Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Ever since last week's announcement that Kodak was discontinuing production of Kodachrome film, professional and amateur photo-
graphers alike have been busy mourning its demise. Kodachrome was known for its rich color saturation and was widely used by professional print photographers since it's introduction in 1935.

Depending on how you see and process the world, Kodachrome can either look very realistic or not. I happen to find it pretty accurate but to many people it does seem oversaturated.

Unlike other color films, Kodachrome, is purely black and white when exposed. The three primary colors that mix to form the spectrum are added in the development steps rather than built into its layers. Because of the complexity, only Dwayne’s Photo, in Parsons, Kan., still processes Kodachrome film. The lab has agreed to continue through 2010, Kodak says, but the reason the film's demise has been getting so much attention is that it's yet one more sign that the pre-digital world is irrevocably behind us.

For the record, I'm a big fan of digital - mostly because it's so easy to manipulate and control. However, I also love the look of Kodachrome, so here are a few gems. An early shot of Marilyn Monroe, above, by Andre de Dienes. Below, a group of pictures from the archives of FORTUNE Magazine kindly sent to me by their deputy photo editor Scott Thode. (For the full FORTUNE album click here.)

This shot of caddies from the Pinehurst Golf Course in North Carolina in 1957 was taken by Walker Evans!

From the same year, W. Eugene Smith caught this moment at the headquarters of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company.

The celebrated French photographer Robert Doisneau was commissioned to shoot a story on Palm Springs where he grabbed this shot.

And lastly, it should come as no surprise to any regular followers of this blog that my very favorite story shot on Kodachrome was of course Paul Fusco's "RFK Funeral Train". Below, one of my favorite images from the series.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekend Video

It’s been fascinating to hear and read so much about Michael Jackson in the wake of the sad news of his death – the balance of commentary between his strange acts v.s. his contribution to music and culture at large, the questions about his attitude to race and his own color.

Dying prematurely is like reading an obituary of someone who passed at a ripe old age but is pictured in their prime. It's a time disconnect and revision warp. His "moonwalk" will clearly be a large part of his legacy, hence the video above. But the most poignant aspect of his work for me was that for the last two decades, in a hip-hop environment of what were, shall we say, not the nicest lyrics - Michael Jackson's refusal to get nasty and to steadfastly focus on love and justice and harmony was a surprisingly courageous and hopeful stand.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dutch Seen

I had been looking forward to the exhibition “Dutch Seen” at the Museum of The City of New York since I first heard about it. The show celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Dutch arrival in Manhattan by featuring the work of 15 contemporary Dutch photographers, and the hook is that these photographers have all created work about New York – most of it done expressly for the show.

Curated by Kathy Ryan, The New York Times Magazine’s always brilliant Director of Photography, and under the auspices of FOAM (Photo Museum of Amsterdam), the show promised to be a strong and original one, but what impressed me most was the clarity of the concept and cleanness of the layout. It’s refreshing to come into a show that’s simply laid out with one interesting body of work after another.

The Museum of The City of New York can be a tricky space but the north ground floor gallery has been opened up so that it’s just a wooden floor, white walls, and the pictures. The only design flourish is the simplest use of orange construction webbing (as you can see in the picture above) used sparingly to float the exhibition title in the entrance to the main gallery and elsewhere as punctuation. Anyway, it’s one of the shows not to be missed this summer and it runs through September 13.

One of the highlights of the show is a series of portraits by Hendrik Kerstens of his daughter with a series of New York related objects on her head. She’s always had a remarkable Dutch Old Master face which her father has taken full advantage of, but here he plays with us by using things like a napkin and a plastic bag as well as a Yankee cap, to go back and forth between modern and classic, past and present.

Other highlights include a small series of landscapes by Misha De Ridder (below) who set out in search of "the qualities that made New York such an ideal place to settle 400 years ago".

Danielle van Ark set about photographing more than a hundred art openings as a way of observing a particular social structure in the city. That's Chuck Close and Peter MacGill chatting it up below with someone I presume is a collector or patron.

Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin weigh in with a grid of famous people illustrating the beauty and star power of the city. That's Shalom Harlow below.

Erwin Olaf created an entire construction inspired by Frances B. Johnston's famous turn of the century photographs of middle class African Americans.

Rineke Dijkstra - described on the wall as "the matriarch of today's generation of Dutch photography" is included with a group of her early 90s portraits of Coney Island bathers. It's a testament to the quality of the work that they seem as fresh as though they were just taken.

