Friday, May 25, 2007

Mermaid at Coney Island

"Mermaid eats hotdog, Coney Island," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Bastard Eden"

From "Bastard Eden: Chernobyl at 20", Donald Weber, All rights reserved.

I happened on this remarkable photo by Donald Weber following a link from Amy Stein's blog. Like her, Weber is a finalist for Photolucida's Critical Mass Book Award. The "About" blurb on his site says he's currently living between Moscow and Kiev & "...working on a book about life on the edge of Europe, and the curse of power. It’s the 18th Century with jets flying overhead."

Here's another one:

From "Bastard Eden: Chernobyl at 20", Donald Weber, All rights reserved.

Monday, May 21, 2007

John Rae show opens in Berlin

"Malagasay village girls," John Rae, All rights reserved.

About half facetiously, John Rae says he makes his living in New York shooting "ugly white guys in suits." What he doesn't tell most people is that the corporate work pays for his travels in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union chronicling the struggles of people against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis and the efforts of the Global Fund to help them. Opening May 22 in Berlin, "10 Minuten: 20 Leben" (10 Minutes: 20 Lives) is a skilled honest account of his work in these places. See it if you can.

Here's the poster:


And for those who don't speak German, a translation, courtesy of lunaryuna.

The Global Fund
to Combat AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

Invitation to the inauguration of the Exhibition
"10 Minutes: 20 lives"

Under the patronage of the Governing Mayor of Berlin,Klaus Wowereit, Professor Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Fund to Combat AIDS, Tuberculos and Malaria, has the honour to invite you to the inauguration of the exhibition

Tuesday, may 22, 2007 at 1 p.m

The Atrium of the German Guggenheim, Charlottenstr. 37-38 In 10117 Berlin

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Endless summer (of love)


Did you know the Summer of Love happened 40 years ago? If you didn’t, you will soon. Apparently, we’re all supposed to have internal alarm clocks that go “Ring! Ring!” at decade & multi-decade intervals. As good cultural consumers, the thinking goes,we ought to be grateful to the brandmeisters and marketeers who wake us for these vital milestones. Otherwise, we might have to be responsible for our own memories.

According to “Welcome Back Starshine,” an article by John Leonard in the Arts section of today’s Times, the nostalgia-fest for boomers is already well underway. For instance, the Whitney will mount a psychedelic art show, the Public Theater will produce a “Hair” concert and a new festival will reprise its 1967 Monterrey Pop triumph by inviting back the sexagenarian versions of bands like Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. (OK, flower children, here’s a quiz: Was it Sly & the family Stone that sang “Commemorate! Commemorate! Dance to the music…” or was that someone else?)


In 1967 only cowboys used "brand" as a verb, but the article reveals that “Summer of Love” was the name a San Francisco marketing council came up with & that the great slurpy anthem that begins, “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair,” was written by organizers of the Monterrey Pop Festival. Wouldn’t you know it?

Full disclosure. It so happens that I’m in the branding business too; have been – at least some of the time -- for many years, so this doesn’t really offend me. It’s just the way things are. But I remain somewhat amazed that more people don’t seem to notice that 10-20-30 year anniversaries etc. are not in themselves anything at all, just excuses to sell things.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because in April I followed a trail from the AIPAD show to Elaine Mayes’s Haight Ashbury hippy portraits and featured them on this blog. I swear I wasn’t consciously aware of any anniversary. But was there some secret clock ticking in my poor old journalism-addled brain that told me the time was right? Have I spent one too many seasons as a wage-earning editor?

Please shoot me now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Getting to Gursky

"Pyongyang I," Andreas Gursky, All rights reserved.

My office is just a few blocks from the new Andreas Gursky show at Matthew Marks Gallery, so I won’t say much till I’ve seen it. In the meantime the blog buzz, reviews & reactions to reviews (here, here, here and here) makes great reading. I saw Gursky’s retrospective at MOMA in 2001 and was blown away by his god-like prints – which celebrate the scale & pattern of vast & complex swathes of the world (an entire working container ship port in Italy, say) while managing somehow to include human street shot details that give them life. If Gursky's work in that show was olympian, his god’s-eye view at least had an amused fondness for mortals and their creations.

At the time I had heard Gursky studied with the Bechers, that he later learned techniques perfected in Germany to produce billboards. Also, that he did a lot of post production work. Vaguely, I figured this meant he chose his light carefully, spent a great deal of energy perfectly positioning his view camera, used the swings & tilts & then Photoshop for perspective control, did a lot of correction & cleaning up afterward. I figured he rendered basically what he SAW – just a lot more rigorously than most of us. I guess that was naïve.

