wonderlust photoworksγνῶθι σεαυτόν in collaboration with @kyotocat (2018)

With the exception of a few days scatter here and there through the worst wilds of winter, it’s been viciously cold here in NYC. Today was a bit better–even if there is still a lingering chill in the air that is not at all normal for here.

In an effort to sum up the state of things one of the high end liquor stores on my walk home had a sign out front reading: this weather is more confusing than my teenage daughter.

It’s not that it’s a bad joke (it’s awful); it’s not that cliché (the union of forty-something straight white cis dads from the 1970s called and wants their joke back) and it’s not that it punches down instead of up–it’s victim blaming.

If young women are ‘confusing’ maybe it’s less due to the fact that they’re hormonal while trying to negotiate cryptic boundaries/navigate societal expectations with regard to gendered embodiment and perhaps due in large part to the complete contradictions our society imposes on them with regard to their appearance, behaivor and even physical being.

The expectation to be attractive without being so attractive that you invite unwanted attention. Because no matter what you do–there’ll be someone who isn’t happy about it.

I’ve talked with too many femme friends who all offer variations on the theme of men started looking at me different, treating me differently and behaving differently toward me long before I ever even started puberty. Everything from then on was less about me and my own autonomy and instead was about making a space to exist and feel if not safe then at least not always threatened.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies–positivity towards them and acceptance of them. The idea started out as a result of something I read years ago about a young woman who curious about why she was dirty or disgusting because of her genitals decided to get a good look at them in a hand mirror. Instead of finding something unappealing, she was fascinated by the lips, ridges and folds. She realized through nothing more than the act of looking closely that everything she had been told was wrong and that her body was beautiful, miraculous even.

This is just as much for young women–who through the glut of false expectations foisted by porn–think their own labia aren’t normal/attractive. It’s also for those who experience dysphoria related to their genitalia–because it’s not always about learning to love/accept what you’ve got.

The title is in ancient Greek–which is insufferably pretentious–but it’s known widely enough that it doesn’t strike me as hermetic. It means know thyself and was allegedly the inscription over the enterance to the oracle at Delphi. (A place well known for giving cryptic but astonishingly prescient advice–the disconnect between the wisdom/efficacy of the advice and the resulting actions endeavored based upon the advice given frequently catastrophically hinging on folks really not having a clue about their essential nature.)

And huge thanks to Kyotocat for working with me through a bazillion different variations on this concept before nudging me in the direction of something that didn’t immediately come crashing down under it’s own weight of self-serious import.


writing end of year blog post, feeling funny and sad sort of, grateful for this picture of me from May ish

Caiti BorrusoSelf Portrait (2017)

I’m intrigued by Borruso’s work.

It feels to me like there’s substantial overlap with both Mark Steinmetz (careful control of contrast to enliven drama and emphasize tone).

There’s also a similar haunted, elegiac tone to the work of someone like Allison Barnes.

(This photo–presumably of Borruso’s best friend, were it an orphan work is one that could be thought to have been made by Steinmetz or Barnes, actually.)

Her more conventional ‘landscape’ work reminds me of Sarah Muehlbauer; compare this exquisite photo of an open gate by Borruso with this picture of dumpster in Queens by Muehlbauer.

I actually adore the way Borruso sees landscapes. I see landscapes in much the same way she photographs them–but I’ve found in my own work that when I see something in the landscape that interests me, I get the slides back and think why did I fucking take a picture of that? That’s not how it is with her–you know why she took the picture. (Whether or not it always works is another story but from the standpoint of light and form, it’s there clearly demonstrated in the work.)

But what impresses me the most about her work is the way that when she combines her sense of location with unselfconscious presentation of those she photographs–including herself–there is often a sense that her subjects are almost like aliens in their environment. They always look like they belong there but there’s always something searching in their expression. As if they know why they are where they are and how the are expected to act but they’re caught in a moment of wondering if maybe that’s not the way things really are or even should be.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s incredibly impressive.

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @suspendedinlightAssisted Self-Portraits (2017)

Over the last three years or so, I’ve dabbled a bit with street photography. Alas, the only camera I have that I’m fast enough with is a panoramic camera–which is not exactly well-suited to that task.

Really, though–what’s stopped me is that there are just issues of consent with street photography that I find increasingly disturbing.

The idea for these emerged partly from an urge for the challenge of street photography style work–quick thinking on your feet, rapid response, etc; the other part was I’m always looking for ways to reduce the amount of time I allow myself to over-thinking things; and, from the vantage of procedure, I’m interested in minimizing my imposition on the work.

