Christophe PokBlanche (2017)

Add this to the list of images I wish had been of me…

Also: another nail in the coffin of the tact where the subjects head is excluded from through frame edge decapitation to preserve anonymity–as this brilliantly demonstrates: there’s always a more creativ/better way of accomplishing the same end without embracing such knee-jerk, lazy means.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

I think the point of what’s being depicted here is arguably better presented given the following reframing:

You lose the distraction of the handles on the bathroom cabinets, power outlets and although I do love the angle of the top of her foot perched on top of the counter, the angle of it and the way it aligns with that brighter area from the window behind her (and the way that lines up in the original with the side of the window) is super distracting.

You are losing the view of her bum but for me what appeals to me is what happening with her face. I’d have likely framed it so that the inner thigh of her left leg dictated the left frame edge. But you’d have needed either a slight shift in the camera position or a different lens to pull that off. (I could’ve just cropped it but I did make an effort to preserver the original aspect ratio.)

Honestly, I’m much more intrigued by what her arm is doing in the mirror than I am by actually seeing-not-seeing what she’s doing with her fingers. (That sudden gasp/jaw drop at the loop point is tres adorbs.)

Kiele Twarowski Untitled from Genesis (201X)

There’s something disorienting about the way this image fits together.

At the outset, there is a focus on the subject. The skin tone is stylized–it skews  a bit too red in the shadows, decidedly too yellow in the highlight; however, the overall effect contributes a sense of mid-to-late spring/early summer.

I am reasonably confident that this was made by propping a smart phone against a shampoo bottle on top of a closed toilet let. Twarowski is sitting with her back more or less against the tub. (Also, there’s likely been some in phone editing of the image–I’d guess that the divergence in skin tone was likely in service of creating a sense of depth and separation between her face/shoulders and the shower curtain behind her.)

I am curious about the 22 and presumable 23 tattoos on her outer biceps. But more than that I find myself entirely wrong footed by her website and the way it preserves a notion of personal vs. professional work–in this case the distinction is between ‘diary’ and ‘work’.

The ‘work’ section is… well, it looks like someone who is trying to make their approach to image making appear commercially viable. (As I’ve mentioned recently: I’m not convinced this is ever a productive approach.)

Now, hope over to the ‘diary’ section; see the difference–there’s a shimmering and vital intensity to the more personal work that is utterly lacking in the professional reckoning.

Is this something emerging from training or is it fallout from the belief that something is productive only insofar as it is saleable?

Also, I’m dubious about this notion that photography/image making works best with this sort of additive approach. Where an artist sets out to make work which fits within a specific conceptual niche–essentially building a body of work to fit a prerequisite schema. I personally think it’s better to put in the time making the work that interests you and then approach it in more of a subtractive, freeing the form trapped within the mass of work.

Ian ReidAmanda Marie & Molly Ace (2017)

There are about 15 different things about this image that leave me with questions. Foremost: yes, clearly the focus is what’s going on in the foreground but what I notice and what keeps claiming my attention is the reflection of the script tattoo across the Ace’s upper back.

Backing up: I didn’t know who any of the folks in this image were upon first encountering it. I knew I’d seen Ace before in an image by @vk-photography and another by @crosxsover. I followed model mayhem through a series of defunct Instagram aliases to an actual Twitter account back to an Instagram (linked above) that is–at the time of this writing–active.

All that was a bit more work than I was expecting just to you know offer proper attribution. However, then things really took an unexpected turn: as far as I can tell there’s not a picture anywhere that has the entirety of the tattoo visible and in sharp focus. (And let me just cut off any objections ahead–given the above resolution, which is the highest res version available… the ubiquitous police procedural motif of enhancing a digital image infinitely just doesn’t work here.)

So then I pulled out a fine tooth comb and went through the pictures I could find. The bit on the right shoulder is easy enough–there are several snaps with it in sharp focus. It reads: ‘these been’

Also the script on the other shoulder is relatively clear in a couple of shots: ‘Quid a’

The middle of it is the problem. In one picture you can make out ‘insolitus’ and something that I’m pretty sure is ‘trinus’.  In another shot at another angle it’s Quid a p-something?

By using Google and Google translate to attempt to reverse engineer something I realized that there is a fish called the Mangarahara cichlid, or Ptychochromis insolitus. They are critically endangered and were thought to be on the verge of extinction when one at the Berlin Zoo was killed while attempting to mate. Later, a small school was discovered in the wild.

Looking back though it’s definitely ‘quid a p(o- or e-something) so no dice on an elaborate Douglas Adams joke.

Best I can tell it reads ‘Quid a po-(something illegible) insolitus trinus is these been’

It’s weird because ‘is these been’ is not Latin. The rest is more or less a way of saying ‘what a long strange trip its been’ but in a way that is not the standard way of translating the Grateful Dead title into Latin–so I suspect there’s some kind of pun I’m too dumb to understand.

Anyway, this was not the direction I wanted to go with this post. I’d originally intended to find out what the tattoo said and then use one of those online tools that mirrors text so that you can post text backwards and just post that.

