Monday, December 29, 2008

Polaroid dreams

Fake polaroid 2
"Fake polaroid 2," Tim Connor All rights reserved

I read Michael Kimmelman's homage to polaroids, "Imperfect, Yet Magical," in yesterday's Times & got nostalgic. As you've no doubt heard, Polaroid, the corporation, announced this year that it will no longer make polaroid, the film, touching off a tsunami of rapturous elegies & a worldwide hoarding orgy. Yes, I admit that reading the piece I too got a little weepy -- then I realized I had never owned a polaroid. I did once borrow a friend's SX-70 for about a week years ago to attempt a little erotica. Later I walked around & took pictures of things like mailboxes & hamburgers & bicycles in the bushes.

Fake nostalgia then.

As Kimmelman points out, most people use polaroids to take pictures of loved ones. Or to record the objects that symbolize life's milestones -- a Christmas tree, a birthday cake, a shiny new car . To use Kimmelman's lovely phrase, polaroids are "...memories coming into focus on a small rectangle of film."

I am, however, nostalgic for the pictures snapped (I mean click-whirred) from the point of view of a curious alien from a distant nebula. These pictures are not art; nor are they visual notes -- the alien is not an anthropologist. No, let's say the alien is a tourist in a big hurry, stuck here between quantum jumps. He has no idea what he's photographing. He just thinks he might want to look at it later

I take a fair number of pictures like that (see above), though I still don't own a polaroid.

Oh well, "Memento mori" anyhow.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

William Eggleston's 'Democratic Camera' at the Whitney

William Eggleston is a Southerner whose 1976 show of color photographs at MOMA & subsequent book, Willam Eggleston's Guide, leapfrogged him past the curatorial establishment & largely redefined the still picture for the next three decades. 'Democratic Camera' at the Whitney Museum is his first major New York show in 32 years.

From "William Eggleston's Guide," All rights reserved

Panned as vulgar & banal in 1976, Eggleston's work is now generally, if not universally, acclaimed. But I've noticed that viewers who agree on the importance of his work still seem at odds about its intentions. Many see -- many photographers try to imitate -- a certain deadpan irony they believe they see in his pictures. In their view Eggleston's celebrated tricycle, made monumental as a low-angle closeup (above), might be seen as his urinal a la Duchamp, his way of sending a pretension-deflating message -- perhaps, "Banal is boring, but boring is honest (get over it)."

This is a misreading. In fact, Eggleston's pictures are never boring. There's a pulse of surprise, even astonishment, in every one of them, no matter how quirky or humble the subject. Eggleston's distinctive compositions & strong, occasionally hallucinatory, color underline the point -- these are not family snapshots.

From "William Eggleston's Guide," All rights reserved

Except -- in a way -- they are. The suspicion of empty amusement on the photographer's part probably persists because some viewers can't accept such commonplace subject matter as serious. For one thing, many of the pictures are located in the suburbs, a place our liberal culture regards with contempt . Yet Eggleston, paying no attention, finds there, as he seems to find everywhere, what The New Yorker's Peter Schjedahl calls "epiphanies in the everyday."

"Backyard barbecue," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

John Szarkowski, the photographer & critic who, as director of MOMA, famously championed Eggleston's work, wrote about the strange, often dark currents that swirl around these ordinary, middle-class subjects: "We have been told so often of the bland, synthetic smoothness of exemplary American life, of its comfortable, vacant insentience, its extruded, stamped and molded sameness... that we have come half to believe it, and thus are startled and perhaps exhilarated to see these pictures of prototypically normal types on their own ground...who seem to live surrounded by spirits, not all of them benign."

From "Wiiliam Eggleston's Guide," All rights reserved

Eggleston's unstudied equanimity, his conviction that each subject is as important as every other subject -- expressed in this show's title, "Democratic Camera" -- is not disturbed. The intensity of his vision seems to combine strong attraction with a natural tendency toward detachment. "I think I had wondered what others see -- if they saw like we see," Eggleston once remarked. "And I've tried to make a lot of photographs as if a human did not take them. Not that a machine took them, but that maybe something took them that was not merely confined to this earth."

