Monday, October 29, 2007
"Artist & installation, Park Slope, Brooklyn," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
This man was hanging an installation of his photographs on the east side of 7th Avenue, just before it reaches Flatbush in Park Slope. The photos were all taken on this same corner over the course of one year, 1999-2000. They were originally installed on this wall in the summer of 2000, but the exhibit was torn down. After 7 years gathering dust in a closet, they are going up again.
Friday, October 26, 2007
"Spidersharks," Karen Glaser, All rights reserved
I thought of a story I once heard about Arthur C. Clarke, the great science-fiction writer, who had dreamed from boyhood of traveling into space. As Clarke got older, he realized he would never fulfill his lifelong dream, so he did the next best thing. He moved to Sri Lanka so he could scuba dive full time.
"Maxim Kovalov, Cossack soldier, Rostov-on-DonNorthern Caucasus, March 2005," Simon Roberts, All rights reserved
Who knew that a Cossack horseman right out of legend would have teenage acne? I discovered this at another just-opened, brilliant show, "Motherland," by photographer Simon Roberts , serendipitously encountered as I left Nelson's (in fact, next door at the Klompching Gallery).
"Identical twins, Elena and Vera Karnova, Magadan.Far East Russia, August 2004," Simon Roberts, All rights reserved
Roberts made the pictures while traveling east to west for a year across post-Soviet Russia. They are firmly in the documentary tradition but feel personal in a very modern way. The Cossack acne mentioned above, for example, is the sort of unforced detail that fills the images with life. Using a large-format camera & color film, Roberts records Russian everyday scenes & people with great skill & wit -- but no editorializing. His pictures feel thoroughly relaxed & connected to their subjects. But they also brim with an awareness of just how odd images can look outside the context of their own culture.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
"Lake Mead," Simon Norfolk, All rights reserved
Simon Norfolk's cover & spread of photos in Sunday's NY Times' Magazine lead story, "Perfect Drought: The Future is Drying Up," masterfully illustrate an important story about dwindling water supplies vs. burgeoning population growth in the American West. But there are no humans in the pictures.
Norfolk generally avoids photographing them unless they -- the actual people -- are his specific subject. He explains in an interview with Geoff Manaugh in BLDGBLOG why so many of his pictures are unpopulated: "...I think people kind of gobble up the photograph. They become what the photograph is... So I've always tried to pull people out of the pictures – and, if they're in my pictures, it's usually because they represent an idea, really. I think if you're going to talk about Dave, or Bob, or Wendy, you have to do it properly. You either do it properly or you don't do it at all. "
"The Israeli destruction of Lebanon," Simon Norfolk, All rights reserved.
The people are not absent because Norfolk is unconcerned. He's a passionate -- & explicitly political -- photographer who has spent a great deal of time in complicated, dangerous places, including recent stints in Afghan & Iraqi combat zones. In fact, he's the exact opposite of a highly aestheticized, conceptual artist; he's furiously intent on making a difference in the world. But not as a photojournalist. Norfolk rejects the prevailing ethos of chasing after the action with a digital SLR. Instead he hauls around a heavy wooden large-format camera & makes very still, very beautiful images.
"The illegal Jewish settlement of Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem, Simon Norfolk, All rights reserved.
"Rashid Street in central Baghdad," Simon Norfolk, All rights reserved.
“I didn't get fed up with the subjects of photojournalism," he explains. "I got fed up with the clichés of photojournalism... Photojournalism is a great tool for telling very simple stories. 'Here's a good guy. Here's a bad guy. It's awful'. But the stuff I was dealing with was getting more and more complicated – it felt like I was trying to play Rachmaninoff in boxing gloves…
“I'm not down on photojournalism – it does what it does very well – but its job is to offer all its information instantly and immediately. I thought the fact that this place in Afghanistan – this ruin – actually looks a little like Stonehenge: that interested me..."
"Bullet-scarred outdoor cinema at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul," Simon Norfolk, from Afghanistan: Chronotopia
Norfolk is interested in ruins both visually & as metaphors. He finds them most often in structures, sometimes in entire shattered landscapes. The ruins in his pictures have usually been bombed or otherwise damaged in war. As viewers, we sense that the locations may actually teem with people, yet they're strangely empty. The light is often soft & ethereal, as though the dirty world has been newly washed & purified for Norfolk's lens.
