Laurence PhilomeneUntitled from Lucky: a star is born (2018)

This is already fantastic only accounting for how candid, playful and immediate it is.

But there’s also the way the sharp focus on Lucky’s gaze as a counter balance to the way their mouth is hidden in the crook of their elbow–creating a Mona Lisa smile level of ambiguity. (You can only go on what you see: humor and perhaps also touch of world weariness or melancholy. But really, it feels like the subject sees more of the viewer than the viewer will ever guess about the subject.)

And the depth of field is used to stunning effect–elbow & right hand out of focus in the foreground; the pink polished nails, bridge piercing, eyes in sharp attention commanding focus and then everything dropping out of focus at the sides of their face, reverting to magenta and blue (a motif echoes in the offset MUTANT tattoo on Lucky’s forearm, echoed again in the tattooed fingers and pink nails polished to a mirrored sheen.

This is freaking stellar portrait. And the rest of the series is just as worth your time. Laurence is staggeringly talented and I’m excited with the way they seem to be pushing themself and their work.

Craig MoreyChristelle (200X)

I see Morey as being of-a-kind with someone like Petter Hegre–folks with a quality stable of gear who generally toe a quantity as quality line in terms of their voluminous output.

You can split hairs; for example: Hegre has a better facility with color management (although his compositions, editing, conceptualizations and general familiarity with the history of photography seems knee-jerk at best); Morey, on the other hand, likely has an assiduously cultivated preoccupation with Jan Saudek (yes, Saudek would never get as close to his subjects as Morey but Morey favors imperfectly textured backdrops with little if any apparent separation between the subject and the background–which is all very Saudek-ian).

Honestly, the pose above is awkward AF. There’s a tension in the way the drape of her jacket is falling down her shoulders. It looks as if she’s doing the sort of thing where you rip off a bodice and stand their open to the world bosoms heaving. Except… her shoulders are not wide and squared, they are folded in. (I do this instinctively when folks stare at my chest, tbh.)

Also: you wouldn’t pull your shirt up like that. It’s likely that she’s hooked her thumb in the arm hole of her top but it looks as if Christelle is closer to trying to pull her tank down to cover herself.

This awkwardness would be distracting if it weren’t for her expression: it’s 100% what do you think you’re looking at? But that mien could cut either way: accusatory or flirtatious.

I’m not familiar enough with Morey’s oeuvre to definitively state that this is either/or dichotomy is a recurrent feature; however, based on what I have seen it seems plausible that it is.

If so, I think that’s actually something worth thinking about as far as making portraiture. In a lot of ways, taking a picture of someone the audience already knows is easier. Think pictures of celebs–we know them already so we’re filtering what we see through a prism of what we already know about the personality. It means that the portrait in a moment in time is designed to contribute to something that is already fully featured in the viewers’ minds.

And of course the photographer/image make knows the person they are portraying. But if the audience doesn’t–there’s a far greater burden for the author to use the scant space of a frame to convey some sense of the person. And I think this capturing the tension between experiential polarities is actually a damn fine tactic for accomplishing this. (It reminds me of the debate about whether or not one of the great portraits of all time Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring is turning towards or away from the viewer.)

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.)

Paula AparicioInés en casa, buenos aires, Diciembre (2017)

Aparicio is a fantastic photographer and image maker. (The above is digital; but she also works in analog.)

I’ve been working out how to tell you something about this for several days now. It’s not easy–not for lack of things to say but in the saying of something there is all too often an effort to demystify. Aparicio’s work resists that approach.

It occurred to me that although this is monochrome–it’s actually not dissimilar from the selection of Polaroids made by Andrei Tarkovsky’s released through Thames and Hudson entitled Instant Light.

My copy of that book is currently in storage–so I searched for some samples to include side by side with other work by Aparicio to illustrate similarities. Except the site I landed on was this and well, I’m inspired to run in rather a different direction.

As Michelle Aldredge points out–Tarkovsky was extremely anti-Hollywood. He felt that there were two predominant means of expressing ones vision: the descriptive and the poetic. He opted for something that was both third option and middle ground: metaphor.

