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.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

Originally, I had some profound notion I wanted to share re: this but whatever connection I made has gotten scrambled by the worst sinus infection I’ve had in probably a decade. (I’m miserable–feel free to send coconut seltzer, bulk cannabis or one of those fancy original hitachi wands.)

The only thing I can think to say about this now that this post is a Damocles sword swaying over my head: I like the way her vulva/labia are the exact same color as his foreskin. There’s some extra magenta in that same area but mostly the rest of her skin is more orange and yellow while his skin is more orange and red.

Also, something I’ve noticed from the overlap between still photography and cinematography is that the way things are arranged in an image suggests something about a relationship with time. If a character walks from left to right across a frame, this usually relates to a passage of time from the present into the future. (With some exceptions in Japanese film–and they are less exceptions than complications) The tendency is movement from right to left in a frame suggests either a movement back in time or a restatement, clarification or some sort of nostalgia.

The balance of suggested motion in this–regardless of what is transpiring (probably a creampie, knowing porn)–is right to left; which contributes a contemplative cast to the image. At least to me–in my current state of nanobots raised by weasels sloshing around in my sinuses.

John RaphelChelle (2016)

I’ve been unofficial on Tumblr for like eight (8) years give or take. I’ve run this blog for 5+ years and I am honestly to the point where I spend about three times as long waiting for the next page of my dashboard to load than I do scrolling down each page. (The handful of images I like every day hardly even slow me down–it’s like toggle the heart and keep scrolling.)

But I stopped dead when this slid into view.

I read it left to right; eyes scanning until they reach her face and then in a reverse crescent downward–mirroring the curve of the center line of Chelle’s body.

The bit of her her right leg you can see in the lower left-hand corner is like a dead end that then returns your eye back up the same trajectory it descended.

On the return trip: you notice the black scarf around her neck and how her skin is a bit shiny–as if it’s warm and she’s just starting to sweat. (Also note: the color in her face compared to the pale of her skin. This is further emphasized by the scarf as dark dividing line.)

It’s a fine line but one could argue (and I would be such a one to argue) that her  sternum, clavicles and shoulders are all edging towards overexposure.

Objectively great skin tone is probably somewhere halfway between her upper body and face. Yet, what I like about this is that with the shallow depth of field (which one notices as one follows the reverse trajectory of the the initial scanning arc), the contrast between her flesh and the background points even more attention towards the handling of color.

But although I wouldn’t call this good skin tone–it’s actually better than great because it shows me something in a way I’ve never seen it before. And the overall effect here is that light and color are being employed by a photographer to accomplish something more sculptural than photographic. (If you’ve ever spent any time digging through images of Michelangelo or Bernini, you’ll understand what I mean.)

There’s one other sort of meta thing I walked away from this image finally grasping. I’m always flummoxed that anyone bothers with this blog. I mean it’s very much a solipsistic reflection of my ego trying to referee the all-out, 24/7 melee between my id and superego.

But it occurs to me that the reason that people might respond to it is because underneath all that this is very much a personal act of resistance against unmindful consumption. (Frequently writing these posts is like pulling teeth–because my natural inclination is to take in and take in and take in, without every really stopping to dwell on what I’m taking in and how I feel about it. What it’s trying to show me and what it’s trying to show me are telling me.)

Perhaps, I’m giving myself too much credit. But I do think it’s important to resist unchecked, uncritical and unmindful consumption. If this blog manages that for even a handful of you, then it’s an unqualified success in my eyes.

Sigurd GrünbergerUntitled (201X)

I’ve heard that you can recognize a photographer
by how they continually compose the edges of their frames,

that each quarter-second decision to exclude, to define a boundary,
to say what will not be in the photograph

is as explicit as a thumbprint.

Traci Matlock

I watched Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash again several days ago. (If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough–the storytelling is strong enough to compensate for the shit visuals.)

It got me thinking about how classical and jazz musicians are not unlike fine art photographers insofar as they tend to look down on those who embrace other quote-unquote genres of image making.

To perhaps push the analogy to its point of rupture: fashion photography is not unlike pop music; it’s not intended to be expansive so much a tick certain boxes at certain times in an effort to sell as many units as possible. (That’s not to say pop can’t be ‘innovative’ and/or ‘ground-breaking’, merely to point out that when such words are used–it is the exception that proves the rule.)

Historically, there are those who have pursued both pursuits. Annie Leibovitz and Helmut Newton come to mind; both of whom, incidentally, I don’t exactly hold in high esteem. (I mean Newton was a sexist pig and if you’re at all interested in how not to render those you photograph as objects instead of people, there are worse things to do than treating the man’s body of work as a cautionary tale.)

And I shouldn’t completely write off either–in both cases, there is some good to be found by attacking their respective body of works’ with a fine-toothed comb. For example: in Leibovitz’s case, I recently encountered her photo of Karen Finley in Nyack, NY in 1992 and consider it to be effortlessly immediate in a way that the rest of her work just isn’t; whereas, if you’re ever in Berlin and can somehow swing getting into the Helmut Newton museum without paying (the price of admission is too steep considering how little is on offer), Newton’s sequestered personal work (left and all the way to the back upon entering the museum) is not exactly good but it exudes a sort of stubborn melancholy that feels both more honest and astute than the rest of his work.)

However, to return to the analogy at hand: I feel there is a way that fashion photography has historically sought to sublimate the photographer’s thumbprint in favor of foisting the idea of the brand in its place. Or, a better way to put it is that fashion photography has always seemed to me to be more preoccupied with a look, with representing fashion as reliably and replicably about adhereing to strict design parameters–something not unlike what web developers would call a style sheet.

These days with scads of internet famous photographers and image makers blurring the boundaries between the genres of fashion, editorial and lifestyle, it’s nice to see folks who feel most at home in fashion actually honing their distinctive thumbprints.

This certainly applies to someone like Grünberger. (I’d place Maxime Imbert in the same category.) You can spot his work from twenty yards out without having to read any kind of plaque or search for attribution. There are elements of high-end design, sensitivity to color, sharpness, resolution, painstaking lighting design/post-processing and a focus on minimal distractions from the subject.

I think it might be time for so-called fine art folks to maybe start spending more time with fashion folks. I mean if you haven’t seen the latest Amish inspired Vogue Italy editorial by Steven Meisel, it’s maybe overly clever and precious but it’s also one of the best examples I’ve encountered of how to include both B&W and color within a single, closely circumscribed body of work.