Thursday, December 30, 2010

Abstractolator No. 1

outer space without getting into a space vehicle

Here's my first official Abstractolator photo. (I am the Abstractolator, at yoru command.) And it's kind of literal, after all that. Stars! Paul Light sent the text under the photograph, and I did my best to make it happen. Anyway, send your descriptions, audience, such as you are, please! Just a word or two describing colors and composition to and you will see your words realized photographically. (See the previous post for full explanation.) Thanks, Paul!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Describe an Abstraction

Friends, family, acquaintances, and complete strangers: I need your help. Just describe a painting or any abstract work of art. I'll do the rest, using your description as the "idea" for a new photograph. The point? I want to experiment with how words connect to objects, and how form and content are connected. Also, I've run out of ideas of my own and could use a few handouts.

Just describe any abstract work that has lodged in your mind. Your description can be very brief, but please at least mention color and composition. I am interested in your memory of the artwork, so it's best if you don't consult the image or tell me the artist or title. You don't have to be elaborate or eloquent. You can even be brief and sloppy. (See example below.)

Your words will become part of the artwork, and I'll post both here.  (Let me know if you don't want your name mentioned.)  To send your description, just use the comments section on this blog or email me at

Thanks! I hope I'll have tons of new "ideas" to work with. I'll post the photographs as I do them in the order received. And I promise to do a picture for every idea posted.


Here's an example, supplied by my wife, Margaret:
“over a gray background, a dance or tangle of white, red, and black lines, maybe some green or yellow ones, each culminating in a small pool of color. it may be the product of a disordered mind but to me it looks gay in the old sense or joyous -- color and lines are joyous.”
Here's the picture.
My photograph, based on a my wife's memory of an abstract painting.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Abstracts

Photo by Paul Smith.
Painting by Clifford Still
My studio photograph, composed according to my memory (without consulting books or the web) of Clifford Still's painting.
The results of a Google image search for "peeling paint." There are many, many pages like this.

Lately, I've been mulling over a typical approach some photographers take to abstraction: "My photo of peeling paint looks just like an abstract painting!" (My series Artist's Statements is on a related topic.) Judging by the quantity of this work I've seen over the years, these "instant paintings" must seem like miracles--at least to the photographers involved. I like how it's a little like a game of "telephone," the message becoming garbled as it's passed along. Something undeniable remains, yes, but I'm just as interested in the garbling, maybe more.

My version of the Still (he was an American Abstract Expressionist) was made in my studio from a vague memory, photographing bits of string, tape and whatever was at hand to approximate Still's work. It's not really an homage to Still, exactly. It's an homage to all those photographers who take pictures of rusty old cars, walls of peeling paint, old barn doors, etc., and call them "my abstracts."

I have another related project in mind, and in a future post, I'll ask you, dear readers, for help and collaboration if you're willing. More in the next day or two.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Here's some new work, based on some pictures of bits so string, yarn, and tape that I took at Yaddo in January. For a while, I haven't known what to do with them. But I realized I could combine them with another project I'd been wanting to work on using artist's statements.

So here are a few images, each paired with a sentence or two from artist's statements found in the Web. You may need to click on the images to read the text.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Impressions of FotoFest Meeting Place 2010

Just to the left of the Downtown Doubletree, Houston, where I stayed for FotoFest 2010. Google Street View.

Here's something I don't usually do here: blog. I usually talk about my own work instead of blazing around the Web. But I since was at FotoFest, I thought I'd write about some of what I saw there, with no particular judgment or methodology applied. In fact, these are simply the people I bumped into and was somehow able to remember their names or retrieve their business cards. I'll do a couple now, and hope to mention some more people later.

Elizabeth Chiles is first on my list. I like this work because it sneaks up on you and it's smart. It perhaps looks precious at first, but at it's core, it's not at all. It's happy and skewed at the same time. The work I saw was presented small and was very refreshing. I met her standing at the "portfolio walk," when FotoFest invites the public to see the work of photographers attending the portfolio review.

