Sunday, September 30, 2007

Colour Field Polaroids

I came across this work last week (via I'm not sure which blog on my feed...?) by Grant Hamilton.

Now I'm not sure I'd buy a book of 142 of them or something, but nevertheless I must say that I really quite like them - sort of colour field polaroids - especially the first 20 or so..

I also feel they are something at least a little bit more than "just" graphic art or abstract photographs

UPDATE: There's also a fun piece in jpgmag here (thanks Laura)

Friday, September 28, 2007

two neat pictures

First from
Chris Jordan who I've mentioned before. Not all of his new work turns my crank, but this one is pretty neat (go here for a slightly bigger view).

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Jet Trails 2007 Depicts 11,000 jet trails, equal to the number of commercial flights in the US every eight hours.

There's also an interview with Chris on PBS here

And sticking with the airliner theme the second picture is from the Guardian - Engineer's Concorde prototypes - part of an auction of all sorts of design bits and pieces and sapre parts from Concorde up for auction in Toulouse if you want to go and bid...:

Concorde, that most charismatic of all civil airliners, always did look like a paper plane. Not just any old school playground paper dart, of course, but the most beautifully thought out and most aerodynamic aircraft possible, folded by the hands of brilliant, if still unsung, backbench aero-engineers.

Now we
learn that Concorde engineers really did make paper aircraft at their drawing boards and workbenches, testing these outside the former British Aircraft Corporation workshops near Bristol during their lunch hours. Made of any scrap of paper or card available, these primitive, hand-propelled Concordes did their bit in the design process of the most famous, and dynamic, airliner of all.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hans Palmboom

Hans Palmboom (I'm not even sure if that's his actual name... he just posts as Hans) recently posted a few pictures from Japan on the street photo list - who can be a bit a tough audience sometimes.

Anyway, there were two or three of those Japan photos that really caught my eye, and I also tracked back from there to Hans' website where there is a wide selection of other work.

I rather like Zeeslag/Strand.

Other than that, about all I know about him is that he is based in the Netherlands

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (or flogging Lord Cardigan's horse to death)

I came across this piece from the NY Times about Roger Fenton's two photographs of the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" in the Crimea and took a quick look at it the other day and thought it seemed pretty interesting (especially as my old Grammar School history teacher had used the same two photographs during lessons long before Mark Hawarth-Booth seems to have ever noticed them).

Indeed, the piece starts off pretty well, having a good dig at Sontag (who seems to especially deserve it in this case) and sets out some thought provoking ideas and issues about trust, fact, truth, staging and so on in photography. But then, when I took time to read the whole thing - oh my - does it ever drag on... and on... and on.

Fenton's picture (well, both of them) are ones I have always thought of as impressive and well worth time spent considering them, so read the articel for what it's worth (for the record, I think the cannonballs on the road picture came first, and the cleared road came second - which picture I have always thought is the stronger. I also don't believe it matters which order they were taken in, nor does it matter in the least if he lugged the things around himself to make a "better" picture. ). I also feel that a quick trip - à la David Hockney and his mirror/lenses/painting thing - to some NASA or CIA expert on Photogrammetry would probably solve the issue in a couple of hours.

So, instead of a long winded post on this Fenton issue (and there is a good succinct one here anyway), I'm going to post some cool photos I came across on streetphoto - coming soon (in a couple of hours or so)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Novels about photographers - Coming Through Slaughter

When the English Patient first came out (the book, not the movie), I went on something of a Michael Ondaatje bender, reading all his other books I could lay my hands on.

As much as I like the later Anil's Ghost, his two best novel are earlier ones - In the Skin of a Lion (which has inspired photographer Geoffrey James with it's descriptions of the city) and Coming Through Slaughter

I had completely forgotten that the latter has as a character the New Orleans photographer E. J. Bellocq, until Struan Gray reminded me. (Bellocq's glass plates were later "discovered" and printed and eventually published by Lee Friedlander in the book Storyville Portraits).

Bellocq isn't the main character, but is an important secondary one, and his photography of the notorious Storyville district New Orleans in the early 20th Century plays an important role in the story. It's certainly one of the best "jazz novels" out there, and also gives in intriguing part to photography in the story (but don't expect a nice tidy linear story with straightforward construction though...)

