02 November 2009

A City as Once Seen by Stuart Klipper

I am pleased and honored to have been asked to take part in this deluxe presentation about to be released by the Press at Colorado College. Stuart's project evolved out of discussions and editing sessions he and I had en route to five of his photographs appearing at MCP as part of the exhibition Downriver. The five New Orleans authors he solicited to write texts accompanying individual images of his, of New Orleans and environs prior to Katrina and Rita.

There is a Flickr slideshow about the book here. The Press' page for the book is connected through the title link. There are 40 copies of the book, which includes oversize foldout inkjet prints as its plates and recovered wood as its slipcase.

17 September 2009

Tim Davis

Tim Davis, Gold Flecked Web

There's something irresistibly compelling in these photographs. There are some hints of arrangement--note the array of digital cameras all displaying the "same" view, and the haircuts--but on the whole one can only marvel at what Davis finds. His photographs heighten the visual impact of his subject matter; he's got a keen, and what I used to think was merely acerbic, eye for anachronism, a sense which is perfectly suited for this series now up in NYC called "The New Antiquity." The series represents the very modern and insightful Davis at work, finding both willed and unintentional examples of age and the ancient in cities from the U.S. to Europe and Asia. It's so apt a subject for Davis that the irony, verging on cynicism, of much of his earlier work seems to have dissolved in the face of irrefutable, undeniable, non-Photoshopped asychronous anomaly. The show is up until October 24. I wish I could see it in person. I can hardly wait for the book.

Slideshow of Tim Davis' "The New Antiquity" courtesy of Greenberg Van Doren Gallery

Tim Davis, Angel Armor

06 May 2009

Chelsea and Soho, not AIPAD

My quick late winter trip to New York was focused downtown. Stayed in Soho, had breakfast with Hee Jin at the Noho Star, visited the Donald Judd house with the foundation director (thanks, Barbara), did a quick swing through Chelsea on Saturday morning before beating a retreat to LaGuardia to catch up on work for a couple of hours prior to my afternoon flight home.

I thought I'd spend a lot more time at AIPAD, but the abundance of images and ego-tangents was overwhelming; my brain shut down after about an hour. But I did enjoy seeing work by Jan Groover, Gabriele Basilico, and Louviere + Vanessa.

Hee Jin recommended my stops in Chelsea, and I was grateful for her suggestions--Florian Maier-Aichen, P-L diCorcia (installation of his "Thousand" project at Zwirner, above, below, and in this blog's banner), and Barbara Probst.

I thought diCorcia's installation was fascinating and bold, full of the intentional accidents that his work takes on frame by frame. It was the kind of show I'm sure many photographers dream about doing, but very few of them merit this sort of expanded view, a thousand images generated from many years of projects. I'm not buying many books these days, but I ordered a copy of this one as soon as I got home.

Myoung Ho Lee's Avedon-ed trees (the white background done with trees by James Balog, too) inspired me to make my own flora pictures as I snaked through the west 20s. Thank god for the cell phone camera.

I even made a picture that caused someone to call up a literary reference (after seeing it on Facebook, where I'm obsessively posting to the Mobile Uploads feature). My bicycle photo, below, reminded a fellow Minnesota-based writer of William Gibson's book, Virtual Light, which is about post-apocalyptic bike messengers in San Francisco. I was honored, and had to rush out and read the book.

"Proj on!" as Gibson's messengers say.

06 April 2009

WIIGF? Insights from veterans.

Spread from Untitled (Riley's War Images)

Monica Haller worked with a friend who'd been deployed to Abu Ghraib as a nurse to create a book-project offering first-person photographic perspectives on the current war. Haller, the healer-soldier Riley (a college friend of Haller's), and a graphic designer formed a collaboration resulting in the book Untitled (Riley's War Images). A mock-up of the book, one of two displayed at Minneapolis College of Art and Design as part of a Jerome Foundation visual arts fellowship recipients exhibition, was acquired by the International Center of Photography in New York. The photographs in the book were made by Riley during his tour, and they include both gun-sight points-of-view, like the scene above, and images in the mobile surgical units, interspersed with commentary about photography and personal experience in war.

