Thursday, December 20, 2007

My mother's eyes

My mother's eyes
"Lucille (poss. Loretta) Derouin as a child," Photographer unknown

"All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person's (or thing's) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all phtographs testify to time's relentless melt...A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence."

Susan Sontag
On Photography

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Subterranean homesick news

"Yellow stockings, Brooklyn," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I've signed a contract to do an Arts for Transit lightbox show in a tunnel below MTA's Atlantic Avenue station! The show will be 8 of my images from Brooklyn neighborhoods printed on duratrans film & mounted in 45" x 66" lightboxes. We've decided on the pictures but are still banging around names. Installation date is also still to be decided.

Wow. I'm not going to even mention Jeff Wall, but I have always loved lightboxes. I shot slides almost exclusively for years -- even though they had a much smaller exposure range than color neg -- just because I thought colored light through film was the prettiest thing on the planet. And I have never made a print anywhere near the size of these boxes!

For those of you who don't know, the B,D,M,N,Q,R,2,3,4 & 5 trains meet in the Atlantic Ave.-Pacific St. station & there is a major connection to the Long Island Rail Road. They tell me 10,000 people pass through this tunnel during rush hour; in a year 3 million come though.

More later, obviously. I finally believe this is actually going to happen, so I'm spilling the beans.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Newsweek: "Is photography dead?"

"From 'Bus riders,' 1976," an early series of fictional self-portraits by Cindy Sherman

The real question is: Are the headline-writers at Newsweek brain-dead?

In the December 10th piece Peter Plagens sounds a frantic alarm about the threats to photography posed by digital technology. Unless something is done, he warns, viewers won't believe photographs are true! "By now," he writes, "we've witnessed all the magical morphing and seen all the clever tricks that have turned so many photographers—formerly bearers of truth—into conjurers of fiction ...The medium seems to have lost its soul..."

The reader can only ache for the fallen bearers of truth. Can only pray that someday they find the strength to say no to the soulless snake called Photoshop -- whose many-hued snares are delusion. That they turn back from "photography's flight into fable" & walk again the straight & narrow road of Photo Truth.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who is Warrington Colescott?

"Frequent fliers," Warrington Colescott, watercolor, 2002

I never heard of him before today. Warrington Colescott is a painter. A social satirist. Born (1921) & raised in California. Art professor for many years in Wisconsin. That's all I could find out in a cursory google search. I was skipping around the internet trying to add to the little I know about landscape photography. I was looking for a picture I once saw by Edward Muybridge & found this:

"1872: Edward Muybridge photographs Albert Bierstadt painting Yosemite Valley," Warrington Colescott, watercolor, 1993

A few notes on the picture: As a protege of Leland Stanford, Muybridge later became famous for his motion studies of running horses, considered to be key precursors of cinema. Alfred Bierstadt was a flamboyantly romantic painter whose huge wall-sized paintings depicted Yosemite & other Western landscapes as the New Eden. The Indians surrounding Muybridge & Bierstadt are natives of Yosemite. These Indians were repeatedly evicted from the valley & their villages burned to establish a place where "man is only a visitor, and human beings don't belong."

George Grosz couldn't have done it better.

See more of Warrington Colescott's work at larger size.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Fashion fantasies

Seb Janiak/In Fashion ’07 Miami Beach Art Photo Expo

Is fashion photography art? Yes, according to yesterday's Times' piece "Work With Me, Baby", at least as defined by Art Basel Miami Beach, the annual trade fair now underway in Florida. For sale this year in a special gallery, fashion work has earned its cred as "...a valuable cultural product that belongs in the pantheon of art history,” according to Joshua Holdeman, director of the photography department at Christie's.

Fair enough. To tell you the truth, I don't really care. The only reason I'm posting this is because I like the boom-goes-megacity picture above so much. Question: Is it an ad to sell boots or hair products? And while we're at it: How cool is it that one of the mushroom clouds is an actual mushroom?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

William Greiner's New Orleans

"Big Horn," William Greiner, All rights reserved

One of my favorite blogs is Willam Greiner/New Orleans + Katrina + Beyond. Not only because Greiner's photos knock me out (they're like potent little zen satoris in color) but also because his blog is a window into a place I want to know about -- one that seems strangely absent from the national conversation. I mean post-flood New Orleans.

