderfully considered micromixes.

3. Dirty Projectors – Bitta Orca

bitte-orca

I have already written about this great album, another one of my favorites released earlier this year, but it’s worth repeating.

This is a great album that should stand up against the test of time.

4. Ed Ruscha – Leave Any Information At The Signal

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“I think photography is dead as a fine art; its only place is in the commercial world, for technical or information purposes. I don’t mean cinema photography, but still photography; that is, limited edition, individual, hand-processed photos. Mine are simply reproductions of photos. Thus, it is not a book to house a collection of art photographs–they are technical data like industrial photography. To me, they are nothing more than snapshots.”

-Ed Rushca talking to John Coplans in 1965

How can you not want to read the words of someone who has so dramatically influenced contemporary photography and yet doesn’t consider himself a photographer let alone believe in photography as an art form. Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages is absolutely priceless and worth your time.

While you are at it, pick up a copy of either of his photography catalogues and see if you don’t disagree with his own statements.

5. Hunger – Steve McQueen

hunger-7

Feature film debut of the year if not absolute best film of the year from British video artist Steve McQueen.

Hunger was an intense and necessary viewing experience. If it’s still playing in a theater near you don’t hesitate any longer, this is not meant for DVD.

6. The Hurt Locker & Inglourious Basterds

the-hurt-locker

Although very different in tone, these two powerful films still have me thinking long after having seen them. A return to form for Quentin Tarantino and a step out and above for Kathryn Bigelow. Looking forward to what they both do next.

7. Photographing in Color – Paul Outerbridge

Large_H1000xW950On eBay earlier this year I picked up a very cheap copy of Paul Outerbridge’s Photographing in Color published in 1940. Unfortunately my copy didn’t include the scarce dust jacket. The book itself is mostly a how-to and craft-related book of color photographic processes presented by Outerbridge but includes some insightful thoughts about the photographic medium in general.

The book begins with this remarkably outdated introductory paragraph:

“SO YOU think you’d like to photograph in color! Well, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, but you’ll have to take certain things into consideration. Color photography in its present state of development, even with the easiest processes known, is not quite as easy as black and white nor is it as fast, and furthermore it costs more.”

outerbridge

It’s amazing how things have really turned upside down since 1940, it is now way easier and cheaper to print in color than it is to print in black and white (unless one goes the inkjet route) and most of the processes discussed by Outerbridge are old and out of date. But one of the things I find not out of date in this book are the 15 incredibly rich and colorful photographic plates which are tipped in to the book.

Thinking about a lot of the color still life photography I saw this year, I can’t help but think of Outerbridge and his subtly enduring influence.

8. Protest Photographs – Chauncey Hare

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Probably the best new photographic book I picked up this year, Chauncey Hare’s Protest Photographs is incredible and should probably get some kind of award for thickest photography book and most belatedly printed body of work. If you just finished a series of photographs and think you deserve a book, think again… and then wait.

Don’t miss the personal essay written by Hare himself and get a deep insight into this heartfelt body of work.

9. Vernacular Photographs

bird_smCollecting vernacular photographs is an extremely cheap hobby as most photographs usually cost about $1. But the habit does requires some serious patience as one must sift through enormous and disorganized piles of images to find the good ones. While I have been a collector of many paintings, drawings and objects over the years, it was only recently that I discovered the absolute joy and wonder of collecting these little poetic gems.

Part of me is beginning to feel that I am practicing my picture taking and editing ability by looking through hundreds if not thousands of photographs. In a way I feel that collecting photographs has become another aspect of my photographic practice and in many ways these pictures I collect have become completely mine as they reflect my taste and picture making sensibility.

There is also quite a bit of luck involved, just like making pictures.

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Start your own collection and see what inspires you.

10. White Noise and Mao II – Don Delillo

whitenoise_2006I began 2009 by reading White Noise, originally published in 1985 and was immediately taken with Don Delillo’s brand of writing which I found to be both disturbing and humorous as well as intelligent and extremely ironic. White Noise is quite a dark, almost dystopic view of contemporary life as reflected through our television obsessed, consumeristic and polluted lifestyle.

One of the reasons I picked up the book in the first place was because Jason Fulford mentions it in Spine: New Voices in Graphic Design. Fulford provided the photographs that were used for one of the paperback editions. The cover photographs together with the novel description peeked my interest enough to take a copy home one day from the Strand.

