Marcel van der VlugtPassion Flower 4 from The Women series (1999)

There are so many things I dig about this that I kind of don’t even know where to begin…

I guess since it was made using analogy processes, it’s an actual instance of photography–so maybe let’s start with light.

When you’re Dutch–and van der Vlugt is ostensibly a Dutch surname–and as such, you hail from the same rich environment that produced Rembrandt and Vermeer, then there’s a decision to make: whether you continue the tradition of illuminating your scene with light traveling from left to right (the same way the eye is inclined to move over items that are intended to be ‘read’) or whether you try a different tact.

That’s why the layout of this is so intriguing. The light and the position of the model all push left. Look at the above image. Now I want you to close your eyes but before you close them I want you to remind yourself that you’re going to pay extra close attention to the details that jump out to you based on how your eyes scan the photo. Go for it.

Now: I want you to do the same thing only with this variation of the image.

To my way of seeing, this variation is nowhere near as effective as the original. The light and push of the pose in combination with the natural inclination to read images from left to right, makes the variation very much right side dominant. You notice the sublime lighting on the back of her head, the crown of flowers, the silhouette of her lips (which is my favorite part about this) but you lose the holistic totality of the photo that the original offers. (Like in the variation, I don’t notice the is it carpet covering the top of a table or is this something that was taken in a carpeted stairwell where the model is leaning against those intolerable Dutch staircases? I like to think it’s the latter; also, the light on her back and the tonal nuance in the soft gradient of the key light on the wall behind her.)

Ofer DabushUntitled (2016)

This image doesn’t so much fit with this project. I’m including it for two reasons:

  1. I effing love it; and,
  2. the vast majority of Dabush’s work is of a piece with the rest of the stuff I feature here

Seriously, it’s really worth spending some time with his work. I don’t necessarily love all of it–he plays fast and super loose with compositional grammar and he frequently present work that’s miles of style with only a couple centimeters of conceptual depth–the two influences on his work that come through the most clearly (at least to me) are Ryan McGinley (whose work is gorgeous but almost entirely vapid) and Yung Cheng Lin

No matter: Dabush’s work is all capital Q Quality (as far as I can tell).

I’m especially interested in this because of the texture. The tightly knotted pile of the carpet as a backdrop for the linear forms of the ribbed knit pullovers against the softness of the women’s faces.

The .exif data on this was not stripped prior to upload. Take a gander:


The 29mm focal length suggests this is a zoom lens.

There are two kinds of lenses: prime lenses and zoom lenses. The characteristics are not interchangeable but let’s consider Canon’s 28mm f1.8 to establish some sort of framework.

The minimum focus distance for the 28mm f1.8 is .25 meters, a bit under 1 foot. Thus, with the lens dialed into the the nearest focus, something .25 meters from the camera will be in sharp focus.

BUT! The wider the angle of view provided by the lens, the greater the depth of field. (ex. a 28mm f1.8 lens will have a much greater depth of field when set to the minimum focus distance and widest aperture than a 85mm f1.8 set to the minimum focus distance and widest aperture).

As the aperture narrows, the depth of field increases. Thus, given that this is already a wide angle lens and the aperture is stopped down slightly less than halfway, you’ve got a reasonable slice of the area of view in focus. To say it another way, given these settings it would be difficult for you to not capture a frame that is in sharp focus.

What’s interesting and artful about the way this frame is handled is–unless my eyes deceive me: the camera is focused so that the majority of the area in focus in the frame is actually behind these two women. The carpet is very sharp, the sweaters still sharp but maybe a touch less so and you get an additional, softening flattering affect on their faces due to the fact that the near focus is just beginning to go a little soft.

But there’s a third element to what makes this work that is even more notable: color.

There’s this notion named chromostereopsis–it’s basically the idea that red advance and blue recedes, aka why 3D movies are a thing.

Yes, the carpet here is grey but it has blue in it and therefore it seems to recede from the focal plane, whereas the red pushes upward toward the viewer. The result is that although the red is just as close to the carpet and the camera as the yellow, the red stands out more and this illusion contributes dimensionality to the yellow, also.

Lastly, the yellow to red spectrum of the two sweaters include the skin tones of the two women; in combination with the grey-blue carpet this emphasizes their faces in the frame.