Here is an analysis of Gursky's new work by Chris Jones at Perceptual Prostheses:

“… To begin with, he [Gursky] approaches images now, as most photographer artists do, without the constraints of the frame. Images are constructed using various instances or perspectives, assembled into a final frame, but coming from many. This is representative of how in the age of digital new media, the traditional notion of the image has become obsolete. The frame has been exploded, images become programmable.”

Jones goes on to use an aerial perspective of sea islands as an example.

“This image is a composite of many pictures taken of various islands. Some islands appear in the image twice, but from different perspectives. The resulting assemblage has an uncanny balance, because the perspectives are not quite perfect, and our eyes are very attuned to this.”

This is the island he's talking about. (Below it are two variations I added).

"James Bond Island I" , Andreas Gursky, All rights reserved.

"James Bond Island II", Andreas Gursky, All rights reserved.

"James Bond Island III," Andreas Gursky, All rights reserved.

It really doesn’t matter to me how Gursky makes his images. Although I don’t approach my work as Jones claims “most phographer artists do,” I can be inspired by any kind of art. From the JPEGs I’ve seen (the originals are 10 feet high, so the JPEGs are absurd of course), this new work does seem a bit chilly, as though the god I facetiously invoked above had grown weary, detached from his playthings – but I’ll wait to see the originals.

I have to confess though to a certain uneasiness as agenda-setting art seems to get even bigger & bigger, more & more technologically complex – more industrial. Whether it’s a full-sized working replica of a locomotive hanging from a crane (Koons) or Gursky's billboard-sized photographically precise island vistas that never existed, the art seems to be getting further & further away from what most artists can ever dream of doing. Further & further away from earth.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

In search of lost time

"I cannot sing the old songs
Or dream those dreams again..."
-- Charlotte Barnard

Photographer unknown, 1912, from "Some Introductory Remarks on the History of Summer (1900-1919)"

One of the most surprising things about old photos is how alien they can look. Human beings haven’t changed in any basic way since deep in our prehistory, yet a photographed face from our own parents’ time can sometimes seem to stare at us across an immeasurable gulf of time. Unfamiliar formats & posing conventions, not to mention changed clothing & hair styles, public & private furnishings and of course technology – encourage this dislocation. But in fact these changes only signal a simple truth – that the whole universe changes utterly, irrevocably, molecule by molecule, second by second. There is no going back.

Photographer unknown, "The Portrait Gallery"

One way to connect with an old photograph, I’ve found, is to look at it for a long time. If a glimpse doesn’t yield familiarity, hang around a while. It’s like coming out of a hotel onto the busy street of a strange town. The 1st time you’re a stranger, but by the third or fourth you know what side of the street gets the afternoon sun, a good place to eat, where to buy a paper, find a late-night ATM & so on. It’s not that you’re any more fully there. It’s that now you can imagine yourself there.

Square America: “A gallery of vintage snapshots and vernacular photography,” from which the pictures above are taken, covers the first 75 years of the 20th century. “Not only do these photographs contain a wealth of primary source material on how life was lived, they also constitute a shadow history of photography…” says the collector/curator in a brief “about” section (unsigned, like most of the snapshots). As organized on the site, they’re also brilliant "outsider" art. My favorite sections are:

Some Introductory Remarks on the History of Summer (1900-1960)

The Portrait Gallery

And here are a couple of superb collections by two friends of mine. Highly recommended.

Andrew Long is a photographer and writer who edits The Daily Flog. His well-chosen collection of vintage photos is here.

Nancy Fulton has collected & written movingly about pictures of her family here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Future of


A Flickr member for several years, I've watched with interest as professional photo users have discovered the site (mostly to troll for freebie visuals). Lately, the press has been asking, What's next? Here are two recent takes: a reprint of an article in the May issue of Photo District News & a podcast with some observations on Flickr by British photographer Martin Parr.

PDN Reprint

Your Friend Flickr?
May 02, 2007
By Daryl Lang

Ryan Brenizer landed a job covering events for Paul Wilcock licensed his concert photos to a few newspapers. Hamad Darwish got an assignment to shoot desktop backgrounds for Microsoft Windows.

What did these photographers do to drum up work? Almost nothing. They uploaded their photos to Flickr and the work found them.

