Wednesday, April 30, 2008


There’s only one word I would use to describe the whole Annie Leibovitz/Miley Cyrus flap. WEIRD!! Of course it was initially a manufactured controversy on the part of Vanity Fair to sell more copies – that’s why they released the pictures to the media in advance of the issue. Then the story started to feed on itself as television picked it up, mothers were stopped in the street and encouraged to voice their outrage, and the next thing you know people are literally calling out for Miley Cyrus product burning. All because she showed some back!?!

The WEIRDER pictures to me are the ones of Miley and her Dad which are not the way I would want to pose with my nearly 13 year old daughter (who is incidentally a big Miley fan) and who thinks the whole thing is pretty silly. But I guess if you’re a New York City kid and you and your friends religiously watch Gossip Girl, this is pretty tame stuff.

My feeling looking at the picture above is that Billy Ray Cyrus was so engrossed with his moment in the spotlight (not to mention his own hair and make-up) they could have taken Miley out and re-created the complete works of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe as far as he was concerned.

What about the pictures themselves? As someone who worked with Annie editorially for ten years and represented her as a gallerist for a subsequent ten, I would say she did her job extremely well. The whole point of these kind of pictures is to get attention for the magazine by creating a striking and newsworthy picture - and that’s exactly what she did. Miley Cyrus is 15 years old - a crossroad these now infamous pictures convey well. I’m more put off by the lipstick which looks either a little post-make-out smudged or badly applied, than the sight of a naked 15 year old back.

But who are the Disney and Cyrus family minders kidding about their shock and dismay? The most superficial study of Annie Leibovitz's work reveals four things: one – she likes to get people to take off as many clothes as possible; two - she loves to photograph skin, loves the different textures and colors; three – she loves to show a family bond and loves to show touch; four – she designs her pictures to cause a reaction. Her work is about making contact on every level.

Annie has taken flak for so long she’s used to it, but give her a break! She’s probably done more for the visibility of photography in America over the course of her career than anybody other than Ansel Adams. (About whom more will be posted shortly in the great car picture-taking controversy.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Popel Coumou

A year ago today I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Hyeres Photo Festival. This annual event takes place in the small French town of Hyeres – halfway between Marseilles and Nice - in the inspiring setting of the modernist Villa Noailles, a hangout of Picasso and Man Ray. For three days 10 young photographers and 10 international judges meet and critique before a winner is eventually selected.

All the photographers’ work is exhibited for an entire month, drawing visitors from around the world, and the winner receives a commission to shoot a new series of pictures in Hyeres which are exhibited the following year. Our jury was split equally between an American, Jessica Roberts, and a Dutch photographer, Popel Coumou, so we ended up awarding a joint first prize.

Anyway, I just received an e-mail from Popel with the images from her commission and I was highly impressed. Her work had originally consisted of constructed and re-photographed room sets – not usually my kind of thing. However, for the commission she mixed her constructions and manipulations with pictures of real locations in Hyeres and came up with something that was an organic progression and advance in her work. It's also totally original.

I had not voted for Popel, but I often find that work I need time to come around to ends up having a greater resonance than what I like right away. I could make a whole list of things like this starting with Weegee and 19th Century photography and moving on to the paintings of Joan Mitchell, the music of Cat Power, and Indian cuisine.

(By the way, I'm now talking to Ms. Coumel about exhibiting her work in New York.)

Below - a Popel Coumou set-up prior to photography.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Different but Equal

Two different but equally great pictures from this Sunday's New York Times. The top one (from the travel section) is a 1942 picture of Ansel Adams by Cedric Wright. It has always been one of my favorite portraits of a photographer. Sure, it's a little hokey - the photographer as heroic figure silhouetted against the sky - but it's also three terrific pictures in one: a grand view of Yosemite, a striking portrait of Ansel at work, and a cool picture of a 1941 Cadillac Series 61 station wagon. It may look contrived, but this is really how Adams set up to take many of his best pictures including the famous "Moonrise".

Underneath (from the Book Review) is an out-take from Norman Seef's 1974 cover shoot for Carly Simon's 1975 album, Playing Possum. Seef is a photographer you don't hear a lot about today, but for much of the '70s he ruled the roost, photographing the major recording artists of that era. He did most of his work in his Sunset Boulevard studio coaxing relaxed and extroverted pictures out of his subjects. The Carly Simon pictures look like they could have been taken yesterday - both in terms of clothing (or lack of it) and attitude. Seef is currently finishing a documentary based on film he would shoot while taking his rock star stills.

