Yaroslav F.aliona i. offside2016. lviv. {desaturated & cropped} (2016)

Whoever desaturated and cropped this is a colossal fucking asshat.

Consider the original:

Yes, the original is far from perfect– the yellow t-shirt together with yellow line against the green field is a decently observant with regard to using color in composition. (I’m not sure about how the crossbar of the goal looks a bit like one of those prop headband arrows that makes it appear as if there’s an arrow sticking through your skull, the fence, the electrical line armature or apartment buildings in the distance add anything to the photo.)

But compare the original to the desaturated and cropped version: the former is a reasonable idea that suffers from a deficit of attention to all the details; whereas the edit reduces the portrait-esque aspect of the picture to a more overt provocation–the thin t-shirt sans bra presents a feminist tinged visual commentary, i.e. eye contact above this line and the crossed black cord either indicating a negation of the command or an insinuation of a preference for kink.

Further the focus on the setting is different. In the color original, there’s the emphasis on the soccer field within a larger context of the area immediately surrounding it. In the desaturated crop, the frame is centered on the goal and there’s a feeling that given that this is a soccer pitch and that this person is facing the camera (and ostensibly the viewer) that Aliona–and by dint of the ostensibly feminist message of her clothing–is an obstacle between the viewer and the goal.

In other words, the original picture is imperfect but it has a certain knee jerk charm but the edit is designed in such a way to sharpen a sexist narrative that is not present in the original.

Emmet GreenMailin for REVS magazine (2018)

There’s a great deal I like about this photograph.

The inorganic lighting is reminiscent of Maxime Imbert; except Imbert tends to goose things for stylistic affect whereas Green underscores style with substance.

The Rules of Color Theory ™ instruct: red advances; blue recedes–although there’s not a lot of blue here, there is a mess of red, a pretty decent amount of yellow and then some green to blue tinged hues in the shadow behind and below Mailin’s right shoulder/arm.

The overall perspective is roughly Platon-esque. But whereas Platon uses scale to impose dimensionality (whatever is closer appears bigger than what is further away), this uses color to accomplish a similar mission. Mailin is leaning forward slightly, in a very shallow depth of field. The red pulls her face forward, the yellow on her right shoulder and upper arm gives a solid sense of a mid-ground (and also balances the her blond hair) and the darker colors give the illusion of more space than their really is here.

Interestingly, the positioning of the different colored sources of illumination are such that Mailin is casting multiple shadows. The blue green shadow is cast closest to her right side, then there’s a red shadow and then the yellow shadow–the line of her shoulder separating yellow from green-blue. (Actually the way the shadow appears in relationship to the wall it’s falling upon reminds me more than a little of Laura Pannack’s recent project on what Brexit means for love.)

The other thing I really like about this is the balance between positive space and negative space and how it relates to scale and dimensionality.

(I’m also weirdly interested in the water/oil slick looking mark in the upper left corner–is that on the negative or a mark on the wall. Either way it’s cool AF.)

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.

Source unknown – Title Unknown (2009) 

Any halfway decent Philosophy 101 course is going to touch on the notion of an ontological argument.

The premise goes like this: God must exist because a God is perfect and that which exists is more perfect than that which does not exist.

I feel as if a lot of modern images suffer from an ontological raison d’etre–namely, the image you capture is better than the image you don’t because the former exists and the latter does not.

All sorts of justifications are employed to shore up this rationale: if I don’t take a photo I won’t remember or it seemed to suggest something that would make a pretty picture.

I call bullshit on both. On the one hand the notion that folks need to Instagram every prettily plated meal and a trendy eatery cheapens the notion of persistence of memory. I’m sure it was good and all but are the huevos rancheros you had a brunch really something you want to remember ten years from now? (It’s like they teach you early on in film making–there’s no need to shoot coverage of a scene with closeup inserts that show the protagonists movements. He grabs something off the counter and picks up something else on vanity in the vestibule. It’s unnecessary to show a close-up of his wallet and his keys, respectively; unless either figure prominently later in the plot.*)

But the second impetus–it seemed like it would make a pretty picture–is, at least, more fundamentally honest in that it assumes that someone else seeing the image will through seeing it gain something.

The proliferation of ready-at-hand imaging devices has not materially improved image making. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of the impetus to create images is grounded in the capitalist act of conspicuous consumption. It’s not enough that I eat and remember what I ate, it’s necessary to show that one is eating here there or having this or that unmediated experience.

