Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Southern Exposures

For the last three months, The New York Times has been running an occasional series, "Going Down the Road", where writer-photographer teams revisit places highlighted in the classic American Guide Series of travel books of the late 1930s. The series has been a little sleepy so far, but yesterday I opened my paper to find the vibrant photograph, above, by Ruth Fremson and many more good pictures on the paper’s website.

Fremson drew the assignment of going to Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black town to incorporate in the country and the childhood home of Zora Neale Hurston. What particularly struck me about the photo-
graphs, though, was the degree to which many of them seem indebted to William Eggleston. This is not to take anything away from Fremson, who is an exceptionally talented photojournalist, but with a single artist sale of Eggleston’s coming up at Christies followed by a major retrospective at The Whitney it seems apt to reassert my contention that he is the most influential photographer of our time.

Eggleston’s early commitment to color, the consistency of his American vision, and his focus on finding something of note in the everyday and unexceptional opened up a whole new front in the aesthetics of photography. While there have been plenty of bad imitators since, before Eggleston I don’t think anyone would have thought much of a photograph like the last one pictured here of a general store selling both cowboy boots and food, or the image of a deflated but still stylish seventies era car – a seeming analogy for the state of both Eatonville and the country.

It’s been 32 years since Eggleston’s landmark show at MoMA accompanied by the book “William Eggleston’s Guide” and an interesting coincidence that Fremson’s pictures now appear in a similar guise – the photographer not as observer or pictorialist but as guide.

More images of Eatonville by Ruth Fremson:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Paul Newman. 1925 - 2008

Paul Newman was a unique celebrity in that the notion of celebrity seemed so removed from him. He loved acting but more for the craft than the rewards. His loved race cars, good food and wine, liberal causes, and according to one newspaper he gave more to charity in comparison to his own wealth than anyone has ever done.

Photographically speaking, he was never one for posing and so there are few iconic pictures of him outside of movie stills, with the exception of this one great photograph by Eve Arnold.

Photographed in 1955 at an Actor's Studio class, it was taken the year before Newman was to make a mark in “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and three years before his first Academy Award Nomination for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. When I asked Arnold how she happened to focus on him while doing a story on the famous acting school she had a simple answer, “He just glowed.”

The tributes to Newman are many and profound, but perhaps my favorite line about Newman came from Adam Sandler in his “Chanukah Song”:

Paul Newman's half-Jewish, Goldie Hawn too.
Put them together, what a fine-lookin' Jew!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Video - Couric & Palin

I try to refrain from putting too much about politics on this blog, so I'm sorry if anyone finds this offensive, but this excerpt from yesterday's broadcast of Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin has to be seen to be believed. Comments please.

P.S. (late addition to the post)

A friend just noted that Sarah Palin's performance reminded her of last year's famous South Carolina Miss Teen USA contestant.


I hate to lay it on, but I just saw this Jimmy Kimmel clip explicating Miss South Carolina's answer and it had me laughing out loud. FYI - he starts the analysis at 1:43 into the clip. Hopefully he will perform the same service for Sarah Palin.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Judith Joy Ross

Untitled from the series "Easton Portraits". 1989

Sometimes it only takes one picture. In 1990 I was at the Museum of Modern Art viewing John Szarkowski’s final exhibition, “Photography Until Now” when I was stopped in my tracks by the last photograph in the show – a small but luminous 8 x 10 inch print on printing out paper of three young girls in bathing suits looking shyly at the camera while behind them, in the distance and out of focus, a teenage boy observes the proceedings. The picture was so visceral in its textures, so full of incipient narrative, and so intelligently composed, I knew this had to be the work of a brilliant photographer and without seeing one more of her pictures, I tracked her down and offered her a show.

We ended up doing two shows - the first a survey of her “Easton” pictures, photographs of children from her hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania; and the second of her pictures of visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.. While taking pains to avoid showing the Memorial itself in order to convey a more universal sense of loss, the portraits nevertheless carried all the emotional weight of their subjects' experience, the sadness of the bereaved, and the tragic results of war.

