Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weird Kentucky

"Woolridge family cemetery," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Some time last year I got an email from a guy in New Jersey who had found my photo (above) of the Woolridge monument in Mayfield, KY. When I called him (sorry I don't remember his name) , he told me he wanted to use the photo in a travel guide to be called Weird Kentucky (part of a travel series called Weird U.S.). We talked more about it, very pleasantly, but I noticed he wasn't mentioning money, so I did. We bargained a little, then agreed amiably on a modest price .

I joked I would put him on my blog if he paid me quickly & sent me a copy when the book got published. Well, I got a check within the week & yesterday got my signed copy! So here you go, sir!

"Weird Kentucky," Sterling Publishing Co., All rights

I'm proud to be putting Weird Kentucky on my bookshelf, & I think you should own it too.

This handy compendium mixes charmingly strange locations you can actually visit in Kentucky -- e.g., a Biblically-themed 54-hole miniature golf course in Lexington where "...even the most jaded & seasoned professional miniature golfer will find himself challenged by the miracle holes, especially putting the Red Sea" -- & regionally-based mysteries, legends, unexplained phenomena, bloody secrets, roadside oddities, fabled people, bizarre beasts, & ghost stories to curdle the kiddy's blood around the campfire. Oh & of course the illustrations are lavishly creative.

Congratulations to publishers Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman & author Jeffrey Scott Holland.

Here's a Louisville-Courier Journal story , "Weird Kentucky develops a following."
Here's a link to the book's page on Amazon.
Here's a website called Unusual Kentucky.

You might also be interested in my account: Southern strategy: a photo tour through Tennessee and Kentucky. Scroll down the right hand side of this page to the link, under "Musings."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In search of 'the Flickr photograph'

"Lighthouse," Rebekka Guoleifsdottir, All rights reserved

Virginia Heffernan's "Sepia No More" article in today's New York Times Magazine gets a few things right. She contends that a distinct visual style, "the Flickr photograph," has emerged from, the popular photo-sharing website. I'd say she's right.

"People don’t upload to the Web words and images they had fashioned apart from the Web; they fashion their stuff specifically for online platforms and audiences," Heffernan explains. Flickr photos are digital images that "... 'pop' with the signature tulip colors of Canon digital cameras." They are visual gestalts, designed to be eye-catching as tiny thumbnails and fully readable at Flickr's normal viewing size of 500 pixels. They favor strong, photoshop-enhanced colors, crisp focus and heavy contrast. They are not overly concerned with reality, instead mounting "... a case against vérité rawness, in favor of posing, cropping and special effects."

All true. But, I think it's also worth pointing out that, aside from the photoshop tweaks, pictures on Flickr are not actually very different in intention from classic Kodachrome & Kodacolor snapshots of the 60s and 70s. The subject matter is mostly staged, attractive people, romantic places, families, pets, memorable events. The look generally includes clear lighting, sharp focus & bright, saturated colors . Like the Kodak snaps, Flickr is mostly about creating a happy, pretty universe of the imagination -- OK, there are more tilted horizons.

Of course it should go without saying that many Flickr photographers are having none of this. Digital photography -- with the web as a key disseminator -- may well be forging a new aesthetic, but most shooters know the trend is much bigger & more complicated than what's getting "favorited" at the photo sharing sites . Sites like Flickr are not, as Heffernan seems to think, an arena for some decisive battle between analog vs. digital, art school vs. self-taught, museum vs. screen. In fact, even if established photo art stars (& those dutifully following the art school-endorsed route to such eminence) may in some cases feel threatened, the museums seem intrigued. Last year's "We are all photographers now" show at Musee de L'Elysee in Lausanne & the upcoming "Click" show at the Brooklyn Museum, for example, both ask: Who really deserves to be called an artist? Who decides?

Some have predicted that near-universal access to the web will usher in an electronic democracy of art, but I'm not convinced. In one form or another, I think talent, connections, ambition & luck will collide with the prevailing zeitgeist to create reputations, as they always have. But it's also clear that the worldwide web has opened a new door for these volatile elements, & that it won't be shutting soon.

"Self-portrait with apple," Rebekka Guoleifsdottir, All rights reserved

I've been on Flickr since 2004. Before that I was on Fotolog for a few years. I know what it's like to regard a photo sharing site as a self-contained universe, full of creative friends and intriguing imagery. I owe some good real world friends, a fair number of photo sales, even an important show to online photo networking. I use Flickr to connect with other's lives and catch up on gossip, as a handy archive for what I call my digital work prints and to edit my pictures into whatever package I'm working on. But I don't regard Flickr as a movement.

