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.

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.

Mikael Jansson – Luca Gadjus (2002)

It’s not exactly the whimsy of this that appeals to me–although I’m not without a certain fondness for it.

It’s more that I like it when people flout social propriety.

It’s like at a certain point little girls are told to stop doing cartwheels in skirts and boys are forbidden from showing any emotion beyond anger or some shade of disaffection.

I like boys who prefer dresses and docs, who cry in public and who if they feel like have no qualms rocking a beard and hair like this.

I like it when girls feel like doing a handstand in mixed company and can’t be arsed to tuck their top into their shorts, who confidently raise their hands high in class in front of the jocks who are almost certainly going to make some stupid remark about unshaven armpits; girls who are game to climb trees in dresses or would never think of saying I don’t have a swimsuit with me in response to an opportunity to go swimming.

It’s not so much the bravery of being your own person in the face of mostly BS expectations; it’s more the strong sense of personal truth the people who do these things seem to categorically possess.

So while this is likely just another fashion add, attempting to sell something based upon something that’s seemingly flirtatious, I read it in a completely different way–for whatever little that’s worth.

Darren AnkenmanDora Yoder (2013)

During the year I studied fine art photography at an MFA level, I was one of the few people in my class who only shot B&W.

My classmates who shot in color always digressed into these long conversations about the purpose of color in photography.

Unfortunately, I had no point of reference to participate in these discussions. So I tuned them out.

Now, some 7 years later, bits and pieces of their lines of reasoning are coming back to me.

The main contention was that while a photograph (or image) could be in B&W or color that color had to be used in such a fashion that the sense of the photograph/image would be lost without it. In other words: from the standpoint of fine art photography a B&W image was either fine art photography or not but when you dealt with color the decision for it to be in color must be debated prior to any comment on whether or not it could be classed as art.

In hindsight, I realize this discourse was based on the tendency for the monolithic art world to not accept work that was in color unless the fact that it was in color was conceptually unified with the work itself. The great color photographers–Eggleston, Shore, Sternfeld and Wall made work immersed in questions of the roll of color in photography.

(In order to further drive the point home: I say Cindy Sherman; you say Film Stills–but why not Centerfolds or Sex Pictures. I say Sally Mann; you think Immediate Family–but Mann has some extraordinary cibachromes that you’ve probably never seen…)

The above is an example of an image wherein the use of color is foundational to it’s legibility.

Yesterday’s PornTitle unknown (2014)

Puritanical responses to nudity and/or sexuality are an enormous pet peeve of mine.

But I have a very special hatred setting reserved for failing to inquiring as to whether the pic was requested or consent was sought and received before it was sent and instead applying the default, knee-jerk response: no one wants to see that.

Um… saying no one wants to see peen is completely fucking untrue. What no one wants is seeing shitty picks that involved little thought beyond having a hard on and a camera nearby.

(Also, while we’re on the topic bear in mind saying no one wants to see that not only implicitly dictates (pun semi intended) an insanely narrow view of sexual propriety but is also hugely problematic as this is entirely disproportionate to the typical response when women who post nudes or have their nudes leaked face a staggering gambit of slut shaming, body shaming and myriads of other forms of harassment, not to mention threats and the long term consequences of losing employment or narrowing future options.)

With that in mind I present this as a sort of gold standard template of what a classy cock shot entail:

  1. A dick pic doesn’t have to be fine art but quality never hurts–this image is effective because it presents a decent tonal range between shadow and highlight while also featuring three distinct, effectively rendered textures, i.e. wall paper, sweater and skin. (Plus, the sweater adds a somewhat feminine note which juxtaposes well with the more phallological content.)
  2. Anytime a frame includes genitalia, the inclusion is already charged. Placing the genitals at the center of your frame isn’t just preaching to the choir, it’s screaming in their face while beating them around the head and shoulders. Here: the left hand directs the cock out of the center of the frame. This dodges the common trap of thinking images magically become 3D when others view them or worse the tendency of treating the aperture as little more than another fuckable orifice.
  3. Avoid the oh my god! look at how huge I am trope. This image is preoccupied with that but I am willing to overlook that due to the sublimation and also because the small triangular sheen of reflected light his corona makes my molars feel all itchy.
  4. Another great strategy is decontextualizing the dick or finding a way to present it in a more mundane and natural setting. This image isn’t concerned with that but this does both interestingly.

Thus before you send/post that shot ask yourself how does it compare to the above. If it pales in comparison, maybe think about hitting delete. If it’s on the same level or better, go forth and conquer.


Irina Zadorozhnaja

Whether she is shooting street-travel hybrid images, landscapes or portraits, Ирина Задорожная demonstrates a precocious formal consistency.

Her images feel symmetrical. Yet, upon closer inspection they instead employ an objects implicit extension beyond the frame edge to balance out an equal amount of negative space on the opposite side.

For example: the lower frame edge cuts awkwardly below the model’s wrist + mons pubis. Notice though how this is balanced by the negative space above the model’s head at the limit of the upper frame edge.

It’s a sophisticated, compelling tactic.

I really like this image. The expression in tandem with the pose is both aloof and fragile; the visible texture of the sweater expertly counters the otherwise problematic flatness. The light is probably too harsh but I can forgive that.

#skinnyframebullshit still needs to be called, however. It baffles me how the same artist responsible for this image showcasing how portrait orientation ought to be used, resorted to the typically knee-jerk, portrait-orientation-for-portraits in an otherwise nearly impeccable image.