The Youth Ball Welcomes Obama with a Sea of Digital Cameras

by Todd ~ January 21st, 2009

From Gizmodo: (referencing this photo at the Youth Inaugural Ball)

in the end, what will help you remember an experience better: taking a not-great picture that’s 80% crowd, or giving that experience 100% of your attention? You can always find photos online later, but you’ll never be able to go back to that moment again and, well, pay attention to it.

Yesterday, I brought my full photo gear to the office in anticipation of recording the historic day and those around me watching Obama’s swearing in. In the end, I opted to participate by listening and giving the new President my full attention (after snapping a couple of pics with my iPhone for posterity!)

Helen Sear, Modernizing Marginalized Processes

by Todd ~ January 16th, 2009

The transition from film to digital photography has brought with it a range of types of manipulation. Some merely mimic traditional darkroom techniques like burning and dodging or are intended to improve the image in someway after it is captured, such as changing saturation, exposure or contrast. Other applications such as CameraBag or Poladroid aim to replicate various types of film-based photography. Beyond these analog-influenced manipulations, many photographers, particularly in the online crowd, are using software to enhance and change the digital image in ways a darkroom and chemicals cannot. High dynamic range (HDR) is a stunt that’s popular on Flickr and may one day advance far enough to be more than a gimmick mostly producing spectacularly garish photographs.

In the fine arts world, digital alteration seems to be mostly seen in collage work or more quickly and easily accomplishing what used to be done in the darkroom. Gursky’s relies on digital alteration, most of it undetectable. Loretta Lux’s work is manipulated in more obvious ways. The seams in Beate Gütschow’s photographs (photo-collages?) call attention to the artifice in her landscapes.

Helen Sear’s latest efforts, currently on display at Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, likewise adopts analog technique to digital prints, but focuses on approaches that even in the film era were marginalized and rarely seen. Multiple exposures were a staple of early 20th Century avant garde photography (Sommer’s portrait of Max Ernst leaps most immediately to mind) but are rarely seen today. Sear combines landscapes and portraits in images created digitally, duplicating multiple exposure effects. Layered on top of this is manipulation of the photographic surface, a destruction of the image in a pattern mimicking lacework. Scratching directly into the photographic print is almost disrespectful to the object as we typically handle photographic prints, even vacation snapshots, gingerly. Sear’s manipulation takes place in the computer prior to printing, so this doesn’t necessarily carry those same connotations, and the lace-making reference is more constructive than destructive.

Helen Sear, Inside the View
Jan 8 – Feb 27
Klompching Gallery
111 Front St, Suite 206
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(212) 796-2070

Nadav Kander catalogs "Obama’s People"

by Todd ~ January 15th, 2009

kander_eugenekangThis Sunday, the NY Times Magazine will be featuring 52 portraits of members of the Obama administration and Democratic Congressional leaders taken by Nadav Kander. I was unfamiliar with Kander’s name but after a little digging now I recognize his work, particularly his portrait of David Lynch. (Landscape fans should check out his series “God’s Country”.) The portraits are not particularly flattering and highly informal, but since the bulk of those pictured are previously unknown to most of the public, potentially form the first impressions of names that will become more and more commonly known over the coming months. The image here features Eugene Kang who will be Special Assistant to the President. He’s something like 25 years old.

The online presentation of the portraits includes a terrific behind-the-scenes sequence from the shoot and audio commentary from the photographer and the Magazine’s photo editor, Kathy Ryan.

A peek into America’s photo shoebox

by Todd ~ January 9th, 2009

DC photographer Susana Raab recently got a peek behind the scenes at the Smithsonian’s photography storage facility. (An undisclosed location. Don’t even ask.) While visually interesting, the place does seem to be a bit haphazard with the storage of our national photographic treasures. But I suppose one makes due when you have to cover limo rides around the Mall, $4,000 office chairs and chandelier cleaning bills.

Beauty and the Best - Where Contemporary Art’s Gone Wrong

by Todd ~ January 8th, 2009

it is the professional caste of cognoscenti who have consistently applauded the trivialization of art and its relegation to the status of financial speculation at best, and a game for children showing off to the adults at worst.

via Beauty and the Best in New English Review

And that’s just the start! The author goes on to lacerate the contemporary art world with a number of similarly pointed zingers. Of course, the target is more complex and nuanced than this indicates, but on the whole I think this critique holds true. And, considering photography, the constant presence of “the thing itself” in a photographic work and the reliance on technology insulates the medium from the worst excesses of contemporary art, namely conceptualism and a poverty of technique.

