Thursday, July 31, 2008

Black is the Old ... Invisible?

Last month, to great acclaim, Vogue Italia created the first completely “Black Issue” of the magazine. Shot by Steven Meisel with four different covers and featuring virtually every top black model, the issue sold out within 72 hours and in an unprecedented move Vogue Italia rushed to reprint 30,000 more copies to meet demand.

How absolutely great, but now the August issue is out – themed around a faux funeral photo tribute to Yves Saint Laurent - and there’s apparently not one black model to be found. This is especially ironic given the fact that Yves Saint Laurent was one of the first major designers to regularly feature black models in his runway shows. You would have thought they could have found room to at least fit Naomi Campbell in somewhere. Wouldn’t she look chic in widow’s weeds? This kind of tokenism ultimately seems a step backwards to me.

The August issue of Vogue Italia

Anyway, ever helpful, here’s my progressive solution – every edition of VOGUE should henceforth be required to regularly feature a model I just became aware of, but who has been in the business a while - Lakshmi Menon (the Bundchen of Bangalore). Already appearing in ads for Hermes and Givenchy it seems hard to believe this kind of pan-cultural beauty could have any negative effect on the bottom line of any fashion magazine.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

30% !*#+!!!

A quick public service announcement. Today through tomorrow, Aperture are having a book sale where every book in stock is 30% off. This includes the just released Luigi Ghirri book; the just arrived, fresh from the printers, "RFK" by Paul Fusco; as well as Aperture's current and back list. (Bring the Fusco book to Danziger Projects on September 4, 6-8 p.m., meet the photographer, and get it signed.)

Aperture is at 547 West 27th Street, 4th floor. New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 505-5555

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Tepui Mountains, Venezuela

Forbes Traveler just listed their “10 Most Unique Landscapes”. Their definition is “instantly recognizable views that are found nowhere else in the world” and created by specific and unusual geological forces.

This sounded like a useful list for any resourceful photographer (although they left out my particular favorite, Badlands National Park in South Dakota which looks completely other-wordly). Nevertheless, in no particular order here are the 10:

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Petra, Jordan

Tauo, New Zealand

Li River Valley, China

Uyuni, Bolivia

Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Western Highlands, Scotland

Cappadocia, Turkey

Redwood National Park, USA

And my personal pick:

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Monday, July 28, 2008

Luigi Ghirri

For many years, a card of this photograph of Versailles taken in 1985 by Luigi Ghirri has been pinned up above my desk. I love the scale, the color, the formality, and the relationship to painting. It also looks like it would be a large Gursky size print but in reality the original is snapshot size, which adds to the intrigue.

Luigi Ghirri was born in 1943 and died in 1992, at the age of 49. During his short life he revolutionized Italian, if not European photography, but for a number of reasons he is barely known in the States. However, all this should change now that Aperture have published the first American monograph of his work titled “It’s Beautiful Here, Isn’t It …”.

An early colorist and a prolific writer, Ghirri’s snap-shot style observations blended conceptualism, surrealism, and topography. His favorite subjects included constructed collage-like still lives, storefronts, and interiors. One of his favorite photographers was William Eggleston and with brilliant initiative, Aperture editor Melissa Harris managed to corral the notoriously word-shy photographer into selecting and commenting on some of his favorite Ghirri pictures. It’s a fascinating insight into both men. Courtesy of Aperture, here are excerpts of the interview accompanied by the photographs under discussion.

Paris (1972)

I happen to like pictures of the rear-view of someone’s head. (My fondness for rear-views of heads culminates in my admiration for Gerhard Richter’s 1988 painting “Betty”.) I made one myself, in Los Alamos, around the same time as Ghirri’s.

Modena (1973)

In general, I ike Ghirri’s use of color and the fact that the work feels empathetic. There is also a sense of place in his photographs, yet they are not a bit regionalistic. Sometimes his work is extremely painterly – the landscape "Modena (1973)" is quite beautiful. The shades of green, from that austere wedge to the fuzzier, yellow tinted grass and shrubs, and then that circular chunk of yellow. Beautiful. I like everything about it. I like the play among reality and mystery, the constructed. Everybody thinks this is new, but Ghirri was doing it more than thirty years ago. And the photograph of maps, such as another titled "Modena", also from 1973, are so simple but exactly right.

Modena (1973)

Lido di Spina (1978)

I keep returning to the word “surprise” with Ghirri’s work. "Lido di Spina (1978)" feels much more surreal and is very unexpected – but he’s still playing with you, and I like that.