Below: Untitled photographs from the series: Portraits at The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C., 1983/1984

For the last decade, Judith has been represented by Pace MacGill where Peter MacGill, the son of a preacher (and with his own strong antiwar sentiments) has steadfastly supported her work. Now through October 11, you can see her latest series, close-up portraits of protesters to the Iraq war shot all around Pennsylvania and in Washington D.C. and Tempe, Arizona. The show has its own small catalog along with a larger book, "Living With War - Portraits", that puts together all of Ross's series connected to war.

Taken with a cumbersome 8 x 10 view camera, the process that goes into making the pictures requires an unusual complicity, and evidence of the rapport between the photographer and the subject fills the frame. Like all of Ross’s work, it’s a reflective and deeply personal essay, but it asks the question – what are you doing to be true to your beliefs? What does it take to get you out of your regular routine? It’s a subtle but powerful call to act.

Annie Hasz, Easton, Pennsylvania, 2007

Patrick McCann, March on Washington, 2007

Julian Lovas, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 2006

Ora Knowell, March on Washington, 2007

Betty Compton, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2007

Jessica Haynes, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2006

Canon John C. Fowler, Allentown, Pennsylvania, 2006

Layne Cole, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2006

Art Landis, Sellerville, Pennsylvania, 2006

Ellen Buck, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2006

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

That's LIFE!

Just announced today, the news that Time Inc. and Getty Images will jointly launch LIFE.com in early 2009.

The official announcement is couched in the corporate “we-don’t-quite-know-what-we’re-doing-but-let’s-hope-it-drives-up-our-stock-price” language, but the vision seems to be of millions of web users happily playing the “popular” LIFE picture puzzle, purchasing albums of their favorite photographs, and decorating their homes with digital reprints of the atom bomb and Marilyn Monroe. (Do I see a bombshell theme here?) All this, I presume, to be surrounded by ads.

The problem is that Time Inc. is so hung up on the LIFE brand that over and over again they get caught looking back to the heyday of the brand (which was the 1930s and 1940s) instead of looking forward. (VH1 has the nostalgia thing figured out better with their "I Love the 80s" shows!)

Nevertheless, here’s the text of the official release:

New York, NY, September 23, 2008 – Time Inc. and Getty Images will jointly launch LIFE.com, the companies announced today at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX Conference in New York City. LIFE.com will be jointly owned and operated by Time Inc. and Getty Images, and will provide access to the most comprehensive iconic and professional photography collections available anywhere online. Andy Blau, president of LIFE and SVP of Time Inc. Interactive, and Catherine Gluckstein, vice president of iStockphoto and Consumer Markets at Getty Images, will serve as CEO and CFO, respectively.

“LIFE.com brings together the two most-recognized brands in photography, making the defining images of our times even more accessible to people everywhere,” said Jonathan Klein, co-founder and CEO of Getty Images. “We are thrilled to partner with Time Inc. on the launch of this exciting new venture.”

LIFE.com will offer access to thousands of new photographs from Getty Images’ award-winning photographers, including today’s news, entertainment, sports, celebrities, travel, animals and many others.

Consumers will also have access to millions of images from LIFE magazine, many of which have never been seen by the public. The collection contains the historic photos that LIFE published through the decades, in addition to many never-before-seen pictures of Hollywood stars, sports heroes, important people and events from the ‘30’s though the ‘90’s. Getty Images will be providing the majority of images at launch from its comprehensive archival and current collections. More than 3,000 new images will be uploaded daily from Getty Images.

“Image search is the fastest-growing type of online search, and LIFE.com will satisfy the public’s desire for quality and relevant imagery through a visually pleasing and easy-to-browse website,” says Blau. “Only three percent of the LIFE archive has been seen by the public,” says LIFE.com editor Bill Shapiro. “This site will put everything on display. You’ll be able to look at the biggest events of yesterday and the stories making news today with just a couple of clicks.”