Greiner was born, raised & lived most of his adult life there. Like thousands of others he was driven from the city by Katrina. Now he lives 65 miles north & west in Baton Rouge. His posts about the city that is lost/the city that might be are passionate, grieving, funny-- an insider's spicy blend of art, politics & news. And photos . There's something about this blog -- a memento mori style, kind of like a jazz funeral or maybe a New Orleans cemetery -- that hints at the Big Easy spirit Greiner & so many others hope is indestructible.

"Welcome home, Metaire, LA," William Greiner, All rights reserved

In today's blog post Greiner links to a story in the Times-Picayune about the launch of Brad Pitt's $12 million "Make It Right" project to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward. It's a interesting story (locals are "cautiously optimistic"). And, if you want some funky NOLA flavor, don't miss the 75 post-story comments from local readers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Serious whimsy: Dulce Pinzon & Daniela Edburg

From "The real story of the Superheroes," Dulce Pinzon, All rights reserved

Dulce Pinzon's show, "The real story of the Superheroes," opening December 1st at Kunsthaus Miami, has a serious purpose, but that doesn't mean it isn't lots of fun. Pinzon writes, "The Mexican immigrant worker in New York is a perfect example of the hero who has gone unnoticed. It is common ... to work extraordinary hours in extreme conditions for very low wages which are saved at great cost and sacrifice and sent to families and communities in Mexico who rely on them to survive." So how does Pinzon put across this somber & uncomfortable truth? By making pictures that would delight a child -- or startle a surrealist.

Her show depicts 20 Mexican immigrants at their NY workplaces dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes. Brightly colored & dramatic, the superheroes are pure fantasy, but the settings are authentically mundane. The photos are simply captioned with the worker’s name, hometown in Mexico, number of years working in New York, and amount of money sent each week to Mexico. For instance, the photo above says: "LUIS HERNANDEZ from the State of Veracruz works in demolition in New York. He sends 200 dollars a week."

Think about that... Living in this city off a low-wage job, no benefits, sending home $800 a month... See all the Superheroes.

"Muerte por algodón de azúcar" (Death by cotton candy), Daniela Edburg, All rights reserved

Daniela Edburg is another female Mexican artist whose work can be laugh-out-loud playful without suppressing uneasy undercurents. She says her series "Drop dead gorgeous" is "about the relationship between glamour and death," but, like Pinzon's, her pictures are anything but dogmatic. They can be extravagantly goofy (see the Wizard of Oz-magicked "cotton candy" above) & very funny (see "Muerte por tupperware") Or they can veer toward the unsettlingly realistic (see "Muerte por lifesavers," with its evocation -- conscious or not -- of a pill-popping suicide). They are never dull.

I'm reminded of the Day of the Dead & its capering, clowning skeletons. How important is it that these pictures are made by Mexicans? I don't know enough to answer. But, Mexican or not, these images manage to take themselves both less & more seriously than most I see in New York. I wish more conceptual photography had this kind of flexibility & edge.

Read an interview with Daniela Edburg in The Morning News.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nothin but 'Blueeyes'

I've been too wiped out by day job & other must-do stuff to post much lately or even explore the web. Today a welcome email from Blueeyes Magazine busted through the overwhelm, & I'm glad it did. Blueyes is an online occasionally-monthly magazine that emphasizes the kind of in-depth project photojournalism still revered & taught in the Midwest (I know because I studied photojournalism --long ago --at the U of Minnesota; the Blueyes staff is mostly from the U of Missouri ).

The new issue contains a poetic portfolio by Landon Nordeman, described as "all back stage breaks instead of dramatic finales, " a photo essay on the Ukraine in transition by Carolyn Drake & two new ongoing features: "First Look," which highlights "upcoming photography book releases that we believe in" (1st 1st look, a 1st book, Darin's Mickey's wonderfully titled Stuff I Gotta Remember Not to Forget) & "Document," an excerpt from a new memoir about being a photojournalist (Jim Lo Scalzo's Evidence of my Existence).

