An Edition of One

Before photography was elevated to an art form, it was a craft. Somewhere between journalism and portraiture, technically-skilled people with a creative streak caught moments, and then made prints. Alfred Stieglitz wanted to make endless copies and sell them as cheaply as newspapers, and Edward Weston or Ansel Adams never numbered or limited their work to editions. Photographers made a living selling their prints, not creating images. The prints varied in size and in quality. Sometimes different papers were used, or new negatives, or different chemical processes. Often, prints made by an assistant were technically superior, but didn’t have the provenance.

In the 1970s, when photography was discovered as an art form, the issues around existing prints had to be addressed. The first wave of great photographers were no longer working or had passed away, so the existing prints defined the final number of pieces in circulation. The edition became finite and limited by circumstance.

Fine art photographers began working around the concept of editions, sometimes bound to the arrangement within which they showed their work. Bernd and Hilla Becher in Düsseldorf did limited editions, and showed their relatively small prints in arranged grids of 3×3 or 4×4 images. Fine art photography really hit a stride with the acceptance of color photography. Color work by William Eggleston, and especially the large-format work by Stephen Shore or light-boxes by Jeff Wall, really established photography as a true artistic language, rather than a creative accident.

At the time artists really started using color photography as a medium, print-making was still an inherent part of the creative process. The artist worked in a darkroom, hand-making large prints. Replication in the 1970s felt futuristic, and was a comment on society. Andy Warhol worked with photography and with silk-screens, in which he made unique pieces based on stencils that insisted on recognisable repetition. Jeff Wall’s light-boxes were a reference to ubiquitous advertisement. For fine art photographers, making multiple versions of the same image was an integral part of the art form, it wasn’t just a way to create indiscriminate iterations of the same piece so they could sell more of them. Their hands-on process was as much art as a sculptor casting a bust. They made the print that was ultimately sold and framed.

The art world began expecting editions from photographic artists. There would be two or three different sizes, each with a certain number of available prints, plus some hold-backs that were considered Artist Proofs or Display Prints. But over time the idea of editions has lost its meaning. Most photographers now print digitally. Even those who shoot film will scan the negatives and then handle the image as a data file. Pretty much all artists at the top of the field use high-end fine-art reproduction houses like Grieger in Düsseldorf or Recom in Berlin. In a time when a digital file can be printed on profiled paper from a calibrated printer, and endless replication is commonplace, the concept of making editions is entirely removed from the art. Editions are being sold by photographers because that has become the business model. It has no merit, and exists largely due to historical development.

There are photographers who will continue to make editions. No two darkroom prints are ever identical. There’s just too many variables, and even the most exacting lab-rat can never replicate a final print. Those artists making their own prints in alternative developing processes define themselves through their hands-on approach, because they’re even more technical and ultimately difficult to execute. Others will issue editions because their price point has arrived at a place that demands editions to justify the cost incurred making the image initially. If you’re famous for pictures of elephants like Nick Brandt, or vanishing tribes like Jimmy Nelson, then the cost of  global travel can’t be recovered by selling singular prints. After all, that kind of work is truly photography and not necessarily about fine art. But it is the artists who stage their images that still have a certain creative defensibility around the idea of editions. An artist such as Thomas Demand makes intricate dioramas, but that’s not the final artistic work – the photographed image is. He’s not selling a little scale model made out of cardboard, otherwise he could simply present his work as sculpture. He sells prints, and they’re remarkable. Thomas Friedrich Schäfer, a young artist who works with me in my studio, makes incredibly detailed sets that take weeks to build, but only exist in their final form for a day. When he stages an image within such a setting it makes sense to create limited editions of the work. It is a comment on the ephemeral nature of memory.

Thomas Friedrich Schäfer

Even though I stage my images, the sets I use are not as intricate in my recent work. My pictures happen within the dynamic exchange between photographer and model.  I have chosen to create only unique pieces, and I go beyond a simple print. As I’ve explained in my videos, I use matte acrylic diasec and crop out certain key elements of an image which are then framed in steel, and printed on a waxed paper. That isn’t a viable method for every artist working in the realm of photography. Nonetheless I believe the age of photographic editions is coming to an end. I would encourage artists to forego editions unless there is a compelling creative reason to make them. There is a real sense of relief in selling work and knowing that it’s gone. After all, a fine art photographer may use different tools, but it’s no different than making a painting. A painter creates individual pieces, and once they’re sold he may never see them again. Why should we photographers be any different?

The gallery Camera Work invited me to join them in China at the Shanghai Photo Art Fair. My work was incredibly well-received there. We brought three pieces, all of which sold during private pre-view on the first day, and we sold some more pieces sight-unseen by buyers. They picked them out of an A4-sized booklet that we had brought. One extremely wealthy buyer fell in a love with a piece that was at the fair. He wanted it, but it had already been sold to a collector whom I respect. At first the man from Western China asked me (through an intimidated translator) to make another one for him, at which point I had to explain that I don’t do that – my pieces are unique. Well, he wanted me to make another for him anyway, but I said that was not going to happen. Then he wanted to know who the collector was, and what he had paid so he could make an offer to him, but I was not about to reveal any of that information. The last thing I wanted was the man with the private museum being hounded by this rather aggressive would-be buyer. Finally, he sulked, and told me that I would not get far in China with this kind of inflexible attitude.

It’s nice to know my work is coveted. I think it is notable though that a country which is known for its seemingly endless replication is a strong market for my series of unique photographic images. I remain committed to making one-off pieces, and will continue to encourage fellow artists to make deliberate choices when it comes to editions.

YR Personal Disclosure pieces in Shanghai

 

Personal Disclosure

In less than four weeks I open my solo show at the CWC Gallery, the contemporary branch of the renowned Galerie Camera Work in Berlin. I have been working on this series for over three years now. Initially the working title had been The Sacred & the Profane, but the project has evolved so much that I feel a need to separate the series into two parts.

I’m in the process of finalising my Artist Statement. That’s probably every artist’s favourite sentence, along with “I’m currently updating my website.” But before I finish the statement, I thought it would be a good idea to summarize how I got to this point.

The project was originally about religion, and how I felt about the sacred and profane. I was pissed off about cancer, and death, and the interruptions of life that I’d gladly blame on a higher power, except that I don’t hold such beliefs. I created narrative images using religious iconography, and the Baroque language of light and color, but I put a more modern spin on it. I was creating images that told timeless stories with modern characters in old light. Some of the images were a little snarky, it was part of placing the stories within a more modern context. But a lot of them were reverential, and quite honest in their approach. I was gaining a respect for the stories that were being told. I’m not sure beatification was the obvious conclusion to every story, but they certainly described a human condition that honoured the human spirit.

But at a certain point, I got frustrated with the project. I knew where I wanted to go but I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I wanted the grace, I continue to believe in the human ideal of beauty, but I found myself caring less about the story. Narrative serving as a vehicle to transport the viewer into visual ecstasy wasn’t necessary in modern times. The reference points were a distraction, not a departure point. As modern people we deal with imagery differently than post-Renaissance viewers.

I realized that I was ultimately more interested in the beauty that is inherent to Baroque art than being critical of religion. I spent considerable time in museums and churches, exploring Florence, idling at the Gemälde Galerie, or poring over books. If you’re an artist, it’s hard not to be captivated by the beauty. It’s real. The artists put all their adoration into their work. I wanted to do that, too.

At the same time I was dealing with illness, the death of my father, and big issues around the family business. I didn’t have the time or bandwidth to actually be creative and to make new images, but I would explore my existing images and rework them endlessly on the computer.

The idea of the crop arose during those days. It came out of time spent zooming into details, seeing close-ups of an image segment, and identifying isolated elements that I enjoyed. I would get up from the desk to get a cup of coffee, and when I returned all that filled the screen were a pair of hands or the clavicle leading toward a shoulder. Often it would be hands or the arch of a back, body parts intersecting, a moment, an expression or some gestures. These visual snippets were beautiful by themselves.

But just isolating those highlights made no sense, they lacked context and weren’t enough to be stand-alone images. The simple crops were not enough. They needed the original surrounding image, without it the snippet was incoherent. The duality of liking an element and wanting to provide context gave rise to the language of crops, in which I highlight an element within an image while leaving the rest of the picture somewhat obscured. I had watched the restoration of aged paintings. During that process you can see areas come back to life. The painting’s real color and beauty come through in the full clarity and saturation, which had been obscured by layers of smoke and soot and filth. It suddenly made a part of the image more important, and the eye would travel there first. Sometimes it was a key element of a painting, but other times it was something unimportant, and the eye was forced to hunt around the rest of the image, trying to make sense of what it was seeing.

This gave me the opportunity to create a whole new language, separate from telling stories. I gave myself permission to abandon the stories, and to focus just on the vulnerability and grace of the human body. Rather than tell small stories of religious adoration, I could move beyond the narrative style to show what I was feeling without giving too much away. And so I have decided to rename the early part of this series Quiet Devotion and the second part Personal Disclosure.

Cain Able Tryptichon_web_sRGB

I’ve explained the material choices and physicality in a prior post. Using the matte acrylic Diasec to obscure segments of the overall image while high-lighting the crops with a richer, more saturated Di-Tone waxed paper is key to the project. Using a rolled, oiled steel as vestigial reference to gilded, ornate baroque frames recontextualizes it into a modern language.

This triptych that I’ve added to this post is one of the key transition pieces between the early series, and what it became. There is still a distinct narrative element to the work. This is the story of the First Mourning. Cain leads his brother Abel to his death, and then immediately realises the irrevocable horror that he’s caused. But I was no longer worried about telling the story, and found myself more interested in the beauty of the bodies and how they interact. I reduced the images to a bare minimum: the landscape of hard, geometric shapes, the human figure, and fabric to bridge these two elements.

I will write more in the coming days. Stay tuned, I’m pleased to finally show some work.

 

I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist

Last week I got into one of those late-night red wine conversation over dinner. We were talking about the definition of contemporary art within the context of photography, and I was trying to define what I do. After a long meandering “drowning-man” grab for a definition, I said “I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist.”

And then I stopped, and laughed, and realised that will sound awfully pompous if taken out of context. But then again, life is just a bunch of crops, isn’t it? To be clear, my statement was meant as a compliment to photographers.

The Galerie Camera Work opened a large retrospective of the photographer Martin Schoeller over the weekend. It’s a magnificent opus, nicely summarised in a new teNeues book simply entitled “Portraits.” It shows his work over the last fifteen years, including the wonderful larger-than-lifesize portraits of every celebrity you can think of, but also great environmental portrayals. These pictures are shot in kitchens, living rooms, or on location. There are also intricately staged photographs, in which he places his subjects in whimsical situations. The point is, Schoeller has substantial photographic skills. It takes aptitude and experience to walk into a room, find a light set-up, make your subjects comfortable, and to knock out a shoot with limited amount of time. Martin Schoeller is a great photographer.

I am not a photographer, not in the sense that Martin Schoeller is. I know how to use my gear, and I use a camera as my primary tool when I create my work. I don’t believe art is possible without craft. But my work is growing increasingly more conceptual, and my skills are built around what I need to make my art. I usually create my images in my studio, because I know how that works. I have my particular lighting set-up, but will prepare sketches for a lot of the depictions before they ever get shot. The image I make doesn’t simply come to me as I enter the space for the first time, nor is it a location I scout before the shoot. I build my sets, I arrange the styling and the look of the model, and I know which poses I’m aiming for, and all of it is tied to the image being created that day. It’s a very deliberate and pre-conceived process.

Nor can one simply argue that certain photographers only succeed because they’re shooting celebrities or naked super-models. Martin Schoeller and Russell James are brilliant photographers. Would the same images work if they were made using “regular” people in the frame? Absolutely, though it would be harder to get a viewer’s attention. More to the point, the same stars and babes shot by lesser talents would make for some very boring photos. The pictures work so well because they’re good photographers, and great craftsmen.

But are they artists? Where is the transition between photography, and contemporary art? I’d venture a partial definition: Photography is capturing the key subjects as they express themselves. Art is arranging the subjects in way that expresses something entirely different.

My images are not supposed to capture the essence of its subjects, they are an expression of my feelings and thoughts. As an artist I can’t simply captures something, I need to initiate it, and I need to be responsible for the final result. If I rely on circumstance or outside forces, then I’m simply documenting the moment. I realise the word “art” is laden with sanctification, though I find it overblown. After the whole twentieth century reappropriation of “art for the people/by the people”, everybody is an artist, and it seems like that has become an unassailable descriptor, a carte-blanche, akin to “belief.”

I have stated my art manifesto before. It’s been a few years since I first posted it, and I still feel the same way.

Art must have four things to matter: concept, craft, discourse and aesthetics.

Art without concept is simply decoration. The world is filled with pretty pictures, clever drawings, and cool stencils, but without an underlying concept it is meaningless. Conversely, art cannot live by concept alone. The idea must be graspable. Hyper-conceptual art may curry favor within a very select circle of art crit MFA candidates and those seeking to justify the curatorial choices they have made, but it does not stand the test of time.

Out of this concept must arise discourse. The viewer must engage with the piece. It is not enough for it to be clever. Art must be a trigger, it must elicit an emotional response, an intellectual response.

Art without craft lacks respect. The coincidental arrival at a strong piece of work is not a deliberate choice. It reflects the moment, not the artist.

Art must make an aesthetic choice. It should appeal, or repel, or intrigue – on purpose.

I’d love to hear from you what you think. It’s an interesting conversation, and I’m nowhere near finished with it. Here’s an image from a tribute to Christo and Jean-Claude that I shot a few years ago. The idea behind it was very specific and deliberate, but it’s hardly a studio image.

_MG_4695_HiRes_Square-web

Paris Photo 2014 Panel Discussion

I was given the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at Paris Photo this week. It was a group made up of established members of the fine art photo community, led by Rick Wester, a well-known gallerist and former auctioneer. Lisa Erf, curator of the highly respected JP Morgan collection was also on the panel, as was Victor de Bonnecaze, from the Galerie Daniel Templon. This year Templon dedicated its entire Paris Photo selection to Staged Photography, my favorite sub-genre within the world of photography. Also on the panel was Vanessa Hallett from the auction house Phillips, where she is the Senior Director and Worldwide Head of the Photographs group. Finally, we were joined by Sondra Gilman and her life-partner Celso Gonzalez-Falla, who began collecting photography in 1955.

The goal was to discuss how technology has changed the process of collecting photography. We spoke about the ways it’s becomes easier for a gallerist to show collectors an artist’s work beyond the gallery space, and how artists are able to maintain their own web presence. We also touched on the problem inherent to image overload. Art work is all over the internet without attribution to artists, never mind the galleries where a viewer might buy such an image. Some art blogs, like the Staged Photography Tumblr do a good job of attributing the artists to the respective work, and even identifying distinct series.

I explained that I use social media and my blog as a tool to stay in touch with people who like my work, and to share some of the thought process and the production that goes into my work. I don’t simply feed images into the ether. Simply put: Facebook “Likes” may be fun, but they don’t necessarily translate into work that makes it way into curated collections or people’s homes.

IMG_0006.JPG

 

Another problem is scale. Even the largest monitor is not as big as many pieces of contemporary fine art photography. This matters a lot, because the eye travels through an image differently according to size. Elements within a picture have a certain relationship, and they take on different levels of importance if they cannot be seen within the same field-of-view. Consider a portrait, for example. I can view it on a monitor, and can focus my interest to a specific part of the face. But a huge portrait on a wall doesn’t permit me to see the whole face at once unless I step way back, and a normal viewing distance forces me to look at it the same way I might explore a landscape… I see an eye, a mouth, the line of the hair… but not the whole face.  This is an important and powerful part of photography.