The notion here was that I hand a cable release to the subject–in this case Lyndsie–and she chooses the moment the photo is taken. I merely have to keep her in frame and in focus.

It was such a revelation to work this way that I’ve actually instituted it as a sort of icebreaker every time I collaborate with someone.

Richard PrinceUntitled from Censored Art series (2011)

Richard Prince is the reigning king of appropriation in the art world.

He’s made a career of stealing work from other artists without permission. This can take the form of rephotographing an image–Sam Abell’s cigarette ad vs Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy). And there was the recent kerfuffle where Prince took images created by others on Instagram, more or less as is, and sold them as his own work.

I’m not someone who dismisses what Prince does entirely out of hand. I mean consider the quote that’s frequently (and inconclusively–to the best of my knowledge) attributed to Oscar Wilde about talent borrowing and genius stealing–and you have to accept Prince’s work merely as proof of concept.

And although he’s definitely an entitled white, cishet asshole, there is some conceptual merit to his interrogations. With his appropriation of Abell’s photo, he introduces notions of authorship/ownership and the relationship between process and commodification in the advertising world vs. in the art world.

Similarly, his selling of Instagram images he did not make, can be interpreted as the art industry paying exorbitant sums for work that is unoriginal/stolen or worse. Also, it presents questions about who owns the copyright for work displayed on social media sites. (I’m sure everyone reading this has gotten those concerned messages about whether or not uploading work to Flickr or FB will result in losing one’s All Rights Reserved proviso.

The problem with the Instagram business was he primarily stole work from young women–which is very different than stealing corporate art from a tobacco company.  (For example: there’s continued disagreement on the appropriateness of rape jokes in comedy–and it’s pretty much agreed that the acceptability of the jokes depends on which way you’re punching–like if you’re making the victims of rape the punchline, that’s not cool, whereas making the perpetrators of rape the punchline is punching upward, and OK.)

Prince’s career in my experience is centered around looking for easier and easier targets.

That being said: I do like the work from the series of which the above is a part. Reason being that apparently the photos are images he made himself and then placed the stickers over them. (The appropriation becomes an organic part of the whole instead of the works raison d’etre.)

Conceptually, there’s a lot to unpack. The notion of paywalls–you don’t get to see this unless you pay us, the question: does the disconnect between the work and the intervention of the sticker upon the work enhance or muddle meaning. Also: does censoring something increase merely it’s interest or does it contribute otherwise unfounded creative merit? Questions about whether or not limited resources of consumers limit societal creativity–the notion that this is a photograph infringed upon by a sticker from a DVD from one of the definitive punk bands, i.e. do we consider connections we’re not explicitly told to consider by artists, critical types. It’s also interesting that the photos are all of the type that you would see in mainstream pornography (something which is made with a profit motive) and mementos of consumption–those stickers on CDs serve no purpose other than to facilitate commerce; thus, they serve no purpose. Further, does censoring the graphic parts of the image also make the images less useful as porn, and more appropriate as art.)

They all seem like profound questions, at first. Except they are all really rather staid. It’s kitschy but also clever.

I’m reminded of seeing Junot Diaz speak earlier this year. He was asked about cultural appropriation and made a stunning observation that essentially (this is a rough paraphrase) the line dividing cultural appropriation from cultural appreciation has to do with one’s degree of personal engagement with a particular culture.

It’s like that scene in Dead Poet’s Society where Robin Williams encourages his class to all walk in a slightly different way and one of the students stays leaning up against a wall. When confronted, the student points out that he’s exercising his right not to walk. And Robin Williams thanks him for proving the point of the exercise.

Richard Prince is that kid. Only his entire career has made his actions entirely predictable. At least Censored Art reflects upon the culture with which he is most ostensibly engaged.

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with Kelsey Dylan– [↑] Not a Place–a Feeling (2016); [-] The Anchorite’s Niche (2016); [↓] Opia (2016)

Kelsey and I were able to pull together a quick session while she was in New York in November.

There was nowhere near enough light and I only had 100 speed film on hand but I think we still managed some good snaps.

Also, I think I’m getting a better handle on how to communicate with photographic collaborators. And I’m super excited now that my B&W slide lab is back online. (Can’t wait to get back into serious B&W work again.)

urbanfaerietalesTitle Unknown (201X)

The above images are interesting–if a bit muddled. Yet, the way in which they’re muddled suggests several things to me about visual grammar. So like good Wittgensteinians, let us conduct a grammatical investigation!

