1. 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. 

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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.

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  2. Current events lead us back to one of the most referenced moments in photography history, Roger Fenton’s Crimean War photographs (March 8 to June 26, 1855). The Library of Congress has a good selection, and large tiff files. Get your archive on.
Beyond the one photograph that is among the most famous ever, there are many more worth looking at. A survey reveals the desolate landscapes that Fenton is famous for, but I was surprised to find a majority are military portraits.  
Above: Captain Verschoyle, Grenadier Guards, cropped from original tiff, desaturated to reduce sepia.

    Current events lead us back to one of the most referenced moments in photography history, Roger Fenton’s Crimean War photographs (March 8 to June 26, 1855). The Library of Congress has a good selection, and large tiff files. Get your archive on.

    Beyond the one photograph that is among the most famous ever, there are many more worth looking at. A survey reveals the desolate landscapes that Fenton is famous for, but I was surprised to find a majority are military portraits.

    Above: Captain Verschoyle, Grenadier Guards, cropped from original tiff, desaturated to reduce sepia.

     
     
  3. A friend with a good eye picked up this set of postcards at a flea market recently. They are produced by the Shima Kanko hotel (which still exists and still lists Ama as a tourist attraction). The Ama divers are Japanese women who dive for pearls and seafood.

    The photographer Yoshiyuki Iwase created perhaps the greatest portrait of the Ama in the late 1940s and 1950s, giving them an iconic quality. In his incredible environmental portraits the divers are wearing traditional fabrics and are less covered up than the Ama in these photos.

    A few years ago the German photographer Nina Poppe created a series on the Ama, which resulted in a well-regarded book. Some 60 years later, Poppe discovers the practice is in decline, with many of the women past retirement age, which adds a compelling quality to the portraits. Even if the locations are probably different, it’s easy to imagine that some of the 20-something women in Iwase’s portraits are now in their 80s in Poppe’s.

    The Shima Kanko hotel’s photos are credited to “S. Ichihashi.” A search for this name in English returns no results, but that could be due to the translation. There was no date on the box or post cards, but my guess is they are from the 1950s. If any of my friends in Japan can provide more information, I will certainly update this page.

  4. 5 February 2014

    notes: 704 | tagged: notes Yoshiyuki IWASE ama |

     
     
  5. Saul Leiter (1923-2013)


Newspaper Kiosk, 1958 is one of my favorites from Early Color (Steidl, 2008). Like many of his best photos, it borders on abstraction, doesn’t have a specific subject, seems to be painfully shy of showing faces, despite the midtown Manhattan location. It’s a photograph of two lights in a snow storm. In the midst of “Early Color,” with shots through windows of mirrors reflecting other colored glass with rain on them, two lights in a snow storm feels like a very specific subject. Like many of his best shots, your first reaction is: Why did he take that? When he was shooting Kodachrome in the 1950s there was no way to make the perfect little book that “Early Color” is, so he was shooting for some future audience that would both have the technology to reproduce the slides, and appreciate how he saw.

    Saul Leiter (1923-2013)

    Newspaper Kiosk, 1958 is one of my favorites from Early Color (Steidl, 2008). Like many of his best photos, it borders on abstraction, doesn’t have a specific subject, seems to be painfully shy of showing faces, despite the midtown Manhattan location. It’s a photograph of two lights in a snow storm. In the midst of “Early Color,” with shots through windows of mirrors reflecting other colored glass with rain on them, two lights in a snow storm feels like a very specific subject. Like many of his best shots, your first reaction is: Why did he take that? When he was shooting Kodachrome in the 1950s there was no way to make the perfect little book that “Early Color” is, so he was shooting for some future audience that would both have the technology to reproduce the slides, and appreciate how he saw.

     
     
  6. Nick DeWolf: endofroll

    Nick DeWolf was an amateur photographer that shot between the 1950s and his death in 2006. One of the great individual archive projects online, it currently contains over 68,000 photos.

    The archive would not exist online if DeWolf’s voracious shooting wasn’t matched by his archivist, Steve Lundeen. The scanning of 68,000 photographs on different negative and positive mediums, the constant uploading, the tagging, the sorting; it’s staggering. And then there’s determining and describing what’s in the photos. It’s easier to shoot this many photos than it is to keep them organized.

    How to do an edit? There are trips to many places at particular times that are interesting. Bangkok, 1972. Martha’s Vineyard, 1961. The Ramblin’ Raft Race, Atlanta, 1977. A jazz club in 1973, Miles Davis’ giant sunglasses reflecting red stage lights onto Kodachrome.

    Wandering the archive on Flickr I noticed the tag “endofroll.” Lundeen is also scanning the misfires. There are dozens of photos taken at the end of the roll, as the film runs out. Looking through the rolls in sequence, sometimes you feel the tension from the frames leading up to the end of the roll. DeWolf is plugging away at a scene, unaware how close he’s getting.

    Occasionally the half frame improves an uninteresting shot, isolates a gesture or aspect of a landscape. Like a dip into any archive of this scope, my edit accurately represents DeWolf’s photography, yet it doesn’t. It’s merely an entry point to cascade through his life and times on film.

    This article originally appeared in LPV Magazine 7

  7. 13 November 2013

    notes: 274 | tagged: notes Nick Dewolf |

     
     
  8. Please check out LPV Magazine 7 (The Last Issue). You can view it free on the web, on your iPad, and even order a print copy.

Bryan and I have been working together on a few of these issues and it’s always an interesting exercise. An inexperienced print designer like myself tries to standardize as many elements as possible, but every set of photographs requires different thinking. And it’s always a different experience from designing for the web. How many run per page, do they need space, how much text has to run around them? When I first download the zip files of all the photographs, I start somewhat detached, knowing I usually have to edit down the number per story.  What is an interesting photograph for the photography editor is slightly different from what is an interesting photograph for the designer. By the end, I have been looking at and “know” the photographs in a way that’s not possible when just blogging them.


Along with the design, I have a feature on Nick DeWolf in the magazine (starts on page 56, towards the end). I’ve featured singles from DeWolf on my blog for years. The LPV format was an opportunity to explore a specific aspect of the archive. I’ll try to reproduce the feature using a Tumblr photoset.

    Please check out LPV Magazine 7 (The Last Issue). You can view it free on the web, on your iPad, and even order a print copy.

    Bryan and I have been working together on a few of these issues and it’s always an interesting exercise. An inexperienced print designer like myself tries to standardize as many elements as possible, but every set of photographs requires different thinking. And it’s always a different experience from designing for the web. How many run per page, do they need space, how much text has to run around them? When I first download the zip files of all the photographs, I start somewhat detached, knowing I usually have to edit down the number per story. What is an interesting photograph for the photography editor is slightly different from what is an interesting photograph for the designer. By the end, I have been looking at and “know” the photographs in a way that’s not possible when just blogging them.

    Along with the design, I have a feature on Nick DeWolf in the magazine (starts on page 56, towards the end). I’ve featured singles from DeWolf on my blog for years. The LPV format was an opportunity to explore a specific aspect of the archive. I’ll try to reproduce the feature using a Tumblr photoset.

    13 November 2013

    reblogged from: photographsonthebrain | notes: 86 | tagged: notes | download image

     
     
  9. Based on the only jpeg I could locate of Edward Weston’s 1927 Leeks (sold for $229,000 by Sotheby’s in 2008), six jepgs, increasing in saturation from full desaturation, to fully saturated. Third jpeg is the found version.

  10. 8 October 2013

    notes: 18 | tagged: Edward Weston notes |

     
     
  11. I’ve updated this map a bit, added some, sadly removed others. For the next version, I will probably change it to “Photography San Francisco,” and add camera stores, galleries, etc. If I’m missing anyplace, drop me an “ask.”

    Unrelated: Google removed “My Maps” from the latest Android version of Maps, which is disappointing, because I make these custom maps for any city I visit to walk around with, and search for other people’s maps to use. For example, my Tokyo map.

    21 September 2013

    notes: 15 | tagged: notes san francisco |

     
     
  12. Dorothea Lange, A Sign of the Times - Depression - Mended Stockings - Stenographer, San Francisco, 1934
Previously blogged, but this is a different frame from the same scene. Notice the floor changes to these planks (perhaps Lange asked the woman to move). And this angle reveals more damage to the stockings.

    Dorothea Lange, A Sign of the Times - Depression - Mended Stockings - Stenographer, San Francisco, 1934

    Previously blogged, but this is a different frame from the same scene. Notice the floor changes to these planks (perhaps Lange asked the woman to move). And this angle reveals more damage to the stockings.

     
     
  13. Pierre-Louis Pierson, Le Pé - L’amputation du gruyére, 1894
"But the most extraordinary of these late pictures is of her bare feet, swollen by age, seen from the perspective of a corpse" - Pierre Apraxine, La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione

    Pierre-Louis Pierson, Le Pé - L’amputation du gruyére, 1894

    "But the most extraordinary of these late pictures is of her bare feet, swollen by age, seen from the perspective of a corpse" - Pierre Apraxine, La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione

    19 September 2013 | source: metmuseum.org

    notes: 14 | tagged: notes | download image