Harry CallahanEleanor (1948)

There are only a handful of photographers in the history of the medium with as roundly as exquisite a body of work over their lifetime. Callahan is absolutely one such photographer.

(In fact: if I was asked to name one photographer who one might through an especially thorough study of their work, glean the most extensive picture of photography as an art form, I’d probably insist that Callahan was the only consideration.)

My favorites are the photos he made with Eleanor and subsequently Eleanor and his daughter. But even with his minimalist landscapes and plants in the landscape–he is always magnificently attuned to nuance of light, tone and dimensionality.

I love everything about this photo. (I’ve somehow never seen it before encountering it here.) But what’s particularly revelatory about it is that silhouettes usual appear completely flat–as if someone cut out a shape in heavy cardboard and placed them between the camera and the light. (If you’re thinking of the scene in Home Alone with the cardboard Micheal Jordan cut-out… good call.)

The reason for that you’re dealing with something that is brightly backlit–thus, the object is blocking the light. The point at which the object blocking the light is the widest only has one dimension and there’s light that is blocked and light that is not blocked on either side of that object.

When I teach three point lighting to undergrads, we talk about the key light, the fill light and the back (or rim) light. The reason it has become customary to use this setup is because it a standardized approach to the stylized representation of natural lighting.

If you’re standing in the middle of a field on a sunny day–unless you’re facing into the sun (which doesn’t make for the most aesthetically appealing imagery–the sun is going to be bright on one side of you than the other. This is because the sun hits one side of you and by hitting that one side of you, it’s blocked from hitting the other side of you. (Unless you’re a ghost and then my apologies.)

The ground around you actually reflects light to a certain degree. So while one side of your face is brighter than the other, the ground helps fill it in so it’s still slightly darker but naturally and flatteringly so. (The key light is usually to left and the fill light to the right of the scene–you can do it however but as the convention is borrowed from Dutch Baroque painting, where the light almost categorically falls left to right.)

It’s the light behind you that actually gives you dimensionality. (A key light and a fill light will make the objects illuminated appear flat in exactly the same way a silhouette makes the subject presented in silhouette appear two dimensional.)

Notice how just the faintest of fills on the fingers of Eleanor’s right hand on her left arm–I’m reasonably certain that she’s is standing with her back to the camera–have dimensionality; and therefore create this strange since that she is and is not actually flat.

wonderlust photoworks in collaboration with @kattruffautPersonae obscura (2017)

The process for this was: It was the strangest week in L.A. it rained every day I was there. It had cleared up a bit but not enough to keep us from losing the light early.

I love working with Kathleen, so we kept things going trying to do the best we could with truly deplorable lighting.

This was the last thing we did. It was just an notion: a figure behind the glass casting a shadow–I’d been thinking about the opening to the Pang Brothers’ The Eye (it’s extremely well done).

My film was massively underexposed. You could only see the vaguest hint of separation between three frames. I thought about just using the one with Kathleen pushing against the glass but it seemed underwhelming being just a minimal element amidst a sea of inky black.

The inspiration for these shots had been something moving–so I thought maybe that’s what I’m missing. (Also, I’m interested in a lot of what

I’m really piss poor when it comes to Photoshop. @jacsfishburne pointed me in the right direction and I was able to put this together. It’s the best I can do right now. And that’s probably a good thing because I see it as sort of in the same vein as Inside Flesh; I wanted it to appear interlaced and glowy. But that’s a couple instances of glitching pretty much an exact quote from them, and why would I do that. This can be better. It was an exercise. Still kinda better than I thought I’d be able to do–and that’s the secret (the longer you do it the better you get at it.)

Rogier Houwen – [↑] Women Kiss (201X); [↓] Title Unknown (201X)

The second photo here dates from late 2012 at the latest. I suspect the upper photo was made around roughly the same time.

Houwen’s style has morphed–with his more recent work focusing on interrogations of photographic process and deconstruction of traditional darkroom technique. It’s not exactly original or even innovative but it’s still interesting. (For example: I unfortunately can’t access the sectors of my memory banks where the name is stored but there is a notable fine art photographer who worked in almost exactly the same vein as Houwen is now who was active primarily in the mid-aughts. That artist’s work is of a much higher quality but I still appreciate Houwen’s soulfulness–it contributes a vitality to his work that I always found lacking in the work of the hot shot photographer whose name I can no not even remember.)