Charlotte Dumas - another interesting pick - has concentrated on photographing animals in a unique style that's part documentary, part conceptual. For her New York project, she chose to photograph some of the stray pit bull and pit bull mixes found in so many New York shelters. An interesting and astute metaphor for New Yorkers!

Hellen van Meene, meanwhile, continues her study of adolescent girls but these are her first pictures of American subjects.

Lastly, Wijnanda Deroo looks at New York through it's many and varied restaurants - from Papaya Kings to The Tavern on the Green. Her colorful interiors from what has to be the eating out capital of the world again serve as fitting metaphor for the city's energy and diversity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our Troops

These snaps were passed on to me by Michel Mallard from an e-mail that's on its way to going viral titled "Military Humor from Ron". He did not know who Ron was, but they show the kind of humor that troops get up to when they're bored or being silly. In any case, in their goofy inoffensiveness, they're a welcome respite from the Abu Ghraib photos.

Monday, June 22, 2009

317 & Counting ...

For fans of fashion photography in general and Steven Meisel in particular, "Three Hundred And Seventeen And Counting" - a complete collection of all the covers Meisel has shot to date for Italian VOGUE - should be something to swoon over. The brainchild of Michel Mallard, former art director of VOGUE HOMME, and the organizer of the Hyeres Photo Festival, the book illustrates the extraordinary collaboration between the magazine and Meisel - who has shot every single cover since July 1988!

Launched in conjunction with a display of the covers at this year's Hyeres Festival, that's Mallard in the middle of the exhibition, above, and the book cover, below.

What's particularly interesting is the freedom given to Meisel to explore his own interests. Unlike American fashion magazines where the cover is an essential sales tool and the bigger and more timely the celebrity the better - Meisel's Italian covers play with all kinds of narrative references, are a place for him to promote his latest unknown discovery, are often obsessed with "twinning", and are frequently the opposite of what would be considered a good cover at American VOGUE. So there's much to analyze and enjoy. It's the visual beach read of the summer!

The book has a very limited run, but if you're interested, you can browse a little further and buy the book here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weekend Video

Nouvelle Vague have always been extremely popular with readers of this blog, so for this weekend's video here's their version of "Love Will Tear us Apart" by Joy Division. There are a lot of covers of this song out there, but I definitely like this one best.


As I was driving to work after posting the above, I heard this new single from Regina Spektor's forthcoming album "Far" (to be released next week). I'm somewhat of the mind that this video might take away from the song - but the song's a beauty and certainly unusual for a summer release!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alejandra Laviada

From the series "Juaraz 56". Photo by Alejandra Laviada.

It's always exciting when one of the photographers you represent gets a major award, and I'm proud to share the news that Alejandra Laviada has been named the winner of this year's Descrubimiento Award - the star prize at PhotoEspana. According to the official press release:

Her 'photo sculptures', using ordinary objects that she rearranges in the places she finds them, fits this year's festival theme - 'the everyday' - perfectly.

Her work will now be shown at next year's festival.

She was selected from more than 1000 entries submitted, the best of which took part in portfolio reviews organised by the festival in Mexico City, Lima and Madrid. The jury included Susan Kismaric, curator in the photography department at MoMA in New York; Colette Olof, curator at Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam; and Lesley Martin, executive editor at Aperture Foundation in New York.

So congratulations to Ms. Laviada, who is clearly headed for international stardom. And here are a few more pictures from her series - "Juarez 56".

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Penn!

Irving Penn – the surviving half of the pair of colossi who straddled the worlds of fine art and editorial photography for over half a century and whose influence remains undiminished turns 92 today. (The other half was of course Richard Avedon.) Like Ali and Frazier, Olivier and Gielgud, Federer and Nadal, Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, the counterpoint and implicit rivalry of two such great artists only served to elevate their accomplishments. Avedon was the id, the puncher, the provocateur. Penn was the ego, the counter-puncher, the sly fox.

There are so many different and intriguing bodies of work within each man’s oeuvre it’s hard to see how any single photographer could approach that range and innovation today. (The challenge for today's photographers is of course that the climb gets steeper, the innovative possibilities narrower, as the progression of art history marches on.)

Anyway, as just one example of Penn's unusual creativity and to honor his birthday, here are a selection of his “corner” portraits - a series of pictures made in the late 1940s and 1950s after Penn had the simple idea of placing two background flats together to form a corner into which his subject was asked to enter. It was, said Penn, a means of closing people in. “Some people felt secure in this spot, some felt trapped. Their reaction made them quickly available to the camera." he explained. As you can see, it became a visual Rorschach forcing the subject to wittingly or unwittingly reveal something inside of themselves by the way they reacted to their unexpected confinement. The variety of response and the permutations of composition are as broad and unexpected as the myriad facets of human nature.

