Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Schmap me up!

"Riverside Park," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

The picture above is now appearing on Schmap!! New York, a sort of interactive map-travel-guide-with-pictures that you can view on your computer or iPhone. It's one of several photos illustrating Manhattan's Riverside Park. The Schmap editor found it on Flickr & I said OK, use it -- though they weren't paying -- because she asked so nicely & it seemed an unusual choice. Also, I was curious to see it on a cellphone.

Here it is on the schmap.

You probably remember tourists -- their urgent arguments in various languages as they jabbed at ripped maps that flapped in the wind under malfunctioning streelights? Well, that's over. Personally, I thought 20th century tourists were adorable. Their ingratiating smiles & halting, heavily accented questions always made me feel so competent ... But, as I say, that's over. We're onto a new millenium now.

Tomorrow's tourist will have his schmap!! Holding up its self-lighted screen, he will whisk through our city with small deft sweeps of his hand, the occasional masterful finger punch of decision. Imagine. A mere tap & he is virtually soaring -- invisibly, noiselessly -- at attack helicopter height over neighborhoods & parks, highways & bridges. Another tap & he is hovering, exploring -- scrolling through handy pictures and short but informative reviews . Ah, Gotham! What delicious decisions. Times Square! Central Park! Greenwich Village! The undimmable Lights of Broadway! All at his fingertips.

My only problem is -- allright I'll confess it! --I can't make any of these goddamn utopia-is-now gadgets actually work. To give you an example, I tried for an hour & couldn't figure out how to customize the "easy-to-use" widget they sent me to show off my picture. Here, you try it.

I was savvy enough to know the "customizable widget" was part of Schmapp's very smart strategy to not only use my photo for free but also have me do their viral marketing for them. I would, the marketeers hoped, proudly send around e-news of my "publication" to all my friends. 

And I would have done it too. Fired up my Twitter. Digg. LinkedIn. Ning. YouTube. Bebo...

Except I haven't figured out Facebook yet.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Return to realismo

"Chinatown," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Neo-Neo Realism by film critic A.O. Scott in today's NY Times Magazine is a fine piece about filmmaking, if you can get past the title, which sounds like a joke. It celebrates "...young American directors ... making clear-eyed movies for hard times." Though I haven't heard of most of the movies Scott writes about (I did manage to catch the excellent Half Nelson by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & hope to see Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy before it disappears), I'm hopeful about the trend.

I fell in love with Italian neo-realismo movies in college, particularly DaSica's Bicycle Thief -- a beautiful movie, somehow hard-edged & lyrical at the same time. The idea of neo-realismo was to tell stories about ordinary people, using mostly non-actors playing parts close to their actual experience & shooting on the streets. After graduating, I tried my hand at this for a couple of years before turning to still photography. I ended up with a 16mm sound film about a hitchhiker, called "Step It Up & Go" -- now mouldering in a canister in my basement.

To be clear: It's not because I don't like big movies that I'm hopeful about a return to realism (which of course never really went away) . In fact, I love escape & I'm a huge fan of the best of Hollywood-style big-budget movies. But I'm easily convinced that it's time for something different as well. Here's Scott:

"...what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Everything is important: Joel Meyerowitz's 'field photographs'

By Joel Meyerowitz, all rights reserved

"While working on the streets of New York with the Leica I began to see that the slowness of color film and therefore the depth of space it rendered, was forcing me to slow down and make photographs from further back than I had before. This slight adjustment of space and time produced a new kind of image for me, one that emptied the center of the frame of its nominal subject, 'the hook' that I had previously built my photographs on, and instead opened the frame to multiple, more fragmentary, simultaneous events. This gave me a new sense of the street as a place where everything was important; the buildings near and far; the movement of people; the basic street furnishings of light poles, phone booths, hydrants, trees, signs, store windows, all of it cohering in a way that broke open the form of my earlier work. I called these new, non-hierarchical pictures, 'field photographs,' because everything in the frame was now in play, and the more complex and open-ended I could make the image the more interesting it became to me. I felt I was testing the descriptive limits of the photograph by asking; how much dissonance can a photograph contain and still be readable? Can interesting pictures be made without depending on a central event to hold it together? What does color mean in a photograph?"
-- Joel Meyerowitz

One of the earliest & best street shooters to use color in the 60s & 70s, Meyerowitz went on to make amazing (& very different) work with an 8 x 10 view camera in the 80s & 90s (see especially Cape Light, one of my all-time favorite books). In the excerpt above he's talking about his earlier fast-moving, jazzy small camera work.

