23 December 2010

Get 'Em Here, While They Last!

One of my first book essays, published in 1999 in a collection of works by select members of Moorhead State University's (aka MSU Moorhead) documentary photography class under the guidance of the estimable Wayne Gudmundson. Thanks to the Becker County Historical Society, To the Lakes is available for a sweet and low price ($10, including shipping). Act now! (Link here.) Who knows how many copies they have on hand?

(Obsessive collectors, take note: If memory serves, the renowned Mickey Smith was one of the photographers in that collection, in her earlier incarnation as a "straight" photographer.)

09 December 2010

An Immodest Blog-folio Overview

I was just deriving a certain pleasure from skimming my reviews on photo-eye's blog. I was pleased to see that I'm one of their blog's most productive contributors; I post more stuff there than I do here on my own space (hmmm). Why not, then, give a link? If my entries on the PRC blog can carry re:photographica tags (which they do, see here), why not at photo-eye too? See here.

03 November 2010

Old friends: Chris Faust

Chris has been an inspiration and a friend since I moved back to the Twin Cities from New York. He's one of the hardest-working and most self-effacing people I know; this article in Mpls St. Paul magazine reflects the spirit I've come to appreciate in him over the years. Please take a moment to acquaint yourself with this special artist, who was one of the founders of pARTs Photographic Arts, the organization that evolved into MCP.

Thanks to Martin Berg for forwarding the link to the article. Martin is one of many people who would say they learned a lot from Chris.

I know there are people in Boston who admire and respect Chris, too; he served as a juror for a show about night photography. (See his beautiful book, Nocturnes--signed copies available from photo-eye!)

Lynne Cohen revisited

Great to read this comment by Lynne on one of her craziest photographs (published on guardian.co.uk in mid-August). I'm intrigued by what she sees, and by what she notices in her own work. She makes me wonder what surprises come her way through the image, and how much she's able to "previsualize" as she works with the 8x10.

I also get inordinate pleasure out of knowing that there's a Slade art school in London. Makes me feel like I have a special place for me over there.

07 October 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: PRC to give three Lifetime Achievement Awards in Celebration of 35th Anniversary

Photographic Resource Center
at Boston University

832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

October 7,  2010

Contact: Glenn Ruga, 617-975-0600, gruga@prcboston.org

Photographic Resource Center Celebrates 35 Years with Gala Celebration November 9

Lifetime Achievement Awards to be given to Carl Chiarenza, Chris Enos, and Barbara Hitchcock. Acclaimed photography writer and critic Vicki Goldberg to be keynote speaker.

BOSTON – Thirty-five years ago an idea was afloat in Boston that there needed to be an organization committed to supporting and promoting photography, which at the time was just beginning to gain recognition as a fine art on the level of painting, drawing, printing making, and sculpture.

In 1975, A. D. Coleman, Jeff Weiss, and Chris Enos, with help from the photography community in Boston, got together to create the Photographic Resource Center, with Enos was appointed founding Executive Director in 1976. On the first board of directors were Donald Perrin, Carl Chiarenza, Jerome Liebling, Elaine Mayes, Davis Pratt, and others. The PRC gained official existence in October 1976 as a non-profit organization. The exhibition program began in 1985.

Since the PRC’s founding, photography luminaries from the world over have lectured, exhibited, and given workshops at the PRC. This list includes Lisette Model, Gordon Parks, Robert Mapplethorpe, Arnold Newman, Ed Ruscha, John Szarkowski, Aaron Siskind, Joel Meyerowitz, Eliot Porter, Cornell Capa, Emmet Gowin, Jerome Liebling, Lee Friedlander, Wendy Ewald, Barbara Norfleet, Vicki Goldberg, Ansel Adams, Marilyn Bridges, William Wegman, Bruce Davidson, Susan Meiselas, and Mary Ellen Mark.

In celebration of this storied history, the PRC will host a gala celebration on November 9 at the Photonics Center at Boston University, Colloquium Room, 9th Floor, 8 Saint Mary’s Street, from 6–10 pm.

Lifetime Achievement Awards will be presented to
Chris Enos and Carl Chiarenza, PRC founders, and to Barbara Hitchcock, former Curator of the Polaroid Collections, for her outstanding service to the photography community. Acclaimed photography critic and author Vicki Goldberg will give the keynote address. Andrea Shea, Arts Reporter for WBUR Morning Edition, will be the emcee for the evening.

This event will include a gallery displaying prints from the PRC Portfolio. The PRC is providing a rare opportunity to purchase these masterful photographs individually. We will also be exhibiting the PRC 35th Anniversary Portfolios, created especially for this occasion.

The PRC will feature an exhibition of recent work by Chris Enos and Carl Chiarenza in its gallery, 832 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston from November 10, 2010 through January 9, 2011.