A little spooky (possibly part tongue-in-cheek), but such aesthetic distance does not imply lack of feeling.

From "William Eggleston's Guide," All rights reserved

Take the shot that opens the Whitney show, a big tawny hunting dog lapping muddy water from a pothole on an unfinished country road in Louisiana (above). To my northern city eye it's an exotic image of an insular Southern, masculine world. But could the impulse to take it have been a kind of joke? No doubt Eggleston is well aware of the Southern mythology that goes with such a picture -- the guns & bourbon & big roomy muscle cars racing on dirt roads through the cotton fields. Is he playing with my middle-aged male literary head here? Is he invoking an updated Yoknapatawpa County?

Eggleston won't tell us. He won't talk about his pictures, except in a cursory way. But after seeing the Whitney show, I'm convinced visual cleverness & double meanings are not very important to him. To me the central truth of the picture comes to this: Eggleston loved the dog. He may or may not have known her before that moment or stood on that road or had any connection to the car or house in the background. But I believe he loved the dog, her rich colors & insouciant grace & that it was this-- some kind of romantic intuition of pure beauty -- that compelled the picture.

I find it significant that Eggleston never feels the need to explain his pictures. Even at their strangest & most startling --- shots of the inside of his oven or shoes tumbled together with an old gilt frame underneath his bed -- they are not made to comment or to illustrate. At their best they are complete in themselves. Form & content are fused & thus inexplicable in words. Szarkowski again has it right when he says the work "...leads us away from the measurable relationships of art-historical science toward intuition, superstition, blood-knowledge, terror and delight." (Szarkowski's complete essay is here.)

From "10 Dye Transfer Prints, V2," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

Some of Egglston's pictures seem so unhesitating, they suggest little or no gap between romantic perception & its realization. It's as though he already knew certain pictures were his -- that they fulfilled some private meaning -- before he ever saw them. Take the redheaded girl at the snack stand (above). Yes, this picture could be about the lost salvation of youthful beauty. Or it could simply be that the young girl's unearthly red, red beautiful hair -- the way it pours through the frame -- needed to be acknowledged & preserved as a sort of private miracle.

From "Troubled Waters," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

In its 2nd sentence, Wikipedia's article about Eggleston states: "He is widely credited with securing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries." I've read dissenting opinions that very properly want to include in this achievement great color artists like Eliot Porter, Ernst Haas, Joel Meyerowitz, Helen Levitt & others. However, having seen the Whitney show, I see why the honor went to Eggleston. The color in these pictures left me staring, slack-jawed -- not because of the brilliance of its hues (any photoshop amateur can produce that) -- but because of their richness & subtlety. Such colors may exist in the real world (& we don't see them) or they suggest colors we are unable to see. In either case, they seem perfectly calibrated to enhance, rather than overwhelm, the work's essential naturalism.

Why is Eggleston's color so different from other photographers? In the late 60s & early 70s he was running around shooting slides like thousands of others. He began experimenting with color-dye transfer prints, a difficult & expensive process that allowed him to saturate certain colors without changing others. "I don't think anything is as seductive as dyes," Eggleston concluded. He's right, and seduction is the key word. Dye-transfer printing allows Eggleston to access what Schjedahl calls, "his great subject...the too-muchness of the real."

From "Los Alamos," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

It almost goes without saying that the color in the images I've downloaded here bears little or no relation to the color in the prints at the Whitney or to Eggleston's artist-approved books, monographs, portfolios or museum catalogs. For me, focusing my view on Eggleston's rich colors -- forgetting the rest of the picture -- induced a kind of deeply pleasurable trance. But, alas, don 't try it at home.

From "Kyoto," William Eggleston, All rights reserved

There's much more to this show. For instance, Eggleston's 1974 black-&-white video, "Stranded in Canton," plays continuously in one of the back rooms (I wrote about it here). The video, chronicling wild times in the dive bars of Memphis & New Orleans, is another aspect of the artist -- the Eggleston who lived with Viva at the Chelsea Hotel & ran with companions like Dennis Hopper. I suspect there's more to come.

