Feel Good Moments…

Andrew Hetherington has a lovely post up about the struggles to be a photographer, and how one kind word or email from a stranger can suddenly make everything seem better. I think we can all relate to his feelings about existing in today’s world of photography. And with his readers sentiments, Andrew’s work is full of his own particular form of sarcasm and wit. So many editorial photographer’s seem to take the same boring shots, which makes Andrew’s individual voice so much more valuable. And my feel good moment, I came across this one Sarah Sudhoff’s blog today:

Today I was greeted with two wonderful emails. First was from a photo editor at the New York Time Magazine who is planning to run an image of mine for an upcoming issue. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this. It was just last week that I attended a lecture by Mary Virginia Swanson at HCP in Houston in which she discussed artists licensing their images for editorial purposes and the pros and cons of this decision. I had always wondered if my Repository series would find a home editorially since my other main series Sorority Rush had. I’m not sure how the NYT came across my work. Maybe it was from when I sent them my portfolios over a year ago or it might have had something to do with my second email today which was from Women in Photography. My Repository series was selected by WIP for an upcoming on line solo exhibition yet I had no idea it would launch today. Needless to say it was a great surprise to see my work featured on their site. I’m not sure if one email had anything to do with the other one but somehow for one brief moment today the stars aligned for me.

No thank you Sarah. This is why Amy & I are so excited about WIP. While it has also generated a lot of great opportunities for us, it is so gratifying to know that we are actually making an impact with the project. Perhaps the Times found her another way, but there is something to be said for momentum. Amy and I have over 50 talented women on our show waiting list. And many more on our group show list. What I love most about this project is that is both bottom up and top down. There is no real hierarchy. Amy and I are slightly different stages in our careers, and we are showing work from artists at all different levels. So not only do we hope to have stories like Sarah’s, but also to give more established artists a chance to connect with a wider audience and have a stronger web presence. I am so happy to see all of these happening, in the midst of my finding out I am in a group show in the fall in Chelsea and that my proposal to do my UV portraits in October was accepted. AIOP, hosts a wonderful month long celebration of art by bringing artists out to interact with the public. I am very excited to be taking part. So yes, I have been working myself over trying to put my blurb book together, and trying to get WIPNYC on track, and putting my portfolio presentation in better form, to the point where sometimes it can pretty frustrating. But knowing that something is coming out of it, makes all the struggle worthwhile.

Andrew Hetherington

The Art of Snapshot


I could write a long dissertation on this subject but as it is summer I am going to keep it light & let the images speak for themselves. One group of images is a blog project about making words out of stuff for fun, the other is a project by Tim Davis. While the two sets of images share certain characteristics, namely a sense of whimsy, their intent and comment on the world we live in are quite different. Isn’t that why art is fun?

After the satanic ritual

Rainbow Bread

Yippee

Toys

Blog Evolution

With the start of New York’s first photo festival, I got to thinking about the evolution of the ‘photo blog.’ Last night’s Tim Barber Tiny Vices show, featured several of the blog world’s mainstay’s and during the evening’s events for the first time I met people who knew me because they read Ground Glass. It was a pretty amazing experience. Afterward, a bunch of us went out to eat. Looking around the table, I thought what a diverse and talented group of people. But more interesting is how we had come together. Amy Elkins, Ofer Wolberger, Amy Stein, Amani Olu, Jon Feinstein, Will Steacy, and Corey Arnold are all bloggers, or are involved in the internet photo community. While some of us know each other from other places, many people met last night for the first time, but knew each other from online.

Then there is Andrew Hetherington, I have been telling him for months he is the Walter Winchell (inventor of gossip column and most important man in radio part) of the photo world. Now he is working for Foto 8 magazine covering the festival. Andrew is a great writer and his sarcastic Irish wit makes his blog one of my daily reads. He really has carved out a unique place for himself in the blogoshpere. The festival itself, includes a presentation by i heart photograph’s Laurel Ptak tomorrow at 5pm with Tim Barber. The fact that both Magnum & Aperture have blogs goes to show how important the form has become. Several blogging artist’s have already proven that they can blog and have successful art careers, Alec Soth, Christen Patterson, Brian Ulrich, Shen Wei, Amy Stein and others. Not to mention, blogging gallery star Jen Bekman, also in the curating 2.0 event. Joshua Lutz has work at the Tierney Foundation show, and has his first solo show at Clampart Gallery in September.

What does all of this mean? I have no idea, but I have met some great people and I am enjoying the ride. Perhaps the next great “photo movement” is not about a particular style or conceptual agenda, but about how artists communicate and share their work. All of the big movements in the past happened when loose groups of photographers formed and shared ideas and work. The WPA project, the Dusseldorf School, Szarkowski’s heyday at the Modern, 291, Yale’s MFA program in the 90’s. It is only a thought, but there is an awful lot going on these days online. Blogs are in a way replacing the underground art scene that made New York so vibrant in the past. NYC rents have made that world a memory, but you can take a chance on an emerging artist online. You can also build an audience. Without a support system, you cannot sustain an art career.

Speaking of which, we now have our site up for Women in Photography. The correct submission info is there and the first show goes up June 2nd – so stay tuned!

