1. JoAnn Verburg, LOOKING UP, 2007 
If you have an iPad, be sure to check out Verburg’s excellent work AS IT IS AGAIN (free). I’ve seen many iPad photography projects and Verburg’s is one of the best examples, and a lesson to keep iPad portfolios simple. It was released in 2011, yet still works perfectly, despite the technology changes since then.

    JoAnn Verburg, LOOKING UP, 2007 

    If you have an iPad, be sure to check out Verburg’s excellent work AS IT IS AGAIN (free). I’ve seen many iPad photography projects and Verburg’s is one of the best examples, and a lesson to keep iPad portfolios simple. It was released in 2011, yet still works perfectly, despite the technology changes since then.

    29 September 2014

    notes: 12 | tagged: notes | download image

     
     
  2. Tacita Dean, Majesty, 2006
I’m not sure what influence, if any, Ed Ruscha’s 1971 book of palm trees isolated by white paint (or maybe Wite-Out) had on Dean’s 2006 series. In jpeg form, these overpainted tree photographs can look similar. But the choice of tree species meant more painting for Dean and you can see the background through the gouache. Dean’s oaks are massive, three meters tall, whereas even the pages from Ruscha’s book maquette are the size of piece of paper. I’ve seen both and though the Dean is mostly photograph, it feels like a painting; you can get up close and experience abstraction in the branches.

    Tacita Dean, Majesty, 2006

    I’m not sure what influence, if any, Ed Ruscha’s 1971 book of palm trees isolated by white paint (or maybe Wite-Out) had on Dean’s 2006 series. In jpeg form, these overpainted tree photographs can look similar. But the choice of tree species meant more painting for Dean and you can see the background through the gouache. Dean’s oaks are massive, three meters tall, whereas even the pages from Ruscha’s book maquette are the size of piece of paper. I’ve seen both and though the Dean is mostly photograph, it feels like a painting; you can get up close and experience abstraction in the branches.

     
     
  3. A handful of photos related to Ed Ruscha’s book “A Few Palm Trees.” There does not seem to be a solid representation of this work online (first two images are from ebay), and an original copy of the book starts at $500 USD. For an excellent history and overview of Ruscha’s photography and process information (source of the last image), seek out “Ed Ruscha Photographer.”

  4. 25 September 2014

    notes: 35 | tagged: notes ed ruscha |

     
     
  5. The Bechers are Hilarious

    I find the work of the Bernd and Hilla Becher funny. In museums and galleries, I have laughed out loud standing in front of their photographs.

    Sean O’Hagan writes in a review, “if you are looking for photography that engages the emotions and the intellect, this is probably not the place to go.” He repeats a cliché about their work, that it’s “relentlessly detached,” comparing it to August Sander. Great art provokes many responses, but I’ve never read a compelling argument that the primary experience of the Bechers, the Düsseldorf school, and typology photography in general, is cold and detached.

    Perhaps the style of the photography is distracting from the content. Or maybe the concept of the typology, and the presentation of photographs in grids drains some people of emotion. Describing the Bechers’ work as detached is like describing a man in a tuxedo catatonically sitting at a piano, but ignoring that he is playing Ligeti.

    In the gallery setting, being confronted with a grid of photographs can be frustrating, regardless of your height. It can sometimes feel like a typology of picture frames. But in many of the Becher grids what you see are buildings trying to look like other buildings, to reach maximum utility or attain some ideal version, but failing. This failure is a little sad, the Calvinistic impulse imploding on itself, but also pathetic in a humorous way. The Bechers’ grids are not showing us a fit, trim army of trained killers. These are ragtag bands, the result of architecture without architects. One guy has his hat on backwards, another is holding a dented tuba and his jacket is missing an arm, another has dried wine streaking down the front of his shirt.

    I also find the forms in the individual photographs quite funny. Consider the form at the top half of this photo of a blast furnace (source). Was zum Teufel!? If this was a form found in nature, mangrove trees or an insect, it would be somewhat silly. That this blast furnace was designed by a man in tweed, that this thing has a practical purpose, only deepens its absurdity. Like some of the water tower photographs, this form looks like a Louise Bourgeois sculpture. Despite being massive black steel insects, I’ve seen children laugh at and play around Louise Bourgeois sculptures.

