It’s rare anymore that I take the time to mention inspirations like a movie, but I was so taken back by Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Women in the Dunes that I could not not share it. I guess it was a relatively big art house hit in the 60s and 70s. and the story itself is a beautiful parable on existence, absurdity, reality, meaning, and struggle in the existential vain of that era (Beckett, Camus, Sartre), and while I think it remains as relevant today philosophically, the truly mesmerizing aspect of this film is the cinematography by Hiroshi Segawa. It is incredible, inspired, and along w/ Soy Cuba and The Third Man, one of the most beautifully photographed black and white films I’ve ever seen. From the stark nature of light and shadow, to the visceral treatment of the human form alongside the nearly surreal visual personification of the sand itself, the film comes alive in the filming. Four stars and some thumbs and what have you.
Walker Evans is one of the cornerstones in the history of American photography, and while a few of his seminal images are in the popular canon, the heft of his oeuvre is, I believe, oft passed over for more accessible photographers like his contemporary H.C. Bresson. Yet, Evan’s work to me is nearly on a different plane – not above or below, more far to another side – unsentimental, demanding, lasting, and intensely intelligent. Indeed, Bresson wrote himself in a letter to a colleague in 2001, “[i]f it had not been for the challenge of the work of Walker Evans, I don’t think I would have remained a photographer.” Needless to say, if you haven’t, you should find a book on Evans. He did a lot. A lot. Or the Met has an immense Walker Evan’s archive online, and the MOMA also has a succinct collection of his work.
I’m mentioning Evans b/c recently I’ve begun to look at his still lives and interiors. They leave me enthralled and immersed and nearly stunned. No hyperbole. In these I see everything from Pop art to Roger Ballen. This isn’t exactly internet work, so to speak, not wow work I guess: it’s quieter than that, but still, do not underestimate it.
I was in Cape Cod this past weekend, and the entire time I couldn’t shake this old, brilliant Paul Strand photograph out of my head…
photo: Nude, 1925 40N, by Edward Weston (©Cole Weston)
The William Kentridge exhibit at the MOMA (see this!), notably the stop motion movies,
video: excerpt from Stereoscope (no sound), ©William Kentridge
Valerie Belin’s work, incredible black and white prints,
David Godblatt’s work, notably this portrait,
and also Blossfeldt’s uncanny resemblance to Dash Snow…
Finally, Nicholas Nixon‘s new book, Live, Love, Look, Last, which shows a 4 decade dedicated vision and Nixon’s adherence to something akin to a poetic form, showing how the singular becomes expansive, and furthermore how in the specific resides the universal,
It’s not news that I like Japanese photography from the 60s and 70s (see posts, here, here, here, here). Why is for much the same reasons I return often to French New Wave cinema. Call that reason a stripped down aesthetic which verges on a sensual brutality. Nearly able to chew on it. But what saves it from being trite w/ brutality, is a delve headfirst into the subconscious – wait, no, subconscious might prompt something psychoanalytic. That’s too much for here. But by subconscious I mean the very deepest and most uncontrolled and most fundamental mechanisms taking place in our minds. I guess it’d be easiest to just call it, our dreams. (Makes me think of Joyce writing in Ulysses, “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”) It’s a documentation of an entirely different sorts, and it makes the work not brutal, but rather almost unbearably human and gentle.
I’m not informed enough to make theories on the reasons, the whys of parallel creative evolutions, but just look at Shomei Tomatsu’s work and then go watch Chris Marker‘s short film, La Jetee (here). Breathe deep.
There isn’t going to be order here though. Ramblings. B/c what I really wanted to do was just list some old Japanese photography. The inspiration being a well done new book out by Aperture Foundation called Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s, which reminded me recently how important this work is.
Jun Morinaga, namely his book River: It’s Shadow of Shadow:
(These tiny and poor jpegs are not doubt not representative of the quality of this work – this stuff is not easy to find on the internet…a fact that gives me a little hope this morning.)
