Annie Leibovitz's new book "At Work" was perhaps the stealth photo event of the year. Primarily a text rather than a picture book, it is nonetheless one of the most interesting photography books of the year, taking us behind the scenes to reveal not so much the technical aspects of a shoot, but the mental and physical preparations before and the psychological and strategic footwork during the taking of many of her most famous images.
Seamlessly interviewed and edited out of Leibovitz by the skilled editor, Sharon Delano, the book is a smooth and engrossing read from start to finish that entertains with all manner of autobiographical stories from Leibovitz's student days to the present, as well as her almost awestruck perspective and stories about other famous photographers.
There is an interesting selection of photographs - a mixture of iconic images and more obscure ones - and it's surprising to see how well they work printed smaller than postcard size. Much credit is obviously also due to the printers.
For anyone looking for lighting tips this isn't necessarily the book (although Leibovitz does provide a technical glossary as well as answers to her ten most frequently asked questions) but for readers looking to understand more about Leibovitz's art as well as what really counts - what's in an artist's head - this book is a treasure.
In terms of something I was personally involved in, the opportunity to work with Paul Fusco on rediscovering, editing and exhibiting photographs from his RFK Funeral Train series was one of the highlights of my entire gallery career.
I've written a number of times about the pictures (just enter Fusco on this blog's search box) so I won't repeat myself, but to give you a sense of the depth and quality of the work, here are just ten out of the nearly 2,000 images we had to choose from that didn't make the cut of the final 20 selected for the master set. (Simply choosing these ten out of the 50 or so that were under final consideration was heartbreakingly hard.) However, many of the unseen images can now be found in Aperture's newly released book.
Excuse the poor quality of these reproductions, but the images are of the original 35mm kodachrome slides shot in low-resolution off a Library of Congress lightbox.
I like to put a recent film release in the top ten list, but this year the most impactful cinematic experience I had was sitting at home watching a 6 year old HBO Film on DVD – Moises Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project”.
As some of you know, I have been developing a film based on the life and autobiography of the legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland. It’s a long process in the course of which I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of renowned directors, most recently Kaufman himself, the founder of The Tectonic Theater Project.
Moises was recommended to me by Colin Callender at HBO, for whom Kaufman had made the film adaptation of his play “The Laramie Project” – an examination of the events and more particularly the people connected either to the murder of Matthew Shepard or the town of Laramie, Wyoming. (Matthew Shepard was the gay college student who in 1998 was kidnapped, beaten, and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie and left to die.) Both the film and play came out of more than 200 interviews conducted by Kaufman and other members of the Tectonic Theater Project who traveled to Laramie a mere 5 weeks after the murder.
Talking to residents as varied as the bartender who served Shepard his last drink, the policewoman who untied the body, and a local limousine driver, the plays blends a narrative account of the event with an oral history of the townspeople. A stellar cast including Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Bill Irwin, Laura Linney, Amy Madigan, and Christina Ricci, play the various interviewees with remarkable self-effacement, and as the film proceeds, the many subjects covered – crime, punishment, justice, gay rights, hate, values, pride, AIDS…. and on and on – spread like ripples on a pond.
After ordering the film on Netflix I have to say I had to steel myself for the viewing. But just over an hour and half later I felt I had seen one of the great films of the decade – and one, given its horrific subject, that was handled with remarkable creativity, restraint and life affirmation. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
As a postscript, it should be noted that this year members of the Tectonic Theater Project returned to Laramie to find out what has happened to the community over the last 10 years. From their interviews an epilogue for the play will be created and added to the script.
Additonally, Tectonic’s newest production, “33 Variations”, about a musicologist who becomes obsessed with a mysterious chapter in Beethoven’s life, will open on Broadway on March 5th starring Jane Fonda.
I was thinking about which photography exhibition was the breakout exhibition of the year. I remember past years in which shows by Sally Mann, or Richard Misrach, or Thomas Struth significantly altered the aesthetic landscape, and while no single show provided those kind of breakout moments, I think Ryan McGinley has to be the photographer of the year.
Emerging as something of a celebrity (this year he was featured in both GAP and Marc Jacobs ads); McGinley affords us the pleasure of following his career. He regularly has new work published in magazines as varied as The New York Times Magazine, TAR, and Purple. He has started to make films. He exhibits regularly at his gallery, TEAM. And he can be seen to consistently expand his photographic vocabulary, most recently with black and white studio portraits.
