On Blog Exhaustion

It was funny for me to read Joerg Colberg’s recent post on blogs,  I myself have had a half-hearted post about the state of blogs lingering as an unfinished draft for some time. But not surprisingly with my current life, I never got around to posting it. My general feeling about photo blogs has been a bit negative lately–that is not against other people’s blogs, but towards the overly insular and self-contained universe that it created. While I think some incredible things came out of it, and I have made some real friendships, ultimately it was not satisfying the true need I had to be more engaged in the photo process with my peers. In fact, it started to feel like an impediment to my own creative process. The amount of energy and time that was going into Ground Glass, was sucking me a little dry–leaving very little time or energy to make pictures.

However after my recent experience of having a meaningful, engaged dialog with my peers in person, I left re-energized and brimming with ideas. In a way, not blogging has helped me finally really edit of my Singular Beauty work, it gave me time to finish my book and actually start sending out my mock-up, and it gave me time to make room for a new project. So as much as I loved blogging, I realized for me right now, I had to choose. And paying my bills and my own photo work has to come first. Followed by Women in Photography. There is not a whole lot left over after that. I wish I could be super woman, but sadly I am not.

But at the Young Curators New Ideas, II opening, I got into a conversation with two woman who are still actively blogging. I will admit I was a bit negative about the entire “blogoshpere,” but the next day I got a google alert and went to PalmAire, (WIPNYC artist) Tema Stauffer’s blog and realized that is it me that is currently experiencing blog exhaustion. Both Tema, and Tethered’s, Elizabeth Fleming, have really engaging, personal and intelligent posts. And other blog’s, like Horses Think, and Nina Corvallo’s blog, and others, have continued to be really great reads. I think at the heart of the blog, is the personal voice. For me, blogs that stay like personal online diaries, and have an certain intimacy and that focus on sharing information about a subject they truly love, work best. When blogs move into the professional media territory, they start to lose a bit of soul.

Once blogs become “professionalized,” to me they are less interesting. The internet is the great equalizer, it is a place where major news organizations compete with small individuals for market share and audience. Something that was impossible when you had to pay to publishing costs.  So I understand the temptation to step up your game, but there are so many blogs now from the mainstream press, why not keep the individual blog more personal and less concerned with blog stats.  Unless you want to become a mainstream media outlet, with advertising etc. Which, by the way, I am not against.

Yet blogs like PalmAire and Horses Think, remind of what a valuable part of the photo community a blog can be–and perhaps now that my first solo show is close to being completely framed and delivered to the gallery, I will again be drawn back to share some of the amazing things that have happened in the last few months. But until then, there are a lot of wonderful voices out there, you just need to find the ones you care enough to listen to.

The Nature & Purpose of Photography

Brian Ulrich had an excellent post recently on why photographers are not recording the the current economic crisis.  His post has generated 47 comments so far and it seems to have struck a nerve.  I find it interesting that on one hand there is a debate raging over whether we should incorporate unfolding current events into our work, and on the other, the Andrew Kreps Gallery current exhibition To Be Determined–focuses on work that deals directly with the medium of photography. While several of these artists I individually admire, collectively, at this moment, having a show about photography, does seem out of step.  Time Out New York said this:

The cerebral queries posed here spring from pioneering 20th-century photographers (Moholy-Nagy, James Welling, Richard Prince), but fail to break any new ground themselves. One has to hope that this current generation of photographers will ultimately choose to define itself by means other than a few tired lines of inquiry. What form those fresh ideas might take is clearly still, as the title of the exhibition suggests, to be determined.

Ouch!  This genre of work has been championed by Blind Spot, which coincidentally is hosting an event for this show this week.   In the last 5 to 7 years, this type of work has dominated–one name says it all–Roe Ethridge (however, the Soth-style {aka Sternfeld/Shore/Myerwitz} of portrait-scape has also been a force, but it has focused more on the set-up Crewdson stylistic version, which is also less content driven.)

In an age of cultural complacency, during which we elected GW twice, and few of us took to the streets to protest, Iraq, Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, or the dramatic and rapid disparity which expanded between the rich & the poor, work that doubles back on itself and shied away from engagement with the world made sense. But we are in a new era, and maybe Brian’s battle cry, which is being sounded by many major art critics in slightly different terms, has something to it.  As artists, it is our responsibility to be continuously questioning what makes a photograph art, especially in a world not only filled with copious amounts of commercial and amateur imagery but that is also overflowing with fine-art photography.  It is important I think at this moment to pause and question, what is more important–making a photograph that will be deemed “art” or making a photograph that can be powerful and that affect how people view the world.  Will post-post modernism mean that we can re-unite these concepts?

Many photographers currently worry about getting stuck in the “photo ghetto.”  Meaning once your work is represented by a photo gallery, you are stuck as ‘just a photographer.’  The insinuation being that you will be considered ‘less of an artist.’  Photography still hovers in a strange place in the art world.  If your work is photo-based, it is a good way to differentiate yourself from the rank & file.  However, if this is done merely as a way to get ahead in the art market, most likely the result will be all surface.  The best work centering on the photographic process, often incorporates multiples levels of engagement.  For instance Penelope Umbrico’s appropriation work , not only plays with authorship, it includes complex cultural critique, and an exploration of human desire.