The new site, which was designed with Getty Images’ industry-leading search technology, will be easy-to-use and navigate. When the site launches in early 2009, consumers will be able to interact intimately with imagery, including printing select photos, sharing photos with friends and family, playing the popular LIFE Picture Puzzle, creating collections of photos around special interests and purchasing photo albums of user-made collections. Through the site, consumers can view the photos the world is talking about by searching for recently added photos or viewing photos by topic. Searching for and viewing images on the site will be absolutely free.

Given the literally hundreds of millions of dollars the two companies respectively lost on art.com and the recent re-launch of LIFE, this can only be seen as the triumph of hope over experience.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

About Buzz (and Melanie Schiff)

Spit, 2006

Buzz is an interesting phenomenon. If you had been at last December’s Miami art fairs where Melanie Schiff's work was prominently displayed at the NADA fair in the booth of the Kavi Gupta gallery, and where the assistants were all atwitter about her just being selected for the 2008 Whitney Biennial, you would have thought it a sure bet that Ms. Schiff was the next big thing.

I commented about the work at the time and waited to see her rise to fame, but even after the Whitney Biennial, I haven’t seen or heard a word. This is surprising because Schiff is a natural talent, inhabiting something of the rock and roll/color/snapshot turf of a Ryan McGinley, with an added touch of feminist self -portrait/performance work, and a talent for the Wolfgang Tilmans style still life of everyday objects. (This description is simply to place her in today’s artworld context rather than to imply that the works are derivative, because they’re not.)

The works in Miami as well as the Whitney Biennial were large, airy, beautifully printed, and nuanced in their mixing of elements. Schiff’s obscured self-portraits in particular (where she spits/sprays water at the camera, or covers herself in mud, or holds up Neil Young’s album cover like a mask) are standout pictures and add a welcome youthfully subversive strain to the genre.

I bring Schiff’s work up again first because I still like it a lot, and secondly as a way of illustrating how the art world works and positing the four main reasons why we’ve heard so little of her.

1) Her main gallery is the Chicago based Kavi Gupta Gallery. It’s hard to make it big when you don’t have either a big or hip New York (or European) gallery behind you.

2) As there haven’t been any major articles about her, one can assume she does not have the requisite knack for self-promotion.

3) This might be a case where the old beef about women artists being overlooked has some credence.

4) Buzz needs careful feeding, attention, maintenance, and connections.

Although I’ve always insisted that the art world is surprisingly genuine in that everyone involved truly believes in what they’re doing, this is different than saying that good work triumphs over bad. In other words, referring back to last week’s gallery round-up, I think Yvon Lambert genuinely believes that Andre Serrano’s pictures of excrement are interesting, provocative, and worthwhile works of art. The photographs have already been much buzzed about. All that remains is to see how skillful the gallery is getting the work reviewed where it matters (The New York Times has already bitten) and acquired by the museums and collections that count.

Let’s hope that with Schiff’s next show, the pieces begin to fall in place.

Mud Reclining, 2006

Lemon and Album, 2004

Bones and Cassettes, 2004

Bowl Full, 2004

Neil Young, Neil Young, 2004

Anna II, 2007

Underwater Photographer, 2006

Rainbow, 2006

Self-Portrait After John's Party, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Abelardo Morell

Camera Obscura: The Pantheon in Hotel Albergo del Sole Room # 111, Rome, Italy, 2008

cam.era ob.scu.ra - a darkened enclosure in which images of outside objects are projected by their own natural light through a small opening and focused onto a facing surface.

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of mounting the first New York show devoted exclusively to Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura photographs. At that time Morell – who until then had only worked in black and white - was just beginning to experiment with color. Now he has completed his first full body of color work and the show opens at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery on Thursday. They were kind enough to send these images so that The Year in Pictures could provide an exclusive first look at this new work.

To date, Abelardo Morell has been making camera obscura pictures for 17 years, over which time he has been quietly building one of the great ongoing photography projects. At once pictorial and conceptual, these pictures address issues of science, art, topography, landscape, architecture and now color.