Norfolk explains "... a lot of the artistic ideas that I'm drawing on partly come out of the photography of ruins. When I was in Afghanistan photographing these places – photographing these ruins – I started looking at some of the very earliest photojournalists, and they were ruin photographers..."
"Those photographers" (he mentions early war photographers Matthew Brady & Roger Fenton) "were, in turn, drawing upon ideas from 17th century and 18th century French landscape painting – European landscape painting. Claude Lorraine. Nicolas Poussin. Ruins have a very particular meaning in those pictures. They're about the folly of human existence; they're about the foolishness of empire... the greatest empires that were ever built – the empire of Rome, the Catholic church – these things have fallen down to earth. They all fall into ivy eventually. "
Ruins were also a preoccupation of the Romantics. The poets Percy Bysshe Shelley (of Ozymandias fame) and John Keats were inspired by Europe's greatest ruin, the city of Rome, especially the Appian Way, lined with crumbling Roman palaces & villas so grand they resisted the depredations of man & nature for more than 1,000 years. In the late Romantic period wealthy Europeans built extravagant, useless structures on their estates -- often designed at the outset to be partially ruined -- called "follies."
So what makes Norfolk's ruins different? For one thing they don't represent the subjugation of Man to the Sublime in Nature as they did to the Romantics. They represent the subjugation of men to other men in war. Norfolk reminds us, "Anybody interested in the effects of war quickly becomes an expert in ruins." Looking at them -- as aftermath -- goes beyond the catharsis of human identification with war's futility & loss. Outside time, the photos suggests something even darker -- that war is larger than human concerns. It may even be beyond human control.
It may only end if we utterly remove ourselves from the planet.
Norfolk has also become an expert on the machines, weapons & technological systems that could make the wars of tomorrow different from anything we've seen in the past. Far from war zones he has , in recent years, done incomparable essays on national security technology on Ascension Island and on all-powerful supercomputers . He makes it clear that to him these "objects" -- along with the rest of the world's more & more sophisticated doomsday arsenal --represent a brand new & infinitely frightening face of the same old demon.
"It ends up being like a relationship with the sublime – a military sublime," Norfolk says. "All of the work I'm doing, I might even call it: 'Toward a Military Sublime.' Because these objects are beyond: they’re inscrutable, uncontrollable, beyond democracy."
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
"Red Jesus," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
This weekend is your last chance to see my pictures at Topos: Brooklyn in the Nelson Hancock Gallery. I have 20 pictures in the show, which also includes work by 7 other artists. My pictures document an ongoing obsession with the small, usually plaster, religious statues one can see in gardens,yards & alleyways all over the borough. Here's my artist's statement about why I'm doing it.
I was drawn to the statues of madonnas and saints in the yards and alleyways of Brooklyn because they seemed to gather light. This was during the dark winter months of 2006. I was attracted to the statues for other reasons too. Raised a devout Catholic, I had turned violently against the church as a teenager and could still fly into a rage when the subject of priests or Catholic dogma came up. For me the statues represented another kind of religious impulse, outside the official church – outside any church -- more ancient. They gave a form to the universal human yearning to be magically protected, to be comforted in a hard and pitiless world. It was easy to make fun of the statues. They were in fact spiritual action figures for grown ups with their bright colors and iconic symbols, and many homeowners had combined them in dizzyingly kitschy displays with everything from garden frogs to Disney cartoon characters. I photographed them on the weekends all winter and through the spring and summer -- statues that were fussed-over and revered as well as those that were being allowed to disintegrate, a vague superstition away from being discarded. Eventually I realized that – weird as they could sometimes be -- I was photographing the saints without irony. In the end, like their owners, I found them comforting.
"Wrapped Madonna," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
The gallery's open today (Friday) & tomorrow, 11-6. It's located at 111 Front Street in the fashionable downtown DUMBO section. First subway stop in Brooklyn. Catch it if you can. Here's how:
DIRECTIONS: Take the F-train to York Street stop or the A/C-train to High Street/Brooklyn Bridge. Walk down toward the bridges and East River until you encounter Front Street. Turn left, if you are coming down from Jay Street (F-train); make a right, if you are approaching from Washington Street (A/C-train).
Sunday, October 14, 2007
"Tim Connor, Speaker, Trainer, Author"
The Tim Connor pictured above is not me; he's my googleganger.
Googleganger is a term I 1st heard on Amy Stein's blog , but it turns out web types have been using it for years (there is even a Newsweek article about it). The word is defined at wordie.org as "another person of the same name, whose records are intermixed with your own when you 'google' yourself." Since this definition requires knowledge of another newly-created internet word (the verb "google"), it is of course only comprehensible to someone who already understands that "googling yourself" is not a geekish masturbation technique.