Tickets for the Gala are $200 and can be purchased online at www.prcboston.org/gala.htm

Biographies of Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients and Keynote Speaker:

Honoree Carl Chiarenza, (b. 1935) a native and current resident of Rochester, New York, is Artist-in-Residence and Fanny Knapp Allen Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Rochester. He has a long history with Boston and Boston University; between 1963 and 1986 he was Chairman, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of Art History at BU. He also received two graduate degrees from BU, followed by a PhD from Harvard in 1973. Chiarenza has lectured and taught at institutions across the United States; his photographic work has been seen in more than eighty solo exhibitions and more than 250 group exhibitions since the late 1950s. His critical biography Aaron Siskind: Pleasures and Terrors (published 1982) received a 1983 Merit Award from the Photographic Historical Society. He was one of the earliest members of the Society for Photographic Education, and has developed and guided numerous organizations (including the PRC) devoted to photographic arts. Chiarenza was a founding Board member of the PRC.

Honoree Chris Enos received her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1970. The idea for the PRC first lodged in her imagination in 1975; she enlisted the help of others to push the discussion forward through its official birth in 1976, and served as the fledgling organization’s executive director until 1980, when she turned the reins over to Stan Trecker. Enos is an experienced teacher, and from 1986 to 2004 she was a professor at the University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH). Her photographs and multi-media artworks are in the collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art (Andover, MA), the Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, AZ), and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Since retiring from teaching in 2004 she now works and lives in Santa Fe (NM).

Featured speaker Vicki Goldberg is a photography critic and author based in New York City. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri and earned an MFA from New York University. Goldberg has authored several books and articles on the subjects of photography and art history. Over the course of her career, Goldberg has written for countless publications, including Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, American Photo, Aperture, Art in America, and ArtNews; she has written regular articles on photography for The New York Times for over 14 years. Goldberg’s books include two award-winners, her 1986 biography of Margaret Bourke-White and The Power Of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives, published 1991. Aperture published Light Matters, a selection of her essays, in 2005. Goldberg has also co-written several books with other authors such as A Nation of Strangers: Essays written with Arthur Ollman and American Photography: A Century of Images written with art historian Robert Silberman. She has taught and lectured worldwide, including six years at Rhode Island School of Design, 2002 – 2008.

Honoree Barbara Hitchcock was employed by the Polaroid Corporation for nearly 40 years, the last 19, from 1990 to 2009 as their director of cultural affairs. While working for Polaroid she managed and directed strategic marketing communications and program planning, development, and execution. Among her areas of influence were the Polaroid fine art collections and the 20x24 Studio. Earlier at Polaroid she served as Group Manager, Press and Publicity Worldwide, as Manager of Worldwide Creative Programs, and as Photographic Services Coordinator. Hitchcock has a BA in English from Skidmore College, and additional degrees, certificates, and special recognition from: Simmons College Graduate School of Management; Center for Creative Leadership; and the Center for Corporate Community Relations at Boston College. Hitchcock has also edited and produced books and exhibition catalogues, among them Sanctuary: Anna Tomczak Photography (Fresco Fine Art Publications, 2007), Emerging Bodies: Nudes from the Polaroid Collections (Edition Stemmle, 2000), the Selections From the Polaroid Collection series (Verlag Photographie), Lucas Samaras: Polaroid Photographs, 1969-1983 and Sightseeing: A Space Panorama (Knopf). She has authored essays for a number of publications, most recently Private Views: Barbara Crane (Aperture, 2009), The Polaroid Book (Taschen, 2005), American Perspectives: Photographs from the Polaroid Collection (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, 2000), Victor Raphael: space fields (William D. Cannon Art Gallery, 2004), Counterclockwise (Galleri Image, 2002), and Innovation/Imagination: 50 Years of Polaroid Photography (Abrams/Friends of Photography, 1999). Hitchcock formerly worked with large format cameras creating photographs that have been exhibited and published worldwide. Hitchcock was president of the PRC Board of Directors 1995 –1998.

02 October 2010

On John Mann's Mappings

I contributed this piece to the tenth issue of Twin Cities-based Quodlibetica. They mentioned an interest in maps, I thought of John Mann. I think the combination turned out well. I hope you agree.

29 August 2010

fictographica006: Ophelia, Storyville Diary

Bellocq - April 1911

There comes a quiet man now to my room--
Papa Bellocq, his camera on his back.
He wants nothing, he says, but to take me
as I would arrange myself, fully clothed--
a brooch at my throat, my white hat angled
just so--or not, the smooth map of my flesh
awash in afternoon light. In my room
everything's a prop for his composition--
brass spittoon in the corner, the silver
mirror, brush and comb of my toilette.
I try to pose as I think he would like--shy
at first, then bolder. I'm not so foolish
that I don't know this photograph we make
will bear the stamp of his name, not mine.