I think we missed a real opportunity though. I tried to broach the topic of technology in the creation of new work, but it didn’t make its way into the broader conversation. I believe it matters, but more traditional collectors still think about photography and the underlying collecting process as something based on paper prints. But contemporary photography doesn’t require a film negative, nor the positives that are made from it.

There are artists who use digital technology as a primary tool in their work. Ruud van Empel and Simen Johan are both artists who are deeply involved in digital collage, one more overtly than the other. Other artists such as Erwin Olaf or David LaChapelle fine-tune their image using digital post-production. But most importantly, contemporary artists have a myriad of display materials available to them. We can use a large selection of surfaces on which to print images. I have seen artists print on linen, leather, cardboard, aluminum, and all kinds of paper that is then bonded to glass or acrylics. I use a combination of waxed paper and a difficult-to-use matte acrylic in combination, and neither the material choice nor the production pathway would be an option if I didn’t have the proper technology available to enable it. You can read about my process in a previous blog post.

Unfortunately, at Paris Photo I also saw a number of photographers use material that I consider inappropriate for the image or its subject. Some images work well on a light box, but many do not. Another material which is frequently misused is acrylic Diasec, which is an incredibly rich and glossy material that brings out contrast and saturation within a picture, but is also quite reflective. Nuances are lost when an image has to compete with the elements reflected from the room in which it hangs.

I was able to make this point to collectors: the new materials are one more reason why you really have to see the work in real life. No matter how good an image looks on a screen, the ultimate choice made by the artist trumps all prior efforts. No matter how good the work is, the wrong presentation will kill it. A print needs the proper frame, a passe-partout, and some museum glass, but contemporary photographic art is more complex than that. A photographer can focus on taking pictures, but an artist has to make creative choices all the way through to the final piece.

Quiet Devotion

I have been shooting my Quiet Devotion project for over two years now, and have undergone a number of major life events that have impacted upon the evolution of the series. What began as an angry lash-out at whatever residual issues I might have had with institutinalized religion has finally resolved itself in post-narrative depiction.

The images have become reductions of stories, more like pencil sketches rather than sweeping epic dramatizations. My early illustrative images with large sets and groups of people have been replaced by simpler constructions. Like any feeling, thinking artist I am awed by late Renaissance and Baroque masters, whose paintings illustrate the greatest stories ever told, whether biblical, mythical, or ovidian. These paintings often hinge on their details, which give the key to the work. I came to love and look at them through these details, so I sought to bring that out in my own work, and my original title for the series was The Sacred and the Profane. But photographers have faired poorly when attempting to cover this narrative territory, convoluting their images with details that turn into meaningless props and pointless postures once they are no longer accomplishments of painted labor. As an artist working within the genre of staged photography it is liberating to distill a story to its core emotion captured in a simple gesture or curve of the back, illuminated through the use of chiaroscuro.

As a photographer I arrange the elements in my images rather than simply catching a certain moment, and place distinct emphasis within the overall frame. Creatively, staged photography offers both substantial narrative opportunity, but also a certain risk to clarity. It is tempting to fill an image with symbolic elements, but if the shot composition isn’t perfect then the image can slide into illustrative overload, or a simple aggregation of meaningless beauty. I found myself obsessing over details, and isolating those through a series of ever-tighter crops. However, these cropped details are lost without their context. A set of intertwined hands, a basket of fruits, or the folds in a curtain become meaningless if there is no bigger picture behind it.

I wanted both: to draw attention to certain elements of the image, and to show the context in which they occur.

Lenya Hand Catalog JPG_web_sRGB

Two years ago I discovered a printing process that only one fine art print shop in the world can execute – and the way to produce the images I had envisioned. I only found out about the exclusive nature of the material after I fell in love with it, but I knew this matte acrylic Diasec C-Print process was the medium I needed for the Sacred & Profane series. It is incredibly beautiful, but very difficult to use. There is a richness to the texture, but at the same time it makes the image feel removed, in some ways otherworldly. As part of the cropping process, it was my plan to use different print media, one I had used previously. I crop out certain parts of the image, and print those on a waxed paper using a Ditone archival pigment process.

Lenya's Hand,Back_web_sRGB

Two of these images were hanging on one of my studio walls, though one of them has since been sold. Key to this series is that every piece is unique. There are no editions. When I’ve created pieces that are related to one another, the crops are different. No image will ever be used again, nor will a related image have an identical crop.

Lenya's Hand 2_web_sRGB

The steel frames are German precision work. We tried to weld some ourselves at the studio for the first prototypes, but were unable to get anywhere near the level of quality that I require. I use 3 millimetre rolled steel throughout the series, it represents a vestigial reminder of baroque ornate gold-leafed framing. The slightly shiny reflective areas where the oiled steel bounces light off the edges gives it a formal setting. It’s at odds with the industrial nature of the rolled oiled steel, as is the physical weight of the material in contrast to its appearance. It’s steel, but it looks fragile and elegant.

Lenya's Hand 4_web_sRGB

Notice the detail of the shadow reveal that is defined by the 3 millimetre steel running less than 2 millimetres away from the matte acrylic Diasec print. I ask for fully detailed CAD files for every piece before it enters physical production, so that all participants have plans to work from. Click here if you’re interested in seeing a screen shot of this particular piece.

I am grateful for German precision coupled with an appreciation for fine art. I’m glad that my team has made it possible to execute work at this level of quality. Because once we get to the internal frames, which define the crops and give the project its conceptual architecture, there is no tolerance for fault at all. The frames run nearly flush against the matte Diasec acrylic, but also encase the Ditone print on the waxed paper. The cropped component is set back a full 25 millimetres (or one inch!) from the front of the image.

Lenya's Hand 3_web_sRGB

In the first phase I print out the complete image using the matte acrylic Diasec, and then use a computer-driven precision saw with a diamond drill-bit to physically cut out the cropped area. During the second production phase the frames are set into place, around the outer perimeter as well as within the crops. In the final phase the waxed paper crop prints are mounted on aluminum, and then installed into the sawed-out and framed spaces.

Lenya's Back 3_web_sRGB

I will write more in the coming days about the series. There is a lot that I want to explain about its evolution and my arrival at the cropping process, as well as the technical production. I am very excited about where this project has taken me, and even though it took several years, I look forward to shooting a lot more images. But obviously I’m also quite proud of where the project has gone physically and technically.

Paris Photo 2014

Every November the fine art world comes together to focus on photography. The loose umbrella over hundreds of different shows is the European Month of Photography, or EMOP, as no one ever really calls it. Member cities besides my hometown Berlin include Athens, Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Luxembourg and Vienna. Just in Berlin alone there are over 250 different shows being mounted over a four week period, ranging from the highly respected to the young and collegiate.

But the one city – and the one show – most of us think about during this Mois de la Photo is Paris. Because every November, the most important art fair for photography is the venerable PARIS PHOTO taking place in the magnificent Grand Palais. It is the most important photo art fair of the year. The leading galleries present their contemporary artist’s new work, classic prints in their rarest editions are on offer, and the various photo book specialists display their first editions and published eccentricities. PARIS PHOTO has become such a heavy-weight in the world of fine art photography that a number of satellite shows like Foto Fever have sprung up around it, the local galleries display their photographic artists, and the major auction houses Sotheby’s as well as Christies hold their photography auctions in Paris at the end of that week.

After showing at fairs like Milan’s MIA, and Tokyo Photo, it is my great pleasure to be represented at Paris Photo this year. It’s my first time, and I’m excited to finally show my “Sacred & Profane” series. And I’ll be honest – seeing my name on the roster of artists feels good. I’m confident in my work, so I’m looking forward to seeing it amongst photographers whom I consider role models, peers, or contemporaries. As an artist, the knighthood you seek to have bestowed on you is to be represented at Paris Photo. It means you have finally ascended to a place where your work is being seen by those who who have made photographic art a major element of their lives. Stop by Stand D11 to meet Galerie CAMERA WORK, who will be happy to tell you about my work, and that of other great photographers they represent.

Narrative Photography, and Lost Opportunities

Last night I attended Eugenio Recuenco’s gallery opening at the respected and influential Galerie Camera Work in Berlin. The show is hanging at the CWC Galerie, their space at the Alte Mädchenschule on August Strasse. It’s a marvelous space, and an appropriate venue for Recuenco’s work. Camera Work represents some of the best-known photographic artists in the world, but also fosters a growing roster of emerging artists. I am one of these emerging artists, as is Eugenio. He is a well-known and much-loved commercial photographer, and has created some of the most memorable campaigns. Often compared to Tim Walker, I find his editorials to be less whimsical, but with a nice nod to a certain darkness, not unlike Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen or even his City of Lost Children. Even though Eugenio Recuenco is a well-known photographer, he is only now emerging into the world of fine art photography.

Eugenio and I work in the same style. We come up with an idea, and then we stage and construct it. Sets get built, clothing is created, and make-up is matched to the story. None of the images are serendipitous shots that are stumbled upon, we create carefully composed pictures. This particular show was a sort of retrospective, a compilation of greatest hits. Although I usually prefer to see photographic art in a cohesive series, it made sense in this case; Recuenco has an incredibly large body of work to draw from.

I’m not going to pretend. When I am looking at the work of a fellow photo artist in the same genre, I cannot help but look at every aspect of the work, and critique it. This isn’t a question of being snarky or jealous. As an artist I make creative choices, and I see where a fellow artist made the same choices, or different ones.

One deserved compliment must be made for Eugenio’s overall technical excellence, especially the detail to set design and props. His images are wonderfully staged, and the colors and lighting are perfect. You can see years of editorial and commercial photography as a base. It is a powerful tool-set being wielded by competent hands.

fairy tale pea

fairy tale snow white

The gallery invited some collectors and artists to dinner afterwards, and following a truly Bacchian amount of wine the conversation invariably turned to the work. I was asked by a small group of friends what I really thought, and I must admit I had some comments. One important creative choice that I would have definitely made differently is about the presentation of the work. A lot of people look at images on the web, or in magazines, so the question of appropriate presentation never arises. If you look at these two images from his fairytale series all you see are two beautiful photographs. But when you create art to hang on a wall, certain choices can make or break a piece. You need to consider the framing, the materials, and the size. Eugenio used different ways to show his work, much of which was printed photo paper behind glass. I don’t think that works, and it does the images a disservice. The glass is too reflective, and a lot of the darker images lose their impact because the glass becomes a mirror.

A small series inspired by the sinking Titanic was printed directly onto aluminum, and those pieces worked extremely well. There’s a brushed texture to the metal that makes it almost look like canvas. But these dark images reveal their metal surface in the highlights, and it is a pleasure to see the light reflect from the models’ faces or the white caps of the waves washing around the action.

Like a painter looking at another artist’s painting, I see the brush strokes. These are creative choices, there is no wrong or right to these decisions. I am intrigued by the slight softness around the faces of the subjects. A closer look at the prints shows they are razor-sharp in certain areas, but the faces aren’t. That’s a choice I quite admire. There’s a human instinct to seek eye-contact, and by softening the faces it sends the viewer back into the image to explore the rest of it. His prints are quite large, and there is a lot to explore.

There is one fundamental difference though. I have always sought to include a narrative element in my images. Even in my early work, my series called Hopper’s Americans, my goal was to create pictures that triggered a story in the viewer. My content criticism is that many of Recuenco’s images in this show are extremely beautiful, but the chance to re-envision the story was not taken. I love the classic fairy tales, but why not add a new twist? I like the Princess on the Pea and Cinderella, these are perfect pictures… but why not go one step further? Take the characters and add to the story. It seems like such a lost opportunity. Much of the work being exhibited in this retrospective of his work shows perfect execution, but only one image that I saw made a genuine attempt at re-imagining a situation. It is a visual quotation of Vermeer’s style.

01

It’s hard to tell how much of the work on display is pulled from fashion editorials and commercial campaigns. I mention it because it is unclear to me why the woman kneading the dough is wearing a couture dress and fine jewelry. Is it part of a fashion editorial, or is it an artistic choice he made for purely creative reasons? Vermeer was very specific in his depiction of the working people in his household. He was one of the first painters to show ordinary working people performing everyday activities, so seeing this well-dressed woman while a couple is having sex right behind her back leaves room for a lot of narrative interpretation. I like that. I did not have a chance to ask Eugenio why he staged the image like this. I saw the rest of the series on his website, and I love his version of the Death of Marat, though once again I don’t learn anything new about that story. It is purely a citation, not a jumping-off point.

I don’t want to criticize Eugenio Recuenco. He is a great photographer, a skilled craftsman, a colleague, and a genuinely creative person. I reflect on his work only because it makes me question my own choices. I look at this work in terms of what I might do different, and revisit my own creative decisions. His work is selling very well, which makes me happy for him, for this small genre of staged & constructed photography in which we both work, and it also makes me happy for Camera Work. People underestimate how much risk galleries take when championing an emerging artist – it would always be easier for them to show artists that already have committed collectors.

The reason I explore these differences is to point out how my work differs. My Sacred & Profane series is an on-going project. In it I explore my relationship with religion through the language of Baroque light. I try to look at it in a contemporary way, and I allow it to wander into uncomfortable territory.

SEBASTIANS FINAL_web_sRGB

Not all the images in this series are reinterpretations of classic depictions. There are plenty of image that work purely as aesthetic exercises, so I’m not about to fault Eugenio Recuenco’s work for being simply beautiful, or for people wanting to own it. I’ve got a few images that are primarily pretty rather than narrative. But you’ll got a chance to comment on my work April 2014, I look forward to hearing what you’ll think. I’m not showing much from the new series until then.

Untitled Session9520_web_sRGB smaller

Red, Arri, and the Daylight adventure

Typically I either write about the creative part of my photography, or I quote poems… so fair warning given up front: this is one of those rare technical posts.

For the last five years I have relied on ProFoto flash gear and digital SLR cameras to capture my images. I like using my lighting gear, I know how it works, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. About a year ago I moved from shooting with the full-frame Canon sensors to the Phase One system. It’s a digital Medium Format SLR camera, and isn’t particularly different from my previous system except for the sensor size.

My struggle is usually depth of field. I shoot flash, so freezing action isn’t problem. Just to avoid any motion blur I tend to lock in at 1/200th of a second, unless I want to bleed in some ambient light as I did in my Hopper’s American series. I typically use a tripod, which helps me frame my shots. But when shooting a staged set I tend to be relatively close, and capturing a bigger scene means my focal depth is comparatively shallow. The Phase One is a bigger camera, and that means f/8 gives me barely 30cm (one foot) of decent focus when I’m three or four meters (15 feet) away. I’m always dismayed by how much light wattage I need to capture a sharp picture with sufficient depth of field.

One of the frustrations of using flash is that I don’t really see what I’ll be capturing. There’s modeling light of course, but it never struck me as proportional and correct. I end up shooting a few test frames. That’s what’s wonderful about digital photography…  Real-time feedback but no wasted film and no need for Polaroids. I shoot tethered, meaning there’s a cable that runs from my camera into my laptop, where the  screen is big enough to see the light balance. I make the necessary adjustments, and pretty soon I’m ready to shoot. I don’t use light meters, I don’t see the point. I have a histogram on the camera as well as in the software, so I have a pretty good idea of what part of my image needs more light.

