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.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The banality of evil

"Karl Hoecker with his dog, Favorit, Auschwitz, 1944," Photographer unknown

The man pictured above, SS-Obersturmführer Karl Hoecker, was second in command at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, where 1.1 million Jews were murdered. The picture is from a recently-discovered photo album commemorating Hoecker's off-duty activities at Auschwitz. Most of the photos were made at Solahutte, an SS retreat just outside the camp. They cover the summer & fall of 1944, when the gas chambers & ovens at Auschwitz were operating at maximum efficiency -- systematically killing & burning arriving Hungarian Jews, then the last large group of Jews left in Europe.

I really have no adequate words for this. I'll just show you a few of the pictures

"Hoecker with Helferinnen (women's auxiliary) who have come to Solahutte for a holiday," Photographer unknown

"Hoecker eating blueberries with Helferinnen girls to music of an accordion," Photographer unknown

"Hoecker with sleeves rolled," Photographer unknown

Who was Karl Hoecker & what happened to him? This is what the U.S. Holocaust Museum's web site says:

"Karl Höcker was born in Engershausen, Germany, in December 1911, as the youngest of six children. His father, a construction worker, was killed in World War I, and his mother struggled to support the family. Höcker, who worked as a bank teller in Lubbecke, joined the SS in 1933 and the Nazi party in 1937. He married in 1937, had a daughter in 1939 and, in October 1944, a son. Upon the outbreak of war, Höcker was assigned to the Neuengamme concentration camp and spent the entire war administering various concentration camps. In 1943, he became the adjutant to the commandant at Lublin-Majdanek.

When SS-Sturmbannführer Richard Baer became the commandant of Auschwitz in May 1944, Höcker was also reassigned to the camp, again in the position of adjutant. Before he was executed for war crimes, Rudolf Höss, the most famous commandant of Auschwitz, described the role of the adjutant in his memoirs:

“The adjutant] is the first assistant to the Kommandant…He must ensure that no important event in the camp remains unknown to the Kommandant. The adjutant is the superior of all noncommissioned officers and men of the Kommandant's staff... He must ensure that no important event in the camp remains unknown to the Kommandant... The officer of the day and the first watch commander report to the adjutant, present their duty reports for this information and sign them...
Rudolf Höss. Death Dealer: The Memoirs of the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz. (New York: De Capo Press, 1996), 211-212.

Höcker remained at Auschwitz until its evacuation, and then moved with Baer in January 1945 when Baer assumed command of Dora-Mittelbau. Höcker fled before the Allies liberated the camp. British troops captured him near Hamburg in possession of identification as a combat soldier. Lacking an accurate description of him, British authorities released Höcker in 1946 after only 18 months' incarceration in a prisoner of war camp. Until West German prosecutors began looking for him in the wake of the Eichmann trial, no one came for Karl Höcker. He resumed his life in Engershausen with his wife and two children. He had turned himself in for a de-Nazification proceeding in 1952 but did not serve any time. He took up gardening in his spare time and became the chief cashier of the regional bank in Lubbecke. Though he lost his job when he was indicted in 1963 during the Frankfurt Auschwitz proceedings in 1963-1965, he was rehired in 1970 after his release from prison."

Here's more in the New York Times.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Leica worship

"Leica advertisement, 1935"

One of my favorite writers, Anthony Lane has a piece about Leicas in this week's New Yorker. It's called "Candid Camera: the cult of Leica," . I found it disappointing, no doubt partly because I'm such of fan of Lane's acid, fearless but also oddly jolly and good-natured film reviews. Then too, I admire the whole idea of "critic at large" -- that in this age of specialists one writer can take on film, literature, politics and, yes, even photography. But this time I think, instead of critiquing the Leica cult, Lane joined it.

Full disclosure. Near the end of the 80s I published a piece about Leicas in GQ Magazine (pre-digital). They were doing a "best of..." series on consumer products for their target readership of fashionable, well-heeled young men. The editors had decided Leica was the "best" camera (later I did a piece on Swiss army knives, the "best" jackknife). For that article, like Lane, I quoted Cartier-Bresson about photographer-as-hunter. I wrote about how the Leica viewfinder allows you to see outside the frame &, unlike SLRs with their mirrors, to actually see the subject at the moment of exposure. I wrote about the precision, the silence, the workmanship etc, etc. . .

I had never owned a Leica; never used one. But I generally believed what I wrote. Leicas were legendary. Nearly every photographer I admired used Leicas, at least until the mid-60s. The list is astonishing. Here's just a few: Andre Kertecz, Alfred Eisenstadt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, William Klein, Robert Capa, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander. Lane says even William Eggleston used a Leica, which I didn't know. At the time I started shooting -- in the mid 70s -- M series Leicas were still the tool of choice for many artists and photojournalists, but they had gotten very pricey for newcomers. I started out with a used Pentax & moved on to Nikons. I knew equipment is important, but I had never been able to make myself care about it, and cost was always a factor.