Masahisa Fukase, and his series Solitude of the Ravens:
Tetsuya Ichimura, who’s work is almost impossible to find online, but he’s done a number of books, all now very rare I think:
Nobuyoshi Araki, who we all know as a photographer of gorgeous flowers and gorgeous bound women, but his book Sentimental Journey reveals a side of him little known. This older work is, again, almost non-existent online.
Eikoh Hosoe, who I’d not heard of until just recently:
And a few more obvious ones I’ve touched on before on this site and who are very well known, Shōmei Tōmatsu,
For God’s sake, now that (↑) is photography.
and Daidō Moriyama:
A friend recently offered me a simple and apt definition of good art, saying it “is something people want to experience again…after seeing it they immediately want to relive it, and then again and again.” This work then, to me, is good art.
Yes Yes. Tremendous.
A photographer (thanks, James!) sent me these great little finds that were originally posted on this photographer’s record collection blog.
I’ll start with Henri Cartier-Bresson.
audio: Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1958. From Famous Photographers Tell How
The Weegee one is almost comical…given his subject matter: “The easiest thing to photograph is a murder.”
audio: Weegee, 1958. From Famous Photographers Tell How
And then this is a portrait of Lucia by her husband and photographer, László Moholy-Nagy. Both of these pictures are really something else.
At nearly the same time as the Moholys, the painter Balthus was in Paris reaching a stride that would define his work as controversial, erotic, and, I think, brilliant. It’s great to read his biography revolving around his early years in Paris and the circles he ran in, including, Giacometti, Many Ray, Camus, Miró, Picasso, Lacan. The heavy hitters of culture, those that shaped our modern and even our post-modern sensibilities. Which brings me to a discussion I was having last night w/ a friend in regards to movements in the arts and culture, those little sparks that ignite and burn and sometimes manage to change everything thereafter. Namely we talked about how they’ve always been geographically based and how the internet has changed that old need to actually be somewhere and in a physically community to participate (Post-war Paris, NYC in the 50s and 80s, as two modern Western examples). Does physical dissipation lead to cultural dissipation? I think so. Does that kind of ruin, or at least make much more difficult, the chances for those paradigm shifts of culture, the arts, and how people think? Maybe. Sure, it’s an over simplified view, b/c I really don’t know what I’m talking about, but I figure it’s something to roll around in your head while we have this discussion. (Over our computers…oh, the irony).
Anyway, there’s an excellent portrait of Balthus by Irving Penn, w/ Balthus in a chair wearing a robe and a belt made of simple rope, with that infinite air of human-ess reaching into eternity that Penn instilled in so many of his sitters. I’d seen it in one of Penn’s books, and thought it’d go nicely here, but can’t find it online anywhere, so I guess for now the internet does have it’s limits.
Painter’s and photographer’s makes me think of George Bernard Shaw’s quote that if Velazquez was alive today he’d be a photographer. I mean, could you imagine! Conde Naste contract. B/c the guy sorta was doing what Leibovitz does, except he did it over 300 years ago w/ a paint brush
Shaw, now there is a mind! The guy must have been a photographers dream: self aware, smart, and, the icing, the cliche look of a wise man. I mean, he was someone who believed death was only real b/c it was an idea put in our head, an idea that one really didn’t have to abide by. Faaarrrrr out. I guess he took the Nietzschian ubermensch literally. If you want to get to know him, his plays Major Barbara and Man and Superman would be the two I’d suggest as seminal.
The threads holding this post together were thin to begin with, and they’ve completely disintegrated by this point. So I’ll spare you any more of what was on my mind and will instead bid you adieu.
I’m currently assembling a very small edition bound portfolios of an edit of NYC street photography that will represent that body of work to date, 50 prints to be exact (more on these when a few are finished). The name of the edition will be, Unreal City. This is a slide-show presentation of those 50 pictures. So, please, take a minute, dim your lights, turn up the sound, and let it creep around you.
Thanks, and I hope you enjoy.