The Sacred & Profane series is a long-term project that I’ve been shooting for over a year now. If you scroll through this blog you’ll see some teaser images. It’s very dark and baroque. In the near future I will be shooting some action moments within this series, and I’m concerned about nailing the perfect shot. It’s hard to capture the right frame when it is pretty dark. Also, the Phase One has a very large sensor, but can only shoot at one frame every 1.5 seconds… that’s an eternity when shooting a quick, highly time-sensitive moment. So I decided to test shoot high resolution video. The technology is growing quickly. In a nutshell, you shoot a few seconds of video, let’s say at 30 frames per second. Before you know it, you’ve shot several thousand frames, and then you simply pick the best one. No fear of losing the perfect moment.

That brings up two problems… Different lights, and a different camera. You see where this is going…

A photographer needs to know the gear intimately. Operating the camera or adjusting the lights needs to be completely second nature, or the technical issues begin affecting the creative process. If you’re fumbling for simple things like focus or f-stops, the creative flow stops dead. That’s why new gear needs to be tested and practiced with before a major shoot.

I opted for the Epic Red camera system. It’s being touted as the newest coolest thing. Highly modular, its being used to shoot big budget Hollywood movies, expensive advertisements, and fashion videos. I’ve also heard about some fashion shooters using the Red system to freeze frames for magazine still images… exactly what I was hoping to do. You can use different kinds of lenses on that system, so I took the Canon EF mount, because I still have all the good L-Series primes from my Canon days.

The problem with shooting video is that you need continuous light. You can’t flash thirty times a second… or maybe you can, but ten minutes later everyone is either on the studio floor in epileptic conniptions, or dancing to the B-52’s “Strobelight.”  It’s not going to work.

So ProFoto provided me with their new HMI continuous light system called ProDaylight for a few days of tests. First I tested it with my existing system, shooting with Phase One and the new lights.

It didn’t work. It’s not even close to bright enough. And it’s very difficult to control and fine-tune. Few of the light shapers from my flash system worked, even though ProFoto promises in their advertising that everything is cross-platform. But it isn’t. The lights get so hot that they would melt or incinerate most of the gear. It requires a lot of special light shapers, especially softboxes. The light is hard outside of the boxes. ProFoto’s (really cool-looking) CineReflector comes with all kinds of lenses and scrims, but it’s still a small light source that makes a hard light. and it is incredibly hot. Our system actually came with a set of gloves in case you need to add a scrim or change out a lens… but be prepared to wait. This is a very different way of setting up your lights, not just simply asking your assistant to dial in another half a stop on the keylight via the little twistknob on the Pro8.

It was a lot of light… but not enough. The Phase One needs a lot of light, and the four 800-watt heads could not deliver. Even at ISO 400, 1/60th of a second and f/7.1 I was at least two stops underexposed. The image was dark!

I didn’t want to give up, I was determined to push on. I called my friend Philip who owns Germany’s biggest film light rental company. He set me up with a “tiny” system of 3x 1800 watt Arri lights, and one 4000 watt Arri to use with a big softbox for fill. The situation is the same as the ProFoto gear. It’s very difficult to adjust, requires all kinds of specialized scrims and boxes, a LOT of electricity, and hot gloves.

Well, there was enough light. Barely. But there’s no way that you can “see what you shoot” because everything is brightly lit! Light is bouncing around the entire space, and to the human eye it looks like the inside of an Emergency Room. So once again I’m forced to look at the tethered computer, and finding a relatively dark image… but now my crew is walking around the studio with sunglasses, and everyone feels like they’re getting a tan in the bright heat.

Next we deployed the Epic Red Mysterium-X camera. I know everyone gets weak-kneed at the thought of the Red, and there’s a gear-head lurking inside of every photographer… but I didn’t like it. Its unwieldy, counter-intuitive, and not very good. The sensor is actually quite small compared to my monster Phase One (APS-C vs almost double a Full-Frame). Holding the camera is almost impossible, it has no real handle and was really designed as a component video camera that sits in a rig. There are no knobs, so everything needs to be controlled through a touch-panel. There is no way to adjust aperture or time or ISO without stopping what you’re doing. It’s got a pretty high native ISO, so shooting at 800 is not a problem. But the images are very flat, with little contrast or saturation in the RAW file. That can be adjusted, obviously. But the biggest problem is motion blur. Even at 1/100th of second, there is a softness that isn’t acceptable to me. Of course, at f/8, I was shooting at 1/50th… Everything was blurred. Simply put, there is no way I can print a final file at 140 x 100 cm (60 x 40 inch).

So that’s it. I’ve returned all the gear, and am using what I know. I like my camera, I like my flash system, and I will rely on my abilities as a photographer, as someone who can read movement, and as an artist to direct my models. I have gotten the shot in the past, and I will use my tools. The new gear is not for me.

Hanjo: Part 2 – The Colors

I had decided to turn the Noh opera Hanjo into a photographic novel. It gave me the chance to combine the language of fashion photography with Japanese hand-colored colodion or dry plate work, and to create a separate visual style for the project.

I never became an expert on the various types of photography of the early days, but over the years I acquired a collection of books that celebrate these Japanese hand-colored images. It connects directly to the strong tradition of creating wood-carved prints. Just look at the incredible work done by Hokusai for instance. His famous image of the wave was actually part of a souvenir box filled with various prints known as the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. Once the Edo period ended and Japan opened up to the outside world, photography became one of the first things to be adopted. It came on-shore with the thousands of foreigners that were being brought to Japan in an effort to modernize the country after 400+ years of feudal isolation. The modern Japanese wanted photographic images, they were losing interest in the old ways of hand-printing woodcuts.

 

Many of these images were shot by foreigners documenting aspects of Japanese life. Ironically, as Nippon was modernizing and deploying the first and only Industrial Revolution in Asia, the the Westerners were more interested in capturing the remnants of the Floating World.

I love the different studio set ups, and the awkwardly-held poses. Many of the images also have slight motion blur if you look carefully – it was hard to hold still for such long exposures, and sometimes a hand or a foot was caught moving. The colors were added after the image was developed, though the color composition did not necessarily reflect the actual scene. Of course, colors tend to change and fade differently, so much of the red has been lost over time, whereas green seems to hold on the longest.

I decided to loosen my images, they were too perfect in a modern digital sense, so motion blur was added… but not to my subjects. Although physically impossible, adding motion blur to the edges of the shot – as though the model was solid while the room spinning – I was able to get a dream-like effect that doesn’t over-power the image, or the narrative.

_MG_5660 print_web_sRGB

Stay tuned for the several more installments…. Here’s PART 1 of my Hanjo blog-series.

See

Breaching the Image Filter

We see thousands of images every day. On websites, in magazines, on money, and selling us products and services from every conceivable surface… walls, buses, high-rises, billboards. There are marvelously beautiful, perfectly cast people smiling down at us. The images let us know that if we buy these products – if we use these services – if we take that trip – we will be better. Not quite as good as those incredible people in the advertisement, but better. They promise us that others will find us more attractive, or that we will be safer, or more respected by the community.

That wasn’t always the case. Until very recently, people only saw images occasionally. Go back four or five long generations, and people saw maybe one or two images a day… and before that, it would be a painting at a rich man’s house, or something dramatic in church. Those paintings served the same purpose… though they were selling a slightly different product. They would illustrate stories from the bible for the illiterate public, but the images also did something beyond being narrative. They let the beholder know that if they were pious, it would make them better. Not quite as good as the saints, but it would make them more attractive in the eyes of God, it would make them safer, it would make them respectable.

People have developed image filters. We had to. When dealing with so many images every day, we have learned to look and promptly dismiss what we’re being shown. We look, and instantly understand we’re supposed to use a certain body spray, buy a car, go on adventure, or simply smell like we might. We filter them out of our conscience.

But it is exactly at this point where I find creative opportunity. By using the language of commercial and fashion photography… Showing beautiful models, well-cast character actors, agile dancers, all placed inside narrative images, I breach the viewer’s image filter. The viewer recognizes the familiar language… but nothing is being sold; the filter breaks down. It is unclear what is being pitched, what the product is… and that is where I try to tell stories, to engage the mind that back-fills the missing narrative.

The people who run our cities don’t understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit… The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff… Any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you. It’s yours to take, rearrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head. You owe those companies nothing. You especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.

Banksy wrote that. I’m not planning on stenciling my images on concrete walls, nor re-purposing corporate logos or placing my art on top of their images, but I do like appropriating parts of that language. We’ve all become so fluent in it, why not use it for some visual storytelling…

_U1J1596_900px_web

More is more

There’s a lot going on. I’m preparing for Hanjo in Tokyo in September, Hoppers in Amsterdam in October, and of course the Sacred & Profane project continues to take up all my time. I hope to show it for the first time next April.

My new approach is working well conceptually, but what I’m not clear on yet is the physical presentation of the work. I crop out elements that will be the primary focus visually, but conceptually the focus of the work will be elsewhere, harder to find at first glance. The cropped parts are full color whereas the other parts of the image are very colorless. I also print on different materials, and mount the color images in indentations within the overall frame, thus going through several layers. It gives me the creative elbow room to revisit certain images created earlier in the life of this project, and see how I can integrate them into this newer approach.

I’m shooting today, and it’s different than when the project began. I don’t have a storyboard sketched, and I am relying on the talent of my favorite models (and some new ones) to help me improvise some images. For now, I am creating new work that relies on the landscape of the body within my Caravaggisto light language.

Dark Masha 30139288_web_sRGB

From the Sacred and Profane series.

Interview – Tabacchi

Last week I conducted an online interview with Enrico Tabacchi, a fellow photographer as well as blogger based out of Milan.

You can read the whole interview at his site including some of the images that he selected from my Color Room Series as well as my Hopper’s Americans Series.

————

Yoram Roth is a Berlin-based photographer. I love his work and for this reason I wanted to interview him. His photography is a constant reference to classical art but with the addition of a modern aesthetic.

Three Adjectives to Describe Yoram.

Focused, concept-driven, gregarious.

How would you describe your photography?

Pensive, deliberate, beautiful.

What is photography for you?

An opportunity to tell little visual poems, and to create a launching point for stories that unfold in the viewer’s imagination.

What would you do, and who would you be if photography wasn’t part of your life?

I would be a Guy in a Suit, probably doing real estate deals, with some minor creative outlets on the side… and a small combination of pain, anger and shame for lacking the courage to do what I really want to do.

Your hard disk fails. You can save 3 photos. Which ones to do you hope to preserve, and why?

This is not a fun answer… but that would never happen to me. I am so crazy about back-ups and data storage that it will never happen… because I have already twice lost image files. Once shooting with a good friend who was not a photographer but wanted to explore it with me, and once after a week-long trip to Tokyo in preparation for “Hanjo.”

You win the lottery. You have enough money to buy three paintings of your choice, by any artist, which ones would you choose?

Jeff Wall, “Siphoning Gas”, 2008

jw-siphoning

I would have never thought so, but when I stood in front of Jeff Wall’s “Siphoning Gas” I was moved to tears. The story that unfolded in my mind connected with every single part of my life, and I actually cried a little. I hope to own this piece some day, even though it is not beautiful in a conventional way.

Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith slaying Holofernes”, 1618

judith

I would love to own Artemisa Gentileschi’s second version of “Judith slaying Holofernes” which I saw at the Uffizi recently. I consider her the greatest of the Caravaggisti, and this painting is technically spectacular. I love the attention to detail, such as the beautiful bracelet. When you stand in front of it, you realise that there is blood spray sprinkled across the canvas, and you can imagine her finishing the painting by flicking red paint from her fingers on to the face of a painted man who in her mind deserved to die.

David LaChapelle, “Flaccid Passion”, 2010

Lachapelle 6

I plan on owning a large print of David LaChapelle’s “Flaccid Passion” from his Earth Laughs in Flowers series. It is extremely erotic, beautiful and elegant all at the same time. One thing all of these pieces have in common is that you don’t realise how powerful they are until you are in front of them. On a web site, or in a book, they don’t work, you need to see the real thing.

Reading your blog I’ve noticed that you like poetry. Do you think that there is a link between photography and poetry?

There is for me. The poems which I like capture a mood or a feeling without describing it directly, and that defines a great image as well. I actually once created a photo workshop that took a poem and asked the photographers to capture that feeling photographically.

I love your Color Project, how did this idea come to you?

I actually tell that story on my blog. My work over the last couple of years has often been inspired by artists that have gone before me. About two years ago I developed a school-boy crush on a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of the Skågen School of painting. He worked around 1880 ­- 1920, and used a wonderful soft light. The rooms he depicted were almost always his own house.

I had just finished my Hopper’s Americans but still loved the creative process of building set-rooms and telling stories within them. I decided to create a set that looked a lot like Hammershøi’s house, and to shoot a project that used his soft light, different than I had been in my previous work. The project failed almost immediately. I had a good model, but the clothes made it virtually impossible to tell the kind of stories I like. She was drowning in heavy fabrics, and they give little opportunity for
physical nuance. Instead the images came out looking like something from the cover of a fancy candy box, something that Sarotti or Quality would put on their biscuit tins. Worse, I had given my stylist very little guidance, and we ended up with looks that were way to exaggerated for the subdued images I wanted to create.

I got so mad at myself that I went to my studio at some point on a Saturday night, got out a very large bucket of grey/blue paint, and blasted Joy Division while repainting the whole set a solid color. I used a big fat bushy brush to slather the entire set, covering the walls, the decorative sconces, the chairs and tables all in a dark tone that reflected my mood. I was embarrassed, because the new project I had hoped for evaporated in front of me. I knew I should have focused on quieter images, more pensive poses.

Now I realize that it is not where I wanted to go creatively. I love the light. But I am so intrigued by the visual language of motion, which is utterly out of place in such a project. I admire Desiree Dolron’s most recent work, but it is not the kind of images I wanted to create at that moment. They are too static. I wanted something with heavy motion.

You’ve worked on several projects, which one do you think is the most important and why?

I know this sounds like every parent in the world, but I love all my “children” equally. Of course I am the most proud of the one getting attention at the moment, and right now that is my first series. I shot “Hopper’s Americans” almost four years ago – before a lot of other photographers began copying Hopper, I would like to point out. At the time it meant a real life change for me, and it is reflected in the images I created. I didn’t know what was coming next, whether it was a good or bad thing, and I felt like I was suspended. Those ended up being the strongest images, and they define that series. I am also extremely proud of “Hanjo” which I will get to introduce at Tokyo Photo in Japan between September 27 – 30, 2013.

I know you are working on a new project called “The Sacred & The Profane.” Do you want to show us something? What are your plans for the future?

Right now I am showing very little about that project. I am not really sure where it is going. It started as something very different, but its meaning to me has changed. For some time I was very focused on traditional Judeo-Christian religions, but I am less interested in that now. It has become more about the Feminine, and I’m not afraid to use the language of Beauty while pushing into topics that are not easy.

Competitive Analysis

The last few weeks have been difficult. As an artist, you are never supposed to think about what people might think of your work. You’re supposed to work for yourself, and magic will happen. Nor are you supposed to be bothered by what other artists are doing.

This was difficult to maintain while walking around Art Basel Hong Kong. There is a lot of fantastic art there, but the overall effect is one of distortion. At first glance everything seems great, because the good work lifts everything else along with it. In a rather soulless, neutral place like a giant convention center, filled entirely with art solely in the context of more art, everything suddenly looks better than it should. But a second look reveals that much of it is crap. Yet I couldn’t help think that I’d like my work shown there some day soon. And some of the more complex work made me question some of my creative choices. I was – in effect – comparing myself to “the competition”. But I took a lot of inspiration from my competitive analysis and realized that an idea I’ve been working on is exactly the right direction to go. I am energized in this new direction, and I can’t wait to execute it. It’s about the way I physically display the images, and how I will choose to high-light distinct aspects of the image.