In the meantime, see this marvelous show.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chris Bonney's Vineyard seen

"Vineyard Impressions" (book cover), Christopher Bonney, All rights reserved

A lot of Flickr users have been enjoying Chris Bonney's take on Martha's Vineyard for years. Well, now he's gone & made a book of it! And a fine book it is, self-published through Blurb, which also sells it online & even offers a very nifty preview.

I've been looking at Chris's pictures a while & have concluded his biological clock is set very differently than mine. He's an early riser, early shooter, beneficiary of the gorgeous soft yellowy light that first caresses a night-washed world. It's a gentle but very precise light, one that suits the Vineyard's comfortable graces.

My favorite pictures by Chris tend to be over water . They remind me of the boating pictures by Thomas Eakins, the great 19th century American painter, whose style, like Chris's, is very exact in pursuit of pleasure.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sad songs find their 'place in sun'

"Life in a snow globe," Ernest McLeod, All rights reserved

I'm off from work this week to catch up on projects & get some sleep. So I got to spend some real time looking at work by place in sun, aka Ernest McLeod, a photographer I've admired for years. McLeod favors modest, seemingly ordinary subjects -- the places & things he encounters in his own life in Vermont, Montreal & traveling. His instinct for form & the revelatory light which unveils it -- & especially his understanding of the deep emotional power of color -- make these pictures extraordinary. I'm particularly taken by his unabashed (I mean un-ironic) passion for north country landscapes (full disclosure: I love those landscapes too).

"Goldenrod," Ernest McLeod, All rights reserved

But wait a minute! All the above is true, but it's not the reason I started this post. I wanted to weigh in on one of the critical questions of our time, which 'place in sun' posed in his most recent post? What are the 12 saddest songs of all time? Do you love sad songs too? The ones that make you tingle with miserable joy? If so, check out his (unfinished) choices here. The videos are amazing -- Springsteen's "The River" took me to such an exalted peak of regret for the splendid stupidity of youth that I nearly died & went to heaven.

Anyway, here are a few of my own candidates for 'place in sun's' list. These might (or might not) eventually appear on his excellent blog, parade music in a quiet room .

"One More for the Road," Frank Sinatra -- (is that Doris Day in the vid?)

"Talk to Me of Mendocino," Kate & Anna McGarrigle, with Rufus Wainwright

"The Brand New Tennesse Waltz," Jesse Winchester

Two more I thought of & found but couldn't download from YouTube (site maintenance).
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Hank Williams
"Cat's Cradle," Harry Chapin

I'm out of gas. Who's next?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Late autumn, Prospect Park

Caged tree, late autumn
"Caged tree, late autumn, Prospect Park," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Screen people

"When technology shifts, it bends the culture," Kevin Kelly wrote last month in "Becoming Screen Literate" (NY Times Magazine --11/23/08). I'd say that's indisputable. Yet I'm always surprised at how many people shift & bend without seeming to notice, let alone resist. They adapt (as humans have always done). The new magic is too potent. In the face of it, resistance is futile. Why not obey? And, if you have no choice, why not adapt in style?

Dialin' & stylin'-- textin' & nextin'
"Texting," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

In fact, Kelly's important & generally well-done article is not at all about what I wrote above. That's my thing. I do plan to write more about Kelly's ideas in upcoming posts. But first, a last curmudgeonly swipe at the techno-utopian aria that ends the piece & is, to my mind, too typical of the way we imagine technology. I thought this kind of rapture writing went away when the dot com bubble burst.

"With our fingers we will drag objects out of films and cast them in our own movies. A click of our phone camera will capture a landscape, then display its history, which we can use to annotate the image. Text, sound, motion will continue to merge into a single intermedia as they flow through the always-on network. With the assistance of screen fluency tools we might even be able to summon up realistic fantasies spontaneously. Standing before a screen, we could create the visual image of a turquoise rose, glistening with dew, poised in a trim ruby vase, as fast as we could write these words. If we were truly screen literate, maybe even faster. And that is just the opening scene."