Best Photography of 2008 Roundup

by Todd ~ January 5th, 2009

I’m a little late, but here’s a collection of links to the newspapers’ “best of” features for 2008.

First up is Boston Globe’s “The Big Picture”, which encapsulated the year in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Other US newspapers’ selections:

Also, TIME magazine and MSNBC (warning, automatically starts with audio.)

The UK perspective:

  • Daily Telegraph - Strangely, mostly novelty pictures of pets and visual oddities.
  • The Guardian - pics selected from the paper’s “24 hours in pictures” series. Avoids the overlap seen in the other news sites’ selections.
  • BBC
  • Reuters

If you think I’ve missed something, esecially non-English sites, leave a link in the comments.

RIP JPG Magazine, 2005-2009

by Todd ~ January 2nd, 2009

picture-21The economic downturn is starting to hit the small startups that have dotted the photographic landscape through the past few years. This morning I received an email announcing that JPG Magazine will be disbanding as of Monday, Jan 5th. It was also announced on the magazine’s blog, though the Web site still appears as if all is well. Still, come Monday, the site will disappear into the Ethernet.

In its original incarnation, the magazine was available for purchase on a print-on-demand format through (Early issues are still available in this way.) After an all-too-familiar power struggle between two of the founders, the magazine attempted to access more mainstream distribution channels. I don’t know for sure, but this decision appears to have been fatal as its been unable to cover its costs with newsstand and subscription sales. For those inclined to schadenfreude, justly so.

I do find it astonishing that “a community of 200,000 photographers” couldn’t be organized to fund the magazine in some way. Even following the 80/20 rule of the publishing company’s name, they potentially had 40,000 paying customers. The staffing appears to be structured for a much larger subscriber base, but I’d guess there was something fundimentally wrong with how they went about running their operation. Or running on wishful thinking, like a lot of the economy in the past couple years.

Abbott’s “Changing New York” on Flickr

by Todd ~ December 16th, 2008

The New York Public Library has added 160 photos from Berenice Abbott’s  “Changing New York, 1935-1938″ to the Flickr Commons.


5B4: Best Books of 2008

by Todd ~ December 16th, 2008

I used to do “best of” posts at the end of each year, but my reach isn’t as long as it used to be. Whatever I chose wouldn’t be from a big enough pool to really be a fair assessment.

5B4, as you may know, is a blog absolutely obsessed with photobooks and its reach is certainly wide enough to be authoritative. It’s just posted its Best Books of 2008. All entries except Stephen Shore’s facsimile road trip journals were new to me, which is what makes 5B4 such an amazing resource.

The photobook is coming back, perhaps a pendulum swing from the other extreme of large scale prints epitomized by Gursky in the late 90s and early 00s.  The ability to self-publish and not rely on the gallery system seems attractive to lots of photogaphers, as well. Certainly I am more interested in the format now that my ready access to gallery shows is gone. (Resolution for ‘09, less lamenting leaving NYC. I don’t really miss it.)

Assessing “The Americans” Fifty Years On

by Todd ~ December 15th, 2008

Philip Gefter assessed Robert Frank’s “The Americans” in this past weekend’s NY Times arts section. When I see space being used to cover canonical works, it always strikes me a little odd. Wouldn’t that space be better used to cover new photographers and new work? What exactly is news about “The Americans”, a project originally published fifty years ago?

As it turns out, Franks’ most well known work is getting a retrospective treatment next month, with traveling exhibitions at the National Gallery, SFMoMA, and MoMA. And, canonical or not, I wasn’t really familiar with the work and have never really looked to carefully at it. The anti-American reputation of the work kept me from spending much time on it, though I’m now aware that reputation was ill-deserved. Since I won’t likely be near any of the exhibition sites next year, I will have to make due with the new edition Steidl published this year.

One interesting thing I learned was that although Jack Kerouac wrote the introduction to the original edition, Frank and he had never met prior to its publication. Both are so integral to my mental picture of the American road trip, probably cemented by this editorial juxtaposition, that it never occurred to me that the two of them hadn’t been roaming the West together.

The accompanying multimedia feature includes recordings of Frank talking about the photographs. Always love to hear photographers talk about their work.