Saturday, December 20, 2014

REM sleep disorder

"In the tunnel," Tim Connor, All rights reserved.

More photos on my Flickr site.

The madonna and the whore

"Madonna," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Water Bearer
"Water girl," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

More photos on my Flickr site.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Women of New York

Sidewalk of love
"Sidewalk of love,"  Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Read your cards?
"Tarot card reader"

Basketball girl (color)
"Basketball girl," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Lively lunch
"Lunch in Union Square," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Top knot," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"A clean, well-lighted place," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Self Ps

"Alexander the Great," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"A growing boy," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Random art

"Butterfly enhanced," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"LA Live," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to the blog

We all dream of immortality. Is Google eternal? Perhaps for a few years. In any case I want to start posting my photos here again. Here are a couple. More to follow.

"Mannequins, Manhattan," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Black haired mannequin, Manhattan," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Critical mass: Writing something a lot of people are thinking

"New York World's Fair, 1964," Garry Winogrand, All rights reserved

To conclude his review of the Garry Winogrand show at the Met (editor's note: Winogrand's images are mostly unplanned shots of strangers going about their lives, like the example above), New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz wrote the following:

"Something we’ve been missing also becomes evident here. The whole world is now filled with incredible images—especially on Instagram and other social networks—that owe something to Winogrand’s, documenting life, change, and all the rest. Yet the art world and museums are not. Instead they tend to show oversize, very still pictures or images that investigate formal properties and ideas of display and presentation. I love many of those pictures, but what’s happening online on social media deserves far more serious scrutiny than it’s getting. If the art world doesn’t admit more of this sort of deceptively casual-seeming work, the outside world will reject more so-called art photography than it already does. That’s a divide that we don’t need to reestablish and widen."

About time.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fruit season

Fruit 1
"Court St, Brooklyn 1", Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Fruit 2
"Court St, Brooklyn 2," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

See more daily photos at

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Garry Winogrand: Mundane mysteries, clearly stated

"Six" by Garry Winogrand at Pace McGill Gallery

Review by Tim Connor

"El Morocco, New York City, 1969" by Garry Winogrand

Pace McGill’s Garry Winogrand show, “Six,” might be thought of as a kind of Cliff Notes for the full-dress Winogrand career retrospective running this summer at the Met.  At Pace McGill, Winogrand’s well-known prints are large and crisp, and the crowds are minimal, but how much, after all, can one learn from an outline? 

Six images have been chosen for each of six categories  -- Animals, Public Relations, Street, Women, Central Park and Texas.  Aside from providing the title for the show, this 6 X 6 arrangement seems arbitrary and unimaginative for work that openly – even ferociously -- eschews any kind of shot-list mentality or after-the-fact categorization.  But perhaps curation is beside the point. These are Winogrands, and Pace McGill wants to sell them (11” x 14” print prices range from $5,000 to $65,000 – most are around $10,000).

To me, those prices don’t seem terribly high in this crazy art market. After all, John Szarkowski, the great photographic critic and kingmaker of the 1960s and 70s called Winogrand “…the central photographer of his generation.”  To be fair, this was by no means a universal assessment at the time – nor is it today. But I agree with Szarkowski, at least to the extent that Winogrand personified, more than any of his contemporaries, a major attitudinal shift toward photography that is still underway.
"New York City couple"  by Garry Winogrand

Winogrand’s career developed within and against the ideas of an earlier generation of documentary and photojournalistic photographers who believed the best of their work could accurately describe social and historical truth and sometimes even change it. From Lewis Hines through W. Eugene Smith (and continuing today) their theory goes: shine a bright, public light on injustice, and you begin to attack and eliminate it.  This theory was underpinned by optimism. We are all humans with shared needs, problems and joys. And great photography proves it. This was the message of “Family of Man,” the legendary exhibit curated by Edward Steichen, mounted at MOMA in 1955, and then shown around the world.

In fact, Steichen selected two of  Winogrand’s pictures for “Family of Man.” But, from the beginning of his career, it was clear Winogrand was not that kind of photographer. His passion was for the photograph itself -- not for what it represented or could do. He was interested in human stories, but his stories resisted moral judgments.  They could be ambiguous. It was as though he invited viewers to provide their own captions. 