And if you are in the mood for something that reminds you of how the world functioned before computers, when we actually had to think and take time to do things in a very different way, there is a great show that opened last night at Cohen Amador Gallery. Japanese photographer, Masao Mochizuki’s strange, otherworldly images of television from the 1970’s look both modern and from a time that never existed. What took him hours of precise and methodical shooting, could now be done in ten minutes with photoshop, but I imagine would have none of the charm. If you are looking for a respite from the chaos of NYPF, it is just the spot.

Cohen Amador

41 E 57th St 6th Fl

Typology

If I had to pick the two most dominant influences in fine-art photography for the last 20 years, I would have to go with Stephen Shore & The Bechers. The legacy of Uncommon Places continues to have a dominant effect on how photographers view the world. Shore’s images abandoned the traditional understanding of a photograph’s subject matter, instead he focused on the psychological reasons, HE, the photographer selected it. Shore’s work to me has always been associated with the late 70’s early 80’s societal shift to a more the personal, individual centric view of human experience. His eye became the means to reflect the cultural landscape. Uncommon Places is very much of his time, but it continues to be a model of how to make pictures. His visual language, is easy to spot in a huge portion of modern photography,

Stephen Shore

The Becher’s typology is arguably one of the most important developments in the history of photography. The photograph was and is so often used to classify and record information. In medicine, criminology and astronomy, the photographic image is proof that something happened or it is used as a means of comparison. Their grain silos and exploration of the post-industrial revolution world created an entirely new conceptual framework for the fine-art photograph. No longer was is it about recording a moment of beauty, or a emotional human experience, but to document a world, where the cold, ugly and mammoth blight of human technology had taken over the landscape. The typology form became an almost ubiquitous conceptual tool. Certainly the artists of Dusseldorf school have led the way in co-opting, transforming and re-imagining the typology. But if you head to a gallery in Chelsea right now, you will be hard pressed to find a body of work that does not have some sort of typological reference.

Becher Grain Silo\'s

Thomas Ruff

Candida Hofer

Candida Hofer

Candida Hofer

I love the way Nicholas Nixon uses typology in his sisters project. We are all accustomed to seeing images of children as they grow up. There is usually a record of our parent’s love, starting with our baby book and on to our college graduation photos. But it is rare to see that method used to record the love a husband has for his wife, which includes her family. I imagine being married to a women who has three sisters can be perilous, female politics are complicated. But what I love about those images, is the closeness visible in the sisters relationships – they have such a strong presence. Nixon’s photographs seem almost jealous. One of the expectations of a marriage is that husband & wife become closer to each other than anyone else. The ‘us versus them’ phenomenon, but Nixon has to compete with his wife’s three sisters. The yearly photograph becomes a testament not only to Nixon’s love for his wife, but also of the many ways in which families form and interact with each other.

Nicholas Nixon

Nicholas Nixon

Martina Mullaney

Martina Mullaney

While there are many great bodies of work employing this method, there is also a lot of crap. Let’s be honest, for people who have no real conceptual thinking in their work, the typology can become an easy trick. It gives work the illusion of cohesion and intellectual rigor. When I began my Cosmetic Surgery project, I did not set out to make a typology. For a long time my images were much more documentary in style. I was more interested in reacting to each situation and object as I found it. But as I delved deeper into the work, I started to see that there was a frightening similarity in the tone and the nature of these offices. It was as if you go to an office as an individual and come out as an archetype. Or as the specific doctor’s archetype. We as a culture are choosing to use technology to improve our bodies. And at the same time moving toward a rigid standard of beauty. One of our societies primary life goals is to achieve supremacy over our bodies. Whether using exercise, diet, surgery, make-up, clothes or pharmacology, or even full body tattoo’s and body mortification, we want to control our exteriors. Eventually I stated to borrow the Becher’s visual language. Although I do not consider my work a ‘typology’ project, but rather that I am using an existing framework, and building something new on top of it. As a side note, there is a very interesting article in this week’s New Yorker on the man often credited for creating this standard, retoucher Pascal Dangin from Box Studios. The fact that the New Yorker did such a long feature on him which included quotes, by Charlotte Cotton & Philip Lorca di Corcia is testament to his influence in the current visual lexicon.

Cara Phillips

Cara Philips

Cara Phillips

Cara Phillips

Recently, I came across a book at a bookstore in Brooklyn, which is a collaboration between a Rotterdam-based photographer Ari Versluis and stylist Ellie Uyttenbroek, that is one of the best straight typology projects I have seen in a long time. When it is used correctly it can be a very effective tool for an artist. There is always the danger in using it for portraits, it can be very reductive and dehumanizing. But if your work is about these topics, it works very effectively.

I love the titles of some of these groupings: Grannies, Leathermen, Yupster Boys Preppies, Fans etc. There is something very commercial about these images, which for me only adds to their effectiveness. The ways in which modern commerce shapes our notions of human identity is profound. Somewhere along the way, Madison Ave figured out people like to feel a sense of belonging. Ultimately we are pack animals. The modern world is made up of new forms of communities (facebook, myspace, blogging, online dating, city dwelling…) that have changed the nature of human interaction. But we can affiliate ourselves with brand identities. We are Mac people, or Converse, or Addias, or Ralph Lauren, or LL Bean and on and on. Also, when I look at these groups I find myself automatically assigning lifestyle and personality traits to them. The raincoats of the Grannies, bring to mind an entire set of ideas about elderly ladies, I can almost smell the powdery scent I associate with that world. We obviously make assumptions about people and often make decisions about them based on these cultural cues. It certainly makes you want to reconsider some of your own wardrobe choices. The typology is definitely over-used in fine-art photography, but more importantly it is too pervasive in our culture.