Worth checking out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

New prints by Diane Arbus found

"DeWise Purdon, 'the man with no hands,' at Hubert’s," Diane Arbus

The NY Times reports that 21 early photographs by Diane Arbus have turned up in "a pile of papers" originally auctioned off as unclaimed possessions by a storage warehouse in the Bronx (see the story here). Bob Langmuir, the man who discovered the prints, is described as a "... rare-books and memorabilia dealer with a deep knowledge of old blues and folk recordings" who "...spent his youth rambling through Europe and Russia, serving as a merchant mariner and working briefly as a roadie for Muddy Waters. "

Sounds like he deserved a break. It probably helped that he at least knew something about the collecting business, as I imagine when word got out, he felt like Josh Brolin being hunted by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.

The newly discovered Arbus's were shot at Hubert's Dime Museum & Flea Circus, a Times Square emporium of the bizarre, in the late 50s, right after Arbus split from her husband & their shared fashion photography business. According to the story, they depict "...giant cowboys, tattooed men, snake dancers and...'the man from World War Zero.' ”

Arbus's fascination with the outlandishly different became one of the great themes of her work, of course, so these are important pictures for the light they shed on her evolving methods & style. But I wonder if they're anything special as photographs. And, if they're not, I wonder how Arbus would react to the news that they're now worth a fortune.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poem for Thanksgiving

"Blowing weeds," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Ordinary Life

Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.

Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town’s outskirts,
good news, bad—

but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.

Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.

Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.

Adam Zagajewski
(Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)

Seen in The New Yorker

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Had to share this picture...

"Day driver," Stuart Hawkins, All rights reserved

The combination of sheer daffiness & gritty photojournalistic style made this one irresistable. It's by Stuart Hawkins from a series called "Customs," shot in Nepal. Hawkins' statement says in part, " work documents and ironizes the ubiquity of American, media culture, " but the pictures are a lot more fun than that. Some seem completely staged, others lightly improvised, but all skip right past the ponderous big production solemnity of Gregory Crewsdon et al.

Thanks to Michael David Murphy, through whose excellent blog I found this work.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Climate change: Pretty as a picture?

"Washington, DC after sea level rise due to climate change," Photo creation

Venice on the Potomac? Or perhaps a makeover inspired by Tenochtitlan, the 14th & 15th century Aztec capital with its hundreds of canals & floating gardens? No, it's a photoshopper's imagined Washington, DC after global warming has raised sea levels worldwide. Lovely, isn't it? Did the Lincoln Memorial ever gleam so white?

I downloaded this image a while ago, motivated by a vague notion it might be useful at work (full disclosure: my day job is working for an environmental advocacy organization). I remembered it after reading Geoff Manaugh's excellent "Climate Change Escapism" in BLDBLOG. Manaugh's piece is a fascinating take on a series of images by artists Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez of well-known Spanish locations before & after transformation by climate change. The Armestre-Gomez series will be distributed by Greenpeace as a cautionary glimpse of the horrors we can expect if we don't take drastic action against warming now. But, as Manaugh points out, the images aren't really scary.

Indeed, he suggests that, according to the images, "...Climate change is the adventure tour of a lifetime – and all it requires is that you wait. Then all the flooded hotels of Spain and south Florida will be yours for the taking. Given images like these, the future looks exciting again.

"...What we see is a world transformed, made unearthly, like something from a J.G. Ballard novel. Where there once was a pristine beach, the sea has returned, giving us modern ruins: sandbars in the lobbies of hotels, tide pools accumulating on the boardwalks of towns you didn't like in the first place. What appear to be coral reefs are the underwater remains of marinas. What look like atolls are lost subdivisions, or banks at the bottom of the sea."

"La Manga de Mar Menor in Murcia," Photo by Greenpeace, Photo creation by Armestre & Gomez

Face it, it looks great. Look at the picture that leads off this post & imagine messing around a drowned & deserted Washington in a rowboat. It's a peaceful sunny day, you've got a picnic lunch in the boat, you're clunking up to the vast, scalloped Capitol dome rising out of the water. Down below a huge shimmering shape, a colossal underwater mountain of white marble, fades into the depths. The proud republic of America once made its laws there.

We all love ruins, palaces in the jungle, obelisks in the desert, crumbling fortresses, lost cities, ghost towns -- all that "look upon my works, ye mighty, & despair" stuff. Too bad the effects of global warming won't be like that. Well, maybe they will -- in certain places -- in two or three hundred years.

