Friday, August 31, 2012

Photographic Storytelling

W Magazine (Bride), 2003

Sergio & Toti, 1985

Mike Miller, 24 years old, Allentown, Pennsylvania, $25, 1990-92

Tim, 1990

Untitled (Polaroid), no date

W Magazine (Isabelle Huppert), 2004

W Magazine, 2000

New Haven, 1978

Los Angeles, 1993

Coney Island, 1994

Philip-Lorca diCorcia (b. 1951) recently published Eleven : W stories 1997-2008When my daughter was in middle school (as the Eighties turned into the Nineties) I got her a subscription to W Magazine (the updated incarnation of Women's Wear Daily and the sort of semi-worldly, semi-grown-up gift she seemed most amenable to at the time). In those days W came out in large-size tabloid format, like a super-colorful newspaper printed on semi-glossy paper.

Subsequent to my daughter's subscription-days, the W editors commissioned a series of characteristically ambitious & self-conscious photo-spreads from diCorcia. These have now been brought together by Italian publisher Damiani. Above, I have larded a few of the W pictures in along with other personal favorites by this bold practitioner of the staged photograph, the conceptual photograph, the photograph that fights with its own apparent narrative.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Mann




Last year in a fit of admiration for Sally Mann I gathered a few of her unmistakeable photographs (made with the 19th century technology of large glass-plate negatives) here.

This year's fit of fresh admiration having just hit, I have gathered a few more –

1. Emmett #24, 2004
2. Jessie #6, 2004
3. Virginia #6, 2004
4. Untitled #21, Antietam, 2001
5. Untitled #31, Wilderness, 2002
6. Untitled #24, Antietam, 2001
7. The Beautiful Lie, 2007
8. David, 2005
9. Speak Memory, 2008
10. Kingfisher's Wing, 2007
11. One Blue Dew, 2005

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Several informed critics have pointed out the un-obvious difference between the candid portraits made by Diane Arbus in the 1960s (as above) and the undeniably similar work made earlier in the century by her photography teacher, Lisette Model. What that un-obvious difference involved was cropping (or not cropping).

Arbus killed herself in 1971. She subsequently became so famous-beyond-famous that Model (who lived until 1983 but never became particularly famous on her own) gained a certain measure of reflected fame as the mentor and role-model of the departed genius.

Both Model and Arbus tended to confront their subjects (or victims, as some would say) face-on, crowding them against  the frame-edges and pushing them forward toward the viewer. Model said she envisioned her subjects exploding from the picture altogether.

Yet she also described her practice of standing at a safe, prudent, socially acceptable distance from the strangers she was shooting. Only later – in the darkroom – did she achieve the claustrophobic intimacy she wanted, by a process of radical cropping. Arbus, more of a purist in matters of technique, was reluctant to crop. Instead, she achieved the Model effect in the simplest possible manner – by stepping closer, by literally entering the personal space of strangers under scrutiny (a space the upper-class Vienna-bred Model could not seriously conceive of violating). 

Immediately above, Arbus at work (photographed by Garry Winogrand in 1969 at a Central Park "Love-In").

Arbus at work (photographed by William Gedney in 1968 at a bodybuilding competition).

Arbus in student days (photographed by Allan Arbus in 1949 while staring into the future).

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Black Green Red Yellow (Blue)

"At first, we lived from my inheritance. We had an apartment on Riverside Drive. High on the twentieth floor, we watched the ships on the Hudson. Each place we had afterward, there were many, was slightly cheaper than the one before. And lower to the ground. In 1958 we went to 137 Seventh Avenue, South, on the Lower East Side. The apartment was in the basement, next to the boiler room. An incubator. The word among my students was not to come visit until summer when the heat was turned off. Evsa and I stayed there for the rest of our lives."

"We painted this basement apartment black, green, red, yellow. Planes of color that looked like Russian Constructivism or Mondrian. There was no daylight. The place was its own closed universe, dedicated to art with a capital A. It was beautiful. No one had seen anything like it. Students came to photograph the decor, such as it was. There wasn't much furniture. We built a plywood banquette that ran around the main room. That's where the students sat when they came for lessons."