The initial idea for the work came out of Morell's demonstrations to his photography students at the Massachusetts College of Art in the mid-1980s where he turned his classroom into a Camera Obscura. The exercise was designed not only to elicit a sense of awe and wonder, but also to connect students to the precursive roots of the medium. It was not until 1991, however, that Morell decided to document the process on film, and he began by taking pictures in his own house in Brookline, Massachusetts. In order to capture the elusive projections, the exposures had to be about eight hours long, but the initial results charged Morell with possibilities. The play between the inside and outside world, the tension between the right way up and upside down, the surreal contrast of buildings and beds, trees and walls, formed a miraculous and original vision of a magical but still real world.

An earlier black and white of the Brooklyn Bridge

Over the ensuing years, while continuing to make photographs of a number of different subjects, from still lives of books to the backstage of the Metropolitan Opera, Morell has continued the Camera Obscura series venturing further and further afield to different cities and states and then to England, France, Italy, and Cuba. He has photographed in simple cottages and in some of the world's great museums, in the homes of the rich and in public libraries.

In this new series in addition to the advent of color, Morell has inverted the inversion, finding a way to flip the reflected light so that in these pictures the projected view of the outside world is now oriented correctly. Additionally, as is often his practice, Morell includes the beginnings of a new series playing with the relationship and contrast of painting and sculpture. For a fan of “Alice in Wonderland” which I know Morell is, the pictures just get curioser and curioser!

Upright Camera Obscura Image of the Coliseum in the Hotel Gladitori, Rome, Italy 2008

Camera Obscura: View of Volta del Canal in Palazzo Room Painted With Jungle Motif, Venice, Italy, 2008

Camera Obscura: View of the Grand Canal Looking Northeast From Room in Ca' Foscari, Venice, Italy, 2008

Camera Obscura Image of the Grand Canal Looking West Toward the Accademia Bridge in room under construction, Venice, Italy, 2007

Camera Obscura Image of the Santa Maria della Salute with Scaffolding in Palazzo Bedroom, Venice Italy, 2007

Camera Obscura Image of Central Park Looking North, Summer, 2008

Rinehart/Inness- Yale Art Gallery, 2008

Nadelman/Hopper- Yale Art Gallery, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

Weekend Video - Billy Ray Cyrus

I was driving to the airport listening to a country music station on the radio a couple of days ago when this song came on. It’s the lead-off single from an album coming out in November by none other than Billy Ray Cyrus. And while it’s bombastic and seems aimed to cross over from country to contemporary pop/Christian, and thus not something I would usually listen to, I found it powerful and affecting. More importantly, like much of country music it seemed to have the pulse of America in an honest and realistic way and to speak to the kind of people who pragmatically should be voting for Obama but due to matters of culture, style, religion, anti-elitism, and maybe race, are more comfortable with the message McCain and Palin are putting out.

It’s ironic because there was a time when the down and dispossessed and those in need of hope were a natural base for the democrats, but if we look at the progression - from Kennedy to Clinton to Gore to Kerry to Obama - while the intelligence scale remains high, the ability to have the common touch and especially to connect with the kind of people who are the core country music audience is dangerously shaky.

So in the last few weeks of the campaign, as our economy is literally melting down - and in addition to being beset by the dangers of war, a fragile planet, and the precarious state of individual rights - I would urge Obama and his advisors to listen to a little country music.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Investigative Journalism 101

Marina Linchuk

You know how you always hear every model say the same thing - "I was so ugly as a child.", "My classmates all made fun of me.", "I was called ______" (fill in the blank - skinny knees, froggy face, fat lips, etc.). Well some magazine, and I apologize profusely for not knowing which one (please help out if you know), had the smarts to track down childhood pictures of a number of the most successful Russian models and as you can see they were not only far from ugly children but in most cases seem to have had quite an affinity for posing!

Anna Selezneva

Diana Farkhullina

Sasha Pivovarova


Olga Sherer

Tanya D