Buy My Print

I know I have chattered on before about contests and have suggested that it is kind of gross for photography organizations to support themselves off the desperation of those struggling to get somewhere. But then there are those people who are the exact opposite. Case in point, The Humble Arts Foundation. They have an open submission policy for their group show, there is no cost to submit or to be in the show. When they had their recent 31 under 31 Women Photographers show, they found sponsors, so the artists only needed to provide prints. Which were for sale and they shared the profits. When Amy Elkins asked them for a list of women to contact for WIP, instead they came back with an offer to sponsor our project. HA also gives several $1000 grants a year. Now they do not have some big endowment or multi-millionaire parents, just a commitment to support emerging fine-art photography. One of the ways they pay for the grant program is through the sale of limited editions. They asked me a while back and I am now very excited to have one of my prints available.

So I know we as photographers tend to have NO disposable income, but this is a great way to give back to each other. And there are some amazing artists still available: William Lambson, Dina Kantor, Hannah Whitaker, Corey Arnold, Rachel Dunville, Ofer Wolberger, and many others! So call your Grandma, or your x-boss, or your cousin who works in finance, these prints are a great way to get started collecting photography. The prices are very reasonable, the editions are limited to 10, and you are helping a great cause. And let’s be honest, I need cash for my 4×5 film!!! If you need further proof, rising art star Amy Stein’s prints now sell for like 10 times the prince of her Humble edition.

Solutions not Complaints

One thing I hear from men a lot (including my own boyfriend) is that women complain too damn much. Most men’s number one complaint about their wives and girlfriends is that they just want to talk endlessly about their problems, and they don’t see what that solves? I think it is perhaps too much of a generalization to say that all women like to discuss, mull over and talk through their issues and difficulties, but from my experience most women do find comfort in being listened to. We don’t like to just take action, without time to reflect and hear the thoughts of others. I personally think in some ways this makes us able to deal with more complex issues. When something does not have a clear cut solution men often get angry or frustrated. They want to ‘fix it’ and move on. Of course all of this is varies from person to person, but in my experience there is some truth to it. So when Joerg first emailed me about the Times article, I could see that he wanted to find a way to fix things right away. But he was frustrated because as a man there was only so much he could do about it. I am saddened by the responses to my post that directed their anger to Joerg. If you look at his blog, he clearly features just as many male and female photographers in both interviews and image selection. What more can we ask of men, then to be sensitive to our struggle and to give us the same opportunities as they give men.

The most important thing is that now, several amazing and talented women are using their considerable gifts to try and come up with ideas to make things better. Many of these issues are actually between women and about how we view ourselves and the world. So it seems to me, that we should be the ones to work to solve them. Hence the creation of Women in Contemporary Photography which is still in the development stage, that be a showcase for the work of women photographers. And the Ask me logo, when you see the logo, you know you are welcome to reach out to the person for advice, questions, or just to say hi. While we are all super busy and probably feel like we don’t have enough time already, a quick email or addressing a question on our blogs or directing the person to someone who can help seems like a reasonable goal. I invite anyone who has other ideas to bring them on. We have nothing to lose by trying all these things out. I also encourage women editors, gallery staff or any women interested to participate. I doubt women photographers are the only ones who would like to get some support.

I am excited to see where we go…

What’s a Lady to Do?

Joerg Colberg sent me a link to the NY Times article on Gallerina’s the other day. He was interested to know if I shared his anger at the rather condescending and sexist attitude of the piece. We had a lively email debate, in which he basically called me out:

It’s one thing to see reality as it is, but then it’s quite another thing to
make an effort to change it. If all women merely shrug off this
article and think “Well, this is just the way it is” things are
obviously not going to change. But if just two or three female
bloggers got together and published an “enough is enough” post on
their blogs about how this is ridiculous and offensive, that would be
quite interesting.
I mean it’s nice to have discussions about women in art (just like
the one you participated in the other day), but it seems they don’t
really translate into much outside of the debating halls. I don’t mean
to argue there should be no such debates, but there also has to be a
debate about stuff like that posted in the NYT.

I wanted to take a few days to think about Joerg’s point, do we as women make it worse by accepting this type of portrayal? The Times article seemed to attempt to defend the behavior of these women. The writer went out of their way to mention how educated these women were, and that they are often harassed by drunk men at openings. But there was definitely a underlying condescension in the tone. “She really is so very busy — e-mailing jpegs of artwork to collectors, writing news releases, updating a gallery’s inventory or simply ordering lunch for the staff.” In reality there is no excuse for their attitudes, but the article presented them as just another decorative object in the galleries. I have had my share of bad experiences with so called Gallerinas. A few years ago I attempted to purchase Peter Hujar’s monograph at his show at Matthew Marks. It was a Saturday and pretty slow, but the girl behind the desk was so dismissive, so clearly annoyed and so downright rude, that I finally had to ask “You do SELL books here, correct?” It was quite traumatizing to hand over money to someone who made me feel like the person who can only afford the book, not a print. From that moment on I have avoided them like the plaque. I see no reason to subject myself to their disdain.