But I guess now you’ve at least got a wacky story to go along with a really goddamn interesting picture.

Prue StentUntitled from Four (2015)

I’m enormously fond of Stent’s work; although–I have to admit–the image above surprises me.

I think of Stent as working exclusively in color. Almost by definition, fine art photographers tend to work in B&W or color, rarely both.

Perhaps that’s not an entirely fair characterization: most fine art photographers make a name for themselves as a color photographer (i.e. William Eggleston) or B&W (i.e. Mark Steinmetz). [If Eggleston has worked in B&W, I haven’t seen any of it. Steinmetz does have color work but I tend to agree with him that it’s nowhere near as accomplished as his B&W work. The only photographer I can think of who I’d be hard pressed to pick just B&W or just color from their oeuvre is Jeff Wall–and I might end up picking the B&W with him, actually.]

That’s why Stent working in B&W surprises me: one would expect the results to be more of a curiosity; whereas her B&W tends to be audacious in it’s formal innovation as well as incisive in scope and execution.

What’s even more impressive is that–unless I’m mistaken–Stent is working with digital exclusively. I took the above image and parsed it according to Ansel Adams’ Zone System (much as I did with this image by Davide Rossi).

The way she’s using light and shadow to create depth and dimension is straight out of classical oil painting. (For example: I’ve only been a photographer for eleven years now. It’s just within the last year that I’ve begun to understand the interplay between light, shadows and depth of field used in combination to create the illusion of dimensionality in otherwise 2D representational spaces. In other words: Prue Stent is actually a good bit more brilliant than I initially assumed.)

Zuza KrejewskaAnastasia, Hysteria, Warsaw (2013)

I have some quibbles with this from the standpoint of composition–it’s super challenging to have a door jamb that features so prominently and at such an cant and have it not ultimately distract from the image. (Flipping the image along the x-axis would help but it’s still not entirely workable with those tiles.)

it makes sense, though: the down tilt of the camera and the down thrusting lines in the frame all direct your vision. (Another benefit of the landscape frame–you can arrange it so it’s read side to side and up and down; the same can’t be said of vertical orientation.)

What I think this is great at is illustrating something about the number of things in a frame.

The received wisdom is that it’s easier to work with an odd number of things.

The problem is that two things is just fine. (If you can’t think of ten famous images which feature two people, objects or what-have-you, then it’s really time to start upping your game.)

Three is great. Four is workable. Five is great. Six, you would think wouldn’t work but it does because six is two groups of 3 regardless of how your arrange them. You would think 7 would be great–but it’s actually challenging because you’ve got a triangle and a square. (Da Vinci handled a similar challenge with 13 stunningly in his depiction of Christ’s Last Supper.)

(I remember reading that it also has to do with the ability of the human mind to visual numbers. One is easy enough: I. Two is great: II. Same with three and four: III and IIII, respectively. And groups of five: IIIII. Register without us having to stop and count. Six gets confusing but we tend to be well versed at groupings of three, so six scans instinctively: IIIIII.

IIIIIII is nearly impossible to parse without stopping to count several times.

And that’s honestly what this does well is that it breaks down the frame into visual groupings you can understand. I and III.

The I is naked. The III are all wearing black bras. I is in the tub. III are gathered around it. The III form a natural triangle which points away from the one–adding an extra sense of loneliness and isolation to her plight.

Ken SchlesUntitled from Night Walk series (198X)

This is a fan-fucking-tastic photo for dozen of reasons.The eye scans the frame left to right, following the crossbar over the stall doors. The stall divider plunges sharply, emphasizing the door as obstruction–this is actually crucial to the legibility of the scene (for example: if the door was open a bit wider it would seem that the woman was looking either at the back of the door or along the back of the door toward the camera, drawing attention away from her and towards the scene space between her and the camera; any less of the stall door and it wouldn’t read as easily as a stall door, just as some sort of shadowy occlusions).

The Dutch tilt imposes a dimensionality that a perfectly level and balanced frame wouldn’t have permitted. Also, it forces the viewer to do some of the work w/r/t organizing shapes. Note: how the stall divider, out of focus stall door edge in the foreground and the back corner divide up the picture plane; how this is also echoed with the horizontals, the upper stall cross bar and the top corner of the door.

All that is further augmented by the use of light. There’s a truncation of mid-tones… perhaps two zones mostly centered on the walls, her arm hooked over the cross bar and her left breast. The nuance in tone in the highlights and shadows is crazy. A less talented photographer would’ve taken a stylistic approach, much how a painter layers on paint to create the illusion of three-dimensional space in a two-dimensional representation.

Schles goes a different route. light falling like a drape over the scene. It’s not just more realistic, it adds a numinous immediacy to the scene.

The balance between light and dark is extremely astute, also. I can’t think of another image maker–okay, maybe Uta Barth… but I digress who could so aggressively chop of their frame up into three distinct sectors, while keeping everything organically interrelated and holistic. In the parlance of the Corleone’s: the composition is the offer and the lighting is what renders the offer impossible to refuse.