Wow! Watch out, you closet romantics. Nerd heaven is starting to sound like Coleridge on two grains of opium.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Street snaps

"Park man, E 21st garage," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

In my daily life in the city I shoot any number of long-term projects simultaneously. The subjects interest me, though I don't necessarily know why. The subjects are always there. When I don't have the right camera, I check them out as pictures anyway. Urban trees, pocket parks, community gardens, little urban front yards, bright colors in drab places, spotlights of sunlight, shadows, dapple, foliage & stone, rooftops, doors, stoops, all statues, murals, unloved places that fill up with things, weeds & brush, seasonal decorations of all kinds, billboards, bodegas, botanicas, madonnas, saints, toy stores, dogs & people, kids playing sports, people making music, neighborhood celebrations...

This shot is from a series of portraits of people whose job it is to hand out stuff or wear signs on the street. Some days I don't have the courage to ask for their permission to shoot ( I tell myself I don't have the time). But at least I no longer give myself the excuse of not having a camera. I always carry my teenycam (Panasonic Lumix digital) in a holster on my belt. The whole session -- 2 - 10 snaps -- is over in maybe 2 minutes. If they want to see, I show them on the display .

I'm always excited to see the results myself. I always think I'm going to like pictures of people, but 99% disappoint me. I'm trying to develop a better attitude about taking pictures of people. I'm trying to feel less responsible for pleasing them. The nice thing about the hand out guys is they don't expect anybody to please them. They're generally grateful or at least amused by the distraction. Standing out there hour after hour, they must sometimes wonder if anybody sees them at all.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The elusivenes of the snow leopard

"Snow leopard in the wild," Steve Winter, All rights reserved

This picture by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter won this year's top prize in the BBC's Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. Winter spent 13 months getting this shot of the rarely-glimpsed leopard, an endangered species, in its high Himalayan habitat. He set up 14 cameras in 45 locations regularly marked by the territorial cats. Tripped by motion, these "camera traps" weren't always successful -- one camera yielded half a leopard in 5 1/2 months -- but Winter perservered.

Interestingly, he didn't really like the remote cameras he was forced to use "...because they just gave you a record of an animal." But snow leopards, he found, were the perfect subject for the technique because they always returned to the same spots (as long as no humans were nearby).

"So I viewed the locations as movie sets," Winter said. "I put the cameras there, I put the lights there...I knew the animal would come; it was just waiting for the actor to walk on stage and break the beam."

The BBC article is here.

If you want to read more on the subject, try Peter Matthiessen's 1979 Snow Leopard, a moving account of the naturalist/author/now Buddhist priest's 1973 trip to the Himalayas with an expedition studying the bharal or blue sheep. Matthiessen spends months in the high mountains looking for a snow leopard. I won't tell you whether he finds one or not, but I can tell you it's a great read.

This story was pointed out to me by my friend, writer/editor & photographer Sharon Guynup, Steve Winter's long-time partner. Sharon's life-&-travel blog Out in the wide world is fascinating.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nancy Fulton: Of wind & summer light

Nancy Fulton (aka Yellowhammer on Flickr) spends her summers on the Maine coast, where she makes photographs that range from mature contemplation to child-like play. I recently had occasion to spend some time looking at her Wind series. The series is nothing more than colored & textured fabrics hung in Nancy's yard & photographed as they race, loft, plunge & cavort in the breezy summer light. Yet I was amazed at the feelings the pictures stirred. I laughed more than once & even felt a kind of grief knowing these moments (& everything) inevitably vanish. But the main feeling, which underlay all the others, was delight.

Here are four from Wind.




From "Wind," Nancy Fulton, All rights reserved

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Myoung Ho Lee: A tree grows in Korea

"Tree # 8," Myoung Ho Lee, All rights reserved

Sometimes a simple conceptual idea, applied with conviction & skill, can make an artwork come alive. Myoung Ho Lee's "Tree" series places a white canvas-like backdrop behind individual trees in a landscape. Something happens.

The tree, now undeniably a photograph of a tree, becomes symbolic of itself. The background is now formally separate from the tree & becomes more (or less) "real." In addition to its witty reference to painting -- photography's arty older sibling -- the canvas adds a pleasing but unnatural rectangle to the composition. The picture becomes more complicated, arguably more interesting. For one thing, it moves out of the make-believe realm of nature-without-human-influence.