With all this ruminating in my mind, I came across these photos on National Geographic.com of an 1908 National Geographic article on the survey of Alaska.  What I like about them, is that they remind me of the incredible power of the photograph to transcend its original purpose.  These images were taken to record a scientific exhibition, yet 100 years later, they could just as easily be a meditation on the landscape genre.  Grainy, muted and strange, they are quite beautiful.  Sometimes, perhaps we try so hard to imbue meaning and concept into our photographs that we actually close down this process, and in fact make them more empty.  There is a fine line between too much content and too much concept.

untitled1

Radcliffe Hordern

untitled2

untitled3

untitled5

Photographs by E. R. Martin



When Did Chicken Little Become a Prophet??

Today on my morning subway commute, I noticed some EMT workers walking past me with all their gear.  I did not pay too much attention, I was in a hurry to get to work, however as I got to the other end of the platform, I was met with the overpowering smell of bleach.  I looked down and discovered an MTA worker moping up a red substance.  It took my brain a split second to process that for the first time in my entire NYC subway travels, (10 years and counting,) I was seeing blood getting wiped away.

This this might not seem very dramatic to some,  NYC is a big city and certainly stuff does happen here – and in this particular occurrence, with no sign of police on the scene, I assume the blood was not the result of an act of violence. But it spooked me nonetheless, especially considering just last week on the same platform, I watched a man escape from the clutches of a transit cop, and handcuffed, jump down onto the R/W track and disappear.  He was soon  followed by about 10 bewildered looking cops.  The escape managed to shut down the entire N/S subway traffic for a good 20 minutes.  In my 10 years of subway riding I have seen some strange things, but in Giuliani & post-Giuliani NYC, this level of mayhem is rare. But I have noticed a chance since the collapse of Wall Street this fall, things are no longer just frayed around the edges, but starting unravel.

In the past 2 months, I personally have had several rather intense and fraught encounters.   And several people have told me stories, that have really made me question if we are on the verge of a collective breakdown.  One story, involved a person leaving an incredibly hostile, threatening phone call,  fueled by professional jealousy.  The anonymous caller felt the need to tell her, she was ugly and other choice expletives, which no matter how much you may dislike a person, are never appropriate to use.  Another friend had someone take the time to send them an email, basically just to tell them that they thought their photography sucked. This person did not even remove their name from the email.  Another person received an email that was an angry, three  paragraph tirade, and by anger, I mean personal, venomous, attack.  What is going on people!!!!!  When did this type of behavior become acceptable?  I cannot ever remember so many negative, random acts of hostility.  However, considering the current economic horror show, I am not surprised.

To me, one the first priority’s of the Obama administration should be to institute a qualified non-political commission to investigate the incredible malfeasance in Wall Street and in banking which has led to this global recession/depression. Because as much as we should focus on recovery, most people are suffering from feelings of incredible anger, and a sense that they are powerless to do anything about it.  When you read that the wives of  mega hedgefunds managers, CEO’s & investment bankers, are struggling to make do with their housekeepers coming 5 days a week instead of seven, or buying one pair of $700 Manolo’s, instead of three, it is hard to not want to burn down the whole of Greenwich, CT. Perhaps this is why so many people are acting out on strangers.  Someone must take the brunt of our collective anxiety, fear & anger.  Of course, these feelings are destructive and the exact opposite of what will help to lift us out of this economic disaster.  I think most of us, would feel a lot better, if we considered pooling our resources and supporting each other to survive this period of instability.

The art world has been particularly affected by the economic crisis.  One could easily argue, that when a roof over ones head & food on the table become issues, art tends to drop down on list of importance. But abandoning art and artists at this moment, could have a profound effect on how we interpret and think about this moment in culture. So now more than ever, it seems crucial that the art world pull together to make it through the storm.

On great example of this is the the Humble Arts Foundation. They just released their Collectors Guide, which they are in the process of distributing to the art industry and collectors.  (full disclosure my work is featured in the guide.) And while artists did pay a fee, once they were chosen to be included, it was modest, and was paid in two installments.  Humble footed almost the entire production bill themselves.  And by distributing the guide in the art world, they are giving every artist in the book incredible exposure.  Now, they very easily could have used the guide as a way to make money for the foundation, but they are choosing to use it as a tool to showcase artists, just like their group & solo shows do.

What impresses me most about this choice is that we are all in extremely difficult positions.  Gallery owners have incredible overhead to meet, artists have fewer outlets and opportunities, and non-profit’s donations are drying up.  So if there has ever been time to consider how we can work together, this is it.  If not, when this crisis is over, there will be dramatically fewer players left on the field.  Some may argue that this is a good thing, but keep in mind, that fewer galleries, museums and organizations mean fewer opportunities for artists.  And while yes, the art market has been over-hyped, over-saturated and over-indulged for sometime, leaving it to starve to death now, is no panacea.

