Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tina Brown

Lunch at the Magazine Lifetime Achievement Awards where Tina Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was there having worked for Tina at Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and have always been a huge fan. The world of magazines seems so much duller without her. She has also always been a champion of photography, which is how we got together.

Our greatest coup was the famous 1985 Vanity Fair cover of the Reagans dancing - a cover credited (by others) as saving Vanity Fair when the sharks were circling and advertisers were scarce. It gave the magazine credibility and buzz and went on to become one of the most famous magazine covers as well as a cultural touchstone. So here's the inside story....

At my previous job as picture editor of the London Sunday Times Magazine, I had become friendly with Michael Evans - a talented photojournalist who became the chief White House photographer for Ronald Reagan. I had put together a special issue on Michael's most intimate White House pictures that got picked up around the world. So two years later when Tina came up with idea of a story about how the Reagans loved to dance my connections got us 60 seconds with the first couple as they left their private quarters en route to a formal White House dinner. I chose Harry Benson as the photographer because there's no-one better in a sticky situation. Tina was there to report the story.

I knew the Reagans were friends of Frank Sinatra and so the night before the shoot, I made a tape of Sinatra singing "Nancy with the Laughing Face" and smuggled a Walkman and a miniature set of speakers into Harry Benson's bag. The pirate sound system made it through security and when the Reagans stopped in front of Benson's backdrop I hit play. The Secret Service looked stunned but dared not interrupt as Ron and Nancy spontaneously broke into dance for the whole song (cover!) and ended with a heartfelt smooch (double page spread!).

It was the kind of collaboration that makes magazine work so exciting. Or as Tina said in her speech, "Sometimes you have to be lucky, and sometimes you have to be prepared to be lucky!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It never occurred to me how prevalent the subject (or backdrop) of sand is in photography until I was riffling through Christies catalog for their February 20th New York sale of photographs. There was sand everywhere! The above photograph by Wynn Bullock (estimated at $3,000 - $5,000) is of course a reference to the justly more celebrated Edward Weston image (below) which even printed posthumously is estimated at $7,000 - $9,000. There are sand pictures by Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Michael Kenna, Herbert Matter, Anna Mendieta, the Westons - Edward and Brett, and Gary Winogrand. (I'm disqualifying Lucien Clergue because anyone who makes a living photographing women on the beach with wet sand up their bum does not deserve to be in this particular hall of fame.)

Anyway ... I happen to own several of Weston's "Nude on the Dunes" pictures (very dry sand) and as well as being some of my favorite pictures, they hang in the hallway between my bedroom and my childrens' rooms. I'm very careful about what art gets hung in my own home but these pictures are so brilliantly conceived and the figure so integrated in to the ground of sand that neither my children or any of the many children who have passed through our house on play-dates have ever given it a second thought. I remember a house featured in a magazine not so long ago where the most provocative, graphic, and X-rated art was hanging on the wall and the couple's young children were pictured romping around in decorative magazine fashion, and I thought there has to be some kind of line, doesn't there?

Anyway back to sand. Aside from Weston's dunes one of the greatest sand pictures is the Australian photographer Max Dupain's "The Sunbaker" (above) taken in 1937, the year after Weston's pictures.

Last in the round-up of sand pictures is Richard Ehrlich (above and below) whose extraordinary pictures taken in 2003 of the Namibian ghost town of Kolmanskop I just recently discovered. In brief, Kolmanskop sprang up in 1908 after diamonds were discovered in the desert sand. By 1920 Kolmanskop was a booming mining town with 300 German expatriates and their families - a hospital, gymnasium, casino, bowling alley, and power station. Houses were built and decorated in beautiful colors with great artistic sensibility, presumably to offset the lonely existence in the middle of the desert. By 1928, however, the diamond deposits dried up and the town was abandoned to the elements. The skeletal remains of the houses are now left to sand and time, with every room constantly shifting and re-emerging as the wind shifts. Wow - talk about earth art!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fish Tales

It won't be my usual practice to post runway shots, but every time I see pictures from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s collections they seem as much art as fashion. In particular the amazing mermaid outfit (above) from last week’s Spring 2008 collection gave me a real jolt! Adding to the theatrics of the show, when the euphoniously named model Coco Rocha first appeared on the runway, she was in full mermaid tail and walking on two coral crutches! She then unzipped her fin and undulated down the catwalk, her bustier recalling the famous cone bra Gaultier originally created for Madonna (for whom he still designs).