He went out in the morning to make great pictures but had no idea what they’d be. By way of journalistic intention, he followed his interests and obsessions. He went to places and events that he thought would serve him, then, instead of “covering,” them, reacted to whatever caught his attention. He felt no imperative to ask permission before or take moral responsibility after taking a shot. His frames were always sliced from reality, but they took no credit for being reality. Szarkowski called Winogrand’s images “figments of the real world.” First and last, they were pictures.
"Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 1969" by Garry Winogrand
Winogrand is famous for saying, “I photograph to see what something looks like photographed.” And he meant it. The idea was not to take sides or advance an agenda but to discover what his camera had seen. 

An example. Winogrand was against the Vietnam War. Yet his best-known shot of the protests, “Peace Demonstration, Central Park, 1970,” displayed in the exhibit’s Central Park section, shows a dark, gloomy day on Manhattan’s Great Lawn. In the foreground is a spindly, leafless tree. Around it and stretching to a horizon of East side buildings, a vast crowd of anti-war demonstrators sits or lies huddled on the cold ground. The sky above the protesters is thick with newly-released balloons that read as black in the black-and-white print. Perhaps the real balloons were red, not black, against the darkening sky that day. Or perhaps – let’s fantasize -- they were bombs falling. We really don’t know from the picture, just as we don’t know why the crowd is so passive about the spectacle
"Peace demonstration, Central Park, 1970" by Garry Winogrand

As viewers 44 years later, the scene frankly looks sinister, almost apocalyptic. It goes firmly against our received idea of what an anti-Vietnam War demonstration is supposed to look like. Winogrand’s “historical” pictures are often different in that way. 

He was in fact a kind of anti-historian. In a 1971 picture, again from the show’s “Central Park” section – and again in cold but snowless weather -- a classic “straight” family of tourists (short-haired father in double-breasted trench coat; wife with hair tied in a scarf; two boys wearing cheap street-bought cowboy hats) stand gazing over five long-haired hippies (hatless, moustached, shades) lounging on the frozen grass. What is the family looking at? Perhaps we're at the outskirts of another demonstration. Why do the hippies so studiously ignore the family? Why do they – the cool insiders -- appear so rattled?   Could it be that, “Somethin’s happenin here but you don’t know what it is…”?  Could it be that Mr. and Mrs  Jones and the kids don’t care?
"Central Park, 1971" by Garry Winogrand

Winogrand shot without thinking too much – more frames, more rolls, than any of his contemporaries.  Then he edited , selecting what he considered to be the best pictures, not the ones he thought would please. For instance, the disturbing “Easter Sunday, Central Park, 1971” shows three young people obviously tripping, surrounded  by a curious, not necessarily sympathetic  crowd. 

One man is completely naked. His hands are raised, as though he’s invoking the heavens. The other two, a man and a woman, look agitated. There is no caption describing this scene, but the paranoid-ecstatic, staring eyes of all three trippers -- as though they are seeing god and the devil at the same time – tell the tale. 
“Easter Sunday, Central Park, 1971” by Garry Winogrand

Yes, but why are we looking at this picture? It’s not an anti-drug ad.  It’s also not, in any coherent historical sense, about the event that surrounds it.  In the end it’s just a fascinating “figment” -- at a time when fervently confused religious seekers in New York City might find Easter Sunday an auspicious time to drop acid and attend demonstrations. I guess that’s history too.

Supposedly, Garry Winogrand fell apart as a photographer after he moved to Los Angeles late in life. He continued to shoot but stopped editing, finally even stopped processing his film.  After his death, no less a personage than his old friend and mentor Szarkowski examined the massive take he had left behind – reportedly as many as 300,000 unedited images – and pronounced them unremarkable. Since then, experts at the Met have taken another look and are including some of the unseen shots in their retrospective.

What’s the verdict? Did he lose it? Was he great till the end? I hope so, but it doesn't really matter. Garry Winogrand’s  open-minded, follow-your-instincts, shoot-what’s-there aesthetic recorded the American 60s and 70s like no one else. His example has become the working mode of many thousands of today's shooters – both pros and amateurs -- worldwide. I think it’s safe to say that, working the way he did,  these photographers intuitively understand Winogrand’s  enigmatic dictum: “Nothing is more mysterious than a fact clearly stated.”

This review also appears in the current issue of New York Photo Review.

To read more of my reviews of photography, other visual arts, books and movies, click here.