McGinley’s luminous and edenic youthscapes may not at first seem to define the zeitgeist of these perilous times, but he’s proven to be ahead of the curve before and perhaps his insistence that youth can lead the way is the best sign of hope out there.
At last, an innovative, original, professional, and beautifully designed web magazine has arrived with the gravitas and best qualities of a traditional print magazine coupled with the nimbleness required by the web . While there are of course many fabulous blogs, and a smaller number of more esoteric webzines, it has taken the touch and verve of Tina Brown coupled with the deep pockets of Barry Diller to make something on a grand scale that looks and feels like the real thing. I am talking about The Daily Beast.
Launched during the presidential campaign (very smart move) the first thing that struck me about Beast was how ground-breaking the design and functionality of the site was. Where The Huffington Post is a steadfast Volvo, delivering its news in boxy and predictable chunks, The Daily Beast is a svelte Maserati – elegant, cool, able to turn on a dime, and waiting to pounce and surprise you.
They have excellent writers – from Brown herself to Chris Buckley, Susan Cheever, and Michael Korda – but keep their pieces at just the right length for reading on the screen. And last but not least, they understand that the web is a visual medium and illustrate everything they can with photographs that catch our attention.
Now that there’s no question we’re truly in the digital age, a place in the top ten has to go to friends with cameras who know how to take good pictures and are quick to e-mail them to the people they know would appreciate them. Top of my own list is Leslie Simitch, the executive vice president of Trunk Archive.
I’ve always felt Leslie was good enough not just to manage photographers, but to be a photographer herself – as these two pictures that I just received from her current Roman holiday amply display. However, Leslie was also the first person I knew who understood and took advantage of the seamless delivery system of digital photography from camera to e-mail inbox. We're talking ten years ago here!
We all have friends who are early adopters and Leslie got me going on iPhoto, passed on the invaluable advice to always use a card reader to download my photos instead of connecting directly from the camera (less risk of screw-up), and generally got me up to speed on all things digital. Much of this knowledge has now been passed on to countless friends and family – the circle of iLife, so to speak.
WFUV is a non-commercial, listener-supported public radio station, that has been broadcasting from Fordham University for 60 years. Serving nearly 350,000 listeners each week in the New York area and thousands more worldwide on the web, WFUV offers an eclectic mix of rock, singer-songwriters, blues, world and other music. If your taste is somewhere between pop and rock and you like to be ahead of the curve, their DJ's have broken just about every new musician I listen to - Corinne Bailey Rae, Matthew Ryan, David Ford, Brandi Carlile - and previewed new albums by all the old favorites like Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, and Shelby Lynne.
They've been on a Christmas kick the last few days and as an example of their range - two versions of the same song by two groups I never would have heard of without them - Sonos (above) and The Fleet Foxes (below).
One of my favorite photo books this year was a little sliver of a book sent to me by Stephen K. Schuster, a New York City based magazine photographer. Titled simply "Kelly" the book is in Schuster's words “a limited-edition photography book on a past relationship". Limited to 25 initial booklets, I have no idea if any are left, but there's a nice selection of pictures on Schuster's website.
I'm not sure whether Kelly got any veto power over the images selected, and there are a handful of fairly revealing shots, but the pictures were taken with skill and love and the book seems to be much more about coming to terms with a break-up than exploiting a failed relationship.
Photographer/loved-one pictures are always fascinating because they show the shifting ways we view those closest to us. A psychology teacher I had at college once told us that there is so much information in the human face we can at best process about 10% of the information. Thus we selectively, but subconsciously, pick out the features that fit our mood and emotions. Happy - the person looks at their most appealing. Angry, betrayed, we focus on all the same person's worst features and physical flaws.
Schuster has pretty much kept to the positive, but in the 22 pictures of Kelly interspersed with a few location shots, he has created a moving visual haiku on love and loss, and the powerful relationship between photography and memory.
To repeat what I said last year at this time: I’ve never been a huge fan of top ten lists (other than David Letterman’s). Too often they seem obvious or self-congratulatory. But as I’m taking off for the holidays, for the next week and a half I hope you’ll find some interest in a countdown of the top ten things that enriched my life in 2008 in all kinds of different ways.