But as an artist who hopes to show work in a gallery in Chelsea, how do I feel about people coming to see my work and being treated like that? It is very dismaying. If my work were shown, I would hope that they would be happy to answer questions and offer information, because they become an extension of you when they sit out there. But let’s be honest, how warm and fuzzy is most of the art world. Do curators, gallery owners or editors treat artists much better, not until you make them a lot of money. And if they are that rude to you, my guess is that they treat the $8 to $10 dollar an hour desk workers pretty badly, male or female. And so we get to the heart of the issue for women. Often, because women are in a position that make them feel devalued, they turn their rage on others. When you are in a position of dependence, you feel powerless to defend yourself. If you need a paycheck or the patronage of your employer how do you tell them to treat you fairly? But, as Joerg pointed out as long as we keep taking it, we will keep getting it. One thing we can do is to band together. If women had the same kind of strong networking skills as men, perhaps we would not always feel so desperate. I have noticed that my boyfriend and his male friends and co-workers often help each other get jobs, pass on information and do gratis design work for each other. I have never known a women to do this. We may offer information, but how often to we pick up the phone for someone and say, “hey, you should check out my friends work.” However, several men have done that for me.

So what’s wrong here? Why do women continue to keep each other down, or allow themselves to be objectified like the Gallerina’s? I think that from a very young age, women learn that their looks are their number one asset. They become so used to focusing on their external as the means to success, that they lose sight of the importance of their other assets. Most of us are unconscious of this, we probably never think of ourselves like that. But I know that I worry more about what I am going to wear to things, then anything else. Because even if I want to fight it, part of me knows that I will be judged first on that. Especially if I am meeting with a women. One of the most disappointing examples of this from my own life, was when a certain female photographer came to guest crit my photo class from one of the top MFA programs. She immediately started ripping my work to shreds, primarily the technique aspects. In my attempt to defend the work, I started to take about the nature of the glossy print, when she interrupted me to say in front of the class, “The glossy prints are not the problem, and besides they match your lip gloss.” That was the single most disheartening moment for me, because in one sentence she pretty much told me I was just a ‘face.’ Meaning that I should use my looks or would succeed because of them. Now as someone who spent most of their life feeling like an object, because of my past, she was trying to take away the first thing I had found that I could do that was not about what I looked like. Being behind the camera is the only place where what I look like does not matter. But in reality, it is very hard to escape these cultural assumptions. To me the worst part of the Times article was hearing Yancy Richardson, say that there was nothing wrong with looking for a pretty face to put out front.

Yancey Richardson, the owner of an eponymous Chelsea art gallery, notes that she employs front desk assistants who can answer questions from the public and clients, and also attack a rigorous list of tasks. “You can’t just hire people who are decorative,” she said, “but you can find someone with all those necessary skills and who is beautiful.”

Ms Richardson is one of the few female gallery owners, and who also prominently showcases female artists. Of all people I would hope that she would know better. What is a young woman who hopes to break into the gallery world supposed to think when she reads that. That no matter how hard she studies or no matter how capable she is, if she’s not attractive she will not have a chance. People wonder why breast implants are now one of the number one high school graduation gifts? Instead of burning our bras, we now fill them with silicone fantasies. Are we not telling young women, that not only do they need Master degrees, top grades, they also need to be sexually and physically attractive if they hope to make it in our society. And the fact that powerful women are re-enforcing these ideas is to me the most appalling.

So yes, Joerg’s call to fight against these ideas is necessary. How to do it, is another matter. We as women have to decide how we can change things. But I think most of us feel so much anxiety about our own talent, looks, bodies, personalities, it is difficult to find the energy to do it. I feel that I can only be different in my own life. I can decide to help my fellow female artist, I can work to be free of the self-hating brought on by our beauty culture, and most importantly I can make art that forces people to confront these issues. I will perhaps leave it to Joerg, to write more on this subject. I think we need more people like him, who are not afraid to get angry, and who are not too jaded to think nothing will ever change.

And I hope that Julie Saul, Yancy Richardson, Marianne Boesky, Bonni Benrubi, Elizabeth Dee, Rivington Arms, Becky Smith, Andrea Meislin, Deborah Bell, Paula Cooper, Margaret Murry, Janice Guy, Roxanna Marcoci, Robin Rice, Jen Bekman, and all the other women who have power and authority in the art world take heed, we need to be on the same team. That does not mean giving special treatment to female artists and employee’s, but being willing to examine your own culpability in this debate. Ask yourself if you are treating women the same sexist attitude of your male counterparts, and if so, why? I am sure it is not easy to be a female gallery owner, I have heard many times, “So in so only has a gallery because her rich daddy gave her the money.” Have you ever heard that said about a male gallery owner?

And as for us female artists and people in general, I will borrow the advice of the Gureilla Girls:

Boston, Mass.: Now that we’ve heard what you have to say, how can we help? What’s the best way to stop our national museums from being so racist and sexist? Write letters? It seems so … banal.

Guerrilla Girl Frida Kahlo: Complain, complain, complain! But do it creatively. Shame and ridicule are powerful weapons in the art world. And don’t forget to have fun in the process. Your laughter disarms the powers-that-be.

And ladies, start buying art? Because once you are a force in the world of collectors, galleries will take note!

