Wednesday, April 30, 2008

portraits of her / portraits of him

i've been feeling a little uninspired lately by fine art photos that are studio portraits. i would love to see some that really shake things up, so please feel free to send them on.

that said, i like the photo above, by Asa Johannesson, very much. check out Johannesson's site to see the projects "Portraits of Him" and "Portraits of Her" (including this one from Flak Photo).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Monday, April 28, 2008


i saw this photo, "Watercrawler" by Mary Mattingly, on Hippolyte Bayard's blog, and i love it.

as Eric Gelber describes in an essay on her website, "Mattingly uses digital photography to create images of a world she believes humans will one day live in. Her imaginings are based on current scientific beliefs, which she imaginatively builds upon."

i like the science fiction ideas in her work a lot even if some of the fantastical images don't particularly grab me.

on the subjects themselves, Gelber writes: "People in these photographs are completely inward. They don’t address the viewer or other people within the frame and they are completely absorbed by the imaginary devices Mattingly has equipped them with. They cling to them as they wander around the barren landscape or tinker with them in a complete state of absorption. Figures are half submerged in water, are plunged in a dense wall of fog or are completely alone on a desolate shoreline. Their facial expressions are blank. There is no room for angst or despair in this futurologist’s vision."

Friday, April 25, 2008

subject echo: in rainbows

i suppose there is something i could say about the proliferation of prismisms in photography as a reflection on the process of bending light through glass to create color images.

but really, ooh rainbows! and prisms!

(photos from top: Hannah Whittaker, Davin Youngs, Davin Youngs, Melanie Schiff, Melanie Schiff, Peter Coffin)

update: here are a few more rainbows from Ofer Wolberger and Wolfgang Tillmans:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

interior exposure

with a title like Interior Exposure, you knew it wouldn't be long until i posted about Jessica Todd Harper's work. i had seen one of her photos on Conscientious a few weeks ago, but hadn't clicked through to her site because the photo featured there seemed pretty and bland to me like a wedding commission. well, i was wrong not to investigate further, because for a series that features the photographers family and friends, Harper's is really more interesting than most. most of the photographs in Interior Exposure are portraits of her family, especially the women in her family, hanging out together.

at first, i thought many of the compositions were a bit jumbled, too much like a messy living room, like real life. but i think they really build with succession, and i realized she was doing interesting things with layering the people, the poses, the objects, the surroundings―and yes, the mixed light in long interior exposures.

her work has been called painterly, and i definitely see that. however, the International Center for Photography's blurb also says that her work "harks back" to "the contemporary photography of Andrew Wyeth..." come again?

she'll be signing copies at ICP on June 6th.

Monday, April 21, 2008

i really like these photographs by Paul Herbst. it looks like he recently took his website down, but his photos are on Flickr.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

subject echo: the float

what is it about the float?

is it the subject's total abandon? are freedom, relaxation, abandon, fear of drowning, etc... feelings we are trying to capture in photographic work?

more practically, is it because we float during vacation or leisure, times when photographers are more likely to have their cameras handy?

is it a romantic meme gleaned from art history?

has the visual proliferation of floating images just reinforced that floating is something to take photos of, creating a reproductive cycle of float photos?

or am i missing the boat here?

comments, please, on floating the subject. (and more links!)

(the images above are by:
Davin Youngs, Doug Dubois, Jérôme Icardo, Mikaylah Bowman, Justine Kurland, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Dru Donovan, and Richard Misrach.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

subject echo: picnic

well, it seems to be subject echo week; i'm not gonna fight it.

here's one more pairing that has always struck me as kin: Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne" (1938) and Nan Goldin's "Picnic on the Esplanade" (1973).

what a difference 35 years makes.

i first saw Goldin's photo in the Phaidon 55 book of her work. the caption reads: "This photograph, among the first Goldin made in colour, shows many of the features that made her one of the first and foremost exponents of the snapshot aesthetic. This Easter picnic by the river in Boston shows Goldin's 'family' at that time, one of the happiest periods in her life. She was living with a group of drag queens, her heroines, and had already amassed a huge body of black-and-white photographs of them. It shows her lifelong obsession with social rituals and the pleasures of communal life."