Yet, he was adamant that what he was doing had little to do with symbolic coding. What he meant by metaphor was something along the lines of this:

I think people somehow got the idea that everything on screen should be
immediately understandable. In my opinion events of our everyday lives
are much more mysterious than those we can witness on screen. If we
attempted to recall all events, step by step, that took place during
just one day of our life and then showed them on screen, the result
would be hundred times more mysterious than my film 

In other words, he sought to present the world of his films not as a story or exercise in formal decryption. It wasn’t even really supposed to mimic the function of dreaming, it was more an effort to use the immersive nature of cinema to convey an approximation of an experience that while not the whole experience might be somehow more than experience.

That’s what I admire so much about Aparicio’s work. The way it hones in on the magnificence and mystery in the mundane of lounging around on a sunny morning in a way that feels both foreign and familiar all at once.

Also: the lighting here is excellent. It appears almost backlit but the light is actually slanting left to right across the frame. The flattens Inés right arm against the overexposed backdrop, while emphasizing her face in profile and lending her body more solid dimensionality. (It also has the effect of making it seem as if she’s tilting towards the camera a bit.)

This would’ve been a good image without any other additions but there’s also the way the light catches her eyelashes and what look like burns from cigarette ashes on her underwear that makes this thoroughly mesmerizing.

(It’s also a bit like a Vermeer where you think that if you watch it long enough the picture will come to life and you’ll get a glimpse of what happens next–even though the medium makes that impossible.)

Jouk Oosterhof – [←] Hanneke from Women with Vaginismus project (201X); [-] Emma from Women with Vaginismus project (201X); [→] Bertine from Women with Vaginismus project (201X)

I first encountered the portrait of Emma via @thephotoregistry–which continues to be one of the best things on Tumblr.

I liked the way that the texture of Emma’s hair is set off against her blouse as well as the smoothness of the background.

Upon closer reading: I realized the nature of the project–relating to vaginismus, a condition wherein an sort of vaginal penetration causes intense pain. (I have two friends who have this condition and what they’ve told me about it sounds absolutely heinous.)

Via Oosterhof’s LensCulture profile, she says of her process: “I carefully build the image, staging all details.”

That actually tracks given these works. Note: the lighting on the background alone is drastically different between the three images. The lighting on the women is less different but there’s still some variation. I’m especially fond at the way she’s both used the lighting to separate the women from the backdrop while also playing the background lighting against the foreground lighting to dramatic effect given the positioning and pose of the subject.

Emmet GowinEdith, Chincoteague, Virginia (1967)

From a macro perspective Gowin’s work—and excluding his travel/photojournalistic dabbling—features three distinct phases: the photos of his wife Edith and her family (early), the aerial landscapes (mid) and his more experimental work (recent)—which take Edith as subject once again and involving photos of her taken in Panama printed in experimental fashion on handmade paper produce a photograph/gram hybrid, i.e. this print of a photo of Edith including the outline and veins of a decaying leaf.

The more recent work is completely new to me despite being made almost 15 years ago. My initial thoughts are that it is understated and prescient in a way that would be completely unrecognizable as Gowin’s work if drastic reinvention weren’t Gowin’s exact bag.

After the early work, he took just about the most unexpected left turn imaginable and began to make aerial photos. As I recall, it was something he did just because that’s just what he did when something caught his interest—took pictures of what interested him. And while conceptually, I know that part of the consideration with the aerial photos was to contemplate at what point a the representation of a landscape tilted (on balance) over into abstraction.

The truth is the aerial stuff just isn’t very good (subjectively). It’s accepted because Gowin is an established name and the interrogative focus of the work is valid. But I just think that although he was—to the best of my knowledge—the first to contextualize these sort of photos in terms of fine art practice (and is therefore the progenitor), I’ve seen it done better–it’s not photography, it’s sculpture but Susan Hammond comes to mind, just off the top of my head.

I was actually thinking of Gowin due to a conversation I was having with a friend about the relationship between art making and audience, i.e. there is this balance between where your interests lead you and where your viewer or audience will follow you.