Still, cybercitizens may not know the German word, "doppleganger, " onto which the new meaning is spliced. Coined at a time when superstition still trumped science in most of Europe, a doppelganger is "...a ghostly double of a living person." Wikipedia adds that a doppelganger is... " literally a 'double walker'... someone who is walking the same way as another person does. The word is also used to describe the sensation of having glimpsed oneself in peripheral vision, in a position where there is no chance that it could have been a reflection. They [doppelgangers] are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one's own doppelgänger is an omen of death."
As a teenager I was fascinated by the idea of the doppelganger. I fantasized about glimpsing my double. I thought it would be thrilling & terrifying. In some coldly beautiful city I would suddenly see my other, beckoning me into the deeper shadows as in a Fritz Lang movie. I would follow willingly. I wanted to become my doppelganger, to embody myself & the other at the same time. I wrote a story about seeing my doppelganger at rush hour on the NY subway. He was Puerto Rican. He didn't see me. My brown-skinned doppelganger got off the train at Times Square before I could speak to him. I chased after him, but he disappeared in the crowd.
It occurs to me that searching for the doppelganger might be a decent metaphor for more than just teenage narcissism. In fact, it works pretty well for photography -- for art of any kind. But searching for the googleganger, what kind of metaphor is that? More of a joke, I'm afraid. Still, coming upon the actual image of my googleganger, the "other" Tim Connor, made him intensely real to me. I felt in some way I already knew him. I had gone to school & played sports & ridden around in cars with him. I knew his voice & his drunken laugh. I had tolerated him & he had tolerated me.
When I saw my googleganger's updated picture, I felt this familiarity even more strongly. I guessed the picture was taken at least five years ago, probably more. In it my googleganger is noticeably older; he dies his hair to hide his age. He keeps himself fit, is extremely well-groomed & carefully dressed, smoother in every respect. His biography claims that by now he has written 65 books & , since 1965, given over 4,500 presentations. That's laying out a whole lot of paperbacks on folding tables; it's being handed a whole lot of microphones. I imagine after all these years, he at least half-believes his own bullshit or he'd have shot himself. Maybe he came close.
Surprisingly, looking at the pictures I don't feel the usual pangs of envy. I have no desire to make fun of my googleganger's relentless grin, or to mock his cornball sales pitches or sniff at his Success.com roster of "inspirational, life-changing" articles. Perhaps most importantly, I don't feel the usual mixture of rage & shame knowing that my father would have understood & been comfortable with my googleganger's career & he never was with mine.
So how do I wrap this up? I believe I'll close (in the best inspirational keynote speaker tradition) with a little story.
This year, 42 years out from graduation, I attended my first high school reunion. I decided I was willing to go either because I was finally ready to give an accounting of myself or because I no longer cared about giving an accounting. I wasn't sure which. At the reunion I discovered something truly surprising. My classmates felt the same. Frankly, we all looked like hell in comparison to what we remembered. But it didn't seem to make a difference. Perhaps it was because we had all learned that life beats everybody up. That no one is spared. That you can just assume it. Who's up, who's down? Not even worth talking about. It was enough that we were there.
And with that, I give you greetings & best of luck, dear googleganger. I'm not mad that you consistently hog the top three spots on the Tim Connor google page. We're a nation of salesmen, after all, & obviously you're a good one. To tell you the truth, I'm thrilled to be on the page at all.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
"The reason I don't do more is because then I feel like I owe something back, specifically maybe something like a copy, and I just don't have time to do that anymore. Or I owe that my use of the photo won't have any negative impact on them, including embarrassment ... So my overactive sense of responsibility to my 'subject' most often stops me."
"Boy with toy grenade," Diane Arbus, All rights reserved
Reading Christine's comment, I thought of the famous Diane Arbus picture above. A few years ago -- in the "Diane Arbus Revelations" show at the Met -- I saw the contact sheet that contains this shot. The other images -- the ones Arbus didn't choose -- are very disimilar from this one. In those too, the boy is very thin & nervous-looking ; he's wearing the same extremely odd little lord fauntelroy outfit (probably his mother's idea); but in other respects he's just a boy politely posing for pictures. Because he's been asked. Arbus chose this frame, as any photographer would, because it's the most graphic, by far the most dramatic. It's a brilliant picture. It's more than a likeness of a boy in a park. It connects to a larger, more complicated story -- arguably a very important story. But what about the actual boy's story?
