Monday, March 31, 2008


two shots by Estelle Hanania, from her project "Shady."

she says: "Everything in the series is made from this idea that what you see could be something else. I don’t work digitally, so I’m very interested in working with the photographic negative and this specificity. I wanted, in this series, to question the photographic medium, for people to ask themselves, “What am I seeing here?”"

makes me think, though, i don't even know what it means anymore to say "I don't work digitally..." (i mean, i get that literally, her photographic process is not digital. but well, it's digital now...)

(seen on This is That.)

Friday, March 28, 2008

these are my pictures (dot com)

when i first scrolled through Davin Youngs's portfolio on Fjord, i first noticed the photographs that seemed to my eye a little underexposed, a little blurry, or maybe a little generic. but the top photo, "Mary Floats," pricked me enough that i wanted to go back and look at more. i've seen a lot of photos lately of people floating in the water, but this one had a tweak on the perspective that i enjoyed, and that somehow makes you feel like the photographer has drifted pretty far out to sea.

when i went to Youngs's own site—found at the awesome URL—i started to feel that the photos with odd exposure or blur are coming out of an intentional persistence in documenting things no matter the lighting situation, which i liked more when seen in a larger context.

these three photos are from his project "Between Me and We," which has a few well-executed anti-portraiture staples, as well as the cool prism self-portrait above. (is it just me, or are the rainbows the studium and the nipple the punctum?)

overall, there is a lot up on his website, and i think the portfolios could be edited down to be a bit more focused. but then, these are his pictures, dot com, so i suppose, in the spirit of the project, i should take them as they are.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


i like this photograph, "Sheila," by Swiss photographer Matthieu Gafsou. it's from his project Extime, which, like much of Gafsou's work, is about the interaction of the individual in public space. (if intime is intimate, i imagine extime as "extimate"...)

from his project statement:

"Le pouvoir des espaces publics à conditionner notre façon d’être et d’agir, on peut l’appeler extime, par opposition à l’intime, cet espace intérieur qui est propre à chacun. L’extime est cette aptitude collective à s’inscrire dans un contexte social, à évoluer dans une géographie humaine. Dans la série du même nom, j’interroge le statut de notre relation à l’espace bâti, aux signes. Que devient telle habitation lorsqu’on l’extrait de son contexte, de sa finalité? Peut-on appréhender et habiter l’espace public autrement que de façon stéréotypée?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the chance is higher

i saw the Dashwood Books announcement today about Ari Marcopoulos's new book The Chance is Higher (regular readers will not be surprised to hear that i love this title). a cool thing about The Chance is Higher is that all of the black & white images in it (as above) were printed through a Xerox machine...pushing at the boundaries of what photographic reproduction means today. the cover image is obviously a show-stopper.

having just re-watched Basquiat, i was interested to learn that Amsterdam-born Marcopoulos joined the East Village art scene in the early 80's. he became Andy Warhol's assistant and befriended (and photographed) Jean-Michel Basquiat (anyone have a link to such photos?). since then he's done an eclectic mix of editorial, commercial work, and videography.

looking through some of his past personal work, the photo below jumped off the screen at me. it's called "Sho Ka Wa, Sonoma, CA (2004)." i love how it is so simple, but so beautiful. the ribcage and the pose illustrate his son's beanpole youth and freedom, but also add in an element that is a little shocking, a little macabre. in fact, the above cover image—of the healthy body imprinted with a specter of skeletal death—echoes the very same juxtaposition for me.

i like looking at them both together.