From the wiki entry on the book:

"The novel is a fictionalised version of the life of the New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. It covers the last months of Bolden's sanity in 1907, as his music becomes more radical and his behaviour more erratic. A secondary character in the story is the photographer E. J. Bellocq. Both these historical figures are portrayed in ways that draw on their actual lives, but which depart from the facts in order to explore the novel's central theme – the relationship between creativity and self destruction.

The novel draws on the style of jazz, being structured in a fragmented, and "syncopated" form, with episodes extending in elongated "riffs" before suddenly lurching unpredictably into an apparently unrelated scene. The structure also conveys Bolden's own wild, fragmenting personality, as his schizophrenia takes hold. Bolden's manic, extrovert but self-harming behaviour is set against the introverted figure of Bellocq, who expresses his own frustrated desires in his intimate erotic photographs, but then compusively violates them with scratches"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Stephen Shore (+ Bonus...)

Jörg has a good interview up with Stephen Shore over on Conscientious - and at the end a nice bonus - you can download one of the little print on demand books Shore has been making here's an extract:

JC: After the 1970's colour "revolution" in the fine-arts community - if we want to call it that - the introduction and spread of digital photography appears to be at least equally important. I'd be curious to learn how you view the impact of digital photography.

SS: I'm going to give you a long-winded answer. I guess I see how photographers work as influenced by, among other factors, the cost of their processes. In the 1970s, when I started using 8x10 color, it cost me more than $15 every time I took a picture (film, processing, and a contact print). Simple economy lead me to only take one exposure of a subject. I knew I couldn't economize by only taking pictures that I knew would be good – that would simply lead to boring, safe images. But, I could decide what I really wanted to photograph and how I wanted to structure the picture. This was a powerful learning experience. I began to learn what I really wanted. Digital is the opposite of 8x10. I see digital as a two-sided phenomenon. The fact that pictures are free can lead to greater spontaneity. As I watch people photograph (with film), I often see a hesitation, an inhibition, in their process. I don't see this as much with digital. There seems to be a greater freedom and lack of restraint. This is analogous to how word processing affects writing: one can put thoughts down in writing, even tangential thoughts, with a minimum of inner censorship, knowing that the piece can be edited later. The other side of this lack of restraint is greater indiscriminancy. Here's a tautology: as one considers one's pictures less, one produces fewer truly considered pictures...

...JC: I was intrigued to learn that you have been producing small editions of self-published books. What is the impetus behind this?

SS: Ever since I first saw Ed Ruscha's small books in the late 1960s, I've loved artists' books. Print-on-demand technology allows me to produce books with ease. I like the basic structure of these small books: the individual images are not intended to stand alone, but are seen as a part of a complex whole. I enjoy availing myself of commonly available technology. Finally, my book project allows me to explore many different visual ideas and explore a variety of directions...

Stephen Shore very graciously agreed to share one of his iBooks, which can be downloaded here (file size: about

And just a reminder - you can link to a short movie of Stephen Shore wandering around with his 8x10 here

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings

So, the one thing that's a keeper - The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings by photographer KayLynn Deveney is a gorgeous little book, very nicely produced by Princeton Architectural Press and selling for a quite reasonable price - in fact as photography books go, it's a bargain.

The book is poignant and elegiac and yet straightforward and down to earth and not in the least bit sentimental. In fact nostalgia or sentimentality would have quickly sent it over the edge into Hallmark territory, but the mixture of pictures and words always remains grounded - in part due to a slight undercurrent of melancholy - and yet there is humour as well.

To my mind, this is an example of one of the things photography does best and in doing it, it leaves us room to make our own minds up about things, it points to certain things but it doens't do so dogmatically or directly. It's an oblique, tangential look - understated - with lots of room for the viewer to do some work for themselves.

I think Deveney's photographs are just right - in fact they are some of the best examples of colour work "in the documentary style" that I've seen in a long time. I wouldn't be suprised if they owe a little something to Nick Waplington's work from the 80's, but there is an intimacy in these that Waplington's often lack (which are respectful, humorous, but often blunt). Deveney's pictures aren't direct, but they tell us enough of what we need to know.

