There seems to be a lot more blending these days between fashion & art photography. While looking for a recommended essay by Charlotte Cotton I came across both her book, Imperfect Beauty: The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs, (which I will be looking for it at the Strand) and a fashion website in London run by successful fashion photog Nick Knight. The site is an interesting mix of behind the scenes, info and publicity. I like looking at fashion photography sometimes, there is something about the high production and fantasy that is compelling. It is sort of like potato chips, or ice cream, you know maybe its not too good for you but sometimes you can’t help but indulge. The quality of technical ability of many of the shooters fascinates me. From a purely aesthetic view the images are captivating. In a way there is something satisfying about the simplicity of the image, in the sense that they are resolved. They are created to be beautiful, shocking or fabulous, and to get noticed. There are some great quicktime’s on SHOWStudio where you can watch the shoots taking place and hear the creative’s discussing the project. Some of it is sort well, not to my taste, but parts are really interesting. I love watching other photographers work. To me there is something magical about the entire photography process. I was looking over APE’s very worthy photo book list, and kudos to him for his X-mas revelation, and it made me think how as important these core photo/art sources are, it is also really important to be looking elsewhere. I read a lot of fiction, and I have been a huge movie person my whole life. I don’t think my photo’s would look like they do if I had not been obsessed with film noir and 1940’s b&w films as a child. So one of my News Years Resolutions is too keep expanding and opening myself to find other sources of inspiration.






Xmas in the Burbs

I always wondered where this stuff came from, mystery solved. I guess I should think about coming back home to shoot at some point, there is a lot to said about America in its strip malls and chain stores. I only brought my blackberry home but I like to use the camera as a little sketch book for future large format ideas.






Once again I am home for my yearly Christmas visit. Back to my childhood home and everything that comes with it, including my stuffed animal collection. I do not have a chance to come back more than twice a year, so it always seems like I have to cram in seeing everyone in a short space of time. Today’s excitement was the dentist, thank god for the rents in Michigan vs. New York, so I could afford the visit. My dream is always to come home and hang it out in my pajamas and do nothing for a change, but some how that never happens. Lately I feel like so many things are keeping me from what I want to do. With move, and trying to earn a living, exercise, and just do day-to-day chores, I don’t seem to ever have enough time. That to me is the one of the greatest challenges to being an artist. How do you find and justify the space to make work. I think that is why the Guggenheim and the other major grants are so important. While they are certainly not enough money to live on for too long without other income, they do give you a certain mandate to devote yourself exclusively to making work. You are being given money that says, “Go out and realize your artistic vision, you have no other priorities for the length of your stipend” For me, there is something about that kind of support that takes away my guilt of worrying about all the other things I feel like should be doing. I guess my mid-western work ethic never quite goes away. That is why I am so impressed with photographers like Timothy Briner, who are out in Booneville, literally, doing nothing but making their project happen. (he has a great post on Christmas) I would love more than anything to take a year and just make pictures. I think it would make me a better artist. For now, my reality is to juggle the making, post-production, and marketing of my work with paying bills. But I suppose in truth even successful artists must also balance family, work, money. That is the trick, to find a way to make a living from what fulfills you and still have a life. But I appreciate all the things I have learned from the jobs along the way to get by. But hopefully I won’t need them forever.

Proof that the Guggenheim is an artist’s good luck charm:

Diane Arbus


Walker Evans


Sally Mann


Robert Frank


Stephen Shore


And most favorite of all for me… Joel Sternfeld


Not to mention other artists & intellects like Richard Serra, Thelonious Monk, John Baldessari, Russell Banks, Tina Barney, Roland Barth, Eugene Richards, Judith Joy Ross, etc, etc etc!

So Santa if you are reading this, some Christmas keep me in mind.


I’m Back!!

Well I have internet, and am mostly moved in, so despite the impending holiday’s I will be back here writing. I had forgotten how difficult moving is, and with two people trying to negotiate and organize space, it becomes even more time consuming. I have even more respect for mom’s – I can’t imagine moving a household with 3 kid’s and their stuff. Well enough complaining, back to photography. One of the nice things about the holiday’s is hearing from people you normally don’t always keep in touch with. My first job in the photo world was at an agency, where I was lucky enough to meet some really talented and interesting photographers. Some of them were editorial/ad shooters, but many on the roster were 100% hardcore, old-school photojournalists. I have so much respect for people who are willing to shoot like that. My first love was photojournalism and it is not an easy time to be in the field. I have been very happy to see how well many of them have been doing these days. Nina Berman’s amazing collection of disfigured portraits of soldiers from Iraq had a great run at Jen Bekman. I remember the commitment Nina had, when no one was willing to criticize the war or publish negative stories, she refused to give up and got angry about it. And her commitment really paid off. Also, Jeff Jacobson released his book Melting Point and had a show last year, and as I recently posted Andrew Hetherington just released his new book (although he has left the agency.)