it's especially interesting to me to contrast these two photographs knowing that this was one of the first shots Goldin took in her transition from black and white to color.

it also strikes me that Cartier-Bresson's image observes the two picnicking couples from behind, while Goldin gives the viewer their own seat at the picnic. which is her seat. at first the photograph does not appear as intimate as the work she became known for, but in that way, it is intimate, because the viewer is called to break bread with the subjects. (and celebrate Easter with them.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

kids on bikes (part two)

i got great feedback on my last post about finding a more contemporary match for one of my favorite Evelyn Hofer photographs: a melancholy image of an Irish girl on a bike. thanks for sending me your ideas and your own work.

Nick in London sent me some thoughtful powerpoint slides showing his thought-process in building a collection of photographic prints (his own subject-echoes). he found that he was collecting images that fit under the category of "people obsessed with guns," and that one of the images in his collection is a perfect fit for my kids with bikes theme: from Bill Owens's 1972 series "Suburbia."

other readers submitted photos of kids on bikes from their own archives. Mike Peters sent me this link to a photo he took in 1986 of a neighbor named Angela with her bike, from back when he "used to walk around town with a 4x5 over my shoulder." (that's hardcore!)

finally, Peter Bohler sent me the below photograph he took at dusk in Oregon a couple years ago. (i recommend clicking on the full-size view to see the girl's expression.) he muses that his subject also seems a little melancholy, and wonders "if it is inherent to the process of a stranger interrupting a child at play." good point! i hadn't thought of that. i like the photo a lot as an environmental portrait:

Friday, April 11, 2008

subject wanted: kids on bikes

i have always loved Evelyn Hofer's photograph of a small Irish girl on a large bike: "Girl with Bicycle, Dublin, 1966."

it's moving, sad, and the color and composition are just wonderful. for a few months i've been looking to do a 'subject echo' post on it with a more contemporary match. but i haven't found anything; certainly not anything as powerful.

do you have any ideas, submissions?
if you want to go out and shoot an homage, that would work too. :-)

below are two photographs i did find, and thought were worth noting: by August Sander (who himself rode a bike around to find subjects) and David Plowden.

(they're both a bit melancholy, too, no?)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

subject echo: michal chelbin and alec soth

when i was looking through Michal Chelbin's portfolio earlier in the week, the top image, called "Janna and Alona, Russia, 2003," caught my eye. it made me think of Alec Soth's photo "Mother and Daughter, Davenport, Iowa 2002."

both reminded me that i have seen a lot of photographers lately whose work is described as following "in the tradition of Diane Arbus and August Sander." and i realized that i have seen frequent comparisons to Arbus for Chelbin and Sander for Soth (perhaps gender lines have something to do with this, as well as Chelbin's focus on circus people and other "strange" folks). yet to me, Arbus and Sander are very different (you could even say that Sander's universalizing eye was critiqued by Arbus's more minoritizing one...)

here, both Chelbin and Soth are exploring the idea of ethnography in their respective projects "Strangely Familiar" and "Sleeping By the Mississippi." what does it mean to go out with your camera and try to capture a people or a place (or the spirit of one in the other)?

so, just a sketch of an idea here... but back to the photos themselves — they have the echo of the legs and a similar bit of a louche air in the mood. Janna and Alona are Eastern European child circus performers, and the Mother and Daughter are in a brothel along the Mississippi in Davenport.

both might seem exotic to the viewer, but it's just everyday life for the subjects, and if nothing else, you could say both are "strangely familiar"...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

subject echo: daniel shea and marco bohr

i started posting 'subject echoes' as a way for me to sort through and note little connections i make between photos in my head...