Here's another picture I downloaded. It's Manhattan, I think, heavily influenced by Kevin Costner's Waterworld.
"Drowned Manhattan," Photo creation

I read somewhere that in England in the spring of 1914 no one was worried about war. It was an exceptionally pleasant, sunny spring & early summer. The nation was drowsy, contented, absorbed in its pleasures. Four years later World War I had torn the world apart. Forty million people from all over the planet were dead or wounded. In England two-and-a-half million young men were dead or wounded, a whole generation traumatizd & nothing would ever be the same again. I wonder if the world -- the U.S. at least -- is not in a similar kind of dreamy, self-absorbed state right now.

Sea level rise is already here of course. The only question is how high will it go. Bangla Desh, for instance, has about 150 million people, mostly poor, packed into the low-lying Ganges delta, facing the Bay of Bengal. What happens if the sea rises 3 feet -- a perfectly reasonable, scientifically moderate estimate -- & most of Bangla Desh is permanently underwater? With 150 million people trying to get themselves & their possessions to high ground (in densely populated neighboring India) no one knows what to expect. But we can ask: Will the water stay an uncluttered, pristine blue like in the pictures? Will the temples rise proudly from the waves? Will muscular Bengali warrior-adventurers adapt & grow gills like Kevin Costner did in the movies?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Safe arbor

Tree at dusk
"Young tree at nightfall," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

God help me, I'm doing portraits of trees. Last year it was statues . When I take pictures of people for work, the purpose is clear -- to me & to them.

"Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Trees, I'm not sure. Here's part of a poem I love by Robert Frost:

"They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay."

Saturday, November 10, 2007


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

Monday, November 5, 2007

'Intimate Distance' opens in Brooklyn

"Little Neck Parkway at Northern Boulevard, Little Neck, Queens, New York, 2007," by Zheng Yaohua, All rights reserved

Nine photographers of the Chinese diaspora open their show, "Intimate Distance," this Thursday, November 8 from 7-9 pm at Q Art Space in Brooklyn. Click here for more info.

I've been following the work of Zheng Yaohua, one of the nine, -- known as zeyez on Flickr -- for a while. He makes deadpan, deceptively bland snapshots of streets & intersections, buildings, restaurants, houses, small parks -- all the ordinary places -- in areas like Queens. At first glance these pictures seem so undramatic as to be almost random. But, if you continue looking, you see they are subtly composed, carefully patterned. Although the pictures claim only to represent themselves, their wan light & exaggerated lack of incident seem to brim with not-quite-decipherable meaning. What are they trying to say?

Zheng's pictures in the show, selected from his series "On Their Sites", give us a hint. He writes that the series is inspired by Joel Sternberg's smililarly-named On This Site, a photo book that revisits the locations of horrible crimes (e.g. see here the crab apple tree under which Jennifer Levin's body was found). Sternfeld's book questions the problematic nature of photographic representation & the slippery meaning of collective memory. But Zheng's homage goes beyond that. Listen to what he writes to accompany the picture reproduced above.

"Tony Brandon scraped his left knee on July 7, 1967, in a semi-serious fight with his classmate George Tenet, a CIA director later, on the sidewalk near the eatery that the Tenets used to own ('Scobee' or the former '20th Century'). He remembers how badly it hurt and how George worried about his new shorts being torn, which were a birthday gift. It was his [Tenet's] birthday that day."

In an addendum Zheng adds: "George Tenet served as the Deputy Director and the Director of the CIA from June 1995 to July 2004. He was born on January 5, 1953. It is likely that Brandon's memory of the date that had three 7s was related to another event."

This is a strange, obscure, oddly fascinating story. Unlike Sternberg, Zheng is initially concerned with private, not public memory. Who is Tony Brandon? How did he & his story come to Zheng's attention? Is the story, despite its meticulous fact-checking addendum, after all, real? The details feel too weird to be invented. The inclusion of young Tenet, the pugnacious lickspittle who as a grown man would in 2003 reassure George Bush that the Iraq War was "a slam dunk," pushes the story into the public realm. It also knocks the general interest level up a notch. We watch Tenet scuffle, hear him whine about his mussed-up new clothes. It feels like a unique insight. It sounds like a real memory.