    I find a similar humor in Asger Carlsen’s bodies. In these photographs you see contortion taken to an extreme, both the forms and the design required to create them. Carlsen is playing with Photoshop and models. The Bechers went out and found things that others built, but their method is just as transformative as Carlsen’s. Don’t let large the format precision and neutral exposure distract you from the deeply weird shit in their photographs.

    8 September 2014

    notes: 24 | tagged: notes bechers the bechers |

     
     
  6. Atget, Charles Meryon & Rue des Chantres

After writing about Atget, Kertész and Google’s photographs of a small street last year, I was in Paris and made a detour to the center to see what is happening at the Rue des Chantres. I shot the above photo trying to approximate the Atget, but I use a Rolleiflex, and did not crop the square to match Atget’s ratio.



Searching for more history of Rue des Chantres, I came across this etching by Charles Meryon, 60 years before Atget’s photograph. The photograph of Rue des Chantres seems to be a direct quotation of the Meryon. The photograph and sketch are taken from the top of stairs, and Atget’s use of tripod would have limited where he would/could set up the camera. Meryon’s etching features an interesting moment, which seems to be a group of men, with a few soldiers. A woman and her child walk around them to avoid what seems to be a fight. 

 Meryon was a popular artist and source for photographers. Here’s some background from Marja Warehime’s book on Brassaï (bottom of page 49), where it’s mentioned Meryon would sometimes base his work on daguerreotypes. While using different mediums, Meryon and Atget were in the same line of work, documenting architecture and scenes around Paris.

In the Kertész photo, you glimpse inside a tiny bar where people are huddled, drinking during the day, below the sign documenting the flood of 1910 (“CRUE”). A bar in a medieval-sized alley is bound to give an American those feelings Americans have about European street life, but nooks like this are now filled in with million euro pied-à-terres; the area around Notre Dame is a permanent Martin Parr zone.

    Atget, Charles Meryon & Rue des Chantres

    After writing about Atget, Kertész and Google’s photographs of a small street last year, I was in Paris and made a detour to the center to see what is happening at the Rue des Chantres. I shot the above photo trying to approximate the Atget, but I use a Rolleiflex, and did not crop the square to match Atget’s ratio.

    Searching for more history of Rue des Chantres, I came across this etching by Charles Meryon, 60 years before Atget’s photograph. The photograph of Rue des Chantres seems to be a direct quotation of the Meryon. The photograph and sketch are taken from the top of stairs, and Atget’s use of tripod would have limited where he would/could set up the camera. Meryon’s etching features an interesting moment, which seems to be a group of men, with a few soldiers. A woman and her child walk around them to avoid what seems to be a fight.

    Meryon was a popular artist and source for photographers. Here’s some background from Marja Warehime’s book on Brassaï (bottom of page 49), where it’s mentioned Meryon would sometimes base his work on daguerreotypes. While using different mediums, Meryon and Atget were in the same line of work, documenting architecture and scenes around Paris.

    In the Kertész photo, you glimpse inside a tiny bar where people are huddled, drinking during the day, below the sign documenting the flood of 1910 (“CRUE”). A bar in a medieval-sized alley is bound to give an American those feelings Americans have about European street life, but nooks like this are now filled in with million euro pied-à-terres; the area around Notre Dame is a permanent Martin Parr zone.

     
     
  7. Oscar Grant’s photograph of  Johannes Mehserle
This is a reblog of a post from several years ago. One feature of a militarized state is the suppression of civilian photography. 

Oscar Grant’s photograph of transit police officer Johannes Mehserle is rare: a portrait of the photographer’s killer. Unlike the  recent photograph that a politician captured in the Philippines, Grant’s photograph, taken moments before Mehserle shot him in the back, was intentional.

