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?