But what if it's fiction? Personally, I don't care if it is or isn't. Is the past real or fiction? Is there somewhere it can be accessed with any kind of accuracy? "Little Neck Parkway at Northern Boulevard" is here in the photograph & there in the past. Real or not, Tony Brandon & George Tenet are grown up in a new story. Everything is changing every second. It really is that complicated.

Maybe -- with his 'ordinary' photographs -- that's what Zheng means to say.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Handout man / AM New York

Handout man / AM New York, originally uploaded by colorstalker.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wall to wall

"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

Two (excellent) new shows in Brooklyn

Last night I went by the Nelson Hancock Gallery to pick up prints from my recent show & stumbled into the opening for "Beneath the Surface: Springs, Swamps and Oceans" , a knockout selection of mostly color work by Karen Glaser. Aside from being underwater, Glaser shot them straight. But in her case straight is definitely phantasmagorical. My favorites -- the most disorienting of all -- were shot in a humble Florida sinkhole -- a place Glaser calls " favorite on the entire planet."

"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

Simon Norfolk: Toward a military sublime

"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
"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

Last chance to see saints in Brooklyn!

"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

Gaze of the googleganger

"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 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.

"Tim Connor"

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 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.

Handout girl / 'A better Brooklyn' walkathon

"Handout girl / Walkathon against Atlantic Ave. project," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Permission for what?

In a recent discussion on this blog (see "Fear of Strangers", ) my friend Christine explained why she doesn't take many pictures of people she doesn't know.

"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?

Thursday, October 4, 2007


From the train, Massachusetts
"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

Russian woman reading on F train

"Russian woman reading on F train," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

It must have been a spiritual book. She kept stopping to close the book & kiss it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Here's looking at you

"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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Going out of town...

"Have a Nice Day Cafe," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

See you in a few days.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fear of strangers

"Handout man / L Magazine," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I have taken lots of pictures of people in public without their permission (here for example), but for some time now this has felt uncomfortable. My solution has been to limit my improv public portraits to events like the Mermaid Parade, where people expect, even crave, attention, or to friends & family.

The above picture is part of a self-assignment to develop the nerve (& the fluency) to photograph strangers after 1st asking permission. I'm photographing handout men/women because 1) they interest me 2) I can tell them I'm an artist taking pictures of people handing out stuff on the street & it seems to satisfy them. I use the little Panasonic Lumix I carry around all the time because it's so amateur-looking. So far I've only done 5 or 6 people --maybe 4 quick snaps each. All the subjects have been very nice to me. Only one guy turned me down, & he offered to take his handout back.

Here are a few others I've done:

Handout man /Modern dental
Handout man / Emma's Dilemma
Handout man / NY Metro

It's crazy to be so self-conscious. I thought I'd put it out there...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Michael Itkoff: Where the concrete meets the soil

"Gowanus Canal Elevated Train," Michael Itkoff, All rights reserved

I was looking again at the work of the photographers who are sharing space with me at "Topos:Brooklyn. Eight Photographers Examine the Landscape of a Borough," a terrific show, now at Nelson Hancock Gallery (yeah, I'm biased). I'm particularly drawn to Michael Itkoff's "Overgrowth I" series. These pictures concentrate on what Itkoff calls "liminal zones," places in which messy nature meets human-constructed spaces & structures. Often shot from "inside" the tangled, unruly side of the divide, they show us sprawl in all its hallucinatory strangeness -- as a wild creature or an alien might see it from cover. I like how Itkoff goes right up against the scrim that separates the two worlds & peers through at scenes that become both beguiling & frightful.

"Pumping station, West Ham, London," Michael Itkoff, All rights reserved

Itkoff says: "These are photographs of a landscape under seige - meditations on the mesh of human society and nature that exist woven together. Within the clusters of growth there is life, and hope, that the tide of concrete and steel is high. A city or suburb allowed to lie fallow for twenty years would soon be swallowed by bushes and wildflowers poking up from gaps in the pavement…"

More work by Itkoff is here. He is also an editor at Daylight Magazine.

Don't forget, Topos: Brooklyn, which includes my Saints series, continues at Nelson Hancock Gallery till October 20th. If you're going to the DUMBO Arts Under the Bridge Festival this weekend, don't miss us.