A lone photo or image must stand on its own. However, as soon as you position photos or images adjacent to one another–each subtly shapes and informs how we read not just the one image or photo but how we read both of them together.

In the loosest sense there are two ways that photographs can relate to each other: as polyptychs or as sequences.

The above is not a triptych.

Strictly speaking, a diptych means ‘two-fold’. A triptych would indicate three folds. As such you can see panel A alone, panel B alone, panel C alone or panel A & B together or B & C together or A & C together or A, B & C all at once.

While polyptychs can be seen as relating to each other in a way that conveys are broader, overarching narrative–their construction is not intrinsically narrative. The each panel stands alone but that together each comment, enliven and enrich each other so that the piece as a whole comes to constitute more than the sum of its parts.

A sequence, on the other hand is fundamentally tied up with the movement of time. (To be 100% clear, a polyptych can be sequential but a sequence is not automatically a polyptych.)

There’s several things the above sequence does well. First off, the use of depth of field to direct the viewers eye is totally on point–in the first panel, only the top of the head in the foreground is in focus while everything else goes soft; in the second panel, the focus point is ever-so-slightly behind the kneeling figure; the final panel shifts the focus towards the middle ground between the two lovers.

Compositionally, the first and last panel are #skinnyframebullshit–there is absolutely no effing reason given the frame that vertical orientation contributes fuck all to the logical consistency of the whole.

In the first panel, the way the supine figure’s legs open up to the room begs for landscape orientation, further given the narrative auspices of the piece as a whole–it’s extraordinarily poor form to employ portrait orientation.)

The contrast and overall tonal range are best in the third panel; however, the frame feels constricted; it makes me nervous that it’s so clearly supposed to be set in this room but the view of the room is so claustrophobically limited.

The second panel is actually a fabulous example of when a vertical orientation actually serves a goddamn purpose–the frame reads up and down and by fitting it to a form that is predisposed to that sort of scanning, the image maker employs the appropriate visual grammar to convey to the viewer how to best engage with the image.

In summary, there is a great deal of raw potential here. I’m of a mind that this would’ve been more effective if all the images had been landscape oriented or if the second panel had been extracted and presented independent of the others (I do think you’d lose something but the image is strong enough to stand on its own).

Alternately–and probably even stronger–would have been if the first and third image were landscape oriented and the second image remains in its current, portrait orientation. This would’ve pushed things more in the direction of a polyptych and would’ve also suggested an altar piece–which is more in keeping given the almost liturgical tone of the images.

And that’s why I make such a big deal about using portrait orientation correctly. Maintaining that it doesn’t matter is the same as saying that the comma in Let’s eat Grandma vs Let’s eat, Grandma doesn’t make any difference in the end result.

Natasha GudermaneRomy from Mademoiselles series (201X)

Mademoiselles feels like a complicated riff on Martin Gabriel Pavel’s Daily Portrait Berlin–probably better known as the naked Berliners 365 project.

Pavel took a picture of Elle and then gave the camera to Elle along with the challenge that she had to take a picture of a naked stranger the following day. Elle takes a picture of M and gives M the camera. And so forth.

As far as quality, the results are all over the place. I still love it because unlike the vast majority of stuff out there, there’s an fascination with context. You get to see not only Berliners but also a glimpse of them in their personal/private spaces. Since I feel an almost preternatural connection to Berlin and am myself so preoccupied with presenting bodies in context, I enjoy the project.

There’s a lot overlap between Daily Portrait Berlin and Gudermane’s Mademoiselles.

If you compare the two in terms of technical accomplishment, it’s not a contest: Gudermane wins hand’s down.

What’s odd is that while both projects feature inconsistencies, the inconsistencies of the Berliner project burnish the conceptual underpinnings. (Translation: of course, it’s gonna look different there’s a different person behind the camera each day.)

Whereas with Gudermane, there’s one person behind the camera but other than the content, I can’t say I’d necessarily be able to pick her images out of a line up.

One the one hand that’s suggests a more organic relationship between image maker and subject. Except there are a number of other disjunctions within the work.

First there’s quality. Some images are glossily picture perfect, others seem a little slap dash–like someone who knew their way around a camera took some OOTD pictures for a close friend.