Monday, March 24, 2008

"cleansing" and "dragging one's heals"

one of my friends got me MP3 (a collection of three photo books by midwestern photographers) for my birthday, which includes Kelli Connell's book Double Life (which i wrote about previously). looking at the project in print i grew even more interested in the subject who poses doubly for Kelli's project. it turns out that she is an artist as well. the above images are from her blog, Borrowed Plumes...

i'd love to hear her take on collaborating with Connell, too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


i'm not a street photography person, but i like the way subjects are arranged in Matthew Baum's series Limelight. they seem like actors on a stage.

the full project is here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

subject echo

portraiture free association: what if Alec Soth's "Sydney, Tallahassee, Florida, 2004," grew up to be Tealia Ellis Ritter's photograph "My dreams are of my dad, alive doing mundane things"?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

the live creature

a week ago, i finally saw the 31 under 31 show at 3rd Ward (after trying to get in twice on opening night, with lines around the chilly block both times! must've been a crazy party in there.).

it was a cool show in a cool space (and Manya Fox's huge print looked especially awesome). one photographer whose work i had never seen before was Tealia Ellis Ritter, and i thought her portrait in the show, though a simple headshot, really stood out.

Ritter's latest project is called "The Live Creature" and the title of each photograph seems to describe the subject's "dream."

i believe the quote "The Live Creature" is from the title of an essay by John Dewey. without an artist's statement, we will just have to look to Dewey for the link between the project's title and the subject's dreams... in Art as Experience, Dewey wrote:

"I do not think it can be denied that an element of reverie, of approach to a state of dream, enters into the creation of a work of art, nor that the experience of the work when it is intense often throws one into a similar state."

hmm. i'm always interested in photographers who approach their work in a very textual and intellectual way. i especially question whether those things come across in the actual visual work. i don't know the answer.

but i thought the top image, above, was really stunning (despite the fact that i personally found the title "My dream is to realize who I truly am," a bit cringe-worthy).

the second image above is the one that was on the wall in 31 under 31: "My dream is to be an artist." go check it out (heck, buy it) at the gallery if you can—the print looked great.

Monday, March 17, 2008


recently, i've seen Jessica Bruah's work on 20x200, on Exposure Compensation, and in 31 under 31. her project is called "Stories," and the scenarios are self-portraits based on fictional stories. i'm a bit mixed on them, but maybe i'm just not grasping on to the stories they depict. she says that her current influences are "Tina Barney, David Hilliard, Anna Gaskell, Gregory Crewdson and Cindy Sherman." that's a lot of influences, but the 4x5 selective focus and the sense of miniaturized, fictional catastrophe here actually remind me of Corinne May Botz's project The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

i like the way the two images above look together little proliferations of paper leaves...

the top photo is for sale for $20 through the 20x200 project.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

goldin times

on Thursday i asked: "any Goldin photos of Tilda out there?" and what did my doorstep receive this morning but a fashion spread of haute couture shot in Paris by Nan Goldin. most of the photos have that signature Goldin blur and feeling of up-all-night hothouse tragedy. they are pretty cool though. (and Tilda looks amazing in Galliano for Dior.)

they have an audio slideshow up with music from Klaus Nomi. the whole thing is really quite strange, like a New York Times fashion editorial version of the downtown 80's art scene, only with actresses shot in $50,000 dresses in Parisian hotels.

Friday, March 14, 2008

quote of the day

"For me, blogs are not really interesting; I find it tedious to sift through opinions." — Thomas Ruff

(Seen on Conscientious and American Photo.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

transgression, hunter, tilda

i flipped through the latest issue of OUT Magazine today at my office, and i was pretty impressed by the photographs—which i guess i don't usually pay too much attention to in OUT or similar mags. i don't know if it was the fact that it was a gender-transgression themed issue that gave the portraiture that extra frisson... but with David Armstrong shooting Tilda Swinton, Ryan Pfluger shooting an article on trans fags ("Hunter" above, top), and Cass Bird doing her take on the fashion spread, you can't go wrong. three great photographers!

i'd seen some of Ryan Pfluger's personal projects, and i think i enjoy his editorial work just as much. he also has a blog.

and i have such a crush on Cass Bird. inexplicably, you can see her do a Michael Jackson dance routine here.