And the image chosen for the actual album cover. Tough choice...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weekend Video - Flying Ducks

As I'm sure you understand, I put a lot of time into trying to find interesting videos for the "Weekend Video". I've done music, dance, film, photography - but I've stayed away from cute. Until now .... I
don't know whether it's the spring or just a change of pace, but this seemed fun (if not an apt metaphor for the human condition).

Friday, April 25, 2008

All Colors Together

All I can tell you about these poster designs are that they are by a Brazilian graphic designer named Daniel Molin and I think they are inventive and brilliant - regardless of who you support!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bringing Sexy Back

This is a picture of the photographer Hannah Huffman’s parents taken, I presume, in the 1970s. She posted it on flickr two months ago to celebrate their 33rd anniversary, from which point on the picture took on a life of its own - ricocheting around the blogosphere as people responded to the romance and sensuality of the image.

I first saw it on A Cup of Jo and thought it would be interesting to trace the viral path of what was once just a family snapshot, but was now becoming a visual symbol of the ideal relationship.

As it turns out I could only trace it four steps backwards, as carrier number 4, try as she did, could not remember how she first saw it and Hannah Huffman did not respond to my e-mails. So I figured perhaps this blog would help uncover the missing links in the daisy chain of how it got from “Haeshu” (Huffman’s flickr nom de plume) to me. But even the short journey has been an interesting and pleasant one with the discovery of different blogs and the camaraderie of all the different participants to date.

For anyone interested (and who have read this far) I got it from A Cup
of Jo
who got it from Amy Nation who got it from which recommended Jen Gotch’s flickr photos (alias "Danske") where the image was listed as one of her flickr favorites.

That was where my trail ended. Anyone who can shed light on how it got from Hannah’s “Family History” flickr set to Jen Gotsch’s “flickr favorites” - or anyone who thinks they have an equally good snapshot, let me know.

But what a great picture - and as a number of people have pointed out - cool swim trunks!

P.S. There’s a pretty good second picture in the set which no-one picked up on (below).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jose Picayo

The buildings and construction sites of Chelsea are covered with posters and flyers and the graphic quality of them is pretty good – after all, they are supposed to catch your eye. Yesterday a brand new one appeared advertising a forthcoming show by Jose Picayo at Robin Rice's Gallery and it reminded me that I had always liked the work of this sometimes under-appreciated photographer.

Picayo was born in Havana, Cuba in 1959, but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 7. In 1975 the family moved to Ohio where he finished high school, and in 1981, he came to New York City where he received a BFA from Parson’s School of Design.

 He started photographing professionally in 1987, working for such magazines as (Italian) Vanity, Sassy, Taxi, and Connoisseur. His work now appears in Harper’s Bazaar, L.A. Style, the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, as well as many other U.S. and European publications.

He has a quiet and serene eye and his pictures seem to slow time down. There’s something almost 19th century about his work, which I mean in a positive way.

Also noteworthy is his relationship with the Robin Rice Gallery where he will have had 6 solo exhibitions (including his forthcoming one) over a period of 13 years, each one covering a different subject, but all clearly the work of the same artist. That kind of longevity and consistency is rare.

Below are a selection of photographs from the last five shows. His new show opens on May 7.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Speed Racer

This weekend, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a major car race, defeating two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castronoves by nearly six seconds in the Indy Japan 300. USA Today are now running a poll to see whether people think this is a greater achievement than Billie Jean King's victory over Bobby Riggs, but there should really be no question athletically speaking. One was a trumped up publicity stunt with made for the occasion rules, the other a real competition. Danica wins hands down.

The photograph that for me best expresses the significance of the event was taken by Jonathan Ferrey of Getty Images (full frame above and detail below). It's one of those pictures when the clarity of light and crispness of the composition are able to convey what must have been a transcendent and life-changing moment. You can just feel the relief on Patrick's face after achieving something not everyone believed was possible, and anticipate the emotion that's about to flood over her.

Danica Patrick had been knocking at the door of a sport totally dominated by men in which her most notable success was in the world of pin-ups and endorsements. (As the New York Times diplomatically put it, “Companies embraced her willingness to market her good looks”.) She was clearly a capable racer, but this victory makes it hard to ignore that she’s also a serious contender.

Everybody needs to make a buck, of course, and while Danica’s been a game player, you could see in her eyes and the set of her lips that the pin-up thing wasn’t exactly what she wanted to be doing - whether it was for magazines like FHM or the “classier” Sports Illustrated bathing suit issue.

It will be interesting to see where the victory at Motegi takes her. (And where the name "Danica" – which recently moved up the list of most popular baby names from 610 to 352 – will end up on next year’s charts!)