Another moment that was initially difficult was a few days ago. The gallery that represents me in Berlin opened a group show, which included an image by an artist they recently signed.

It looked like something I could have created as part of my Sacred & Profane series.

That got to me. At first, it really disheartened me. I felt betrayed by my gallery because they know what I’m working on, and the conflict irked me. But that passed quickly. I am an emerging artist who is currently building up my name, and the artist in question is a successful commercial big-name photographer, someone whose work I respect. The gallery is in the business of selling art, as they should be. It only makes sense that they represent someone with a built-in audience.

Another concern I had was the possible confusion. When I first signed with the gallery, the focus was set on my Hopper’s American series, though I was told that some images would not be part of the initial selection… because they included neon signs. This was a recognizable feature of yet another contemporary photographer’s style who is represented by the gallery. But my work is selling well, and the parallels are minimal. My work evokes more emotion, and is timeless… and frankly, is more sophisticated than the commercial shooter’s fine art efforts. Over a very short time, concerns about two artists using urban elements such as lit signs at night disappeared.

So I was pissed that I am now facing the same issue again… here is a new artist to the gallery – with a more recognizable name than my own – doing work that looks at first glance much like mine. And although I’ve been working on my Sacred and Profane series for over a year, suddenly his work is being shown, and now someone who doesn’t know better might assume I was influenced by him.

But in thinking about it, I see a number of major differences, and I know my work is better. I must say that I really admire his sets and his styling. The way he processes his images is less impressive to me, but that is a creative choice. What matters is that his narrative images are technically masterful, but they lack emotion. I also find the physical presentation to be wrong, and have a good guess as to why the choice was made… one I consider lazy, cheap and ultimately a detriment. I’m going in a direction with my work that is much more emotional in its subject, much more physical in the presentation, and and a lot more conceptual. So I welcome the opportunity to be directly compared to someone whom I respect, because I know my work will “win”… and that motivates the competitive cultural entrepreneur in me greatly.

Disheartenend

If this blog is to have any value at all, I need to have the courage to write honestly. There are phases in my projects where I feel incredibly disheartened. I accept that the creative process is more than simple execution. The Sacred and Profane project has been with me for over a year now, and it continues to shift. What I thought initially to be a very strong direction now turns out to be a simple starting-off point. I mean that technically as well as creatively. The images I hoped to produce were reinterpretations of classic imagery, baroque in language but filled with a contemporary approach. After shooting like this for several months, I have found that I need to go beyond that.

I tried increasingly complex arrangements and settings, but I can’t seem to make that work, because they do exactly what I have always avoided – they are too expository, meaning they leave little room for interpretation; they tell a story, rather than serve as a doorway to the viewer’s own narrative.

But there are interesting details in each of these images. I am tearing them apart now, and pulling out the snippets that distill the idea. These crops are reduced to the essential elements, and lack the broader context of the original image. But my concern remains that I will be misunderstood, and I need to get over that.

There is an incredible desire to let my viewers know about the internal dialog which I find surprisingly intense, and the research I have done into this topic. These are not simple images that play with art history. I have never been able to separate my feelings from my thoughts. This has proven to be as much a strength as a weakness, but it has been the survival tool on which I have based my entire life as part of overcoming addiction, and illness. I need to be aware of my feelings so that they don’t take control of me, and over time I have come to take a certain pride in my emotions. I try to let them enter my images, not as the raw unprocessed vibe that paints every day a slightly different color, but rather the refined results that I’m able to arrive at after sifting through thoughts, concepts, and a general understanding of myself – and the people around me.

Yes, I know what that sounds like, but it works. There’s a reason I shot the Hopper’s American series the way I did at the time – each image reflects a moment just before or after something might have happened, and it’s unclear whether that is a good or a bad thing. That was very much on my mind at the time. The Hanjo story is a reflection of the choices people think they’re making about love when in relationships, and sometimes you have to accept the smaller loss over the bigger one… never knowing whether you will really know which one was the right choice.

2012 12 04 DARK SAV Snake0659_web_sRGB

So if the Sacred and Profane images are now veering into sexualized images that focus on parts of the body, it’s not because I want to make fetishistic close-ups of arm pits, breasts, feet and shoulders, but rather because that is exactly where the vulnerability can be found. Those are the Achillian heels, the gateways to what is left of the Feminine in a visual language that to this day has been shaped by patriarchy.

But I need to accept that the images will be interpreted by my viewers as they choose.

More complex is the desire to create work that justifies itself intellectually, while still using a language of beauty. It still seems anathema to a large swath of people that those two elements are mutually exclusive. And a concept which can be grasped easily is suspicious to that same crowd.

I am disheartened right now. I feel like chucking the whole project, because I can’t come to terms with it… I can’t see the final project in front of me – the sizes, the paper types, the production, and whether it works at all. I look longingly at conventional fine art photography… those clever images shot in lonely locations that make me want to go on long trips by myself, or intimate moments caught amongst loved ones that make me wish for people in my life that would allow me to take their pictures. I want to work without large teams that need direction, I second-guess the people around me and wonder if they are committed enough, or creative enough to help me realize the images that are right behind my eyes, but that I can’t seem to articulate.

But that’s momentary. Believe me, these are not rare moments. They stare me down every time I need to select images after I shoot. But… they go away just as quickly, replaced by excitement for the next image and a new idea.

I have some new ideas, and they will be shot a week from now. There will be flowers and butterflies and sex and beauty.

Objectification

There’s a struggle right now between celebration and objectification. My new project “The Sacred and the Profane” continues to edge closer to search for the Feminine, and less into an exploration of what I am recognizing as very patriarchal religions – the ones from Jerusalem.

After staging large elaborate scenes and images I find the details more interesting than the whole. But if I take certain key elements, will I be understood? Will a naked woman – or simply an exposed part – be mistaken for a misogynistic image? I’ve been completely misunderstood once before, I was startled by it at the time, but have worried about it so much that I have second-guessed my creative choices. I know as an artist I should be free of what people think of my work… but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge an awareness.

Also, I’m moving from the Narrative to the Abstract, or so it seems…

3_web_sRGB

… and there is this …

2012 07 19 DARK Medea 13650_A3_360dpi_adobeRGB_sharpened_web_sRGB

… something like this …

2013 01 09 DARK Corinne Goddess2404_hochkantcrop_filter CROP web

Thoughts?

Observations from an Exhibition

Milan Image Art Fair, known as MIA, just ended. I was featured as a Proposed Artist, and showed my Hopper’s American series.The fair has a unique format. There’s about one hundred booths, of which ninety are set up by galleries from around Europe. The kicker is that each booth may only showcase one artist. Those galleries who want to represent more than one artists arrange for multiple connecting booths. The remaining ten booths are granted to artists who are selected from a large number of submissions, and I was chosen early last year, before I had gallery representation. Between my selection and this recent show I found representation by CAMERA WORK, one of the top ten Photo Art galleries in the World. I discussed the opportunity with my gallery here, and ordinarily a represented artist does not host his own booth at a fair, but they felt it would be a good experience for me to go. Though I’ve been to many fairs as a buyer, fan, artist, and general aficionado, it is a different ball of wax entirely to experience that part of the art world first hand.

It’s not easy. The hardest part is standing there for eleven hours a day, talking about my own art. Most of the people don’t realize they’re talking to the artist directly, and the comments and questions run the gamut. My work is very good, and I got a lot of compliments. Many of the people who attend photo art fairs really know the genre, and it was great to hear so much validation. The nicest moment of course is being bought by someone who really understands my particular style. To be added to a collection by a collector who has Gregory Crewdson, Cindy Sherman and Sandy Skoglund is a huge compliment.

More frustrating are the large huge number of hobby photographers who come to these fairs and want to talk endlessly about camera gear. They will bore you into the ground with questions about lenses, paper, and post-production issues, with virtually no interest in the artwork itself. But I’m professional enough, and can keep smiling and answer all questions.

Equally frustrating are the people who want to talk about naked models, without realizing that my work means something to me, that it’s more than just pretty pictures. The Hopper series is important to me, and all my work has happened in some personal way, whether it is obvious or not: The Hoppers documented a major change for me… I had a third son, we had moved from Los Angeles to Berlin, and most of all I was dedicating myself to this form of art. The images I created were about that moment just before or after something happened, with uncertainty over whether it was a good thing, or a bad thing. The images are melancholic and dramatic, because that is how I was feeling at the time. And as always, I use the language of fashion photography on purpose: it breaks down the image filter that modern people have acquired. So when occasional booth visitors dismisses the images as just “pictures of hot chicks” they completely miss the point of my work.

Of course there were also critical comments. Some of these had merit, and came from people who really understand photography. They focused on the complexity of the process, and the nature of the image. One I liked was a visitor who confided in me that he’d seen the artist’s newer work, and that it was even better than this older series. Others showed me elements of my work that I had never fully considered before, and that will flow directly into the newest series. A few told me in quite diplomatic but articulate ways why they dislike my style. It’s a matter of taste, and I respect their choices. But some of the criticism was quite off-center and tangential. Fortunately I’m a grown-up, and have honed my thick skin through online communities and other forums. But let’s just say that the hundreds of people who show up to a Photo ART Show with fully packed camera gear bags are not going to be talking about art and feelings.

The real reason to go is to connect with new galleries, publications, and collection advisors, and to build a list of people who are genuinely interested in my work. This part of the mission was highly successful. There were many galleries who came by to speak to me, or took me over to their booth to discuss their approach to art. But many of them don’t have the scale that I’m looking for. Simply put, I am very committed to my path as an artist, and I want to work with galleries that are equally serious about their business. But there were three galleries on my list before going to Milan, and all three conversations went very well. I expect a few interesting shows in the next eighteen months.

_MG_9669 _MG_9671 _MG_9677 _MG_9680

I will say this… I am extremely grateful to a huge team of people that I work with. I know I made a major impact at this show. Call it hyper-confidence, but my work was some of the very best on show. I mean that in terms of creative content, execution, and technical efforts. Everything from my printing and framing, to materials, and of course the images themselves. I am coming home more sure of myself and my art than ever before. Call it pompous, but I like where my work is going, and those who know me will tell you that I spend plenty of time wrestling with my demons and self-confidence.

See you at Photo Tokyo in September  😉

The Woman in the Mirror

I’m reading Camille Paglia’s “Glittering Images”, a book I recommend to anyone interested in art history and interpretation. It’s a series of short essays, covering about one hundred major pieces of art throughout history. The sub-title says it all: “A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.” Of course her essays all have her strong dissident feminist twist to them.

In describing Titian’s “Venus with a Mirror” she writes: The hushed spectacle of a woman gazing into her mirror has exerted a powerful fascination on male artists. Is she a puppet of vanity, or a sorceress in eery dialogue with her double? Most feminists reject the mirror as Woman’s oppressor, the internalized eye of judgmental society.

Or, as John Berger wrote in “Ways of Seeing”

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear.

One of my all-time favorite images from a session I shot a long time ago, featuring Angela.

_U1J0992_900px_web

Interview – Stilbruch – German TV

One of Germany’s better cultural round-up programs is Berlin’s Stilbruch, an excellent weekly show that reports on cultural events going on in town and around the city. I was invited to provide context and offer differentiation between pornography vis-a-vis fine art nude imagery as part of Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie‘s new exhibition Die Nackte Wahrheit / The Naked Truth.
Be warned. It’s about nude photography in the early days. And it’s in German. And they used a funny walking sequence of me for some reason at the very end.

Here’s the museum’s blurb on the show:

At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides’ presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other, continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motion-study photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, ‘Free Body Culture’, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction.

The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in today’s exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.

MIA – Milan Image Art Fair

MIA, Milan’s Image Art Fair has become one of the major art fairs focusing on photography. It has a wonderfully elegant approach that is quintessentially Milanese. There are 100 booths, and each gallery may only show one artist per booth. If they want to feature more than one of their artists at MIA, they need to apply for a second booth.

MIA 1

A small number of booths are reserved for featured artists that are selected from a very large pool, and I have been selected to show my work in one of those eight booths. Please come and visit me, either to buy one of my Hopper’s American series that I’ll be showing there, or simply to chat.

Private Preview is on the 9th, let me know if you are interested in tickets, I have a few left for collectors and those serious about photographic art.

MIA 2

Printing

I am an artist, and I spend as much time in the creative zone as possible. This sounds flip and affected, but that’s not how I mean that. No matter how creative I may be as a person, the world forces me into the logical/rational side of my brain. I really have to carve out large chunks of time to get my mind into a pattern where I can sort out and evaluate the ideas banging around inside my head like so many pachinko balls. There are always problems to be solved, regardless of how minor they may be. It is simply impossible – for instance – to move imaginatively through a particular idea, to feel one’s way through it, while simultaneously installing a new version of Photoshop. Or planning a shoot. Or dealing with taxes. Or evaluating new business opportunities. Or scheduling the kids’ life.

But nothing – NOTHING – sucks the magic and poetry out of life faster than printing fine art images.

It’s exhausting. Paper types, ICC profiles, platen gaps, color management, thickness, ink levels, drying times, archival sealants, etc and so on ad nauseum. I love my Epson printers, and I use great paper – usually Hahnemühle for the important work, and Epson paper for the proofing prints. But even THAT isn’t clear… It took me two hours of research to realize that Epson Management itself now recommends using “Watercolor Radiant White” as the media type when printing Epson Canvas on an Epson 9890… rather than one of their own Canvas settings… Facepalm.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 1.17.06 PM

Running test strips for different kinds of Canvas to see coloration, contrast and saturation. I think I got it. But seriously, I need to find a print guy and make him part of my retouch team…

Susan Sontag on Photography

As a fine art photographer, I constantly find myself coming up against several important theoretical voices that have contributed to our field. Susan Sonntag’s essays “On Photography” is an important piece in that body of work.

Susan Sontag’s thoughts on photography were prescient when she wrote that “today, everything exists to end in a photograph.” It’s not quite how she meant it, but it seems people in the days of social media are incapable of living the moment… thousands of phones come out at every concert and sporting event. It is a permeable border to citizen’s journalism. People are somehow trying to preserve a moment rather than experiencing it. They’ll take a picture of the celebrity although pro-shooters will capture that moment much better and have it uploaded to the internet before the rest of us get home. I have always recommended to young photographers that if they shoot anything at such events, focus on the people around them… That will be a much more interesting and creative historic document. Or, as she put it in a rather snarky way: “Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.”

Much of what Susan Sontag wrote struck me as very condescending. “Needing to have reality confirmed and experience enhanced by photographs is an aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted. Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.” I prefer Robert Frank’s take on it, when he said in 2008 that “there are too many images…Too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.”

Of course, Sontag still thought of the photographer as a documentarian, not someone who stages image… which of course is ironic because she later became the life-partner of Annie Leibovitz, one of the great creators of staged and constructed images. Sontag wrote that “the painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” That’s nonsense when you back off the assertion that photography is defined by a caught moment. There is more to photography than a well-trained eye that perfectly captures the moment serendipitously stumbled upon. “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past. The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.”

Well, that isn’t true.

Some of us create our images, rather than prowl around hoping to find one… although this is the point where many parse the difference between a photographer and an artist. Photography as an art form is about creating a narrative, rather than capturing one. Sontag writes that “all photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” This sounds almost native-aborigine. The artist does not destroy, rather he brings stories to life. Especially when the goal is to engage in the retelling of myths, the images come from gifted ears and eyes that hear and see the song and dances of life. To freeze them is not to kill them, but rather to keep them alive.