Also just outside the hotel. I was indoors almost all the time, but when I ventured out, I was glad to get back inside to some fresh air. Google Street View.

Triiibe is the moniker of identical triplets Kelly, Sarah, and Alicia Casilio plus pro photog Cary Wolinksy. Nicer triplets you absolutely would not be able to locate anywhere. As ordinary citizens, they are as plain, upstanding and as meritorious as can be. But as Triiibe they fool around with identity and politics and the fungibility of idenitity, and maybe the entire universe, profoundly but lighthandedly. Cary does the photographs (the sisters are performance artists) and the superb, super-clean technique plays to advantage the basic shagginess of triplets dressing up, having a ball.

The Jackson Twins naturally follow Triiibe, and cover some of the same ground. However, they certainly have their own unique identity/identities (irony intended and apologized for, but I didn't feel so sorry that I delted it). I saw a snapshot of the five of them together somewhere and heard a rumor that they might do a project together. Power to identicalness!

Chris Harrison is a photographer who is from the north of England, so far north, in fact, not only does he seem to have a Scots burr (to my American ear), he seems to have been strangely compelled to wind up living in Oslo, Norway. For me, the short, incisive paragraphs he uses to introduce the various series on his web site at least double the strength of his already meaty documentary photographs.

Friday, March 19, 2010

B: Q & A with Pelle Cass

Estimable Oregon photographer and blogger Blake Andrews has posted an interview with me. If you crave more (much more) of my wit, charm and verbiage, take a trip here. The subject of the interview is whether it's okay to digitally fiddle with photographs and why/why not. I'm a bit of a fundamentalist on this subject, and insist that artists have the freem to do whatever they want. But read Blake's blog and check out his work, which is free-wheeling, wide-ranging, and very interesting. If you carefully read the whole interview, you will be rewarded with the comedy of me actually using the phrase "our democracy" with zero irony and plus sincerity.


I'm going to FotoFest in a week (March 28-April 1). FotoFest is a big photo biennial in Houston, which runs something called The Meeting Place, a conference in which photographers show their work to curators, dealers, and collectors et al. in a sort of round robin of speed dating. Here's the list of the people who will be there. I'll see about sixteen of them as determined by the FotoFest robots. It's intense, and there's a lot of good work at these portfolio reviews, so I'm looking forward to mixing it up in Houston.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Another composite portrait. I'm trying to figure out exactly what I'm doing and where I'm going with these.


Here's another composite portrait, made by taking dozens of extreme close ups and piecing them together in photoshop. I like how they are distorted and strange, but it's hard to figure why. Being so close up is what does it, somehow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Purism: A visit to Blake Andrews's blog "B"

Oregon photographer Blake Andrews has written an interesting criticism of people like me who make composite photographs of people on the street. He points to my work (flatteringly, but with a breath of condescension) and the composite images of Peter Funch, Viktor Szemzo, and Manuel Vasquez as examples that can be "great so long as you understand that their methods are closer to Uelsmann than Cartier-Bresson."

Hey, I'm after the truth as much as the next guy. The debate about purism vs. the screwed-up stuff I do is not that compelling to me. Street photography and a kind of purist approach to photography was crammed down my throat in art school and was dominant in the photo biz for many years. My work partly satirizes it, Oedipally, if you like, and partly is just trying to do something different.

A response to a review of a show I'm in

I have one picture at Seattle's Photographic Center Northwest in a show called Exposed: Critical Mass 2009. Here's a link to a review of it (yes, I'm mentioned) by Pete Brook of the blog Prison Photography.

Pete's review makes the work sound pretty appealing, but what I was most struck about the work  reviewed was its do-goodism. If I sound dismissive of social conscience, I apologize, kind of. But I have little interest in this kind of work when it isn't formally or intellectually innovative. Occasionally, I'll be drawn to it as intended. In the PCN show, for example, Carl Bower's beauty pageants in Columbia are fascinating. On the other hand are the pictures dedicated to raising awareness of animal welfare by Mary Shannon Johnstone are not. The pictures are upsetting. They certainly confirm my opposition to animal cruelty and, not that I needed much persuading, to death in general.

