Sometimes work life gets in the way of personal life. This was one of those weeks. In the interest in keeping up this weekly blog posting, I’m at least sharing a few images I made while focussing on a TV production. Long hours in prep and two 12 hour days on set left little time for anything else. I did find a few covered cars out in the field, so not a total disengagement from my personal work. See you next week.
Film vs Digital. The seemingly endless debate that has raged for years now. Do we really need more words spouted about this issue? As I pondered what this week’s blog entry would be about, the internal debate between pixels verses film frames swirled in my head. I recently made an investment in a medium format film camera. l hardly needed another camera, never mind a film camera, but the freezer full of film in my house keeps begging me to expose it, and why not add another relic to my collection? My intention is to run 35mm film through the medium format camera, thus rendering quasi-panoramic images on the film (see example above.)
I tell myself that I prefer the permanence that film affords, that I feel more centered when I shoot film, that it slows me down, making my shooting more intentional. I learned photography on film, many years before digital photography even existed. I suppose I feel a connection to my roots when I shoot with a film camera. I also have this warped thought in my head that somehow film photography is more “legitimate” than digital, that it is more “serious.” Which ultimately is a crock of shit.
The irony is that even when I do shoot film, I end up digitizing it with a scanner. Which takes time, on top of the money I spent on film and processing to begin with. And even after the scanning, there’s the retouching of a multitude of dust specks and hairs that invariably muck up the raw scan. The random times I’ve ended up in the darkroom over the past few years have yielded more frustrations than rewards, and more time spent setting up than actually developing and printing. Never mind the chemicals being inhaled while I agitate some prints in the developer tray. And how many of those precious 36 frames from one roll of film are “keepers”?
So why do I continue to shoot film? Why do I feel the need to flagellate myself in the service of the film deities (that might not even exist…gee, how existential.) Why must I fetishize such a labor intensive, unpredictable, costly frustrating process? And who really gives a shit if an image was shot on film or with a digital camera, or even an iPhone? (and to be clear, I’ve created books and exhibits that have featured images from all of these methods.) Does the viewer care? Does the audience put more value in one method over the other? Does anyone really apply more worth to an image if it was the result of hours spent in the darkroom, or if it was a quick hipshot taken with a mobile device while waiting for the traffic light to turn green?
And to push my puritanical inner demons one step further: what are the limits of using Photoshop or Lightroom? Cloning out dust on an image scanned from a negative, that’s ok, right? What about converting images from color to black and white? Film simulation presets in Lightroom, making a digitally capture image appear more film-like? I have software that can make a digital image look like an antique wet-plate photograph. I have apps that replicate light leak damaged film. Foul or no foul? Really, am I the only one who cares about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And by the way, don’t even get me started about my vinyl LP collection.
Earlier this week I watched a set of short documentaries by French director Agnes Varda. The films all revolved around the theme of photographic representation of reality, or of a straying from reality, more precisely. Viewing these films was oddly and sadly coincidental, because as it turned out, Varda died just a few days later. If you are unfamiliar with her work, I encourage that you seek it out. She was at the leading edge of the French New Wave of cinema, the infamous boys club of greats like Godard and Truffaut. Her work never lost a sense of wonder and humility.
On a lighter note, I’m excited to be talking part in a group project with a circle of Albuquerque-based photographers. Too soon to spill the details, but framing up some work is getting me excited for this new opportunity. More news to come.
I spent a good part of this week in Los Angeles for work. More specifically, I spent three days at LAX. It turned out to be a good place to let the lens of my iPhone wander. There is a nice geometry to the airport, which serves as interesting backdrop to the parade of thousands of people heading off to wherever they may be jetting off to.
Other things are on the horizon. I am putting the finishing touches on two (!) new self-publishing projects. Look for a “one, two” punch of new work coming very, very soon. As is the usual case, I’m keeping my cards close to the vest, but more will be revealed soon, including a special offer for my email subscribers (which you should sign up for…)
A frozen moment as I left the Sundance Film Festival.
