Polly Miller Ranch Road, Night

March 11, 2008

If you happened to be driving around the Texas hill country tonight you would have seen a huge waxing crescent of a moon hanging low in the sky. It was painted blood orange and loomed ever larger as it fell. I stopped on a particularly dark stretch of road, got out of the car, and communed in the darkness. With my hands in my pockets I spent fifteen minutes watching the moon slide below the horizon. I won't talk about how beautiful the scene was, because beauty is so difficult to telegraph but I can tell you how it made me feel.

Thirty minutes earlier I had been on a bus and I was full of that all over bone-tiredness unique to night time bus and car rides amplified by a slight chill and damp. I told my fellow bus riders that being a little cold, a little damp, very tired (and on a bus) made me remember the childhood versions of those feelings as well as the ones that inevitably followed—those of being lifted from the car, of being carried through the night and into the house, and being tucked into bed by my parents. Now that I am a parent who ferries his small children to bed after long trips I get some of that feeling back as I carry them. It's one of those strange parental feedback loops in which you simultaneously a) feel what your kid is feeling, b) are flooded with intense childhood memory, and c) feel what your parent must have felt when they were holding you. So I was looking at the moon thinking of all of that.

Simultaneous to those thoughts, I was remembering a time when I was 16 or 17 when I stopped on the same road to watch a new moon rise over the same hills. I remember thinking then that I hoped I would always be the type of person who would drive out to the middle of nowhere, stop his car, and look at the moon. At sixteen I imagined some future version of myself doing just that. The sixteen year old self was hoping I could share the view with a girl rather than imagining putting children to bed. But my adult self was recalling how my wife and I, after putting the children to bed, sit on the couch under a blanket and talk and how sometimes we fall asleep ourselves and how nice that is and how someday perhaps when the kids are older we'll miss doing that.

Back then I remember hoping for a shooting star. None ever came. None came tonight either. Maybe next time.

Davin Ellicson

March 7, 2008

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I have a soft spot for photography made in the world's more visceral places. Davin Ellicson is working on a long term project documenting rural life in Romania where according to his bio he lived and farmed with a peasant family for a year in the Maramures region. He knows the people he's covering and it shows.

Things discussed with my van driver, Hal

March 7, 2008

1. How George Lucas' billions can't buy him a beard to hide the fact that he is chinless.

2. How a higher percentage of bowlers have beards than the general male populace and how bowling really SHOULD be an Olympic sport. How it is an ancient game of history and tradition and how people who bowl are good people, true of heart.

3. How girls really dig night time van drivers more than you would think and how night time van drivers have to be pure of mind to resist temptation.

4. How night time van drivers sometimes get together in the summer to shoot bottle rockets into the lake.

5. How it is very dangerous to shoot bottle rockets from inside the van because it is possible to blow a finger off.

6. How Jimmy keeps his blown off finger in a jar of formaldehyde.

7. How Jimmy despite being a late night van driver has women problems.

8. How Jimmy has no chin.

9. How Jimmy has a beard.

10. How this is all for the best, because although he is a friend ("since the middle of 8th grade") Jimmy is a bad guy with a black heart.

SXSW

March 7, 2008

I'm in Austin at SXSW until Tuesday. If you're here, say hello. Best way to find me is via twitter.

Victor Cobo

March 1, 2008

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While I don't necessarily understand some of the editing choices he has made, the portfolios of California based photographer Victor Cobo contain some compelling images full of narrative delight and mystery.

John Chiara

February 28, 2008

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John Chiara by using archaic techniques and hand built cameras has become of photography's most innovative landscape photographers. Working with giant truck-sized cameras that he actually crawls inside of while creating an image he produces one of a kind prints that manage to evoke not only the grand tradition of making landscape pictures but also of the essence of photography itself.
If you happen to be in New York, there are only a few days left to visit his exhibition at The Von Lintel Gallery. Go See the works in person as they demand to be seen.

This short video (real player format) of Chiara shows something of his technique.