i love Daniel Shea's top photo from his project "Removing Mountains," so when i saw Marco Bohr's photo on the Royal College of Art website, my first thought was to wonder whether they were conspiring to remove the sea.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the birds of appetite

i'm not sure why, but the second i saw the top photo from Helen Maurene Cooper's project "Birds of Appetite," i was super super excited about it. i loved the posed fakeness of it, but i wasn't sure why. the top image, titled "Deep Inside Crystal Lake," has this faux-nostalgic, Adam & Eve / Ken & Barbie vibe that i would not ordinarily expect to love...

but when i found out that the project is made up of self-portraits, i loved it even more, and it made much more sense. (another great one here.)

the images question heterosexual clichés, and place the viewer in an interesting situation as voyeur and something more, too. the estudiotres gallery website says that Cooper is questioning "The dichotomy between, the synthetic and the real, romance and sex, the exchange of power between male and female bodies, and the relationship of the body to landscape." i do see all that in the photos. but "Birds of Appetite" has something extra that the descriptive words don't capture—a real point of view, a consistent visual style, and a lovely sense of mystery.

something to think about while you Return to the Blue Lagoon and go Dirty Dancing...

(thanks for the link, Conscientious!)

Monday, April 7, 2008

strangely familiar

i was excited to see that the monograph of Michal Chelbin's project Strangely Familiar came out this month from Aperture. the first photo of hers i saw was the one of a man holding a girl in a pink tutu (in this 2006 PDN article), and i feel like after you see that photo, you can recognize any other photo in the series as hers. projects about circus performers (in this case Eastern European troupes) are certainly not uncommon, but her take is very distinctive. she reminds me of a colorful Diane Arbus; i'm sure that comparison has been made many times before.

like Subjectify, Chelbin makes her home in Brooklyn. she'll be speaking at Aperture in Chelsea on Tuesday, April 29, 2008.

her photos of adolescent girls are often highlighted, but i especially like her images of boys and young men. the image above is part of Blind Spot's auction. it says that it is by "Michael Chelbin," but somehow i am guessing it is Michal... for $1,500, it could be yours. or, buy the book for $30.

what do folks think of the cover?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

shooting yourself

i love getting submissions, so please keep sending them. this project is a little different for Subjectify: Aaron Hobson creates digital, panoramic, fictionalized scenes, starring himself. they have that CinemaScope look, and indeed, he calls himself the cinemascapist. most have an ambiguous sketch toward a (semi-autobiographical) horror plot contained in the single image, with Hobson often doubling himself into two subjects.

it's interesting because i think that digital photography, digital video, and the move toward HDR and CGI in both, are bringing photography and film closer together than ever. the second photo above, "Baggage," looks especially to me like a still from a video game. Hobson says of shooting himself: "I find I'm too shy or timid to shoot or direct others, but in the end that has helped me more than hurt me."

he also has a blog titled "I shot myself, they did too."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


you didn't think i was going to let the week go by without talking about this photo from the "Students of Virginity" article in the New York Times Magazine, did you?

in the past, i've discussed the way in which editorial photography stands apart from other portraiture. in this case, the editorial perspective is fairly extreme. the article seemed to me bent on portraying Janie Fredell of Harvard's True Love Revolution chastity club as a someone who is certainly determined (and chaste), but maybe a little annoying or misguided (oxytocin bonds you like emotional superglue to your first sex partner?). maybe that was the reporter's take on her, or the editor's, but it seems to have seeped into the art direction for the photography as well. or is it just me?

Fredell stares at us fiercely in Katherine Wolkoff's portrait, without a smile — though her fierceness is a bit offset by the casual drape of her arm. the photo caption tells us that "virginity is extremely alluring," as she says, and indeed both the virginity and the allure are present. it's hard to know, in the collaboration between subject, photographer, and editor, just whose choice it was to pick a bright clean white room, a white eyelet blouse with a gathered hook & eye bust, or the saintly backlit window light, which in turn makes the focus a bit soft all over.

(question: is the real punctum her deep philtrum, or the hint of a locket tucked away under her blouse?)

did anyone else react to this picture? or the ones of Harvard's other True Love revolutionaries?

to see more of Katherine Wolkoff's work, check out her site here. i especially like this project, and i like her new work on deerbeds.