--Natasha Trethewey, Bellocq's Ophelia (2002)

Michal Chelbin: Strangely Familiar starts September 7 at PRC

Portraits of performers and athletes in Russia, Ukraine, and England.

Exhibition runs September 7–October 31, 2010
Photographic Resource Center
832 Commonwealth Ave., Boston

Reception: Thursday, September 16, 6:30–8 p.m.
Artist lecture & book signing: Tues., Oct. 19, 7 p.m., BU Photonics Building rm. 206, 8 St. Mary's St. Boston

"Because I shoot portraits I can say that people are my first inspiration. They are intriguing, mysterious, and unsolved."  —Michal Chelbin (from 9/4/2008 interview on Nymphoto)

Michal Chelbin (born 1974, Haifa, Israel) started making pictures when she was 15, and honed her skills as a photographer during her compulsory service in the Israeli military. Following four years of study in Haifa, Chelbin began pursuing personal photographic projects and traveled in Russia, Ukraine, England, and Israel making the portraits that appear in Strangely Familiar (also the title of her 2008 Aperture monograph; The Black Eye, her new book, is forthcoming from Twin Palms). The body of work on display at the PRC this fall demonstrates Chelbin's search for those displaying a "legendary" quality, which she describes as "a mix between odd and ordinary."

Her photographs depict mostly young people who carry their livelihoods with them, often in the very form or function of their bodies. Her subjects are members of itinerant companies—dancers, acrobats, and carnival attractions—and athletes. Chelbin's work, typically made of individuals in off-stage repose, reflects both the intensity of their pursuits and the fatigue engendered by being constantly on the road and almost always on display. Her photographs are staged, in the sense of being made by arrangement between artists and subject, but not manipulated or otherwise altered post-exposure.

The artist, who again lives in Israel after several years in the United States, will be present for a talk and book signing on October 19 at 7 p.m.

Exhibition organized in collaboration with Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York City.

To read more, please visit www.prcboston.org.

17 August 2010

B+W @ Mpls Photo Center

Clicking on the link above (or here) should get you to a nice little Quicktime slideshow on MPC's site, showing the works I selected* for the Black and White juried exhibition that opens September 10 at Mpls Photo Center. If you're in Minnesota between 9/10 and 10/25, do try and find your way to MPC to see the show. From what I could tell, working with jpg files, it should be good.

They're also publishing a catalogue, with an essay I wrote about the selections. You'll find an order form for it down that page a little. Thanks to MPC for publishing this record of the show.

* Selected from 1,961 entries, a good warm-up for Critical Mass pre-screening, which I just completed this morning. That had over 5,000 photos. Talk about retinal exhaustion...

14 August 2010

Pieter Hugo Redeemed

I was distrustful of his over-close, highly detailed records of light-skinned, Albino African faces that featured in his catalogue of facial portraits from 2005 and 2006. I liked his 2007 book, The Hyena and Other Men, quite a bit. I was put off by Nollywood, as I intimated in my review for photo-eye.

But this portfolio, "A Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana," on the New York Times web site brings me back into the Pieter Hugo fold. He's tied people to the post-industrial myth once again, but unlike the "dream machine" and its exemplary spear carriers that I cited in my Nollywood review, the situation in the Agbogbloshie dump in Accra, Ghana, is a waking nightmare, far more insidious and toxic. His photographs in this portfolio address both cause and complication, and veer just far enough from the people to address the dangers--burning computers, keyboards leaching metals into the ground, child laborers supporting distant families at sub-subsistence, scavenger pay.

Bravo, Pieter, and thanks.

Special thanks to Lori Waselchuk for circulating the link.

04 August 2010

The Pencil of Nature at the University of Minnesota

Peter Martin with W. H. F. Talbot's Pencil of Nature in the Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Minnesota's Andersen Library on the West Bank

My St. Paul friend Peter Martin, above, knew there was a copy. I had seen a copy, too, in a display case in the early 1990s that highlighted the very specialized Mertle Collection on the History of Photomechanics; Pencil, of course, was the first book illustrated with photographs, hence its inclusion in Mertle's unique assemblage. The library's special collections had experience a massive relocation into the caves, the carved-out storage area below Andersen Library, during the late 1990s. Peter wanted to show it to a class he was teaching in the early 2000s, but it was not to be found. AWOL, within the walls or outside, no one quite knew. But Peter kept pushing, kept requesting, kept nudging me and a couple of other photo folk to help pressure the U to locate and serve up this rare volume.