The tree now fulfills Susan Sontag's admonition to the photographer from On Photography, "...photographic seeing has to be constantly renewed with new shocks, whether of subject matter or technique, so as to produce the impression of violating ordinary vision."

But that can't be all . If -- as I do -- you love trees as beautiful creatures, Lee's deconstructive strategies are interesting but finally not satisfying. You're tempted to quote the cartoon Lorax, "Who shall speak for the trees?" And here is the photographer's answer: "Seeing trees in a refreshing way or restoring the value of trees is to awaken all beings on earth..."

Largest-sized gallery & an interview with the artist is here.

Myoung Ho Lee's work was pointed out by my colleague, designer Christina Baute. Check out her design for the "Zero dollar bill" .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stillness...almost paradise

"Only sleeping," Tim Connor, All rights reserved


O Earth, lie heavily upon her eyes;
Seal her sweet eyes weary of watching, Earth,
Lie close around her; leave no room for mirth
With its harsh laughter, nor for sound of sighs,
She hath no questions, she hath no replies.
Hushed in and curtained with a blessed dearth
Of all that irked her from the hour of birth;
With stillness that is almost Paradise.
Darkness more clear than noonday holdeth her.
Silence more musical than any song.
Even her very heart has ceased to stir:
Until the morning of Eternity
Her rest shall not begin nor end, but be;
And when she wakes she will not think it long.

by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

My friend, poet & professor Ken Fields, suggested pairing this poem with this picture. I love the new, created 3rd thing -- the interpenetration of understanding -- that can happen with such a juxtaposition. For me Rossetti's poem illuminates in a way nothing else has the passionate aesthetic of grief I have felt in the the graves & statuary of Greenwood Cemetery, where I've been photographing for years & this picture was made. The 19th century cult of death is unabashed at Greenwood. Some would say it's over-the-top. Like this poem the artistry is formal & controlled. Yet it's whole purpose is to let go without restraint.

Ken is also known as buster/ken at Flickr. His latest book of poems is Classic Rough News. Here's one of his poems, In the Place of Stories.

Thanks, Ken.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Random scandom with Flickriver

I feel like I just turned 85. My doctor told me I probably have chronic Lyme's disease. Sound bad? Not compared to the alternatives. Still, I feel like shit.

Between the exhaustion & self-pity I have been reduced to googling myself (thus an obit writer would begin his research). I found a Flickriver in my name. A flickrivr is a software toy invented by Alex Sirota that provides new ways to view & explore pictures on the popular Flickr photo-sharing site (I'm a member; I wrote about 'the Flickr photograph' here).

Sirota's flickrivers offer an elegant & user-friendly interface with all pictures in a continuous stream & showcased dramatically on black. Most of the functions are available on the main Flickr site, but one was new to me. By clicking a button I could look at a random display of my photos. I found this mesmerizing.

"Family in fog, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 2006," Tim Connor. All rights reserved

This is the 1st "random" picture that displayed for me. There are several definitions of random in my Webster's dictionary, but the most appropriate, given the mathematical nature of the programming that produced this set would probably be this one: "...being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence." There are 2,610 photos in my Flickr archive, taken over a span of 32 years.

Here are the next nine that displayed:

1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9)

Subject: 1) madonna statue 2) ice cream stand 3) man walking in street 4) shadow self-portrait 5) kayak going over waterfall 6) front yard with whirlygigs 7) country cemetery 8) detail of my [paper] collage 9) Lit apartment windows, dusk

Place: 1) Brooklyn 2) Maine 3) China 4) Brooklyn 5) Vermont 6) Brooklyn 7) Vermont 8) Manhattan 9) Brooklyn

Time: 1) 2005 2) 2006 3) 2000 4) 2006 5) 2005 6) 2006 7) 2005 8) 2008 9) 2005

A fair question (after having scrolled much more extensively down my "random" river of images) will be : Does an alternative definition from Websters also apply? To wit: Random -- lacking a definite plan, purpose or pattern.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My show is coming down soon & Obama is no longer an excuse. Get on over here!