I’ll stay in my lane though. Houwen’s work–at least circa the epoch of the above work–is reminiscnet of Patricio Suarez. Not how both skew darker in terms of dynamic range and both feature a strong preference for backlighting. (This allows them to do some fascinating things with the boundaries between shadow and light, i.e. the way the woman in the lower photo above is separated from the background by a halo of mid-tones around her right shoulder, neck, hair and back.)

It’s not exactly correct but I think the difference has something to do with the raison d’etre for the photo. In Suarez’s case the photo is indicative of a feeling–the chicken hatches the egg. Whereas with Houwen, the feeling is the egg from which the chicken hatches.

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.

Gregoire Alexandre – [←] Fer 1 (2012); [→] Fer 2 (2012)

You attend to the shape, sometimes by tracing it, sometimes by screwing up your eyes so as not to see the colour clearly, and in many other ways. I want to say: This is the sort of thing that happens while one ‘directs one’s attention to this or that’. But it isn’t these things by themselves that make us say someone is attending to the shape, the colour, and so on. Just as a move in chess doesn’t consist simply in moving a piece in such-and-such a way on the board-nor yet in one’s thoughts and feelings as one makes the move: but in the circumstances that we call “playing a game of chess”, “solving a ches problem”, and so on.

                –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §33

We don’t know what’s
going on here. If these tremendous events are random combinations of
matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of
typewriters, then what is it in us, hammered out of those same
typewriters, that they ignite? We don’t know. Our life is a faint
tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf
miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look
at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on
here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling
band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.
                  

                —Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Patricio SuarezUntitled (2013)

I’ve posted about Suarez before and I remain just as if not maybe a bit more enamored with his work now.

Spending more time with the work I’ve discovered a conceptual reflexiveness between his tendency to focus on picturesque interiors and a concern for a psychological interiority.

In some photographs the subject acknowledges the camera but it’s rare to feel that the gaze is directed at any audience. Instead, it feels more like the audience is intended to serve as a mirror.

I also can’t help but note how this image feels different than the rest of Suarez’s work. Whereas the rest of the work features mostly woman, in darkened, oneric locations, all of it feels very different than the way so many of the image makers who are producing quasi-narrative work that is a hybrid of portraiture and documentary, there tends to be a feeling of loneliness to it.

I don’t feel that with the rest of the work but I do very strongly with this image. A tenacious melancholia. The image offers no clue as to what might be the cause of that feeling. But it does strike me not that the feeling is incidental so much as a closely held secret that wants to be told but is not sure the telling won’t just bring about more harm.

Truly lovely.

René GroebliUntitled from The Eye of Love series (1953)

Lately, I’ve been pondering darkness.

I know, I know… sounds like rejected Celtic Frost
lyrics; but seriously, another of the many unsavory side effects of the
shift from photography/cinematography to digital imaging is the
redefinition of how low-light scenes are represented.

Overlooking
the immense differences between analog and digital, Hollywood has
established an expectation for how things look at night that whether one
realizes it or not, is irreducibly stylized.

I
get asked all the time by folks to recommend cameras to fit a litany of
expectations which almost always center on a low price point and a
prodigious ability to handle low-light situations. People who aren’t
steeped in the technology seem to expect that there’s a camera out there
that’ll render your concert shots and exterior street at night scenes
as if they were Blade Runner
deleted scenes (overlooking that Blade Runner had arguably the best
production design in the history of cinema combined with the fact that
it was shot by Jordan Cronenweth, i.e. one of the all-time great cinematographers.

Working in low light is a challenge. Unless you’re Stanley Kubrick–who famously adapted f0.7 lenses made by Zeiss for NASA to shoot scenes in Barry Lyndon
with only candles for illumination–the recourse was to just let things
go too dark (I’m thinking here of the all but illegible evening walks
in Akerman’s otherwise masterful Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and the most naturalistic representation of low-light cinematography Kiarostami’s–arguably the greatest living filmmaker–Where is the Friend’s Home?)

