January 27, 2005

Better Late Than Never in 2005


Well, it's taken me a while to get back to blogging in 2005, given many other things that have taken priority or just flat out distracted me at the start of this year.

A very belated happy New Year to everyone, especially those who managed to make my first year of blogging so enjoyable and instructive.  Thanks to everyone who sent me a note (and my apologies if I wasn't able to get back to you sooner...I'm still catching up with email well into the start of 2005).  Joerg at Conscientious, Stan at Reciprocity Failure, John at Orbit 1 (who's always run one of the most thoughtful of "photo-a-day" photoblogs)...before I even started a blog, I could tell that he was someone who liked to think about photographs, and not just dump one a day out there), Luis and Antonio at flux+mutability and defocused respectively, Kevin at Photorant and photopermit.org, Todd at Gallery Hopper, Stacy at the space in between...

...well, the list is getting long, isn't it, and I haven't even covered the half of it with thoughtful bloggers (not just photobloggers) out there who have managed to make me see and think in different ways, as well as the hundreds of talented photographers and other visual artists who continue to serve as inspiration.  It was tough keeping up with all the photoblogs, though I did what I could with visits to the ones I listed on my sidebar. Probably my favorite photoblog apart from John's was Gayla's Making Happy, which I never get tired of visiting.  Both John and Gayla use multiple cameras to explore, to engage in inquiry, to have fun with old quirky cameras, to just enjoy the process of taking pictures.  There's a lot to be said for that.

And even though I continue to see amazing work on the web, in books and in galleries, I also continue to find inspiration in the work of two photographers I consider peers and mentors: Ed and Dirk.

I wrote about a lot of magazines in 2004, some dedicated to photography, others with photography as a primary element, and some thrived, while others died.  Goodbye to Pictured, Nest, Issue, and In.  Thanks to SHOTS, Aperture, Next Level (when I can find it in a U.S. bookstore) and PDN for going stronger than ever, along with more specialized publications like B&W, Camera Arts, and View Camera. Thanks also to art magazines like Modern Painters and Art Review for providing thoughtful coverage of photography in the context of the modern art scene, rather than treating it as a stepchild.

Online magazines like ak47.tv and BlueEyes Magazine, along with the more established ZoneZero, may be the most vital (and cost-effective) showcases for contemporary photography outside the hot names of the gallery circuit, and I hope they keep thriving and growing. Influence was probably my single favorite art-photography magazine in 2004, but they could only get one amazing issue out...with the second one scheduled for publication in the first quarter of 2005.  I can't wait.

* More on my favorite photobook from last year, Martin Parr's The Photobook: A History Volume I, in this Guardian feature:

"His home office, for instance, is lined with books, all of them pertaining to photography, some of them, unbelievably, costing more than a vintage print by the photographer in question. Or, to put it another way, Martin Parr lives in a house of books, and their collective value outstrips the price of the house itself. 'I'm not sure I could, or even should, give you a precise figure,' he says, sounding suddenly defensive when I ask him how much his set of photographic books is worth on the market, 'but maybe somewhere in the region of a million and a half.'"

One of the visitors to this blog was lucky enough to actually see Parr speak: check out his blog entries here and here.

* Other books I've been meaning to mention that I've also enjoyed, in addition to the ones I mentioned in my post about 2004 photobooks: Helen Van Meene's Portraits, Larry Sultan's the Valley, Mona Kuhn's Photographs (artful nudes in various tableaux, sometimes too pretty, but compelling for the many "real-looking" friends and colleagues included), Jock Sturges' Notes, and Massimo Vitali's Landscape with Figures.


My only mild complaint about Van Meene's wonderful book of portraits is that I wish it had been bigger, given the larger and more lavish photographs published in Aperture just months before...but the compact book is well priced as a result and one of the better values for new photography books out there.  I just hope Aperture's upcoming monograph for David Hilliard is larger, because having seen him speak last fall, and marveling at his large multi-panel panoramic (and autobiographical) mini-dramas, it's hard to imagine them being squeezed in to the same compact format as Van Meene's work.