Of note in this vein, too, is Lori Grinker's amazing work in the AFTERWAR project. Published as a book (above) in 2005 by de.MO, the photographs present an astounding range of war's survivors, alongside interviews that explain the personal impact of war on soldiers. The sheer number of global conflicts represented (the earliest is World War I) is sobering testament to the unconscionable reality of our tendency toward violence as a means of resolving differences. Sadly, this is a series of photographs that will never end.

* Alec Soth names Riley and His Story as the book of the year 2009 on LBM
* More about Monica Haller in a profile (City Pages (Minneapolis), 12/22/2008) by Patricia Briggs
* AFTERWAR by Lori Grinker

20 March 2009

WIIGF? Portraits of soldiers.

Ulysses S. Grant helped Mathew Brady usher in an era of candid portraiture, records of soldiers portrayed in moments of composure, of quiet between salvos. Though this is clearly a perilous calm; Grant's poise is tenuous, and his surroundings are as temporary as his glance is fleeting.

There's an extensive discourse on this image, courtesy of Jeff Galipeaux, originally published in 2002 on Salon.com. An excerpt:

In June of 1864, along with nearly 2,000 images of soldiers, fortifications, battlefields and cannons, Brady took the first important casual photograph, the first permanently recorded awkward image of an important man: The image of Ulysses S. Grant. Brady captured the image at the forward command center in City Point, Va. It is a landmark of psychological portraiture, paparazzidom and the creation of a public image -- all at once.
The hat is slightly askew. The brow is scrunched. There is that frown. There is the awkward placing of Grant's feet, the angle of his hip; the left hand clenched in a fist, the fingers of the right brushing against a tree. It's all wrong for the portrait of an illustrious leader in 1864, but disarmingly natural by today's standards.

I have always found this portrait tremendously compelling. The shape of the tent, the line descending to the right like the graph of a falling stock market (the fate of the South, mapped out in the Northern command post?), the bright foreground water, the elegant folding chair, the muck, the tree trunk, the sky, all of these planes of interest and textural details surrounding the nominal subject of the photograph.

Current photographers whose work is of soldiers, without the context:

Suzanne Opton

Suzanne's work in the "Soldier" series has been featured on a series of public art billboards around the country, including in Minnesota:

Ellen Susan

Ellen's photographs are originally done as wet collodion negatives, which gives her a straight-line connection to Brady and Grant (and accounts for the reversed type that appears on these soldiers' name tags). She also makes inkjet prints, which allows her work to reach a larger audience.

Suzanne Opton's "Soldier" web site
Suzanne Opton's personal web site, including her expansions on the "Soldier's Face" theme that use images of citizens who have been bystanders to war
Ellen Susan's "Soldier Portraits" web site

29 January 2009

Tom Arndt's Home

OK, OK. Let the shameless self-promotion begin. No better excuse for it, though, than the fact that an essay I wrote on Tom Arndt's photographs in Minnesota introduces this glorious, newly released monograph from the University of Minnesota Press. It's a book that all involved can be proud of; it reflects Tom's unique qualities as a person and an artist. It's really an all-MN production, too--printed (with intense skill by Shapco--Tom was apparently at every press check, too; it shows) and bound here in the Twin Cities, with a statement by Tom's old friend Garrison Keillor inserted, it is truly a major accomplishment and a long-due tribute to an artist whose vision celebrates us all, Minnesotan or not. Please check it out.

Also note:
The book anticipates and supports the February opening of a retrospective of Tom's work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Not an exhibition catalogue per se, but a very compelling adjunct to the show. If I may say so myself.

24 January 2009


What is it good for (WIIGF)? And how does photography account for it, or tell the story of war?