Much of the media attention given to the Oscar Grant case focused on a handful of videos made by other passengers on the BART train, some of which show Grant being shot. While being detained by BART police, Grant called his ex-girlfriend Sophina Mesa twice from the platform. During this time he also took the photo of Mehserle and sent it to Mesa. Grant’s photograph of Mehserle did not get as much coverage as the videos, as it wasn’t released until the trial began.

Grant’s photograph raises an important issue that faces every American: the right to photograph, videotape and document while being  detained or arrested by the police. Many of us assume we have this right, but with existing  wiretapping laws, you can still be arrested and your camera confiscated. Radley Balko’s Reason.com article “The War on Cameras" is essential reading on this subject.


Demian Bulwa is a reporter and editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, who has covered the Oscar Grant case since the shooting, through the entire Mehserle trial. I asked him a few questions over the phone about this photograph. 


How did the prosecution and defense use this photograph as evidence in the trial?
Both sides used flat screen TVs, multimedia, everything was timed and choreographed. It seemed they felt they might lose credibility if they weren’t sharp with multimedia. At times the arguments felt like PowerPoint presentations. There were photos, quotes, videos, video of the Taser training. 

It was used by prosecution to show two things: 1. that he [Mehserle] knew his Taser from his gun, that he had actually taken out his Taser twice, that he knew full well between the two weapons. 2. That Oscar was being abused and was concerned about it.

It was one of many pieces of evidence. It’s part of the puzzle, and hard to tell which ones stuck with the jury.

What facts were presented about the photograph, when it was taken? Did he take it while face down, turning around?
Grant was sitting on the ground. The guys were sitting on the edge of the platform for a while. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity in the last moments, the officers were on top of him, with his arms behind him.  

Was there any suggestion by either side that taking this photograph provoked Mehserle, or was some form of resisting arrest?
I don’t recall.

Based on the evidence in the trial, and your own speculation, why do you think Oscar Grant took this photograph?

Most likely he was documenting unfair treatment. He said something to his girlfriend [during the phone call], like “I’m getting beat up here.” It was a way of documenting that, and putting Mehserle on notice. If you take a picture of someone you are saying: I’m watching your behavior. You’re accountable. You are expressing your concern and putting them on notice.

    Oscar Grant’s photograph of Johannes Mehserle

    This is a reblog of a post from several years ago. One feature of a militarized state is the suppression of civilian photography.

    Oscar Grant’s photograph of transit police officer Johannes Mehserle is rare: a portrait of the photographer’s killer. Unlike the recent photograph that a politician captured in the Philippines, Grant’s photograph, taken moments before Mehserle shot him in the back, was intentional.

    Much of the media attention given to the Oscar Grant case focused on a handful of videos made by other passengers on the BART train, some of which show Grant being shot. While being detained by BART police, Grant called his ex-girlfriend Sophina Mesa twice from the platform. During this time he also took the photo of Mehserle and sent it to Mesa. Grant’s photograph of Mehserle did not get as much coverage as the videos, as it wasn’t released until the trial began.

    Grant’s photograph raises an important issue that faces every American: the right to photograph, videotape and document while being detained or arrested by the police. Many of us assume we have this right, but with existing wiretapping laws, you can still be arrested and your camera confiscated. Radley Balko’s Reason.com article “The War on Cameras" is essential reading on this subject.

    Demian Bulwa is a reporter and editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, who has covered the Oscar Grant case since the shooting, through the entire Mehserle trial. I asked him a few questions over the phone about this photograph.

    How did the prosecution and defense use this photograph as evidence in the trial?

    Both sides used flat screen TVs, multimedia, everything was timed and choreographed. It seemed they felt they might lose credibility if they weren’t sharp with multimedia. At times the arguments felt like PowerPoint presentations. There were photos, quotes, videos, video of the Taser training.

    It was used by prosecution to show two things: 1. that he [Mehserle] knew his Taser from his gun, that he had actually taken out his Taser twice, that he knew full well between the two weapons. 2. That Oscar was being abused and was concerned about it.