With the exception of the intentional outrageousness of this costume, the rest of the collection looked beautiful, wearable, and unlike the valentine song - quite photographable. When people complain about how fashion photography is in the doldrums (a very common complaint) perhaps some of the fault lies in the lack of photogenic-ness of many of today’s clothes.

This is never something Gaultier could be accused of. Having now passed through the “bad boy” phase he was invariably called out for in the early Madonna era – he now stands as the heir apparent to Yves St. Laurent in terms of his position in French culture. In addition to his own label, he is now also the creative director of Hermes, but he still likes to have fun as his own website amply demonstrates if you care to fish around!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Average Pictures

Life is not fair. For over a decade Chicago based artist Jason Salavon has been experimenting with over-layering and averaging images to come up with composites that explore iconic american typologies. Kids posing with a department store Santa Claus, high-school yearbook portraits, pictures of homes for sale, playboy centerfolds. The photographs are intellectually provocative, and visually engaging, but for some reason Salavon's work has never made it into the red hot center of contemporary art. It's too bad because they deserve to be.

Here are some of works. Above, the first of his "Every Playboy Centerfold, The Decades" from 2002. The series presents the mean average of every Playboy centerfold by decade from the 1960s to the 1990s. Below you'll find the rest of the series - the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Two years after Salavon's"Playboy" pictures were made, Idris Khan graduated from England's Royal College of Art and began to make it big-time with his own layered multiple exposures of re-photographed images. I'm not saying Khan was even aware of Salavon, and I'm actually a big fan of Khan's, but the right school, the right gallery, and the right timing can make all the difference.

Salavon's 1999 picture below from the series "Homes for Sale" takes 124 photographs of homes for sale in the 5 Boroughs of New York and digitally combines them using both the mean and the median. (Compare with some of Khan's pictures from the link above.)

"The Class of 1967" and "The Class of 1988" (below) are amalgamations of all the graduating men and women in both Salavon and his mother's Fort Worth Texas high school classes. Half dream, half memory, you can almost recognize the individual before they slip back into the ur-portrait of their particular generation.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend Video - Dance Round-Up

This blog has been moving so fast, please excuse me if I re-cap....

I started blogging in November and traffic was pretty constant through Christmas with viewers in the low hundreds. Then this month thanks to The Sartorialist,, boingboing, and a few others, things exploded and I now get well over 10,000 visits a day! In my first post I said the blog was "about a love of photography and the pleasure I get from finding good pictures" and that's exactly what it is. Additionally every weekend for a change of pace (and to take some of the pressure off) I highlight what I hope is a particularly interesting video.

Last night I was talking to Trey Laird, owner of Laird + Partners, and one of the brightest advertising men in New York. He created the great Audrey Hepburn ad (above) for the GAP and is regular reader of the blog. However, he had missed the "Dance With Me" video by Nouvelle Vague - one of my absolute favorites. So I thought it was worthwhile re-posting that along with another previous post that could be the inspiration for an ad - the Bob Fosse dance set to the theme music of "Cool Hand Luke".

I hope you'll find the archives worth digging into. (To make it easier I just added titles to all the prior "Weekend Videos.) And I promise lots of fresh material coming up. I'd love to hear any comments on what you like, don't, and would like to see more of. Oh, and please pass it on. For everyone's convenience this blog can also now be accessed via

Have a great weekend!

"Dance With Me" by Nouvelle Vague.

"Cool Hand Luke" choreographed by Bob Fosse

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sent from my i-phone

Seen on 10th Avenue and 21st Street, NYC.

The Library of Congress @ Flickr

The Library of Congress is conducting a pilot project placing three thousand photographs on flickr. (Above: Jack Delano’s Going to Town on Saturday Afternoon, Greene Co., Ga. 1941.) The project is intentionally beginning modestly, in order for the Library to learn in which direction(s) to focus. As the repository of over 14 million prints this is understandable!

