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Photography

 

There was a “dead” period where I didn’t even carry my camera. For awhile, I was taking tons of pictures of my growing child, but very few images of anything I wanted to display, to put my name on. I didn’t need my Nikkormat for that, and it was too heavy to schlep around, so I gave it to the local high school photo class.

 

Around 2006-07, I bought my daughter a compact digital camera, and for a few years, it was what I used to record our Kodak moments.

 

At the end of 2009, I had a reason to get out and take some photos that for a specific purpose. For a couple of years previous, my company had been commissioning a photographer to shoot local points of interest for a desk calendar that we then sent to our clients.

I know, that is all the world needs is another cheesy real estate agent calendar with a Hallmark Card landscape on it.

Fortunately, our marketing director had very good taste, and carefully chose both her photographers and the image used on the calendar.

 

But I didn’t think the 2010 calendar images lived up to the previous years, so I asked if I could use my own pics instead. Along with permission, I got a two week deadline to provide 13 images. There were only two small problems, I had nothing to offer, and I am not a prolific shooter-I normally don’t make 13 satisfactory images in a year.

 

But I did it.

I wanted to stay in the spirit of the “House” calendar, and I wanted it to be personal, so I decided to shoot East Bay landmarks that I cared about, or that I had found visually interesting. I carried that little camera everywhere, and because I had a goal, I shot more images that I had shot in years.

I narrowed it down to 13, and published this calendar. Doing so reignited my interest in photography, and I have been slowly crawling out of the mud ever since.

2010 calendar

I hate Walker Evans

We just visited the Walker Evans exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

I first bumped into Walker Evans more than 20 years ago at the old San Francisco Museum of Art on Van Ness. There was a photography display, and I found the work by Evans particularly appealing. A great thing about visual imagery is that any version of it is better than no version at all, so I bought a handful of postcards in the Museum Gift shop.

Over the years, references to Evans refreshed my interest in him-as I saw new images, and was again drawn to his style (although I don’t think I could define it). I bought a few books, including the seminal work, “American Photographs”*, the catalog of his 1938 Museum of Modern Art (NY) exhibit, and the first photographic presentation by an individual in that major museum. My understanding is that Walker Evans’ insistence on this exhibit being viewed as a body of work rather than a collection of photographs was a novel idea at the time. It has also been said that this exhibit announced the arrival (and acceptance) of photography in the world of fine art.

Evans is best known for his Depression era work for the Farm Services Administration, and many of those images are burned into our collective memories, particularly his iconic portrait of Ellie Mae Burroughs, which he named “Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer Wife”. –

 

This title is as straightforward as his images, there are no embellishments, it could be the label on a laboratory microscope slide-which in a sense it is-through Evans’ lens, we get a magnified close up of America.

But Walker Evans was about so much more than the human condition. His subject matter was the matter of everyday life-signs, billboards, and advertising, movie posters, automobiles, corner churches and gas stations, and window displays-all taken in his straightforward, almost documentary style. Curators and pundits call his choice of subject matter “vernacular photography” to define this style, he used the phrase “descriptive photography”. He made studio portraits of common hand tools, and his subway portraits, anonymous and candid photos of New York City riders (taken with a concealed camera), raised privacy invasion issues that continue to resonate today now that the abundance of cameras everywhere record many of our everyday movements.

Evans photographed and wrote about store displays, here are some along with his own comments-

Here is a detail of that last one-

 

I believe this was written by the curator-

I love the phrases, “Hodgepodge poetry of the miscellany store”, and “practical genius”

 

So why do I hate Walker Evans?

Because I have learned that so much of what I think of as my original work was done by him more than 80 years ago. I shoot a lot of store windows and signs. My images reflect my own sensibilities and interest, and often reflect my sense of humor.

OK, so nobody is going to put a frame around these and hang them in a museum.

 

It is widely accepted that there is nothing new, but did he have to do it so much better? Couldn’t he have left some crumbs for the rest of us?

At the end of the day, it is about vision, clarity and skill.

I hate guys like that.

 

* http://store.moma.org/books/books/walker-evans-american-photographs.-seventy-fifth-anniversary-edition/835-835.html?cgid=books-books

Recent Photography

Photographically speaking, this has been a busy month.

 

Streetfoto San Francisco

For the second year, Ken Walton did another job of organizing Streetfoto San Francisco, a weeklong, multi venue festival of street photography that included workshops, contests, photowalks, lectures, and other activities. I wasn’t chosen as a contest finalist again this year, but I viewed the exhibits, and attended a few presentations, and to my eye, Ken has refined the event, and hit another home run. The speakers that I saw were engaging, and there was a peppy three person panel who did a “speed dating” critique of projected images, that was brutal in its criticism, but stimulating and thought provoking just the same.

 

I am looking forward to next year’s event.

 

http://streetfoto.org/

Oakland Museum of California

I have always had a soft spot for local, or regional museums, and The Oakland Museum of California* is no exception. They are currently exhibiting “Dorthea Lange: The Politics of Seeing”, a powerful and moving exhibit that presents the work of this pioneering 20th Century photographer. Her work during the Great Depression is pretty well known, and “Migrant Mother has been on everything from postage stamps to T shirts.

Lange’s social conscience didn’t stop when the Depression ended.. After the Japanese Bombing of Pearl Harbor, the US Government targeted people of Japanese (along with others) descent, rounded them up, and put them into Internment Camps, or “Relocation Camps”.