I am excited to share a new body of work on my website today. The series is a bit of a departure for me, in that it is all color photography. The pairing of the images are the result of a kind of visual improvisation, both in my approach to how I shot, as well as how I created the resulting diptychs. Everything was shot with one camera and one lens, during an extended stay in New York during the Spring of 2017. The shift of political and social winds could be felt as I roamed the streets, though I tried (but failed) to not make any overt political statements with the images. I guess the personal is political, as they say. This series will be the subject of a new book I will be releasing in the very near future. I hope you enjoy.
Those of us who live in New Mexico know the importance of the Rio Grande. One of its values is the wonderful, (mostly) undeveloped nature of the bosque that adorns its banks. The bosque offers a respite from the urban life of Albuquerque, and yet exists within minutes of the city itself. It's a thicket of salt cedar, fallen branches, various flowers and grasses, jetty jacks and the abundant cottonwood trees, which at this time of year, explode into yellow and gold. Today was a perfect, overcast day, so the wife and I headed out for a quick wander. Except for temporarily straying into an extremely muddy patch (as is evident in the photo of my destroyed Chuck Taylors) the day rewarded us with many sights and sounds. Of course, I decided to capture the glorious colors of autumn in black and white.
I had the pleasure of taking a day-long road trip with my good friend Bob Ayre this past weekend. Bob knows New Mexico like the back of his hand, so it was a treat to let him guide me into uncharted territory in the northwest part of the state. My Fiat would never have survived some of the unpaved back roads we traversed, and I probably would have chickened out heading down some of the routes by myself. With Bob at the helm, I saw some difficult to reach locations for the first time. Here's a sample of our journey. Thank you, Bob.
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that you have made a good choice in your life's direction. Over two years ago, I decided to take my personal photography more seriously. One thing that I always dreamed of doing, but never had the guts to attempt, was an artist residency. So, in early 2015, I mustered the courage to apply for an opportunity to spend a month in the city of Porto, Portugal. My focus on Portugal was partly due to my connection with fellow photographer, Fabio Miguel Roque. He is based in Sintra, just outside of the capital of Lisbon. We are both members of the Latent Image Collective, and though we had never met in person, I was excited to finally connect and spend some time shooting together. Long story short, I was invited for a residency at De Liceiras 18, and spent a month focussing on my personal photographic work. I also spent two days shooting with Fábio, and our creative bonds deepened as a result.
Fast forward to October 2016. Fábio and I were looking for a project to collaborate on long-distance. We devised a plan to shoot simultaneously for 24 hours, each of us taking a solo, photographic road trip, each wandering without a set plan into the desert near our homes. We would share the results of the trip in a joint publication. We released the book "Beyond / Além" last year, and hoped that we could one day exhibit the work. That hope will be realized this weekend in Évora, Portugal.
I am so thrilled to be able to share the walls of a gallery with my friend and collaborator, and it stands as a tangible manifestation of the idea we had months ago. What is even more meaningful to me is that first step I took outside of my comfort zone, the decision to travel to Portugal in the first place, has reaped so many benefits for me personally and creatively.
The show opens this Saturday at the Palácio de D. Manuel in Évora. I received the text from the program, that was written by Eduardo Luciano, Councilor for Culture of the Municipality of Évora. I'd like to share it here, as it is an insightful analysis of the work that Fábio and I created. I am honored and humbled by these words.
Click on the images above to see the program from the exhibit.
Well, I ended up taking a week off since I was on vacation, after all. But I’m jumping back into my routine, and thought I’d find an image that had some added significance to discuss. This week, I’m looking at a photograph by one of the most influential American photographers of the past 50 years, Lee Friedlander. His work has been instrumental in the development of my own style, and I continue to be inspired by his ongoing visual explorations.
The photograph I’m looking at today is from Friedlander’s series “The American Monument.” It is with intention that I am looking at this body of work now, against the backdrop of the vocal and sometimes violent re-examination of the presence and the meaning of statues and monuments that stand in cities across the United States.