So if you find yourself feeling like venting, take a few moments and consider what you could bring to the table rather than what you can knock off of it.


Something to Consider

If you, like me, are being bombarded this year with emails advertising sales on top of sales with extra discounts on top, you may want to take a moment to read this short article by Anne Quindlen on Newsweek.com.  It is right on target.  With these offers, I can’t help but get sucked in and seeing those discounts makes me almost think I have money to shop, almost. But it also makes it harder to not indulge, sort of like working at a chocolate factory.  This little tidbit from the article helps me put it into perspective:

Hard times offer the opportunity to ask hard questions, and one of them is the one my friend asked, staring at sweaters and shoes: why did we buy all this stuff? Did anyone really need a flat-screen in the bedroom, or a designer handbag, or three cars? If the mall is our temple, then Marc Jacobs is God. There’s a scary thought.

1719_f3480-54

The Christmas Spirit reaches some Transient Flats children after Christmas via the city dump. (Text courtesy of the California State Library)

“Prints and Negatives,” c. 1935 – c. 1960
Department of Social Welfare
F3480:2–71N
California State Archives
Sacramento, California

From the NY Times

I came across this very effective use of photoshop and multimedia technology on the nytimes.com.   While the current economic crisis has most people feeling pretty down, one can only imagine what the holidays must be like for America’s military families.  It may sound like new age mumbo jumbo, but until we are finally free of the dark shadow that has hung over this country for the last 8 years, we will not proper as a nation.

picture-11

© The New York Times


F*#@ PayPal and Other Tidbits…

Why sometimes computers & outsourcing fail.  I apologize to all of you incredibly generous people who sent me donations for my AIOP outdoor photo project, now formally scheduled for October 18 & 19 in Union Square, and October 24 & 25 at 14th St and 9th Ave in the meatpacking district from 11-2 & 2-4 each day, weather depending.  There is also an opening party for the event on 10/5 and lots of other exciting stuff going on all month, I will post a map of the activities soon.

However paypal, partly because of my not understanding how to request money correctly, but mostly because of the two customer service agents from India were unable to comprehend or correctly help me with the issue, all of your funds were returned. Today I finally got someone on the phone who explained to me how all of my difficulty could have easily been avoided.  So I am up for round #2 if you are all, I have sent emails to you re-requesting the funds. It is quite embarrassing to be sure!  But, I am even more excited about the project itself, despite the paypal debacle, especially now that the work will be featured in two group shows this fall.

The first one at Michael Mazzeo Gallery, formally Peer Gallery, opens next Friday, the 12th.  I know it’s a crazy season but I hope those of you in the NYC area can stop by.  Some great photogs are also in the show, including the indomitable Will Steacy and Miss Rachael Dunville.  I met Michael at a portfolio review, and have kept in gentle contact since. Part of what makes this show so exciting for me, is that all my hard work and energy has led to being in a group show at his gallery.  It is so important to develop and maintain relationships, no matter what field you are in. Developing them takes enormous amounts of time, energy, and a willingness to accept that it often leads to nothing.  But if you are patient and persistent, and if your work has any value, things do happen.  During my month off, I thought a great deal about where I want to go next, and now that things are happening, I am energized to pursue those ideas. So I hope to see you all on the 12th!

Michael Mazzeo Gallery

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

September 12 – October 11
Opening Reception
Friday, September 12, 6 PM – 8 PM

526 W 26th St Ste #209

And don’t miss this week’s big opening for me, Joel Sternfeld’s the Oxbow Archive. From the Press Release:

Sternfeld’s new work represents a break with painterly notions of the Picturesque and the Sublime; his field is flat, average and indistinguishable from thousands like it. He does not take the view from nearby Mount Holyoke as the Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole did in 1833 and look down on the Oxbow of the Connecticut River, the “grandest prospect in North America.” A single field that appears in Cole’s now iconic painting is of ample interest for Sternfeld’s attentive eye.

This work represents a departure from archetypal photographic depictions of nature; grandiloquent mountain views and dramatized skies are eschewed, as are ideal specimens of flora. Anthropomorphization of “perfect form in nature” does not occur; the geometric is not valorized. The photographs are not meant to be metaphoric equivalents of anything else. Rather, the images present themselves without pretense as a systematic index of seasonal progression.

If you know Joel, you know that is probably the most personal project of his life. It is a very subtle and intellectual body of work and a departure from his oeuvre in some ways. But I give him enormous credit, for his willingness to continue to grow and take risks as an artist, instead of churning out show after show of the same work, guaranteed to make $$, or to live off his glory days and just keep endlessly having retrospectives.  I am not naming any names of other photographers of his caliber, but I think you all know who I mean.  When you have a certain level of success and still have the balls to fall flat on your face, or to make work that needs to age to have meaning, is a rarity in today’s art world.  But if we want to have anything to look at in two hundred years of any value, we need artists wiling to do just those things.

Luhring Augustine

Joel Sternfeld

Oxbow Archive

Sep 6 – Oct 4 2008

531 W 24th St