Portraits have been keeping me up at night. You could say I’m obsessed. The thing I want to say is that taking a portrait is easy, so easy, but to take a great portrait – and I mean great – may be one of the most challenging things to do in photography. What is a great portrait? I’ve no idea; there are no rules; I figure it just is. But I don’t want to belabor all of this. So for fun I thought I’d combine two of my favorite things, Literature, or writers rather, and portraits…

First, Joyce by Abbott. The other day I read (I forget where) the perfect description of Joyce, calling him, the Einstein of Literature. Perfect b/c Joyce, like Einstein was a genius: a brilliant, creative mind. When you read Ulysses, you are shared the thoughts of someone who’s ability to think and use language is well beyond normal. And then when you read Finnegan’s Wake, you experience that same thing but you watch it run away from you and normal comprehension. Then you see this portrait, and you see how fragile that genius must have been. Joyce looks like he knows something we all don’t, and that thing he knows is sad…maddening even.

photo: James Joyce by Bernice Abbott, 1926.

Then two from H.C. Bresson. These speak for themselves. The Matisse (not a writer, I know, still…) portrait I think is absolutely wonderful, but, overall what strikes me as interesting about these Bresson portraits is that he was working with a sensibility that is standard convention in todays celebrity portraiture. That is: the fostering of a concept of the person. Yes, the figures Bresson was working with were famous, but it seems to me that Bresson worked to further the ethos of this public persona through his images. The painter with his birds. Camus the, uh, renegade intellectual looking, well, renegadish. Maybe what I’m seeing is obvious, but it strikes me as something I wish to applaud Bresson for: he understood the power of simplification…stereotypes if you will.

photo: Henri Matisse, Vence, France, 1944 by H.C. Bresson.

photo: Albert Camus by H.C. Bresson, 1947.

And of course AvedonBeckett I suspect was probably one of the hardest people ever to photograph. His hyper-awareness of the situation and all levels of what was happening would probably inhibit him from any sort of action, paralyze him even. You could imagine he was a calculating man, in a good way, in a smart as hell way. Where, on the other hand, you have Pound, who would probably be easier to photograph, to say to least. Though, the fragility of his state of being might break my heart, watching him out on the fringe, precarious.

photo: Samuel Beckett, writer, Paris, April 13, 1979. ©Richard Avedon.

photo: Ezra Pound, Poet, Rutherford, New Jersey, at the home of William Carlos Williams, June 30, 1958. ©Richard Avedon.

And finally, Pynchon. The recluse. This I assume is from a old high school yearbook…?

photo: Thomas Pynchon, source unknown.

This is way off the usual topic for me, but sometimes I see a designers season and get excited, not b/c I want to own or wear it, but b/c I know what a pleasure it would be to photograph. That’s how I felt when I saw the pictures of Jil Sander’s Spring ’08 show. Certainly, I’m not a critic and only know what I respond to, but both Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn agreed that Raf Simons did something special here. Regardless, the top, uh, wrap piece in the pic below, is the sort of thing I’d hug a stylist for bringing to the set: it will literally be the photograph.

photo: ©Marcio Madeira, 2007. From www.style.com.

See more pics of the show here at style.com.

And assuming Willy Vanderperre (w/Management Artists) continues to photograph Jil Sander’s ads, I hope he enjoys it as much as I.

Brandt’s portrait of painter Francis Bacon has always left me speechless.

photo: Francis Bacon © Bill Brandt, 1963.

I would like to note the birthday of the NYC Journal. I began it one year ago nearly by accident, as an experiment, as something else to try, and mostly as therapy. Thanks for looking and to everyone who’s encouraged me to share it.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

You try so hard to displace the place in order to understand it or to make it more an obtuse phenomenon than the ugly actuality it is, that it is so perfectly; you do this in an attempt to justify or excuse it philosophically. But it takes heavy amounts of drink, drugs, regression just to make it bearable let alone excusable, seeing through eyes that won’t focus b/c in this place they don’t need to focus – focus is actually discouraged. It’s the premise of a child’s ball pit in the back of drab and tired fast food restaurant in the middle of the desert; it’s this premise expanded infinitely: padded surfaces, rounded corners, a cattle pen. Just when you attempt approach at clarity, some sort of recognition or disconnection, it dissipates, the clarity that is. It’s like running in a dream: the harder you try the heavier you become in a foggy futility. And there’s not even any redeeming giddiness or hopeful moments of expression, at all.

It is void.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

photo: ©Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

This will be part of an ongoing series of portraits to be shared here.

These first are a series of artist, Alex Steckly at his apartment and work space in NE Portland on a Friday morning.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex’s Ashtray. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex’s Plant. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

And with his girlfriend, Laurel, who I realized quickly functions with him in the beautiful and classical sense as a muse.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Photo: Alex. © Graeme Mitchell, 2007.

Over at Alec Soth’s blog there is a thought provoking post with some unbelievable old police photographs. See it here.

Inez and Vinoodh’s Yves Saint Laurent campaign is posted at ShowStudio (interesting gallery design). See it here.

Photo rep + the mind behind A Visual Society blog has a smart post on user generated content and, yet, another premium vodka. See it here.

The guys I love so dearly over at the wallet company dbclay have received new product that’s been a year in development, and they’re celebrating it with the launching of a new site. See it here.

Finally, I’ll be back in NYC tomorrow and after catching up will have some new NYC Journal work and etc to share.

Until then!

(And I want to add, while red-eying it back to NY last night I perused Sept ’07 Vogue in all of its page obese glory; in it there is: a great story by Meisel, another season of gorgeous David Yurman ads by Lindbergh, and a heartwarming article about Avedon and Lartigue’s relationship.)

(And yet more: I just heard that Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) signed with Jed Root. That’s huge. Considering this fellow started a blog a few years ago documenting street fashion out of a love for clothes, and now, two years later, not only is renowned for his prolific blog but he also is in with on of the most prestigious art agencies in the world. Congratulations, Scott!)