And it finally surfaced; not a complete copy, and in somewhat rough shape. But it included Talbot's well-known images and captions, and a surprise in the form of a paper negative. Peter printed the negative, and I may be able to persuade him to let me show it here. Can you imagine, though, having the chance to handle this masterpiece, this landmark of photographic history, in our hometown library, no less? It was a thrill to see it again, up close and in person, to hear how curator Tim Johnson found it tucked behind other material, and a credit to Peter's persistence that it reappeared.

William Wylie, Route 36

Bill called me when he was in Minneapolis in the late winter, during the waning weeks of a winter that didn't have much to say for itself in terms of notable Minnesota winters. The upside of global warming is the endurable, even boring, version of the winter season that's been the case the last several years.

Anyway, Bill was in town having a new book project printed by Shapco Printing. I offered to pick him up from the printer and take him to his hotel. I'd hoped to have had time to hang out over beers and a meal, but as it tends to do, time shrank to the point where all I could do is chauffeur him from one spot to another, and pause briefly in the hotel driveway to look at sheets hot off the Shapco presses.

I'd been eager to see Shapco's shop, as I'd been acquainted with their work over some time; my long-time designer for McKnight materials, Mike Lizama, used to do most of our printing there. Shapco is located in the shadow of the new Target Field in downtown Minneapolis; the stands loomed over my car as Bill sat in the front seat. I didn't get time to see inside. But Bill was extremely excited about the production, and mildly surprised to find such excellence in Minnesota. (I had to remind him about Litho Specialties.)

The book, Route 36, came out in June. Published by Flood Editions, a small (about a half-dozen titles per year) non-profit publisher in Chicago, it's a modestly-scaled but beautifully produced volume of photographs resulting from several road trips across Kansas. The light is summer, and fall, mostly light that you can feel, light that bears upon you as an almost physical force in these photographs and in the prairie and town spaces Wylie has captured. Elegant spaces, quiet and calm. Spectacularly unspectacular.

It is good to see such quality in an affordable, and affordably made, volume; accessibility is part of Flood's mission, and while they are publishing photography along with other types of books, they have affirmed, in Wiley's Route 36, a clear commitment to photography engaged in a dialogue about representing place. The promise evinced in the early sheets came through in the final book; thanks again, Bill, for calling.

01 August 2010

A friend's gallery goes to the dogs

Panopticon Gallery: Wegman reception | A smashing success!:

My almost-colleague at the PRC, Jason Landry (he was the program manager just before I arrived to assume the curator role), has assembled a tremendous collection of William Wegman prints for a show in his space, Panopticon Gallery in the Commonwealth Hotel, just a few blocks from the PRC. Really, it's more of Man Ray and Fay Wray's descendants (biological and thematic) than I've seen all together, and it's a tribute to Jason's dedication to photographers and the medium.

Interesting historical background note about Jason and Panopticon. Jason took over the gallery from Tony Decaneas this spring; he left the post at the PRC in order to do this. Tony had run the gallery for years and years. One of the artists he represented at the gallery (and still supervises the estate of) is Ernest Withers. When I became the artistic director of MCP in 2003, the show that was up at the time was of work by Withers, borrowed from Panopticon. The wheel keeps turning...

p.s. There's a snap of me (by PRC intern YoonJoo Kim) and Jason at the last PRC opening on Flickr.

24 July 2010

"Forester's Child, 1931" by August Sander, in "Children of Summer," at Bell

On page 14 in the July 26 issue, The New Yorker runs a darker, browner version of this photograph by August Sander. I'd never seen it before. I find it enchanting, magical even. It points at something I've been mulling about recently--what, truly, are the most compelling photographs about?

This one is, at first level, about the child, the bike, the dog, the hut, and the empty fields and treeline in the background. It's also about Sander, and his typological project; we imagine his checklist of German faces getting one item shorter as we read the caption.

But when I see this photograph, this ink image on paper and its digital corollary on screen, what occurs to me is that it is about balance. It's about the effort to get this child fixed on the crossbar, holding on to the handlebars just so, about placing the dog to obscure a kickstand or other device holding this bicycle upright. Maybe the dog is the device.

Regardless, what I see in this picture, made the year my father was born, is composition, the net effect of all the factors that contribute to its presence. The child's face is dead center in the frame, while the father's occupation, the forest, looms in the background while his best friend's two front paws hold it all erect. Sunlight and relatively shallow depth of field kept the exposure mercifully short; could child, dog, and bicycle have remained still much longer?

Hence, balance is what I see here. Balance, composition, composure, exposure. And a miracle of light that brings the child to us, fresh and amazing.

The group exhibition at Deborah Bell Photographs, on West 25th in Chelsea, runs into August. Link for more info.