Great work from someone who is clearly an astute image maker.

PeterVRSoleilaberlin, Bonn (2017)

I’m not at all fond of vertical orientation in photography/image making–I refer to it with the pejorative #skinnyframebullshit.

This isn’t #skinnyframebullshit. Why not?

My frustration with portrait orientation in photography/image making was born of the same thing that makes me distrust zoom lenses–i.e. the place an emphasis on results over process.

Instead of standing in one place and adjusting the focal length of the lens to provide an angle of view that allows you to convey the information you select to the viewer. It fosters a first idea, best idea approach that I think when deeply ingrained too early on becomes a huge stumbling block further down the road.

But my bias is definitely in favor or work that is more studied and/or contemplative.

Of course, at the end of the day the only question that matters is did you or didn’t you get the shot? A vital shot that is legible–will depending upon the urgency of the moment–work despite failings in visual grammar.

After a decade of looking at student work and working with novice photographers and image makers, I can say that in my experience–unless the photographer/image maker is working within the confines of the architectural genre, a vertical oriented frame is almost always self-conscious, affected and logically incongruous when considered within the context the scenes it depicts. (I’ve actually had a half dozen people tell me that the reason the chose the vertical composition was because they felt more like a photographer when they took it–which is one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever heard.)

The saying goes: you have to know the rules before you break them. Yet, by the same token: there are exceptions which prove the rule.

Intermediate practitioners love to take me to task about my strenuous objections to #skinnyframebullshit. (There are at least two internet famous photographers who disagree with me vociferously–in one case the photographer seems to have specifically built a body of work in an effort to flout my assertion. I find it ironic that this insistence is actually very much to the detriment of what would otherwise be better than average photos.)

In my own work–there have been instances where I have employed a vertical frame. I only use it as an absolutely last resort. And frequently I find a way to do it wherein the resulting image will be presented as if it were original conceived and executed as a horizontal frame.

This is partly because I am interested in more narrative or cinematic photos/images. And if you are intended to make a narrative photo/image and you frame it vertically, you’ve already missed the bus.

Another excuse I hear a lot is that the framing echoes the relationship of the subject to the space the subject occupies. This is actually dumber than the but I feel like a photographer/image maker because I tilted my camera on its side while taking a picture. Almost categorically, people who use this reasoning do so because they like the age old trick of making already skinny women look thinner through the imposition of a vertical frame. Or, they do it because they are shooting in an unphotogenic space and want to through shallow depth of field and careful staging draw attention to the subject while merely implying things about the physical space (i.e. it’s an interior with a brightly lit window.) :::masturbatory gesture:::

Most folks don’t stick around long enough to advance beyond the intermediate level. Also the gap separating a novice from an intermediate is much less than that which separates the intermediate practitioner from the advanced.

At a certain point you have to realize that the rules only apply to the well-traveled paths. They are there to keep you safe. But when you find your passion and chase it off the well-beaten path, the same rules deteriorate, clutch up and cease to offer their assistance. You begin to make your own. (And the way you’ll know whether or not someone is at that level, the ones who deny they’ve reached there are always more trust worthy than those who insist they know better.)

So why does this image work? I mean am I not contradicting myself because the framing so clearly echoes the position of the subject in space that is depicted. Well, yes. But also, not how the frame functions as an ellipses. The grading toward black at the top and bottom of the frame presents an impermeable boundary. Whereas the white on either side (bed and curtains, respectively) speak to space beyond the left and right edge that has been purposes excluded due to repetition. In other words, by seeing what we do of the bed and the curtain, we are able to extend the frame out in either side in our mind’s eye.

Anything that manages to include and engage you in the process of perceiving is a victory. But that fact is while being invited to participate is invigorating, a horizontal frame here would actually be boring. Too much white and not enough black would give it a oneirically suffused look; whereas because of our participation this seems edgy, voyeuristic and even lonely.

I’m not super familiar with all of PeterVR’s work but looking back over some of his recent stuff, he actually does a really good job of knowing when to use vertical frames. So if you’re interested, you should definitely spend some time with his work.

Lina Scheyniusmariacarla (2008)

Remember how from the point you started to learn long division onward, your teachers were always admonishing you to show your work!?

Up to that point the right answer has been more than enough but increasingly how you arrived at the answer becomes just as if not more important.