And now the pandering stuff ....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mark Wyse

Mark Wyse is a terrific photographer, an inspiring teacher, and someone who loves to twist ideas like rope. I had the pleasure of showing his large scale photographs of luxury houses in Palos Verdes two years ago – pictures that still resonate greatly for the way they juggle objective large-format color with a subtly subjective point of view.
Talk to Mark about them though and they are as much about “allowing a slippage to occur between the compelling sensation of deep space and their awareness of the photographic surface” as they are about the light and topography of Southern California.

Wyse was recently asked to curate a show by his gallery, Wallspace, but realized there would be problems getting the material he wanted. So in an inspired gesture, he decided to cut into the photography books he owned and show the very objects he desired and that had formed much of his thinking about photography. Each image was carefully chosen and installed in relation the other pictures to reveal a specific theme or idea. The work is available only as a singular installation.

I have long been a proponent of framing whatever looks good to you, regardless of its “originality” or value and I was pleased to see someone doing this not just at home, but in a gallery setting. Wyse’s selections are flawless, but more importantly they look darn good (and very like the originals) with their perfectly matching white frames all hung in a row. If you’re concerned about mutilating a book in the name of decorating, Wyse has provided a failsafe alibi – it’s not cheap or tacky, it’s a legitimate (and multi-layered) conceptual act.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Weekend Video - Crouching Tiger/Hooverphonic

After a week of news photography of one kind or another I felt the need for some escapism and my thoughts turned to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Of course there were dozens of iterations, scenes, and tributes on YouTube. My favorite is the great fight in the trees scene (above), but I also discovered the YZU Symphonic Band of China playing music from the film, and this home-made video tribute by Lori Bowen cut to the song “Eden” by Hooverphonic - a Belgian band I had never heard of.

Turns out Hooverphonic is quite an interesting band who have made 9 albums since 1996 and whose music has been a source of inspiration for film-makers including Bernardo Bertolucci and t.v. shows like La Femme Nikita and Cold Case. So the last clip, illustrating once again the great laterally educational power of the web, is Hooverphonic themselves.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Seen off the Street

Between a pocket sized digital and an iPhone, there's nearly always a chance to snap whatever catches your eye. So here are a few things I happened on over the last few days. Above - a new Louise Lawler waiting to be framed at Laumont.

A Thomas Ruff shot from the street outside the lobby of of 1 East 57th. Security wouldn't let me take the picture inside but were very relaxed and pleasant about letting me take the picture from outside!

And then with my iPhone:

In the back room of the Staley/Wise gallery. The big picture was taken on the set of the original "Lolita" by Bert Stern.

And finally, what was literally a drive-by shooting of Frank Gehry's IAC building. I've not been 100% convinced by this building but I think this picture (somewhat luckily) shows it at its best.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How I Spent Last Sunday

One more weather story - only this time I was right there. This past weekend my wife and I went to Miami to take part in the first South Beach triathlon. It was a truly great event - beautifully managed, perfect conditions, and we both did well. The start was at 7 a.m. and as the sun was rising over the Atlantic and the competitors made their way to the start, a waterspout formed well offshore providing the most spectacular start I've ever seen. (A waterspout is a small tornado that forms over water drawing water upwards to a larger storm cloud.)

I was curious to see if any newspapers would pick it up and kudos to Joe Caveretta of the Sun Sentinel (top) and Patrick Farrell of the Miami Herald (below). It's interesting to compare how different an approach each photographer took on pictures that were taken no more than minutes or yards away from each other. FYI - Cavaretta's picture is the more accurate in reflecting the true light and conditions, but I think that maybe Farrell got the better picture by a hair. Your vote?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cherry Blossoms - Part Deux

Following last month's post about Japanese blossom-cams, the cherry blossoms are now out in New York City. And as any dog-walker/photo person can tell you, they’re more interesting photographically at 5:30 in the morning (when I was not together enough to put a camera in my pocket) than when the sky is clear and blue as it is now at 8:55 a.m..

Nevertheless, I snapped a photo on my iPhone and sent it to The Sartorialist to let him know that Central Park would not be a bad place to shoot this week. I’ll be interested to see if he follows up.

Then I remembered Nan Goldin’s great photograph – “Honda Brothers in Cherry Blossom Storm, Tokyo, 1994”. For an artist best known for scenes of a bohemian lifestyle illuminated more by dim lightbulbs, the photograph above captures a wonderful moment of delight - delight in nature, in the power of photography to freeze motion, and in the crystalline moment that marks the approach of spring.