My Mother was of Irish Descent, and on this Day, my Father used
to wake her by telling her to go down to City Hall and get her butt painted Green.
This photo was not taken on SPD, but that building is Oakland City Hall.
Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.
Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.
However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.
Or maybe I have changed.
Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.
It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.
Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the
in current photographic trends.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL.
I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.
Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.
Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,
and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.
I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it. And I loved the discussions.
Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.
Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.
It wasn’t for me.
In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.
Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.
Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.
However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.
This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-
After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project
Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-
“What is this, some kind of road trip?”
“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”
I think this
came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.
Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.
But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.
I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.
It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.
We will see the response.
Until then, I’m
We recently visited the Brassai exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and it opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of his work. Brassai is best known for his “Paris at Night” photos, but he was so much more than that. I read somewhere that he started out as a painter, but was inspired to take up photography by Andre’ Kertesz*, his contemporary in the Paris art scene of the 1920s. Kertesz seemed to have a knack for photographically noticing an element of everyday life that “would make a good picture”, and then capturing it-two very distinct activities.
Brassai also had this talent –
To me, this one seems particularly “Kertesz like”
Many of Brassai’s photos were of tradespeople just doing their job
The photo adjacent to this one had this guy and his crew eating their lunch. I hope they had Hand Sanitizer with them.
I should note that the museum staff gave me permission to take pics of these pics with my phone.
Apparently, Brassai photographed many society functions, but he is most famous for his pics of the “other” Paris, the one that exists after dark. As depicted, this is the world of night clubs and bars, prostitutes and criminals, and for a photographer, it also was a world of visually interesting characters and situations that made good pictures.
Considering the speed of photographic emulsions at the time, this atmosphere must have presented constant lighting challenges, and aside from the necessary tripod, the cameras, glass plates and carriers must have required a fair amount of muscle to lug around.
These two were my favorites
“Brassai” is running through February 17th. If you were raised on traditional photography, and have a chance to visit San Francisco between now and then, put this show on your list.
I’m going back for a second look.
*Who wasn’t inspired by Kertesz?
I try to not think of things categorically, but it seems to be a human trait- What do you photograph”, or “What kind of photographer are you”. I don’t do landscapes, and I don’t do portraits. Because I am a trained photographer, I like to think my Travel photos are (technically) a bit better than average, but my Family pics are just as goofy as everybody else.
But when I am consciously trying to make a picture, I think of them as Observations- a Point of View that hovers between Documentary and Journalism -what Walker Evans called Descriptive Photography.
A few years back I read an article about a Street Photography book that had this Matt Stuart photo on the cover
I looked into Matt, and he appeared to be a guy who walks around with both a camera and a particular view of the World, and is pretty good at using one to capture his impression of the other.
About the same time, along with the rest of the World, I discovered Vivian Maier, one thing led to another, and this whole “Street Photography” thing started to take off for me, with Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand and others. Street photographers are folks who carry camera around with them to record the World as they see it. Street Photography seemed to be a non-categoric Category, one that felt good to be in-it was observational, and you couldn’t predefine the image.
I hung around Street Photography for a few years, scoured Web Sites and got a sense of who was doing what. The discussions were what could be expected- approach, attitude, privacy, and so on. Fortunately, for a field that is gear obsessed, Street shooter conversations about equipment were minimal. Photography for these folks it is about the intersection of place and time (or timing)-not gear, and not prescribed rules.
I recently read a quote that expressed this quite well. I apologize for not including my source, I don’t recall it-
“I don’t know whether this truncated elephant with arm unmanned was a one-shot or a whole roll. I just know it was right. And it illustrates what goes on in the photographer’s mind when he’s being totally unconcerned about composition, almost. He’s being almost totally concerned about subject. What comes through is the subject. What comes through the subject is the way of seeing.” —Jonathan Brand wrote these comments on composition and subject in his Popular Photography Critic’s Choice column about Garry Winogrand’s photograph of an elephant’s trunk, exhibited at the 1964 Museum of Modern Art show The Photographer’s Eye.
I decided that I was a street Photographer.
I entered a few competitions-
Streetfoto San Francisco International Street Photography
LACD Street Shooting Around the World
Meanwhile, I was noticing a trend towards formalizing Street Photography into a genre. Many street photographers who were gathering around the Internet water cooler started forming groups, or collectives. This seemed a good thing because their purpose was to critique and help curate each other’s work.
Others created self-promoting websites that seem to have evolved into large mirrors of their own self worth. There started to be Fanboys who wallowed in didactic conversations.There was some talk of Gear-“you have to use 28 or 35mm, you have to get up close”.