06 June 2010

fictographica005: Wilfred Eng

For much of his life he had operated a commercial portrait studio on Grant Street in San Francisco, which he occasionally closed to indulge his famous wanderlust. Among the Aperture images reprinted from the 1870s was a picture made in that studio of a Chinese woman and her son seated on the same divan as the one in the self-portraits. The pattern of the fabric matched. A small tear appeared in one corner. When I bent over the broken plate with a loupe, I saw the same tear and said, "Holy shit," out loud. The five self-portraits had been made in San Francisco  and must have been brought here some time later. Eng must have brought them himself. Given that they were cumbersome and easily broken, I wondered why he'd bothered. Vanity, maybe. "This man loves his mirrors," Alfred Stieglitz had observed when the two first met. In 1912 he had invited Eng to show at his 291 Gallery, which had marked the beginning of their prickly friendship. "Wherever we walked, even along busy streets," Stieglitz wrote, "he was forever giving bird-like twitches of his head in order to catch glimpses of himself in shop windows."
--The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng

PRC hires George Slade as new Program Manager/Curator

PRC Logo
May 5, 2010

George Slade Hired as New PRC Program Manager/Curator

The Photographic Resource Center is proud to announce that George Slade will join the PRC on May 17 as the new Program Manager/Curator. He will be replacing Jason Landry, who is leaving the PRC to take ownership of the Panopticon Gallery in Boston.

Slade is a Minnesota native and long-time resident. He has curated and juried exhibitions there for over fifteen years, first as an independent curator and consultant, then as the Artistic Director of the Minnesota Center for Photography in Minneapolis from 2003 to 2008. Among his curatorial projects at MCP were "Three Gorges," surveying work by 22 Chinese, European, and North American photographers recording change along China's Yangtze River caused by the Three Gorges Dam Project, and a retrospective of esteemed Amherst-resident photographer Jerome Liebling.

In 2008, as the Adjunct Assistant Curator of Photographs at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, he coordinated the MIA presentation of "Friedlander," the traveling retrospective of Lee Friedlander's photography originally curated by Peter Galassi for its 2005 appearance at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC).

From 1998 to 2008, Slade was the Director for the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Photographers Program which makes four $25,000 awards to Minnesota-resident photographers each year

Slade received his B.A from Yale in American Studies. His thesis was on 1960s American photography advised by Alan Trachtenberg, and he studied photographic practice while at Yale with Todd Papageorge.

"The PRC is looking forward to working on our programming and exhibitions with such a knowledgeable and accomplished curator, scholar, and writer," said Glenn Ruga, PRC Executive Director. "His wealth of experience and insights in contemporary photography will be a tremendous asset to the organization."

For more information, contact:
Glenn Ruga
Executive Director
617-975-0600 (w)
617-417-5981 (c)

The Photographic Resource Center (PRC) at Boston University is an independent non-profit organization that serves as a vital forum for the exploration and interpretation of new work, ideas, and methods in photography and related media.
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Photographic Resource Center | 832 Commonwealth Avenue | Boston | MA | 02215

03 June 2010


I'm expanding my base of operations from Minnesota to Massachusetts. Not that it matters much in the virtual world of blogs, but it's of interest that I'm physically spending quite a bit of time in the East these days. In May I started a new job, as the program manager and curator of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University (PRC), a 35-year-old organization started by Chris Enos, Carl Chiarenza, A. D. Coleman, and others to serve the burgeoning photography community of Boston and the New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut for those of you whose geography has gotten a bit weak).

It's great that I'm in the midst of dozens, if not scores or hundreds, of venues interested in photography; it's almost overwhelming to consider how many photographic artists of note are close at hand. I used to measure the neighborhood of MCP with a 525-mile radius circle around Northeast Minneapolis. That measured how far I'd driven in a day. Here, a same-sized circle extends downshore past Nag's Head into North Carolina, upcoast past Maine and New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, and inland to Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and London (Ontario). Not quite to Indianapolis, where my Minnesota-centric circle reached; the two circles don't quite touch.

Since that circle encompasses New York City (among other places), I've got to recalibrate and downsize my appetite and my scope. One thing I'm taking care of, and hoping to invigorate as a space for dialogue and commentary, is the PRC's blog. Check it out via the link below.

Boston Photography Focus (PRC blog)

I look forward to getting oriented in the new space.

01 April 2010

Pause, To Begin

I was pleased to write a review of this remarkable book, and wish I could have done more to describe my wonder about the whole project. Its founders, David Wright and Ethan Jones, carried out a 10,000 mile journey to interview 15 emerging photographers and publish the results in e-reports during the process and in this compact, lovely volume.

The project's web site.

31 March 2010

News about "new" Amy Eckert

Karen Irvine, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago, has singled out Amy Eckert from the applicants for the just-juried Animalia competition at The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. Way to go, Amy!

See my earlier post on Amy here.