John Davies

February 25, 2008

john-davies.jpgJohn Davies is on the short list of four finalists for this year's Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2008. His large scale prints are best seen in person as they contain an incredible amount of detail. They're currently in a show of prize finalists in London. Of course any British readers of this blog have probably already seen the exhibition.

The Photographers’ Gallery
5 & 8 Great Newport Street
London WC2H 7HY

David Horvitz

February 21, 2008

The artist David Horvitz maintains a web page titled "THINGS FOR SALE THAT I WILL MAIL YOU". On it he offers exchange of money for his time.

For example,

If you give me $400 I will take a train to a desolate area with a packed lunch and sit down and read Anna Karenina. I will do this for 6-10 hours. I will repeat the same thing the following days until I have finally read the entire book. Finally! I am only going to do this once, so this is an edition of one only. I will send you documentation of this from the closest mailbox to where I do this. I'll also write the location of the mailbox on the envelope if you ever wish to go to where I will have sent it to you from.

and

This one is really serious. I'm scared to do this. But I think I have to. If you give me $10 I will think really hard of someone who I need to apologize to. I will write them a letter of apology. I will make two copies of the letter. I will send one to you and one to the person who I am apologizing to.

(via jen bekman who spends most days sitting at a desk a few feet away from me in the 20x200 office and still manages to send several IMs and many emails a day)

Leonie Purchas

February 17, 2008

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Leonie Purchas' In The Family project is full of the type of photography that gets me out of bed in the morning- intimate, revealing, and true with the occassional punch in the solar plexus to leave you totally gobsmacked.

My Next Life

February 16, 2008

In my next life I will be a Japanese game show host.
I will hand out cream pies to ladies in bikinis.
I will supervise games of human tetris.
I will watch grown men in diapers yodel the Beatles.
My hair will be streaked purple
My suits will be boxy
My manner: always enthusiastic.

I will smoke
and drink santori whiskey
and be the lovable liar
A fixture at dinner parties
and late night karaoke booths
My bed will never be cold.
Everyone wants to know a famous tv personality.

When the camera's red light is on
I am on
My hangovers hidden
My hollowness masked with an enthusiastic “Genki des!”
but in my quiet moments
Amidst the human cannonballs and noodle eating contests
I will dream of another life
Maybe one with two boys
A wife who loves me despite my flaws,
And the knowledge that
The best parts of life while hidden,
are sometimes glimpsed
In the glimmer of what might have been

Related: TV in Japan

Pattern Recognition

February 8, 2008

One of the games I play with my 3 year old is to present him with images of family members when they were younger to see if he recognizes them. He recognizes his mother back into her childhood, his grandfather he sees only with a beard, and me he has no problem identifying after about the age of 16. Today I presented him with this image, a picture I found of myself circa 1992, taken while out backpacking.
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I had a pretty full beard, was very skinny and to my eyes look barely unrecognizable, but my son was almost annoyed when I asked who was in the picture. "It's you daddy. You have a big beard, blue shirt, and a hat with a P. You are outside."

"Are you sure it's me" I asked.

"Yeah. Daddy it's you." Then he studied the picture a bit more, "But where am I?" he asked.


Vote Obama

February 3, 2008

I love this sign (now go out there and vote Obama):

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African-American Portraits & Snapshots

February 3, 2008

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One of my favorite blogs, Square America, has posted an online show titled African-American Portraits & Snapshots, a collection of 160 photographs taken between 1900 to 1975 (several home movies are also included). It's a rich and varied collection that I hope gets put into book form some day. Note the site takes a few seconds to load and the site curator Nicholas Osborn mentioned he's still tweaking the layout, so things might change in a day or two.

Bug Truck

January 30, 2008

The truth is you never know what people are thinking.