With best wishes to all for a Happy New Year!
I first discovered this dish at Art Basel Miami when I was looking for a quick and relatively healthy lunch and passed a McDonald's. (I know - oxymoron time.) But their salads really are quite fresh and depending on whether you add chicken and how you have it (grilled or crispy) you can moderate your caloric intake if you want. Most importantly, due to the unexpected mix of ingredients and the piquant Paul Newman dressing that comes with it - it makes for a surprisingly sophisticated and tasty meal.
Back in New York I tried it for lunch again with my assistant Julia, who not only gave it a big thumbs up, but a few days later went out and got it again!
So in tribute to Paul Newman, appreciation to McD's for the adventurous offering, knowledge that you can probably find this all over the country, and realization that even for us picture people there are other senses to care about - the Southwestern Salad takes a surprise spot in the Top Ten.
I get the crispy chicken, but ask them to leave off the glaze.
Buffalo, New York. 2004
For my last post before I begin my second annual Top Ten countdown, it seems extremely apt to show a selection of pictures by Alec Soth that are currently on exhibition at Haunch of Venison gallery in Zurich. (Thank you Maegan for uncovering these.) Soth has become the photographer who I think most has his finger on the pulse of our times both in terms of his aesthetic and his content so it is not surprising that the show is titled "The Last Days of W."
I had wanted to include Soth in my current "Sander's Children" show, but there wasn't an image available for loan that I felt was one of his best or was appropriate to the scale of the show (most of Soth's prints are very large and I felt would have overwhelmed the installation). However, if I had seen the photograph "Kayla, Martinsville, Virginia" pictured below, I would have tried very hard to get a print for the show. As there is now quite a bit of interest in my doing a book based on the show, however, there should be plenty of opportunity to include many images I was not able to include.
Soth's Zurich show is titled "The Last Days of W." and here is what the press release has to say:
Acclaimed American photographer Alec Soth (b. 1969, Minneapolis) presents an incisive pictorial statement about the final days of President George Bush's administration for his first exhibition with Haunch of Venison Zürich. Entitled 'The Last Days of W.', the exhibition features photographs that have been taken in North America over the last decade and which, in the artist's words, represent 'a panoramic look at a country exhausted by its catastrophic leadership.'
Opening shortly after the much-anticipated US election, 'The Last Days of W.' critiques the devastating impact of George Bush's presidency on the American people. While it includes some portraits, the exhibition will focus predominantly on landscapes, taking a broader look at the social crisis and urban decay that has been Bush's legacy. All the images have been made during Soth's extensive travels around the United States, and picture many different milieus: West Point, Texas, Detroit, California, Alaska, West Virginia and the artist's home in Minnesota.
Of the twenty odd photographs, a number are entirely new, some have been taken from past series such as 'Sleeping by the Mississippi' or NIAGARA, and others derive from assignments that Soth has undertaken for various print media. The selection will reflect the scope of the stories that have captured Soth's imagination during President Bush's two terms in office: stories about mothers of Marines serving in Iraq, religion in the American workplace, the biggest landfill in America and the mortgage crisis in Stockton, California. Brought together for the first time, they constitute a 'celebration/requiem for the Bush era'. Rather than the myth of the American Dream, these images evoke the decline of the American Empire.
A newspaper, conceived and published by Soth, accompanies the photographs in the show and complements their socio-political commentary. Within the critique, however, a certain weariness persists, with the artist acknowledging the ultimate futility of resistance in the face of gross injustices and abuses of power. Soth concludes: 'In assembling this collection of pictures I've made over the last eight years, I guess I'm not really trying to accomplish much at all. But as President Bush once said, "One of the great things about books is, sometimes there are some fantastic pictures."
I'm a sucker for violins, cellos, etc. playing behind a song. So when I heard this performance by Lou Reed on a recent David Letterman show it jolted me out of my dozy state into one of rapture. If you don't like slow songs, I understand, and I'll make up for it with something more upbeat next time.
Happy pre-Christmas weekend.