It gets even worse with porn. Consumers of erotic content are spoon fed a stylized and highly unrealistic version of sexuality. What I always find so completely bonkers about that is that–by and large–when folks set out to produce DIY porn, instead of asking themselves how do I convey what my experience of sex is like (or perhaps better: inquiring as to why they have the urge to produce such content and then exploring how to place what they want to show in line with what they create), porn provides an easily replicable template for making you the porn star or starlet of your own triple X scene.)

The above is–to my eye–quite different. It’s clear that the audience is seeing something pornographic in nature but the focus is on the expression of an intense, in-the-moment experience of physical pleasure. Yeah, it’s goes way too dark in areas and the shadow cast by the tripod in the upper left corner is detrimental to the immersive effect the image seems to be seeking; but, the way she’s looking back over her shoulder isn’t something that could be easily staged.

Source unknown – Title unknown (188X)

One thing you learn very quickly studying visual art in academia is the liability that is sentimentality.

The two exceptions I can think of are Nan Goldin–who, while her work is unsentimental, the raison d’etre for her work is fundamentally sentimental; and Sally Mann, whose work frequently borders on inexcusable sentimentality but always manages to maintain a rigorously formal foundation w/r/t to conceptual complexity and masterful execution.

I’m not arguing that the above image is sentimental. It is, however, very earnest and I think all too often that disqualifies certain work from being considered as art.

There are certainly compositional flaws that detract from this. The entire frame is left heavy. As all the elements either shift the eye left or are gathered at the left half of the frame. The “24.” along the right frame edge is placed as if to counter-act some of that off kilterness–but it hardly makes up for it.

Additionally, the lower frame edge cutting at the knee is just inelegant and jarring.

Yet, there is a lot to praise here. The skin tone is lovely–the subtle gradation between the curve of his body and the backdrop, the way her skin is so much lighter than his.

The backdrop borders on ridiculous; however, with the careful drape of the rug and the position of the bodies with the aforementioned gradation, it all suggests a familiarity with classical modes of visual representation.

I also adore the way her arm is bent back and she’s looking directly into the camera. There’s something calculated about it–part defiance, part fascination. Also, the dirty soles of her feet splayed in the air is inspired.

It feels to me like the photographer wanted to make images of people fucking but didn’t want it to read as frivolous. Thus, there’s an attention to detail that although it doesn’t entirely work, it adds a ring of truth to the scene.

I have no idea about the origins of this image. But there does appear to be a scratch on it–bifurcating it more or less horizontally at the center as well as a dogeared corner. It may not be accurate but it’s possible to imagine someone keeping this photo secreted away in a coat pocket.

Lightsong StudioEmma and Katja (2015)

One of the benefits of learning my way around a traditional darkroom when I did was that so many people were adopting digital that there were times when I would have a darkroom with 10 enlargers all to myself.

I kept trying to figure out interesting ways to manipulate my prints. My first experimental efforts was to make a perfect print of a diptych with images from two different negatives. (This is much more difficult than it sounds.)

I figured out how to use a print to make a contact print that rendered a print that reverted to the look of the original negative.

And then I discovered Witkin and Uelsmann and wasted an entire month trying to among other things: seamlessly splice half of one negative together with half of another, composite a scene from elements taken four different negatives. I made progress–but it was slow and cost prohibitively expensive.

Eventually, I realized that as much as I enjoy printing and am in some ways better at it than I am with a camera, I’d rather work with real people, on location and try to as much as possible produce the desired look in camera.

Thus I’m not really fond of this image makers work. The vast majority of it at least draws attention to if not serves as a comment upon its own artifice.

For example, the above image has been burned in to suggest a stylized vignetting. The skin has been ever so carefully toned so that the woman acknowledging the camera stands out by comparison to the woman with her eyes closed. And don’t get me wrong–I only wish I could achieve grading like that in my own work. But perhaps part of the reason I can’t is because the effect is achieved by obvious, heavy handed manipulation of the rest of the frame.

It’s unfortunate because there is something simultaneously post-coital and womb-like about this image. (And it would be stronger without the vignetting to goose the viewer.)

But looking at this something else occurred to me that should be presented as a basic rule of photograph to compliment the rule of thirds and the rule rergarding an odd number of subjects in the frame always being preferable to an even number–namely, if you have to have an even number of people in a frame, have only one acknowledge the camera.

Pascal RenouxLizzie Saint Septembre (2007)

Orson Welles proclaimed “[t]he enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive. Exhibit A: centuries of extravagant excess in Western Art.

However, browsing Renoux’s work, I can’t help but notice how it does so much with so little.

I mean: if you’re at all familiar with the Tumblr fine art nude model community, you know there is no dearth of models huddling close to windows in tiny, dim and cramped apartments.