p.s. in the OUT interview with Tilda Swinton, she mentions being up all night shooting with Nan Goldin. and the accompanying photographs are by Goldin's longtime collaborator David Armstrong. strange, right? any Goldin photos of Tilda out there?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

mediating famous art through famous photographs

i was reading Sophie Howarth's essay on Thomas Struth's photograph "San Zaccaria, Venice, 1995," in the book Singular Images, and this passage struck me:

"If one tries to imagine for a moment viewing Struth's photograph in its intended setting of the museum rather than on the [internet], the significance of what this [tourist] couple are doing in relation to what we are doing becomes more evident. They have come to admire the Bellini just as we have come to admire the Struth. Our act of looking incorporates their act of looking. And more importantly, Struth's act of representation incorporates Bellini's act of representation. So what we have is a set of relations between figures (us, tourists, saints, Madonna and Child) and between artistic media (film, photography, painting, architecture). Or more accurately, a set of relations between mediators and media since the tourists mediate our view of the painting but traditionally the saints mediate between worshippers and the Holy Family."

although this isn't about portraiture per se, i thought it was very relevant to the ongoing investigation on this blog about how viewers encounter a photograph...

and if you want to muse on this while viewing the photograph in its "intended" setting of a museum, it is part of the Met's Depth of Field collection of contemporary photography, which is where i first saw it. you can read the Met's take on the same photo here.

(Artnet has another cool article on Struth's work.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

interview part two: daniel shea and caitlin arnold

today, part two of yesterday's interview with Daniel Shea and Caitlin Arnold. the photos above (by Daniel, top and Caitlin, below) are more that can be seen on their websites.

now we get to the juicy stuff: subverting the idea of the democratic power of pictures, wrangling with the subject, and close readings of Daniel and Caitlin's favorite photos by each other....

Daniel: So would you describe yourself as a portrait photographer? Is that important? Does it some how set up a frame of reference both historically and conceptually?

Caitlin: Yes and no. I know that some of my strongest images happen to be portraits but there are other photographs of mine that are equally as successful because they ad context to the issue at hand.

I don't think it's important to label myself as a portrait photographer but I think we get labeled these things and it's hard to get out of that mold, you know? For the past seven months or so I've been photographing girls in adolescence, focusing on how fast they are maturing. Yes it's really hard to photograph maturity or the essence of it but I think that I'm starting to figure out what kind of pictures describe this time.

Daniel: That's a huge thing to tackle. Are you looking at the issue broadly or do you find yourself gravitating towards something specifically within that framework?

Caitlin: Lately in critiques we've been talking about moving in a more specific direction. I think that I've found it and now I have to actually take the pictures and make sure they work. I'm going to be focusing on mother/daughter relationships, recreating scenes from my adolescent years and getting input from the girls I've been working with.

Daniel: That's interesting. So are you going to stage these scenes with the subjects that you were previously more passively photographing?

Caitlin: The photographs depicting mother/daughter relationships I will be staging, something that's very new for me but I'm going to keep a positive attitude about it.

Daniel: I'm excited to see it. I think my favorite picture from that series so far is 9/12 on your site, the "girls" section.

All the visual elements are working in this image. It's the perfect starting point I feel for a work about girls today. There's a sense of awkward sexuality, that's really disturbing, and in case we don't get what's happening, we have the child cartoons to remind us on the wall. Which just happens to be a coyote chasing the effeminate road runner. Along with everything else happening.

Did you make her grab that pool stick? It's fucking disturbing.

Caitlin: That photograph is like the one that makes people really uncomfortable. I told her to hold onto them but never directed her to doing it that specific way.

What I find most interesting about directing people, especially young girls, is how they interpret what I say. What do you think about that?

Daniel: About directing people? Well I don't pretend to hide behind any pretense of objectivity in photography. I mean I can understand people doing that maybe 80 years ago.

So I direct my subjects constantly. I'll tell them to look at something, or not to smile, or whatever. I try to find that perfect balance of working the environment/person into a cohesive picture while upholding the integrity and idiosyncrasies of the subject. It's a fine line, but i think that makes or breaks a good portrait.