It's funny how photography works this way, divided perfectly between form and content, window and mirror, subjective and objective, facts and truth, blah, blah, blah. But I guess what I want out of art is some sort of mystery or poetry or confusion, something that adds to what I know or, better, challenges the way I think or feel. I know there is injustice in the world, but the mechanism of the kind of photography I don't like has a formula--exposing ills leads to remedy--which I don't find nourishing at all, even though photography can help solve problems. That's a big "even though," I admit. Using photography to right wrongs is entirely commendable. The social good is surely more important than art. But I guess I'm self-involved jerk (but let's just say "a man of feeling"), because nothing is more important to me than art. William Carlos Williams wrote, "it is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there."

Thursday, March 11, 2010


A new picture, done earlier this week. It's hard to take pictures in cool weather, because people are generally scurrying to wherever they're going. I like it better when the mill around, which is why I like summer and tourists. I'm usually vague about numbers, but this picture took 396 exposures and 182 layers in photoshop. I stood there (at the supermarket behind the Prudential Center building) for about an hour. Alas, I did not time it.

What I find interesting about this picture is all the different levels and how people often seem to be inhabiting different worlds. I also like the way people's heads are just visible over the truck, and I plan to do a whole picture focused on the idea.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another Kind of Composite


I've started another series of composites. Where my Selected People are made up of many figures over time, these new portraits are composites of many extreme close ups of a single person's face woven into a single (very large) image. The other inversion (I'm big on inversions) is that these pictures look very much unlike their sitters. They are closely observed portraits that tell nothing of personality, mood, etc. They do tell you what the above person's nose, eyes, and mouth look like, however.

FM (detail)

My art historical inspiration for this is Edouard Manet, who sometimes fooled around with focus, blurring paint here and there in confounding ways that have little do with optical correctness. Click on the image to enlarge it, and you might be able to see what I mean.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Phoned In

Tone Gray
(click images to enlarge)





Sorry, loyal fan or fans for my absence here. I was away at Yaddo for all of January, working on, among other things, the above.

Since I was away for so long, I was lonely for my wife, Margaret. We talked on the phone four or five times a day. I heard what she'd been up to in detail. At one point, she described a painting she'd seen somewhere. "It looks like a white blob on a blue background," she said. So Blurt was begat. I started making many more abstract pictures according to phoned in descriptions. Thus was born the Phoned In series. It's about nostalgia and longing--for a distant past where color and form was enough. And it's about translating form into words and photographing them.

If you would like me to do a Phoned In for you, I will stretch the rules. Instead of phoning me, you can leave a description here in the comments. Just describe any abstract painting as briefly and simply as you can. I'll do the rest! (I don't know when I'll get to doing the picture, but I'll post the results here when I do. I don't know where it's going, but I thought I'd try it if people write in.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Back in the Real World...and It's Better

Things are screwed up here in the real world. But I just got back on Sunday from a month at Yaddo, and my show is opening at Gallery Kayafas tonight. So, although I did lots of work and made some friends, I'm glad to be home. The only thing troubling me today is, Should I wear a suit and tie or should I try to look hip in jeans? Dear 7 or 8 readers: I hope to see you there tonight!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vote for Me, I'll Never Lay to You

Greg Cook of the New England Institute of Aesthetic runs the New England Art Awards, and I'm one of the nominees for best artist in a group show. Click on the link above to vote for me and the rest of the worthies. My grammar may be bad, but I'm no layer.

I've been at Yaddo for a couple of weeks now, working very hard on some new composite portraits, of all things. My goal is to try all the genres and see if I can screw them up.

And the biggest news is that my show Selected People opens at Gallery Kayafas on Friday (Jan. 22 to Feb. 27). I'm away until January 30, but the opening is at the February first friday.