Monday, June 15, 2009


As a longtime fan of cloud photos I was intrigued by the photo above, and the story below from A.P.:

Looking out the 11th floor window of her law office, Jane Wiggins did a double take and grabbed her camera. The dark, undulating clouds hovering outside were unlike anything she'd seen before.

"It looked like Armageddon," said Wiggins, a paralegal and amateur photographer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "The shadows of the clouds, the lights and the darks, and the greenish-yellow backdrop. They seemed to change."

They dissipated within 15 minutes, but the photo Wiggins captured in June 2006 intrigued — and stumped — a group of dedicated weather watchers who now are pushing weather authorities to create a new cloud category, something that hasn't been done since 1951.

Breaking into the cloud family would require surviving layers of skeptical international review. Still, Gavin Pretor-Pinney and his England-based Cloud Appreciation Society are determined to establish a new variety. They've given Wiggins' photo and similar pictures taken in different parts of the world to experts and are discussing the subject fervently online.

"They (the clouds) were the first ones that I noted of this type and I was unsure which category to put them under," said Pretor-Pinney, author of "The Cloudspotter's Guide." "When we put pictures up online we list the category, and I wasn't sure how to categorize it."

Some scientists are skeptical. They argue that researchers who have long watched the sky haven't seen anything distinctly new for decades.

There are three main groups of clouds: cumulous, cirrus and stratus. Each has various sub-classifications built on other details of the formation.

Brant Foote, a longtime scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., said the clouds photographed by Wiggins already fit into the existing cumulous classification.
But Pretor-Pinney, who never studied meteorology, believes the clouds merit their own cumulus sub-classification. He proposes they be called altocumulus undulatus asperatus. The last word — Latin for roughen or agitate — is a reference to the clouds' undulating surface.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekend Videos

So many good things to share this weekend.

Given the popular response to the "Where the Wild Things Are" trailer, here's a clip of the song they were using - Arcade Fire's "Wake Up". This performance is from Fashion Rocks in 2005 with guest David Bowie.

Next up, a time lapse film from "Blame Ringo" showing what happens on an average day at the Abbey Road crossing made famous by the Beatles. Nice song and interesting concept.

From photographer and video artist Naomi Leibowitz, a video titled "Tasting Rachael Ray". (For those outside the States, Rachel Ray is a television personality whose show "$40 a Day" consisted of her visiting a different city every episode and finding the best meals for under $40 a day.)

And last but not least, following our discussion about tilt/shift photography, here's some tilt/shift videography from Keith Loutit.

Happy viewing!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


The issue of what's "transformative" when an artist "borrows" a photo-
graph is much in the news these days. But here's the latest addition to my personal art collection - I just got an artist's proof of Jamie Reid's famous poster for the Sex Pistols. It's the sheer vitality of the picture I love, while 32 years on, what was shocking and offensive is now kind of cute. I don't know who took the original picture of the Queen. It looks very official so maybe someone can help out. As always it would be nice to credit the photographer. But by defacing the image with ransom note type lettering and placing it in the middle of the Union Jack I think Reid did achieve "transformation".

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Scout Tufankjian

From the Obama Campaign, 2008. Photo by Scout Tufankjian.

I had meant to write about the photographer Scout Tufankjian a while ago after seeing her interviewed on CNN. Scout is a New York based photojournalist who I feel produced some of the best coverage of the Obama campaign. While we have never met, she particularly endeared herself to me when she publicly acknowledged the influence of Paul Fusco’s RFK Funeral Train pictures on some similar pictures she had taken. But as you’ll see on her website, which generously shares hundreds of pictures, she’s got an eye of her own and the skill to capture the moment over and over again.

I was looking at her website recently and came across this wonderful picture of a young Obama supporter – a great photograph on its own, but a remarkable echo of Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous shot from 1963 of children at a puppet theater in Paris. Entirely accidental, of course, which is the only kind of photo echo worth noting.

Children Watching St. George Slay the Dragon at the Puppet Theater in the Tuileries, Paris, 1963. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

I'm posting quite a few of my favorite pictures below, but do take the time to visit Scout’s website to see more pictures. I can guarantee you it’s worth it. (For those still interested in the tilt-shift debate, I have a feeling some post-production was done on some of the pictures to focus the eye on what the photographer is interested in you seeing clearly, but I think this was done well and effectively.)

There are no specific captions on Scout's website, but the pictures descend chronologically from Iowa to Inauguration.