Modena (1978)

Trani (1982)

Amsterdam (1980)

"Modena (1978)" is an image I would never make. It’s quite elegant; it reminds me of Irving Penn’s work which I love. "Trani (1982)" is another very elegant picture. And look at "Amsterdam (1980)" just about everything is interesting about this work … the strange plant (I guess it’s a plant) juxtaposed with the Sphinx and the pyramid and more clouds. I’ve always liked the idea of collage.

Near Lagosanto, Ferrara (1989)

I am extremely drawn to the minimal and more sublime aspects of Ghirri’s work, as well as those images that are more confounding – those in which you don’t know exactly what you are looking at, in which he is gently teasing the viewer about what is real and what is not like "Near Lagosanto, Ferrara (1989)". In fact I might just have to copy that one: “Have you seen my Ghirri?”

There’s a lot Ghirri did that I don’t do, and that I probably won’t do – but I’m sure glad he did it!

As I was writing this I realized I did not know what reference the title was making so I e-mailed Melissa Harris and got this reply which is too good not to share:

Dear James,
No reference in the text at all, but here goes...

I was trying to think of a title for the book which would be more interesting than the typical: "Luigi Ghirri: photographs of Italy" or something.

I was sitting at the Empire Diner one morning for breakfast and started thinking about Antonioni's "The Passenger" which I had seen at BAM a few nights earlier (such an extraordinary film -- I had never seen it before) and kept recalling the line that is exchanged 3 times with the Jack Nicholson character--which is something like, "It's beautiful here isn't it" -- sometimes a question, sometimes an observation.... It suddenly occurred to me that this could be a perfect title for the book, albeit odd. My mind was in some mixture of Antonioni and Ghirri land as I left the diner, thinking that maybe, finally, I had a title and saying it over and over in my head (i hope) while picturing Ghirri's images -- and I walked smack into a sandwich board -- it was for NY magazine (i think it was NY magazine) featuring Jack Nicholson on the cover (some new movie he was in)! Of course, I took it as a sign! So, I ran the title by Lesley, Andrea, and Kristian and they loved it, as did Yo (Yolanda Cuomo-- book designer) -- and then I asked Paola Ghirri about it and she adored it. So--that's that! Hope this helps

Best to you,

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekend Video - Philippe Petit

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of seeing a preview of the film "Man on Wire" - a remarkable documentary about Philippe Petit, and his 1974 tight-rope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. 
Directed by James Marsh the film interviews all the main participants - the girlfriend who stood by his side in spite of her misgivings and fears; the childhood friends who collaborated on the myriad steps of the plan, and Petit himself, who is one of the most charismatic documentary subjects one could find.

A combination of artist, dare-devil, and madman, Petit's sense of wonder, mischief and enthusiasm both in the archival footage and in the present day interviews give the film a relentless forward momentum.
 Thanks to the extensive archive material, some excellent reconstructions of the action, and Michael Nyman's dramatic music, you can’t help but feel tense even though you know the outcome.

Director Marsh does an excellent job and at times it feels like the film is more Hollywood thriller than existential documentary. The team plan their operation like a heist, spending months studying the towers, inventing ways in which to transport their equipment up and then across the towers, and dressing up in disguises as they case the WTC Towers.

Then there was the real danger involved. The wind velocity at 1,368 feet, the elasticity of the buildings, and of course the omnipresent threat of death. Yet Petit’s dream stirred a city mired in depression and crime, and the fact that he refused to explain himself, in spite of the everyone asking 'why', makes the event all the more mysterious and affecting.

At the end of the screening Petit came out for a question and answer and his presence, charisma, and command in person were no less than in the film. By the time he was finished, I felt I had the privilege of meeting the greatest performance artist of all time.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Embarrassment at the Met

It’s an embarrassment of riches for photography at The Metropolitan Museum right now - two amazing shows and a scattering of riches as you walk along the hallway of the Prints & Drawings galleries. (There’s always an interesting selection of works from the collection here – a visual diversion or appetizer for what’s to follow.)

First up you are met with a large close-up of Pierre-Louis Pierson’s peek-a-boo portrait of the Contessa Castiglione – the perfect precursor for the contemporary show to follow. Ovcr a period of six or so years in the late 1860s, Pierson and the Countess produced more than 700 images of her. In a shocking reversal of convention, however, it was the sitter who directed every aspect of the picture, from the angle of the shot to the lighting, using the photographer as just a tool in her obsessive pursuit of self-expression.

A few steps further takes you into the new Tisch gallery for contemporary photography and “Photography on Photography: Reflections on the Medium since 1960”. This exhibition – only the second to display the Met’s new-found interest in contemporary work – presents four decades of photography by artists who have turned the camera on the medium itself. Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, and a
host of lesser known names make for a interesting meditation on appropriation, authorship, and conceptualism. The show’s signature image, made by British photographer Janice Guy in 1979 is a slick turn of the tables on the viewer’s preference for the nude female form.