Monday, June 30, 2014

More park pictures

Girls asleep
"Girls napping in stroller," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Girl texting
"Girl texting," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Man on park bench
"Man working from briefcase," All rights reserved

All posted originally on Instagram. You can search for me there as timpconnor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Strolling in the park after work

Boy in fountain
"Boy," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Glimpsed girl," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Truppe Fledermaus and the Carnival at the End of the World

"Greenman," Kahn and Selesnick, All rights reserved

“Truppe Fledermaus & the Carnival at the End of the World,” at Yancey Richardson, might be described as a performance of the imagination. Concocted by two English-born, U.S. educated artists, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick , the show creates just enough semi-plausible historical authenticity to soften up viewers for the artists’ outlandish – but not impossible – vision of the future.

Kahn and Selesnick have collaborated before – for the past 20 years in fact – creating fictitious histories from both the past and future (on both Earth and other planets) that combine impeccable pseudo-erudition with no-limits weirdness. I have to admit I’ve never seen anything quite like this work. The artists’ mastery of photography, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and creative writing is matched only by their showmen’s fervor to wow their audience. In fact, trying to think of comparisons, I could only come up with the Monty Python Flying Circus –likewise fervently theatrical, over-educated, British and willing to try anything.

These guys are having fun.
Der Letzte Mann(Last Man)_KahSelesnick
"Der Letztze Mann," Kahn and Selesnick, All rights reserved

The world conjured by this show is framed by an invented traveling theater of hustlers, freaks and spiritualists called “Truppe Fledermaus” (Bat Troupe). Next to the gallery entrance, an entire wall  is covered with posters and handbills advertising the Truppe’s strange offerings.  Stylistically, these ads -- with copy in German – refer to everything from German Expressionist cinema  -- “Ich bin Nosferatu” (I am the Vampyre) -- to fanciful medical charts – “Tod Frucht” (Death Fruit) – to a colorful, full-figured nude woman covered with roses that suggests P.T. Barnum via Manet  -- “Das Tatowierte Wunder” (The Tattooed Wonder).  

I’m not entirely sure why these ads are funny, but they made me laugh.  The artists’ decision to use the German language is part of it.  If you’re a linguistically unsophisticated American (like most of us) try booming out “Ich bin Nosferatu!” over and over in a small room and you’ll know why. This prejudice is unfortunate and probably worse than that (I remember my parents telling me about neighbors who refused to take Hitler seriously because his speeches on the radio made them laugh). But, here, as elsewhere in the show, Kahn and Selsenick seem determined to go with their guts. Funny is funny. I’m sure John Cleese would approve.

"Demon man," Kahn and Selesnick, All rights reserved

In the room with the prints are a few sculptures – created, we are told, from “…ceramic, wax, Styrofoam, paint, plaster, glass antlers and silicone caterpillars.” Like the posters, the sculptures suggest a new world in which genetic boundaries are exotically shifting. For instance, a bust of a top-hatted man mounted on a tripod is densely covered with pitch black feathers, as though he is morphing toward a new consciousness as a crow. By now,  it’s clear this theme will repeat throughout the show. Still, with the tangible three-dimensionality of the sculptures, the idea gains a special kind of fetishistic power.  I’m guessing many people wouldn’t want this Crow Man to spend the night in their bedroom.

The remainder of the show (five walls out of six) consists of photographs. Taken in both black and white and color with an 8 X 10 view camera, many of these are aesthetically superb (Kahn and Selesnick studied photography together at Washington University). Their technical control makes them wonderfully incongruous with the subject matter, which is primitive and truly bizarre.  It’s not clear if the Truppe Fledermausers themselves are taking part in the activities or simply witnessing them. “At the end of the world” I’m not sure it matters.

Human populations have collapsed. Individuals and small groups of humans make their way on foot, by hand-drawn primitive wagons and carts or in rough canoes, through a bleak, boggy, apparently drowning world of rampant vegetation and mutant creatures.  When they gather in groups it seems to be for the purpose of creating strange tableux or engaging in wild revels of unclear purpose.

Nearly everyone wears a mask. From Hieronymous Bosch alone, the artists have stolen bird beaked, owl-eared and wide-eyed grinning demon masks. Furry bat (fledermaus) masks are also popular and, in a pinch, simple Ku Klux Klan-style bags with cut-out eyeholes, pulled down over the face, will do.

It’s a wild, wild world.

Climate change and rising sea levels are clearly the subtext here, although the artists’ invented future has little in common with what we might expect from a real post-warming planet. Instead of huge ruins and the ubiquitous trash of billions (whether or not killed off by plagues) -- we get deserted swamps, bogs, mudflats, dunes, beaches, rocky outlooks and placid bodies of water.

