Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Video - Contempt

Lindsay Lohan and Bert Stern's recreation of his famous Marilyn Monroe "Last Sitting" pictures in New York Magazine last week brought over 20,000,000 viewers to the mag's website - making it the most viewed picture spread in the world.

Picking up on the theme of homage, above is a clip from Jean-Luc Godard's "Le Mepris" featuring Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli. (How great that J.Lu. is becoming such a regular!) Below - the homage/ad from Chanel and a short "making of" film by Bettina Rheims. In this case Stern seems more guilty of ripping himself of than Chanel does of Godard, where their upfront commercialism and the phallic mischief of the product placement make for a surreal mix of art and business.

Then as a special bonus - the original French trailer for the movie. Have you ever seen a better trailer? Better film-making? (To explain the odd image below, the plot of the movie revolves around the making of a film adaptation of Homer's Odyssey.)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sandy Volz

As promised, one more German photographer. I came across Sandy Volz’s pictures in an exhibition of work by the students of Peter Bialobrzeski at the Bremen School of Art. (Bialobrzeski is himself a favorite of mine having produced some of the most interesting pictures of figures in landscape in his book “Heimat”.) Anyway, for the student show, Volz made these unusual pictures of human interaction titled “Hearts of Darkness”. You can’t quite tell what’s going on. I get the feeling it’s a moment of conflict between two people who know each other well, but it could be open to any interpretation. However, there’s an extraordinary level of technical expertise in the large (50 x 70 inch) prints as well as a striking physical and psychological intensity.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wait to Walk

I seem to be caught in a German photo-warp right now - Helmut Newton, Albrecht Tubke, Juergen Teller – and much more to come, I promise.

Today’s discovery is Florian Bohm. A 39 year old German living in New York, Bohm takes the familiar DiCorcian concept of modern color street photography, narrows it down to the single moment of people waiting to cross the street, and repeatedly nails it. He’s not breaking any new ground but the self-imposed restriction of photographing entirely on the streets of New York gives the work a consistency and an immediacy, and there’s a nice flat quality to the light that helps pull it all together. The pictures above and below all come from Bohm’s book “Wait to Walk” published last year by Hatje Cantz.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Save the Elephants!

I sat down with a big pile of magazines and papers yesterday and before I even got to any editorial, I was discomfited by the new Hermes ads in which elephants (how original!) with vast amounts of paint around their eyes were used as props.

A few minutes later, the inspiration for this – Avedon’s famous “Dovima with Elephants” - popped up in the New York Times “Evening Hours” section, seen being admired by an anonymous viewer at the Park Avenue Armory art show. ( A large print of "Dovima" now sells for close to $1 million.)

Moving on through the Times, the Sunday Magazine (praised by me last week for their Ryan McGinley portfolio) committed double imitation – not only using elephants as props for an 8 page fashion spread, but stealing the title “Trunk Show”, from Bruce Weber’s infamous 2005 elephant shoot for W Magazine. (In Weber’s pictures the pastiche was front and center as some of the biggest names in fashion created original couture for the elephants themselves. At least Weber, a known animal lover, saw fit to contribute to Elephant Family - a charity whose mission is to help save Asian Elephants.)

But enough with the elephants – O.K.?

Avedon's "Dovima with Elephants".

From the New York Times Magazine.

Chanelephant fashion by Karl Lagerfeld - shot by Bruce Weber

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Video - I Have a Dream

With the focus on oratory and politics, I thought it was worthwhile to go to the source. Needless to say, You Tube has dozens upon dozens of different versions of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but after viewing many of them, I felt this version – just a straightforward still image with background music composed by "Paul from Stoke, U.K." was the most powerful.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

NOT The Sartorialist

Earlier this month I received this e-mail:

Dear members of the gallery,
Im an German photographer. I've seen your currend exhibition, and it could be, that you are interested in my work. Please have a moment to check out: If you want, I can send my book to you, or I can come over to see you, which would be great. Last year I was in an group exhibition at the Tate Britain "How we are, photographing Britain", curated by Val Williams. I attached one of my portraits for you in this email. I'm looking forward hearing from you,
best wishes,
Albrecht T├╝bke

As I usually do when people send me a link, I took a look. My immediate reaction was that the pictures were way too close to The Sartorialist’s work to be of any interest to me, but the surprising thing was the pictures were pretty good!