By the time I wrote the GQ article Leicas had become a fetish. They were a status symbol & an investment. Dentists bought Leicas, along with a full complement of lenses, and kept them carefully stored in their original boxes. They were still beautiful, worked wonderfully. Many great photographers were still making great pictures with them. But the 35 mm workhorse, the one banging around in the luggage of serious shooters, was now probably a Nikon.

Today I don't know -- it would probably be a Canon -- but definitely digital. I could easily succumb to nostalgia for a sharp little camera that does everything you want but doesn't even need a battery. It seems more honest somehow. But I'm not going there. I'm grateful for my D200's autofocus, excellent auto exposure & helpful playback. My eyes aren't good enough anymore for all that focusing. I used to love clicking through the F stops & shutter speeds, the rhythm of shooting & winding film -- the brisk thumb turn as a kind of punctuation -- but I don't want to work so hard anymore. I'm like my parents when they gave up the stick shifts & started buying cars in which all you had to do was put it in Drive. The only thing I care about is the pictures.

Lane quotes Lee Friedlander talking about Leicas, but I think he could as well be talking about today's modest little 8 megapixel point & shoots. "“With a camera like that you don’t believe that you’re in the masterpiece business. It’s enough to be able to peck at the world.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"Topos: Brooklyn" show opens today

"Brooklyn, NY," NASA photo

"Topos: Brooklyn" opens with a wine and cheese reception tonight from 6-8 pm at the Nelson Hancock Gallery. I'm in the show, along with six other photographers. We'll be examining the landscape of the borough through a variety of styles, attitudes & points of view. You're invited.

I haven't met the other photographers, but of course I googled them. Here are some URLs to check out. There's some great work! Torrance York Michael Simon Michael Piazza Eve Mosher Michael Itkoff Michael Iacovone

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The primal print

"Sideyard madonna," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Today I picked up my prints for "Topos: Brooklyn," the show I'll be in (opening next Thursday, September 13th from 6-8pm). I'm thrilled with the quality (kudos to my printer, Ray Henders). To tell you the truth I'm thrilled just to be looking at prints again. I haven't made very many since I switched to digital. Nowadays, thumbnails on a browser are my contact sheet, my Flickr page is where I make my work prints & do my editing.

What's the final? Well, I've made a few prints on my home Epson for sale or for gifts, but most of my stuff ends for me with a corrected file. It's seen by others mainly on a computer screen, sometimes printed on a newspaper or magazine page or projected onto a big screen when I'm teaching. Very few prints.

I remember filling up Agfa print boxes with literally thousands of black and white prints when I was starting. I had a part-time job running the photo lab in the journalism building at the University of Minnesota, which meant I had a key. I was in there at all hours printing my negs, sometimes making dozens of prints of a single image with intricate regimens of dodging and burning. Finally, I might get one I thought was perfect, but later I was unable to tell which one it was.

I'm not nostalgic for that. I don't think I'd like it now. But I do like looking at beautiful prints. The image above, "Sideyard madonna," for instance, is something entirely different in a pristine, color-corrected print at 20 X 24. It's an entirely different aesthetic species.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Come see my show!

"Courtesy Nelson Hancock Gallery," All rights reserved

I'm in a show called "Topos: Brooklyn" that opens this Thursday, September 13, at the Nelson Hancock Gallery in ever-fashionable DUMBO, Brooklyn, and I'm hoping you can come. The opening is 6-8pm at the gallery. For those of you who live out of town or can't make it to the opening, the show runs through October 20. It's subtitled, "Eight photographers examine the landscape of the borough," and the work is diverse and exhilarating.

The other photographers in the show are: Michael Iacovone, Michael Itkoff, Eve Mosher, Michael Piazza, Michael Simon and Torrance York.

The blurb on the card above, which you may have trouble reading, concludes: "...What emerges is an intimate and highly nuanced view of Brooklyn, an aggregate portrait with photographs ranging in scale from global to miniscule, that visitors will find at once foreign and familiar."

I'll be posting more about this later.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

'Diversity of Devotion' show opens in Brooklyn

Nura Qureshi, All rights reserved

New Yorkers, as a general rule, refrain from killing each other over religion. This remarkable fact -- and the profusion of religious practices that result -- is the impetus for Diversity of Devotion, a juried show at Safe-T Gallery, that opens this Thursday, September 6th and runs through the 23rd. Produced by travel photographer Jenny Jozwiak (originally with Positive Focus), the show explores over 20 religions and spiritual practices in the five boroughs of New York City.

Wine and cheese reception from 6 -8pm
Safe-T Gallery
111 Front Street, #214,
DUMBO - Brooklyn.