Apparently, we are returning forward to a world of harsh threats and magical remedies. In this world even the most basic technologies of the past have been erased.  In response Nature Herself seems to be trying something new. Parts are somehow being swapped among humans, other mammals, birds, fish and plants to produce bizarre human-other and other-other hybrids. Among the shambling-bramble-plant-human mixes alone, for example,  we see Yew Man, Lichen Man, Seaweed Man and the more generic Greenman, who starred in an earlier Kahn and Selesnick show, “The Pavilion of the Greenman,” in 1997.

All this may not convince as dystopia, but it thoroughly seduces as pure imagination.

"Lady with antlers," Kahn and Selesnick, All rights reserved

I’ll end this review by describing two favorite pictures. Both represent what to me made this show so unusual  --  its willingness to go anywhere imagination might take it. We get jokes and parodies, horror and tragedy, winks and warnings, all blended into visual stories that range from dadaesque to heartwarming.

One: A young woman in Victorian dress is running away, across a drab, wintry field, holding up her petticoats.  From her piled-up hair two giant antlers rise against the sky. I can feel this woman’s distress. Suddenly, I realize it’s Jane Eyre fleeing in tears from Mr. Rochester.  I become a cynical English Lord in love. My legs are twitching to follow.  

"Leaf man painting Leaf man," Kahn and Selesnick, All rights reserved

Two:  Next to a curving river, Leaf Man, the artist, sights over his brush at the plein air portrait of his friend and subject, another Leaf Man. The two Leaf Men appear to be having a jolly chat. What a pleasant way to make art, they are saying.

Long live art! How do you say that in German?

This review also appears in The New York Photo Review.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A photographer looks at Swoon

"Street art by Swoon, Brooklyn, NY," Jaime Rojo
I saw my first street installation by the New York artist, Caledonia Dance Curry, known as Swoon, years ago in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. Gowanus was then a mix of aging and abandoned low-rise factories, warehouses, loading docks and junk-filled lots. It was a favorite destination for taggers and graffiti artists, who took advantage of its off-hours’ emptiness to paint their rowdy bright-colored works on its many blank walls. For me Gowanus was a quiet place to walk on weekends and take pictures.

Swoon’s street art in Gowanus and, later, in other parts of the city, always stopped me and made me look. Despite its obvious sophistication, the work has the intensity of a child. Her prints, made from drawings on paper, cut out and carefully wheat-pasted at selected locations, are stylized portraits that often morph from (or into) other creatures and places. They’re over-sized, but not too big — the figures a little larger than human. Sometimes, Swoon cuts out lines and wedges from the portraits or creates lace-like additions and lets the walls shine through the openings. Color is also used on the prints – but sparingly.
"Two girls, street art by Swoon"
One of the things I always liked about these outdoor installations was that they are suddenly there; they are not signaled or heralded in any way. After mounting, they are left to the elements and the unpredictable mercies of passersby. Swoon makes sure to locate her prints where ordinary people will see them – and maybe not see them as art. Naturally, they are much photographed and subsequently circulated through photo-sharing sites to a potentially unlimited audience online. 

Dramatic and of-the-moment, the best of these repeatedly shared photographs – along with the offhand brilliance of the her art-name, Swoon – have no doubt done a great deal to spread Curry’s reputation and differentiate her from the other talented artists who use similar methods (I’ll mention, for example, Brian Adam Douglas — moniker Elbow Toe – whose work I also saw on Gowanus walls).

I know Swoon’s placement of her work is an expression of her conviction that art needs to move out of the studio and take back public visual space from advertisers and brand masters. It’s a conviction shared by Swoon’s British counterpart, Banksy, and thousands of other less-well-known artists worldwide. But, unlike Banksy, with his stenciled, laugh-out-loud provocations, Swoon’s approach is essentially romantic.

This renders her outdoor prints especially vulnerable. Made of paper, they’re organic and destined to fade, fray and fall away under the constant onslaughts of wind and weather. This is exactly the opposite of the results the art world strives for and, arguably, the most radical aspect of Swoon’s work. It’s also the aspect, I’d argue, that excites street photographers, who approach these prints, not as precious art to be recorded, but as elements of a particular moment’s concatenation of light, shape, color and meaning.
"Street art by Swoon, London"

I was thinking about these ideas as I entered Swoon’s monumental installation, “Submerged Motherlands,” last weekend at the Brooklyn Museum. “Motherlands” fills a large high-ceilinged room, centered on a wonderful 60-foot-high fabricated tree covered with thousands of long strands of dyed fabric. The tree is flanked by a small charmingly decorated structure, called a “nest” or “hive,” where visitors can rest. “The Miss Rockaway Armada” and “The Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea,” two large ramshackle wooden rafts full of junk and tools turn out to be what’s left of Swoon-and-company’s amazing art-flotation adventures, on the Mississippi and the Hudson respectively, in the summers from 2006 to 2008. Swoon’s portraits in different sizes are spread throughout the space.