JeanLoup Sieff lamented the moniker of “personal” when used in regards to defining his work. Actually, lamented is probably a poor choice of words being an extrapolation on my part; rejected, is probably more precise, but regardless, he considered all of his work personal. That’s an attitude I, and I imagine most, agree with, and that Sieff was able in the end to live by it is something we can go as far to admire. For most though, and in these days, the practice of successfully defining yourself in a market of commerce is a bit more difficult and riddled, unless you’re a pure-bred fine art or pure-bred commercial photographer or one of the upper-tier photojournalists, or basically, either someone who does only one thing or someone who can have someone else (a rep) make your definitions for you. (On that note, I had a discussion along these lines the other day with another photographer who was cheering on the lifestyle of Koudelka (which has become nearly mythological; probably rightfully so) and also a recent interview of Solve Sundsbo with him commenting how he never googled himself. Both comments amounted to a celebration of being a photographer and doing it outside of the feebleness of dealing with marketing or money or the rest of that, well, shit. My response to these examples was, yep, but rest assured that they have someone doing the shit for them. Someone is making the money, doing the googling, etc.)
Most photographers aren’t there though (and with a comparison to Koudelka’s life, many probably wouldn’t want to be there even if offered – a comment, which, Josef, you can consider my highest compliment), most shoot work for money that is a commercial service and in being so usually amounts to certain compromises, in which case, efforts are usually made to say, yeah, I do this to pay the bills, but this over here is my baby, what I don’t but someday hope to get paid for. Now, I call my work, work, but I still will usually delineate when I’m discussing something that is personal, otherwise people seem to get confused, as if doing something simply for the sake of doing it is not natural…and it also turns out most people are more interested in who you’re doing something for than what you’re actually doing (hype hunger). But for the sake of this conversation, let’s just assume personal work is something we do for ourselves, not to sell, not to use as promos, but pictures we take out of curiosity, tests, boredom, love…work that has no excuse for any compromise other than the limits of our own ingenuity and creativity, and the limits of our capabilities and capacities. (Story has it that, Edward Weston, in shooting his peppers couldn’t achieve the depth of field he wanted at the smallest f-stop (he’d of been using a very simple 8×10, natural light, and exposures in the hours and hours). He didn’t change the idea; he didn’t back the camera up; he didn’t decide maybe peppers weren’t a great idea; nope, instead he figured out how to cut an even smaller f-stop hole in a sheet of black tin and insert that into his shutter as an even smaller fstop (a waterhouse stop). A special lesson resides in this photograph then I think: that is the willingness to take an idea to that length, the ability to go that far with a pepper.)
You still make pictures with that kind of heart, right?
Well, the thesis of this post is that I think you should be, b/c this work to me is incredibly important. The most important. It is the work I want to hear you talk about. I want your voice to speed up and for you to forget to blink when you tell me what you’re working on for yourself. Emerson went to the lake and came back telling people to take everything they own and get rid of half of it; well, I’m gonna say, take the time you’re putting into those personal projects and double it.
The unfortunate part is most personal work isn’t good. The pictures might be good, sure, but they still may not amount to much in your work’s grand-scheme. You start the idea, get into it, it doesn’t work, or even if it does, just doesn’t fit, you stop, and then, as Faulkner would say, you kill off another darling. Rinse and repeat. It costs money and time, and morale, as the enthusiasm of the process fades when you’re interest is the final product…not operating a film scanner. The painter, Alex Steckly, who I mentioned in my last post, and I discussed this recently while I was shooting his portrait. How in both are areas of work, we begin ideas, put ourselves into them, but then how it ends up that you really won’t know if it will amount to anything until after a year or so of working on and digesting it, and then, if you’re lucky enough to be onto something, it’s probably at least another year or two exhausting it. One must be tireless in their belief that it has the possibility of mattering.
But here’s the upside. When you do manage to find a project that works, and learn to let yourself freely explore photographs w/o the hinders of classifying it, say, on your website, it is this work that I believe will enable your survival no matter what. It becomes that thing that no one can touch. And I’ll bet it’ll probably end up being the best work you’ll ever do. There’s not much to this. It’s obvious, blatant, written and said before, most photographers who’ve made it more than a few years know it and do there best to live by it. Regardless, I wanted to bring it up b/c of a few recent discussions in regards to and changes I’ve made in how I approach photographs, most changes amounting to simplifying the noise to a succinct hum of trying to make photographs I believe to be valid. Everything else, swept to the side, as best as possible.