The publishers blurb sums it up very well:

When Albert Hastings was eighty-five years old, photographer KayLynn Deveney moved near his small flat in Wales. KayLynn took notice of the small rituals and routines—gardening, laundry, grocery shopping—that made up Bert's life. A friendship slowly developed as KayLynn began photographing parts of Bert's day. The two developed a simple yet effective method of storytelling—with KayLynn's images and Albert's handwritten text—and the project evolved into The Day-to Day Life of Albert Hastings a poignant and profound chronicle of aging, living alone, and the small things that make up our daily lives. Containing seventy-eight photographs along with poems written by Bert, his clock drawings, and personal family photographs, The Day-to-Day Life of Albert Hastings gives the reader a glimpse into one man's life, we can only imagine what stories are left untold.

5B4 has a very good review of the book:

...Kaylynn’s photography is warm and respectful. As photographers, some approach a subject knowing that it is full of potential to make “good pictures.” Others approach a subject because of an interest in learning something through the process of picture-making. Deveney seems intent on using the medium to bridge a generational gap and befriend her seemingly charismatic and warm neighbor. Photography may have invoked the friendship but after looking at the pictures, it seems to have taken a back seat to the importance of the relationship in both of their lives.

If it were just a book of photographs alone, we might read Mr. Hastings as simply a stand in for a representative portrait of an older Wales everyman, but through his participation in the project, by captioning the photographs, we decipher his personality due to his choice of words in describing the photographs content. They often display, not only humor, but also a directness that comments on his perception of himself and photographs.

Under one photograph of a hat he writes simply “Size 7 1/8”

Under one of him near a golden lit window he writes, “I’m not talking to a ghost, I’m opening the curtains.”... (more).

Deveney has a selection of images and text on her site. The intro is worth reading. There also a review fromt he current Photoeye Magazine.

This is one of the best books of photography (especially by an "unknown"...) that I've seen in a while now.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Five things not to bother wasting your time on (and one that's worth it)

Five things not to bother wasting your time on (and one that's worth it):

1. Stephen Shore's book Looking at Photographs. Really, it's probably very good for teaching Photographic Art 101, but it does spend a lot of time stating the obvious. It used to cost a fortune used and so when the new edition was released I ordered a copy. Luckily Amazon has an excellent return service on books and I sent it back for a refund instead. Save you money and buy a copy of his book The Gardens at Giverny - you will get much more from it.

2. Tod Papageorge’s essay "Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence". This has become all the rage recently with a transcript of the original essay being made available online. I have had a copy of the original book years, which has the added advantage of including all the photographs that are referenced. But really, it's not his best work, rather convoluted, forced in places and somewhat muddled. Geoff Dyer does a much better job in The Ongoing Moment of talking about Evan's, Frank, Friedlander and a host of others and their interrelationships and influences - both visual and intellectual. And the book Walker Evans and Company does a better job of illustrating these influences and examining them in great depth.

3. The Education of a Photographer by Charles Traub has been much lauded lately, especially his "
Do's and Dont's"

Do something old in a new way
Do something new in an old way
Do something new in a new way, Whatever works . . . works
Do it sharp, if you can’t, call it art
Do it in the computer—if it can be done there
Do fifty of them—you will definitely get a show
Do it big, if you cant do it big, do it red
If all else fails turn it upside down, if it looks good it might work... etc etc

Don’t do it about yourself—or your friend—or your family
Don’t dare photograph yourself nude
Don’t look at old family albums
Don’t hand color it
Don’t write on it... etc etc blah blah blah

Now, either Traub has done this totally tongue in cheek (which I suspect - in part because he completely contradicts himself more than once) in which case people seem to have been taking him far too seriously - or else he's full of it (entirely possible, being an art professor). Either way, I was seduced by a review a while back and ordered the book. The selection of essays, while they sounded promising, turned out to be rather pedestrian on the whole, and not awfully inspiring (which I assumed was part of the raison d'etre for the book?). Anyway, there are some much better collections of essays and extracts out there - some long out of print but quite cheap - such as
Photography: Essay & Images edited by Beaumont Newhall, or Photographers on Photography edited by Nathan Lyons among others . Hunt them out - they are more rewarding. Or read any one of Robert Adam's short books on photography - especially the conversations in the recent Along Some Rivers

4. This is a twofer - two recent novels about photographers (I'm try to think here - are there any really good novels about photographers/photography? There are a couple of semi-decent ones such as Afterimage, loosely based on Julia Margaret Cameron. The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre was definitely rather odd... as was Consolation by Michael Redhill (the 18th Century part was good, the contemporary part just didn't hold water). But no really good ones I can think of - say something contemporary that would stand up alongside a novel by Banville or Murakami, or McEwan

So, one novel about Edward Curtis and one about Edward Steichen.