I didn’t get much from the exhibit notes, which adopt a sort of fantasy tone to suggest the show is about climate change and refer vaguely to Doggerland, a once-populated area between England and the Continent that went under as sea levels rose about 6,000 years ago. But it occurred to me that, even if the waters were rising outside the Museum, we would all feel cozy and well cared for in this exhibit. And, in fact, at that moment a museum guard politely warned me to not get too close to the art.

This show seemed to me a very long way from Swoon’s audacious collective raft projects of a few years ago – she has referred to the raft armadas as enactments of her childhood dreams. Perhaps the show is even farther from another kind of dream – say, a solitary print on a Gowanus wall as the February light is slipping away fast.

To confirm this, I looked more closely at the portraits that populate the show. Crisply reprinted in different sizes, many of them standing on their own, all are recycled. Perhaps this isn’t so strange. I’m aware that Swoon likes to repeat images and spread the notion of a kind of family around the city, but here, in a major museum show, in her hometown I thought she might show something new.

But there they are – Swoon’s mother and friends, portraits from Haiti and Mexico, a beautiful woman breastfeeding her baby, two grizzled toothless men with casts on their arms, laughing. Why do they feel so empty?
"Boy looking up, by Swoon," Tim Connor
I think the answer is context. Here at the museum I’m part of a swirling, cheerful crowd in a magnificent high-ceilinged, sky-lit room. Everyone is talking. Everyone is taking pictures with tiny point-and-shoots and camera phones. It seems almost like an alternate to looking. As soon as shooters have their picture, they turn away and move on. A new normal?

I recognize a print of a black boy in a decorated tunic and shorts squatting on the ground, glaring upward. It’s an image I photographed on a heavily-tagged wall in Gowanus (on Union Street in 2011, it turns out). I remember crouching way down, almost to street level, to frame the picture. Afterwards, I looked at the boy for a long time. Alone on the street, I felt I understood his tense posture, his angry look. Not here.

Researching this article, I listened to Swoon talk on video about how her big collective projects had been exhausting experiences from which she needed time to recover. She called them “going outside” projects and said that afterwards she needed to “come inside” by accepting gallery or museum help to work on her own art.

That sounded (and sounds) reasonable to me. But, as I left this show, I really just wanted to urge Swoon to “go back outside” soon. 

This article also appears in The New York Photo Review.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Raining cherry blossoms

Raining cherry blossoms (color)
"Under cherry trees in the rain, Prospect Park," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Lift and snap shots

Man with shiny shoes
"Man with shiny shoes, Chelsea," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Girls, Manhattan," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

My flickr page

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What remains

Remains of love
"What remains of love," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

I found this on a nondescript wall on Carroll Street in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. Did the artist (unknown) partially rip his or her picture off the wall? Was it the heavy rain recently? Or did someone else do it?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pocket Park (2 versions)

"Pocket park - Photoshop," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Pocket park - Instagram," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Volunteers replanted and put up this picket fence, among other improvements, in one of my favorite pocket parks in Brooklyn (5th Ave. & President St). There was nothing they could do about the peeling mural, but I still love it.

As in my last post,  the top picture was processed using Instagram's on-phone tools.  The bottom one was processed in Photoshop.

Puppet contest

Posting two recent photos. The first (top) shot was cropped and processed in Instagram. The second was cropped and processed to my aesthetic taste in Photoshop. I'm trying to decide what I think.

Dear Reader: Any opinion?

"Lady and puppet, Washington Sq.-- Instagram," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
Lady and her puppet
"Lady and puppet, Washington Sq," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Girl in community garden, early spring, Brooklyn

Girl in community garden "Girl in garden," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Shooting with the iPhone exclusively now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Selfie seeking

"I see a red dress and I want to paint it black...", Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mirrors and windows

"Space cadet," Tim Connor All rights reserved

"Selfie with hole in the head," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Philip Roth: A searing blast of love

Philip Roth, one of America's greatest post-war novelists, has stopped writing novels. But he apparently gives interviews. What follows is part of an interview he gave to Daniel Sandstrom, cultural editor of the Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet. Roth is saying (writing, I think) why he has found the U.S. so hospitable to writers.

