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Archive for March, 2008

stream of conscience

Monday, March 31st, 2008

1)  Walking east towards the diner for a lentil burger over salad with a friend.  On my left an open window allows for passer-bys on the street to witness the scene inside a living room.  I slow down. Streaming karaoke on the television.  Two lively gentleman sharing the microphone, belting song lyrics.  They see me looking at them and, to my delight, wave out to me on the street.  I wave back.  I am so interested in how we spend our private moments.

2)  Travel to new city.  Sit in on discussion of psychoanalytical films and feminism.  Female versus Male point of view.  Recommendation to watch Hitchcock films.

3)  Train heads west, back towards home.  It is night and I can see into windows close to the tracks. Empty room.  Empty room. Empty room.  The last room I remember passing is full of boys crowded around a table playing beer pong.  It was a Wednesday.


photo courtesy of

4)  Walk to Blockbuster.  Hitchcock marathon night!  I watch Rear Window and eat homemade nachos. Rear Window, produced in 1954, was based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story titled It Had to Be Murder. Starring an injured photojournalist (James Stewart) whose broken leg renders him wheelchair-bound in an apartment, Rear Window examines his new hobby: spying on his neighbors. The viewer watches Stewart’s character watch his neighbors through large binoculars and his telephoto lens. The viewer is forced to join Stewart as an interloper. Together, we are both Peeping Tom. Why does the film make the viewer feel guilty for watching — but, at the same time, hold on to attention so intimately that one can’t wait to find out what happens next?


Stranger, 1998

photo courtesy of

5)  I recall a series of images by photographer Shizuka Yokomizo titled Strangers.  In the series of 19 images, Yokomizo wrote anonymous letters to her subjects asking them to pose in front of a downstairs window in their home at certain time at night.  Writes Charlotte Cotton in her book The Photograph as Contemporary Art,

“We are looking at the strangers looking at themselves in these photographs, for the windows act as mirrors as they anticipate the moment they will be photographed.  The title of the series refers not only to the status of the sitters as the strangers to the artist and to us but also to the photographing of that curious self-recognition, or misrecognition, we have when we catch a glance of ourselves unexpectedly.”

6)  We are all interlopers?  Do we watch other people in order to better understand ourselves?  Modernity has allowed for the compartmentalization of our lives.  Without shared common spaces, we become curious about each others private lives.

The Iraq War: 5 Years and Counting

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

March 19th, 2008 marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war and I believe the word ‘anniversary’ accompanies it entirely inappropriately. I encourage you read photojournalist Max Becherer’s experience in Iraq via The New York Times:

Five years have passed since I stood on the border of Iraq and Kuwait, watching the predawn sky for the first salvos in the Iraq war. I am reading political analyses and historical accounts of years that are past. I am thinking of all of the things that had not yet happened as I stood in the desert sand that day.

Whatever war is, it is a deeply personal experience for those who live in it. I am a photographer and have captured thousands of images of Iraq and the war there since that day. But when I stop reading about the war, I guess I get that faraway look I always saw, as I grew up, in the eyes of countless veterans and civilians who lived through war, including my mother. I don’t wonder what they see anymore. I see images. Not the images I took, as the shutter is closed the moment I capture a photograph. I see the images and feel the sensations I keep mentally when I am without the help of a lens. Sometimes they are still images and sometimes they are short movie clips of the people on all sides of the war who are no longer living.

Article here, and Max’s photography here and here.

Max Becherer

© Max Becherer. A woman cries as she reaches under the blanket and touches an adult female body at Al-Khindi hospital. Al-Khindi hospital received about 25 dead and 75 wounded from three different bombs, which exploded around Baghdad according to a hospital doctor around mid-afternoon. The largest of the blasts was a car bomb that exploded near a crowded market in a mostly Shiite area called New Baghdad. Women at the entrance of the morgue cried “What’s wrong with the government? Why did they not do anything? They don’t have a solution for this?”
Another family member at the morgue said, “Each minute, we as Iraqis are waiting for death,” as he looked at the 20 odd bodies waiting for identification.”

6 Days Left…

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

No Foolin’ There are only 6 days left to apply to Pause, to Begin.

All Applications are due on April 1, 2008 before midnight EDT.