I was eating lunch alone in a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown today—the order was a limeade and Bo La Lot over rice— when the waitress, perhaps seeing me staring out the window, asked what I was thinking about. How could I explain I was thinking of the bug trucks which would roll slowly through the backroads of my Texas hometown? They would appear at sunset spraying a fine mist of mosquito repellent in the air. I wasn't thinking of the trucks themselves, but rather of the kerosene smell and how we would ride up along side the trucks on our banana bikes holding onto ladders on the tanks with one hand so we wouldn't have to pedal. We would look back through the spray at the sunset which, because of oil, would flare into countless oily rainbows. We would call to each other. "Marco"
"Polo"
"Marco"
"Ten four"
"Keep on truckin' dude."
Jay would flick matches back at the spray hoping to ignite a fireball. Having convinced ourselves that one day he would succeed creating an Evel Knievel Snake River Canyon style propulsion, we held the ladders with only our fingers ready to peel off at any moment. He could light and flick matches with one hand. It was an impressive skill which we chalked up to the fact that he was both double jointed and six months older than the rest of us. We would ride the trucks until twilight or until we were kicked off or until someone started coughing too much. Sometimes even a few days later you would still have the smell in your nose. It was hard to wash off.

Jay died in a car accident right out of college. He fell asleep at the wheel on one those long straight country highways and drifted off the road. And today sitting at lunch down on Baxter Street I was thinking about how I wished that just once he had managed to set the spray off and propelled that bug truck down the street like we had imagined because it would have been something to remember. But this was all too complicated to explain to the waitress so I just said I was thinking about the limeade and how delicious it was on a rainy winter day even though limeade is a summer drink that evokes Texas and August sunsets.

Found on Bergen & Smith

January 24, 2008

A list torn from a yellow notepad (scan to follow):

Resolutions 2008

1. Be smart.
2. Be strong.
3. Be aggressive!
4. End it with M.
5. Get through #4. No guilt.
6. Tell B how I feel.
7. Make B understand.
8. Don't make mistakes with B.
9. Love like a Tiger.
10. Live the life.
11. BE with B.
12. Forget THE PAST.
13. Get healthy in the brain.
14. Be happy.
15. Don't think about things too much.

Charlie Crane

January 22, 2008

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Unlike many photographers who visit to Pyongyang, North Korea only return with images of the Potemkin Village spectacles put on for tourists, Charlie Crane manages to capture the some of the stark emptiness and weirdness of the place. Crane's recent Welcome to Pyongyang is one of the best of the recent spate of North Korea books and has been widely hailed as one of the best photo books of 2007.

We have a Charlie Crane print available on 20x200 this week!

Pineapple

January 22, 2008

Mongolia has never been known for its salads, but on my first trip there in the early 90's there were virtually no green vegetables to be had in the entire country. Fruit was impossible to come by, in fact I could find nothing to eat but mutton. For almost two months I had mutton for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Occasionally the lamb would be served with a bit of onion or some sickly looking rice, but generally it was just mutton. Boiled, fried, or roasted three times a day you would be served meat on a plate until you couldn't stand the site of the stuff. You would sweat mutton, pee mutton, shit mutton. If you were lucky you could wash the mutton down with mares milk, but it was more common to be given a bowl of mutton broth. I slept in homes with sheep skin pelts on the floor. I chased sheep with kids who played games amongst the livestock in the streets. I killed sheep with a sharp knife (apparently an honor, rude to refuse).

Counting sheep did not lull me to sleep but instead sheep became the stuff nightmares in which I could feel my chemical composition tipping toward the bovid. Eventually I stopped eating all together except when starving.

If you can imagine all that, think of what it was like to take a night train away from Mongolia and waking up in Ulan Ude in Siberia and seeing a woman selling a can of pineapple on the train platform. The can's bright red Vietnamese and Cyrillic letters printed over an obscenely lush pineapple drawing hovering over a turquoise background practically shouted at me. I paid the woman, a Buryat with a pleasant open face and bright green eyes, one dollar which was probably 10 times the value of can. Still, I would have paid 10 dollars. Maybe 20. The can was marked 'Hanoi' and was 2 years out of date. It was heavy duty. Like the kind you see in 60's movies, But it opened right up. And the pineapple? Well, I close my eyes in pleasure at the thought of the first scent of that opened can. You will never known pineapple until you have only eaten mutton for a month or two. When I finished the fruit, I drank the juice and then added water to leach out any remaining flavor. For years that can would remain on my desk holding pencils until it was finally lost in a move. I don't know why I am remembering this at 2:55 in the morning but I can't stop thinking about that can, about how it felt to open it, and about how rare it is to get such pleasure from such small things.