But back to holiday greetings, another Redux photographer, Q Sakamaki recently sent a hello email and I went to is website. I am so impressed by the commitment it takes to live the live of a PJ. To be willing to record stories with so much pain must take a toll. Q has put himself in some extraordinary places to try and capture these stories. One that I find the subject matter very compelling, and that relates to my work, is his story Lolita Syndrome in Japan

Some of the images are actually really funny until you realize that preteen female sexuality is being marketed in Japan and seems to be socially acceptable. Worse, that women have internalized it and are embracing it as a cultural trend. It reminds me of the Paris Hilton/Britney Spears ‘porno look’ that is popular in America. Try as I may wearing the Hustler logo on my ass is never going to seem empowering. But maybe that’s just me. It raises a lot of questions though, are these women doing this because it is the only way they can make money. Is it popular because it is a part of the culture, or does the imagery create the culture? Q, especially as an Asian man, I think is looking at a part of the male psyche that most men prefer to ignore or to put under the guise of ‘fashion.’







Bits & Pieces

Just wanted to say congrats to the Jackanory aka Andrew Hetherington. I see from his blog that his book, Room with a View has launched. Having been lucky enough to get a peek before it came out I am happy to see it in print. If you have a chance, take a look. It gives a very interesting look into the oh so glamorous world of the life of a editorial photog.

Also, from Flak Photo a new contest designed to shed some light on the film vs digital debate. Check it out here.

And as very smart and thoughtful site – courtesy of Speak See & Remember from LA County Museum of Art Photography curator Charlotte Cotton, Words Without Pictures. The current essay is a very deep look at the nature of photography as art & the work of Thomas Demand. I gave it a quick read and was intrigued, its heady and needs some time. Also, looks like Ms. Cotton is having some great events out there, past speakers have included, Penelople Umbrico, Sze Tsung Leong & Liz Deschenes.

… I just read the ABOUT US section at Words Without Pictures and looks like it is an online collective including some people I know! Not sure how I missed it, but I will be reading up.

WORDS WITHOUT PICTURES is purposefully multi-voiced and multi-layered [2]. It includes essays [3], discussion forums [4], debates [5], one-to-one conversations [6], and questionnaires [7]. Words Without Pictures is using this range of formats to gauge a broad range of opinions about photography before they become received wisdom. We offer the ideas that begin this year-long process fully aware that subsequent discussions on this site will determine the directions the project will take. Words Without Pictures invites you to contribute your perspective on the directional shifts in photography and help us define their meaning [8].

This website is where you can read the current essay, download a PDF and podcast, and join the discussion forum. The website is also where you can contact us to suggest additions to any of the formats of Words Without Pictures and download previous essays of this year-long project. If you register and join the discussion forums, you will be asked to agree that your contributions to Words Without Pictures may be considered for the project’s publication.

More soon… I am almost moved in!

Death or Rebirth?

You know, I am off-line for a week and look what happens! Thank you Photo Editor for posting a link to this article, I always find it strange how the world seems to work in a giant conspiracy. Today, a very successful and well, famous photog gave me a tidbit for my blog. They told me that the word at Art Basel Miami this year, from the collectors to the dealers, is that photography is over. Painting is today’s darling. I found this interesting because I have been hearing and seeing this trend for several years. Then I get home and here is this article in Newsweek. I think perhaps this all a symptom of a the awkward teenage years of the photographic art form. Like a correction on the stock market, the world of art photography needs to be re-valued. There have been too many shows, and too much of the same type of work on the market. If it becomes harder to get a show, maybe practitioners will re-examine what they are doing and why. In the end, there will be a leaner or maybe more evolved art form at the end. Sometimes we need lean times, so we can go better.

Is Photography Dead?

By Peter Plagens





Updated: 2:42 PM ET Dec 1, 2007

How is that even remotely possible? The medium certainly looks alive, well and, if anything, overpopulated. There are hordes of photographers out there, working with back-to-basics pinhole cameras and pixeled images measured in gigabytes, with street photography taken by cell phones and massive photo “shoots” whose crews, complexity and expense resemble those of movie sets. Step into almost any serious art gallery in Chelsea, Santa Monica or Mayfair and you’re likely to be greeted with breathtaking large-format color photographs, such as Andreas Gefeller’s overhead views of parking lots digitally montaged from thousands of individual shots or Didier Massard’s completely “fabricated photographs” of phantasmagoric landscapes. And the establishment’s seal of approval for photography has been renewed in two current museum exhibitions. In “Depth of Field”— the first installation in the new contemporary-photography galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on display through March 23—the fare includes Thomas Struth’s hyperdetailed chromogenic print of the interior of San Zaccaria in Venice and Adam Fuss’s exposure of a piece of photo paper floating in water to a simultaneous splash and strobe.

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, “The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888–1978” (up through Dec. 31) celebrates average Americans who wielded their Brownies and Instamatics to stunning effect.