20 March 2010

fictographica004: Carter Cox

Hearing the Borkhardt Group's account director clear her throat for the third time, you sigh and select a ring-flash to gently flood the girl's upturned face with what you consider to be a softer, more glamorous light. You recall from almost three decades ago your mother's sage advice: "If you pictures aren't interesting enough, honey, then chances are you're not close enough." You raise high the ring-flash and lean forward. But your move leads to louder throat-clearing. You lower the Hasselblad, pinch your nose, and for several seconds pretend to examine the dead grass. The skin of your cheekbones tightens as you feel yourself teeter between embarrassment and anger. Still kneeling, your hooded sweater damp with sweat, you swivel your head and lock eyes with the Borkhardt woman, who stares back at you with a mirthless smile, unblinking, her hands clasped just below her vested bosom, as if entranced by your ineptitude. "More sheen," she commands, albeit quietly, in a raspy voice, directing your yawning assistant to spritz the model's face and shoulders with a plastic water-bottle that appears out of nowhere. "More sheen, less sweetness. This isn't a portrait--it's an attitude. And do you mind if we kill the Caruso?"
--Hungry Ghost

16 March 2010

Pieter Hugo, Nollywood

Click above to read my review in photo-eye's online magazine.

13 March 2010

fictographica003: Wilfred Eng

A certain parity was at work in the world. Disappointment, disguised by years of routine humility, was bound to yield singular, penetrating fantasies: the iris dilated, the raw world flooded back in. For just a moment these were not portraits but self-portraits, and a palpitating certainty would not breathe denial or allow that they had been made by anyone by Wilfred Eng.

Eng, the great landscape photographer.

Then, the moment passed. I let out a breath and thought, No way. Fantasies turned into torture if we took them too seriously. I'd seen later portraits of Eng, and the likeness to the face in this close-up was striking. But the idea was ludicrous. It was true that Eng had lived in Seattle for brief periods, but he hadn't made his first trip here until 1881. By then he was using smaller, 3x5 plates. Most of his larger, older negatives had been destroyed in the 1906 quake and fire in San Francisco, Eng's nominal home. San Francisco was my hometown as well. There, and throughout the world, Eng was revered as one of the the fathers of American photography. Biographies had probed his towering dichotomies. No less a figure than Alfred Stieglitz had called him a genius. Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro--the list of his artistic heirs was endless. Even painters such as Thomas Hart Benton acknowledged a debt to Eng. It was crazy to think that the work of this giant might end up where I could find it.
--Thomas Orton, The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng (1999)

06 March 2010

New: Amy Eckert

Amy Eckert moved to Minneapolis about eight months ago. Amy had several loyal clients for her freelance work and a teaching gig at the School of Visual Arts, plus family ties and a strong sense of belonging in New York. But her husband got a job here, and they shared a sense of doing something adventurous by relocating. Freelancers don't necessarily have to abandon clients, as long as there are airplanes and other modern devices to remain connected. Nonetheless, she was happy to find, through a contact, an assignment before they'd even opened the moving boxes in their apartment. That first assignment was shooting a calendar for "Minnesota Cooks," a project for the Minnesota Farmers Union and Food Alliance Midwest; the agencies liked her work so much they hired her again for next year's calendar.

Thus, she found herself auspiciously situated within the locavorian heart of Minnesota--no doubt many of us would like to be assisting her on these jobs--and she's off and running. Ask her for dining recommendations. And check out her (soon to be updated) web site. She's done some fine commercial work, and is what I'd call solidly early-mid-career as a photographic artist.

But I realized that the work she showed me during our conversation had a lot to do with domesticity, with having your feet on the ground in the place you've chosen. And, with the problems and issues connected to those choices. Relocating from New York to Minnesota is one type of choice, full of issues, that Amy is in the midst of exploring.

One residence-related project, called Manufacturing Home, is ready for publication. Amy's going to FotoFest this month, and she asked me to give her some advice about bringing portfolios there. Is one better, or two? Or more? Old work, or new? She'd taken the book project to the Meeting Place before, and gotten some interest in the early iteration of the sequence. Now, it's much more advanced, and Amy wants to get it situated and show her newer work, entitled Follies

I'm showing examples of Follies here, because I was greatly intrigued by them. They're wry, smart, and very hand-made. They play with scale and detail. They add humor and texture to some of the very austere, Germanic interiors that have flowed across the screens of late. 

They reference works seen before (by Wendel A. White, who I wrote about earlier on this blog, for one; Beate Gutschow, John Baldessari, and Jayna Conkey are others) but strike out in their own direction as statements about figure and ground, landscape, symbolic notions of home as castle, and home as personal space. Click on these reproductions to get them as large as possible; look at the seams, which are actual cuts creating windows or layers in collages that aren't much larger (or smaller, depending) than the screen you're viewing them on.