More on Mentoring

Susana Raab has a great response to my post on mentoring, I really enjoyed reading it and I think based on the emails I received about my Frank/Sternfeld post, most people will identify with her experiences. While I chose to write about a really positive and meaningful mentoring moment in my life, I certainly had my share of the opposite. Unfortunately, a lot of people teaching photography seem to very unsuitable for the task. There are many who seem to teach only for their ego, money, or to meet starry eyed young ladies they can try to take advantage of, I have had all of the above. She brings up another point, which is the importance of having a supportive mate, I am also lucky enough to have a partner who not only encourages and supports me, but who has an amazing eye and understanding of photography. But all of my experiences, many of them quite imperfect, have moved me forward on my photographic journey. In retrospect, I feel really grateful for all of it.

Many blogs have discussed the worthiness of assisting and how to get started in photography. My advice would be to get yourself around as many talented people as you can. You learn so much by osmosis. I think people assume that if they intern that they are entitled to “get something back” for working for free. I have done a lot of interning, and almost all of it has turned into paid employment or has given me invaluable information. I began interning at my current job, and I have to say I enjoyed every minute of archiving negatives. I learned more going through hundreds of negatives of an incredibly accomplished photographer than I could ever learn in any workshop or class. So I say to all of you who want to get somewhere, bite the bullet and get yourself in somewhere where you can be around the best. Sometimes ‘mentoring’ is not an active experience. I think you can create our own mentor by changing your expectations. Right now I have the privilege of being a part of the production of really great photographer’s show. I am getting to see what goes in to the making of a top of line gallery show from start to finish. This is an invaluable experience. You can get mentoring from your peers, your loved ones, and from anyone you can find you can offer you support, encouragement and feedback. It takes a village to make a great photographer. I get a ton of support from my rental place, without the incredible their tech knowledge, I would not be able to make my photos. Yes I was very lucky to have studied with Joel and with Penelope Umbrico, both of whom gave me incredible gifts. But at some point you are out there on your own and you have to find your way. At least that is what I keep telling myself.

Interview

I am honored to be interviewed today on Joerg Colberg’s fantastic fine-art blog, Conscientious. It was a great experience and Joerg asked some really interesting questions. Also, if you have a chance his past line-up of conversations includes, Stephen Shore, Alec Soth, Martin Parr, Richard Renadi, Brian Ulrich and a stellar list of photogs. The interview includes portriats from my latest project which is in progress.

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Women Photographers – Part One

The blogosphere is full of ‘best of’ lists and rankings. The blog is a perfect venue for this type of information. So I thought it would be nice to create a women in the history of photography list. I rarely read an interview where a photographer, male or female, cites a woman as an influence. The exceptions is perhaps Diane Arbus. And I have always found the sources on this subject rather limited. I like the idea of being able to see the range, and ability of female photographers from the advent of the art form.It is not in chronological order or by ranking per say, it is meant as a general source list. I discovered quite a lot of great work while putting it together.

I often wish I had more female mentorship and inspiration, but I guess it is out there if you are willing to look. So hopefully someone will find something or someone inspiring in the list. I am sure I have missed some artists, so feel free to email me your additions.

Julia Margaret Cameron

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Camille Silvy

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Clementina, Lady Hawarden

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Alice Austen

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Doris Ulmann

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Gertrude Kasebier

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Alice Boughton

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Eva Watson-Schutze

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Louise Deshong

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Laura Adams Armer

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Alice Lex-Neurlinger

Margrethe Mather

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Hannah Hoch

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Florence Henri

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Lucia Moholy

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Imogen Cunningham

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Tina Modotti

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Ilse Bing

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Bernice Abbott

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Margaret Bourke-White

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Marion Post Wolcott

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Dorothea Lange

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Helen Levitt

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Inge Morath

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Lotte Jacobi

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Barbara Morgan

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Carlotta Corporan

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Lillian Bassman

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Lisette Model

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Laura Gilpin

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Louise Dahl Wolfe

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Diane Arbus

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Thanks to Joerg Colberg, I somehow forget Lee Miller, and for suggesting,  Martine Franck and Ruth Bernhard

Ms. Miller

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Part Two – Coming Soon….

 

 

 

 

 

Mentor’s Part 2

One of my favorite biographies of a photographer is Sue Davidson Lowe’s, Stieglitz: A Memoir. It really captures of one the great love stories of modern photography. Not the one between Alfred Steglitz and Gerogia O’Keefe, but the one between Stieglitz and Paul Strand. Strand, after studying with Lewis Hine found his way to Stieglitz as a young photographer. During the review of his work, Stieglitz gave him suggestions on his form and technique, which spurred Strand on to create the style which made him famous. Strand was a 291 favorite, Stieglitz gave him his first solo show there, and regularly published his photographs in Camera Work. But as the years went on, Strand’s success grew and a natural competition developed between the two men. Eventually differences in their ideas about photography, politics, and some wife swapping, destroyed their relationship.

The student teacher relationship no matter how fruitful is always complex. It is natural to go through a period of adolescent rebellion and disavow your mentor. Sometimes it is only subconscious tension, or in the case of Strand and Stieglitz a total break up. Or as I mentioned about Alec Soth in my post yesterday, perhaps only to want to be judged on your own work, not always in relation to your teacher. It is necessary to shift to developing your own thoughts and ideas about your work, if not you never find your individual voice as an artist. But you always have an imaginary creative umbilical cord to your mentor. Joel has only ever had good things to say about Alec, and I know that they have a great relationship (which Alec himself spoke of in a lovely email to me yesterday.). I think that it is rare to find someone who can help you find something within yourself that you perhaps did not know existed. And when you find it, although is may have some pitfalls, what you gain is invaluable. I am glad that so many people enjoyed Joel’s article and my post and I would love to hear stories from other people about their mentor experiences.