At
a certain point, certain (largely European) filmmakers started flooding
night scenes with ambient blue light (likely a way of rendering the day-for-night tradition more visually palatable)–I first remember noticing this in del Toro’s Mimic but Besson’s La Femme Nikita
preceded that and as anyone who has followed the latter’s career, you
know he’s incapable of formulating an original idea (although, at least
he tends to steal from the best).

Then along comes digital with
it’s fundamentally less shallow depth of field which in combination with
the theoretical impossibility of it ever rendering even half the
dynamic range of black that the human eye can read. The tendency has
been to invert things and to, when working digitally, treat white as you
would black when shooting analog. (Orange is the New Black does this super obviously.)

Then
there’s also color grading to consider. Toward the end of the analog
era, what came out of the camera was not even close to what made it onto
the screen. Lighting was modified with magic windows, color graded,
etc.

That’s still done today. But that thing that’s different is
that digital cinematographers aim for an in camera image that is
essentially flat. When you export it, it looks bleached–like one of
those Tumblr’s that adds a soft grunge tag to everything. Subsequently,
the footage is graded. Contrast is add, color is resaturated.

Anyway,
I was thinking what I was going to say about this image last night and
even though I swore I wasn’t going to keep watching it after last
seasons bullshit finale, I was watching the 3rd season premiere of NBC’s
Hannibal–a show that I consider frequently reprehensible but features the best production design
in the history of television. (The digital cinematography is also
astute even if I strenuously disagree on a philosophical level with the
excess with which it resorts to glossy close-up inserts; I’m more in
line with Aaron Morton’s work on Orphan Black
and his precocious consistency with regard to scale and the resulting
compellingly believable three dimensionality of space in his scenes.)

While
I think the artifice from which the darkness in Hannibal’s visuals
emerge befits the ostentatious amorality the show goes to such great
length to foster, I can’t help but wonder what it’d be like if it were
as willing to go real and truly dark like the above image instead of
amending its tenebrism as a post-production filter.

4201Title unknown (2015)

Believe it or not, I do make an effort not to repeat the same things over and over but although I’ve said it before, I feel it bears repetition in this case: whoever is behind maanavi is righteously kicking ass and taking names.

I am at the stage of crawling on my knees while genuflecting as far as my level of impressed-ness goes.

I’ve reached out to the person(s) posting to the cite in an effort to glean a better understand of where this work originates. I’ll be sure to update this post if I hear anything.

Until then you should definitely check it out. It’s a truly rare occasion where I am this impressed by work where I know fuck all about the artist behind it.

EDIT: I heard back in regards to my inquiry. The manaavi blog is the work of Piotr Debinski (unless otherwise visibly sourced). He’s on Flickr and his photostream represents a mix of incisive studio work (as above) and a sort of hybrid street photography as portraiture/architectural meditation. Of the studio work he states it is representative of his “fascination with human elation.”

4201Title unknown (2014)

There’s an all but impenetrable mystery surrounding the site that posted the above image.

What I know is that earlier this year, the site runner posted bevy of images by a Polish photographer and friend identified only as STOTYM. The work was all exceptional; however, one struck me as evidence of a weapon’s grade visual sensibility.

Over roughly the last week, new, seemingly original work has appeared. It’s a hodgepodge of bleak, voyeuristic on-location B roll outtake frames and experimental nudes.

I can’t go as far as saying it’s all good; but, all of it is fascinating.

A leitmotif emerging in the work is an idiosyncratic interaction with reflections.

Reflections can serve a number of different purposes and given infinite time and prolonged interest, it would probably be possible to winnow their uses down to a handful of distinct categories. In general, reflections introduce notions of doubling, documenting the documentarian or allowing for an otherwise impossible angle of view. (Any categories are hardly mutually exclusive. laurencephilomene-photo, for example, shoots reflections of her subjects–without knowing it, one wouldn’t necessarily pick up on this but it is a very interesting added layer of conceptual consistency.)

Whomever is making the pictures posted by 4201 is doing something unprecedented in presenting distinguishable parts of a reflection that contribute to an intricately constructed whole.