"Subway riders pass my AFT show lightboxes," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

New Yorkers & travelers to New York: Don't miss my Arts for Transit show at the Atlantic Ave-Pacific St. subway station in Brooklyn (Map & directions from Manhattan here). These seven 4 ft by 6 ft lightboxes in a busy subway corridor will be coming down soon & I don't get to keep the lightboxes. Seriously, Jeff Wall & I think you should see my color street shots in this format if you see them at all, so why don't you get off your train when you roll through or make a special trip to Brooklyn. I really think this one's worth it.

More info & gallery of the pictures here & also here. Oh & here's a few shots right after installation.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Annie's Garden: A touchstone in time

"Heart of november," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I go back to certain places again & again to take photographs. One such place is Annie's Garden, a small lovingly planted sitting & refreshment space a few steps away from the Garden of Union in Park Slope. From one visit to the next -- hours, days or months apart -- nothing remains unchanged in this shady spot. If photography, more than any other art, is about time, this little garden lets me confront its mysteries.

"Old gold," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

See more of my photos of Annie's Garden.

For an overview of the Union St. gardens, including Annie's, take the tour with Flatbush Gardener.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

For Barack Hussein Obama...

"Sax player, Washington Square," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

...and all of us.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote for Obama!

"Obama, Houston St." Tim Connor, All rights reserved

My vote tomorrow for Barack Obama & Joe Biden will be the most clearheaded & unambiguous of my lifetime.

The reasons have been explained by others better than I ever could. But I will say this. If you do plan to vote for Obama, there are no excuses for not doing it. Don't give in to any obstacles. Don't outsmart yourself.

Vote as if the life of your (our) children depends on it...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Nina Berman's 'Homeland'

"All America Day with the 82nd Airborne, Ft. Bragg, NC," Nina Berman, All rights reserved

At this moment in history we seem (somehow) to be hurtling simultaneously toward apocalypse & salvation. Nina Berman’s photographs suggest how this might be possible. Her new show Homeland at Jen Bekman Gallery explores America's steadily increasing militarism since 9/11, but not grimly or without irony. Those for whom Bush's word people coined the reassuring rubric "homeland security" may even find some of these pictures comforting. Others (I include myself) will find them chilling.

Berman mostly photographs our dark currents in peaceful sunshine. In her pictures, made at military exercises, public simulations of terrorist attacks, recruitment scenarios & other events, she evokes a traditional America -- one in which mainstream values appear to coexist comfortably with military codes of loyalty & honor. The people in these pictures, in other words, don't resemble anybody's stereotype of hawkish ideologues . Whether enjoying the precision flying of warplanes or enthusiastically play-acting good vs. evil scenarios of terrorist attacks, they seem ordinary -- if anything, more innocent than their typical countrymen.

"Islamic Terrorists attack Midway Airport during a Homeland Security drill in Chicago," Nina Berman, All rights reserved.

They want to be convinced that wars serve a moral purpose. “Some of these events have the look and feel of state sponsored performance art, where realism is replaced by theater, giving participants a powerful sense of identity and value through a militarized experience,” Berman writes.

In other words, we fantasize war before we fight it. This is not news -- young men have always dreamed of glory -- but the massive, full-time, consciously targeted marketing of these fantasies is something else again. Moving well beyond big-budget, sophisticated advertising campaigns for the armed services, the made-up message -- the sell -- has seeped into every aspect of our culture. And the military services are not the only ones making the pitch. Think back just a few years to the waving starred-&-striped "Operation Iraqi Freedom" logos you saw on every TV news screen during the race to Baghdad. Could that really have been the free American press?

"Sam Ross," Nina Berman, All rights reserved

Berman came to this series after years of making sympathetic but unflinching portraits of Iraq War veterans who came home severely wounded. (I wrote about it here.)

Berman writes: "Many of the subjects I photographed said they grew up thinking war would be 'fun.' Many watched the first Gulf War on TV and thought it was 'awesome.' Several said that becoming a soldier meant they would finally do something good in life. "

It's surprising that most Americans don't seem to know -- or perhaps don't care -- that our country makes & sells more weapons than any other. A September 13th article in the NY Times , for instance, described the recent surge of weapons sales under the Bush administration. "The United States has long been the top arms supplier to the world. In the past several years, however, the list of nations that rely on the United States as a primary source of major weapons systems has greatly expanded."