From the first page forward I immediately began to see the novel as a film. Delillo’s language is extremely descriptive and full of visual references. After having just finished reading Mao II, I realize that this is Delillo’s standard practice and am already looking forward to reading Libra which is sitting in a stack of books on my shelf. There is just something very cinematic about the way Delillo writes and the way he describes a scene, the words surround you and conjure up image after image in your mind. Read carefully as there are many deep thoughts that concern the power of the photographic image.

11. The White Ribbon – Michael Haneke

whiteribbon

Another dark, beautiful and mysterious masterpiece from Michael Haneke. I don’t know where he comes up with this stuff and I probably have just as many answers as the next guy (which means I know absolutely nothing) but I’m thoroughly intrigued and looking forward to seeing it again very soon. One of the things I love most about Haneke’s films in general is that there really are no answers and easy explanations. In a way I realize that many of his films hold the power of a single photograph, which without text, explanation or context can only hint at their true meaning and underlying narrative.

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Photographic: 24-09

December 31, 2009

photographic_24_09

To request the above photograph:

Send an email (subject: Photographic: 24-09) to horses [at] horsesthink.com with your name and mailing 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.

Photographic: 23-09

December 19, 2009

photographic_23_09

To request the above photograph:

Send an email (subject: Photographic: 23-09) to horses [at] horsesthink.com with your name and mailing 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.

A Dead End or Just Like Skateboarding?

December 18, 2009

“The reason I enjoy photography so much is because of the ways it is similar to skateboarding. The beauty of skateboarding is that it is about virtuosity. Everyone who skateboards is essentially riding the same thing, so the progression of the sport is about what you can do on that thing, how you look doing it, and how you decided to do it, but you can’t step off of your board. Because of their loyalty to the sport, skateboarders must progress slowly, feed off of one another, and take cues from their peers. That is beautiful to me, that competitive aspect is beautiful.

Skateboarding is definitely about doing new tricks, but it is also just as much about doing older tricks well. Every skateboarder can do a kickflip, but you can still see someone do a really good kickflip and be wowed by it. The invention of new tricks is rare, but the pushing of older ones in new directions is commonplace. That is sort of how I think about photography.”

Josh Poehlein writing on Why Photography is Like Skateboarding

I had a conversation recently with a close friend relating to the current state of photography.

This friend (who is as art obsessed as any person I know but doesn’t really consider himself to be an artist so to speak) was explaining that he had been spending a considerable amount of time looking at contemporary photographic work online and found much of what he saw quite unimpressive and repetitive.

The work he seemed to like the best showed the hand of the artist in the making more obviously. He was talking about what he considered to be more creative work, which I understood to mean photographic work not based in some sort of realistic depiction.

I mentioned the Paul Graham discussion I attended a while ago and what Graham had to say regarding the staged photograph and why it’s so fashionable today. I mostly agree with Graham on his point but what he says doesn’t exactly explain why so many artists are making set-up work, it only explains why the work is so popular with viewers, collectors, gallerists, dealers and museums.

My friend’s point seemed to be that work based around the idea of the document tended to blend together and look too similar in the end. I think part of his response is due to the inherent homogeneity of seeing photographic work online (everything is about the same size, backlit by the screen, etc.) but I believe there is some truth to what he was saying.

I brought up the idea that photography can often seem like a dead end with so many photographers searching for that interesting or exotic portrait subject or that unique location or poetic thin red line to explore. I’ve also often come away from many contemporary photographic books or exhibitions with the thought that the medium lends itself too easily to gimmickry (I would include my own work in that assessment).

In the end we agreed that most photography is and has always been about some sort of access. Of course it’s also very much about making the choice, not just to try to access a particular situation, but also to actually explore a specific subject. It seems that today more than ever, that choice of what to photograph is more important than how one photographs it, that if you show a subject that hasn’t been seen or explored before, people will be quickly interested. Yes it helps when that subject is explored in some unique way, but it doesn’t always seem necessary.

This is where the quote above about skateboarding comes in as it offers a different understanding of contemporary photographic practice and the idea that we can only perfect and re-create in a new way what has already been done before. In the grand scheme of things photography is a very young medium but I really wonder where it can go in the next 100 years.

We all know that painting as a medium was declared dead many years ago but just a quick glance around proves that painting is not dead yet.

I obviously don’t think that photography is dead but it’s definitely due for some re-invention and I don’t mean the digital kind.