The Last Summer of the World by Emily Mitchell is about Steichen in the early 20th Century. However, there are far better novels about the first world war (such as Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy or No Man’s Land by Kevin Major), about romance and about love and loss in the First World War. Or pick up a Steichen bio instead.

The second novel is The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins. Previously she’s actually written a quite good novel about war photography, but this one dragged me down after a couple of chapters or so (although I eventually persisted to the end). It was described as Wiggins taking "a magnificently Sebald-like approach to fictionalizing the life of photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis" which frankly was a load of old codswallop - as well as an insult to Max Sebald.

(Guy Vanderhaeghe does the combining of two stories in two time periods in the West + Hollywood far far better and much more convincingly in The Englishman’s Boy - soon to be a movie/TV movie? with Bob Hoskins)

5. Digital black and white

I'm not talking the analogue/digital debate (although that's also not worth wasting your time on), but rather digital "colour" images converted to black and white. They are so smooth, “perfect” and characterless. They also tend to look like everything has been photographed on Agfa Scala slide film (fine every now and then - but not all the time).

I've been following
Doug Stockdales blog - it's quite fun and interesting, but the digital B&W images are driving me nuts – not their content, but their “look”. But it can also be seen by the bucket-load on Flickr:

One of the wonderful things about black and white photography - even when it's scanned and printed digitally - is the endless permutations of film and developer (and I know you can get Tri-X and HP5 Photoshop filters - still doesn't mean the end result looks like Tr-X or HP5 though - I haven't tested one that really does the job yet... along with the whole bunch of tools in PS CS3... ). Tri-X in Rodinal, Efke in Pyrocat HD, HP5 in DD-X, Tri-X in D23 and on it goes. Each one has it's own distinct character, look and feel. Add in expansion and contraction development (love it or hate it) and you multiply that again. The majority of digital "B&W" that I see just doesn’t come anywhere close to having these characteristics. It's simply homogenized. Which, on the whole, is rather different from most of the colour work - colour digital work can sing (as can analogue/digital hybrid colour).

Though probably the biggest single reason that so many converted colour images look crappy in greyscale is nothing to do with technique, but rather vision - on the whole, good black and white pictures simply aren't colour photographs with the colour removed.

maybe this will all change, but as it stands right now this is Greyscale photography, not black and white.

For Black and White photography, get a real camera and real film (scan it if you don't like darkroom chemicals) - a Leica (
All Praise Ernst Leitz in the current New Yorker), a now cheap used Pentax 67 or similar, or a Linhof or Toyo - or a nice wooden thing from China and a box of Tri-X or HP5.

6. This one's the keeper - The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings - a wonderful little book at a bargain price – but more on it tomorrow....

A few more from Traces

A city's back lanes are a shadowy mirror of the more respectable street grid

A couple or so more new pictures from Traces: alleyways & spandrels

“A city is nothing but streets and edifices teeming with memories, and memories are inextricably tangled up with civic and family and personal memories,” Guy Maddin

Friday, September 21, 2007

"Traditional" Coke toning...

Another useful bit of information from the inimitable Luis

Coke Effect On Photo

Now, I wonder what some of my pigment inkjet prints will look like done this way? Diet or Regular? And maybe Cherry Cola will give me an Atget-ish warm red tinted Printing Out Paper look...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The making of Robert Frank's Storylines

Here's one for Julian that I came across on the MVS blog.

Gerhard Steidl is one of the more interesting (and prolific) publishers and printers of photography books out there today - everyone from Alec Soth to Lewis Baltz to Michael Schmidt to Karl Lagerfeld and beyond.

As well as the usual book catalogue stuff on their website they have all sorts of interesting things tucked away - one of which is a slide-show sequence of the production of Robert Frank's book Storylines

Photographers, it seems, often come and stay at Steidl's atelier in Göttingen while the book is in production - where everything from design to printing is done in the one location - residing at what has become know as the Halftone Hotel (Alec Soth just wrote from there where he was overseeing the production of Dog Days Bogota and rooming next door to Jock Sturges...).

Anyway, it's a fascinating little look at the making of a photo book:

"I always dreamt of having a small book factory. At the top, you throw in an idea and after a few days a finished book tumbles out below"