APPLY NOW! (and tell a friend).

    1. How To Apply:
      1. Go to
      2. Click on “apply now.”
      3. Pay the reasonable $35 application fee.
      4. Get an email directing you to the application.
      5. Fill out the application.
      6. Wait until April 15th to hear if you are selected.
      7. Good Luck!


Lars Tunbjörk’s Vinter

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

I was recently looking at Lars Tunbjörk’s most recent book titled Vinter, and I noticed that the layout and sequencing of the book is really superbly done. In case you haven’t seen the book, here is an image of the cover. I recommend taking a look at it if you get the chance.

The book flows remarkably well, especially considering the complex photographs. For the most part, Tunbjörk photographs funny, odd scenes in Sweden’s long, cold, and dark winter. He uses an overpowering flash frequently to bring out these sometimes strange details. Usually in the photographs with flash he creates an interesting effect by photographing through windows and allowing his flash to light the inside of a house. Pattern, texture, and color are all brought to the forefront of the images, and begin to describe the Scandinavian Winter.

What makes the book so remarkable for me is how these busy photographs are displayed. For the most part, there are a lot of spreads with different photographs on both the left and right side. There are only a few full bleed images, most have about a quarter inch border
before the edge of the page. So when first looking through the book, it appears that nearly every page has some kind of image on it. Then I arrived at this spread…


The blank white page on the left bring even more attention to this photograph that is already strikingly different from everything else in the book. The light is soft, the woman is beautiful, and the effect is jarring when I am used to seeing the busy photographs before it. This calm photograph comes in about the middle of the book, and it is not the first or last single image next to a blank page, but that layout tactic certainly brings extra attention to it.

There are a few other photographs in the book that give a similar jarring feeling upon first seeing them in the books sequence. Mostly they deal with some level of surprise, either with focus, light, or subject matter. None of them, however, show a calm beautiful woman, framed in a classic head-and-shoulders kind of way. It is the fact that this image looks different than every other one in the book, and that the woman is beautiful, that it sticks in one’s head a while after seeing it. While, the image itself is still in my head, it is really the feeling of first seeing it that I remember; the calm surprise. I felt compelled to stare at it, and it slowed me down considerably when looking through the remainder of the book. I began to notice all sorts of subtle things that Tunbjörk saw as he took the photographs.

In the rest of the book, I realized that the same beautiful woman appears a few more times, and once in a bed. She is clearly an important person to Tunbjörk, and I find it interesting that I only first noticed her in the soft-light beautiful portrait, and not in the scenes where she is more of a character.

I am fascinated that one simple image can control how I look at a book so directly. It is interesting how the one photograph of a beautiful woman in the book is also the sole image with soft light. I know a lot of this has plenty to do with my other recent posts about beauty in photography.

Nan Goldin’s beauty

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I think Nan Goldin presents an interesting case when looking at the beauty of subjects in photographs. Here, in a self portrait after she was abused she looks anything but beautiful.


I’m not sure how to describe this photograph any further either. She looks beaten because she was, and I find acts like that heinous. That said, the photograph is so direct in dealing with her situation that a sense of life and personality comes out of the photograph. I find these senses that bring such unfiltered emotion into photographs beautiful. It may not be physically beautiful, but as Goldin photographs her life she puts her heart into it and that effort and energy is remarkable.


In Goldin’s photograph above of a couple making out, she has captured a moment that may not necessarily look beautiful in an aesthetic sense, but if we were to put ourselves into that situation that undoubtedly involves feelings of love and excitement, beauty would have to enter into our thoughts as well. Would you not think that the other person is beautiful if you were the one making out with them? I hope you would.

So, while the photograph may not in itself posses aesthetics typically associated with photographic beauty, it does have an enormous amount of beauty in it. This seems to be, in a way, Goldin’s method. To photograph extremely passionate moments in her life directly and emotionally to the extent that the beauty of the moment transcends the aesthetics.

I think Nan Goldin’s aesthetic choices are perfect for getting across the varying emotions of her life.

Goldin also photographs the heinous events in her life, and those too are photographed in such an unflinching manner that the beauty of a life’s story begins to appear.