"In a place so vast, no single geographic center from which the writing originates. Anything but a homogeneous population, no basic national unity, no single national character, social calm utterly unknown, even the general obtuseness about literature, the inability of many citizens to read any of it with even minimal comprehension, confers a certain freedom. And surely the fact that writers really don’t mean a goddamn thing to nine-tenths of the population doesn’t hurt. It’s inebriating.
Very little truthfulness anywhere, antagonism everywhere, so much calculated to disgust, the gigantic hypocrisies, no holding fierce passions at bay, the ordinary viciousness you can see just by pressing the remote, explosive weapons in the hands of creeps, the gloomy tabulation of unspeakable violent events, the unceasing despoliation of the biosphere for profit, surveillance overkill that will come back to haunt us, great concentrations of wealth financing the most undemocratic malevolents around, science illiterates still fighting the Scopes trial 89 years on, economic inequities the size of the Ritz, indebtedness on everyone’s tail, families not knowing how bad things can get, money being squeezed out of every last thing — that frenzy — and (by no means new) government hardly by the people through representative democracy but rather by the great financial interests, the old American plutocracy worse than ever.
You have 300 million people on a continent 3,000 miles wide doing the best they can with their inexhaustible troubles. We are witnessing a new and benign admixture of races on a scale unknown since the malignancy of slavery. I could go on and on. It’s hard not to feel close to existence here. This is not some quiet little corner of the world."

Excerpted from the NY Times Book Review, March 16, 2014

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014


To make instagram: Shoot picture with phone camera, process through phone app with standardized filter choices, then phone to your network. Share.

"My favorite shawarma shop," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Schoolday instructions," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Taking a call," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Capa in Color"

Reviewed by Tim Connor

"British soldiers on troopship," 1941, Robert Capa, All rights reserved

Some years ago I decided Robert Capa was overrated. This was an unusual point of view. He was everybody’s mythic macho war photographer. It was Capa who gave out hard-boiled advice (it felt like bullying to me): “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not getting close enough.” It was his famous picture – shot from just yards away – that showed a Spanish Civil War soldier at the instant a bullet killed him. It was Capa who had carried his cameras through the surf with the first Americans to hit Omaha Beach on D Day.

A brave man, certainly. A man determined to bear witness. But what else drove him? From the 1930s to his death from a Viet Minh land mine in 1954, Capa showed us little besides war. In a particularly violent time that worshipped male heroes, he photographed five wars. He was finally killed in the last one. Still, I had my doubts. Maybe what drove Capa wasn’t true idealism, I thought. Maybe it was closer to what drives a big game hunter. Maybe his pictures were more like trophies than acts of witness. I stopped looking at his work.

"D Day, Omaha Beach," 1944, Robert Capa, All rights reserved
I think I was wrong about Robert Capa. The pictures at ICP’s “Capa in Color” exhibit reveal a man more complex and sympathetic –and more talented as a photographer — than my imagined war zone daredevil. And it’s not just because of the color. Around 1940, when Capa first started using Kodachrome slide film, it was still experimental. Processing required a top-secret formula available in just two Kodak labs worldwide. Always a pragmatist, Capa continued to shoot his stories in black and white. But if there was time – and a possible market––he began to back them up with color.

For a 1941 story in The Saturday Evening Post about a British troopship crossing the Atlantic on its way to the war in North Africa, Capa shot everything in both color and black and white. He may have hoped the somber tones of the early Kodachrome would enliven the stripped-down colors of the ship and cargo, designed to avoid detection by enemy planes. He may have planned to isolate the pallid skin tones and brown uniforms in the elegant group portraits he made of the British troops. In any case Capa’s color does something important for the story. It suggests the held-back energy of the enterprise. In Capa’s color, the ship and its men, hunkered down in defensive readiness, seem ready to explode. Kodachrome’s primitive rendering of minimal colors against murky browns and blacks deepens the feeling of tension and dread.

Later, traveling with American troops in Tunisia, Capa used color in a style more familiar to modern viewers. One picture shows soldiers grouped around a captured German tank, draped with a large red and black swastika flag. For the first time we see the force of Kodachrome’s signature red. The bright flag anchors the picture, ironically imbuing it with the high-key colorful optimism we will later see in millions of post-war family snapshots (today the look is back in fashion, available via one-click antique filters for Instagram).