For now there are selections from two collections – color work from the FSA project (the depression era record of rural America) and the Bain collection (a turn of the century news service).

As someone who has spent many years lovingly doing picture research, going through all 173 pages (18 images per page) perfectly replicates the experience of being at The Library of Congress. It starts out excitedy, and then settles in to work as the search for good images becomes tedious. Your eyes start to ache. You begin to despair. Then you find a gem of a picture and your spirits soar! It’s armchair creativity but curating is nonetheless a creative act if not a genetic predisposition (or a pathology).

I’ve selected a few of the pictures from the flickr site that stood out for me, but for those interested in going deeper, the Library of Congress has it’s own separate site with about a million images.
Happy hunting!

Grand Grocery Co., Lincoln, Neb. 1942. John Vachon.

Tule Lake Internment Camp. 1944. Russell Lee.

Rural school girl. San Augustine County, Texas. 1943. John Vachon.

Wheat. PA. 1943. John Collier.

Jack Whinery and his family, Pie Town, New Mexico. 1940. Russell Lee.

Shulman's market. Washington, D.C.. 1942. Louise Roskam.

Backstage at the "girlie" show. State Fair, Rutland, VT. 1941. Jack Delano.

Backstage at the "girlie" show. State Fair, Rutland, VT. 1941. Jack Delano.

Train at sunset. New Mexico. 1941. Jack Delano.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Party Pix

A few snaps from last night's Sartorialist opening. 600 people, 8 cases of champagne, 5 cases of Pellegrino. It was an incredible evening with lines stretching around the block (see below) and people waiting incredibly patiently to come in and circulate around the gallery. A thank you to everyone who showed up and a hope that any who missed it will get a chance to see the show before it closes at the end of February.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Presenting: The Sartorialist

Tonight marks the opening of The Sartorialist’s exhibition at Danziger Projects. (6 – 8 pm. 521 West 26th Street.) All are welcome.

The idea for the show began when I landed on The Sartorialist’s blog for the first time this past July and was wowed by the quality of his pictures. Here was a highly accomplished photographer with a uniquely personal point of view taking pictures digitally and then posting them on his blog. There was no connection to the art world evident – but I felt that here was the first real fine art photographer of the digital age.

I e-mailed The Sartorialist - a.k.a Scott Schuman – and we began the process which 6 months later has resulted in the opening of his show. The process involved meeting (we hit it off immediately), establishing that his files would hold up to gallery standards (no problem), looking at all his work (easy because it’s all posted), figuring out what the prints should look like (what size, what paper they should be printed on), what kind of installation (single hung, double hung), prices and editions, and most importantly – expectations. As we were both taking a step into the unknown, I wanted Scott to know that I completely stood behind the work, but it was possible that people would not be able to make the leap from appreciating the work online to appreciating it in a gallery. The new (and especially the unconnected to the system) is always risky.

When the word of the show first made it out to the internet several months ago, the response was immediate and broad with comments falling into two camps – either congratulatory: “Well deserved, Sart.” or snarky: “Who does he think he is selling his pictures in a gallery for $1,200?”. There were quite a few of the latter. (However, this is an incredibly low price in today's art market.)

We hung the show last week and I have to say that to me it looks perfect. At the last moment we switched to non-reflective, u.v. filtering, museum plexiglass, and the results are worth every penny of the $240 extra per frame the plexi costs! The pictures really glow on the wall without the distraction of reflection. And the response has been unbelievable. We let people in early once the show was hung and collectors with no knowledge of The Sartorialist have literally walked in off the street and bought pictures. Seasoned collectors have bought groups. With only ten prints being released of each image two have already sold half their editions! Museums are interested. New projects are brewing.

When I put on a show I try to write a press release that best conveys both information and what I feel about the work. To see what I wrote along with many of the images in the show you can go to the Danziger Projects website.

The pleasures of a doing a show are creation and collaboration. This one has had it in spades!