The Wikipedia entry on Arbus describes the making of this picture as follows: "Arbus captured this photograph by having the boy stand while moving around him, claiming she was trying to find the right angle. The boy became impatient and told her to 'Take the picture already!' " This account, for which no source is given, sounds a little too pat for me. She's "claiming" to try to find the right angle? He goes at her in pure lower east side New Yorkese? Please. But -- lose the cheap accusation & the dialog -- it could be essentially true. Arbus was a photographer, excitedly working. Of course she was moving around the boy, trying to find her shot, a better shot, another... I can imagine the boy reacting with exasperation.
Nevertheless -- the contact sheet makes it clear -- this boy with a grenade was no maniac. He was a boy playing in the park. So whose responsibility is the impression the picture conveys? The problem is not with the shooting; it's not even with the showing. It's with the seeing. The problem -- if there is a problem -- is what goes on in the mind of the viewer. What could Arbus do about that? What can any photographer? In Arbus's case the firestorm of vituperation leveled at this & her other so-called "explotative" pictures by detractors could not have been predicted. I've never doubted her sympathy for those she photographed. But she was clearly ambitious. Did she ever, I wonder, worry what the boy felt when other people looked at his picture? Was this her reponsibility? Is it ours?
Monday, October 8, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
"From the train, Massachusetts," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
Early tomorrow I'm leaving for western Massachusetts. Many of you know but for those of you who don't, the color transformation of the trees in the eastern North American autumn is one of the wonders of the world. In the many years I was away from it I was always surprised at how much I longed for it . I eventually understood that the New England autumn was for me a kind of touchstone -- the season & the place where my life's great ur fantasy of perfection resides.
On Sunday I'll wake up there on my 60th birthday.
Here's a lighthearted poem by Emily Dickinson in celebration.
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on.
Happy autumn! See you in a few days.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Monday, October 1, 2007
"Here's looking at you, kid," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
I wanted to watch people look at my photographs so I went to the Nelson Hancock Gallery, where five of my prints are in a show called Topos:Brooklyn . I sat in the center of the gallery’s main room facing the wall that displays my pictures. DUMBO was in the midst of its annual Under the Bridge Festival so a continuous stream of browsers came through the gallery. I sat there for about 45 humbling (but illuminating) minutes.
Most people seemed to fall into 2 categories. The first type -- I'll call them "scanners" -- drift into galleries & take in the ambience but don't look directly at the art work. Trust me, I verified this by repeated observation of their eyes. Typically, they raise their faces slightly & scan continuously through a visual hemisphere, then back, as they move through the space. It reminded me of my dog Charley's habit of elevating his nose & slowly swiveling his head, reading the canine scentosphere as he bobs along on his leash. It may be that the scanners, who usually stayed only a couple of minutes, were just being efficient. Some may lock onto pieces of art that meet their criteria, just as Charley freezes & zeros in, sniffing frantically, toward the aroma of other dogs. But I did not see this happen.
Those from the 2nd category had a related method. Typically, they stalk along the gallery walls at a steady pace, pausing their gaze no more than a second on each art work, until they have dutifully completed the task. Because they never give any work more than a single glance, I began to think of these people as "verifiers." "Hmm, a photograph, yes, another photograph, yes, yes, yes, photographs. " What surprised me was how relieved they seemed when they had finished looking.
I don't even need to state, do I, that the above are caricatures? Some browsers were enjoying themselves, taking their time on pictures that interested them, talking to their friends about what they were seeing & so on. Nevertheless I'd have to say the vast majority of those I watched fell roughly into one of those two categories.
Thus, toward the end of my experiment, I was particularly gratified to notice that a girl, about 7, who had come in with her father, continued to stand in front of my pictures after the father had moved to another part of the show. Looking up, the girl was completely absorbed. Her small hands were oddly clenched as she moved from picture to picture, studying them intently. I was fascinated to hear her say, "Oh, I get it!" but knew better than to approach her, a strange, gray-haired man asking strange questions. Meanwhile, her father was busy having a long conversation with friends. The girl stared at my photographs for over 15 solid minutes till her father came looking for her. I told him what she'd been doing & volunteered that I was very pleased she was taking such an interest. He called her over & tried to get her to talk about the pictures. She ducked her head against him in embarrassment. Poor baby.
Enough that she was really looking. Thanks, kid.