The prejudice is that great artists make work for themselves and therefore are attempting to converse with folks 100 years down the road instead of those in the hear and now. Except: that’s kind of elitist and untrue. I mean for all the intensely specific aesthetic considerations of the great Renaissance artists, there work was something that even someone completely uneducated in the ethos and techniques of mastery in various forms of visual representation, were still very much able to approach the work and get something out of it—whether identifying the characters in a Biblical story and associating them with famous wealthy patrons or just appreciating the way the artist envisioned the tableau.

The distance between the present and the future has grown exponentially more compact—the future isn’t 100 years away, it’s now measured in months and years at the outside.

Despite the surfeit of art makers, it’s difficult-to-impossible to make a living making art. More and more of us are working shitty cubicle jobs to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. We work when we have the resources (infrequently) and hope for the best.

And I think that’s the lesson that Gowin has to teach us that is so important: I think if you see his model of producing work that attracts people to it, interspersed with deeply, personal, abstract and largely unapproachable work—there is a balance between the two.

I think that’s the most important lesson you can teach up-and-coming art makers: balancing personal passions with work that is universally accessible and empathetic. The dialectical exchange between the two efforts strengthens both immeasurably.

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @suspendedinlight – [↑] Loom; [←] Darkness Suspending in Light; [→] Baba Yaga (2017)

I have about a half dozen or so frames from this shoot I’m still in the process of editing–but I wanted to get these out there ahead of anything else.

This shoot was one of the most fun I’ve ever had–I love working with other artists but more than anything I prefer working with friends–and Lyndsie has become one of my nearest and dearest over the last year. (She’s so amazing talented and has this freaking magnificent mind and she totally gets *it*.)

The top photo was a riff on this. It’s a bit more inscrutable than I envisioned, but the more I’ve worked with it the more that is perhaps the point of the disorienting perspective. The title cemented it; I’m all about multivalent wordplay–it can be Lyndsie’s relationship to the viewer; or, the device used to weave materials into cloth (using such a device is not an inconcievable reason for her hand’s to be positioned in that way); or the part of an oar between the handle and the paddle (betweenness or, if you will: fulcrum as tool).

To me there’s something magical about it, something witch-like. (Truthfully the entire thing emerged out of me not being able to shake the fact that she’s playing a harp and the similarities between the harp and the loom and how Lyndsie as an visual artist and musician is on both sides of that.

The bottom left was totally making shit up as I went along. Lyndsie sat down and there was something powerful and playful about her demeanor that I wanted to document. I set up the camera and was so obsessed with getting her eyelight just so (check it out–so proud of myself for that!). I didn’t see the reflection until I first gazed at the slides through a loupe.

The photo on the bottom right was based on a dream I had. We played around until we got something that felt right and we took one frame. If you look close it’s not quite in focus–my 6×9 camera took a tumble in Iceland and the focus is just a touch softer now. But it gives it this very David Lynch like haze that makes it more obviously homage to Lynch then any of the half dozen other things in the frame I meant to specifically reference Lynch. So… sometimes I’m my own worst enemy, sometimes I’m looking out for myself against my own ‘genius’ ideas.

There you have it: a peak into my own creative process.

9mouthUntitled from Instax Love series (201X)

The Sino photographer identifiable by the moniker 9mouth is hugely problematic. (I won’t repeat myself: you can read my previous thoughts on his process here.)

Still he does manage to produce some truly breathtaking photos–seemingly in spite of his galling misogynist bombast.

Here the interplay between the flash and the semi-reflective wallpaper renders an incrementally overexposed skin tone–not only flattering but also steeped in an almost tonal patina of late night in a seedy love motel vibe.

The model’s expression is an inscrutable defensive wall–is she bored? annoyed/impatient? judgmental (of the photographer? Or the viewer? Little of column A, little of column B?)

I get the sense that this is very much front loaded with ambiguity. There is a very compelling feeling of intimacy; yet, also a sense that the intimacy is forced–not exactly contrived or coerced but conditional somehow.

That conditional consideration and that it is effectively what makes this image so successful is more than a little discomfiting. (At least to me.) So while I am willing to acknowledge that this is an astute image–I think it functions in a fashion that operates in a sort of beyond good and evil approach to broader issues of consent and visual representation. Another way to say it might be to say that if mainstream porn shifted its model to produce art, it would likely come off much like this.