This particular monument that Friedlander photographed, stands in what might be considered the “center of the world,” New York City. So, what is it that I see? It is a black and white photograph, shot on film, which is obvious when it is revealed that the image dates from the 1970s. Though the angle seems, slightly wide, the depth of field is sharp throughout, and the background stacks layer upon layer around the main subject, a statue of one “Father Duffy.”
Some cursory searching online found this information:
“Father Francis Duffy of Most Holy Trinity Church on 42nd Street near Broadway served with the Fighting 69th, a mostly-Irish regiment in World War I, was severely wounded, and received the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery on the battlefield. His monument in Duffy Square, the triangle formed by Broadway, 7th Avenue and 47th Street and dedicated in 1937, features Father Duffy in his World War I uniform standing in front of the Celtic cross.”
The location of the statue is part of Times Square, and it is interesting to see how much has grown around it, not only when Friedlander took his photograph, but as it looks today. Part of what I find fascinating about “The American Monument” series is that many of the featured monuments that have receded into their surroundings. Often, they look as though they have been neglected or forgotten. They become lost in their environments, or perhaps those environments have changed and transformed from when the statues were first erected. The Father Duffy image is a perfect illustration of this. If we examine how Friedlander chose to show us this scene, we can see that the statue is only one small component of the entire scene. The composition is almost like a jigsaw puzzle, with the image of Father Duffy lost in a sea of advertisements, block letters, scaffolding, and buildings. The alignment at the top of the frame is slightly off kilter, due to the perspective of the photographer looking up from ground level, while the wrought iron spikes of a fence along the bottom of the frame brings a jagged severity composition.
I find it interesting to ponder the fact that the monument we see in this photograph is a tribute to both a priest and a soldier. It brings a deeper meaning to the image for me. The symbolism of a spiritual leader is at odds with the crass consumerism on display around him. Secondly, the man who is lionized here was a soldier in World War 1, and his efforts to fight for his country were perhaps ironically resulting in giving us our freedom to drink an endless supply Coca Cola while waiting in line for some half-priced Broadway show tickets. The clash of reverence and irreverence is palpable. What is also quite interesting is once a Google image search is done on this monument, you can plainly see that the environment that Friedlander captured in the 1970s has changed dramatically to what one finds there today. Times Square was always considered the crossroads of the world, so any change really should not be surprising. As the area transformed under Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s, the real estate value increased at an unbelievable pace. Considering all of this, I am actually a bit surprised the statue wasn’t relocated somewhere else.
A recent photo of Father Duffy Square.
I wonder what Friedlander might add to the current national dialogue (arguments) about the role of statues and monuments in our country. As stated earlier, the overall feeling of the body of work is one of neglect or ignorance. However, we as a society are in the process of re-assessing who is considered a hero and who is a scoundrel, a murderer, or a traitor. Every monument is a commemoration of both a victory and a defeat. Both the conqueror and the conquered. If history is written by the victors, these statues, of course, focus on the exploits that have no doubt caused someone else great pain and suffering. From a nationalistic standpoint, it may be easier to hail a hero from a war overseas, and let the benefit of time polish the luster of the monument. However, when those commemorated have inflicted bloodshed on our own soil, against our own citizens, should these statues be allowed to stand any longer?
Perhaps Friedlander would choose not to overtly politicize his intent. To further your pondering, I will close with a wonderful quote I found by John Szarkowski on this work:
“… I think we are moved more deeply by Friedlander's intuitions concerning the nature of America's relationship to its past, concerning the vernacular materials out of which with attention we might fashion a culture, concerning the evidence of these countless attempts to preserve and nourish the idea of community. I am still astonished and heartened by the deep affection in those pictures, by the photographer's tolerant equanimity in the face of the facts, by the generosity of spirit, the freedom from pomposity and rhetoric. One might call this work an act of high artistic patriotism, an achievement that might help us reclaim that work from ideologues and expediters. His work, in sum, constitutes a conversation among the symbols that we live among and that to some degree we live by.”