In fact, our own military buildup was already underway long before Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld decided to invade Iraq. At the height of the Cold War in 1961, outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower
squarely addressed American militarism in his farewell speech to the nation. Granting that a permanent source of weapons and a large standing army had become necessary, Eisenhower also sounded an unmistakable warning.

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government," Ike said. "...In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

"A soldier helps a boy fire a rifle equipped with a laser at human targets, who drop to the ground and play dead when hit. All America Day, Ft. Bragg, NC," Nina Berman, All rights reserved.

But in the end it's not the growth of Ike's military/industrial complex that makes Berman's photograph (above) deeply disturbing. This image's human --what Eisenhower might call its "spiritual" -- implications don't require any policy expertise . The soldier, perhaps the father of the boy, exhibits tenderness & concern, but what does he imagine he's teaching? The boy's fantasy target is not a deer to be hunted. It's a dark-skinned man in a turban.

I wonder. After the boy has "killed" him & watched him fall, what does the boy learn when the "terrorist" gets back up & smiles?

Friday, October 31, 2008

A salon of our own

Photo by A.J. Zelada ( a Critical Mass reject), All rights reserved

In 1863, after approximately 3000 paintings were rejected from the official Paris Salon, a special exhibition -- Le Salon des Refus├ęs -- was organized across the street. Among the rejected works shown were paintings by Monet, Manet, Whistler, Cezanne, and Pissarro, among others.

Photographer & blogger Liz Kuball had a witty idea. She decided to gather pictures (including her own) that hadn't made the cut in the recent Critical Mass portfolio review and exhibit them as a one-time show on her blog. Interested photographers were asked to send one picture within the next 36 hours & Uncritical Mass is the result.

P.S. I'm in some good company. Check it out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yeah, it can be freezing out there...

"Tryin to get to heaven fore they close the door...", lyric by B Dylan, photo by Tim Connor

I didn't make the list of finalists in Photo Lucida's Critical Mass contest. Time to belt out one of those Broadway musical numbers about starting all over again? What do you think? Nah, I'm going to bed.

Here's the 10 photos I entered.

Here's the statement I included with the pix.

I set out to explore the interaction of beachgoers with the ocean. My setting was the South Wellfleet beach I have walked since I was a small boy. In my lifetime, the ocean has moved inland perhaps a hundred yards, but down on the sand, between the bluffs and the ocean, everything is exactly the same as it was. Every other important place in my life has changed significantly or even disappeared. Not this place.

Here at the Atlantic’s western edge, vacationers sometimes experience a similar sense of timelessness. The land-water margin is an elemental zone of transition, a liminal space in which internal transformations are possible. For many, the beach becomes a stage that metaphorically opens on eternity. Normally driven by clocks and to-do lists, beachgoers sometimes find themselves distracted, even staring out to sea -- without becoming impatient -- for hours at a time.

I photographed strangers as they walked and watched or played and swam at the land-water divide. My idea was not to make portraits but to illuminate behavior.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Photo plays key role in Powell's endorsement of Obama

"Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan," Platon, All rights reserved

This picture played an important part in Colin Powell's recent Meet the Press endorsement of Barack Obama for president. A much-decorated soldier and U.S. secretary of state during the Bush administration, Powell is the most prominent Republican yet to repudiate his party's now-standard practice of sliming political opponents. In his endorsement he specifically cited the September 29th New Yorker image, by Platon as an annihilating counter argument to the McCain/RNC's "Obama is a Muslim" whisper-campaign.

Here's what Powell said:

' is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America...

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way." (Complete transcript of Powell's remarks is here.)

"Kareem Rashad Suktan Khan," photo by Caroline

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"...We heard the rain battering on the roof and it rained on the river and on Jon's boat and on the road to the shop and on Barkald's meadow, it rained over the forest and the horses in their paddock and all the birds' nests in all the trees, over moose and over hare, and on every roof in the village, but inside the cottage it was dry and warm..."

From the novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson, translation by Anne Born.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cemetery season

"He is sleeping," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Cruciform," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Celtic cross," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pig City

"Pig towers," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

A well-regarded Dutch architectural firm, MDRDV, has spent four years creating a plan to build seventy six high-rise towers to house pigs.