    It was one of many pieces of evidence. It’s part of the puzzle, and hard to tell which ones stuck with the jury.

    What facts were presented about the photograph, when it was taken? Did he take it while face down, turning around?

    Grant was sitting on the ground. The guys were sitting on the edge of the platform for a while. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity in the last moments, the officers were on top of him, with his arms behind him.

    Was there any suggestion by either side that taking this photograph provoked Mehserle, or was some form of resisting arrest?

    I don’t recall.

    Based on the evidence in the trial, and your own speculation, why do you think Oscar Grant took this photograph?

    Most likely he was documenting unfair treatment. He said something to his girlfriend [during the phone call], like “I’m getting beat up here.” It was a way of documenting that, and putting Mehserle on notice. If you take a picture of someone you are saying: I’m watching your behavior. You’re accountable. You are expressing your concern and putting them on notice.

    14 August 2014

    reblogged from: bremser | notes: 1325 | tagged: notes |

     
     
  8. 11 Paul Strand Wall Streets, sampled from Google. The sepia version is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is the only print made by Strand.

    11 Paul Strand Wall Streets, sampled from Google.

    The sepia version is from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is the only print made by Strand.

    28 July 2014

    notes: 146 | tagged: paul strand notes | download image

     
     
  9. Candida Höfer, On Kawara, Date Paintings in Private Collections

    I have a great appreciation that the only information I know about On Kawara is in his art works. I have no image in my mind of what he looked like, have never heard his voice or read an interview with him. Ed Ruscha created a pre-digital version of Google Street View, while On Kawara’s main projects are a pre-digital quantified self, the collection and display of personal metadata. A man wakes on a date, paints the date. A man sends a telegram, a ping, that reads only “I am still alive.” (Replicated on the Twitter.) A man takes a walk and tracks the walk on a photocopied map (“I Went”).

    The interesting aspect about Höfer’s book, photographed between about 2004 and 2007, is most of the rooms are in regular homes, especially in Japan, where the spaces are smaller and understated. Paging through the book, you can pay attention to where the paintings live, and whose collection they are in (the photograph with the bench is Thomas Struth’s), or not. What seems at first to be a kind of minimalist art, noting the date in a standardized pattern is put in the context of living rooms. The scale of most of the paintings is important; they are what we now consider small, but are the perfect size for a living room. These paintings are chamber music that can add up to a symphony when you see them in a museum context (dozens displayed in a gallery). The photographs together feel like a true portrait of a family of paintings, that happens to live in many different countries.

    When news came yesterday of On Kawara’s death, his Wikipedia entry briefly looked like this, which seemed appropriate.

  10. 11 July 2014

    notes: 50 | tagged: notes |

     
     
  11. Any large collection of color portraits from the 1940’s and 50’s are bound to be interesting, but Carl Van Vechten's work so thoroughly documented African-American writers, musicians, actors, and dancers in New York City, making it one of the important photographic projects during the period. He was persistent, working with Kodachrome during this time was a financial and technical challenge. There's an awkward and non-professionally produced quality to many of the sittings, which often results in inexplicable greatness - the portrait of James Baldwin is an example. I can't read whether Baldwin is annoyed, perplexed, or acting out a character.

    One aspect of this incredible archive are the backgrounds - many designed uniquely for the individual session. Beyond Van Vechten’s tenacity for arranging the portraits, this might be his area of true genius, using bits of wallpaper, fabric and sometimes artworks to reflect the subject’s personality, while exploiting the possibilities of the Kodachrome palette.

    June 17th is Carl Van Vechten’s birthday.

  12. 17 June 2014 | source: brbl-dl.library.yale.edu

    notes: 539 | tagged: carl van vechten Kodachrome notes |

     
     
  13. A few decisive moment paintings


I had an extra afternoon in Frankfurt and went to the Städel Museum. I enjoy a museum with no idea beforehand what is in their collection. Faced with interesting artists from the 1600s that I’ve never heard of, seeing dozens of excellent small paintings that will never be sold as postcards, the constant “too many photographs” blog posts makes me wonder if the Dutch were complaining that there are far too many paintings.


