Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Babysitter

The Thanksgiving extended weekend is always a hard one, and this year was nothing different: it gets dark early, kinda looks like nuclear winter outside, no school for the kids or work to hide from. This year my wife is sick and I feel like I just am absorbing the children. Not enjoying them. Not sharing time with them. Just absorbing their energy , keeping them out of the house and counting down the hours until we can shut them down for the night. A bright spot on Saturday when we get word from our babysitter May Garson. She can take the kids, we can escape and try to relate and solve the problems of contemporary everything. A hike in Northern California when the sun is low and it is still warm outside can help you see so many things clearly. Revelations! They came! Gotta write this stuff down so we remember in the morning!
After bidding goodbye to the babysitter, I saw that she left these two drawings of our kids taped to the wall. Her interpretation of Eli ( subject of Echolilia ) and Wilson were so right on I didn't know what to say. She grabbed a design on Eli's shirt and allowed it to be a metaphor for his inner state and Wilson's colorful imp-ish qualities are captured perfectly.

all art copyright May Garson, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

TA and AH, Cafe Bernardo, Davis, CA. Photograph by AH
Popular blogger and accomplished photographer Andrew Hetherington of Whats The Jackanory fame was headed west. He summoned me via email for a meeting. The dates, times and locations, neutral territory of course, were worked out before hand.

Here before me on the sunny sidewalk of Davis, California is The Jackanory. His elfin presence is offset by bright eyes and a polite and formal manner. He seems cleaner and friendlier than the character on his blog. This is the man who can photograph bloody noses, black eyes, celebrities and politicians and make them all seem human and real. The stories of openings and partying that appear on his blog have faded. I realize this guy is a photographer first and foremost. The Truman Capote-esque, toast of the town persona he has created is really a tool to help him make photographs, meet subjects and deliver the goods on assignments.
What is the word from NYC, the photography capital of the free world? Not good. Andrew seems to be happy and optimistic, but obviously the layoffs and budget cuts in the industry are on everyone's mind these days. Layoffs at Time Inc, budget cuts at Conde Nast, magazines closing shop. It'd be nice to avoid this stuff but it is present...and all the more real for NYers than us out here in the west. Myself? I'm in denial. Can we talk about gossip or something? Isn't anyone having an affair or something? I try to see if they want to take a walk...get some sunshine amidst the darkness. His assistant Andrew Dolgin is sitting there, taking it all in. Can I slit my wrist with the butter knife? I can't imagine what is on his mind. I inquire. He responds:
I don't really care about the economy. What I do care about is my photography growing and advancing. That's all I'm really concerned with right now. It's all I can do anything about.
That felt good to hear. So good...I had to write it down.

LR: Hetherington, Dolgin at Cafe Bernardo, Davis, CA

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Talent Buddy Keaton waiting for direction. 10/08

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Snapshots From Automania

Bill Silveira lives and works in a place called "Automania". He seems to own an entire city block in Oakland in which he has cars, art, props, trailers...and lots of beautiful natural light. What more could we want for our shoot? The crew, above: Shaun Fenn, Veronica Sjoen, Jamie Thomas, Bill Silviera, Shannon Amos and Rachel Styer taking the snapshots.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Robert Bechtle / Commercial Photography

Alameda Gran Torino, 1974 by Robert Bechtle

I had been putting together a shoot for the past month that somehow involved children and automobiles. I didn't know what I really wanted to say, but I liked the juxtaposition of children...not old enough to drive, with large, epic, gas guzzling cars of an earlier era. I liked the sculptural qualities of the cars...I liked them as big objects that had their own personalities and I wanted them isolated on white. And the kids...? Well...I have been into photographing my 6 year old son, and I thought it would be neat to try to tap into the kid brain again...but packaged as a commercial photograph.
Shannon Amos and Veronica Sjoen are the stylists that I use as often as I can on all of these productions. Shannon calls me a few days before the shoot sounding like she just had a revelation: I realize what our reference point should be for these shots. It is the work of Robert Bechtle. The cars, the families, the body language and the clothing. His work is where we should be steering this project towards. I want to dress the kids in our pictures like the kids in his paintings.

I hadn't seen Bechtles work in a didn't trigger and immediate image in my head. A quick google search delivers the painting of the station wagon "Alameda Gran Torino, 1974 " and it all comes back. I think his work was stuck in my sub-concious...and this was it's commercialized cousin bubbling to the surface.
Shannon hunted for the props and wardrobe of a Bechtle painting. I hunted down the cars and the kids and we shot the pictures on Saturday. The images here are Bechtles paintings. I'll share my images in the days ahead.
all images copyright Robert Bechtle

Friday, November 14, 2008

American Photography Party in NYC

American Photography 24, the annual juried anthology had their party last night. Nah...I couldn't go...I had to take my kids out to a picnic in the redwoods of Marin while my wife went to Thursday night meditation class. Good bud Jonathan Saunders snapped an i phone shot while in attendance and sent it to me in real as I'm in the redwoods I get the shot and it's almost like I am there! Well...not exactly. Blue Nailpolish, 2007, an early image from Echolilia made it into the book and up on the walls of the show. See all the work from American Photography 24 HERE.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Magic Wand With Constellation