Last but not least, stretching over half a dozen galleries, is “Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840 – 1940”. Aside from its clunky title, this exhibition tells the story of photography’s first 100 years through the work of 13 key photographers - Gustave Le Grey, Roger Fenton, Carleton Watkins, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Nadar, Édouard Baldus, Charles Marville, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Brassaï.
It’s a little like showing off as you pass by one master print after another of some of photography’s most iconic images – but hey, it’s the Met!

Janice Guy. Untitled. 1979

Sherrie Levine. After Walker Evans, 1,2,4,&7. 1981

Richard Prince. Detail from "Untitled" (three women with their heads cast down). 1980

Lutz Bacher. Detail from "Jackie & Me". 1989

Nadar. Nadar with his wife, Ernestine, in a Balloon. c. 1865

Roger Fenton. Reclining Odalisque. 1858

Gustave Le Gray. Cavalry Maneuvers, Camp de Chailons, 1857

Carleton Watkins. Cape Horn near Celilo. 1867

Julia Margaret Cameron. Sappho. 1865

Edouard Baldus. Group at the Chateau de la Faloise. 1857

Walker Evans. Room at Louisiana Plantation House. 1935

Brassai. Introduction at Suzy's. 1932-33

As I was walking away from the museum, there was an unusually talented caricaturist creating gentle watercolor likenesses. I didn’t
want to interrupt the work in progress but I did find out he’s only
there on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Parallel U.

The new China Central Television headquarters building in Beijing. Yesterday's most e-mailed photograph on Yahoo.

Do we all live in different worlds? Has the internet created parallel or alternate universes where we sometimes but rarely intersect? I ask these questions because having never spent any time on Yahoo, I recently set it to be my home page and then went one step further to personalize it to be “My Yahoo”. (The same week .mac changed their name to .me. Is this the beginning of a new "Me Decade"?) Anyway, the reason I changed home pages was that I was particularly intrigued by what photographs the approximately 150 million unique monthly viewers were most taken by and how it differed from the kind of pictures those of us with a fine art predisposition are drawn to.

For those who follow the “Most Emailed Photos on Yahoo” section, it’s a wild and wacky world out there. Spectacle, novelty, freakishness, and animals rule. Subject trumps all. Artlessness is a virtue. I say this without snobbishness because as readers of this blog know, I’m fascinated by pictures that have a purely visceral impact without any connection to aesthetics. And if the “Most Emailed Photos on Yahoo” doesn’t get to you – how about ”The Daily Puppy” link, or ”OMG”?

I’m intrigued to know what readers of this blog set their home pages to and what kind of pictures they hope to see. Please comment. In the meantime, a selection of popular Yahoo pictures:

Kim Taylor of Stewartstown, PA, thought she had set the emergency brake, but her wayward red convertible nonetheless rolled downhill, crashed through a fence, and plunged into her neighbors' in-ground pool.

Toes are nibbled on by a type of carp called garra rufa, or doctor fish, during a fish pedicure treatment at Yvonne Hair and Nails salon in Alexandria, Va.

From "The Daily Puppy", Tek, the Australian Shepherd puppy, who was named after Jason Varitek, the captain of the Boston Red Sox.

From the "OMG" section of Yahoo - Diane Keaton.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The International Center of ....

It’s no longer a shock to open your e-mail and receive solicitations for different kinds of porn, but it’s somewhat surprising when the purveyor is that august New York institution – The International Center of Photography. Still all’s fair in love and photography and I imagine they’re having a rollicking good time on the corner of 43rd and 6th.

In all seriousness, ICP has one of the best photography bookstores in New York (the other being Dashwood Books) and offer both a great selection and guilt-free browsing – a nice combination. And if you feel like it, you can also take in three interesting shows there right now -Heavy Light:
Recent Photography and Video from Japan; Arbus/
Avedon/ Model:
 Selections from the Bank of America LaSalle Collection
; and Bill Wood’s Business (Diane Keaton’s latest archive discovery). I particularly recommend Heavy Light.

But back to the bookstore and their e-mail offering, in addition to selections from British collector/dealer Danny Moynihan’s private collection of pornographic photographs, if you're looking for more porn there's a rare limited edition set of playing cards featuring images from Daido Moriyama's "Kagero & Colors".

If you’re looking for more respectable fare, there’s a brand new monograph on Hannah Starkey (one of England’s most interesting photographers but rarely seen Stateside); a republished version of Peter Beard’s seminal "End of the Game" designed by Ruth Ansel; and a new monograph by the Dutch stylist/photographer Erwin Olaf. Enough to make venturing into midtown where the temperature is well into the high 90s as we speak worthwhile.