"American soldiers posing with captured German tank," 1941, Robert Capa, All rights reserved
I should make it clear that many of the “Capa in Color” pictures are being shown at ICP for the first time. They never made it into the magazines. There was a catching-up-to-color lag after the war, some of it due to technical and logistical issues, but much of it because editors and publishers insisted on doing things the way they had always done them. Capa’s letters to these eminences, included in the show, reveal a witty and persuasive writer endlessly pitching ambitious story ideas, and mostly, it seems, being turned down. One understands why Capa, along with fellow photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour, created the Magnum Photo agency in 1947 to advocate for their ideas.

But after the war, even Magnum had trouble bucking the tide of American self-satisfaction. The show quotes a 1948 letter to Capa from Magnum President Maria Eisner. “We have to face the fact that in general our stories are too big, too serious, and even too good [for the magazines].”

"Pablo Picasso and his son Claude," 1948, Robert Capa, All rights reserved
So Capa struck out in a new direction. With the advent of Holiday, billed as “…a peacetime publication catering to an ideal of post-war American prosperity,” he shot profiles, mostly in color, of old friends from Paris like Ernest Hemingway (Capa seems to have had trouble catching Papa without a drink in his hand) and Pablo Picasso (radiant in his old age, basking in the beauty of his young wife and new son). This is fine work, and, for the first time, we see it as essentially color work. Color is now more than a novelty.

"Longchamps raceway," 1950s, Robert Capa, All rights reserved
I must confess my favorite color images from this show come at the end, after color film had developed a ripe palette for Capa to employ in the European spas, resorts, party towns and film sets Holiday sent him to in the 1950s. In places like Deauville, Biarritz and Rome he chronicled the pleasures of the rich, the beautiful and the lucky with smooth professional enthusiasm. Some histories say Capa did this work for the cash to keep Magnum going – which I don’t doubt – but there’s no denying his appreciation of the good food and drink, the styles and, especially, the beautiful women. This is la dolce vita: Fellini parodied it; Capa reveled in it. It’s arguable that color spreads like the ones he made eventually turned into today’s moronic “celebrity news” in magazines and on the web, but Capa’s early 50s version of paradise is filled with undeniable sensual joy.

"Geraldine Brooks at fashion studio of Emilio Schuberth, Rome," 1951, Robert Capa, All rights reserved

Also appears in The New York Photo Review

Monday, January 27, 2014

Fay Weldon -- an excerpt that made me laugh

From an essay in The NY Times Book Review: "Writers of a Certain Age," by British novelist Fay Weldon. Funny, sad and too true.

"Like the gap between rich and poor, the gap between young and old widens. The New Young increasingly resent theNew Old -- those whom medical science keeps in their prime without the will to accept obscurity and fade away gracefully. There are more of us, and we don't look nearly as nice as the New Young. We move slowly, get in their way on the sidewalk, lose our glasses, hold up the line using coins not cards, take forever texting, irritate by asking for help with smartphones, can't manage tablets and take forever in the powder room. Having destroyed the planet, the New Old now encroach upon Facebook and Twitter, invented by the young for the young, to try to sell our own books. For the New Young it must seem intolerable, but for us, what a great boon it is to be judged by our words and ideas, not by our looks."

Monday, January 20, 2014

The arc of war

"Marines, Korean War," David Duncan, All rights reserved

I remember the first war photograph that got to me. I must have been about 11. It was a picture by David Douglas Duncan in an old Life Magazine of two U.S. Marines, heads ducked down, rifles in their hands, running toward a battle in Korea. The first Marine wore his helmet at a rakish angle and sported a pencil-thin mustache like the young Ernest Hemingway. As he raced past the camera toward possible death, he managed a grim, tiny smile. I was smitten.

I think most, if not all, boys are drawn to fantasies of war. For me Duncan’s picture lit up visions of nonchalant courage and noble sacrifice that were already present in my adolescent consciousness. Later, I learned the photo was an honest depiction. Far from a propagandist, Duncan, an ex-Marine, had covered World War II, then the Korean War –always from the perspective of the troops in the field. Shooting in Vietnam, he had turned against the war and published two photo books — I Protest (1968) and War Without Heroes (1970).