Press: Pause, to Begin in American Photo On Campus

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

We are pleased to announce that American Photo On Campus has published an article about Pause, to Begin in their March 2008 issue, and that it was given to all attendees of the Society for Photographic Education conference in Denver this past week.

American Photo On Campus is also widely distributed to over 300 colleges and universities, and reaches an enthusiastic, young audience. We could not be more thankful to both Russell Hart, Editor of American Photo On Campus, and Joyce Tenneson, our advisor, for making this happen.



Not beautiful.

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

I have been thinking about photographic portraits that do not present their subjects as beautiful today and the single portrait that keeps coming back to me is Arnold Newman’s portrait of Alfred Krupp, a former Nazi slave labor boss. Newman absolutely hated Krupp and understandably so, but he was commissioned to make his portrait in 1963.

As the story goes (according to my good friend and former Newman assistant Ralph Smith), upon finding out that Newman was a Jew, after being assigned make his portrait, Krupp refused to let him make the photograph. Newman insisted to have Krupp look at his portfolio before making a final decision and after seeing Newman’s portfolio Krupp accepted. Arnold Newman then decided to make Krupp look as evil as possible, and the results are just that. Apparently, after the photo shoot when Krupp first saw the portrait he was livid, and you can see why.

krupp by newman

I find this photograph to be amazing in that it purposely used horrible lighting and color to make Krupp completely unattractive. There is really nothing that I find beautiful about the image, but yet it is still wildly successful and captivating.

In a way, I want to see more photographs taken today with this kind of passion. I’m not saying that some of the beautiful portraits that I often see in contemporary art today are not taken with passion, but I am suggesting that there is not a lot of daring use of color and light to successfully cary out such strong feelings towards a subject in a photograph.

Beautiful Spring Break

Monday, March 17th, 2008

In an effort to honor the annual college break that many of my friends still have, I decided to take my own spring break for the past two weeks. That may be why you have seen very little blogging.

Another reason is that many of these still-in-school friends decided that Maine is a popular spring break destination. I’m not sure how Maine became as popular as Florida among my friends, but I was happy to have the visitors. The conversations that ensued with them will be the stimulus for my blogging over the next few weeks. If there is anything that I miss about being in school it may be the photo/art conversations that can be had at a moments notice.

The first post I would like to make is in honor of last week’s visitor Rick Williamson (he has no website). We discussed at length the expectation of beauty in photography.

Before I get to anything about beauty, here is an anything-but-beautiful (and I think hilarious) photograph of Rick on the cover of RIT’s on campus magazine Reporter. The photo is taken by Tom Schirmacher.


Okay, on to the beautiful stuff…

Rick and I were noticing that nearly every portrait of someone under 40 makes them look beautiful. Perhaps this is simply the beauty of youth, but I don’t think so.

As a young male who looks at an awful lot of photographs, I often notice that I see images of beautiful women before I notice portraits of unattractive women.  I began trying to look for unattractive women in art photography today, and I discovered that it is incredibly difficult to find any of it.  I believe that the same problem exists for finding portraits of unattractive men as well.

I began to discuss the consequences of seeing an overwhelming majority of only attractive people in photographs with Rick.  We came to the general conclusion that we are conditioned to want to see beauty before ugliness. It is as if it is natural to turn our cameras towards beautiful people. Maybe as photographers as a whole we are not as subjective as we would like to be when it come to photographing people.

It is interesting to mention that if we take people out of the frame altogether photographers seem to have no difficulties to point their cameras to some injustice; some “ugly” event or thing. When I mention injustice I am thinking of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of nickel tailings and quarries and the harmed landscape in general. I am not thinking about war or combat photography at all in any part of this discussion on beauty. I am really looking at art photography specifically.

Below is one of Burtynsky’s photographs of nickel tailings titled Nickel Tailing No. 31.


To get back to the beauty in portraits and specifically in the subjects in the portraits. I think of Rineke Dijkstra’s portraits and many of the subjects are awkward and young, but because of the seem exposed to the lens and their youthfulness there is also an attractiveness about them. They are not sexy, but they are attractive standing there in the swimsuits looking at us at a young age. To me this is also similar to Hellen Van Meene’s portraits. Her subjects are young and awkward as well, but they too command attention in the frame with both presence and emotional frailty.