Joel Sternfeld on Robert Frank

I happened to come across a copy of the new Steidl Spring/Summer catalog, only to discover that my photo teacher, mentor and all around favorite photographer, Joel Sternfeld had written a beautiful essay about his photo inspiration, Robert Frank. If you have ever met Joel, you probably already know he loves to tell stories and he is very good at it, as a former student I have heard a lot of them.

I remember with perfect clarity the day he brought Frank’s book to class and told us how he used to sleep with it every night and return to its pages over and over to decode its secrets. So reading his essay, I recognized the emotion in Joel’s voice about being present for the last printing of The Americans under Mr. Frank’s supervision. It must be pretty incredible to realize you have accomplished your dream and reached the level of your mentor. To me, American Prospects sits shoulder to shoulder with The Americans as a seminal photographic body of work. The same way Joel poured of Robert Franks images, countless numbers of photographers have obsessed over his images. What makes photography a wonderful medium, is that when you see Joel’s photo’s, Frank is there, embedded in the the Sternfeld photographic language. But Joel’s vision is also his own.

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At the start of my photographic journey, I was dating someone in England. It was a very strange time in my life. September 11th had shaken up my world. I was back in collage in my late twenties and totally unsure of what to do with my life, and working for next to nothing. While visiting my boyfriend, he took me a a show at the Tate Modern called Cruel & Tender. At the time, I had only vague notions of August Sander, The Becher’s and Stephen Shore. Lewis Baltz, Reineke Dijkstra, Thomas Ruff, Fazal Sheikh, Gursky, and Robert Adams were all new discoveries. That day, I can honestly say, changed my life. As cheesy as it sounds, it was if a light was turned on inside of me looking at all of these bodies of work at once. I was more familiar with Eggelston, Arbus, Evans and Frank, but I had not seen much of their work in person. I probably developed my photo aesthetic that day, and the work that I could not get over, was Frank’s. His images were grainy and simple but at the same time they were jam packed with history and emotion.

Six months later I showed up at Joel Sternfeld’s office, the day classes were scheduled to begin, without having registered or interviewed, big no no’s at Sarah Lawrence. I had no idea where to find him and it took quite a bit to finally knock on the right door. Then a man with some of the craziest hair I have ever seen opened the door and saved my life. Joel was the first teacher that ever believed in me, even when I did not. He was kind, and supportive and gave me the courage to express myself. I can never thank him enough. I was lucky enough to study with him for two years, and in that time I saw him encourage and support all of his students, regardless of their talent level, as long as they were committed to the class. Ironically, many of my classmates did not really seem to understand who they were studying with, they just thought he was funny, and late to class a lot. But I was already working in the photo industry, so I appreciated the opportunity in a different way.

To this day when ever I mention Joel’s name to another photographer, their eyes gets misty. He is the favorite of photographers. While I am now out in the world trying to make it as an artist, I often miss the creative cocoon Joel created for his students. And they return to him, like little puppy dogs, to show their work, hoping for a pat on the head. I sometimes wonder if it is overwhelming for him to have so many students out there desperate for his approval. I read an interview once with Alec Soth, where he attempted to distance his work from Joel’s influence. It sounded a little angry, I don’t know of anyone else who so directly works in Joel’s genre, but I can understand Alec’s wanting to free from the comparison. But while I was studying with him, Alec was still sending Joel his book mock-ups. I think the mentor relationship is very complicated for artists, but without guidance and inspiration from those who have already found their voice it would be next to impossible to find your own. I have been lucky enough to have several incredible photographers come into my life and help me on my way.

So for those of you who perhaps would not come across it, I am posting Joel’s homage to Mr. Frank. For both of these artists have been tremendously influential in my life as well. If any of you out there have a photo mentor, you will appreciate his essay. robert_frank_project.pdf

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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.’

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Richard Prince

Today’s NY Times has a very interesting article on Richard Prince. Jim Kranz, a Midwestern ad photog, discusses his feelings about having his Marlboro ads lifted by the conceptual artist. While I can definitely sympathize with Mr. Krantz, if I walked into the Guggenheim and saw one of my photographs with someone elses name on , I would also freak, for lack of a better word. But I do understand Prince’s use of ad images. He is really lifting concepts from the American Media cannon, Mr. Krantz’s image is secondary. Also, because it was a commercial assignment, the original photographer has already been compensated for his work. What is more interesting to me, is that Mr. Prince’s work is actually outdated. When he was making his appropriated images, artist/photographer’s were not being hired to commerical assignments, and fashion photographer’s were not being heralded as artists. (See Art Basel & fashion article) So by borrowing from the commerical world at that time, Prince was not only saying something about American media culture, but about the nature of photography and what is means to be an art photographer. I think his work was very important, but now that the lines of art & commerce have blurred, and fine-art photographers are making so much money, perhaps his statement seems moot. I do not think that takes away from the accomplishment of his work, I just think it is hard to see it in the same context now. That is perhaps the danger of conceptual and really all art, the world changes, and if your work is very much of its time, how does it age? Prince is having his star moment in the art world, but it is happening when the statement is his work is less powerful. When he began, his ideas seemed radical, but now it is often difficult to distinguish between – art photographers, and commercial photographers. PL di Corcia has a contract with W Magazine. Taryn Simon, Collier Shorr and Elinor Carucci & Katherine Wolkoff are all repped by Art + Commerce agency. Molly Logan has started Fred & associates to rep fine-art photographers and she is very involved with Blind Spot Magazine. It seems that there are no longer any boundaries. Of course Walker Evans worked for Fortune Magazine, Steichen was a fashion photog and Diane Arbus started out shooting fashion. I think that the main difference is intent. Is your work being made to provoke or reflect culture, or is it begin made to sell something. Of course as the years go by, sometimes the commercial work begins to tell more about the culture then the art photo. This seems to be a time of transition for ‘art photography’ and perhaps that is why Prince is so much in the spotlight. His ideas about the blending of the two forms have come to fruition. I think what does remain most relevant in the Prince’s work is his statement on the commodification of art and exclusivity in ownership. Here is use of apropriation is still on target.