Also, you mentioned context earlier... All my work is about context.
It's about a context-based narrative, that emphasis my points of view and a limited sense of perception. I feel that when photographers do this successfully people are critical of image looking immediately.

And that's what's important to me above all else.
And this all ties into portraiture on a very primitive level.
One that predates photography, and that's the search for a ground to stand on when looking/relating/empathizing with another human. When people look at portraits and they can't figure out where they should be standing, they get extremely uncomfortable.

I don't buy into the democratic power of pictures. I know there was a conceptual push for that sort of ideology-based thinking in the 70's, but i think we're well past that.

Daniel: So I told you my favorite picture of yours
What's your favorite of mine?

Caitlin: Oh man there are a ton
But 15/33 under portfolio.
i just love her as a character. and i think from the information you have given me via text on your blog and from conversations, makes her story more interesting to me.

Oh and then 18/33

mmmmmmmmm i love it.
And i finally remember why I love it so much.
It's so delicate.
and weird. like, why is there one sock and a wash cloth?
It raises a lot of questions for me and I think that photograph has the quality that I look for in photographs. The good ones make me ask questions and keep my interest.
Do you agree?

Daniel: Yes. ha

Caitlin: ha awesome.

Daniel: What is the most difficult part of taking pictures of other people?

Caitlin: There are a couple parts to this for me. First it's getting people to understand what I'm doing and why I want to take their photograph. I can tell them til my face turns blue that I'm interested in young girls in adolescence and the differences they all have but sometimes they still don't understand. Another hard part for me besides getting them to understand is for them to relax. Most of the time I'm in their homes, which you think would make them relax but sometimes it's worse. I try not to get frustrated.

Some people either can't sit still or try to delay me from photographing and that's when I almost don't know what to do. There have been times where I've set up a time to come over to someone's house and when I got there they told me to leave.
And it wasn't the parent, it was the girl.

Daniel: That's sort of intense.

Caitlin: Yeah it was like, I'm not prepared to be photographed today, please come back next week.

Daniel: That's interesting.

Caitlin: Yeah that's why I'm so interested in photographing these girls. They do and say the wildest things.

Well let me ask you something
For you, what makes a successful portrait?

Daniel: Well, I sort of touched on that a bit, but overall it definitely depends on what you're going for. For me, in order for one of my portraits to be successful, ideally I'd like them to have some self-containing elements that makes them strong as stand-alone images, as well as elements that make them absolutely necessary in the narrative.

And of course there is the whole audience bit...
Uneasiness, confusion, interest, sublimely attracted, political indecisiveness, these are all things I would deem "successful" reactions from an audience.

Monday, March 10, 2008

subjectify interview: daniel shea and caitlin arnold

i have really enjoyed checking out the photographs of both Daniel Shea (above, top) and Caitlin Arnold, so when i recently found out that Daniel and Caitlin have been friends since high school, i was intrigued. today, both are fine art photographers and bloggers, though they focus on different topics (Daniel has a show about mountaintop removal in Appalachia going up on 3/28 at MICA, and Caitlin is working on a series about girls in adolescence).

instead of just posting up some photos by them, i asked Daniel and Caitlin to interview each other for Subjectify (thanks, guys!). i asked them to discuss their connection, their interaction in photographic communities (online, art school, blogosphere, and otherwise). part one of their conversation is below...

Daniel: We've known each other since high school. Did we have a photographic relationship at that point? I don't think we did.

Caitlin: i don't think so either. i know there was a punk rock relationship

Daniel: Yes, that's how we met. The good old punk rock. Every serious artist over 20 was a punk at some point in their life.

I still am. Are you?

Caitlin: no i got soft... but seriously something i find interesting is how the group of us after high school went off into the same fine art world.

Daniel: Well I think suburban punk kids often find refuge in their art rooms in high school. That's where I made my best friends, people that I'm still friends with today, and have had a tremendous impact on me.