I e-mailed back to that effect in reply to which Mr Tubke then followed up with a phone call where we had an interesting conversation. Tubke’s process is quite the opposite of Sart’s. He chooses a location and waits endlessly for the “right” person to come by and inspire him. (Sart’s a hunter, Tubke’s a gatherer.) Tubke works thematically shooting specific series one at a time and he's much more of a traditionalist - shooting on film, engaging with the traditional gallery/museum axis, and dealing much more with archetypical typologies (city folk, country folk, twins) whereas one of the great elements of Sart’s work is how much and in how many ways it deals with the here and now.

Anyway, I told Tubke I would be happy to post something about his work and see what response we got from the blog. So please enter a comment. And dealers, feel free to contact Mr. Tubke if you would like to show his work.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Juergen Teller

While any Juergen Teller show is a significant event, his current exhibition “Ukraine” at Lehmann Maupin seems to have tiptoed into town. I was certainly late off the mark and missed an opening where the gallery had hired my favorite street food vendor, the Hallo Berlin food-cart, to dispense bratwurst. Darn! Anyway without any advance word I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see the show last week.

The surprise begins the moment you walk in the door where an installation of display cases dominate the space while just a few photographs dot the walls. The genesis of the show was a state commission to shoot images of the Ukraine for the Venice Bienniale, but as the press release notes: “In Teller’s Kiev the membrane between harsh economic reality and obtainable fantasy is surprisingly thin and these pictures represent a place where beautiful girls wait to be discovered in a place where the desire for luxury has reached a fever pitch.”

Mixed in with a diverse selection of recent work, the show is really just an update of what Teller has been up to, and it amply shows Teller’s greatest strength – the ability to make an arresting picture with little of the production support usually relied on by successful fashion photographers. He’s great at girls, he’s great at snapshots of the famous with a titillating edge, but there’s a sneer that’s been in his work since the beginning that’s in danger of getting out of hand.

That said, there are plenty of good pictures, the best of which I thought was a simple but arresting photograph of the model Lily Cole perched on a rock. I don’t know if Teller has ever seen the famous Maxfield Parrish it echoes, but I never thought I’d ever compare the schmaltzy populist American illustrator (whose work at one time hung in one out of every three homes in America) with the brazen and decadent favorite of the art-meets-fashion elite.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Important Moments in Blog History - Part I

This past Saturday the Blogfather (a.k.a. Jorg Colberg author of Conscientious) came to visit Danziger Projects and see The Sartorialist exhibition - now in its last week for anyone who has missed it so far. I tried to record the momentous event in a photographic tribute to Irving Penn's corner portraits and Sart's own trademark style!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Weekend Video - Ryan McGinley

I was an early supporter of Ryan McGinley’s snapshot/verite/street/ hippy/color style going so far as to suggest he join Magnum when I
was the director in 2003. But he’s done just fine on his own, thank you! At 24 Ryan McGinley was the youngest artist ever to have a solo show
at The Whitney. Then last year he was awarded ICP’s “Young Photographer of The Year” award.

Kathy Ryan, the New York Times Magazine’s picture editor, was another early supporter commissioning McGinley in 2004 to do a portfolio of photographs of the U.S. Olympic swim team. Quite naturally, McGinley shot them underwater. Since then he has been a regular for the magazine and last week they ran 28 pages of his pictures of Oscar nominees in their annual “Breakthrough Performances in Film” portfolio. (Where their unforced plein-air inventiveness put Vanity Fair's over-produced behemoth to shame.)

As with every portfolio, there were great pictures and some merely good ones, but the most intriguing thing in this multi-media age was the accompanying film clip from the Times’ website. It not only gives an interesting insight into McGinley’s process, but shows that he might just be as good a video artist and film-maker as he is a photographer.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

For me, the photograph that most fully expresses the idea of love is Harry Callahan’s double exposure of his wife Eleanor’s face over a field of roots and grasses (above). It signifies that Eleanor was everything to Harry and he won't let you forget this. The picture refuses to allow your eyes to sit still as you’re pulled deeper and deeper into its compositional web. The stems at the top of her head crackle like neural electricity. The flowery branch at bottom left becomes a bouquet. Motion and emotion intertwine.