The Feminine Magic

Some insight into my current thought process… It’s not clear, so I am trying to parse it out here, and will hopefully elicit some dialog.

I have been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell, and find myself softening ever so slightly on the total disdain I have for religion. To some degree I have always given a lot of people a pass. I understand that Ritual gives people a chance to participate. It also perpetuates a culture, which isn’t always a bad thing. The self-righteous Yoga-Vegans fill their own lives with rituals, which lose their meaning for those who inherit or assume these rituals, but didn’t create them. This is how “organized” religions are ultimately born. Take the laws of Halal or Kasher – they sanctify an action. They remind a person that they make a choice, and that raises them above animals. But it also separates them. At its highest form, that is no different than the smugness felt by the modern shopper leaving a Bio-Organic supermarket. But a choice has to be conscious; the minute you follow rules and rituals blindly they become meaningless, and only benefit the system, not the person.

Religion is filled with stories of heroes, prophets, apostles, and saints. In many ways, people need myths and heroes to describe the magic they invariably feel in their life. But more importantly, myths illustrate the moments of our lives that move us through our changes.

The saints, the apostles, the prophets, the kings… the stories should serve as metaphors. They aren’t literal, but they are true – True in the sense that they reflect back to us feelings that we might encounter as well.

Those feelings – the love, the fear, the anger, the lust – that is where the Divine lies, that is where we become Gods. It is as much in the virtues as in the sins. And the great stories tell those moments, and challenge us to see ourselves in those stories.

So how does that come up in my work?

I’ve photographed women and nudes for a long time. I have had a fascination with the Feminine for years. But I am not interested in just taking pictures of hot naked chicks. I find that absolutely mind-numbingly boring, and the pages of large Taschen books, not to mention the internet, are full of quasi-artistic images which purport to celebrate goddesses and muses. They don’t. They’re just erotica. If I create an image like that, there must be a reason, a place it comes from.

I have been reading the stories of St Agatha, or St Catherine, or St Barbara, or any of the other female saints who were martyred for not submitting to a man in the way he wanted. The story is always the same… A man wants something from the woman, but she refuses. In his anger, he decides to hurt and destroy her. This two thousand year old story is no different than the man spraying acid in the face of a girl in Afghanistan for not marrying him. In the beatific saint stories the woman was always saving herself for Christ, of course. But that is just religion repurposing human tragedy to suit its own narrative.

These stories were tools for establishing the patriarchy in the early monotheistic days. Humanity began losing its magic then, as a very male form of society began taking hold. A religious/societal rule-set created for governance, for expansion, for reinforcement and confinement. It sought to replace the irrational, the inexplicable, the magical, much of what was feminine in nature. We lost our Goddesses then… Astarte, Ishtar, and all the others… relegated to martyred or motherly roles, or entirely re-envisioned as the embodiment of evil and the arbiter of original sin. But magic persisted will into the Renaissance and beyond. Anna Göldin was decapitated for witchcraft near Zurich in 1782, an era when brighter minds were already deep into the Age of Reason. Enlightenment, with its rigor around debate, and study, and evidence, did not defeat religion. If anything, it is the second version of a patriarchal system. It remains a male way of looking at the world, and if anything, has taken us even further from the Feminine. I scoff at religion as mindless superstition, but it occurs to me now that Reason and Enlightenment – though less superstitious and more egalitarian – does nothing to return us there.

I’ll grant that every little bit helps. Maybe those pictures of wannabe soft-core porn and beautiful erotica help restore some femininity into a massively male world, however coincidentally and circumstantially. And maybe life freed from patriarchal religion allows us to sneak the Feminine back into our interactions, into our perceptions, into our lives.

All this makes me want to tell myths, not tear away at the stories of others. It makes me want to bring the Feminine further into my work. Yet my resentment for religion, my disdain for its current popular form remains. The Gods did not make us in their image… we made them in ours. And it is time to make Gods and Goddesses that fit our time. Heroes that illustrate our stories. Saints that give our sacrifices a contemporary context.

I can’t stop right now, and I feel a little out of control. I want to consume information at a pace that is unrealistic, like over-eating knowledge. I’m gorging on books and wikis and video lectures, and I can’t seem to find a way to stir all of it into my images. My “Sacred and Profane” project seems to be changing into something entirely more complex than I set out to accomplish initially, and I am quickly accepting that the overall series may show these thoughts, but I can’t expect every single image to cover every aspect.

…and I need to stop gorging. Because when I get this way, I don’t only over-consume knowledge, i over-eat, too. One part of me says “Fuck It, it doesn’t matter if you’re a little heavier, you’re a Man not a boy…” but then my internal photographer and aesthete walks past a mirror… and is mortified. So keep the Amazon boxes coming, but chill on the Turkish food deliveries. And keep an eye open for Saints and Goddesses.

_U1J3455_web_sRGB

One of my many attempts at Goddess… Here the Venus of Willendorf. For more information please visit my website and see the Forest Project.

Tumblr Mixtapes

I remember in the 1980s I’d make Mixtapes for girls I had a crush on. Sometimes I even delivered them to the girl I had in mind. I don’t remember that ever working out they way I had hoped. Sometimes I made tapes that reinforced a feeling I had. Music to be angry to. And of course, a lot of melancholy.

I believe the power is shifting from the content creators to the curators. Whole genres of music are no longer about the band, it’s about the label or the DJ. And when I look at certain Tumblrs, I wonder if they’re a love letter to someone. Or a wish. Or hate mail.

2009Dec23_0113

… an image I shot many years ago.

Photography is not that easy

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do” said Edgar Degas.

Degas’ insight is just as easily applicable to photography. Cameras have become ubiquitous over the last few years, as have endless little applications or plug-ins that make it easy to create images that look like expired polaroids, or older Medium Format cameras with light leaks, or any other myriad of effects that became highly fashionable on the social networks. People with creative streaks thought the leap to fine art was a few clicks away, and the visual social media platforms – from Instangram to Tumblr – began filling with artsy Hipstamatic photos.

But as much as I like to complain about some of the extremely wanky conceptual photography that I’ve seen in art schools and even on the walls of certain galleries at Paris Photo or MIA Milan Image Art Fair, I must point out that the fine art photo world still places a premium on craft. The images that truly succeed are executed with very high skill, and must deliver context (and concept!) while still being well shot. Planning an image, shooting it, and then processing it in the dark room or retouching it digitally requires attention to detail.

At this point I’d love the show you some of my new work, which I’m pretty proud of, but I am holding back until I premiere the project in the appropriate environment. I’m proud of the images, and what my team has been able to put together.

Soon.  In the mean time, here is a new version of an image I’ve shown before.  🙂

Darkened_2012 07 17 DARK Brun Gun 13100_filter2_cool color implementation_web_sRGB

Brunhilde beobachtet Günther, an image from my new Series “The Sacred and the Profane”.

A story to guide you

Several photographers have asked me for advice recently. I’m always slightly leery of giving advice, because I don’t believe my images succeed from technique. I’m proud of the work I do, it’s technically fine, but my work lives from the stories I tell. And I think that’s an element that is missing too often. To me it’s painfully obvious when I look at the websites of those asking me for help. There are photographers all over the world that are attempting fine art nude work, or fashion photography, and the answer is simple: the greatest pictures from either genre are filled with narrative and emotion. Yet those same shooters asking for advice obsess endlessly about camera gear, light placement, and posing. It never occurs to them to share a story with their model, or to guide the team by describing a mood or a moment.

Two weeks ago a photographer said “well, I’m not like you, I can’t afford to tell stories.” Bullshit.

I want to post the following pictures to make a point: there is no budget for story. That’s not how it works. Contrary to the process of my public work, I still “work out” creatively by shooting on location with available light (rather than building sets and using multiple strobe heads). For this shoot, I told the model about the story of Hanjo. The geisha Hanako goes insane from loneliness while waiting for her lover Yoshio to return. I told her to envision the morning of his departure, the hour right after he left. The physical desire, the loneliness, the hope.

You don’t need money to tell a great story … but it does require a great model.

Natsuki 2

Natsuki 3

Natsuki 1

“So build yourself as beautiful as you want your world to be. Wrap yourself in light then give yourself away with your heart, your brush, your march, your art, your poetry, your play. And for every day you paint the war, take a week and paint the beauty, the color, the shape of the landscape you’re marching towards. Everyone knows what you’re against; show them what you’re for.”

Andrea Gibson, “Evolution”

Go and tell stories my friends.

The Forest Project

For some time now, I have been creating a series of images in my studio called the Forest Project. It is a large set in my studio. I am about to pause the project for an indeterminate amount of time. I need to focus on other work, but I also must retrench, I need to rethink the project. I know where I want it go… but until now I have been unable to articulate it, and so it was difficult to communicate to my team what I want to achieve.

The goal is to show strong women, who would challenge the perceptions and self-confidence of men. Beautiful, but hardly available. Not desirable in the conventional ways of modern fashion photography, yet clearly from that universe. Every project I find myself playing with that language more and more. The Witch – the way we see her in the last 150 years – is a German bourgeois concept, the perception of the liberated woman in nature. Nothing is a greater threat than a woman that does not need to rely on a man. These supposedly feral women created a social discomfort – they are free to make their own decisions. It is a continuation of a theme begun as far back as folk tales about the women of the Blocksberg, the Walpurgisnacht, and their contemporaries from other cultures… the Baba Yega for instance.

“To diminish the worth of women, men had to diminish the worth of the moon. They had to drive a wedge between human beings and the trees and the beasts and the waters, because trees and beasts and waters are as loyal to the moon as to the sun. They had to drive a wedge between thought and feeling…At first they used Apollo as the wedge, and the abstract logic of Apollo made a mighty wedge, indeed, but Apollo the artist maintained a love for women, not the open, unrestrained lust that Pan has, but a controlled longing that undermined the patriarchal ambition. When Christ came along, Christ, who slept with no female…Christ, who played no musical instrument, recited no poetry, and never kicked up his heels by moonlight, this Christ was the perfect wedge. Christianity is merely a system for turning priestesses into handmaidens, queens into concubines, and goddesses into muses.”

– Tom Robbins

 

Pretty is not enough

This project I’m shooting goes deeper into me than I thought, and I am grateful for the guidance and friends I have, now that I know how to approach it. There are decisions that come from a part of the soul that is both unknowable and scary. It’s like an Area 51 that is completely off limits to me, yet some of my most important choices are made there. I see how others approach the style or the subject matter, and I know they are failing.

Both my Hopper project and the Hanjo stories are reflections of how I felt at the time. One was a melancholy reflection of what might come next and what has been, and the other was a meditation on love lost in light of doing the right thing. I am more confident in my images than ever, the new series is strong and committed. It is no longer a look back, it is time to make a mark, and to comment on the world that I see. Fear is not an option; my sons need to know that I did more than simply create pretty pictures. There is more to art than technical execution and decorative color schemes, and I’m seeing work in galleries these days that lack depth and courage. I will shoot for more; I promise.

Story Teller

Fine art photography works best when it starts a story. An image doesn’t have to tell the whole story, but as a kick-off point few things can beat an interesting picture. Obviously this is what we expect of documentary-style photography, but it is even more acute when creating narrative images from nothing.

One thing I have learned about my style of photography is that it requires a personality. It is impossible for us to be small and grey, because we have to work with so many people to create the image.

Take a look at this wonderful video about Eleanor Antin and her recent series Inventing Histories, and you can see how much fun she is. Of course as an artist working in this particular medium you have to be deliberate, you have to know exactly what you want, and leave just enough to photographic coincidence to allow for magic.

The same holds true for Gregory Crewdson. In spite of the melancholy and pensive images that he creates, Gregory is a gregarious and generous person. On set all of us get a little bit more tense (and intense) than at other times, but working with a large team still requires the leader of this creative endeavor to hold it all together, to get people to do what needs to be done, and to stay creative throughout it.

Erwin Olaf may not seem unusually charming in this particular video, but I think it’s important to see how hands-on we have to be to get the shot. You have to do all of it… fine-tune the set, perfect the clothes, set the perfect final angle of every light. But where we obviously agree the most is our complete disdain for television and the obvious emotion, and our respect and homage to the great painters.

To create photographic images this way is a lot like painting. Every item must be justified, and then placed perfectly. Why is there a telephone in the picture? And is that the perfect spot for it? But unlike paintings, you can’t really paint over it afterward.

Antin references the Neo-Classicists, Crewdson told me he got a lot from Edward Hopper (I know that feeling!) and Olaf emulates Vermeer and probably the whole slew of other Dutch painters that used soft light so marvelously.

The other artist who draws a lot of inspiration from painters is David LaChapelle. I will admit that he is the exception to my observation that it requires huge personalities… Those of use who know him or have met him understand why that is.

I bring him up to make a final point: we all try to make beautiful images. If you have a deep understanding of the painters that came before you, and you’re going to create images out of nothing, you can bet that they will use Beauty as a key weapon in its visual arsenal. I have written about ugliness in contemporary photography before. I find it to be an admission of creative bankruptcy.

Whaddaya call that?

I’m stumped. I’m not sure how to describe my own photography. My assistant Thomas Schäfer has begun a new project, and I seem to have inspired the guy… he built a set, rented a lot of furniture, and worked with actors to create some highly narrative images. We were talking about this style today, and even though I can think of plenty of photographers who inspire me, who have gone before me, or who I consider contemporaries… I wish I could find a quick phrase to sum up this style.

The great masters of this are Gregory Crewdson and David LeChapelle, but there are guys like Erwin Olaf and Eugenio Recuenco who are doing technically inspiring work.

Maybe it’s a good thing that there isn’t a phrase yet. On some level, it’s a very deliberate process, much more like painting than it is photography. Every item gets carefully placed, and is vested with some meaning… why put a pomegranate there? Why aren’t they looking at each other? Should the light be coming from slightly below the main character? What I do isn’t simply taking a picture, it’s making an image. And that is very distinct and specific way to stage a shot.

…here’s another teaser from my new series, tentatively entitled the Dark Project. Obviously a lot of Caravaggio, but also some Füssli in the mix.

EDIT:  I’m just going with “Narrative Photography” for now. It’s kinda what I do …

Darkened_2012 07 17 DARK Brun Gun 13100_V4_web_sRGB

Anti.Mono.Stereo

I don’t like sharing a studio. I’ve tried that, but to be an artist you need to be an alpha-type person. And two alphas don’t share well, and it’s even worse when one artist is serious about work and the other just wants to smoke pot all day and make a lot of declarations and promises. I know there is that clichée of the lone artist toiling away in a studio somewhere. That may actually be true in the creative phase, but the rest of the time being an artist means being a cultural entrepreneur. As an artist I need to work even harder than a businessman. If I build a business, I can identify a need for my product or service in the marketplace and try to meet that need. But no one needs art. So I have to hustle twice as hard.

Not surprisingly, the artist-as-slacker vision is most convenient to slacker-artists. Berlin is filled with photographers, painters, writers and musicians who spend all night drinking and all afternoon in cafés complaining about the lack of paid work, publishers who don’t “get it” or amateur gallerists. Many believe that working hard is somehow anathema to the arts, and a form of selling out… or at least find themselves overwhelmed by the fun to be had. Read James Coleman’s article “In Berlin, you never have to sleep” to see what I mean.

So I no longer share my studio space, but I am also very busy,  and I need my space for my own work. I have assembled a very talented team, and some of the members will occasionally utilize the space for their own creative efforts. I frequently get asked whether my studio is available for rent, and the answer is an unequivocal NO! But every once in a rare while I will lend my space to a photographic artist who is working hard, has a creative vision for a specific project, and is also a friend.