As reported on the ArchiNed News website, the pigs will be born & die (be slaughtered) in the 2000-foot-high towers. But at least they won’t be shut-ins. “Large balconies allow the animals to rummage around under trees outside, " say the architects. "A central abattoir is housed in the plinth, and pigs for slaughter are moved in lifts. On top is a fish farm that supplies some of the food needed. Each tower also contains a central slurry-processing plant and a biogas tank, which easily caters for the tower's energy needs. To reduce transport costs, 44 towers are located in the port; the other towers are located close to major cities.”

Are you still staggering from the picture this creates in your head? (See artist's austere rendering above) Well, says MDRDV, face facts: “The Netherlands produces some 16.5 million tonnes of pig meat each year, making it the European Union's leading exporter. In 1999 there were officially 15.2 million pigs in the country, and 15.5 million people. Each pig requires 664 square metres of space, including that required for meat processing ... If meat consumption was to stay at today's levels and purely organic farming methods were introduced, the pig industry would need 75% of the surface area of the Netherlands.”

"Pigs & appletree," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

So this isn’t just about profit then? This scheme would address important societal problems, including a pig vs. people lebensraum problem you probably didn't even know about. Maybe we should think about Pig City as a kind of pragmatist's utopia, not just for us hungry humans but also for the long-suffering nation of swine. “If pigs are efficiently kept in stacked 'apartments' in such a way that they enjoy better conditions, the meat acquires a better taste, livestock transport becomes unnecessary, diseases are eliminated, and the Netherlands acquires more space," according to MVRDV.

Right. But what if something breaks down in Pig City? Fish farm, slurry processing plant, biogas power system? With all that, a lot could go wrong. What if the humans who keep it all running don’t show up one day? Or two or three. Say there’s a gigantic hurricane. Say there’s a labor dispute. What if, left alone, the pigs get ornery & push out the doors? Can you imagine 50,000 huge, hungry, hogs trotting around Rotterdam trying to remember where they left their baser instincts?

"Pig mob" MDRDV

"Pig mob (closer)" MDRDV

But wait a minute! Is this for real? Could this be a sort of performance art, aimed at raising uncomfortable questions? An exhibition & wide-ranging panel discussion of Pig City by the contemporary art museum Stroom Den Haag suggests this might be the case. ArchiNed's post suggests just such an ironic reading: “Pig City is a cartoon-like representation of today's situation and, unlike the secret bio-industry, makes no attempt to gloss over the consequences of our pattern of consumption. The presentation, for that matter, is so lifelike that many read it as a realistic alternative.” So is it a fake? It's true that humans keep having babies at an explosive rate & that, if we can get it, we like pork chops as our protein. It's also true that we're running out of prime agricultiural land & that using such land to raise pigs -- which, after all, stink & produce gargantuan quantities of shit -- is not popular. Does this mean Pig City is the future?

ArchiNed doesn't offer an opinion. It does, however, note that “no doubt MVRDV would be the first to take on the job should it prove feasible."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two pix of Frank & Vincenzo

"Frank & Vincenzo," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Frank & Vincenzo are good friends of mine. I care about whether they like any picture I might take of them. For this one at a wonderful wedding we all attended, I snapped eight frames, one right after another. I was immediately drawn to the frame shown above. The problem is, I always seem to choose the 'off' picture, the quirky picture, the one just before or after my subject is ready, the one that -- if you're shooting for money -- you never even show the client (unless you know them very well & you're showing it as a joke).

"Frank & Vincenzo 2," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Here's one most people would probably like better (it's nothing special; I'm using it to make a point). And I'm not saying Frank & Vincenzo would or wouldn't like it. They're creative people. Frank's a photographer (his Fading Ad blog is here). Will that first picture bother him? I doubt it (I wouldn't be blogging it if I did). But a lot of people would be embarrassed -- & they're not necessarily the ones you might predict. They wouldn't like it chosen & shown. They'd assume you understood that.

This is why I have so much trouble with portraits. It's why I prefer to photograph strangers. With strangers I can be confident of my choices because they're about me. They're not really about the subject.

See one possible solution on Flickr.