If this image weren’t enough it is, of course, just one of hundreds and hundreds of pictures the photographer took of his wife starting in the late 1930s after Harry had taken a photography workshop with Ansel Adams. Harry had met Eleanor on a blind date in 1933, and three years later they were married. They both worked at Chrysler in Detroit where she was a 17 year old secretary and he worked in the parts department when he wasn’t busy with the company camera club.

For Harry, Eleanor was not so much a muse as she was a reflection of life. He thought like a writer and photographed what he knew. He learned from his own experiments. As Arthur Ollman pointed out in his essay “The Model Wife”:

Harry Callahan was a complex man who seemed to be a simple man. His apparent simplicity was engendered by reticence and frail verbal skills. He explained himself plainly: "In my life, being married was one powerful experience, photography by itself was a powerful experience, having a daughter was another experience, as well as living in Europe. I think these have all been very strong influences in my growing as a photographer."

One of the most surprising aspects of the Callahans work together was how little controversy they caused in their time. Harry’s pictures of Eleanor left no part of her anatomy unexamined and were reasonably widely seen. So what gave Eleanor the confidence to do something so unusual? I asked her the one time we met and she said “I thought they were poetry and I knew Harry would never do anything out of line!”

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An American Tragedy

Any life derailed is a tragedy, but Britney's life - a life lived out as much in photographs as in her music - has been accelerating out of control at an unbelievable speed. Last week's paparazzi chase - or perhaps more accurately attack - may however, turn out to be a cultural as well as a legal turning point. Legislation is now pending in California to limit the proximity a paparazzi can have to their quarry. To anyone who saw the televised chopper shots of photographers descending on Spears as she was leaving the mental ward where she had been forcibly held under California's 5150 law, it seemed like this could not happen a minute too soon. Let's wait and see.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Helmut Newton - a remembrance

Self-portrait with wife and models. Vogue Studio, Paris, 1981.

I just moved all my photo related boxes to an airy storage space in Long Island so long-buried things are coming to light. Last week I was going through a box of old documents and came across this brief 2003 interview with Helmut Newton which was to run on a failed precursor of this blog when Helmut's sudden death made it seem opportunistic. Five years later, Helmut's vitality and humor are what stand out for me.


Your about to be published autobiography stops in 1982. What have the readers missed?

Nothing! People who reach their goals are very uninteresting. What could I have written about the last 20 years? I met a lot of awfully boring Hollywood bimbos. I earned a lot of money. I fly only first class.

You don’t make it sound like much fun.

It would have been fun to say I f***ed her and I f***ed her, but my wife June and I have an agreement not to talk about such subjects.

So there’s never any jealousy?

I am feminist! If I finish a job abroad early, I always call June from the airport. I never want to surprise her. This morning I asked June to go look for my glasses. She asked “May I go through your pockets?” I find this is proper - even after 54 years of marriage.

Are you saying you are sometimes tempted?

I look at models like a farmer looks at his potatoes.

In your book, you paint yourself as an unusual child.

I was sickly and fainted a lot and I masturbated like a world champion! My mother was always fearful of my health so I was driven to school by a uniformed chauffeur to avoid germs. I was not allowed to touch a railing or to handle money. I was spoiled, unbearable, and an awful coward.

When you were 18 you fled Nazi Germany on a ship to Singapore. Yet your recollection of that time in history is “I screwed through the Mediterranean. I stuck with married women around 30 years of age.”

You must understand that for the Jews that ship was an island paradise because finally no-one could hurt us. Every evening there was dancing, drinking, f***ing. But I always found 17 year old girls less exciting than older women who were glamorous, sophisticated, and had sex appeal!

When you arrived in Singapore you had five dollars to your name, which you immediately spent in a brothel.

My sound financial sense told me there was no difference between having five dollars and being completely broke.

You never really talk about the Holocaust.

I have no animosity against the Germans. I will never forget or forgive but I find the Germans are the only ones who are seriously confonting their past. When I was offered the Great Federal Order of Merit, June said “You can’t possible accept it!” So I asked Billy Wilder and he said “You’ve got to take it!” I preferred listening to Billy.

As you say in your book, you achieved all your goals long ago. What still gives you pleasure?