It's been my experience  the "field photograph" he describes so eloquently is nearly unattainable, a kind of holy grail for photographers. Over & over those of us who aspire to such pictures imagine them in  perfected form as we try to shoot them. I wonder:  does Meyerowitz feel he fully succeeded at this kind of picture, even once?

Read the complete interview here.

By Joel Meyerowitz, All rights reserved

Thanks to Hipshots for pointing me to the interview & to Too Much Chocolate for hosting it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Center winners are in (& I'm not one of them)

From "Journey to Sakhalin," Jurors' Award winner, Michael C. Brown, All rights reserved

I got my email today from Maggie Blanchard at the Center (formerly Santa Fe Center for Photography): "Thank you for submitting to the 2009 Project Competition," she began, and then a few sentences later "...We regret to inform you that your work was not awarded this year."

Thud! Biff! Whomp!

Let's face it, no matter how well I try to insulate myself from disappointment at these moments, no odds, no philosophy can completely defuse the fantasy of ending up in the winners' circle. This time I thought my submission had a chance. Actually, I still think it did. But my project wasn't chosen.

It took me a few hours before I was ready to look at this year's winners. I'm glad to say they're excellent. I'm not even tempted to be snarky -- which is the way my self pity expresses itself in these situations -- or to feel worse because of their success. And that, my friends, is progress...

Take a look at the winning projects.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


William Eggleston Sumner   Mississippi69-70NT
"Sumner, Mississippi," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

"Untitled," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cardplayers make "Best view"

"Winter cardplayers, Sunset Park," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

My picture of cardplayers was picked up by Best View in Brooklyn, a blog about the Sunset Park area. The publisher/blogger is "female & taken" & has a Flickr site -- that's all we know -- but she presides over a lively & opinionated product that does what good small town newspapers used to do. That is, inform, report, gossip, entertain & occasionally rile up, all on a strictly local scale. Best View is loaded with events calendars, parents' pages, school news, blurbs for local talent, plus lots & lots of pictures, exposes (with more pictures), blogosphere picks & pans, movies, books, restaurant reviews& more... all from a neighborhood slant.

If you're from Sunset Park (which, BTW, DOES have the best view in Brooklyn), check this one out.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Vandal scandal at MOMA-Atlantic-Pacific show: Whose art are we talking about?

I thought my recent post about MOMA's Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. subway show was pretty cheeky. Then I saw Gothamist's story about alleged dead-of-night collusion between the firm that designed the Atlantic-Pacific exhibit & the outlaw mash-up artist they paid (or just encouraged) to deface it. Tim, I thought, you're a child among giants.

"Fred & Wilma, meet Nan," Doug Jaeger. Use it any way you like

"It's Chinatown."

Here's the story. Happy Corp, the cutesy-edgy ad/pr agency with its proclaimed mission of "improving gross national happiness..." designed the installation. They occupied the maze-like Atlantic-Pacific station with 58 large-sized copies of canonical art works from MOMA's permanent collection -- Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol etc.-- the heaviest of the heavies. In addition, they stuck up dozens of dayglo pink Best-Buy-like labels with dollar amounts for MOMA's many membership "deals."

"$5," Photographer unknown

(Actually, the in-your-face stickers are kind of edgy. Their message is unmistakable: sublimity isn't free. Unlike the slapped-on reproductions you're looking at in these dingy stairwells & tunnels, they're saying, the irreplaceable original art works in their Manhattan splendor will blow your socks off!)

It seems that at 1st Happy's work made everybody happy. "We’ve been to the station and couldn’t be more pleased," purred the agency's website a few days after the opening. "This project has transformed the usually less than stimulating subterranean environment into a much happier place where commuters are literally stopping in their hurried tracks to get a little art on."

Then came the bomb. Last Saturday night, it was revealed, Happy Corp had secretly arranged for a new back-door round of publicity. Poster Boy, the mysterious art provocateur(s), had been paid (or just encouraged) to visit the site & either "remix" or "vandalize" (depending on your point of view) the world-famous art.