Then there’s the ruptures between the subject acknowledging the camera and the subject depicted as if they are unaware they are being observed. And again, I think both approaches could probably fit within the parameters of this project.

They don’t though for two reasons: the edit is nowhere near tight enough and the discrepancy in approach and conceptualization through their inconsistency point to the fact that I can’t point to any sort of internal logic with regard to composition–for lack of a better way of putting it, it’s like Gudermane is less interested in how the frame is read by the viewer than that what the frame shows is deemed interesting by the viewer.

Take the above image. It’s designed to appear like a self-portrait snapped in a mirror where you can’t see the edges of the mirror. However, it’s really the the picture plane itself that is suggestive of a mirror due to how it’s arranged. (And here’s what I mean about the slight up-tilt in the frame. Yes, it’s clearly supposed to make you think of a large mirror sitting on a floor and leaned up against a wall. But the effect would’ve worked just as well without the tilt. There are little things in almost all of her frames that are similarly WTF? decisions.)

Yet, if you dive down to the most basic level of this, I do see her implicit removing of the image maker from the equation as a pretty precocious first step to addressing the objections I’ve listed here. If this wasn’t a one off–and unfortunately the rest of the images from Romy’s session appear to be just that–it would suggest that not only does Gudermane have a great deal of talent but she also has a keen understanding of her shortcomings as an image maker.

We’ll see. Her work has enough good to it that I’ll be checking in from time to time to see where she’s headed.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (201X)

Another thing I don’t like about most porn is that even when they don’t cut to extreme close-ups of what’s going on at the site of various erogenous zones, they position the camera in such a way as to maximize the unobstructed view. It always feels annoyingly gratuitous. (I’m probably an anomaly but I am far FAR more likely to masturbate along to something like say this than this.)

Although I’m really not into the down tilt in this and how it renders the verticals diagonal instead of straight up and down. I don’t feel the angle was chosen to provide a titillating view of the one participants genitals and anus. Instead the view seems chosen to convey the most coherent information about both the space and what is happening within the space. The explicit nudity just happens to be a bonus.

Daisuke YokotaUntitled from Taratine series (2015)

I can’t look at Yokota’s work without thinking about disintegration.

His work emphasizes imagery keen on eschewing concrete visual representation and instead offering something teetering on the brink of abstraction. The effect might best be described as a strobe used with infrared film shot in near complete darkness and the film subsequently pushed, over-developed or otherwise mangled post exposure. There’s frequently a fixation with grain enlarged to the size of golf balls, the space between grain as a sort of craquelure; fixer streaks mar the film, dust and hair become randomized, scintillating scotoma-esque focal points and the occasional hint of color reads somewhere between an opalescent oil smear on rainwet asphalt and B&W negs left to sit overnight in spent blix.

I’ll grant the use of color is masterful. But for the most part methinks the work doth seethe too much. It’s too bleak to be so entirely ambiguous about whether what it’s presenting is beautiful, a nightmare or a bit of both. (I’d wager that Yokota is probably very into Brakhage.)

That’s why the Taratine series appeals to me–unlike the rest of the work which seems clinical and detached. There’s a sense of relationship and involvement, something from which the rest of the work suffers from the abject lack of.

I object to a lot of the compositional decisions undertaken but there is something compelling about the poses in the above images. Except for the miasmatic haze hovering above the figure on the bed, the image on the right might very well be a lost Callahan of his beloved Eleanor. It’s all more painterly than that and I can’t help but think of someone like Titian or Goya.

Yet, what’s most fascinating is the image on the left. The pose is stunningly dynamic–but the visual dynamism of it is actually played away from the camera but in a way where it isn’t lost in the image.

It reminds me of Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu’s post screening comments at the US premiere of Beyond the Hills. He spoke about working exclusively with long uninterrupted takes and how frequently at least one of the two phenomenally talented actresses wound up with their back to the camera. How does a performer convey emotion when at least half of their facilities for expressing that emotion are obscured? We in the modern world have a desire to see everything in an immediate, unmediated fashion; this urge is actually to our detriment as frequently what we don’t see is more compelling than what we do see and how an awareness of this notion permeated much of the blocking in the film.

If I had the opportunity to ask one question of Yokota, it would be: to what extent are you consciously aware of trying to formulate a new language of photographic representation of the human body exclusive to lens based visual culture?

It may not be at the forefront of his practice but it’s something that would very much be in keeping thematically with his work up to this point. Further, I think it’s actually an entirely crucial endeavor.