There were Rules.
Street Photography turned into a category.
“A Kiss on Sunset Boulevard” was also chosen by Juror Gus Powell for the current “Street Shooting Around the World ” show at the Los Angeles Center for Photography-
Coincidentally, I was in LA for the opening of last year’s show-
and I was walking over to a Wine Bar that I had discovered on Sunset Boulevard. I was in the crosswalk when I saw this couple making out in this alcove of the Amoeba Records store. The traffic light was changing, so I really only had seconds to take this shot and get out of the middle of that six lane street.
This show runs through March 18th.
I am pleased to announce that my photograph, “A Kiss on Sunset Boulevard”, has been selected for a juried exhibit at The Richmond Art Center.
In Focus: Current Photography, opens this week, and runs through March 8th, here is a link to the Art Center Exhibition page-
There will be a reception at for the photographers at The Art Center on February 3rd from 2-5pm, I hope to see you there.
Happy New Year.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about where I want to go photographically, and where photography seems so be going in general, and as I look around at the current state of things, I’m feeling outnumbered.
I love the conversation of photography, getting different viewpoints and opinions about both process and imaging. In the 1970s, I learned photography by consuming all I could find, both at the Library and the newsstand. I love books, but magazines offered fresh information each month, the letters to the editor could offer expansion on a thought, and also offered the constructive disagreement and counterpoint that every dialogue needs.
A few years back, I joined a local camera club, and saw some good photography, but they have a pretty structured meeting format that revolves around judged competitions. Even on the evenings where there was no judging, the discussion seldom reached genuine critique, but tended to often be technical (rule of thirds, leading lines), or overly polite (“I like the red barn up in the corner”). They didn’t really have much to say about this-
My sense was that they appreciated the images, they just didn’t know what to say about them.
I had a hankering to try my hand at printing, so I enrolled in a class offered through a community college Art Department. Each session was partially devoted to lecture, but there was also a critique component where participants hung prints on the wall for group discussion. This was the dialogue I was looking for-some of the work was practical and technical, some was conceptual, political, or emotional, as were the comments of my fellow classmates. Overall, I found it enriching.
However, colleges are goal oriented, they won’t let you repeat the same class for you own enrichment, and subsequent classes were taught by someone whose interests were more arty and conceptual. Although we did some very helpful exercises, there were no critique sessions-only projected work with limited time for artist comments, and even less time for the audience to speak up.
This past Spring, I took a critique class at Rayko, our dear departed San Francisco area photo hangout. The instructor, J. John Priola*, was a bright, energetic guy, who did a great job of keeping the conversation going with each student and on many different levels. It was the best!
But when I showed my work, they insisted on finding a common thread, or an inner meaning.
I don’t see my work that way, at all. As I look through my photographs I see some common elements, but I don’t go out shooting with the concept or a goal in mind, and as a rule, I don’t do projects. Usually, I see something that looks interesting, instinct tells me it might make a good photograph, and I do my best to photograph it the way I see it.
Occasionally, I get it right.
The common thread only comes over time, because it all reflects my view of the world. I know that some of it has an audience of one, but even that is OK (to a point).
So, where do you find the dialogue today? Website comments would seem to be the natural place, but with few exceptions (The Online Photographer**), I haven’t seen it. Many comments on sites like Flickr seem to resemble those of the camera club (nice capture!!)-so many of the participant just seem to be trolling for “likes”. Then there are the arguments where a participant gets contradicted by the next commenter, someone jumps in to defend the first guy, then someone else jumps in to defend the second guy, and it turns into a free for all that totally hijacks the conversation. There might be some constructive criticism somewhere down the line, but who wants to wade through all that nonsense and bickering?
This DP Review article illustrates what I am trying to say-
If you appreciate these images, don’t just say, Nice Capture”, and don’t make the comment about you. Tell the photographer what you like about it, and it will make them a better photographer (and it will make you a better commenter). And don’t let yourself get drawn into the mud.
I have noticed that a few photographers have turned off “comments”, presumably for this reason.
So once again, where is the dialogue? Where are the salons and ateliers where Berenice Abbott met Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray? Where are the cafes and galleries where Walker Evans met Berenice Abbott and Andre’ Kertezs? And so on.
Those guys may have passed, but somewhere, at this minute, somebody is doing something that can excite us, they can make us learn something new about our craft, and perhaps about ourselves. Are they hanging out in Art School? Online chat rooms?
Where do they hang out, how can we meet them, and get to talk to them?