From the current Exhibit at the Guggenheim Spiritual America

Prince’s work has been among the most innovative art produced in the United States during the past 30 years. His deceptively simple act in 1977 of rephotographing advertising images and presenting them as his own ushered in an entirely new, critical approach to art-making—one that questioned notions of originality and the privileged status of the unique aesthetic object. Prince’s technique involves appropriation; he pilfers freely from the vast image bank of popular culture to create works that simultaneously embrace and critique a quintessentially American sensibility: the Marlboro Man, muscle cars, biker chicks, off-color jokes, gag cartoons, and pulp fiction. While previous examinations of his art have emphasized its central role as a catalyst for postmodernist criticism, the Guggenheim exhibition and its accompanying catalogue also focus on the work’s iconography and how it registers prevalent themes in our social landscape, including a fascination with rebellion, an obsession with fame, and a preoccupation with the tawdry and the illicit.

If you go to Mr. Krantz’s website, it is pretty clear that his ad work is very much about the iconography of the alpha American male. My guess it that he has profited quite a bit from his ability to create a certain kind of image. I am actually more afraid of what Mr. Krantz’s work say about our cuture, then what Richard Prince’s work reflects. This is of course not Mr. Krantz’s fault, it is a view into the heart of current American values.

Image of Mr. Krantz’s borrowed by Richard Prince

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Source Images

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Wow, Ronald is working off his Super Size meals, a good role model for McDonald’s customers.

 

 

Nice Work

Thanks to Tim Atherton for posting about Jon Feinstein’s new website. I also met Jon through his involvment with Humble Arts and I was very impressed by his understanding photography and my work. He got my project right away and has been really supportive. So it is always nice to find out that the person you have met & respected is talented themselves. His new website looks great, and I am really happy he has been able to concentrate on his own work. No easy task when you are running a growing online fine-art photo empire and working for a living. Congrats Jon! Also, Humble Arts has an opening of the exhibit to accompany the photo book A Field Guide to the North American Family.

Gallery Bar 120 Orchard St. Thursday, 12/6 at 7pm.

Here are some of my favs

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Damn!

Have you ever had a photo idea milling around in your head for a while, or done some preliminary shooting but have not quite gotten it right yet, only to step in to a gallery or open a magazine and see your idea realized by somebody else. So goes the world of photography. Sometimes you get beat to the punch. I shot a lot of stuff at salons and spas when I began my project, but it was during my technical training wheels period, while I learned 4×5. I have been planning to re-visit some of the sites to re-shoot. But low and behold, I opened up my NYMag this week and Elinor Carucci had a picture that has been in my mind for 2 years. And it was good! Damn her!

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While the pictures are un-mistakenly her style and are designed to capture a very different mood, it brings up an interesting question. How do you deal with originality in photography? Is it enough to shoot with your ‘eye’ and apply it to any subject matter, even if it has been covered by someone else, or do you need fresh subjects? Or do you need to be innovative in your form & content. The current NY Times review of New Photography 2007 at the MoMA brought up this question. The review mentions what is a fantastic show of work from the permanent collection, which you must past through on the way to New Photography. The reviewer was at first confused and thought the Stieglitz & Co was the exhibit, only to be disappointed upon seeing the derivative nature of the newer work.

A consistently strong point of the “New Photography” series, including this edition, has been the international array of artists. But so far it has been weak in showcasing new developments and contextualizing contemporary photography within the collection, which helps explain the jarring transition from Stieglitz & Company to the current crop. You hate to be the spoiler, the insatiable art viewer constantly demanding that rush of something new. But when a show is called “New Photography 2007,” you feel within your rights.

In many ways I very much agree with Martha Schwendener, a lot of photography out there is uninspiring. While the work featured in the retrospective show really captured the pioneering and creative spirit of photography, much of the new work out there seems like a retread, of a retread of someone else’s image. The interesting question is why is photography recycling itself so much right now or focusing on process-driven work. I have a hunch that it the evolution of photography from an emerging art form into an institutionalized art is at fault. When most young photographers are going to the same 2 or 3 schools, get MFA’s and then work as assistants to established artists, is it a surprise that their work suffers from the weight of the photo cannon. I think it is unfair in a way to expect them to transform the medium, but perhaps photography will only start to grow when it is free from the art market and education system that is currently sustaining it. I often feel hindered before shooting, that I must deliver a fully realized project at bat, but maybe it is the willingness to fail that makes art move forward. We are not in a culture that embraces failure, but rather feeds on success.

