Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lisa Scheer: Everyday rapture

"Truck stop," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

If you're anywhere near Greensboro, NC, check out The Mill Village Project: Everyday Life in Pictures, a show by Lisa Scheer which ends May 31st.

I haven't seen the show, but I would if I could. I've been following Scheer's work for the last few years on her Flickr page & website. She photographs human places -- landscapes, towns, roads, streets, buildings, interiors -- & occasionally does wonderful portraits -- in a variety of formats. Her technique is formidable, but the intensity of her vision can't be broken down into technique. I love to study the subtlety of her compositions, the way she organizes shapes & textures & utilizes deep-toned film colors, but her pictures never feel precious or draw attention to her decisions. Even though they're anything but, her pictures strike the eye as uncomplicated, straightforward.

"Winter fieldscape," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

How does she do this? I'd say it's something indescribable -- something irrational, maybe we could even say shamanistic -- that every real photographer has to develop. Simply put, it's an ability to surrender to the world, to respond to it beyond the level of words. It's what Walker Evans refers to when he decribes the photographer as "... a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts."

"Flowering Highway," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

Evans, in fact, seems to me to be Scheer's most obvious precursor. She shares his cool precision in service to a kind of pure artistic wonder, felt as superior to, if not a replacement for, social or ideological concerns. Evan's photographic values, listed in a catalog essay by David Walsh, might apply to Scheer as well: "restraint, precision, detachment, the irreducible."

"Waiter," Lisa Scheer, All rights reserved

But I think her lineage also goes back another generation to Evan's own great influence, Eugene Atget, a Frenchman who in the early 20th century spent years photographing the streets and shops of an ancient Paris that would soon be swept away by modernity. Scheer photographs the near-past of the South, where she now lives. Like Atget, she is drawn to plain, dignified places & objects that continue to meet commercial & social needs as a culture declines.

Like Atget, Scheer photographs without sentiment, yet her pictures are suffused with melancholy feeling. This melancholy is not nostalgic, not an overlay of the photographer's feelings. It comes from the pictures themselves. I'm guessing this comes from seeing -- really seeing -- the world through the camera. Scheer's best images seem to shimmer with the knowledge that tomorrow they'll be gone.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The hills of hell

"At the crossing," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"The River Styx," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Those are the Hills of Hell, my love,
Where you and I must go."

Lyric from "Henry Martin," old Appalachian ballad "

Monday, May 25, 2009

Obama on Flickr

"Barack Obama," Pete Souza, All rights reserved

It's propaganda, of course, carefully edited from the voluminous daily stream of still images shot by White House photographer Pete Souza. But -- in content, style & delivery -- the Official White House Photostream on Flickr is also something new .

JFK's people were the first to exploit pictures & films that purport to show character, not just events. The now-classic shots of Kennedy sailing or little John John playing under his desk in the Oval Office had an enormous positive impact worldwide. But Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B Johnson, got burned by photography. The storm of protest that erupted when he lifted his beagle by the ears (see below) became an object lesson about the pitfalls of the camera. Since that time, presidents -- though often liberal with access -- have been cautious about the way they use pictures.

"LBJ pulling his beagle Him's ears," unknown photographer

Until Obama. Digital photography & the internet present an unparalleled opportunity to humanize newsmakers, & Obama has both the looks & the self-control to take advantage of this. In the Flickr stream his people are confident enough to include, not just the President's many official meetings with foreign & domestic dignitaries (from every angle), but also his casual encounters, goofy humor & horseplay on the south lawn. They are even confident enough to post the pictures at high-resolution for anyone to download free under a generous Creative Commons license.

So is anything off-limits in this wraparound media world? I'm glad to say that the photostream seems to stop short of the truly private Obama. To me, this feels politically & culturally right.
Face it, even a guy this charismatic has got to be able fall asleep on the couch & snore with his mouth open once in a while. And you don't want to see it. I don't anyway. I don't want to be Obama's Facebook friend.

And, yes, it is propaganda -- a new kind -- as it needs to be. Even in the public realm, don't expect any nice publishable shots of Obama blowing his stack (if, indeed, he ever does) or snoozing at meetings. Do look for Obama's opponents to use whatever they can -- the more-unbuttoned of these shots -- for attack literature & ads on themes we don't even know about yet. There's a huge up side for Obama, but there's also a risk.

Obama is betting that viewing habits & attitudes have undergone a seismic change in the last 10 years. I think he's right.

Thanks to Todd at Gallery Hopper for the link.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Richard Avedon's "continuous work"

"Verushka," Richard Avedon, All rights reserved

"Ad for a bathing suit," Richard Avedon, All rights reserved

Every picture by Richard Avedon I've ever looked at had two things: 1) a sense of absolute control 2) a mysterious & unfakeable sense of life. I have no idea how he did this. I look at his pictures -- high fashion models to roadside drifters -- in awe. It is as though I had never taken a picture in my life.