Flickr went online in 2004 as a powerful yet easy-to-use program for storing and sharing personal images. It was acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. Today it leads a double life as a hugely popular site for amateurs to share personal snapshots, and as a growing marketplace for licensing photo rights.With millions of keyworded pictures, the site resembles a big stock library. Photo buyers praise the quality of the photographs and the ease of the Flickr search engine. Professional shooters say the site's forums are a good source of tips and inspiration. Joining the site is free, and with so much traffic it seems like a logical place to set up shop.

But Flickr has done little if anything to welcome professionals. It offers no e-commerce features. It expressly forbids commercial uses of its site. "If we find you selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream, we will terminate your account," its guidelines read. Many of its users happily give their photos away for free.

Transactions that take place off the site are not forbidden, however. Flickr neither encourages nor discourages art buyers from e-mailing photographers to ask for photos, a spokesperson says.Members say such e-mails are on the rise. Flickr's forums bustle with discussions about requests users get for their images, and how much to charge.

Sherri Jackson, a Flickr member who says she shoots for fun and personal expression, noticed more people contacting her in the last few months asking to use her images."I get more requests every week and it's exciting to learn how people wish to use my images," she says. "I like the fact that my work can be out there and available and I really don't have to do anything to market myself."

Another Flickr member to notice this trend is Matthew Blake Powers, a graduate of architecture school who takes photographs as a hobby. "Many times, the e-mails I receive are very casual and get to the point. They simply state who they are, what image they are interested in, and how/why they would like to use it," Powers says.In one case, someone designing the annual report for the Milwaukee Art Museum e-mailed Powers seeking to use one of his photos on the cover. After researching how much to charge, and weighing the fact that he never had anything published before, Powers decided to ask $250. To Powers' disappointment, the museum selected another cover.

Paul Buckley, vice president and executive art director for Penguin, uses Flickr to find photographs, something he mentioned in a story about book publishing in PDN's March issue."I use Flickr as any other stock photo source with a search engine," Buckley says. "That may not be its intended purpose, but it works beautifully, and the site has a smart, powerful search engine." Penguin recently used a Flickr photograph on a book cover.

There is no way to know how much business is conducted through Flickr. One member claims a major ad agency paid him $2,500 to use a Flickr photo as a background in an unaired TV commercial. Darwish's job for Microsoft, shooting landscapes to be included with Windows Vista as desktop wallpaper, was almost certainly a multi-thousand-dollar job.At the other extreme, some blogs and small companies ask to use Flickr photos for free. Some don't even ask."I think a lot of companies are using it as kind of a fishing site for cheap stuff from people without a lot of experience," says Jim Hunter, a stock and assignment photographer and editor of But even Hunter posts work on Flickr, which he says drives a fair amount of traffic to his professional site. His wife also uses Flickr to share family photos.

Brenizer, who has been shooting events like the New York Comic Con for thanks to a Flickr connection, joined the site as a casual member a few years ago. Brenizer credits the site's message boards with teaching him to be a better photographer and jumpstarting his photo career."The passion just totally captured me," he says. "There's that positive reinforcement of all the people on there. . . . Then the people who contacted me started to be clients."A former newspaper editor, Brenizer now works in the publications office of the Columbia University Teachers College, where a large part of his job is shooting photographs. On his own time, he shoots weddings and events, and he spent a week as the photographer-in-residence at a biological research center—all jobs he got through Flickr. "I've never solicited, I've never done any advertising," he says.

Flickr has made some photographers into cult celebrities. David Hobby, a Baltimore Sun staff photographer, publishes a blog about lighting called Strobist. To complement the blog, he started a Flickr group so his readers could share advice and photos.The Strobist group spun out of control and now has more than 7,100 members, who post dozens of messages a day. Hobby doesn't have time to answer all the questions people send him. A lighting seminar he organized sold out weeks in advance. Hobby says he is impressed by how good Flickr photographers are, pointing to the Strobist photo pool. "Almost every one of those pictures has earning potential," he says.Like a lot of Flickr fans, Hobby thinks it's only a matter of time before the service finds a way to monetize this collection of talent. "You don't sit on a big oil well and not drill down eventually," he says.

A Flickr spokesperson would not comment on future plans. For now, Flickr makes money off advertising and by selling upgraded memberships for a small annual fee. It has some direct competitors (including Zoomr, SmugMug and Photobucket) but none with the kind of popularity and goodwill Flickr has achieved.Flickr allows members to set free usage terms by attaching Creative Commons tags to images, so a logical next step might be to let users set prices for certain kinds of usage. Another strategy could be to partner with an existing stock photography site, perhaps one of the royalty-free micropayment sites that also appeal to semi-professional shooters.

Or it could do nothing.