Lina Scheynius–more than any other photographer I can think of–shows her work.

To illustrate what I mean let me draw your attention to this heart-warming story about Peyton Thomas and what happened when her mother took her to skateboard at a local skate park.

The eye which lights on the figures and compositions that Scheynius chooses demonstrates a curiosity–nervous and often fumbling but completely engaged. When she captures an image, Scheynius is surprisingly like the girl in this story–she wants to skate but the circumstances surrounding it and her lack of confidence are all obstacles.

As such her work often shows a almost careless whimsy with regards to composition. For example: the above image doesn’t logically break down into any sort of sensible geometric proof. It’s literally about the diagonal (top right to bottom left angle of the light, interplay between the pattern/color of the dress against the carpet. Like most of her work–the colors are muted and muddy in an effort to render light the central focus.

Further, to me it feels as if the instinct of the image maker is to present Mariacarla in context. Due to this instinct, the curtain fringe and whatever the dark object pushes in along the top, slightly right of center frame edge.

In the end, it’s these two likely circumstantial elements that unify the image. And here is where the eye that edits the resulting images is comparable to Ryan Carney in the story about the little girl and her skateboard. Lina as editor acknowledges the wonderment but applies a critical eye. The accidental embellishments serve as a means of rendering the wonder impetus the sparked the shutter triggering legible to a viewer.

There are scads of photographers whose work functions as a primer in how to read images. But Scheynius, in the way she reflexive makes photos inextricably tied up in her process, is trying to show us how to better see wonder in the world around us.


by Benoit Paillé




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An image of Paillé’s—from the World Rainbow Gathering in Guatemala—slid across my dash several months ago.

Intrigued, I quickly found his candid portraits of illegal Ivorian immigrants working as “beaters” outside Paris’ Chateau D’eau Station. Despite the conceptually problematic aspects of the project—fetishizing alterity, for starters—the detail and precise exposure control floored me.

The majority of his works causes me to suffer an uncharacteristic loss for words. I am never particularly enamored with his choice of subjects and I think his use of color borders on gratuitous hyper-stylization. But damn if I don’t absolutely dig his eye.

However, the thing that makes his work so distinct is for me less a visual signature and more an attitude toward the subject. I’ve found it’s always stupid to try to say something that has already been said well better, so there’s this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

            You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.

To my eye, that is what makes a Benoit Paillé image so unique—he seems less concerned with taking a picture than offer his camera as a means of recording the intrinsic truth that comes from sharing a holy moment.

Maybe a week or so ago, the lovely sextathlon re-blogged a post featuring images of Michelangelo’s David side-by-side with a photo of a nude male pin-up appended with an question as to why the former is defended as Art and the latter is deemed obscene.

My suspicion is that the party line runs: the skill required to carve a nude dude from a chunk of marble exceeds what is needed to plunk a hunk down in front of a camera.

The dichotomy really centers on the way male nudity challenges invisible assumptions, i.e. the spectator will be straight, white and male or deferential to such a perspective.

Michelangelo was likely gay, David—a homoerotic sculpture. But Renaissance aristocrats didn’t get their dressing gowns in a twist because the work was conceived with fail-safes to diffuse the “gay”: the contrapposto of Greek statuary was the lingua franca among Firenze’s intelligentsia; also, naming the piece after a mensch who was such a bro that he had a man killed to bone his wife further obfuscates its homoeroticism.

On the other hand, photography is a relatively young medium and as such there are fewer ruses to diffuse perceived affronts to the invisible ‘heterosexual norm’. Thus: an image of a cock is, well… a cock—and most likely totes gay.

Pornographers, and trench coat clad old men standing on street corners, have done fuck all to ameliorate matters. Both reduce heterosexuality to metonymy—men are their swollen manhood; the sight of which is somehow sure to start vaginal secretions dripping down thighs.

With all that bullshit, I guess people see the hairless semi-hard cock tucked between the boys shaved legs and immediately dismiss the image as “gay.” Maybe, they are a wee bit sensitive and wonder about the subject’s ambivalent gender identity

Fuck that noise. And should your eyes’ appetite not be omnivorous enough to appreciate the meticulously considered, conceived and constructed pulchritudinous depiction of longing, then fuck you, too.