On November 6, I wrote a post about Callie Shell's photographs and the photo essay “The Campaign from Obama’s Point of View” in which I expressed the thought that a reference to Paul Fusco's "R.F.K. Funeral Train" would have been in order. In a situation like this, I half expected a response from the photographer, but there was no reply for a month and a half. Then yesterday I received this e-mail from Callie Shell:
Dear Mr. Danziger,
Your recent blog post concerning my photographs from the Obama campaign has made some assumptions that are incorrect.
Firstly, because Michael George made a comparison of my work to that of Paul Fusco’s, you feel that I appropriated, imitated and ripped-off Mr. Fusco’s work.
Wow, that’s really unfair and wrong.
I began photographing in this manner around 1992 during the presidential campaign - continuing on for the next eight years as a White House photographer. For me it has been a personal project and quite frankly a way to kill time traveling at full speed in motorcades, staff vans, buses, trains, helicopters or airplanes. I have continued this work since 2001 as a contract photographer for TIME.
As I’m sure you are aware Mr. Fusco’s essay was photographed in one day in 1968 and sat unpublished until 2001. The work was virtually unseen until the first exhibit in Perpignan, France in 2000 at Visa pour l’Image.
I am a great fan of his work but I didn’t copy him.
I also didn’t copy Robert Frank’s work from a bus, Lee Friedlander’s from a car or anyone else’s work for that matter.
Many photographers have effectively used a personal vantage point to make photographs, that hardly makes a case for appropriation or theft, as you imply.
Your comments as to the poetic or compositional height of my work as compared to his are well taken even in this apples and oranges comparison.
I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t edit this essay or have any control over it. I didn’t even know it was going to be put up on the site. It is definitely not the edit I would have made.
These photographs are indeed just O.K and to have said they were inspired by Mr. Fusco would have been an insult to his work.
My entire body of work is indeed inspired by the work of Mr. Fusco and many other committed photojournalists from whom I have learned so much from in my career. I feel the body of work I have produced for Time on the 2008 campaign says a lot more than the one site in your discussion.
In the journalistic world you have accused me of plagiarism, something that I don't take casually.
I would ask you to reconsider your initial post.
I wrote this reply:
Thank you for your e-mail. I had some reservations about posting the piece, mostly because I try to take pains not to use my blog to be negative. But as you perhaps realize, I am very close to Paul Fusco and his work and when the similarities were brought to my attention, I did feel somewhat indignant on his behalf.
On re-reading my piece just now, I actually think I was quite careful and measured in what I said, but nevertheless I am happy to hear your side of the story as well as to take you at your word. I will publish your letter right away without any further critique of the work. Would you like to send me a selection of j-pegs of what you feel are some of your best Obama pictures? It would be nice to run some of the pictures that you would personally select.
Lastly, I would be happy to meet in person either at the gallery or at a more convenient place for you.
I have not received a reply. So I took in on myself to look up what I could of Shell's work and reconsider my initial post as requested.
As you can clearly see from the the pictures above and below, Ms. Shell is indeed a talented photographer who reached the heights in her longstanding coverage of Obama himself. With regard to the Fusco point, however, I think she doth protest too much. Neither Frank or Winogrand's pictures have the same photographic perspective or political context to Shell's TIME photo essay whereas Fusco's do. As to the edit being out of her hands, that should be a lesson for every photographer.
I hope one thing readers of this blog have come to see is that I try very hard to use the blog for sharing a love of good photography, not critical dismissal. So while I still stand by my original post on “The Campaign from Obama’s Point of View”, I'm absolutely delighted to share my new appreciation of a larger view of Shell's work and I'd be happy to exhibit a good edit of her work.
On November 17, I did post another of Shell's pictures that I considered a "better" picture and a link to a better selection of her work. Click here and scroll down. But I understand and appreciate her need to address the earlier post.
They must have spiked the water! For the second time in a week The New York Times is rockin' the front page of the Arts section with this great photograph by Jason DeCrow of Neil Young in concert at Madison Square Garden. Could this be a small part of the solution to the crisis facing newspapers?
Sometimes The New York Times really does take you by surprise! I was sitting at home Saturday morning reading all the bad news in the paper when I got to the Arts section and va-voom ... this was the front page they had put together to report on the passing of Bettie Page!