All of that was just a long preamble. Here’s a video that Tomaso Baldessarini put together to show a portrait project that he has begun. It’s called Anti.Mono.Stereo. I believe he works very hard, and I think his portrait project is interesting. The few images he’s shown look very different than this video, but I believe he is after a certain mood, and is capturing faces devoid of emotions. The face is a person’s most powerful tool in the expression of feeling, in the communication of self, but what does that tool look like when it is not being used?

Tomaso shot this at my studio, and is shooting again in a few weeks. And I’m in the video because I am one of the faces in the project, and that’s why I’m sharing it on my blog. I’ll link to his work again when he’s ready to show the work in a proper gallery.

 

 

Selecting images

I hate selecting images. Years ago, when I shot film, I had to be a lot more deliberate about the images I captured because I would run out of film very quickly. But digital photography allows me to shoot for hours without a pause.

Recently I shot three very talented dancers. When I work with dancers for the first time whom I don’t know well it is hard for me to anticipate their moves, or to know their routines. Subsequently I shoot a lot, and this time I ended up with 1,400 frames from one full day of shooting. Ouch.

Screen Shot 2013-01-06 at 9.52.02 PM

I usually wait a few days after shooting before I look at the images I’ve captured. Honestly? I find image selection a battlefield of self-doubt and loathing. All I see is what I did wrong, what I missed, what should have been obvious. The problem is when I shoot I switch into full creative mode, and the technical part of my brain goes out for a long drive to the countryside. I once shot for twenty minutes only to realize I had not focused the camera. Fortunately I could just reshoot because the set and models where still in place. Another time I shot for a while without noticing that my fill-flash wasn’t firing… which led to a much more dramatic lighting. Those were the lucky moments. More often than not I found myself sitting in front of my computer, seriously wondering whom I’m fooling. A real photographer would not make the kind of mistakes I made that day… My self-esteem is not a reliable travel partner on the best of days, but editing time is usually when I get to be completely on my own… no confidence or pride anywhere in sight.

A great musician spends a lot of time listening to all kinds of music, and a good writer reads a lot. So as a photographer, I look at other people’s images all day long. But of course, I am seeing another photographer’s twenty best images that were created in the course of a year or more… But when I look at my pile of raw data, initially I see nothing but shit.

It passes. I usually (though not always) end up with images that work. Over the years I’ve gotten better, and technically more proficient. I trust my gear and my basic skills, and half the time when I shoot I’m just directing the model, and making sure the feet are in the frame. But I still wonder why I didn’t notice the lamp right behind the model, why I didn’t just move a little higher, or why the damn foot is out of the frame after all!

Academic Art

I have been involved in a master class for photographic artists for some time now, but have decided to terminate my involvement. I must admit I find the conversations very interesting, and I really love the focused dialog between artists that really doesn’t happen in every day life. You need to seek out people working in the same medium, but that alone is not enough. They need to be mentally in the same state, and regular weekend retreats enable that. Even artists have days when they have to do their taxes, take the kids to the dentist and test out new gear… so not all days allow for the freedom of mind to drill into the importance of the work.

But the academic art world, and especially the specialized world of fine art photography coming out of the art schools, tends to be extremely fixated on its own belly button. The last weekend was a combined class with graduates from ENSPA, the École Nationale Supériore des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The students meet every four months, and present their work in relation to a theme that was assigned previously.

Of course there was some highly creative work on view. Some of it was quite clever, and had an interesting take on the assigned theme. But most of it was so conceptual that it required a long essay to be read out loud before the work was presented, and that barely made the images more comprehensible.  It also seemed like most people had the same ideas, including five who used Google Earth as the basis of their project, and several more who recontextualized images by photographing existing pictures or capturing various screens, posters, or paintings. This has been done ad nauseum, and it has been done well. I will admit that one or two of the works were quite smart.

Two weeks ago I attended Paris Photo, the annual pinnacle of photographic art fairs. I am always surprised about the number of galleries that specialize in representing the work of such students-turned-artists. The galleries’ primary business is selling art to large insurance companies, energy consortia, and major banks, who in turn have funded trusts dedicated to building up art assets. These funds are being curated by other art school graduates, who in turn are seeking consultation from other former art school graduates. Outside of the art world this is called a circle jerk. There is an insularity to the art being sold for large sums, but ultimately that art has not withstood one of the tests of art: does it work?

One test that academic art has failed consistently is in the market place. Can money validate art? Its an age-old question, but one fact to consider in whether importance is artificially bestowed should be that 85% of the conceptual work did not hold its value once achieved in previous auctions.

Sean O’Hagan poses some other interesting questions in his article On not answering the Question: what makes a good Photograph over at Photoworks.

So I am terminating my flirtation with academia. It lacks passion, and it lacks lust. And frankly, none of my heroes and role models emerged from academia, and that may say the most.

Crop_web_sRGB

 

Tired of the Fear

I have been working on a new project for months now. I am only really getting started, because I want to take my time finding the right visual language, but also want to make sure the images I create provoke thought. I don’t want them to be provocative without reason, I am too old for that.

The new project deals with religious iconography, but uses the language of beauty and fashion. I don’t do that casually, I believe that models have become our modern-day angels in terms of the visual language. I do not men that as a compliment. They are unattainably perfect creatures that serve to remind us that we are not “good enough” in the eyes of ourselves. The use of fashion models, dancers, and character actors in my work serves another purpose: it questions the viewer, and demands attention. Yet no product or service is being sold, and so the plasticity of the image requires attention beyond the immediate medial digestion system.

I have created about fourteen images so far, and have many more planned. Not all will see the light of day, because as I refine the purpose of the project, and get more comfortable in this visual language, some of the images will simply seem out of place. There will be many images that are simply beautiful… I could never just make message-pictures, that’s not my style… but certainly the project will have some key pieces that set the mood for the series.

Here are two images that I am willing to show right now.

I presented the series for the first time today at a photographic art masterclass in Paris, at the École Nationale Supériore des Beaux-Arts no less, one of the most acclaimed art schools in our time. Although the work was well-received, I was shocked by the childlike expression of fear over possibly angering religious fundamentalists. I will admit that the bulk of the work is provocative, it was created with the purpose of questioning our respect for religious imagery while using the baroque language of art to echo back a contemporary theme. But I was shocked and dismayed to find such timidity amongst fellow artists. Especially the older, more successful ones that were leading the class were mostly worried about the response amongst the ultra-religious.

How much longer must we all live in fear? Why do we – as enlightened people – fear the thuggish religious so much that we are willing to forego our rights simply to appease them? How long are we willing to let mullahs, rabbis, and the Holy Sea dictate to us what is acceptable when they contribute nothing to the progress of society?

Leave me your thoughts, or better yet just write to me at info@roth-photo.com and I will discuss it, though I may not answer right away.

The Wrap Project

One of the artists I became aware of first in life was Christo (& Jean-Claude, as I was corrected later in life.) His (their) early work helped me understand one of the basic tenets of contemporary art. I was always impressed by the sheer scale, and the desire to do something just because it was possible. His wrapped buildings, surrounded islands, and divided valleys exist solely because they are compelling.

Particularly exciting is that we are only a few weeks away from Christo’s latest large scale project, a lake covered in floating pontoons in northern Italy.

In his early work, around my birth year 1968, Christo created a number of sketches of wrapped women. These were very organic shapes, within very hard-edged landscapes. Obviously this appealed to me, because so much of my work is about the human figure in hardscape, and this abstraction provided a whole new creative opportunity.

EEEBy Christo Wrapped woman project.

I decided to create a photographic homage to this early work. My team and I shot in Berlin, over two days. I rarely do location work, so it was a wonderful change of pace for me. Most of this had to be done relatively guerilla-style. Although we did not need location permits, setting up a wardrobe truck was not an option, so my stylist would simply begin wrapping the models on site. Because it was summer, the tourists that walked around us made for a supportive audience, even if they couldn’t quite figure out the point of our photo shoot. We were wrapping naked women in itchy plastic on extremely hot summer days. Twice Berlin policemen stopped us to tell us that we really shouldn’t shoot here because technically it wasn’t allowed. Each time we asked to simply finish the image, and they were happy to help us, one even asking people in the background to step out of our frame for a couple of minutes. Gotta love Berlin!

After posting these pics to my Facebook Page, I was viciously attacked by a small group of people. Closer inspection showed that they were primarily offended because one location was the memorial of the fallen Soviet soldiers, and their respective Facebook profiles showed Cover Pictures of Che Guevara and other notable Communists, which leads me to believe their other accusations were intended primarily to provoke and insult.

The man wrote (in German)

“Ich habe mich mal drangemacht und mir den rest deiner fotos hier angeschaut und diese bestätigen auch mein urteil: brutal, aggressiv, frauenfeindlich, kitschig, romantisch (im deutschen sinne), anonymisierte gewalt, schlichtweg menschenfeindlich…”

Translation:

“I’ve gone ahead and checked out the rest of your photos and they confirm my judgement: brutal, aggressive, woman-hating, kitschy, romantic (in the German sense), anonymous violence, simply misanthropic…”

I must admit I was flabbergasted. I can’t really defend myself against charges that are completely off-mark. And as much as I initially took a small pride in having my first group of Haters, I can’t help but notice that my lead opponent’s initial anger was directed at the model, whom he accused of deleting his post. He was wrong, his comments was still there, and it turned out to be  a spurned suitor or ex-boyfriend who was stalking her.

Poor girl. As if laying wrapped in plastic on a hot summer day wasn’t enough to deal with…

Hammershøi

I’m sure there is a pithy story about success being born of abject failure, but the appropriate quote eludes me right now. Instead I will tell you one of mine…

The Color Room Project started as something very different. My work over the last couple of years has often been inspired by artists that have gone before me. About two years ago I developed a school-boy crush on a Danish artist named Vilhelm Hammershøi, a contemporary of the Skågen School of painting. He worked around 1880 – 1920, and used a wonderful soft light. The rooms he depicted were almost always his own house.

I had just finished the series I call Hopper’s Americans, but still loved the creative process of building sets and telling stories within them. I decided to create a set that looked a lot like Hammershøi’s house, and to shoot a project that used his soft light, different than I had been in my previous work.

The project failed almost immediately. I had a very good model, but the clothes made it virtually impossible to tell the kind of stories I like. She was smothered in heavy fabrics, and they give little opportunity for physical nuance. Instead the images came out looking like something from the cover of a fancy candy box, something that Sarotti or Quality would put on their biscuit tins. Worse, I had given my stylist very little guidance, and we ended up with looks that were way to exaggerated for the subdued images I wanted to create.

I got so mad at myself that I went to my studio at some point on a Saturday night, got out a very large bucket of grey (or blue?) paint, and blasted Joy Division while repainting the whole set a solid color. I used a big fat bushy brush to slather the entire set, covering the walls, the decorative sconces, the chairs and tables all in a dark tone that reflected my mood. I was embarrassed, because the new project I had hoped for evaporated in front of me. I knew I should have focused on quieter images, more pensive poses.

Now I realize that it is not where I wanted to go creatively. I love the light. But I am so intrigued by the visual language of motion, which is utterly out of place in such a project. I admire Erwin Olaf’s most recent work, but it is not the kind of images I want to create right now. I chose instead to create images that focused on movement and drama in those stylized rooms.

_U1J7307_web_sRGB

Interview – Creative Motion Design

Some months ago Creative Motion Design conducted an interview with me about my Hopper’s Americans series:

{CMD}

This body of work speaks for itself…Yoram Roth, talented visionary is telling a story and capturing more than just an image…It’s narrative art. Avant-garde, Seductive…worth a second look for sure.

_MG_6548 R2_sRGB

Yoram Roth was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, but lived in London, New York and then Los Angeles for over 25 years. Although he studied photography in New York in the late 1980s, he ultimately pursued a business career in the entertainment industry. After 20+ years of success he decided to pursue his life-long dream of creating photographic art.

_MG_7290 R2_sRGB

{Why and when did you become a photographer?}

I’ve been shooting since my university days, but I got really back into it with the advent of digital photography. I have no romantic longings for spending days in a dark room breathing chemicals, so when new technology allowed me to work with my images while sitting at a desk, I got re-engaged. I learned Photoshop a long time ago, and was a very active member of the early photoblogging community. I was still very involved in business, and I tried a number of styles to accommodate that lifestyle… I was doing a LOT of traveling, so I was doing a sort of Street Photography shooting. For a while I was working on a series named “Arrivals and Departures” in which I was shooting my life in airports… and Yes, that title is a nod to Garry Winogrand.

_U1J5919 R2_sRGB

It was frustrating though because the truly great images were really tied to luck, you had to have something going on to capture something really compelling. I was also trying to shoot Architecture, or at least some Urban Landscapes, and I learned to respect that craft… it takes a LOT of preparation and timing to shoot certain cityscapes – the sun has to be right, the light… I can see why Ansel Adams scouted his locations for years before nailing the timing, and then he still switched out the skies in the dark room to get the perfect image.

Ultimately I found my images boring, I always felt they needed something human in them. And as weird as it sounds, I never really felt they were my images… A good street image is a bit of luck, a good architecture shot is ultimately derivative because it is based on someone else’s building… and so on. I really like to control every conceivable element, so over the last few years I have become very focused on telling stories. Sometimes I do little snippets like Hopper’s Americans where every image is a little question, or longer narrative pieces like Hanjo which is a photographic retelling of a Yukio Mishima play. I build the sets, I control the lights, I determine the models, the hair and make-up, and even make some of the clothes. I don’t want to take too much credit here though. These are my images, but such a production requires a team, almost like a little film production. I have a good team that knows what I want, so we communicate with a good short-hand at this point.

_MG_2306 R2_sRGB

{How would you describe your style of photography?}

I create narrative images using the language of fashion photography.

{What is your most difficult challenge in the business?}

It is very hard to find a community of other photographers with whom to discuss some of the more conceptual aspects of this art form. There’s plenty of people on the internet talking about gear or technique, but it’s hard to get a dialog going about why a certain decision was made creatively, or where a choice may have failed.

_U1J0158 R2_sRGB

{Where would you like to see your talents take you?}

I want to find a serious gallerist who will guide me in my creative endeavors, and help me get my books published.

{Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?}

Gregory Crewdson is a role model for me, as is Izima Kauro. But ultimately I come back to literature and especially music as a source of inspiration.

_U1J7908 R2_sRGB

{Tell us little about your studio}

Ah, my new playground. I just rented a ridiculously large space in an old weapons factory in Berlin. 1,100 square meters (that’s over 12,000 square feet) in which I can build my sets and keep them up for weeks at a time. The last few years always created pressure cookers – elaborate sets were designed and then built, but then had to be shot and struck within a few days… so that left little room for experimentation beyond the initial shot list and certain preconceived lighting set-ups. Now I can spend hours alone in the studio, shoving lamps around my space, playing with various flags, cutters , gobos and lightshapers, and just having fun in general. I’ve also got a small gallery space in which I hang my work so I can see what it feels like – none of this counts as long as it just sits on the website. It needs to get printed and hung.

But for most photography, the perfect medium is the photo book, and I am pleased to announce my newest publication, The Americans. Please contact me directly for sales.

Other than that I am extremely active on Facebook, so please follow me on Facebook where I post mainly maudlin quotes from poets who do with words what I try to accomplish with images.

Thanks, I hope to meet you all online, or at one of my events.