In the midst of this confusion on original vs. referenced art, Tanyth’s Berkley’s employing the Arbus method of capturing societies outsider’s I think can be seen as an update on who is considered a “freak” in our current culture. While in Arbus’s time, she sought out people who were outside society by choice or by dramatic mental or physical difference, Berkley photographs people who our outside the current standard of beauty. Why I am personally uncomfortable sometimes with how her photographs make people even more ‘freak-like” I think she is trying to show the viewer their own prejudices about physical appearance. Much in the same way Peter Hujar made people confront their feelings about gay culture and lifestyle in the 70’s and early 80’s. And in that context, her referencing of Arbus makes sense.

Tanyth Berkley

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Diane Arbus

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Thomas Demand

I stopped by Gallery 303 over the holiday weekend along with a few other galleries to catch up on the Chelsea scene. I was not disappointed with Lynne Cohen’s show. Her work is complicated, yet her images are formally quite simple. And it was nice to see small, black and white images on the wall. There were a few large prints, but I was not quite sure why the particular images were blown up. It is an interesting question for an artist, what is the right size for an image. It is something I am currently grappling with. Some images do need to be big, while other are better small. Some work is great at any size. I guess it is more about how you want the viewer to experience the image. Thomas Demand’s show is very much about perception, but in another way. The images are large, in order for the viewer to see the detail of the paper recreations of the subjects. If they were printed smaller, it would be more difficult to see that there is something not quite right. The resulting images are unsettling. They do not quite look like photographs, nor do they look like anything else. The subject of the exhibit is the political obfuscation that was used as justification for the Iraq war. This is really a concept that cannot easily be photographed, so Demand re-created ‘scene of the crime.’

Yellowcake consists of a series of 9 photographs about the location where this story, and its ‘smoking gun’ originated. Adding further intrigue to this saga, is the consideration that there has never been any photographic documentation that could illustrate these events and news as they came to light — no one had gained access to Niger’s Embassy in Rome. For Yellowcake, Demand –who has traditionally based his practice on existent imagery – had to access the source site on his own. Demand entered the apartment-cum-embassy and conversed with the embassy staff, and through these visits and interactions built his own memory of the place. Based on these recollections, Demand reconstructed the embassy site in his studio in order to create the images that make up Yellowcake.

The photographs are rather beautiful to look at, and I think it is an important subject. We expect the documentary photograph to portray the ‘truth’ in the same way we expect our President to tell the truth, but by creating these fiction/truths Demand is questioning the both of these cultural assumptions. Perhaps we are so jaded, that we have moved past the idea of actual truth, the only truth can be found where there is no pretense of it. These are very interesting ideas, but Demand creates such a distance between the event and his interpretation of it, that my reaction was 100% intellectual. In the current American political situation, it seems like work that provokes people’s hearts and minds is needed. We are rarely driven to take action from our intellect, which is unfortunate but true. But I do respect him and the intelligence of his work. And I think creating imaginary ‘documents’ is probably a closer representation of the ‘reality’ inside the current administration then any straight photograph could capture.

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The King of Surburban Angst

William Eggelston to me, captures the magic, i.e. the suburban travails of the Holiday season better than anyone. While his pictures are not expressly about being home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, they somehow represent the experience. So I would like to say thanks to Mr. Eggelston and let’s all try find some irony & humor in our upcoming family scenarios, whether you will fight over the last piece of pumpkin pie or why Daddy loves your sister more than you, or how you have never forgiven your parents for not giving you a Ken doll on your 8th birthday. My divorced parents have spent all of their Holiday’s together so I am very familiar with ‘holiday horror shows.’ What makes his work so great is that he makes the insanity of suburban life seem normal. So we all revert to our 8 year old selves once or twice a year, at least now we can have some alcohol make it all go by in a haze. In Eggelston’s case perhaps this has not worked out so well. But despite the critique in his photos, their is an underlying love. And I think we can all relate to that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Food for Thought

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for their comments and encouraging words. I am very committed to my work, but I guess still trying to develop a confident voice. By that I mean, to discover the best method to communicate my ideas. It is easy to get caught up in the conceptual, but it is more important to be willing to fall flat on your face and take risks. I think it is time for me to do more of that. Whether people like 100% of what I do is not important. How the work helps me grow in my ability to express myself is much more valuable.

And a special thanks to Christian Harkness for passing on this quote from a painter:

He was asked for his definition of a successful artist and he said something like this, ‘any artist who is doing what he wants to do is a successful artist.’

I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

Also, a word about an artist who absolutely has everything together. Lynne Cohen has a retrospective up at Hasted Hunt Gallery. I remember vividly after I started my beauty project, when my photo teacher Joel Sternfeld, first showed me her work. I did not take a picture for a month afterward. She not only has an incredible visual sense, her work has political and conceptual depth. But there is subtly and beauty in all her images. I am so happy to see her getting some attention. I often find it strange that she does not have more of a presence in the photo cannon. If you are in NYC, I highly recommend you go. She is one of my photo inspirations.

HASTED HUNT Gallery
529 West 20th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10011
11 AM – 6 PM Tuesday – Saturday

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