Here's Amy's statement about the new work:
If houses can be said to have personalities, who’s to say they don’t have longings, imaginations, inner lives? In architecture, a folly is an extravagant, useless, or fanciful building, or one that appears to be something other than what it is. In their book Follies, Grottoes & Garden Buildings, Headley & Meulenkamp define a folly as a “misunderstood building."

In this collage series I combine my own images with pictures from architecture books and manufacturers' catalogues. By removing the house from a picture, I get  to fill up that void with my own extravagant, useless, or fanciful ideas. I like to play around with the reliable stability of architectural space and confuse inside with outside, shelter with storm.
Having just written about Jenny Jenkins, an old acquaintance, I thought it'd be good to write about a new one. Welcome to Minnesota, Amy. I hope the midwestern adventure is rewarding.

04 March 2010

fictographica002: Maude Coffin Pratt

The trouble with cameras is that people see them a mile away and they get self-conscious and sneeze out their souls and put on that numbed guilty expression and act as if you are going to shoot them dead. Or worse, they pose like dummies and show their teeth: even your bare-assed savage knows how to say cheese. As a photographer I was embarrassed to be caught with that contraption in my mitts, like an elderly pervert, a distinguished old lady with my skirt around my neck frightening children at play. Later, I was proud of the way I could conceal my intention and, long before the Japanese produced their tiny instruments, I could disguise my camera--as a shoe box or a handbag or as a ridiculous hat that people gaped at, not knowing that I was recording their curious squints. Orthodox Jewish Boys, a small group of dark-eyed youngsters with beanies and sidecurls--some critics found them a bizarre evocation of alienated Americans ignoring the squalor of downtown Brooklyn and looking skyward toward Jehovah--are just some curious kids looking at my hat.
--Paul Theroux, Picture Palace (1978)

03 March 2010

An old friend's work on display

I happened to drive by the Shoebox Gallery Tuesday morning, and in passing my eye landed on the window-filling installation there of Jenny Jenkins' typology of announcement signs lacking announcements. I knew, from Jenny's emails, that the show was being dismantled soon, and I hadn't taken the time to look at it.

The venue is unusual; two adjoining display windows on the corner of Lake and Chicago in Minneapolis. Local impresario and visual artist Sean Smuda curates the space on what must only be described as a shoestring budget (my kids are groaning now). Sean lives upstairs from Robert's Shoes ("Not a foot we can't fit"), the gallery's host. The late winter snowbanks (more concentrated dirt and gritty ice crystals now than snow) along the curb were coughing up all manner of detritus, including scores of little plastic booze bottles and hundreds of cryogenically-preserved cigarette butts. I was the only person there, at roughly nine a.m., and I was nervous enough to consider leaving my engine running while I got out to look at and document the public display. (I really don't live in NYC any more.)

Jenny showed up, and was as startled to imagine some stranger taking a liking to her installed picture scroll-grids as I was to be accosted standing there snapping phone pics. She was there to make her own documentation of the very fine installation. I've known Jenny for over fifteen years; she was one of the small group of people who worked with me on the pARTs Journal, published in four volumes from 1995 to 1998, with a final issue trailing in 1999 or 2000, by pARTs Photographic Arts (the precursor to Minnesota Center for Photography).

I've always enjoyed Jenny's spirited approach to life, and she's always had a fondness for celebrating and photographing New Orleans, which endears her to me and which prompted me to include her in a 2007 show, Downriver, at MCP, with Dan Beers, Xavier Tavera, Stuart Klipper, and Alec Soth, four other Minnesotans who had captured NOLA's unique blend of civilization, creativity, culture, and chaos in the time prior to Katrina's waves.

Though Jenny may never become an international sensation, she's an example of a working artist who is diligent, resourceful, good-humored, and pragmatic. Communities populated with good souls like Jenny and Sean are well-equipped to thrive. It was my good fortune to coincide with her that morning. And, looking at Shoebox's calendar, I note that the next exhibitor is Vance Gellert, Jenny's and my former colleague at pARTs/MCP. The wheel just keeps turning 'round.

01 March 2010

fictographica001: Carter Cox

You glance across the den at the twin-lens Rolleiflex, your very first camera, given to you as a birthday present by your mother twenty-seven years ago today, collecting dust on the bookshelf next to the unopened UPS package containing an unneeded CD-ROM drive for your new laptop computer. "Don't just capture the thing itself," your mother--an ambitious amateur photographer--had said in a calm, soothing voice, when you showed her your earliest efforts. "Look and find the thing's sum and substance. And be more gentle with natural light," she would encourage, "but more ruthless with your framing. Make art, Carter. You have it in you."