Dorthea Lange was there, documenting this injustice, and the photos present another sad chapter in our County’s history. In display, there are documents and pictures that tell of grade school children who recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the US, and were then sent off to the Camps. The irony of this dehumanization is heartbreaking.

 

As I read the daily news, I can’t help thinking about how reactionary we are getting here in 2017.

 

 

Yesterday, on what was forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far, we went into San Francisco to visit Pier 24**.

How hot was it?                                                                                                                                        Well, as we left the BART subway station, we followed this guy across The Embarcadero to The Ferry Building, the centerpiece of the row of Piers that make up San Francisco’s Historic Waterfront-

He must have used a bucket of sunscreen.

 

The Pier 24 show, titled “Grain of the Present”, exhibited some of the mid (20th) Century photographers whose work was descriptive of the world as they saw it-neither Documentary nor Journalism, but more expressionistic in nature.  The show was complemented by a handful of contemporary photogs who continue working in this style.

 

Alec Soth

   

 

    

http://alecsoth.com/photography/

 

Vanessa Winship

    

 

http://www.vanessawinship.com/projects.php

 

Latoya Ruby Frazier

 

http://www.latoyarubyfrazier.com/

 

 

For notetaking purposes, I took some snaps of both the Lange and Pier 24 exhibits with my phone- None of these images are mine (except the naked guy), and  I don’t mean for them to be anything more than visual reminders.

 

 

 

*http://museumca.org/

**http://pier24.org/

Focus is Overrated

The last Sunday in April was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day.

Like everything else, pinhole photography sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t, and most of the results can be mediocre (including my own).

I am attracted to alternative photography, not because of my contrarian nature, but because it is about experimentation, and the unpredictability of experimentation is vital to what we do. In order to progress, you’ve gotta try stuff.

When shooting film, there was always an element of unpredictability. Even if you were a seasoned photographer who carefully composed your shot in the viewfinder, there was still an element of serendipity in every exposure. Maybe less so in the climate controlled studio, but this is certainly true out in the real world, with all of its moving parts.

Diane Arbus is said to have commented, “I never have taken a picture I’ve intended to. They’re always better or worse”.

I probably haven’t shot film for close to 10 years, but on the last Sunday in April I happened to have a borrowed camera with film, so I bought body caps for the film and digital cameras, and made a couple of pinhole lenses.

There are calculations for this sort of thing, and someday it might be fun to sit down and calculate aperture and focal length, but the experimentation is part of the fun-especially with digital, since it doesn’t cost anything to make the exposure (there is also that instant gratification thing).

Pinhole Day is for everybody, as long as your image is lensless  there are no limitations or restrictions (maybe pinhole porn wouldn’t be appropriate, but….).

 

Here are a few of the shots from that day, they are mostly unsatisfying,

Black and White film

Black and White film

Black and White film

Color print film

Color print film

Color print film

Digital

Digital

Digital

 

but the one I submitted to WWPPD is kind of fun-

Digital

 

WWPPD is not about any one participant, it is sort of an instant community of enthusiasts, and I think the best way to enjoy the site is to just go to the site, and start scrolling-

http://pinholeday.org/gallery/2017/index.php?page=1

 

 

 

 

Rayko Photo Center provides a stimulus to the Bay Area photography scene that is immeasurable. Aside from providing rental studio, darkroom, and digital printing access, they offer a wide variety of classes and workshops in traditional, digital, and most important (in my view), alternative processes. I just finished a terrific Critique workshop with a very generous instructor-J. John Priola*. This was a very good experience, and if I can muster up enough work, will take it again-John is an excellent facilitator.

During this time, Rayko announced that their Gallery would be closing- a huge blow to our community. San Francisco has always had a vibrant photography scene, and there are a few galleries that are photo specific, but they tend to cater to the Art world, and the “specialness” of that world. In the time I have been going to Rayko, their gallery, under the direction of Ann Jastub, has produced thoughtful and engaging shows, including the current and final exhibit-

10TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL JURIED PLASTIC CAMERA SHOW

Like other Hipster trends, there is an element of the plastic camera movement that is just another form of “coolness consumerism”, but  this is different. This is a juried show, and it isn’t about coolness, it is about creativity.

And it sings.

I asked permission to take note with my phone.

The work ranges from images that are photographically interesting

to being photographically interesting with a dose of plastic camera quirkiness,

 

and then to more experimental works of conception and process. My favorites were by a pinhole shot by Andy Mattern

and two images where Robert Schneider reversed the lenses on his Brownie Camera

 

 

Also on display were images from past years,a Holga panorama by Veronika Lukasova

 

Aline Smithson, who apparently used this set built from Legos

Robert Holgren printed this starfish in sections on tracing paper, then stitched it together with staples,

 

and this beautiful print from Michael Borek

The rest of the gallery space is generously devoted to print rack where students can sell their work at very reasonable prices, and a very engaging collection of antique and unique cameras and accessories. The value of this display should not be taken lightly, for inside of every gearhead is an appreciation of all of those knobs, gears, and especially the lenses.

I went through this show twice yesterday, partly because it is so captivating, and also inspiring.

But I also wanted to just hang out, and absorb that great Rayko Photo vibe.

*http://www.jjohnpriola.com/