Monday, June 30, 2008

the oracle @ wifi

i am a great fan of divination. the free interpretation of visual symbols—cards, tea leaves, palms, entrails—has long provided a safe and figurative framework for analyzing the events happening around us or the emotions inside of us.

the "Oracle @ WiFi" by Beth Lilly is both an interactive art project and also a system of divination, in the manner of the I Ching or tarot cards. when Beth-as-Oracle receives a call from a client, she takes three photos of her surroundings and emails them to the caller. then the caller emails her back with what their original question was.

the results are some fun and sometimes thought-provoking juxtapositions. i picked a few that i liked above that also integrated portraiture. they are called "what will the earth be like in 50 years?" and "when will i finally make some money?" (click to see each bigger, Blogger does not love horizontal images.)

if you would like a reading yourself, here are Beth's instructions. on the 7th day of each month (just like the original Oracle at Delphi):

"If you'd like to participate...

1. Write down your question so it's clear in your mind.
2. Call my cell phone at 404-805-5431
3. Keep your question secret!
4. I'll take 3 images at random and email them to you.
5. You reply back with your question"
(seen via lensculture)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

words worth a picture: amy hempel

i ran across a passage in The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel tonight that is much more arresting than most of the photographs i've seen lately. (especially since i am one of those people of the mind that photography is closer to writing in many ways than it is to other visual arts...)


"I took one more picture that night. It was after Grey had walked me home. He found a box of photograph corners, the black stick-on kind that frame the picture on the page. He opened up our album, pasted four of them in place.

It was Grey who took the picture; the picture he took was of me. It was candid—I wasn't posed—and the instant, the Polaroid, is what he used. When the blank square of film emerged from the camera, he tore it off and slipped it in the corners on the page, and then he closed the album cover before the image could develop.

That picture is something I lost in the fire."

from the story "Pool Night."

Monday, June 23, 2008


i just checked out DB Whitaker's site (after seeing one of his photos as a pic of the day on iheartphotograph) and enjoyed his approach. i love the top image, "undressed." (and there's a fun trick in the bottom one, "reach snow.")

Friday, June 20, 2008

subject echo: hair in branches

lately i have noticed a lot of ladies with their hair tied up in branches. it makes for pretty, romantic images. and perhaps it makes for thinking about girls, gender and long hair, nature, ties, and other metaphorical tangles. but what is it all about?

Julia Fuller-Batten's work (above, middle) is all about adolescent girls, so it would make sense to me if Hellen van Meene (top) were an influence. and Steffanie Halley, recently featured on Conscientious, is a recent SCAD grad whose project places women in the natural landscape... another theme we've seen a lot of lately.

my personal instinct would be that the bottom two are echoes—conscious or subconscious—that serve as aftershocks to the power of van Meene's image.

however, one commenter on Shoot! said that the second image above is a "direct reference" to Harry Callahan. is this true? if so, he would have set the trend off then, maybe even 50 years ago. but i am skeptical. i've seen Eleanor's hair, spreading out wet and stringlike. i've seen Eleanor's face, superimposed over grasses and branches. but i don't know an image of Eleanor's hair tied up into branches.

anyone care to school me? (or the commenter?) or share any other thoughts on this theme?

p.s. reader Suzanne's comment (below) is so right on—i definitely think that Sally Mann's "Yard Eggs" is another major influence here. the composition (and symbolism) is a little more complex than the three above, but the hair getting caught in the branches is definitely a punctum. it made me realize i've seen this image online, but not sure i have seen a print of it. the resolution of the jpeg is a bit soft, and i would love to see the detail better, especially in how the hair is caught (and not just blowing). thanks Suzanne!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

untitled hot shots

ooh, i forgot that the latest round of Hey, Hot Shot! competition and its related bloggery was going on right now.

i really like this photo by contender Jamie Campbell, who i remember seeing on Conscientious before. nice. the composition, pose, and colors just work for me.

it's from his newest, untitled series. the other shots in the series so far leave me a bit colder though. i think something about the lighting is turning me off. the draped, posed, and hidden bodies in domestic spaces remind me of something partway between the fictioned fantasy of Gregory Crewdson and the reality of something more like Taryn Simon's the Innocents. only with more humor and without the intensity of the point of view.

Monday, June 16, 2008

waffles, winter, and selfportraits

a while back, students Daniel Augschöll and Anya Jasbar sent me the link to their site, We Love Hot Waffles.

god, who doesn't? in honor of our shared love of hot waffles, i picked some of my favorite photos by Daniel (immediately below) and Anya to post up.

i don't think this first one is intended as a diptych, but they were side by side on the site, and i really liked them together (click to see them bigger).

Anya, meanwhile, has pretty great project titles. below, from "it's almost winter," and "it should be winter."

another of Anya's projects is called "When you're not here, i do my selfportraits."

Friday, June 13, 2008

nerve: a little off topic

your (nth) favorite blogger (i.e. me), plus some photos, some funnies, and some fire: here.

p.s. hello Nerve readers. do you like photos? if so, here are some of the smuttier (ha, ok, not really) Subjectify posts:

john currin and the pornography of the photograph

jessie mann on sexuality and buttless chaps

photographing virginity

how large is your negative?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


i just checked out Jodie Vicenta Jacobson's work. i was surprised i hadn't seen it before. she's a Brooklyn-based photographer and curator.

her latest project (including the middle two pictures, above) is called Hint. funnily enough, i'm having a hard time getting a grasp on what it's all about.

the Wild Project's statement about Hint says:

"Making pictures involving diverse subject matter, the artist’s thoughtful treatment of tender fruits, illuminated shadows and entangled limbs reveals a sensual, poetic sensibility. In Peaches, nestled between pillows, two luminous fruits touch, encircled by a curved spectrum of refracted light. The image communicates how a chance phenomenon can be transformed to evoke beauty’s dark side...Jacobson’s instinctual images give the impression of a deeply felt personal experience infused with a quiet appreciation of the darkness, hidden sensuality, and grandeur of the natural world."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

the times imitates art

here's a bit of a subject echo that hit me today while reading the New York Times article "Operation Lets Muslim Women Reclaim Virginity."

here's Ed Alcock for the Times:

and Taryn Simon from her project the American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar:
both photos have that klieg-lit surgical theater of apotheosized artificial virginity aspect going for them.

don't get me wrong, i love cyborgs. but don't forget: your subject is your main enemy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

subject as enemy

i recently read this quote and loved it.