Not white of the toilet paper, adjacent to the darkest portion of the frame, the porcelain white of the left side of the woman’s face and how despite how the rivulet of deep black that is the door edge in the foreground, the blur caused by it being too close to the lens to allow for sharp focus, creates a similar burnt in sort of hazing similar to the transition from the toilet paper to the aforementioned lower shadowed blot. The way the shadow from her hand over the upper crossbar bleeds outward, not merely in how it would be case but also tying the triangle in the upper right corner seamlessly back into the whole.

Then there’s her inscrutable expression, and why the fuck is she naked and drenched–is her hair wet and dripping, is she sweating? The answer remains eternally unclear.

Diana Bodea#1 The Shadow from Touched by light series (2008)

Looking at this my first response isn’t to pedantically point out that it features backlighting.

As I am sitting here struggling to wrap my head around how to write about it, I am uncertain where else I might start.

See the problem isn’t noticing it’s backlit; the problem is focusing on the backlighting emphasizes technique over a more organic handling of the unity between concept and execution.

And what I want to talk about has more to do with the dynamics between the technical and the conceptual in this photograph.

Two days ago, Amandine spent a lovely day sharing time and space as well as practice our respective crafts–me trying to capture the interplay between color and fog along the coast, her drawing and painting dunes, people walking in the distance and the subtly variegated beach grasses.

Driving back we were talking about music. She asked me what I thought of Joanna Newsom. I said I had liked The Milk Eyed Mender. Then back-tracked that I was only really familiar enough with the track Sadie–which I adore.

My ex hated both Björk and Newsom because of their eccentric vocalizations. I felt the same way about the former–at least initially (she’s subsequently become one of my all-time favorite artists) but I wasn’t familiar enough with Newsom, so I sort of missed her work.

Amandine was telling me about how amazing she was and how I really should check her out. But she offered a caveat that one of her favorite of Newsom’s songs contains a mistake.

See the song Emily contains the following lyrics:

That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor’s just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that’s devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite’s just what causes the light
And the meteor’s how it’s perceived
And the meteoroid’s a bone thrown from the void
That lies quiet and offering to thee

She has it backwards, Amandine insisted. I mean it’s poetic and beautiful and brilliant but it’s the other way around, really.

I don’t know enough about it to comment but I do know–subsequently having listened to the album it’s on several times–it doesn’t matter, I don’t think.

Like maybe she created the lyrics based on being told it the wrong way around–which contributes to the meaning of the song, actually. Or it’s a John Donne-esque metaphysical metaphor of the soul–which again, contributes to the song. Or, it’s a rejection of science–again, something that fits with the song.

Whether it’s right or wrong, it works. And that’s kind of a rare and wonderful thing.

But it occurs to me that backlighting is the wrong thing to focus on in the photo about for the same reason it’s a mistake to get caught up in whether the rhyme about the difference between meteors and meteorites is right or wrong.

When I used to teach lighting workshops I would show kids how to set up a quick and dirty three point lighting setup. I’d explain that this is the key light, this is the fill light and this is the back/rim light. I’d then show them what each looked like independent of the others.

I’d then turn all the lights back on and explain the rationale behind this setup–it’s a stylization of how we experience light in the world around us. Like: if I’m standing in a field facing a camera and the lighting is behind the sun is behind the camera relative to my position–unless it’s straight on (a poor strategy if you’re trying for an aesthetically pleasing image because the light is too bright and people naturally squint when the light is in their eyes), then there’s one side that is incrementally brighter than the other. So natural light presents with a key and a fill light.

But light also falls on the ground behind where I am standing in said field. Yet, that light is like the fill light except it reflects enough light back towards the camera that because the body separates the light reflecting off the ground from the camera, it contributes a dimensionality to my body.

The point is–what we see we see only in relation to the way light interacts with it. The only source of light in this is presumably the window behind the shower curtain and the subject.

It’s interesting that backlighting combined with other lighting contributes dimensionality–yet we normally think of backlighting in terms of silhouetting. There’s a surprising amount of dimensionality in this. That’s partly due to the one point perspective imposed by the tile.

But the visibility of the mirror and the reflection of the hand, as well as the white sink gives a stark solidity to the image.

It’s a mistake to say: this is backlit and then just leave it at that because it’s how it’s backlit (how this is used formally and contextually to foster a sense of dynamic unity to between generally opposing elements).

An exquisitely refined work. Impressive and thoroughly unforgettable.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

This is not a good image. It’s a victim of shitting lighting in a small bathroom and being taken on a front facing camera phone propped up against a soap dispenser or tooth brush caddy. (I wouldn’t say it’s #skinnyframebullshit, however.)

But there’s something that ought to be a greater concern than whether or not an image is good. This is poignant and brave and because of those two things it’s also true and alive in a way that few things in life are.

Or to put it another way: this goes a lot deeper than your usual camera phone in front of the mirror in a state of provocative dress or undress, that have become de rigeur among mid-to-late teens and twenty somethings. It says I wasn’t sure I wanted to know but I decided that not knowing was worse than knowing. (If there’s a prerequisite for being an artist, it’s probably that.)