* Vince Aletti gets caught up with his Top 25 list of photobooks, and an article on the best magazine photography of the last year.  This speaks well to the fact that when people ask me what magazines to check out and subscribe to, there are obvious names that are very specific to the art of photography... but there are also many other sources for interesting photography that are ostensibly more glossy and ephermeral.  I know some folks out there want to keep church and state separate and will never allow fashion and lifestyle photography to enter their universe, but photography is just as alive to me coming from the pages of large glossies like Paris Vogue and W and Exit as well as niche (and often short-lived) magazines like Dwell, Anthem and Fugue, even if you have to often forage through some fluff to get to the good stuff. 

I may not collect the magazines or even buy them much of the time, but I'm certainly going through them on the newstands constantly and taking mental notes.

* Portfolios I've enjoyed recently: Sharon Core's iconic photographs of food (part of Aperture's Director's Cut feature; more Core here), and Juli Leonard's portfolio in the latest issue of Blueeyes magazine.


Sharon Core image

* I visited the AIPAD show last year in New York, an annual showcase for a great deal of traditional photography, mostly black and white.  The Yossi Milo gallery made a pretty good showing by bucking the trend and showcasing leading lights like Alec Soth and Loretta Lux in all their contemporary color glory.  To start off 2005, the gallery is featuring two Irish photographers: the quietly compelling "is it fact or fiction" work of Trish Morrissey (gallery here, write-up here), followed by Martina Mullaney's curiously neat, curiously squalid bedroom interiors, "Turn In", presented in square format.


Trish Morrissey image

* Finally, photo essays about America have never gone far out of fashion, but there's no shortage of them these days.  Two worth taking a look at that pose interesting contrasts in style and mood: Phil Bergerson's Shards of America, and David Carol's 40 Miles of Bad Road.  Bergerson has a nice interview with Making Room magazine, one of Davin Risk's many amazing online projects, and an online magazine to watch.


Phil Bergerson image, from Shards of America

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December 20, 2004

A Conversation with Christian Patterson


I've mentioned Christian Patterson on this site several times, from the time I discovered his work serendipitously through a link from another photographer's site early this year, and then encountered more of it through the PDN 30, and then came to find out that he plays a significant role with the Eggleston Trust, including developing William Eggleston's ace website.

As I've plugged along with my own journal here, Christian always came across as one of the most accessible photographers, and we had exchanged emails a few times.  I approached him recently about doing an informal interview, not necessarily with the intention of putting him on a pedestal as the "next hot artist", but more with the idea of having a conversation with a fellow photographer about his particularly interesting emerging career, and talking a bit about the process of photography.

But make no mistake: Christian has talent to burn and is indeed worth watching. The latest worthwhile showcase for his work online can be seen in ak47.tv's sixth issue, and he has an exhibition at the Power House Gallery in Memphis scheduled for the summer of 2005. He's a 32 year old Memphis based photographer with a growing pedigree, and has managed to achieve a great deal without (yet) having to endure the rituals of many aspiring commercial and fine art photographers, such as endless mailers of art cards (that end up in the trash bins of agencies), lavish expenditures on portfolio books, and gallery rejections galore.

He works as hard and as passionately as anyone, but likes to let his striking vernacular color work mostly speak for itself, and Elena Goodinson at Hotshoe Magazine had a particularly apt description of the appeal of his best images: "...a celebration of our ambiguous place in time captured within a poet's eye".

Here's some of what we talked about:

COINCIDENCES: Maybe we could start by talking about how you got started photographing seriously. 

CHRISTIAN PATTERSON: I consider the time of my relocation from New York to Memphis as the start of my "serious" photography. I moved to Memphis in the spring of 2002. 

COINCIDENCES: And what made you relocate to Memphis, if you don't mind talking about that?