"Your subject is your main enemy." Jan Banning

i like the idea of a subject-as-enemy theme. however figuratively one might take the meaning...

anyone inspired with any great portraits to share?

Banning himself has a fascination with (and one might say some problems with) global bureaucracy. here is one of my favorite photos, "Bureaucracy in Yemen," from Banning's series The Office.

some have said that "the desk is the real subject" of this series. i like that idea.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Stephen K. Schuster sent me a copy of his new book, Kelly, a personal project that is a study of his relationship with his ex-girlfriend. beyond Schuster's images, i really enjoyed the experience of looking through the book and thinking about its meaning and how it was put together.

to that end, i enjoyed the introduction by the ubiquitously delightful Jon Feinstein. not to mention the irony of his statement: "Looking at these photos, you won't know the details of Kelly's past or that she and Stephen's first encounter was a one night stand." of course, now we do know these things (and others). but how do they color a stranger's glimpse into an intimate relationship, and how do they intend to color it?

there are several lovely, fine-arty portraits in Kelly.

and also several provocative ones.

because Subjectify (and my brain) mainly focuses on questions of the interaction between the photographer and the subject, many of the portraits in Kelly beg the question of what it means to publish naked, happy photographs of your ex-girlfriend of two years...after the breakup.

the punctum of these for me is one vivid nude image in the middle of the book that is printed half and half on either side of the gutter—making it become, to me, a kind of subverted centerfold of the book. (my snapshot of this to the left.) Kelly lays on the bed, covering her head with her arms, and only upon cracking the spine firmly can you make out the wry smile on her face. otherwise her face, expression and form are lost in the fold. i found the way this was printed in the book to be very evocative. it works, and it made me think. it's also a beautiful photograph. i asked Stephen about the printing, and he said that the image is central to the book for him as well; and that he was urging his designer to lay it out it differently in the second edition. personally, i like the difficult layout choice (whether the effects of it are intentional or not), and i would stick with it.

because of the intimate nature of the photos, i do think that Stephen's inclusion of a few images of himself along with his subject is a good—and ultimately necessary—self-conscious touch. one place in particular where this holds true is the very last image inside the book; printed smaller, as a postscript, you see Stephen's hand on Kelly's chin, tilting it up, posing her, asserting himself as the photographer and her as the subject. the loved object. as a final image, it made me think of the Roland Barthes quote (not from Camera Lucida for once, but from A Lover's Discourse): "Absence can exist only as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is in a state of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is by vocation, migrant, fugitive."

as for the lovers' journeys, Jon Feinstein writes in the introduction that because of the nature of Kelly, "the viewer is confronted with a pastiche of photographic asides." in places "pastiche" seems exactly the right word. since these images were taken as, well, part of everyday life and travels and journeys, we see Kelly smiling for the camera on vacation, in a motel room, relaxing nude in a pool, giving her best suicide-girl look in the shower. as Stephen says "We both love to take off and the camera was always there." on their own, these images don't do much for me. but in context, the narrative builds in places into a pastiche of the snapshot, perhaps even a critique of the types of ways—even clichéd ways—we (photographers? Americans? lovers?) use and interact with cameras in our personal lives and relationships. i don't know if this is intentional, but it certainly inspired a lot of thought in me.

if you would like to check out Kelly for yourself, Stephen is selling limited edition copies here.

p.s. for blogger/photog Liz Kuball's take on Kelly, check out her post on it here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

political portraits

my friend Fletch sent me this link to an earnest Daily Kos post about the importance of professional photography to political candidates, especially in state and local campaigns. it gives Tester, Webb, and Kleeb as examples of candidates who have done right by prioritizing professional photographs instead of "crappy photos taken by the intern with a consumer digital camera." (of course, the Canon Powershot A590 and the Canon EOS 10D are kind of consumer digital cameras, but point taken...)

i thought it was interesting, first of all just to read about photography qua photography being analyzed in the discourse of a political blog. second, because the particular pictures in question aren't all that great.

but i see what he means. i was intrigued by the Scott Kleeb photo (directly above) because i thought it was so cheesy -- as though it were an HDR ad from some big energy company trying to pretend they were going green and loved ethanol or something. but it inspired me to go to his website and check out his other photos -- and goddamn this man is like a HOT GAY COWBOY. i'm going to move to Nebraska and vote for him. i think Kos might be on to something.

and now back to our regularly scheduled portrait programming. :-)

Monday, June 2, 2008


i just saw this photo by Gonzalo Puch of Spain for the first time (here) and i love it. i guess i missed it in Chelsea a few years back.

the setting reminds me a bit of Hanna Liden's scenes of water-and-fire tribal travelers, though less fictioned as a narrative. i think the image would be less compelling for me though, without the figure hovering over the spheres.

the Julie Saul Gallery says of Puch: "He creates situations or "incidents", generally in neutral environments... However, the events taking place are inscrutable rituals or quiet procedures which are both serious and comic. They appear to have their own logic in which we can recognize the elements, but not their organization, like words without syntax."