Yet wandering the galleries of these two shows, you can’t help but wonder if the entire medium hasn’t fractured itself beyond all recognition. Sculpture did the same thing a while back, so that now “sculpture” can indicate a hole in the ground as readily as a bronze statue. Digitalization has made much of art photography’s vast variety possible. But it’s also a major reason that, 25 years after the technology exploded what photography could do and be, the medium seems to have lost its soul. Film photography’s artistic cachet was always that no matter how much darkroom fiddling someone added to a photograph, the picture was, at its core, a record of something real that occurred in front of the camera. A digital photograph, on the other hand, can be a Photoshop fairy tale, containing only a tiny trace of a small fragment of reality. By now, we’ve witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction. It’s hard to say “gee whiz” anymore.

Art and truth used to be fast friends. Until the beginning of modernism, the most admired quality in Western art was mimesis—objects in painting and sculpture closely resembling things in real life. William Henry Fox Talbot, who produced the first photographic prints from a negative in 1839, immediately saw the mimetic new medium as an art form. Talbot wanted only to be able to “draw” more accurately than by hand. In fact, he called his first book of reproduced photographs “The Pencil of Nature.” For at least a century thereafter, any photograph with a claim to being art had in its DNA at least a few chromosomes from Talbot’s “The Open Door” (1844), a picture of a tree-branch broom leaning just-so-esthetically against a dark doorway. Of course, great photographers have never merely recorded visual facts indiscriminately, like a court stenographer taking down testimony. They’ve selected their subjects carefully and framed their views of them precisely, in order to give their pictures the look of “art.” Later in the 19th century, “pictorialist” photographers used soft focus, toothy paper, sepia tones, multiple negatives and even scratching back into the image as ways of getting photographs to look more like paintings.

Soon, photography escaped the exclusive grasp of the professionals and moneyed hobbyists who could afford its cumbersome equipment, and the public began to take its own pictures. In the 1920s, small, inexpensive fast-shutter cameras like the Kodak Brownie appeared. By 1950, according to Kodak, nearly three quarters of American families owned cameras and took 2 billion photographs with them. By the 1970s, they were taking 9 billion pictures a year, most of them quick, informal snapshots. To be sure, some masterpieces did emerge—mostly accidentally—from this Everest-size heap of images. The person who pointed his Brownie at the woman in “Unknown [photographer], 1950s” in “The Art of the American Snapshot” probably didn’t anticipate that she’d cover her face with her hands just as he clicked the shutter. And he (or she) couldn’t predict that the result would be a great composition—long fingers and angular elbows set against the gentle downhill sweep of a field—and a wonderful metaphor for photography’s tango with the truth. What the inadvertently great snapshot shared with the work of realist artist-photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans in the 1930s and ’40s, and Diane Arbus and Robert Frank in the 1950s and ’60s, was that the people in them were who they looked like they were—raw-boned farmers, gritty miners, harried housewives, burly bikers—really doing what they looked like they were doing.

In the late 1970s, however, the concept of fiction in photography reared its little postmodern head. “The big change in attitude from realist photography,” says Lawrence Miller, who owns a prominent photography gallery in New York, “was when Metro Pictures [one of the hippest galleries in SoHo] showed Cindy Sherman in 1980.” Sherman’s fictional self-portraits—fake “film stills” with the artist posed as a negligeed blonde on a bed, or a dark-haired femme fatale in a chic apartment—weren’t photography’s first turn away from the straight, nonfiction reportage most people think of as great photography. But her pictures represented something new in the way that photography was considered as art. It wasn’t just for reportage anymore. The Talbotian esthetic door was now fully opened for photographers to make photographs just as well as to take them. The advent of digital technology only exacerbated photography’s flight into fable.

We live in a culture dominated by pixels, increasingly unmoored from corpor-eal reality. Movies are stuffed with CGI and, in such “performance animation” films as “Beowulf,” overwhelmed by them. Some big pop-music hits are so cyberized the singer might as well be telling you to press 1 if you know your party’s exten-sion. Even sculpture has adopted digital “rapid prototyping” technology that allows whatever a programmer can imagine to be translated into 3-D objects in plastic. Why should photography be any different? Why shouldn’t it give in to the digital temptation to make every landscape shot look like the most absolutely beautiful scenery in the whole history of the universe, or turn every urban view into a high-rise fantasy?

Photography is finally escaping any dependence on what is in front of a lens, but it comes at the price of its special claim on a viewer’s attention as “evidence” rooted in reality. As gallery material, photographs are now essentially no different from paintings concocted entirely from an artist’s imagination, except that they lack painting’s manual touch and surface variation. As the great modern photographer Lisette Model once said, “Photography is the easiest art, which perhaps makes it the hardest.” She had no idea how easy exotic effects would get, and just how hard that would make it to capture beauty and truth in the same photograph. The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography’s special link to reality. And they’ll have to do it in a brand-new way.