After the story broke, The Corp's Doug Jaeger made it clear that Poster Boy's additions were part of the MOMA campaign while at the same time slyly denying liability. "I was in the subway that night for sure," he says (no kidding; see the credit on the first photo in this post). "...I met them [Poster Boy's crew -- the name Aakash Nihilani later emerged], but I don't know them," he assured the press. "...Early on we saw Poster Boy's work, and we realized it was inevitable that if we did this project, his crew would likely see it as an opportunity. But if someone who is getting acclaim as an artist does something to your campaign, does it make it less valuable or more valuable?"

"Angry whale in Gursky's pool," Photographer unknown

Was MOMA in on it too? In a statement the museum asserted it was shocked, SHOCKED by the criminal acts of vandalism & was therefore immediately & publicly severing all ties with Happy Corp. So there. Never mind that MOMA recently displayed a number of works by street artist Swoon or that martyred graffiti god Jean-Michel Basquiat is represented in this very show. Or that the "unaltered" art was efficiently replaced in a matter of hours (I visited the installation Sunday afternoon & all was well).


If I was the conspiracy-theory type, I might call this a Win-Win Situation. Let's see: The people at Happy Corp get paid while at the same time retaining their cred as edgy anti-capitalist artworld outsiders. MOMA gets double the publicity while taking the high road against defacing works of art. And Poster Boy adds to his fame as the new anti-establishment zorro, flashing his X-acto blade against injustice in the subway while waiting for the right moment to whip off his mask & move to Tribeca.

"Monet with passerby," Tais Melillo, All rights reserved

There's only one thing I feel sad about. The art. How silly. Poor little cornball in Chinatown. But I love Monet's water lily paintings. I really do. I've stood enchanted for many minutes staring at them on museum walls in several countries. They make me happy.

BTW, I do get where the genre-scrambling remix idea comes from. I get that it's not really an insult to Claude Monet or the others, that they're not the target. And I admit that when a friend told me about Poster Boy's antics & I looked on the web at the results , I laughed (I admire his subway ad poster slashing).

But you must remember where I started on all this. I'm an artist. Some of my best work -- seven lightboxed photos, over 40 horizontal feet -- is hanging in the middle of MOMA-Happy Corp's fabulous "gift to Brooklyn." This work has been totally ignored by MOMA. As for Happy Corp, those brave anti-establishmentarians, they made a happy little online video tour of the installation. You can see it here.

The animation zooms us through a pristine fantasy of the Atlantic-Pacific station to a clip-clopping jazz score, detouring again & again to discover the great art. But when it reaches the place where my work is hung (on the video this comes between Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Monet's "Reflections of Clouds on Water Lilies"), there is nothing but blank white tile.

"Here is one of my pictures. Still there," Ranjit Bhatnagar, All rights reserved

Sunday, March 1, 2009

MOMA mounts major Brooklyn exhibition in bid to showcase local artist

"Nan Goldin gazes anxiously at her lover, who smokes a postcoital cigarette &
moodily stares across the tunnel beneath Atlantic-Pacific subway station at Tim Connor's 'Brooklyn local' photographs," Photo by Tim Connor, courtesy Nan Goldin & MOMA

With its new installation of art prints at Brooklyn's Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. subway station Manhattan's world-famous Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) throws in its lot with Brooklyn photographer Tim Connor, whose colorful Arts for Transit lightboxes have electrified the station for over a year.


MOMA's slapped-on-the-wall prints & ambitious bright pink & black signage aim to entice outer-borough commuters to its Manhattan center, where the original art can be seen under much better lighting conditions for $18.

"Woman in orange beret looking at Andreas Gursky print," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

To this critic, the impressive show -- which literally arrays the most iconic painters, printmakers & photographers of the modern age around Connor's seven-panel work -- has been designed to showcase the little-known photoartist's fresh talent. And I say, good going, MOMA. It takes a great museum to boldly endorse the future.

My advice to my readers? Ride the subway to Atlantic Ave. & take in MOMA's modernist & postmodernist classics before settling down to take a look at Connor's work, now backed 100% by perhaps the world's greatest museum. Do it now before his new reputation spreads across the planet like a mad mutant virus.

"Cindy & me & Claude make three," Photo by Tim Connor, courtesy Cindy Sherman,
Ed Ruscha, Claude Monet & MOMA

Leonard Cohen: Dance me to the end of time

Leonard Cohen:
"Leonard Cohen," Courtesy NPR

Listen to his recent concert at the Beacon Theater in NYC.


Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

-- By Leonard Cohen