I am curious to better understand why we photograph the people we do. There are many people who only photograph those with whom they are close. There are others who only photograph strangers. What is the criteria for them to make a portrait of their subject? A photographer may not say beauty initially, but I am beginning to believe that for the most part beauty enters into the equation somewhere. It may be an unconscious thought, but I believe that most photographers are drawn to photograph people that are beautiful in some way, even if it is not instantly recognizable.

The other aspect of this that fascinates me a lot is when I see a portrait and my gut reaction is that I don’t like it, and I begin to elaborate why and inevitably the subject’s poor appearance comes up. I found myself saying in a conversation with Rick that I thought the photographer should have looked for different light to make their subject look more attractive. I guess this means it might just be me who thinks that people are always beautiful in successful portraits today because I may be overlooking images because the person does not appear beautiful.

This leads me to one more point, are the best art portraits in photography today made of average looking people that have been photographed in such a unique clever way that they appear more beautiful than they would walking down the street? Is it just that photographers, when looking through the camera, are trying to make things beautiful to the extent that the photograph comes out looking more aesthetically pleasing than the person is normally?

I remember in my photo classes being taught how to do studio portrait lighting, and learning what makes people look better and worse. Because of this education do I just want to make all photographs fit into this mold of what good portraits look like? This all goes back to how we have been conditioned to look at photographs.

Since photographing beauty might come from simply having a camera in front of our eyes and looking at people in such a way that makes them more attractive.  Looking through a camera instead of just our plain eyeballs is a totally different experience, one that can remove you from the actual event of seeing.

That happens to be a perfect segway into this video of an excerpt from This American Life animated by Chris Ware, recently seen at MakingRoom.

“People act different if they are behind a camera, even if the camera isn’t real.”
“Yeah, you’re overtaken, you do things that you ordinarily wouldn’t.”

I’m pretty sure that all of this dealing with looking through cameras and beauty is related.

p.s. a recent This American Lifeepisode about testosterone is really interesting, I recommend listening to it at

p.p.s. Happy Birthday Sean, and Rock Chalk Jayhawk!
(Last year for spring break we saw this, and it was beautiful).

art for the couch potato

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008


I am certainly in an untraditional position to critique or even speculate about the 2008 Whitney Biennial. I have not been to New York to see it. Rather, my Biennial experience this year is one that is entirely virtual. Everything I know about the 2008 Biennial I learned from the internet.

This year marks the 74th Biennial, a summary of contemporary art from the past year. Situated in the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Park Avenue Armory, 81 artist’s works will be on display. Interestingly, a great deal of the work is site-specific. Boasting the catch phrase, “where American art stands today,” Biennial advertisements do not speak highly for a thematic exhibition that emphasizes lessness, slowness, ephemerality and failure.

Unable to arrive at 945 Madison Avenue sometime before March 23, the curious long-distance viewer can experience the Biennial several different ways:

1. The Whitney has created a Flickr account with a collection of photographs from the exhibition. Not necessarily remarkable images, the photographs do provide the viewer with an idea of the installation and preparation processes for the show.

2. On March 6, 2008 the New York Times uploaded an interesting interactive feature on their website that allows viewers to explore the exhibition virtually. This feature is particularly engaging — allowing the viewer to see a panorama view of both the third and fourth floors of the museum.

I am curious to observe how exhibitions in the future will continue to take advantage of online tools to promote and proliferate art work. I recognize that there is certainly no substitute for seeing a work in person, but the accessibility of internet media is making it easier to view and understand artists without ever stepping foot in a gallery or museum.

This idea of internet accessibility is one that is not particular to the 2008 Whitney Biennial. Photo District News recently released their PDN 30, a collection of 30 emerging photographers. Via their website, viewers can browse through each artist’s portfolio and read brief biographical information. Despite boasts of this topic as the cover story for the March issue of PDN’s monthly periodical, the sleek website offers access to full images as well as direct links to each photographer’s website. The virtual gallery is an amazing tool for spreading information quickly and without much hassle.

To close, the curators of the Biennial (Henriette Huldisch and Shamim M. Momin) seemed to get it right when citing ephemerality as a foundational element for artwork this year. When the internet makes art viewing as easy as flipping channels on the television, why bother leaving the couch?