I feel like at some point in college we both became obsessed with photography, again.

Caitlin: yeah, oddly enough, the internet brought us back together.

Daniel: And 4 years later we're in the same network of people. I think this would be a good time to talk about blogging. For you, is that a mix of getting your stuff out there and also participating in a art/photography community?

Caitlin: i think i started a blog because i was bored. i really started to take it "seriously" within the past year, showing new work of mine and then talking about art/photography.

Daniel: Do you feel like it's helped your "career"?

Caitlin: i can't really say. i know that the internet has seriously helped me though because people look at my website. there have been occasions where if if i wasn't linked, i wouldn't have gotten a job or an email.

Daniel: I mean, it's been said before, but that's the primary way of viewing photography.

Caitlin: for this generation of artists, yes totally.

Daniel: We started off when this was all ready the case though, so we have nothing to compare it to. For us, using the internet as a networking/exposure tool may seem like the only way to do it. However, all the communication benefits of the internet, when applied to photography, make it very obvious why it's such a great thing in some ways. For me though, I still use my blog in a traditional diaristic way. Not in a, "today I woke up and did this," but more in a way to emphasize the importance of process in photography.

Ok, enough about blogs, let's talk about our work.

Caitlin: well tell me what it's like to be out of school and no one is pushing you to make work anymore

Daniel: I love being out of school. I've always been simultaneously very grateful for the opportunities and privilege that art school allowed me to access while remaining very critical, and often, very, very bored. For a brief moment I thought being out of school would somehow make my life a little less clogged, but I work harder today than I ever have in my life. Working a full time job that is both physically and mentally draining at times (teaching), as well as working on your art full time is exhausting. But I would never give it up. I'm still completely obsessed with photography, thinking about photography, and making photographs. I look at some of my peers who don't feel the same way, and I realize that art school for a lot of people will be the last time they make work.

But I digress. Art school hardly prepared me for the "real world," but I've always been pretty independent and ready to work an insane amount to get something I want. So doing the grind, it doesn't bother me.

That was long and slightly convoluted...but what I'm trying to say is, yeah I'm doing fine outside of school, I was also self-motivated to begin with, so making work now isn't really a struggle outside of the Western elements (you know, time, money, etc.)

Caitlin: let's talk about photographers that we're looking at right now. who are people that you've been looking to for inspiration?

Daniel: Well overall the work I respond to most strongly are people like Roni Horn, Sol LeWitt, John Baldessari, Victor Burgin, Lynne Cohen, Richard Prince, etc.

They were all very important for me in terms of forming a critical eye.

But simultaneously, I love work from that period like the new topographics. And also the more rigid approach of German typologies.

New work though, I'm into Collier Schorr, Roe Ethridge, Beate Gutschow, Lars Tunbjork, Mikhael Subotzky, and others who bring fresh contemporary perspectives to the document.

Caitlin: Beate Gutschow spoke at Columbia recently. She's such an interesting photographer.

Daniel: Yeah she pretty much embodies everything I love about rendering landscape as a historical/critical motif. I know you look at a lot of portrait photographers...

Caitlin: I spend a lot of my time looking at photographers who focus on portraiture. I know that I have been focusing my attention the last two years or so on making portraits, so people like Hellen van Meene and Rineke Dijkstra are some influences of mine. I also think that some of the faculty here has been an influence on my work. Last semester I took a portrait class with Dawoud Bey which was a very stressful time but I learned a lot about how to work with the subject. And recently Columbia hired Kelli Connell, whose work I really love.

Daniel: Yeah they're all great. Dawoud Bey is incredible. His ability to present a social document so frank, but with so much room to explore is really inspiring.

Caitlin: Yeah, he's a great person to have on your side...

coming up in part two, Daniel & Caitlin discuss portraiture, working with subjects, and critique each others photographs.