On a winter afternoon, the only other person in the galleries with me was a Japanese man with a DSLR snapping at least half of the paintings and info cards. Of course I had judgmental thoughts: Put. Down. The. Nikon. Moments later, there I was, a jackass with my phone, snapping Vermeer’s signature. I try not to be that guy that takes photos in museums of everything that gets my attention (in the bad old days I was the guy scribbling in small notebooks), but it’s still often difficult to find certain paintings online after the visit. The layout and curation of the collection of old masters at the Städel is excellent, but it’s in no way replicated online. There are a few I’d like to see again, or at least know the name of the artist, but are not to be found online. 

[[MORE]]

Because of Max Beckmann’s history in Frankfurt, the Städel Museum has a very good collection his work. I had a little jolt of recognition when I across this portrait of the Carls (1918).  Winogrand’s shrieking laugh woman! 
But, no. These are different expressions in different contexts. The painter is depicting a couple he knows, the wife attempting to cheer up a melancholy husband. The hands on the shoulders mean different things. Winogrand probably spent less than 10 seconds near the couple at El Morocco club, and never knew what elicited her cackle. In both works, it’s not a flattering facial expression.  Beckmann took a larger risk, most obviously by offending friends he knew (and maybe they commissioned the painting). On an artistic level, Beckmann’s moment is a very complicated physical gesture and psychological exchange for a painter to attempt. The profile of her face, the line that defines the cheek feels awkward and re-worked, yet Beckmann left it like that. Winogrand’s subject is a pure shot of energy, and defines “having a blast.” It’s more spontaneous, but it’s a very streamlined image, one loud upper-register note on a trumpet.  

 Trying to locate the Beckmann online, I came across an anonymous-ish Flickr user with 30,000 photographs, who was that person with the DSLR at the museum, that thought nothing of uploading a few hundred photos. And it seems to be the only jpeg of the painting, or at least the only example in many pages of a Google search. 

Spending a few hours with paintings made before 1900 reinforces David Hockney’s theory about camera obscura; there can be no doubt painters used and mimicked lenses. But just as significant is the desire on the part of so many artists to capture transient moments, the brief gesture or pose that we all recognize from daily life, but most of us would not spend hours to reproduce in oil paint. Of course, even after photography allowed much easier capture of these moments, painters like Beckmann continued the difficult work of painting them.

The Städel has an interesting Renoir (1879) which captures his brother lighting a cigarette. The gesture is a tight pose with his hands (framed at the edge of the painting). What got my attention was the weird squint in profile, so smoke does not get in his eyes. It seems a second before and after this moment would have been so much easier to paint and would match the posed feel of the two women. I had this experience many times during the afternoon at the museum: where some aspect of a painting, despite the hours and careful consideration required, felt so accidental - going back to the 1500’s. Comparing the decisive moments in the Beckmann and Renoir to the Winogrand, the Winogrand feels more carefully framed and anticipated.  

Also read: Caille Millner on Winogrand and women

    A few decisive moment paintings

    I had an extra afternoon in Frankfurt and went to the Städel Museum. I enjoy a museum with no idea beforehand what is in their collection. Faced with interesting artists from the 1600s that I’ve never heard of, seeing dozens of excellent small paintings that will never be sold as postcards, the constant “too many photographs” blog posts makes me wonder if the Dutch were complaining that there are far too many paintings.

    On a winter afternoon, the only other person in the galleries with me was a Japanese man with a DSLR snapping at least half of the paintings and info cards. Of course I had judgmental thoughts: Put. Down. The. Nikon. Moments later, there I was, a jackass with my phone, snapping Vermeer’s signature. I try not to be that guy that takes photos in museums of everything that gets my attention (in the bad old days I was the guy scribbling in small notebooks), but it’s still often difficult to find certain paintings online after the visit. The layout and curation of the collection of old masters at the Städel is excellent, but it’s in no way replicated online. There are a few I’d like to see again, or at least know the name of the artist, but are not to be found online.

    Read More