As a young man you aspired to do that--to capture a subject's spirit, its very essence, with the in-breath of a shutter: to wield your camera like a magician's wand. Poof! Another ghost would mysteriously appear in the developer. How marvelous the process seemed to you! You felt like a sorcerer. Your favorite place in the world was in the red-lit stuffiness of a darkroom, with the delicious stink of all those exotic chemicals and the sight of your wet 5" x 7" prints dripping from wooden clothespins above the sink. At first you did portraits, and your best pictures captured, as if with divine help, the pure joy animating your three sisters as they glanced up, giggling, one ofter the other, from their row of coloring books. These early images could hint at the sad narrative of a widower neighbor's alcoholic stare. They gave life to the complicated history behind your father's forlorn smile as he watched, barefoot and alone, those beautiful California sunsets every evening on the back porch. The opening-night reception for your debut show at UCLA--an undergraduate group exhibit in the Union Cafe, earnestly titled "Visions of Time"--is to date perhaps the most glorious three hours of your life. Initially you did make art, you tell yourself. You truly did. And even after your move to New York, your best commercial work (at least in the beginning, you'd like to think), still had some spirit. But $1,800-a-month rent and print-lab fees and health insurance and the computer upgrades and the twice-weekly dinner dates soon transformed your magic wand, by financial necessity, into a cold, gray gun for hire.
--Keith Kachtick, Hungry Ghost (2003)

25 February 2010

Monica Haller: Why is this not a book?

I'm starting up a discussion board about Monica Haller's project Riley and His Story (despite it's highlighted first-sentence disclaimer, it made my photo-eye faves from 2009 list) on the Minnesota Museum of American Art's Facebook page. There are a slew of links there that tie to information about Monica and the project. I encourage you to spend time with this project; it's simultaneously subtle and audacious, and it depends on interaction, the reactions, emotions, and thoughts of its audience, to activate it fully.

In other words, give and take, take and give.

Link here for the discussion (titled "Monica and Riley (and George (and you))" on MMAA's Facebook Pages site.
Link here for Monica's Riley site.

FULL DISCLOSURE FINE PRINT: I'm a board member of MMAA, so I do have a vested interest in promoting its activities. However, it is currently a museum without walls, exploring the virtues of the virtual, and I thought this exchange with Minnesota-based Monica Haller merits placement (and promotion) there as a programmatic entity in the museum's portfolio. Feel free to disagree.

03 February 2010

All here now

I realized that having three different blogs wasn't doing me, or the artists I was writing about, much good. Not that anyone is hanging on my every word, but I also realized that I was betraying my own desire to have "re:photographica" serve as the banner under which I do my work.

Hence, I've imported all of the blog entries from "Curator's Notebook" and "Exile" into this space. I will eventually reconstruct the links that went out from them, too.

If you knew about those two cleverly constructed, intricately designed, seldom-contributed-to blogs, congratulations and thanks for your close attention. I hope you aren't disappointed to learn that they're all here now under one big, easily searchable umbrella.

28 January 2010

CURATOR t-shirt (size Large)

From the Wolfsonian, the self-appointed "museum of Thinkism." Not sure when they created this shirt, sold at their Miami Beach museum, but at least a couple of years ago.

There's text where the garment tag would normally be. Here's the detail:

Thinkism [n.] A cultural and intellectual movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, characterized by the belief that the value of an object considers the social, political and historical context in which the object is created. Start with this object, and be the curator of your own private T-Shirtsonian.

The museum produces an arcanely fascinating annual publication called The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts. The Thinkist curator can find value in almost any cultural artifact. Well, I suppose I should be grateful that they are object-based.

21 January 2010

The Seductions of Linoleum: A Dialogue with Lynne Cohen

When Andy Adams told me that Flak Photo was running a WEEKEND series in January concentrating on Lynne Cohen's work from her new book Cover, and asked if I'd be willing to “interview” her asynchronously through the web, I leaped at the chance to connect with an artist I've admired from a distance since the 1980s. She was gracious to accommodate my questions while suffering the inconvenience of a bruised or broken rib, which kept her from laughing too much. As I realized, the more I looked at her work and after I had a chance to speak with Lynne and hear a recording of her lecturing, not laughing is a significant encumbrance for her. Her work is profoundly, disturbingly funny. David Byrne wrote an essay for her first book, which tells you something about the role of absurdity and surrealism in her creative mission.

Please link here (or in this post's title) to find our electronic exchanges.

08 January 2010

Link to Todd Deutsch's Gamers book

वही इस माय ब्लॉग फोर्सिंग में तो टाइप इन हिंदी? Because somehow I turned on that function.

Anyway, I was Goog-alerted to a site published by Domenico Quaranta about books in the cyber-gaming realm that he's written for and published. Todd asked me to write for this book, and I'm glad to see it advertised and offered for sale, as I'm not sure it's gotten very wide distribution.