Tuesday, April 28, 2009

all i want

Sarah McKemie's project All I Want has me transfixed. sometimes, when viewing photography projects, i have a hard time taking in a range of portraits that might seem a bit unconnected and don't have a project statement--it can be hard to find a way in. not with these; they clicked for me immediately.

i meant to post about them some months ago, but instead, started bugging Sarah to talk to me about them.  she was incredibly gracious to this pestering stranger, and so i'm happy to share her thoughts on "All I Want" with you.  i think they're thought-provoking and worth the wait:

In my current and on-going body of work, All I Want, I explore the push and pull of intimacy and the awkwardness of desire. Through my series of portraits I play with and examine the fantasies, obsessions, myths, and stereotypes about longing.

I am drawn to the way our bodies tell stories of confidence, self-consciousness, or humility. Through photography I look at rituals of adornment and gesture—the way we create and display ourselves for others, and how we define ourselves based on how desirable we think others find us.

The images I capture in All I Want recreate and document the innocence and complexity of my subjects, questioning the intricacies of sexuality that are undefined, and even celebrate this ambiguity.  -Sarah McKemie

some of my favorite images from the series are above.  i chose them before reading the statement, but now i like thinking about what this slice of images has to say about the myths we carry about intimacy, longing, and desire.

enjoy the rest of the project here.

p.s. greetings Blogs of Note visitors!  i hope you like photographerie!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

book week: to ettlingerize

Bookslut just posted today:

"I never understood why so many writers use Marion Ettinger [sic] for their author photo, since they all end up looking like those 19th century corpse photos. All of em."

thoughts, readers?  chime in in the comments.

personally, i have a bit of a soft spot for Marion Ettlinger precisely because her style is so stubborn, iconic, and recognizable.  high-contrast, pretentiously serious, black and white portraiture is not exactly a rare or unique style in the history of photography.  and yet her photographs can be spotted on site, from 20 paces across the Barnes & Noble.  whether you like her look--ye olde dodge and burn--or not, you have to admit she's made the most of it. 

there seems to be an uptick of discussion of her online lately, in the blogs, and in the news.  

for more, here is a comprehensive 2004 New York Times piece on the "Age of Ettlinger:"
"If you didn't know any better, you would think that Ettlinger's pictures were deliberate antitheses to earlier book-jacket photographs, something like the 19th-century French realists reacting to their romantic predecessors--only in reverse."

(and, more provocatively: 
"A portrait's function is to have no function except the representation of the subject.")

here, too, are Alec Soth's thoughts on Ettlinger and author photos, from his old blog:
"Ettllinger [sic] is a good photographer. But there is something off-putting about her relentless effort to make authors look like, well, Authors."

finally, i also think that Conscientious' recent comments on schtick have something to bear here as well:
"A well known photographer once told me that an extremely well known and influential gallerist had told him that the road to success was to find one's niche and then to simply produce work that way (think babies in "cute" dresses or Weimaraners or overly Photoshoped celebrities or whatever else you can think of). I suppose that works nicely if seen with the eyes of someone who knows how to sell work--after all, what appeals to people (and thus sells nicely) today should do so tomorrow, right?

But as someone interested in art as somebody's personal expression, it strikes me as listening to music where the record is stuck on the player..." 

so, my answer to Bookslut?  i agree with Soth's sentiment.  writers (or their publishers) choose Marion Ettlinger for their photographs because they want to look not like writers, or even authors, but Authors.  an imprimatur is a rather powerful thing.

your comments?

p.s. authors clockwise from top left: Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, David Foster Wallace.

Friday, April 3, 2009


continuing this week's book theme, i wanted to note Jenny Mathias' new project Circulation, in which the contents of illustrated books are photographed as the pages flip in long exposure.  her project statement says: 
"The long exposure compresses image and text, selectively highlighting certain aspects of the information conveyed by the book while obsuring other information the same way that the human mind selectively remembers or forgets certain images or ideas.  Mathias' images reveal an internal existence of books which cannot be viewed in real time, but only expressed through photography's ability to compres time into one static image."

it's a cool idea, and i like the results.  i enjoy the way the images are identical in composition while different books offer different ideas or nod toward disparate genres.  the top image conjures up thoughts of spirit photography, whereas the bottom one makes me think of the use of collage in fashion design.

Jenny's show opens Monday, April 6th at the Pratt Institute Media Arts Gallery, 200 Willoughby Ave., Steuben Hall, in Brooklyn, NY.

p.s. i can personally attest to Jenny's longtime interest in libraries and oversized books.  i took this photo of her several years ago when we met in a class at Cooper Union: