Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fallen Petals

I've been walking around taking pictures this spring and summer, basically photographing cliches -- and thinking about them. It's funny how both the typology and the grid are such easy devices for photographers (and yours truly) to fall for. Flowers, too. Flatness, too. Painterliness (or maybe "painterliness," since the term is pretty loaded and almost meaningless and cries out for a little ironizing), too. And colorfulness. So the challenge: succumb to as many cliches as possible, but still do something as original as possible. I'm a huge believer in originality -- to the extent that I approve of any gimmick, novelty, or cheap effect that an artist can devise because work like this has more going for it than the standard dull stuff.  If, as they say (I think "they" was the Bible), nothing is new under the sun, then everything is also equally potentially new. Each attempt at variation is completely original, and really, it's just a question of degree. Boredom and repetition are the enemy and friend, frenemy and enamigo.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“Painting is dead from this day on!” —French painter Paul Delaroche, 1839, on seeing a daguerreotype for the first time

An article about my work from 1979 that proves some things are perennial, I think.
You go about your days and you think you are doing just what you like. But imagine my alarm (and pleasure) when I reread this article (above) about my work from 1979, which talks about the "constructed image" and beauty, two notions I'm still mulling over in my work. And, while I imagine that I'm thinking up new ideas all the time, some of the time I'm recycling old ones and (not so simply) recalibrating them for the present day. 

In 1979, I was totally unknown and the article (below) was about my first solo show. I wrote a press release that read, "From this day on, photography is dead," inverting Delaroche's famous phrase. It may not have been true, but it got my name in the paper. Delaroche was a conservative painter of large histories, and he was in a panic about how effortlessly--even uncannily--photography renders whatever is in front of the lens.

All of which is simply an introduction to the work I'm experimenting with now. (I'll probably cal it Artist's Statements: Painting, images below.) In the new work, I confound (okay--kill) the photograph by making it look like a painting, but one that is rendered photographically. What appears to be an expressive swoop of paint turns out to be precisely rendered gradients of pixels that somehow look more like paint than paint does. Look at the brown circle of the first image below. It's kind of shifty. First it looks painted, then it looks life a photograph of paint, then it looks like paint on top of a photograph. This kind of layering that has always fascinated me, and it's certainly a metaphor for something or other. I don't know that I was ever interested in beauty, exactly. To my way of thinking, the word is shorthand for "new, fresh, exciting," which is what the 35-year-old Globe article is about. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Recent Publicity and Writing

A lot of articles and publications about my work over the last six months. I thought I'd compile a list of links here.

Selected People
Wired Interesting article
The Washington Post An interview with yours truly
The Boston Globe A think piece
The Creators Project -- Vice My rules for great trick photography--and a video
Booooooom A nice art publication
The Fence at Photoville An outdoor exhibition in Brooklyn
Imaging Resource An interview with me again
PetaPixel A nice article about my work
SLRLounge Another interview
Daily Mail Some loopy writing in a tabloid!
Feature Shoot An article about my work
Reframing Photography This web site is a resource for an excellent photo textbook
Gizmodo A huge circulation publication
PictureCorrect Some opinions

Laughing Squid
Acclaim Magazine

My writing about other photographers
Deborah Bay, Martin Klimas, Sarah Pickering, Clay Lipsky in Vice Media's The Creators Project: "Show of Force: Four Photographers Who Turned Explosions into Art"
Roberta Nedigh in Feature Shoot: "Clever photos document property lines in suburban landscape design"
Caleb Cole in Feature Shoot: "Photographer transforms found dolls into strange self-portraits"
Kate Joyce in Feature Shoot: "Photographer captures offbeat moments in everyday wanderings"
Diane Meyer in Feature Shoot: "Photographer uses embroider to "pixelate" family snapshots"
June Yong Lee in Feature Shoot: "Striking photos of the human torso stretched out like canvas"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Two Trees

Boston Public Garden,  Spring 2013
I got a whole lot of work done this spring on Selected People, a series I've been working on since 2008. The series consists of a scene, usually around Boston, viewed for about an hour or so. I take hundreds of pictures, then using photoshop, I leave in selected figures. I never change their location or anything else, so these are actually documentary records. But I do choose what stays in, just the way your brain does in real life! Anyway, I did several new pictures this spring while the ideas were coming. Now I'm off in a day or two to present the series at Review Santa Fe 2013, an event in which photographers present their work to gallery, publishing, and museum people. The tree in the background is the same tree featured in one of my more popular pictures.

Tree, Boston Public Garden, 2008

Taking Pictures Then and Now

Boston Public Garden, Tulips, 2013
About five years ago, I did a similar picture to this one I just finished. The gestures people use to take pictures have changed quite a bit. In the older one, which was taken just a few yards from this one, you can still see people taking pictures in the standard twentieth-century manner, by holding the camera up to the eye. Others are using cell phones and digital cameras in the now-familiar modified praying mantis pose. The old camera-to-the-eye gesture was kind of dynamic. You could turn a little sideways and flex your knees and you'd look like a rifleman. Of course, picture-taking is a bit different, now, too. Here's the older picture, below.
Boston Public Garde, 2008
This second picture is one of the first I did in the Selected People series. It represents about twenty minutes and 80 exposures. The tulip one took about an hour to photograph, with about 300 exposures.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Boston Public Garden, Spring 2013
I've been doing some new pictures in this series (called Selected People), voluntarily poking my head outside in early May despite the still cool weather. I've been working on this series since 2008 and lately it's started to seem attractive to redo some ideas I had early on in different form. The picture above is from 2013, the one below from 2008. With this recycling, I've been thinking a bit about what I'm trying to say. I realized that I'm interested in time, and sorting images, looking at people and types, but mostly I want to cram more life into my pictures than a traditional instantaneous photo allows (these are composites of hundreds of pictures taken with the camera on a tripod and added together back in the studio).

Esplanade, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Larz Anderson Park, Brookline, MA, late December 2012.
I've had the urge lately to continue my Selected People series, and here's a brand new picture to prove it. My wife Margaret loves to ice skate. I don't. But I agreed on a cold windy afternoon between Christmas and New Year's to go with her to Larz Anderson Park in Brookline, just a mile or two from where we live. It was what my wife's parents used to call a VWW--a veritable winter wonderland. In the past, a little trip like was unlikely to happen. But now, I carry in my wallet a driver's license issued July 12, 2012, the day I passed my driver's test (on the first try). If you're counting, it required 43 years of eligibility to make this happen. Not a terrible rate for me, since it took me, for example, 27 years to get an undergraduate degree (no, I wasn't enrolled the whole time, you wiseacre). We also, unbelievably, have a car. It's always been my theory that the car is as important a tool to a photographer as a tripod or any other accessory--probably more so. It's what gets the camera to where the photographer wants it--a moving  tripod, as I've called it before. So not only is this picture picking up where I left off in spring 2012, it's my first picture using a car as a necessary tool.

The photo is a composite, of course, like the others in the series. There are about 120 different frames represented in this picture and I stood out in the gusty 20-degree wind for about 25 minutes to take about 200 pictures. It took three weeks to finish it in Photoshop. When I went to pick Margaret up at the skating rink, she asked if had fun. I tried my best not to be rude, snide, abrupt, or sarcastic, but I fucked it up. I snapped that it's never fun doing these pictures, and I was freezing my em-effing ass off.  I doubt I really snapped, since my mouth was numb and the words probably came out as mumbles. But it never is fun. I am artistically bold, outspoken in both small personal matters as well as the great issues of our day, firm and foursquare as a family man whose fiber is impeccably moral, etcetera. But when it comes to standing there with my tripod, out in a public park, plaza, or street, taking pictures of strangers who could turn on me at any second, I am timid soul, nervously panting, shifting from foot to foot, putting all my energy into looking comfortable--as if I were harmless (really, truly, I am!), as if I belonged. I don't. I'm sure I looked like a pedophile-terrorist. But the picture seem worth the discomfort.

A blue light hovered over the snow. The brown trees caught the final orange rays. The atmosphere turned a dim maroon. I thought it was too dark to keep taking pictures. But my trusty if antiquated (2005 model) Canon (5d) came through, seeing better than my eyes.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Here I am, talk in hand.
The text of my talk about Strangers at Gallery Kayafas on October 25, 2012. 

First, I want to thank Arlette Kayafas not only for doing this show, but for encouraging me to exhibit this particular work. Thanks to the Corporation of Yaddo for providing the perfect place do this work. And thanks to Margaret, my wife, for all her help. I’m very pleased to be showing with Caleb, and I hope our talks —and the shows themselves—will help you see if and where our turf overlaps.

I’m going to talk about I got some of the ideas, the artists who influenced me, how this work relates to my past work, and  what it all might mean. In fact, I have no idea. But I’m going to give you my best guess.

With that said, this series got started as an experiment in essentialism. It was just curiosity. I wanted to see how much I could change a face before I lost the essence of the person. I wondered if the face would come untethered. But, since I’m a photographer and photographers pledge allegiance to the facts, I felt like I had to stop just short of that. I didn’t want the work to slip entirely into the monstrous or grotesque. I wanted a to keep a feeling of realism so the uncanny would be more believable.

So the pictures look like portraits--they’re vertical, the face predominates, they have certain feeling or mood. But I don’t mean to suggest a personality or a psychology or a story. I want to present faces composed of nothing but themselves, that become something more, or perhaps, less.  I think of these pictures as non-portraits. That’s why the show is called Strangers.

Some facts. The people who posed for these pictures are artists, musicians, writers, and family members. Many thanks to them, since, whatever other virtues these photographs have, they are basically unflattering. Luckily, they don’t look much like the people who posed for them. As they say in the front of books, any likeness to real people, living or dead, is unintentional. Still, the people ARE recognizable some of the time.

How do I do them? My method is to take dozens of extreme close up pictures of a face, then blend them together to make a new version—employing both the methods of Humpty Dumpty and those of Mr. Potato Head. I hold the camera just inches from the sitter’s face, recording the parts of the face in isolation. Everything—distance, angle, lighting—is in flux as I move around. The fragments can’t possibly match when I put them back together. Distortions of focus, scale, anatomy, time, and perspective creep in. At the same time, there is a lot of detail because the picture is made up of many exposures.

It’s amazing that a quarter of an inch here, a quarter of an inch there can change a face so much. At first glance, the faces seem normal enough, then it dawns on you that something is off. I want it to be just wrong enough. This dawning surprise is important to me, one of the sensations I value most in art.

Somehow, these pictures have an almost messy or painterly feeling that doesn’t look explicitly handmade, although, in a sense, they are. I blend each layer on the computer, by hand, so to speak. It’s a little like fitting the contents of your house into a moving van. You try it this way and that until it fits. Nothing is automated.
Photography is too quick for me. Somehow, my temperament is such that I like to make things. So I’ll often do projects that take a lot of work. In the past I’ve made objects to be photographed in the studio and done collage-like photographs. I’ve used the real world as collage material in a series that was kind of like a still version of a time-lapse film. In
this new series, I want to pack in a lot of extra information about a single face, while keeping the look of a pure photograph.

So Strangers grew partly out of my own work and interests, but it’s also worth mentioning a couple of biographical details. I guess I’m more comfortable in the studio, so both Selected People (the time-lapse work) and Strangers are part of a conscious effort to get out of the house more. I like to do different things in every series, and the new work looks very different from my older work. I wanted to do something “powerful” and maybe kind of ugly, since I usually go in the other direction.

So enough about me. Let’s talk about how a few artists have influenced me, in particular, regarding the face.

For example, David Hockney and his photocollages. He had the idea that the more photos go into a finished piece, the more the result resembles the experience of looking, which is a continuous, active process, richer, he argues, than a single still photograph.

Other influences include the big staring portraits of Thomas Ruff, Reinekie Dykstra, Chuck Close, Martin Scholler, and the famous deadpan intensity. I think my work makes fun of them a bit even though they are a real influence. What I like is that it’s a game of chicken. They stare at you, you stare at them.

A special influence is Tim Hawkinson’s wall sculpture Emote--something that is so much on my wavelength that I really wish I did it myself. He made a contraption in which cutouts of facial features are moved by hydraulic pumps mounted on the surface of a large photo. When a switch is thrown, the arms move the features of the face, and you see a see a bunch of random emotions. And in my work, too, sometimes you see opposing emotions on a single face.

In fact, my work is all about this kind of contradiction.

The faces are enormous, the detail tiny. Big and small flip back and forth, like the forest and the trees. A particular photograph seems to capture a single moment, but many moments and feelings are actually represented. One eye flashes in anger, the other is downcast in a single face. They are portraits without specific persons, but they are not generic. These are images estranged from themselves, photographs that are not OF what they depict.

This teetering feeling is what I’m after.

I suppose another word for all this is irony, being two things at once: Hiding and revealing, accommodating contradictions.

You might think I’m alienated from people, or that I believe people are alienated from themselves, or that I’m alienated from myself, or that appearances deceive or that I yearn to connect with people. You might think photographs are unreliable, or that skin tells the truth. You might think I’m a warm person or a cool one. You might think these Humpty Dumpty pictures are about the broken or the fixed. You might think I’ve learned something about the nature of the photographic portrait. You might think I’ve removed the person from the persona. You might think I’ve shocked you out of your bourgeoisie complacency. I might even be problematizing representation!


You might be right.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Show Is Open

Here I am at my show at Gallery Kayafas. That's one of the pictures behind me, of course, proof that the show is really happening. I've been writing my gallery talk, which I'll give this Thursday (October 25, 2012) at about seven. Caleb Cole will be speaking, too. It should be an interesting juxtaposition, since I'll be talking a little bit about identity and more about non-identity and my non-portraits.