Joakim Eskildsen

January 18, 2008

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I had never gone through Denmark based photographer Joakim Eskildesn's portfolios because the work I had seen of his had a high polish finish which doesn't suit my taste (overly dramatic skys are always the tipoff...National Geographicy for want of a better adjective.), but his project titled iChickenMoon which I believe was shot in South Africa is beautiful stuff and got me looking. And my stylistic qualms notwithstanding Eskildsen has seen more than most of us, and his portfolios all hold fascinating imagery. His site is worth delving into.

Nicholas Nixon

January 9, 2008

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Next Thursday here in New York Nicholas Nixon will be opening a show titled Patients which is a must see... It features arresting images of terminally ill patients. Nixon turns the photographic cliché of shooting the dying it's head by making savagely beautiful almost sensual portraits that are at once sculptural and delicately, tragically human. Most of the images from the show aren't online yet, but I expect they will be soon.

Nixon became part of the modern art photography canon for his Brown Sisters project, but his portfolio is wide ranging. I wish galleries/phtographers would realize the value of putting up older projects online. Nixon's Photos from one Year for example is a no brainer for the web.

Mexican Retablos

January 8, 2008

SanCamilodeLelis.jpgI collect Mexican retablos- small paintings of saints on tin. One of my favorite dealers James Caswell has written an insightful book titled Saints and Sinners on Mexican devotional art with a big section devoted to retablos illustrated largely with selections from his own impressive collection. The book came out 2 years ago but somehow escaped my notice until recently. I recommend the book as well as his gallery's website which contains a good selection of links and explanatory information and where most items for sale have detailed descriptions to give context. For example on the image above:

An illustration of the Catholic belief that Camille guides and protects at the final hour. Titled at bottom San Camilo de Lelis Patron de los Agonizontes, or "San Camilo of Lelis patron of people in final agony", depicts a fascinating cast of Hieronymous Bosch like characters who represent spiritual hazards of death. San Camilo and his acolytes guard the dying soul against final temptations of a host of satanical troublemakers. A devil in the window says, "I can't" (meaning he can't get to the dying man to detour him to hell). The demon floating above the enthroned Virgin Mary threatens, "your children". The Virgin invites, ven a mi gloria, "come to my glory". Notice the dying man's little white soul flying up to the Virgin's open arms..... The devil beneath the bed says, vuelvale intentar "try again". On the left are the seven demons of the deadly sins...

On Turning 41

January 6, 2008

41 is one of those blah birthdays. Like 31 or 27 or 11 it’s a day to be marked and then quickly forgotten. 41 rates a Wikipedia entry which seems impressive at first blush, but so do all numbers under 100. 42’s entry is much more impressive.

My three year old can’t count to 41 yet and calls it a "big big very big number with a 4 and a 1". Nobody bothers to put 41 candles on a cake and as it’s a prime number there’s no easily divisible scaling factor. I imagine some get candles that look like the numbers 4 and 1 or candles arranged into 4’s and 1’s but most of us just get a random set of candles that fill the cake. I got 16 candles spread out in a circle. 16 was something to look forward to. I'm not sure anyone looks forward to 41 which is not to say there's anything wrong with actually being 41, it's just not as fun as 16 when you could get a driver's license picture from the front instead of from the side.

At 41 I’m the age my mother was when I went away to college. I’m a little over double my youngest brother’s age when he died. I’ve lived 14,975 days which is less than I would have thought. Actuarial tables suggest I have about 12,401 days left although family history would suggest something like 19,345 days. Perhaps counting days is morbid but I've been doing it since I was 11. Back then I was probably a little less optimistic than I am now. Back then if I thought 31 was ancient never realizing that the distance that separates 11 and 31 or 11 and 41 is much shorter in many ways than the distance between 11 and 1.