I wonder if Heffernan, whose column, after all, exists to tout the prowess of trippy online technology, does. The two Flickr photographers she uses to illustrate her thesis certainly don't have much in common . Rebekka Guoleifsdottir is an Icelandic artist who took up photography only recently. A woman of truly exceptional physical beauty, she began posting self-portraits, some of them nude, along with nature & landscape shots, family pictures & so on. The nudes -- handled with an earnest high classical modesty -- were naturally a huge hit, both because Guoleifsdottir is a stunning & exquisitely fit woman & because she quickly became a competent photographer.

But there's more to her meteoric rise to viewer-count heaven than the simple monkey magnetism of beautiful nudes. As Heffernan points out, Guoleifsdottir also learned to play the Flickr game. "She discovered how to create the minicollections called 'photostreams' [sic]; how to create images that would look good shrunk, in 'thumbnail' form; and how to flirt with the site’s visitors in the comments area to keep them coming back. As perhaps is always the case with artists, Guoleifsdottir’s evolution as a photographer was bound up in the evolution of her modus operandi, a way of navigating the institutions and social systems that might gain her a following and a living....(She) learned how to title and tag photos so that they might readily come up in searches; how to police copyright transgressions (as when some of her photos were sold illegally on eBay); and how to push contrasts by processing her pictures with Photoshop software."

Fine, but I thought we were talking about photo art. Guoleifsdottir’s nudes are technically excellent but quite traditional -- really nothing special as photographs (interestingly, I'm pretty sure she took a bunch of them down from her site; I visited it some time ago & seem to remember that there were dozens). Her later self-portraits, which use photoshop to replicate herself as her own twin, are more interesting, as are a number of other projects. But in the end Guoleifsdottir's output feels to me like that of a talented, hard-working artist still climbing a learning curve toward what she really wants to say. One of her Flickr sets is titled, "conceptual artsy type stuff". That tells you something.

"Lulu & Bubba," Merkley, All rights reserved

Heffernan's other choice to represent 'the Flickr photograph' is even more curious. A San Francisco photographer on Flickr who calls himself Merkley , he's a huge favorite of mine, but I would have tapped him to represent the anti-Flickr photograph. His sardonic over-the-top portraits usually feature attractive naked girls (sure fire winner), slightly warped house-beautiful settings (attracts boho real estate set) & numerous strange, often raunchy accessories used as visual puns or worse (shows he's a serious artist). He writes titles like "Sylvia - Simultaneously Flipping Her Hair and Her Sausages While The Dog Hopes For a Mishap and The Oven Laughs About Something Amusing Happening Off Camera Just Over Your Right Shoulder" & frequently indulges in extended online raving he may or may not mean. Anyway, it's good business. He flogs his new book here.

Merkley's insistence that he is clueless about photography & just pushes the little button on his little camera, that he hates his pictures before they are extensively retouched & so on may sound like a Flickr style. It may even be partially true. But it's also an ancient & very effective strategy, used by many artists, from Rimbaud to Stephen Colbert. Merkley is playing the artist/provocateur. The wise fool. And he's good at it. He knows that sex & humor are an excellent way to epater le bourgeois while pocketing their checks. His pictures certainly beat all those Flickr sunsets.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Make theatre make a difference, Part 1

"Make theatre make a difference, Part 1", Winter/Summer Institute, All rights reserved

This is Part 1 of of a video documenting work my wife Lucy Winner, her colleague Katt Lissard and others are doing to combat AIDS in Lesotho, southern Africa (see next post for Part 2). Lucy teaches theatre at Empire State College, SUNY in NYC. She and colleagues and students from South Africa, Lesotho, the U.K. and NYC have put together a theatre project in Lesotho that creates collaborative plays with the local Basotho people. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. A staggering one-third of the country's adults have the HIV/AIDS virus so the issue is huge and tragic. The work that they created last time on the role of gossip in the spread of the virus reflects this, of course, but it's often very funny too -- and the music will blow your mind! See for yourself!

They'll be going back to Lesotho in June. Visit to learn more or make a tax-deductible donation

Make theatre make a difference, Part 2

"Make theatre make a difference, Part 2," Winter/Summer Institute, All rights reserved

This is Part 2 of of a video documenting work my wife Lucy Winner, her colleague Katt Lissard and others are doing to combat AIDS in Lesotho, southern Africa (see previous post for Part 1). Lucy teaches theatre at Empire State College, SUNY in NYC. She and colleagues and students from South Africa, Lesotho, the U.K. and NYC have put together a theatre project in Lesotho that creates collaborative plays with the local Basotho people. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. A staggering one-third of the country's adults have the HIV/AIDS virus so the issue is huge and tragic. The work that they created last time on the role of gossip in the spread of the virus reflects this, of course, but it's often very funny too -- and the music will blow your mind! See for yourself!

They'll be going back to Lesotho in June. Visit to learn more or make a tax-deductible donation.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back to Annie's garden

"Annie's garden, Union St., Brooklyn," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tick tick tick!