Lately, I’ve been excited by some photographers who seem to have found a natural way out of the medium. That’s not to say that they give up on making photographs. On the contrary, they continue to make photographic work but they are also beginning to engage in other art making practices. The freedom to begin exploring visual ideas through other mediums seems to lead to a re-freshed perspective when it comes back to photography.

Brian_Ulrich_City_LifeBrian Ulrich, City Life, 2008-2009

I’m thinking about Brian Ulrich’s recent foray into sculpture and installation with his rescued neon signs which have been lovingly brought back to life albeit in a completely new re-contextualized setting. Even though the signs are very much sculptures, there is still something very photographic in their existence on the wall as objects.

leakfrom Christian Patterson’s Out There

I’m also thinking about Christian Patterson’s new work Out There which we’ll hopefully be seeing more of soon enough. Most of the work is photographic in nature, but Patterson has also been incorporating found images, objects and some facsimiles into his exploration of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate and their three day sprint on the road through the Nebraska landscape. While the project is an exploration based in some sort of reality or fact, the result is clearly a personal and intense journey into the unknown.

lazarussubmitted jpeg from Jason Lazarus’ Try Harder

Jason Lazarus is another artist I can’t help but think about, as he has completely expanded his repertoire to include much more than just photographs.

samfallsd05Sam Falls, Figure Drawing (girls like us), 2009

Lastly, I’ve been impressed with Sam Falls and the way he seems to be expanding the definition of photography. I’m not even sure that the work is completely photographic in nature, but he definitely has me intrigued and looking with excitement.

At the end of writing all this, I asked my friend to comment further on his feelings about photography, below is what he wrote back to me.

Keep in mind that this is only one opinion:

“I think you should also mention the fact that this homogeneity stems from the fact that art education, specifically MFA education in itself has become standardized. It’s become an industry. It tends to push artists into this certain way of thinking: come up with a concept, photograph it, make large prints, put it on a wall and try to sell it. It’s not just MFA programs that are at fault, also complicit are galleries that show a very specific type of work. Combine the 2 together and the artists feels as if this is the work that sells, this is the work that they have to make. Ultimately, for me, that results in works that have a similar tone and feeling to them. Where the subject being photographed, or the location being photographed, trumps everything else. The artist’s hand in the photograph is overshadowed by the photograph itself. I tend to prefer work where the balance between the concept, the artist’s technique, and the end-result are at equilibrium.”

Photographic: 22-09

December 18, 2009

photographic_22_09

To request the above photograph:

Send an email (subject: Photographic: 22-09) to horses [at] horsesthink.com with your name and mailing 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.

Larry Sultan, 1946-2009

December 14, 2009

92405441_20f6ebfcdb_oLarry Sultan, from his series Pictures from Home

I first saw Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home in an exhibition at the Corcoran in Washington D.C. many years ago (along with a concurrent exhibition of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia).

Seeing the work was like being hit over the head. It was the first time I ever paid attention to photography in any serious manner and quickly woke up to it’s intense artistic power.

I probably wouldn’t have taken up photography if it wasn’t for that afternoon alone with Sultan’s family, he will be missed.

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In thankfull

December 13, 2009

in_thankfull

in_thankfull_back

Actual size:
3.25 x 4.25 inches

Painted Billboards

December 13, 2009

rosenquistJames Rosenquist with his mother from Painting Below Zero

I am quite stricken with the above photograph of James Rosenquist and his mother standing in front of one of his early painted signs in Minnesota back in 1954.

The billboard itself seems quite special, but maybe it’s just my feeling of nostalgia for a somewhat less commercial time or maybe it’s because I love Coca-Cola. Either way, I would have loved to see a billboard like that.

I guess the closest thing we can experience that even compares to something like that is the very large painted billboard you can see on 23rd street and Park Avenue as you head uptown. Whenever I see the painters up there I am amazed at what they do and wonder how it’s done as I don’t see any grid or anything.

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Camera Guy

December 11, 2009

spacey_olympus_3

These new ads fro Olympus for their new PEN camera are pretty diverting this early in the morning.

Kevin Spacey is hilarious:

“I wanna be… I don’t know, camera chow, picture wow, something different. Don’t be a tourist.”

Photographic: 21-09

December 10, 2009

photographic_21_09

To request the above photograph:

Send an email (subject: Photographic: 21-09) to horses [at] horsesthink.com with your name and mailing 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.