To better understand Flickr's future, it may be helpful to step back and look at how Yahoo! and its investors view the site.In earnings calls and media interviews, no one asks Yahoo! executives how they're going to make money off photographs. Instead, the buzz is all about "Web 2.0," the user-generated, community-focused sites that have attracted huge audiences. Sites like Flickr, MySpace and YouTube are hot because they engage people in a way that traditional media increasingly cannot.Yahoo! recently began requiring Flickr members to use the same ID to log in to Flickr as they use for other services like Yahoo! Mail. As a result, the company can collect more information about users and their online behavior.

To Yahoo!, Flickr's value is not its photography, but rather the desirable audience it attracts for advertisers and marketers. This may explain Flickr's failure to embrace, denounce, or even officially care about the pro community.Somehow, Flickr has created a marketplace for professional photography and made it look like an accident.

Note on Martin Parr Interview

You may find the Parr interview (above link) very slow to load. See transcripted excerpts about Flickr at Michael David Murphy's 2point8 blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Everyday intimacies

"Haircut, Tel Aviv, Israel", 2005 , Oz Lubling, All rights reserved.

This week Flak Photo is featuring "Regarding Intimacy," an exhibition conceived as counterpoint to the "...increasingly risqué depictions of physical and sexual intimacy [that] have pervaded visual media. " Curated by Saul Robbins and running at Hunter College till May 12, the show depicts this "...broader range of normal and everyday intimate relationships that deserves our attention, holding a much greater promise of attainability, rather than the highly stylized, glamorous, and erotic one that is so often in vogue and out of reach. "

Contributing photographers include: Allen Frame, Dona Schwartz, Carrie Mae Weems, John Milisenda, Robert Shamis, Larry Sultan, Keisha Scarville, Todd Deutsch and Oz Lubling.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Images against war

The excellent May issue of Almanac Magazine features the ongoing project, Images Against War, a visual statement by 632 artists at Galerie Lichtblick in Koln, Germany. I donated two images:

"Three shooters," S. Minneapolis, 1976, Tim Connor, all rights reserved.

"Dying gloriously," S. Minneapolis, 1976, Tim Connor, all rights reserved.

See more pictures from S. Minneapolis, collected as Snapshots Deluxe.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Ryan McGinley: Building a youthsex brand

Ryan McGinley, 2005, All rights reserved

In a profile by Philip Gefter in today’s NY Times, Ryan McGinley is presented as the latest chronicler of America’s flaming youth. McGinley photographs mostly naked white kids in communal settings – partying, swimming, road tripping, etc. Viewers are reminded of Nan Goldin's doomed NY hipsters from Ballad of Sexual Dependency days, but, unlike Goldin’s alphabet city scramblers, McGinley’s preppies look so young & dewy, so untouched by grownup experience, I can imagine them being targeted as kiddy porn if McGinley weren’t himself their sweet-faced peer.

Then too, Goldin’s photos have a strong sense of story. Her images capture emotional pulses – mostly crises -- in lives we can actually imagine. McGinley’s are disturbingly random, as though plucked, this-frame-as-good-as-that-frame, from a playacted version of endless summer. As the Times describes McGinley’s method, he “…shoots as much as he can in the belief that ‘editing is as good as shooting’ .” His projects have a reality show structure: In the summer of 2003, for example, he rented a house in Vermont and invited groups of friends to come and stay a week to be photographed. The groups were “invited” to walk naked through the woods, jump on a trampoline, climb and perch in trees. The results are sloppy snapshots of naked teenagers performing usually witless behaviors – a kind of carefully cast youth nudist colony with McGinley as activities director. Occasionally, they deliver a genuine erotic – often homoerotic – jolt. To my eye, that’s as good as it gets.

I was struck by the article’s gee-whiz admiration for McGinley’s entrepreneurial savvy and zeal. While still in high school, his first show appropriated a Who title, “The Kids Are Allright,” and squatted in a Soho gallery building that was being renovated. He made desk-top books of his photos to sell and mailed them to art directors and favorite photographers like Goldin and Larry Clark. These days -- like a successful manufacturer turning out product -- he charters cross-country trips with eight friends and two assistants in a pair of vans. McGinley shoots 20-30 rolls of film a day and his assistants video everything. The trips cost $100,000 each.

The Times’ piece seems so wowed by all this energy it’s hardly a surprise when Gefter concludes that “…what distinguishes him [McGinley] from a personal blogger or online visual diarist is the rigor of his artistic output and his ambition.”

Move over Jeff Koons.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The old ballgame

"Homeplate with flag, western Massachusetts," Tim Connor, all rights reserved.