Such attitudes – for or against war — are studiously avoided in “War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and its Aftermath” at the Brooklyn Museum. Sprawled across multiple panels, this large, ambitious collection presents over 400 pictures by 255 photographers from over a dozen nations. The curators declare their intention to explore “the general progression – the arc – of every war ” and divide the pictures into sections on “recruitment, training, embarkation, daily routine, battle, death and destruction, homecoming, and remembrance.” The exhibit covers an astonishing 166 years worth of wars — from the Mexican American War (1846-1848) to the recent conflicts associated with the Arab Spring (2010).

"Drill sergeant, Parris Island," Thomas Hoepker, All rights reserved

The curator’s scholarly approach is very good at putting to rest contentious myths about certain well-known photographs. For instance, was the World War II shot of American soldiers raising the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima a spontaneous action or premeditated propaganda? It turns out it was a little of both. The flag-raising captured by Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo was improvised as a way to signal to thousands of troops still fighting on the island below that the mountain had been taken. However, it wasn’t the first flag that had been raised that day. A smaller flag in a less visible spot had been hoisted (and photographed) a short time earlier. The one that became world-famous was a replacement, and, yes, homeland PR was a big part of the reason.

In fact, propaganda (sometimes just natural bias) can be found in pictures from all sides in this show. Famous American photographers like Margaret Bourke-White and Edward Steichen, for example, did their bit for the war effort in World War II by creating beautiful compositions of grand battleships in naval processions and sleek fighter planes taking off, accompanied by the cheers of onlooking troops. It’s hard to fault the photographers’ intentions. That was their job, after all, and, in time of war, they obviously wanted to make their country look good. It is only while looking at pictures of the pulverized landscapes and shattered human bodies these graceful machines can leave behind that one remembers their murderous purpose.

"Untitled," Wesley David Archer, All rights reserved

Easier to classify, if not to forgive, are the fabricators. Before small cameras, fast films and Photoshop, fakes were harder to create than today–– but they were also easier to get away with. In World War I, for instance, a man named Wesley David Archer produced a mesmerizing shot of a war plane in flames with its pilot falling below it through space. The plane’s wings bear the Iron Cross, which would make the pilot German. How marvelous! There was only one problem: Archer had created and photographed the whole scene in his studio as part of a money-making scam. Later, he went on to become a well-known model-maker in Hollywood.

"Valentine with her daughters, Amelie and Inez, Rwanda, 2006," Jonathan C Torgovnik, All rights reserved

Such dishonesty (certainly at the level of posing or on-scene cropping) will always exist in photography, but, to my mind, the most important pictures in this show represent a relentless visual boring at the truth about the real experience of war. This body of pictures has been building up since photographers like Robert Capa began carrying small, versatile cameras to the war zones of the 1930s. It continued through the appalling horror and mega death of World War II and Korea, but it wasn’t until the Vietnam War that truly disturbing images became widely available in the United States. With the publication of Eddie Adam’s photograph of South Vietnam’s National Chief of Police summarily executing a Viet Cong guerilla in 1968 and Nick Ut’s 1972 shot of napalmed Vietnamese children running in agony down a road, the floodgates finally opened. Included in the show are incomparable images by Don McCullin, Horst Faas, Larry Burrows and others, widely credited with helping to end the war.
"Assault with helicopters, Vietnam," Horst Faas, All rights reserved
Today many of us are privileged – and, if we read newspapers and use the internet, even compelled — to look at truly painful color photographs of both combatants and victims from the world’s far-flung conflicts. As this show demonstrates, a steady flow of war images by a loose multinational corps of male and female freelancers is now a given. Surprisingly free from allegiance to ideologies or nationalistic prejudices, most of these pictures honor and grieve both civilian and military suffering. At their most provocative they even open chinks of compassion for the others – the enemies who fight against and try to kill our loved ones.
"Viet Cong soldier, Vietnam," Don McCullin, All rights reserved
Let me give an example. A 10-foot-long full color image from Afghanistan by French photographer Luc Delahaye shows a very young man lying dead in a shallow, dusty pit. He is wearing a thin cotton shirt beneath an empty ammunition vest, baggy pajama-like pants and dusty black socks. His legs are neatly folded like a well-behaved boy. Indeed, if not for the small wound in his neck, he could almost be a gangly post-adolescent boy taking a nap. Then we notice something. He is wearing socks. But where are his boots? Stolen, we realize.Who is this abandoned and desecrated boy?
Delahaye tells us in a single word: “Taliban.”
If I had looked at this picture when I was 11, I would have turned away confused and upset. That’s good.