Through Labor Day,"Avedon Fashion, 1944-2000" at ICP. Over 200 prints.
Slide show of Avedon fashion shots.
Avedon's obit.
"How Avedon Blurred His Own Image."

Monday, May 18, 2009

With God on our side

"Worldwide Intelligence Update, Bush White House, April 8, 2003"

In the early days of the Iraq War a top-secret intelligence report with this cover picture & headline by Old Testament prophet Isaiah was hand-delivered to President George W. Bush by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It was one of many war "updates" from Rumsfeld that juxtapose inspirational pictures of the battlefield with Biblical quotations such as "Have I not commanded you? Be strong & courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9".

Bush apparently thought this was unremarkable.

Now we know: Anything is possible. This story is outlandishly weird, but even Stewart & Colbert can't make me laugh about it.

Fair warning, don't try to bring up Lincoln's faith in God during his war, or I'll punch you in the head.

DON'T MISS the complete "God is with us" Slideshow here (the Slideshow link is at the bottom of the page). For much more on Rumsfeld & Bush, check out the full GQ article by Robert Draper here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Annie's again

"Audacity of blooming," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Wallflowers," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Through the green fuse drives the flower," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Dancing red," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

See my earlier post: Annie's garden: A touchstone in time

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pissin' with the Koons

"Balloon Dog," chromium stainless-steel sculpture, Jeff Koons

Before he was a world-famous, fabulously wealthy artist, Jeff Koons was a stock salesman on Wall Street. This may or may not say something important about the international art market, but I think it's worth relating. As an artist, Koons doesn't make things himself; he has ideas. His ideas are produced by (outsourced to) experts in various crafts & industrial processes under Koon's close supervision (management). The "Balloon Dog" replica (above) of a kid's twist-up party toy, for example, is 10 feet tall & made of chromium stainless steel with an exquisitely smooth burnt-red finish.

"Rabbit 2," stainless steel sculpture, Jeff Koons

Full disclosure: I have only seen one object that I know of by Jeff Koons. It was a metal bunny (above). As I recall, it was modestly sized, perched on a pedestal in one of the museums. It left me flat, but I didn't dislike it. I reacted the way one does to a shiny table ornament.

I confess some of Koon's more grandiose projects do have a wacky charm though, at least in the telling. I would, for instance, love to see his Puppy, described by Wikipedia as "... a forty-three foot (12.4 m) tall topiary sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy executed in a variety of flowers on a steel substructure with an internal irrigation system." Or someday perhaps goggle at his Train, touted as "the most expensive artwork ever commissioned by a museum" (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Slated for the museum's entry plaza, directly above museumgoers, it is described as "... a 70-foot replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900-series steam locomotive... suspend[ed] vertically from a 161-foot-tall construction crane. The wheels will rotate, smoke will puff from the smokestack and the whistle will blow, all at as-yet-unspecified intervals."


Here's Koons speaking to The New Yorker about a version of the Balloon Dog (see above). " 'It's about inhaling,' Koons said, walking around the dog, 'and inflating when you inhale. It's about life.' He expanded his chest and beamed again."

Anybody want to buy a risk-free mortgage-backed security?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pictures on the radio?

"Monster," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Roof line," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

WNYC's Brian Lehrer is supposed to talk about these 2 photos & others on his radio show tomorrow at 10 AM (93.9 FM) as part of a series on NYC architecture. For the 1st show in the series Lehrer gave video cameras to prominent architects & had them go out & tape & then talk about their favorite buildings. So he's doing interesting stuff with various media that gets his show out of the studio. Here's a slideshow they did last week.

The show my pictures will be in is getting its images from a Flickr group I joined, WNYC Cityscapes. When the producer asked for my permission, I said fine, OK, but -- um -- how can you show pictures on the radio? I knew it was a question that would make any 10-year-old nerd snicker uncontrollably, but photos - on - the - radio? Well, it's for a webcast [DUH!] for those who listen to the radio on their computers. So tomorrow (today actually, Tuesday), check it out if you can.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I'd rather play than work

"Detail, Annie's garden," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I like the shot above, but the only reason I've been playing with it in photoshop & posting & tagging it, etc is I don't want to actually work on stuff I have to do. I need to write an email to all my friends about a show in which nine of my pictures appear . It's opening Thursday, May 14th at Judson Church in Manhattan. The show is called 'New' New Yorkers. The info is here.

I do this every time there's a piece of business to do. Call it creative procrastination. I just keep playing. Anything to avoid what one friend of mine calls the "factory work" of advancing one's own cause. This can go on for weeks, months.

OK, there. I've told on myself. I'll do it tomorrow morning for sure...