CHRISTIAN PATTERSON: I discovered Eggleston's work while living in New York. I felt a strong emotional connection with his work. It was his personal vision. The attitude and style of his work was a clear representation of what I was striving for in my own photography, in terms of approach and feeling. 

I decided to fly to Memphis. I called the office of the Eggleston Artistic Trust and spoke with Bill's son, Winston, who is the business director. Winston invited me to visit the Trust and see more of the work there. After the call, I met Winston and Bill at a gallery opening in New York, as well. 

I stayed in touch with the Egglestons and visited Memphis a few more times. The Trust needed assistance archiving and organizing the work, and I was eager to gain exposure to his work. I made the decision to move to Memphis. 

That is one thing I've learned: Never be afraid to talk with someone. It's a small world, people are intrinsically good, and things usually work out well. 


Christian Patterson image, from "Kind of A Drag" series

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December 15, 2004

My Favorite Photobooks of 2004


I haven't been able to post as much as I'd like lately, but I've never stopped looking at photographs and photo books, and always figured I'd get around to a discussion of my favorite photobooks this year. 

A month ago, I was feeling that it really wasn't as good a year as the last couple of years in terms of truly landmark monographs -- books like A Storybook Life or What Remains or Family Business which, apart from the understated beauty of their images and the assured quality of their reproduction, have an elliptical yet seductive and epic sense of narrative that rewards repeated viewings.  It's easy to pick up many photography books these days and be wowed by a number of dazzling images, but the best photobooks have an almost organic quality to them -- even the most physically imposing coffee table tomes seem to float in one's hands when blessed with the magic of a photographic master with a story to tell.

But though photography books continue to grow in popularity, they don't exactly represent an industry like music or film where products get cranked out and hyped for the annual holiday rush...much of the best work is developed over many years of photographing, after a significant amount of judicious editing and reflection.  So one year may not yield as much in terms of true classics at first blush, but then again, maybe I'm being unfair and not giving time its due -- the best ones this year may prove themselves to be classics with more time and distance. 

In the meantime, I enjoyed a lot of reissues and a few recently released labors of love, like Alec Soth's Sleeping By the Mississippi, and Lee Friedlander's Sticks and Stones: Architectural America.  The standout reissues were those of several '80s landmarks: Stephen Shore's Uncommon Places, Joel Sternfeld's American Prospects, and Bruce Davidson's Subway, all reprinted more lavishly and with new material, along with thoughtful retrospective essays.


The work of the trio of Soth, Shore and Sternfeld, along with more modest but enjoyable monographs like Mike Smith's You're Not From Around Here and Brian Rose's The Lost Border, all reflect a deliberate but poetically abstract sense of place, and a subtle and sophisticated use of color and composition to document transitions and (in the case of Soth) dreams and dreamers. All these photographers use large format cameras (with the exception of Smith, who uses 6x7 medium format)  to achieve what Shore calls a "conscious casualness", which gives their photographs their unsettlingly studied quality and enables them (even 20+ years later in the case of Shore and Sternfeld) to transcend time and nostalgia and still speak for the curious quality of American places and life. 

It was certainly instructive for me, as I learned to look through the ground glass of an 8x10 this year and work more extensively in color, to view the work of these five photographers, and Shore and Sternfeld are cited consistently (along with Eggleston) as major influences on the current generation of contemporary commercial and fine art photographers.

In the case of Rose, his obsessive yet distanced (by necessity) documentation of the Iron Curtain, moving chronologically toward the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reconstruction of Berlin, is the most time bound of these monographs, but again the use of perspective, color, light and distance move the images beyond their documentary function into a meditation on the impact of borders and the communities that exist around them, and the banal face of repression.  His book is a nice success story, given his difficulties in getting his project published for a number of years; his photographs gain much more resonance in their reproduction and in their presentation in book form than they did (to my eye) on the web, though his efforts to keep the project going on the web while seeking a publisher were well-intentioned and appreciated by many.


Brian Rose image, from The Lost Border

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