And the vast majority of those images play like a checklist of popular conventions: Dutch Golden Age light, beautiful bodies, oblique shadows. It tends to read more as look at this monument I erected to my own creative effort.

All the same tropes are active in Renoux’s work but their effect is much different. Whether or not you see the window in the frame or merely its illumination seems less a question dictated by the layout of the room and more organically in conversation with other compositional elements in the image. It’s the same with: eye contact vs an averted gaze or color vs B&W. Every element fits together with a breathless exactitude.

Back when I was a film student my only real rival–prior to running afoul of the administration–was this bat shit crazy kid named Igor. He was like the inverse of me. I became a film student because I wanted to make movies whereas he had always loved movies but his only training was in fine art photography.

I was working on a half dozen different projects that semester and had just returned from the lab with a batch of transfers. Igor had asked me to pick his footage up too while I was in Manhattan.

We met in the editing lab and we watched both his footage and my footage. He was intensely critical of the stuff I’d shot–going so far as to say that he could have produced better images with $10 dollars, no crew and tripping on mescaline.

One of my reels featured footage of waves rolling in on the shore. He was mesmerized by it. Made my play it back a half dozen times. He said: That’s good. Because no matter how hard someone tried, they could never–even with infinite resources–produce remotely similar images.

I wanted to strange him them. Truthfully, I still kind of want to strangle him now. But with the benefit of more than a decade to stew, I see his point more clearly.

To be Capital-A Art, work must be more than reverence for a nude body the raison d’etre must transcend monuments to individual creative effort. It’s something that many of Renoux’s images evidence in spades.

Yes, that’s really uselessly abstract. But I think I can actually illustrate what I mean (for once).

This image by Eric Englehardt was made with a 4×5 large format camera. It’s lovely. I dig the scale (you can see the subject head to toe in the frame) and there’s context (ostensibly a dumpster in what may be a junkyard or perhaps somewhat arid locale–in other words there’s an element of public vs private at play).

Here’s another from the same series. It’s medium format. You don’t have a wide enough angle of view to determine context. Like I know it’s a dumpster and I still think it looks like an empty freight train car. The eye contact with the camera, the splash of red nail polish, the windswept hair–all of it works together to make create something that is more than the sum of its parts.

Cem Edisboylu – [↑] FRG3519 from Flash of Light series (2015); [←] KOW3207 from Fräulein Kowalski series (2014); [+] ALG2968 from Alessa Ghoulish series (2014); [→] KAD2723 from Sofie seires (2014)

I’m not prepared to endorse Edisboylu’s wholesale. I’m pretty sure it’s digital–and let’s be real there is no reason an image maker with fine art aspiration would ever bother shooting non-analogue B&W.

Further, the nudes-for-nudity’s-sake work reads as both awkward and clunky.

Not to say it’s all bad–I think the above images are all actually brilliant; the central image of Fräulein Kowalski is, in fact, goddamn fucking breathtaking.

And how good the three portraits are–where the focus is on immediacy, intimacy and a sort of Buber-ian relationship, where any nudity serves in an ancillary capacity–is part of why the other work seems so godawfully boring by comparison. If the image maker can do so much with so little, it would follow that with more the viewer would be reasonable in expecting expanded and not diminished returns.

But what I really appreciate about Edisboylu is a feature of his presentation you’ll probably miss if you don’t have fat fingers and aren’t clumsy as fuck like I am. All the images in his portfolio–so long as you open into a new tab–lead to a more in-depth selection of images from the same shoot. This is a badass feature for two reasons.

  1. It shines a light on the darker corridors of individual process and in this case it’s easy to understand why the image maker has chosen the images he has to represent the shoot. (I’m always talking about editing. This is what I’m referring to–the process whereby you pare down the multitude of images to the best and brightest. Given the sampling of other shots, it’s easy to follow the shown work on why each image was chosen.
  2. You can actually interpolate even more about the shoot. For example: Edisboylu clearly shoots a lot during his sessions. The cross section of the shoot with Fräulein Kowalski, for example, seems to suggest that he tends to adopt the loathsome spray-and-pray approach that digital imaging facilitates. Yet, as much as I detest that approach, there does appear to be at least some respect for the audience. Consider the handful of Tumblr famous photographers who go to great lengths to post several new images every single day. I want to see and appreciate an artist’s best work, not experience a continual watering down of quality in an effort to build a sense of brand constancy. I’ll always take two marshmallows later over one marshmallow right now. It’s appealing that Ebisboylu seems to understand that. His work is definitely better for his reserve.