I am old hypochondriac crapper who has to take 13 pills a day, but I still love cars. I drove a white Porsche with red leather seats when I could not even pay my rent. I recently acquired a red Corvette which was specially made for me in Detroit. It has flaming tongues on it. A f***ing great car!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Weekend Video - Shelby Lynne

This one was a real bolt from out of the blue! I had been reading snippets about Shelby Lynne's Dusty Springfield tribute album but hadn't heard any tracks until I went on iTunes and downloaded five songs. It took me a few days to listen to the tracks, but once I did I
was hooked. This is one of those albums that becomes a whole new point of reference for your musical taste and knowledge.

In short, Shelby Lynne, who's been around for a while, is deeply rooted in country but with great range into other genres. Her first album was released in 1989 followed by albums on three different labels, so it was kind of an ironic joke when she won the Grammy for Best New Artist for her 1999 album "I Am Shelby Lynne".

Dusty Springfield was one of the first blue-eyed soul singers of the sixties whose hits included "I Only Want To Be With You", "Wishin' and Hopin'", "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me", and "Son of a Preacher Man:" She became one of the most influential singers in the business working with amongst others - Jimi Hendrix, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Elvis Costello, Sinead O' Connor, and the Pet Shop Boys. She died of cancer in 1999.

Shelby Lynne's Springfield album - "Just a Little Lovin'" - was produced by Phil Ramone who uncharacteristically strips down the music to the bare essentials, letting Lynne's voice and a slowed down jazz tempo bring new meaning, pathos, and focus to the lyrics. You get a good idea from this concert clip of "I Only Want To Be With You", but the title track on the album, given its relative obscurity in the pop archives, is the one that should really not be missed.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lumix v.s. Leica

This doesn't look like a fair test, but bear with me....

After about three years of trusty use, my little Lumix FX9 broke. This is the camera I carry to art fairs and events and slip in my pocket whenever I need to snap something at better quality than my iPhone. It performed like a champ (in fact this was a camera Annie Leibovitz gave to all her friends when it first came out).

As someone who loves to buy new gadgets, this was an opportunity as well as a sadness, so off I went in search of the next great thing! As the FX9 has long been replaced by newer models, my criteria were that the camera had to slip into my back pocket and it had to take good pictures.

My first try was a little Sony which distorted straight lines so badly it went straight back to Best Buy. Next was the smallest Lumix which was just a little too small to handle easily and now lives happily in my wife’s handbag. I then tried the littlest Leica, the C-Lux 2 (also too small and noisy pictures) and the next size up in the Leica range, the D-Lux 3 (above) which is not only problematically large for a pocket camera but does just terribly in low light situations.

By this time I was properly mournful of my old camera and went on Amazon where to my surprise I found plenty of FX9s both new and used. So I ordered a barely used one for $149 and now I feel restored. Apart from revealing my psychosis, the whole point of all this is to recommend getting an FX9 while they’re still available. The "more pixels doesn’t necessarily mean better pictures" thing may not make sense logically but it does in practice.

I’m aware that I didn’t try any Canons. Something about their design just didn’t work for me. But any comments or recommendations on the best pocket size digital camera are welcome.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


The last few days have been full of entrances into rooms where the picture(s) hanging on the wall were particularly and surprisingly effective. It started off in the office of Kate Lewis, the managing editor of SELF magazine, where I found myself face to face with this rare Yasuhiro Ishimoto poster. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ishimoto’s and know this picture well, but something about the scale, the white space, and the Japanese type made it click for me in a way I’d never felt before.

A day later I was helping to install an unusual holiday gift. A brother and sister had given their mother a set of commissioned silhouette portraits by Katherine Wolkoff of her ten grandchildren. After scouting out the apartment we decided they should flank the tall living room window as they could be hung vertically. So this is how we did it. Now imagine the room without the pictures.

Later that evening, I was sitting in the kitchen thinking about how I would blog on installations when our dog Jenny took up one of her favorite spots - lying on the couch by the breakfast table underneath a surprise birthday present from my wife – an Elliott Erwitt portrait of Jenny that generously expanded to include our children. I don’t think she’s posing, but it’s nice when art and life intersect!

Then yesterday I was back at Conde Nast helping Allure put together an auction to benefit The Skin Cancer Foundation. It’s always interesting to see what's on the walls there, and the collage (above) in senior editor Patricia Tortoloni’s office (below) was a Bumble + Bumble promotion on bold hairstyles that would not have been out of place on Richard Prince’s inspiration board!