Creative Motion Design is a fabulous company, I have recommended their service to a number of photographers and painters. They provide a full service solution, because they have really cool templates for art and images, they do the hosting, but most importantly: the back-end makes a ton of sense. As an artist I want to show, hide or rearrange images from my series. I want that to be easy and intuitive, and I have no interest in learning any sort of code. CMD does exactly that. Check ’em out if you need a straight-forward solution.

Beauty in an ugly World

My frustration with current fine art photography is the insistence on ugliness when depicting human subjects. There is a clear mistrust when it comes to beauty, with the simple implication that the use of beauty is a form of pandering to a broad audience. I was in Hong Kong for Art Fair in May, and David LaChapelle was accused of the same thing. The person who spoke was genuinely pissed that LaChapelle had used Naomi Campbell in his piece “The Rape of Africa” in which he recreates Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars” but pushes the narrative toward a contemporary topic. The critics argument was that an ugly, broken, thin woman should have depicted Africa, not Naomi Campbell…. that by using a fashion model, it can’t possibly be art. The argument was unrelated to Miss Campbell’s penchant for dictator’s diamond gifts.

LaChapelle is re-positioning himself as an artist, having permanently abandoned commercial photography. He owes no one an excuse, but he was happy to offer an explanation. His argument was that beauty offers a gateway into the work, that people are more inclined to spend time with an image, and to consider its purpose. Is that pandering? Seems to me that pandering would be simply creating a beautiful image with no consideration for content, which makes his next argument even more pertinent: Art needs Concept. Without Concept, the work is simply Decoration. I think he is right. There are wonderful, interesting pieces available at Lumas and a number of other photo galleries, but the vast majority is simply decorative art… stuff you could hang in the office or on hotel room walls. Art needs an underlying reason, it can’t just be pretty. And LaChapelle’s new work is steeped in Concept.

I admire LaChapelle greatly, he is one of the three photographic artists I constantly cite as creative role models. The other two, Gregory Crewdson and Izima Kauro, also use beauty as part of their visual language. Though Crewdson does not use fashion models, he certainly creates beautiful images.

So I am taking a stand for beauty, for concept, for elegance, and I refuse to create work that doesn’t hew to my little manifesto. It is possible – even necessary – to create work that has some magic in it, that isn’t simply a distortion of reality. Photographic art does not need a funhouse mirror filter to achieve authenticity. In an ugly world, it is an artist’s opportunity to reflect beauty back into the darkness.

David Foster Wallace said it better, and I’m happy to read that we feel the same way about BEE.

If what’s always distinguished bad writing— flat characters, a narrative world that’s clichéd and not recognizably human, etc.— is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then [Bret Easton] Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.

Go find beauty. But mind you… the Pursuit of Beauty is not for the Faint-of-Heart.

Bijin Tokei

Leave it to the Japanese to come up with something this obvious, and relatively cool. It’s a website (and an iPhone app) that has 1,440 images of (somewhat) attractive Japanese women holding up a sign that tells you what time it is. One picture for every minute of the day.

Check out Bijin Tokei. It apparently means Hot Girl Clock in Nippon. Many of the girls have their full personal data listed, including measurements and blood type. Odd.

Meet Miss 18.33:

There are so many obvious variations possible to this kind of clock… it becomes kind of fun. Fine Art nudes, pictures of cakes, celebrity mug-shots with that little ID Number…  It’s like a modern day calendar in some ways. Wish Pirrelli would come up with a version of this, I would probably get an iPhone just for that app.

Better yet would be a customizable app into which prolific photographers and other designers could simply insert their own images. It would certainly solve my Valentine’s Day problem of what to get Karen, I would create a clock for her of just ME pictures!! Oh well, jewelry and another Birkin bag, like every year… NOT.

Delirious and overwhelmed

I am incredibly tired of the cold, the gloom, the grey. The weather should be irrelevant, but it is impossible to ignore. It seems to sap the energy out of everything. We’re three days into spring, but it doesn’t feel that way.

Today is almost feverish. There is bright sunlight followed by flurries of snow, gelatinous wet hail, and finally ecstatic forest winds that smells like pine trees. Rinse, wash, repeat every twelve minutes.

Yesterday I stood in the book store on Savigny Platz looking for a gift for my friend Jessica. I was also hoping to find a book to inspire me… I’m taking a fun and new direction in my photography, but everything I looked at was either contrived and boring, or intimidatingly good and wonderfully original. The amount of work being published is overwhelming, and it makes me wonder what is left that hasn’t been done before… and whether the very question is proof of my limited creativity.

But I’m having fun. That means I can enjoy the process, and not worry solely about the final result.

The Rollercoaster

Yes, this blog is still alive, and No, I did not fall down a well (unless you consider time spent on Facebook). I’ve just been insanely busy watching the decline of Western civilization unfold on my computer monitor…

I am out of pithy comments about the financial crisis, but I found this image in my archives, and I’m posting it as a metaphor.

More soon, I promise!

2006-01-sm-pier-coaster01

Other People’s Images

There’s a couple of sites that I visit daily. It is hard to explain why, because I can’t say that I “learn” something there. Nonetheless I feel compelled to spend a little time there everyday, just to catch up on the newest posts. One example is FFFFound!, an image blog where members re-post interesting images found across the internet.

I scour these sites for the same reason I shower every day, sometimes twice. I don’t feel complete otherwise, and I need to immerse myself, however briefly, in that kind of beauty. I feel better afterward. I’ve occasionally posted odd images or pieces of art on this blog, and chances are I found them on one of these sites.

But recently I found an image that took my breath away. I had a visceral response to it. I can’t explain it, but I am certain most people won’t share how I feel; some things are just too personal. Maybe this triggers something from a previous life, or aggregates archetypes into a melange of hope and desire. I don’t know who these people are, but it seems like a perfect moment, captured as a self-portrait. At this age I know the difference between youthful love and the true love that comes later in life… but I remember the invincibility of Sunday morning in bed, with the rest of the world beyond the window.

So even though it feels like I’m invading an extremely personal moment, I like looking at it… and decided to share it with you.

the photo

I wish them all the luck in this world.

Lloyd Philipps at C/O

Friday night Lloyd Philipps opened his show at C/O Berlin. He is not a professional photographer, in the sense that he actually makes his living as a film producer. But his pictures prove that he started professional life as a photojournalist. He’s been in Berlin for a long time, shooting The International together with a friend of ours, which just opened the Berlinale Film Festival. He’s still here, now producing Inglorious Basterds, Quention Tarantino’s next exercise is timeless juvenile cinematic wank.

Phillips usually captures images during a production, and then gives them to the cast and crew after the shoot as a book compilation.

The photos were taken during the production of The International and, to counterpoint the film’s rapid-fire action sequences, they are a mostly serene and atmospheric look at locations in Istanbul, Milan, New York and, of course, Berlin.

Stephan Erfurt, the founder of C/O, said that Lloyd’s work could keep up with masters like Sebastiao Salgado. I think that might be reaching a little, but I do agree that his images were very strong. His images are a good example that a simple subject with tense composition can create a serene picture.

Why do I bring this up? In some way it makes me feel a lot more comfortable about my own work. I’m trying to find the time to put together my own first series, though it’s still tough to find the time to shoot. I’m jealous of his opportunity to shoot in exotic cities with an entire crew there to clear and clean up the location… or getting to rebuild the best parts of New York’s Guggenheim at a Studio here in Berlin.

So because I can’t find a good shot of his series from The International, here’s an image from a series I’m working on called “Arrivals and Departures”, about airports, bus terminals, and train stations.

2007-q2-shooting-0190-lens-corrected

Peter Funch sees Manhattan

I’m in New York for 48 hours, so I thought it was apropos to point toward Peter Funch and his Babel project.

It’s a novel approach to classic work. Street photography has been around since Leica invented a camera small enough to carry around, but in recent times it’s become rather monotonous. It seems every college student with a beat up AE-1 is out there snapping black + white images, slightly grainy, in an effort to capture urban grit.

Well, at least that’s what I did back in college…

Funch uses Photoshop, a modern graphic editing software, to insert characters shot over time into one location. He will combine people to create a surrealistic scene… like the large group of yawners seen below. What’s even more fun, many of his images show New York in bright sunshine and daylight, which adds to the odd setting.

On a personal note, I also like the choice he makes by using such a wide aspect ratio… it lets the eye focus on the characters, and wander through the image. They definitely need to be seen larger than is possible on the internet.

peter-funch-street-yawners

Click on the picture to be taken to his gallery. They are wondeful images. I really like “Suspecting Suspects” and “Memory Lane”. Check out “Doppeltganger”, it’s a tour de force of the technique. On the other hand, “Diverting Diversions” seems easily plausible.

Annie Leibowitz

I know, I know…  The whole world seems to be talking about her, she’s the most recognized photographer in the world, her pieces are everywhere… and she’s got more media exposure than a Presidential candidate. I was at a point where I really thought that I’m over her, especially since she does so much celebrity photography.

But I must admit I’ve really come to appreciate her more than ever in the last few months.

All of this is probably due to her recent books, and the documentary about her. She released A Photographer’s Life in 2006, a fabulous book that really shows her range as a photographer. Leibowitz is well known for her celebrity photos, which is a genre I have zero appreciation for. But this book seamlessly interweaves her professional work, her photo journalism, her personal pictures, and her own creative imagery. It really shows her breadth as an artist. It could be argued that her celebrity enables her to pursue these different styles, but the fact is that she succeeds in creating memorable work. It’s really good.

In 2007, a film about Leibowitz was released called Life Through a Lens. My wife and I enjoy documentaries on DVD, and tend to watch a lot of photography films. We enjoyed this film tremendously. It’s shot really well, not unlike a narrative might unfold as told through still images. Although I don’t spend much time listening to celebrities, in this context it made sense. As a photographer we crave willing subjects, and it is fun to listen to famous people talk about photo shoots.

My friend Sasha just gave me At Work, Leibowitz’s newest book. It’s a real gem. There are many images from her career, and she spends a few paragraphs or pages discussing these pictures with the readers. Some of it is about the subject, the setting, or the shoot itself, but she also covers the gear she used, composition, and lighting considerations. It’s really a book for fellow photographers. At the end is even a “most frequently asked questions” section.

In the most recent book, she describes what it is like photographing people, and one’s own family in particular. I share her feelings. Some people are quite uncomfortable in front of the camera, and have been conditioned to smile and assume a slightly awkward pose. “Say Cheese” was invented in the 1950s, when everything was supposed to be happy and normal. It’s hard to break that habit, and virtually impossible to get a natural looking shot that way. Like her, I’m trying to get my children to ignore the camera, but it’s hard.

Annie Leibowitz is coming to Berlin, and I’m looking forward to meeting her. I’m actively involved with C/O Berlin, one of the most important photographic organizations. She’s going to be showing her work at C/O starting February 21st, and most importantly: she’s giving a talk – something she’s not done anywhere else.

Clay Break

For months now I’ve seen pieces on various image and art sites of “The Clay Breaks” as I’ve come to call them in my mind. I finally had some time, and searched the internet to learn more about them.

Nothing.

The image seem to be hosted on some anonymous data dump site, and there is no information about the artist, or the process. In many ways, this has been a recurring topic of my all-time favorite author William Gibson… art that appears out of nowhere, enters the collective consciousness, and then gets tracked to the most unlikely of sources. Just read Pattern Recognition, for instance.

I love these images. I like how the fragile breaking of these Hummelesque figurines undermines the poses of strength – the characters are all in classic Chinese warrior stances.

I’m sorry I’m unable to credit anyone with this work. Please write me should you know who makes these.

claybreak07

claybreak02

claybreak09

claybreak01

claybreak06

claybreak05

The last one is my favorite.

I don’t know the process – are there multiple figurines that the artist makes, and then drops until s/he captures the right image? Are these entirely created as drawings on a computer? Or does the artist hand-break the pieces and then collage them using an editing software?

If I could get prints of these works, I would want them relatively small, and framed ornately, so that they maintain the feeling of the little China dolls they originate from.

JPG calls it quits

A bit of sad news on this first business day of 2009. JPG Magazine is shutting down. It was a brilliant concept from a creative point of view, and I am proud to have been part of it.

jpg-issue19-300

JPG was a hybrid website & magazine that was based on monthly thematic photo competitions. Topics like “Travel” would get hundreds of submissions by various talented amateur photographers. We would then vote and comment on the images, and the best ones were published in the monthly magazine.

It’s a simple concept, but I’m not surprised that it didn’t work as a business. The participants (us) weren’t that interested in a magazine subscription because we’d already studied every conceivable image ad nauseum. And the typical consumer buying magazines off a news stand is looking for “gear porn” – which camera has the most megapixels and the newest lens. These buyers are not interested in the art of photography.

So go peruse the site while it is still up and running. The email I got this morning says that JPG will even take down the site, they don’t even have the resources to keep it going.

Below is one of my own favorite images that I had submitted to JPG.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

2007-07-woman-with-headscarf-at-train-station

Woman at Berlin Hauptbahnhof waiting for train

EDIT: Jan 11th late at night:

Just got this email:

We couldn’t ask for a better community. In the week or so since our last email, the outpour of support has exceeded our wildest expectations. Your efforts, such as starting SaveJPG.com, writing blog posts, commenting on Twitter and Flickr, and generally making your voices heard, have provided exciting new opportunities for us.

We’re thrilled to say that because of you, we have multiple credible buyers interested in giving JPG a home. We will be keeping the site up after all, and hope to have a final update in the next week or so on who the acquirer will be. Thank you for making all of this possible.

Laura Brunow Miner
Editor in Chief

“I hear famous people…”

Another shot from my archives:

I took this picture on Melrose, east of Fairfax about three years ago. The guy seemed a little deranged. When I took his picture he was speechless for a full 30 seconds, then smiled and said Thank You, and kept on walking.

Somehow I made his day.

Click on it to see the larger version.

2006-jan-31-melrose-ave030-new

AMS Schiphol

My weekly trip to Amsterdam.  I am not fond of Schiphol, only because I’ve seen so much of it over the last few years… but it’s actually a really good airport. I hope BBI will become this efficient when Berlin finally finishes it.

An unused check-in desk, shot while waiting for a delayed KLM flight.

2007-q2-shooting-0188-new

A Walk Through Times Square

I just got back from New York, which despite the looming recession still holds a certain Holiday spirit that few other cities can match. The windows at Saks and Bergdorf’s are wonderful to behold, and people are walking down 5th and along Times Square from all over the world. I took some pictures of people as I walked through the crowd. Click on them to see them larger.

Mother, Daughter, and the Stranger

mother-daughter-and-a-stranger

A Sea of Faces

sea-of-faces

Three Generations, followed by Pigtails

three-generations-and-followed-by-pigtails

The Thin People

thin-people

Pointing Down

pointing-down

School’s Out!

schools-out

Pointing Uptown

pointing-uptown

The Young Couple

the-young-couple

Through the Crowd

shouldering-man

Not sure where in Berlin I’m going to find a crowd this interesting to walk through, but I will find it, I promise 🙂

Bottles in the Window

A display of pretty bottles on Columbus Avenue.

The night before Thanksgiving is great on the Upper West Side. Macy’s blows up the balloons for the parade, and it is the real beginning of the Christmas Season. Unfortunately it’s become a popular event for people from all over the New York area, not just the neighborhood. This year there must have been 100,000 people there, so I never even got close to the balloons… but I got some other pretty shots:

20081127_wednesday-night-before-t-day_0089

Tegel Ceiling

A shot I took at the airport waiting for The Listmaker to deal with upgrade certs…

Now I understand where Daniel Liebeskind got his inspiration for the JMB.