Friday, March 7, 2008

L.E.S. artistes

although i don't know a lot about video, i think the interaction between photography and video is really interesting. i have been enjoying seeing former PDN 30 photographer William Lamson step into the role of video artist, and as The Year in Pictures pointed out, even Ryan McGinley seems to be getting into video (with the piece he directed for the New York Times that functions a bit more like experimental video than a "behind the scenes" clip).

with that in mind, i just saw this music video by Santogold for the first time, and i feel like i experienced it as photography in a weird way. (the strobe-flashes-as-bomb-metaphors definitely add to this.) maybe my head's just been in an art photography space for a long stretch. either way, check out the pretty pictures.

i can't help but root for this Brooklyn girl telling the L.E.S. artistes " just leave me out you name dropper / you don't know me / i'm an introvert an excavator" with a video (directed by Nima Nourizadeh) that out-hipsters them all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"unified by shadow"

Sarah Wilmer's images are often lovely, but her style is usually a little too slick, too staged and too Crewdson for my taste. but i do like the consistent mood she creates, and i like that her website portfolio has so many photos in it. it's fun to look through them all—two of my faves are above. i also like her Spiderchest project.

Wilmer was one of the PDN 30 last year, and she is represented by Randall Scott Gallery, which has an artist's statement for her work.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

the 30 & sub rosa

how exciting to come home to the PDN 30 issue in my mailbox! congratulations to all the featured photographers. i was especially interested to see Hot Shot Birthe Piontek listed, because i've been planning to head over to the Jen Bekman Gallery, where Piontek's work is showing right now as part of the Bekman's annual Ne Plus Ultra show. the show is up until March 15.

Birthe Piontek cites Anna Gaskell and David Lynch as influences, though i have to say i see a shinier, sharper shadow of Hellen van Meene in her work as well. the photos above are from Piontek's project Sub Rosa, which has received a lot of attention.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

portraits that tell a story

last week i got totally sucked in reading a New York Times article about Margaret B. Jones, the author of the brand new memoir Love and Consequences. the House & Home section article summarized Margaret Jones's story of growing up as a mixed white and Native American foster child in a large African American family in South Central Los Angeles—how she inevitably ended up in a gang dealing drugs, watching her brothers get shot, only to lift herself up into state college and a lovely 4 bedroom home in an up-and-coming ghetto of Eugene, OR.

i thought about posting one of the photographs that accompanied the article...i think because i had stared at the slideshow so intently and had thought a lot about the different lives and childhoods Margaret Jones and her daughter Rya (who Jones described as "the first white baby I ever saw") had experienced. Rya looked so blonde and girly, wearing skirts and loving fairytale canopies while breeding pitbulls and loving the gang members in her extended family... the contradictions grabbed me, and i felt that they were illustrated in the family photo. ultimately, i reminded myself that Subjectify is more of an artsy blog than a showcase for editorial photojournalism. plus, hadn't i already posted a critique of the construction of identity in the NYT's house/home/real estate portraiture?

today, i read the follow-up article in the Times breaking the story that the entire memoir was made up, and that Jones's real name is Margaret Seltzer who in their words "is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles...with her biological family." Seltzer had completely duped Scribner, Riverhead, and the New York Times. how was she caught? her older sister saw the above photograph accompanying Thursday's newspaper article and called the publisher to break the news. by contrast, here's the author photo that accompanied today's exposé:

reading the original article i did not doubt Jones's story at all; i was enthralled by it. but i definitely stared at those pictures in the slideshow for a long time, trying to make sense of it.

(update: Conscientious gave his take on editorial photography vs. portraiture—pointing out that editorial work troubles the photographer-subject-viewer triangle by adding in the expectations of the entity commissioning the photograph to illustrate the story they want to tell. it's a great point; thanks Joerg.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

flickr picks

it's always nice to come across something pretty and well-composed on Flickr. i like these fun portraits by Moscow photographer Natasha Klimchuk. (this one's cute too.)