"Evsa had left Russia. I'd left Vienna. We fashioned ourselves in New York as reborn world-citizens, no religion, no politics, or what Krishnamurti described as that rag, called a flag. Our new society was made up of artists. Survivors with one credo: Never compromise your principles."

"We were partners in this idealism. Our great fear was any- and everything bourgeois. We looked and lived like bohemians, like the artists we were. We wanted freedom!––What is art but one of the few freedoms left, where you can do exactly as you please without being thrown in jail! I had a hell of a time with money. It meant everything and nothing to me. When I tried to pay Willard Beecher, my spiritual advisor, he sent the money back, saying my ambivalence about money was the reason I was coming to him in the first place. I had to learn to accept his services gratis. That was his lesson."

"Half the time, we were starving. I didn't understand kitchens. The way I'd been raised, how could I? Evsa did all the cooking. Spaghetti and eggs, every night, unless someone invited us to dinner. To some we looked like classic bohemians. To others, figments from a Mondrian painting. As we grew older, we dressed in black, with green or red scarves as accents. It was the uniform of our two-person army of freedom fighters––against every kind of corruption."

Shooting Off My Mouth, Spitting Into the Mirror, Lisette Model – a Narrative Autobiography / by Eugenia Parry (based on Model's manuscript notebooks and on interviews)

Manfred Heiting, editor and designer, used the photograph of the Model apartment (at top) as a double-page frontispiece, then based his layout for the entire book (published by Steidl in 2009) on the angles and colors he found there (also echoed in the colored inks of Model's reproduced notebook pages).

Ideally, the book as object ought fully to body forth its subject. That ideal is, I think, accomplished in this book, and with elegance. How rare to see content and form functioning as sturdy equals. Steidl deserves great credit. Remarkable too that the work is still in print. Any commercial publisher in the U.S. would likely have remaindered it by now.

Earlier this summer Lisette Model (1901-1983) appeared here when I was reading the catalog of the only full-scale retrospective her photographs have received, so far. This took place in 1990 at the National Gallery of Canada, where Model's negatives and papers are preserved. Even though she spent almost fifty years living and working in New York, the only visionaries prepared to take on the archive at the time of her death were in Ottawa. No American institution came forward, so little was this crucial 20th century artist known or admired by the Reagan-era cultural establishment. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chunk Tuna

Under the strict Saturday-evening directions of Mabel Watson Payne, I drew what appears above (inspired by a tuna can made of painted wood from her birthday set of toy wooden food). She decided how many wavy strands of water should undulate behind the fleeing fish, where its fins should go, and how many eyes it should have. Mabel contributed a couple of delicate water-squiggles with her own unmistakeable hand after we finished writing CHUNK TUNA in the spot she designated.

Sunday was a different sort of day, pretty-well filled with those time-consuming, routine, behind-the-scenes tasks that make the upcoming work-week possible. Laundry out of the way earliest (at a dim foggy hour which seemed rather earlier than usual, seeing as how I had been up the night before till well past midnight in the course of Mabel-minding) – then out to the shops.

Different day, different graphic. It took trips to three different places before I could complete the crossing-off of every item from this disorganized and doubt-ridden list. Tuna is not on the list, not this time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grooming the Narwhal

I stayed with Mabel on Saturday night when her parents went out with friends for Daddy's birthday. His birthday dahlias came home fresh on Saturday morning from Ferry Building Farmers' Market.

The plush narwhal appeared here before, when it emerged from its original packaging.

The photos on Saturday were few and poor. We stayed too busy reading books and drawing pictures, playing with toy food, eating real food, organizing bath-and-pajamas, then getting settled (with many stories and songs) in the new toddler bed.

Meanwhile Daddy's milestone was noted in the greater world of Saturday night San Francisco,

 First in the form of cocktails at Bix.

Then (below) in North Beach at Tosca.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Electro-Photographic Investigation

The University of Pennsylvania was enlightened enough (and rich enough) in the 1880s to sponsor and publish a series of ambitious photo-books by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) showcasing his newly invented technique of stop-action photography. 

Oddly thrilling, the repetitive spectacle of these antique silhouettes – real-life fashions of the 1880s – almost in motion.The same female outlines one is used to from a million Impressionist paintings, but presented here with a literalness the Impressionists would have scorned.

Source is here.