"Young buck on Fire Island," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I recently went to the doctor & found out I'm having a recurrence of Lyme's disease. On Fire Island last summer I found a tick bite with the little red target around it . After a blood test confirmed Lyme's, I took a course of antibiotics for it & thought that was that. Nope.

I've been feeling awful for weeks, dragging around, low energy, energy plunges, falling asleep at work, terrible muscle aches, headaches. Feeling worse because I couldn't concentrate to do photography or write worth a damn. Now at least I know what it is -- I hope. I'm off on another round of antibiotics,but doc says it might take2-3 weeks to kick in.

Go ahead, Argentina, cry for me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fenced-in madonna

Fenced-in-madonna by Tim Connor, All rights rreserved

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Brooklyn Museum -- Click! We're all curators

"The mermaid has been drinking" (repost), Tim Connor, All rights reserved

The upcoming Click! show at the Brooklyn Museum raises the question: Can the average person tell the difference between an outstanding photo & a ho hum wannabe? To find out, the Museum has invited the internet masses (that's us) to be online judges for the 389 submissions to the show. Interested "crowd-curators" can get started here.

This is the rationale: "Taking its inspiration from the critically acclaimed book The Wisdom of Crowds, in which New Yorker business and financial columnist James Surowiecki asserts that a diverse crowd is often wiser at making decisions than expert individuals, Click! explores whether Surowiecki’s premise can be applied to the visual arts—is a diverse crowd just as 'wise' at evaluating art as the trained experts?"

I think it's an interesting question. To its credit, Click! is soliciting its public judges at every level of viewing sophistication, & will include the various ratings with the pictures. But the website is a little vague about what gets into the final show, what doesn't & who decides? Where do the "expert individuals" come in? Are they going to be professional curators or just people who say they're experts? Is it possible all 389 pictures are automatically in the final show?

So far I've rated several hundred, & I have to tell you: I hope not.

On the other hand, the judging process seems straightforward & above-board. Admirable care is taken to make clear that the simple registration & optional email reminder system is not a trap to collect addresses (as though the organizers really do want broad feedback). Those who enter contests, as I sometimes do, will probably find illuminating the behind-the-scenes glimpses of an open-call's raw materials. What is the quality of the competition? How are entrants interpreting the assignment (in this case it's :"The changing face(s) of Brooklyn")? What do other photographers write about their work?

Click! judging goes on till May 23rd. If , between now & then, you're intrigued enough to join the jury, please look for my picture. It's the one above (the prim & sedate one from the Mermaid Parade). If you like it, I hope you'll rate it highly.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Fun with pictures



Details 1 and 2, Office collage," Tim Connor, All rights reserved.

A photo editor with lots of imagery sloshing around, I started making a collage on my office wall. 2 1/2 years ago. First I just push-pinned pictures I liked onto a bulletin board & then it outgrew that & got much more complicated.

Now my office has moved to another floor. & I can't take the collage with me (2/3 of it is held together by scotch tape). So I'm photographing it. Dreaming about a big master shot with an 8 X 10 camera, but that will probably stay a dream. Above are test shots of portions of the collage, which I'm still working on.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fame! Stardom! Undying celebrity!

"ME!!" , photo by Adam Pantozzi, All rights reserved

My blog (this blog) is mentioned & quoted in a front page article in today's NY Times, called "Names That Match Forge a Bond on the Internet."

Writer Stephanie Rosenbloom quotes from my post: "Gaze of the Googleganger."


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Goddess bless San Francisco!


"We got monks tomorrow, Desmond Tutu and Richard Gere here today and a nude torch relay in the works," said San Francisco spokesman Nathan Ballard (quoted in the NY Times, morning hardcopy edition) about protests in the city against the Chinese crackdown on Tibet.

At least somebody in this country is awake.

Oh yes, I know, like the Times & all the others, I'm going with the "crazy left coasters" hook . Well, maybe we should all get a little more crazy.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Today is Forsythia Day

"Forsythia suckers," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

A symbol of brotherhood, unity and understanding, forsythia was declared the official flower of Brooklyn in 1940. Brooklyn residents were encouraged to plant the flower in their gardens and neighborhoods.

The 1st Sunday in April was declared Forsythia Day in the borough. A parade --also known as the Sunday School or St. James parade -- was held in its honor. Today the Brooklyn Botanic Garden celebrates this tradition by giving away forsythias to its members.

Below is a really charming shot of the parade, which I dug up here:

"The annual Sunday School-Brooklyn Day parade. In light dresses in front: Doris Olsen of Gotham Avenue (with flag raised) then Dolores Ficken (flag lowered). In the next row from left are Mary Hall and Anna Marie Mockler (now Leitch, with flag raised and in dark uniform). Fred Mockler on the tricycle. Taken around the early 1940s?"
(Courtesy Fred Mockler)

Spring, Brooklyn (2 weeks later)

"Spring tangle 2," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Saturday, April 5, 2008