Bettie Page was not generally known in the 1950s when this picture was taken. She came into pop-cultural consciousness in the late sixties as a symbol of the hypocrisy of the previous decade. But as often noted, it was her ability to appear wholesome while being photographed in all manner of S&M poses that was the source of her appeal. Counter to this notion and in the context of the great American pin-up, she was probably the first person of any name recognition to hint at the possibility of something pleasing and erotic in the unconventional. Sadly, she never seemed to have had much happiness in her life, but her pictures gave a great many people pleasure including, apparently, whoever at The Times was responsible for this layout!
Obama/Hendrix Mash-up from michael murphy on Vimeo.
Michael Murphy has just released a mash-up video combining Barack Obama's acceptance speech with Jimi Hendrix's 1969 Woodstock rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. Done in rotoscopic style, Murphy has synced up both video clips without altering either time code. A viewing note - wait to let it load.
As you can see, I had the unexpected pleasure of a visit from Rineke Dijkstra today, in town for the Marlene Dumas show at MoMA, and coming in to see the "Sander's Children" exhibition. (That's her picture in the back on the right and an August Sander she was particularly drawn to on the left.)
Sander, left; Dijkstra, right.
It's always an interesting experience to go round a show with any photographer and other than the Sanders, Rineke's favorites seemed to be the Tubkes, The Sartorialist pictures, and the Avedon of Dylan. When I told her that Sart's pictures were digital she was completely intrigued, going so far as to write down the name of his camera (the Canon 5D).
While I usually feel it's intrusive to take a famous visitor's picture, at this point (and for the sake of the blog) I asked if I could take her picture and then she wanted to see my camera, the Panasonic DMC L-1. But as you'll see from her picture of me, my decision to stop shaving for a couple of days and pull out a shirt from the bottom of the drawer were not in my best photographic interest. Oh well, there's always photoshop.
Lastly, as recommended, I went to the opening of Jorg Colberg's show "Bare" last night where my favorite picture was one that is surprisingly not included on the Mazzeo Gallery website. It's from Jennifer Loeber's series of Brooklyn nudes and aside from the obvious beauty of the subject it's a wonderfully luminous shot.
How's this for a concept - a show that opens and closes on the same day! The show, called "Naivete" features 14 different artists and takes place this Friday between 8 and 10 p.m. at 286 Mulberry Street in New York City. Among my favorite pieces, a Yosemite picture from Reka Reisinger's series of photographs of her cut out self-portrait shot in different environments, and this silly tower by Michael Marcelle.
Sadly, after 28 years in a coma, Sunny Von Bulow passed away this week.
Her husband, Claus Von Bulow, was always a dandy, but at the time of his trial (where he was first found guilty of intentionally overdosing his wife with insulin, but subsequently acquitted) he had a smarmy quality that made him quite repellent. Now, however, as this picture in The New York Post shows, he has aged into a fashion plate that I imagine my friend The Sartorialist would love to photograph.
This post is clearly about style, not justice - the point being that news pictures can grab you for all kinds of reason. In this case it's the tilt of the hat, the cut of the coat, the one glove on/one glove off, the cane - more accessory than crutch, even the white beard. But while it's nearly Christmas, remember this is Claus, not Clause!
After an art fair, there are always the questions - what did you like best; what stuck with you? And of course it's usually things that are different than what you see every day, so it's not surprising that for me it's often paintings. But this time it was also little gems that stood out. I read Roberta Smith, The New York Times chief art critic's piece, and apparently what stood out for her was a multi-story installation that was a re-creation of a meth (as in the drug) lab - a messy, sprawling, journey to the dark side. Well, take away my press credentials. One of the standouts for me was this little Wayne Thiebaud at John Berggruen of a group of doughnuts! A beautifully executed, mouth-watering, life affirming piece of color pop.
My favorite photograph was a repeat from last year - this couple dancing by Malick Sidibe. Again, the gesture and the moment are just so sweet - her bare feet, the way their heads are almost touching, the formality of their clothes - to me it's a picture of young people in the act of falling in love.
And for my last pick, this drawing titled "Ice-cream Girl" by Will Cotton seen at the Glenn Horowitz room at AQUA. For those who don't know his work, Cotton is a highly skilled figurative painter whose works combine fantasy images of women and desserts! He shows at Mary Boone, so a contemporary aura surrounds his work, but I love the old master quality of this drawing, the red pastel it's done in, and in particular the confectionary swirl of the subject's hair. Sweet!