In my 41st year I plan on making things. On my post for 42 I'll resolve to list the projects completed.

related: 40

Lisa Robinson

January 4, 2008

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Long time readers of this blog know that I have something of an obsessive relationship with snow, a product of a largely snowless childhood in a hot corner of Texas. Simply put I love snow. It makes me a little bit crazy, so I guess I was predisposed to be a fan of Lisa Robinson’s Snowbound, photographs taken over several years of snows. Her landscapes remind us of the thrill of being the first to tread on new snow and the wonder of discovering a world made new. The understated images achieve power through subtlety which is a hard trick indeed given the challenges of shooting and of printing such images.

This work deserves to be seen in person as digital files viewed on screen don’t do the prints justice, so make the trek over to DUMBO and check out the show at the Klompching Gallery, it’s up through February 29th.

If aren’t in the New York area, Robinson’s book of the same title was cited by PhotoEye editor and photobook connoisseur Darius Himes as one of his favorite photobooks of 2007.

Tangential: And while we’re on the subject of snow and photography why not re-read Alec Soth’s snow-tagged posts. Of all the blogs that have come and gone over the years, his is the one I miss reading the most.

To Each His Own

January 3, 2008

It is the third day of the year
I’m on a train eating clementines
The woman behind me is enjoying a bucket of chicken
Which smells delicious
but she would never share
and besides, the clementines are sweeter.

Model Home

January 2, 2008

One of my wife's aunts just bought a new house in one of those pre-fab subdivisions that seem to be taking over middle America, a McMansion. The subdivision is still brand new. The streets aren't on maps, and most of the houses are half-finished, or have that just-moved-in look. But there is one house with green grass and trees outside. It's the model house, and that's the one they bought—fully furnished. To give the illusion of the perfect life, the model house has fake family photos in each room—the pictures always feature a handsome couple with one or two kids. The couple would vary from room to room, but you wouldn't notice if you didn't look closely. The mom was always blonde, the dad, muscular, occassionally shirtless. In the kid's room a framed drawing titled, "World's Best Dad" was carefully hung in the corner while the master bedroom was decorated with glossy travel magazines, and books in bookshelves that invitably carried the word "success" in the title. In the living room a pretend television displays a serene ocean scene.

My wife's aunt and uncle and their daughter will move into the new house leaving most of their old furniture behind, walking into a readymade life. In truth the new life looks pretty similar to the old life. The new house is virtually indistinguishable from the old one which is also in a pre-fab subdivision. Inside the house feels the same- miles of beige carpet, huge windows with plastic sills, and a sense of complete anonymity. The cherry veneer furniture and bland paintings on the walls are indistinguishable between the homes. But in the new house the rooms are all one or two sizes bigger, there's a third door on the garage, and the basement is graced with a media room. A year from now little will have changed in the model house. The furniture will not have been moved, the paintings will stay exactly as they are, and my guess is it will take months if not years to replace all those family photos scattered around. Even the plastic TV will stay put.

It is easy for my wife and I to be horrified by all this as the house and everything it represents is pretty much the opposite of how we believe life should be lived, but for my wife's aunt and uncle, immigrants from Korea who were both children of war who arrived here with nothing, the house is tangilbe evidence of a life of unbelievably hard work— year upon year of labor without vacations or government holidays often in dangerous neighborhoods where they are mocked and threatened. The house will remain chilly in winter as they would never waste money on something as frivoulous as heat, and it will feel empty to visitors, but out in the back Jenn's uncle will plant a vegetable garden with seeds sent from Korea. He grew up on a farm and still sometimes refers to himself as a farmer. He'll complain about the soil, but he'll make it work and before long the garden will be overflowing with tomatos and squash and chilis. In the summers he'll host barbecues complaining about the expense of such a big house, but enjoying hosting everyone in it, and dreaming of a bigger one.


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