For instance, I began taking pictures on the streets in NYC three years ago as personal work, as therapy, having NO clue what I was doing other than exploring what this city conjured. In the last year that work, which was shoebox work never intended to be cared about, has grown and come to play a completely unpredicted and large part in what I’m doing in other areas, ditto for a lot of my personal portrait work. Right now, usually late at night, I’m working on floral still lives like sad brethren of Mapplethorpe, and I’m as excited about this almost as much anything I’m currently working on. And I have absolutely no use for it…yet…but I believe there’s something there worth keeping at. This is all coming from someone who used to be worried of being confused with anything other than a fashion photographer.
One similarity of the careers of photographers is that there are no similarities between our careers. We’re all different in personalities and the way we build the pictures we take around ourselves. But just consider this post an ode to the personal project, to get out and breathe something worth living for into the world with no reason or expectation. That will be a beautiful act of freedom in itself.
The work of Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly had, or rather, more surprisingly, stole my full attention this evening. Both took my mind to another place. If you haven’t, I’d suggest looking for their work.
It was the painter, Alex Steckly who I who had a nerd-out over art today, that brought them both to the conversation. He currently has a solo show up at Fourteen30 in Portland OR, showing some really impressive new sculptures.
On a side note, on a long weekend out of the city for the holiday, hiding out and working on some new web stuff with Benjamin Diggles that I’m really looking forward to sharing here. Hopefully soon.
And really exciting, reading Roberto Bolaño’s book 2666, which is really really worth picking up and going head first into. Goddamn good Lit.
This picture of Minor White’s is the best argument towards the existence of G_d that I’ve ever come across:
It is a photograph that poses ineffable questions while at the same time offering inherent answers. One risks vanishing into it.
Il Conformista, by Bernardo Bertolucci, is one of the most amazingly shot films I’ve ever seen.
I see in it everything from Lynch’s central oeuvre to Missoni’s FW09 campaign.
photo: still from Il Conformista
photo: still from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
photo: still from Il Conformista
photo: still from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.
photo: still from Il Conformista
photo: Missoni FW 09 campaign, ©Steven Meisel.
I did a quick yet idea provoking walk through the MET’s exhibition “model as muse” yesterday. The exhibition’s been getting a lot of press, rightfully, as it’s both excellently curated and art directed. Two things struck me while walking through the show. First, how incredible Dior has been in the history of fashion (duh), and how it remains to be under Galliano. The recent Dior Couture they had on display was incredible. It’s the sort of stuff that makes me want to photograph clothing. Second, I was amazed at both how many people were at the exhibit and how interested they were in it. Which seems like a silly thing to say, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many people so interested in any exhibit I’ve been to. It was a reminder of how fashion and this aspect of our culture really is mass, and while it feels like it can become isolated to the little bubbles of NYC, Paris, London, etc, it’s so much larger than that. Maybe Penn summed it best in stating, to paraphrase, I take photographs for the housewife in the mid-west.
The museum also posted it’s curator talks in 9 parts, which are a nice history of models and fashion’s social/cultural functions in general:
1 of 9:
2 0f 9:
3 of 9:
4 of 9:
5 of 9:
6 of 9:
7 of 9:
8 of 9:
9 of 9:
I think Roger Ballen‘s new book, Boarding House, takes the previous themes he’s explored and winds them into the most coherent vision of his work yet. It’s dark stuff. It’s scary stuff. It digs deep, surfacing forgotten recesses of the psyche, troubled archetypes your mind does it’s best to loose in the furthest and deepest mine shafts of your soul. But it’s also brilliant stuff, some of the most real and touching work I’ve seen in a while, all at once sublimely terrifying and terrifyingly sublime.
photo: “Fragments, 2005″ ©Roger Ballen.
photo: “Cornered, 2004″ ©Roger Ballen.
photo: “Boarder, 2005″ ©Roger Ballen.