Lots of assorted threads come to mind, and I'd like to start a string of posts that deal with war and its intersections with the image world I encounter. I've been mulling this over ever since PhotoNOLA last December, when I asked Bruce Davidson about shooting war, and he said that the Civil Rights Movement, Brooklyn gangs, and the NYC subway had been war-like enough for him, that he'd never felt compelled to go into combat zones despite other great photographers who had and had emerged with some profound photographs (Don McCullin, James Nachtwey, etc.). Apparently the Magnum war bug never bit him. That is, he'd never felt compelled to go into war in search of an image that would capture not just news, not just details, but an image that might summarize man's plight, an image that might cause the end of wars.

Bruce Davidson lecture, Historic New Orleans Collection, December 2008

He was fairly emphatic about it. I was a bit surprised to hear that he hadn't done any war photography, but his humanitarian, pacifist side seems to survive well in his photographs nonetheless. For a New Yorker, he's surprisingly low-key. A survivor, of sorts.

Here's a guiding, or framing, quote to kick off this series of posts:

War isn't a matter of routine. What it involves is the disruption of routine. War "breaks out," it signals its appearance, it demands the declaration of its beginning and end. For an event to be considered a war, it must be relatively isolated, take place within a limited time frame, and express the pretension to victory of at least one of the sides. When events are prolonged beyond a reasonable time frame and appear to be incapable of resolution, we have recourse to the term war of attrition, meaning the mutual attrition by either side of the other side's strength. War is one expression of an economy of violence. It takes place between states, focusing on their armed forces. An armed conflict between at least two sides is a condition for war. Occupation is another expression of the economy of violence. The suppression of the occupied side's power and the negation of its ability to fight (its ability to manifest its power) are conditions for occupation. In war, the physical territory is divided in such a way that the front turns into a stage on which the campaign is enacted. In the case of occupation, the entire territory serves as a stage.

--Ariella Azoulay, Death's Showcase: The Power of Image in Contemporary Democracy (MIT Press, 2001), p. 220

Wendel A. White

Wendel A.White, from the series "Small Towns, Black Lives"

I'd been aware of Wendel A. White for several years before he sat down across the review table from me in New Orleans in December. Some time ago I followed a link to a 2002 New York Times review of his admirable, restrained, and moving web project (solidified into a book by Noyes Museum of Art in 2003), Small Towns, Black Lives, which was the opening chapter in a series of projects investigating concepts of community in African America. Wendel has received a Guggenheim artist fellowship, among many other awards, and he's a professor of art at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, so I was aware of him in the academic world through the Society for Photographic Education; another friend in that context, William E. Williams, had mentioned Wendel to me, and their works are complementary (Willie has done a lot with Civil War battlefields and locations along the Underground Railway). I like what Wendel has brought to a survey of historical and contemporary African American culture in New Jersey; his work has provided important insights for me.

The Times writer described Wendel's images as "restrained rather than theatrical," and they do approach quietly, respectfully, as though aware of their cultural gravitas but relying on a viewer's extended attention and questions to fully animate them. During PhotoNOLA Wendel showed me work from "Schools for the Colored," the third and newest portfolio in the series. Here's an example:

Wendel A. White, from the series "Schools for the Colored"

Sometimes, the buildings themselves are no longer standing:

Wendel A. White, from the series "Schools for the Colored"

Sometimes they've been swallowed up in larger structures:

Wendel A. White, from the series "Schools for the Colored"

The photographs employ a very simple device (masking, using lighter density for the surrounding environment) to memorialize structures that symbolized segregation but also provided shelter, education, and community for children in the "Up-South," the Northern "free" states along the Mason-Dixon line. Wendel ties the visual trope to a memory by W. E. B. DuBois, who wrote in The Souls of Black Folk that when he was growing up he felt "different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil." In Wendel's photographs, the veil dims the world outside the buildings, which take on vividness such as they must have had to those who utilized them in the 19th and 20th centuries--they were oases, distinct from a world that was at best seeing African American lives through a veil, dimly.

Wendel A. White's website