20081121_ny_0053

The factory gate

Here’s a sample of the kind of photographic work I’m currently producing. I shoot factories, highway overpasses, and radio towers. I make multiple exposures, and then lay them over one another to ensure that the image has a lot of dynamic range. That way I have a lot of detail in the shadows. Then I put it through a black and white conversion, which I then reverse. Finally I do burn the edges in a software preset, which gives it this solarized appearance. What’s important is how you print these, and on what kind of paper. It needs to be a shiny silken (almost silvery) paper, but not glossy.

And it needs to be printed BIG!

I’m not wedded to this process, but I enjoy seeing these kinds of industrial structures in a surrealistic light. It takes away the functionality and draws the eyes to the texture. The parts seem almost out of context.

Click on them to see them slightly larger, but it’s still nowhere near as good as seeing them printed.

The first one is a factory in Berlin, near Tegel Airport:

_u1j0353_49_50_51_52-solarized-1

The following two were shot in Los Angeles. We rode Mountain Bikes into the concrete slab called the L.A. River. This is the 105 & 710 overpass, which very few people ever get to see on foot, or from underneath.

la-710-105-overpass-1-small-psd

Another one, from the same location. The trees sticking out over the edge take on the oddest texture this way.

la-710-105-overpass-2-small-psd

Both of the shots from L.A. are hanging in our house, printed at 120 x 120 cm.

Daily!? I’d be happy with weekly!

Josef Koudelka, one of the great photographers of our time, wrote:

“You have to photograph daily, like a pianist who must practice every day. You must retain the ability to capture what you’re seeing. Otherwise you will be blind, even though you can see.”

Actually, I read that quote in German, and assume it was translated from his native Czech. I’m sure it’s more elegant in his mother tongue…

I am getting so little time to photograph these days that I am seriously concerned about losing the ability to express myself creatively. To really capture what you see, especially when shooting people, means the camera must be an intuitive extension of you. As soon as you start fretting about the gear, and thinking about adjusting, you’ve lost the shot.

The problem is that I’m not shooting every day. I have to admit that my entire family is very supportive. They like many of my images, and encourage me to go out shooting more frequently. Especially The Listmaker says “Honey, go out and shoot for a couple of hours” but that doesn’t really work. It is impossible (for me) to simply slip into photographer mode between two business meetings. My mind is working on the business side, and can’t just switch over to creative mode.

…but I have pledged myself to try, and will make a point of carrying a camera with me as often as is reasonable. There are a lot of circumstances where it is inappropriate, of course… but having it with me will leave me with fewer excuses!

Snapshot of the day:

thatcher-cook-various-051

Going out shooting with my 4-year old

I have been INSANELY busy, and I’m not sure why. When I look back through my schedule, I don’t see that many appointments, but for some reason I have had virtually no personal time in the last few weeks… which makes it a little more difficult to keep posting. I guess a blog like this will ebb and flow, and subsequently I’ve decided to make some changes to it. My plan is to create a new photoblog because my old one is slowly breaking down – the host is going out of business, so I will need to move it to WordPress.

Also, The Listmaker was in New York for a couple of days, which left me in charge of “supervising” the family. IVR (my oldest son) had a birthday party on Sunday, and TMR (the newborn) was entertaining the nanny with his favorite ingestion/expulsion trick, so HLR and I decided to go out to do some “street shooting.” My hobby is photography, but it requires a lot of time, and I found myself presented with a great opportunity to spend some time together while showing him how to get the shot.

The idea of Street Photography is to go out and capture people and the mood of the place. Some photographers are shy about taking pictures of strangers, so I thought I’d start that part of his education early.

We had a blast. Mine are the shots in Black & White with my fancy Leica M8, while he was using my trusty Canon G9:

In this first set, I love that he got the composition perfect. It is (easily) argued that his shot would have been better if he’d gotten it before the street cleaner walked into the frame, and that I should have turned the flash off for him…

two-guys-with-hoods-hr

two-guys-with-hoods-yr

In the next shot, we decided to take a picture of a man reading a newspaper. Our shots are almost identical!

reading-on-the-train-hr

reading-on-the-train-yr

But the next shots really take the cake. Ok, I was more patient by waiting for a good facial expression, but his framing captures the mood much better than mine does. I got the two impatient passengers, but he included the kissing couple in this departure scene. (Note his reflection in my shot).

train-is-about-to-leave-hr

train-is-about-to-leave-yr

The kid will be a fantastic photographer some day. I hope he keeps at it as he gets older. A camera is possibly the only thing that gets a boy even closer to a girl’s heart than a guitar.

Finally back home in Berlin!

Back in Berlin! Now, time to remember that the Z and the Y are not where you expect them.

Smooth flight – all three boys slept, and JFK was not back-logged as usual. Gate-checked the stroller, but of course the Germans don’t understand the concept of giving parents their wheelsets right away, rather than waiting until after the luggage is unloaded. So everyone was forced to stand and hold cranky half-sleeping children while the suitcases roll past.

And the German obsession with cart theft… even the high-end supermarkets here insist you insert a Euro – God forbid life be made easier for the customer – a Mitarbeiter might have to actually leave the upholstered high-seat.

A shallow DOF image I took of the carts at Tegel a few years ago, before I had three kids to add to my luggage count:

Women are Heroes

I’ve never really been a fan of grafitti, even as a teenager it struck me as primitive. I understood that certain elements were tribal, that it was a way of letting everyone know exactly who’s ‘Hood they were in, but it also had something desperate about it. “Tagging” was somehow canine, a dog marking his favorite route.

But Street Art is a slightly different thing – it is usually less destructive and less scattershot. I guess you could also consider it Environmental Art, in the sense that it gets placed into our everyday surroundings.

But what I really like about Street Art is that it eschews the usual cycle of mega gallerists, celebrity artists and big money collectors. Simply put: you can’t really own street art.

One project I really admire is called Women Are Heroes. It’s done by a 25 year-old artist who goes by JR. He photographs women across the world, in this case in countries like Sudan, Sierra Leone, but also Cambodia and Laos, as well as Brazil. Then he prints extreme enlargements of the images, and wallpapers the sides of buildings in the neighborhoods of the women he documents… but then also posts them in a very large format in Western cities.

As the site explains:

The Women project wants to underline thier pivotal role and to highlight their dignity by shooting them in their daily lives and posting them on the walls of their country.

On the other hand, by posting the same images of these women in Western countries, the project allows everyone to feel concerned by their condition and connect through art, the two different worlds.

Check these out:

…and here’s one in Brussels…

These images are all from a favela in over Rio called Providencia. Check out JR’s site to learn more. Really impressive work.

Photobloggers

Some of you know that I’m an avid photographer, but fewer of you also realize that I’m an active photoblogger as well.

What’s that? A Photoblog (distinct from the sort of rambling self-involved “regular” blog you’re currently reading) is about expressing oneself photographically. Ideally, a photoblogger posts an image regularly, and creates some kind of running narrative. These blogs are much more about the image than they are about written content. By internet standards we’re a relatively small community. Photoblogs.org it lists about 31,000 members, though I have the suspicion that many are less active and not particularly regular in their posting schedule.

There are photobloggers who keep a beautiful diary of their personal life. I’ve always marveled at what Alison Garnett shows at Hello – My La La Land. It always pops up a guilty reminder to go out and take more pictures of the kids. Look for the tiny pink arrow at the top to navigate through the images.

Many photobloggers are more dogmatic in their approach, and will only post one type of image. Travis Ruse of Express Train takes one picture a day on his subway commute to work. Click on the picture to see the one from the day before. Diane Varner lives in beautiful Northern California, as far from NYC as possible, and her Daily Walks photoblog is a beautiful compendium of what she finds on the other end of her lens.

But most of us simply use it as an online gallery to show what we’re working on, and to stay in touch with fellow members of the photoblogging community. You can see my work over at The Western Flatline, and if you go to the Links & About section you will find links to the sites of photobloggers I admire, or that I’ve become friends with.

Every year,  some of us meet up on the various continents, giving us a chance to spend some time in “meat space” or Real Life – rather than just on various online forums. There’s an annual meet-up in the US, one in Asia, and one in Europe. Last year the European Photoblogger’s Meet-Up was in Berlin, and I ended up being the local host. It was great fun! There’s something really rewarding about spending a long weekend with people who completely understand if you just want to stop and spend a few minutes “getting the shot.” Usually, our friends and loved ones have three comments:

“It’s nice.”– the dagger-in-heart well-intentioned-but-blank comment, familiar to anyone who’s ever tried anything creative…

“You’re gonna center that, right?” – for those shots where the subject is not in the middle, or possibly not entirely sharp, or somehow desaturated… a creative choice was made, but not understood…

“Wow, nice shot, you must have a great camera…” – it’s like telling the cook “Mmmm, yummy food, you must have great pots…”

None of these are confidence inspiring, and they certainly don’t end up in night-long conversations about composition, intent, and the decisive moment. So spending a weekend with fellow photobloggers is one of the great treats in life.

Alfonso and Fran, two photobloggers from Barcelona and 2008’s European Photoblogger Meet-Up hosts, put together a video for our 2007 Meet-Up in Berlin. You see a lot of our photography, and some pictures of our group.

Take a look, it’s a nice effort.

The Loading Dock

I’ve started working with Doug Hill in Los Angeles on a photography project. I shot some images south of Downtown LA on Tuesday night, and am finally getting a chance to look at them. On my little laptop they’re not really getting the proper treatment, and most of the interesting detail just gets washed out and compressed on such a little internet image. I look forward to getting home to print these, where I believe they will really shine.

Click on the image to open up a slightly larger version…

Leonard Freed at C/O Berlin

Last night the Leonard Freed exhibit opened at C/O Berlin. What a great show! I knew several Leonard Freed images already, but I never knew that so many of the pictures that I’ve come to love over the years were shot by the same man. He was one of the few (the only?) Jewish Magnum members, and he was not shy about documenting his cultural roots. There were a number of images from the post-war Jewish community in Germany, and a lot of pictures of Chasidim in New York.

Below is a small sample culled from the Internet, but as usual, I recommend you go buy the book. It’s such a great way to enjoy photography. In this case Steidl just released one that follows the title of the show – Weltanschauung, World-View.

After searching the web for some of his pictures, I realize that many of his most popular ones are of the kids he meets. They’re always extremely sensitive images, and say a lot about the world he is moving through at that moment. But I wonder if he could have worked the same way in today’s hysteria about people taking pictures of children. Most of you non-photographers probably don’t realize it, but just bringing out a little point-and-shoot camera at the playground means some over-puffed self-righteous parent will come over and demand to know who/what/when/where/and why you’re taking pictures.

Well, rarely “who”, because they just assume it’s their kid…

The Hyena Men

After seeing several of these images on the Internet, I recently bought Pieter Hugo‘s wonderful book The Hyena & Other Men, and I highly recommend it. He’s a great photographer, but these pictures stand out in his body of work thus far.

He has captured intimate images of a small urban “tribe” living in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria, who live with various animals. His comments about the experience are quite enlightening, especially about the difference between Europeans’ and Africans’ concerns about the welfare of the animals and the men who live with them.

I hope he doesn’t mind me showing a few of his images here. I strongly encourage you to check out his site, and to buy the book. It’s worth the time and money. In many ways the “Photo Book” is the perfect medium for photography anyway. You get the chance to study the images at leisure, at a distance and scale that are perfect for viewing. A book offers the largest possible selection, with comments from the author. This book ought to be part of your collection.

Fulgurator

Julius von Bismarck has invented one of the coolest little devices I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a flash projector gun – a flash mounted behind a slide (sitting inside a camera body) which flash-projects at the same instant as an unsuspecting tourist takes a picture. The snap-shot photographer fires off a camera with flash, which triggers the Fulgurator to instantly project an image – modern flashes can be used as triggers for other flashes, it’s one way that studios sync up their flash systems.

For coolness reasons (I assume), the thing is shaped like a gun.

Anyway, there are obvious motifs, like the Reichstag building in Berlin, for example. Well, when a tourist takes a picture of that building at dusk, their automated cameras often try to use their little built-in flash – which results in crappy dark pictures, by the way. But the Fulgurator gets triggered by this little flash, and projects an image on the building… a burning window, for instance. So when a tourist looks at the digital image on the back of the camera, or later at home on a computer, the image will be different than what was really there.

Like many Berliners who are creatively-socially-politically active, Herr von Bismarck seems to lack the humor gene, but his project deserves kudos nonetheless. What I particularly admire is that he has chosen to patent this technology, to ensure that over-eager marketers don’t use it to project product advertisement into people’s holiday snaps… and being a von Bismarck, he may figure out at some point that poverty is overrated, and then he can still sell his technology when he grows up.

Here’s an assembly diagram:

…and finally, Herr von Bismarck himself, in action with the Fulgurator:

Rick Smolan and the Amerasian kids

I just saw this on the TED site. Incredible story, Rick Smolan (the photgrapher who gave us the Day in the Life books, amongst other things) tells the story of being on assignment in Asia. He was there to photograph “Amerasian” kids – half American and half Asian kids, usually left behind by G.I.s and other US Military Personnel. These kids are ridiculed and shunned, and as such have an extremely difficult childhood, often followed by a marginalized adult life.

25 Minutes, take the time to watch it:

Manufactured Landscapes

You’ve probably seen Edward Burtynsky’s images before, but to be honest, they haven’t hit you until you’ve seen a large print of them.

His work (at least the stuff I find myself responding to most strongly) has been about Manufactured Landscapes – which is exactly what it sounds like. Humans have created landscapes around them, from large dams to cities. We have come to take them for granted, but through his work they become a much more defined experience… maybe because most people rarely stop to look at the world. He is not judgmental in his work, although he’ll tell you that in most cases there is no need to be judgmental – people see what they want. Some see permanent distruction, others perceive environmental or human rights issues that need to be corrected, and just as many see progress, work, and the future arriving.

There are two books of his work that I really enjoy, but what I really want to recommend is a DVD about his work in China called… Manufactured Landscapes. The film is directed by Jennifer Baichwal. It is interesting to see him work (5×7 Large Format, most shots checked with Polaroid, not sure how is going to work now that Fuji is the last one standing) but of course it is also a unique tour through industrial China. We rarely get to see the world of their factories and their manufacturing. The movie does a great job of juxtaposing the life-cycles of products – the assembly of high-tech equipment, and a village in which every resident disassembles consumer electronics – with great consequence to their health. In a later segment, we see how large container and commodity ships are built en masse, and disassembled into tiny pieces at the end of their life in a different part of the country.

Also fascinating is how entire cities are employed with tearing down their own neighborhoods to make room for the Three Gorges dam that is going to flood their valley upon completion.

The DVD is a must-have for your collection!

Simen Johan

My father stood in my home office a few days ago, and declared that all my art was “a little scary.” He’s right, of course, except that in truth I hold back from buying a lot more weird pieces. I worry a little about what strangers might say, and I’m a little unsure at what point my boys’ imagination gets too much input.

One of my favorite pieces is a very large print by Simen Johan. This particular piece is from a series called Evidence of Things Unseen. The print is 44×44 inches (112×112 cm) and hangs behind me… thus forcing my kids to study it in detail every time they come into the office to bother me!

He is a photographer, but my understanding is that he works in collages, meaning that he assembles the various components of an image, though he is the one that photographed all the items. However he does it, it works extremely well. Check out his book when you can. He prints large, but his pieces work equally well on slightly smaller scale.

A first post

This is my first post, off to a great adventure!

… and check out this image I snapped – nothing like the 256 shades of grey to really get you in the mood for a Berlin winter day…

U-Bahnhof Potsdamer Platz