Magic Wand, 2008 ( top )
Magic Wand With Prescription Constellation, 2008 ( bottom )

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Optic Blast

It had been a grim week: there was the sugar high of the election followed by the harsh realities of the terrible economy and massive lay offs in the publishing industry. I'm escapist by nature, but every time I picked up the phone some photographer friend had something terrible to report. The mix of art and commerce that exists with commercial photography can so often leave a bad taste in one's mouth. Sometimes you wish you never tried to combine the two. But you did try and they behaved like oil and water: they are mixed together, they stand on their own, but you can never separate them.
Friday night the domestic gods smiled and let me escape to Object Agency, the Southern Exposure open house event put on by artists-in-residence Kamau Patton and Suzy Poling. Poling is a bud and she warned me this evening would be Archibald, please try to be there and please have your camera...this is going to be a freak out.

What did transpire was the antidote to the week's darkness: there is nothing as liberating as witnessing artists explore before your eyes and deliver the goods live. It is the art for art's sake, the stuff that is far away from commercial concerns, that can clean your slate and leave you inspired. One could sit there in the audience and take it all in, transported to a place where the previously mentioned oil and water were never combined.

all images from Object Agency by Patton and Poling at Southern Exposure, San Francisco, CA

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Note On A Saturday

Of course it's exploitative. Although many believe it to be true, exploiting something, or someone, isn't always a bad thing.- I. N. Galbraith, 11/8/08

Got this interesting note, above, in response to Q + A With Myself Again and it really made me think. No conclusions, but I liked where it was going. Photographers always seem to be ready to defend themselves against the accusation of exploitation. What if it isn't really such a bad thing? What if an artist embraces it?

You'll be graded on participation. Any thoughts? Who is embracing it these days? Roger Ballen? Shelby Lee Adams? Les Krims? Witkin? What does it really mean to exploit something...and is it always bad?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Last Halloween Post Ever

Above: Wax Vampire Lips and Teeth, 2008
Below: A Witch and A Bat Ring The Doorbell, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Used Car Dealership, El Sobrante, CA

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Mann, Goldsworthy and Nerds

Revenge of The Nerds (1984) is my favorite film of all time. When that is not on or my copy is lost, we must find other things to watch.

Finally got a chance to see the documentary Rivers and Tides, Working With Time (2001) about artist Andy Goldsworthy last weekend, and then dug into What Remains, The Life And Work Of Sally Mann (2008) this evening. I don't want to get into a big review, but again it is interesting to see what sticks in your brain after watching these things. Goldsworthy comes off as a true whacked-out artist who is shown communing with nature and molding it into his art in such an effortless and organic manner that he seems to be more plant than human. In the land, making his art, he is deep in the flow. He is at peace and delivering the goods...and he knows it. The crew later visits him at home at the kitchen table, surrounded by his children's play full energy while his wife cooks breakfast and he seems to be checked out of the scene: distanced, distracted, physically there but not present. That scene told it all...he just isn't meant for human contact. He can try to play the game amidst us humans. He can get a wife and have some kids, live in a house, etc....but he is meant to be in the land.

I had heard all sorts of great things about What Remains. Mann became the definitive Mom photographer with the 1992 publication of Immediate Family, her body of work on her kids. Now, 15 years later, I have kids and am trying to address it in my work, so I thought it would be cool to view this. I had always liked Mann's images, though I was always confused by their similarity to the work of photographer Emmet Gowin, whom I believe was her teacher. Gowin's work, no question, defined the genre of photographing family. I learned about his work early and am still moved by it to this day. But...we are here to discuss Sally Mann.


The documentary is lame: Mann could not be a more well adjusted and a totally grounded human being. Her kids, now grown, seem to have a great relationship with her. Her husband is cool and they love each other and seem to be best buds forever. I'm psyched for her, but all of this harmony makes for a boring documentary. The whole thing climaxes with an exhibition of hers being cancelled by Pace Gallery in NY. We never find out why this happened or what the deal was. Were they afraid it wasn't going to sell? Were they bummed by the subject matter ( dead bodies ) she was working with? Did they have a hot show by David LaChappelle they wanted to show instead?
The body of work she was trying to exhibit dealt frankly with death and decay, two themes which have always been in Mann's work, so this new body of work wasn't really a left turn...more of an extension of things she has touched on in the past. It looked great to me: it had the darkness of her work, but lacked the physical sensual wonder the children always inserted into the Family images. It was a new body of work for sure that stood confidently on it's own. Seeing this revered artist suddenly overtaken by self doubt, right in front of the film crew was a priceless moment for anyone who has dealt with artistic rejection ...which I'd assume is everyone reading this blog.
Watching The Mother Project, the documentary about Tierney Gearon a few months back kicked my ass and gave me license of sorts for my Echolilia project. I didn't get that from What Remains, but Mann did have a moment when she was discussing her Immediate Family images. She credits the kids with images totally, explaining the depth of self awareness and control the kids had to put forth to deliver these images to her. She didn't really take any credit for the images herself...and it rang true. Anyone who has shot a kid over and long period of time knows that feeling. The kid is delivering the performance, you are both sharing the experience...but the photographer is really just pushing the button.