1. 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.

     
     
  2. 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: 1321 | tagged: notes |

     
     
  3. 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: 145 | tagged: paul strand notes | download image

     
     
  4. 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.

  5. 11 July 2014

    notes: 50 | tagged: notes |

     
     
  6. 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.

  7. 17 June 2014 | source: brbl-dl.library.yale.edu

    notes: 511 | tagged: carl van vechten Kodachrome notes |

     
     
  8. 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

     
     
  9. 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.

     
     
  10. 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.

  11. 5 February 2014

    notes: 729 | tagged: notes Yoshiyuki IWASE ama |

     
     
  12. 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.

     
     
  13. 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

  14. 13 November 2013

    notes: 274 | tagged: notes Nick Dewolf |