Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

The ubiquity of built in flash systems (point and shoot devices, smart phones, prosumer dSLRs, et al.) has fostered an understanding of the flash as a tool to increase illumination in low-light situations.

A clearer way of putting it might be to say that a flash is increasingly treated as a key light thus relegating ambient light to the function of a fill light.

This is in keeping with magnesium flash lamps of the late 19th century and the flashbulbs of the early-to-mid 20th century. Slowly, studio photography appropriated the flash in service of painstakingly orchestrated lighting design. There are and will continue to be outliers–Diane Arbus, for example, used a flash in a great deal of her exterior shots as a means of separating the subject from the background.

But strictly speaking if the purpose of a photograph is to freeze time, then a flash is meant to freeze motion. (Consider that most flashes have a maximum shutter sync (on the slow end) of 1/250th of a second. For those who aren’t die hard shutter bugs: ignoring film speed and aperture, it’s usually only possible to take a picture hand-held–without camera shake–down to about 1/30th of a second with an SLR type system. Rangefinders give you a bit deeper of a basement; I can operate handheld sans noticeable shake with a rangefinder down to about 1/8th of a second.)

I’m being overly persnickety and pedantic on this point because the flash here is not only the key light in this scene. It’s a motivated key light–it’s easy to think that there’s a lamp overhead and that’s the source of the light (even if an overhead lamp would never give off that much or that sharp of a reflected illumination).

The motion that is being frozen is not a sudden, dynamic motion–stretching the languid, perhaps even somewhat tender moment of this pulling of foreskin into the realm of the timeless and infinite.

It also reminds me of William Eggleston’s The Red Ceiling due to the similarities in the way the use of flash interacts with the composition and the way in which how what is seen (it’s aesthetic) is emphasized over what is seen.

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.)

Georges Thiry – Title unknown (195X)

Thiry was Belgian and worked with a 6×6 Rolleiflex.

He demurred that his photography was little more than a lifelong hobby–yet there aren’t many hobbyist photographers who managed to make portraits of the likes of René Magritte.

The image above was part of a long running series where Thiry took photos of sex workers. He was not in the least bit shy about availing himself of their services–yet his photos focused less on their status as sex workers and instead presented them more in their own element–preferring to depict the women in their various domiciles.

Igor MukhinKsenia, Moscow (2011)

I’m sure there are more technical photographers out there–but for my money, Mukhin is unrivaled.

Take this photo, for instance; it works because he seems to have obvious thought forget about shadow detail in her hair, I need something to anchor the composition. (This decision has the added benefit of emphasizing the way the light on her hair to the left look exceedingly sultry.)

He realize that the rest of the room is going to blow out and opts for an aperture that will give him just enough of a slice of in-focus depth of field that the sharpest focus begins just in front of her right knee and grows ever so slightly shallow just ahead of her face–which is tilted forward slightly. (Again, every so flattering but it also serves to separate her from the table she’s leaning against.)

And Oh My! but look at the same the entire frame demonstrates what Leica optics with do in correlation with film grain w/r/t over and under exposure and shallow depth of field.

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.

@house-of-fortitudeUntitled (2014)

This blog gets it’s fair share of garden variety Internet trollery. After that, the most common query I receive is people making reasonably cogent arguments that I present myself as an infallible authority.

Uh… no. I’m wrong. Frequently. However, the frequency is less a function of idiocy and more a matter of the fact that I really do put my ideas out there a lot–which presents more opportunities to be wrong.

(For the record: I encourage everyone to take what I say with a Gibraltar sized grain of salt. Always think for yourself. If you think I get something profoundly wrong, drop me a line. I have zero qualms with substantive disagreement–the point of this project is actually to facilitate dialogue that I find to be currently lacking and which I feel is both vital and important to have within the medium and those who appreciate the medium.)

Case in point: very early on, El Desouky submitted a photo for publication. I don’t really accept submissions–although I have something in the works that won’t necessarily change that but will shift it slightly. (Hoping to make that announcement during the back half of the month. Stay tuned.)

I turned up my nose at it.

Now? Well, now I feel like an arse about it.

I mean I’m super hard pressed to name another photographer with as singular a visual voice, who works in both B&W and color in ways that underscore the necessity of that particular image preferencing one medium over the other and who can be bothered with the notions of melancholy as neither inherently positive or detrimental so much as necessary or perhaps even suggestive of a form of radical self-exploration.

I freaking L<3VE the above photo. It’s partly the simplicity of it. A cluttered kitchen and a woman. Nothing about this is in any way so complicated as to be prohibitive to arrange. Yet, there’s something magical about it. It really does look as if she’s drifted off into quiet reverie as a result of looking at snapshot. The snapshots–splayed as they are on the table, clearly legible as photos but not clear enough to distinctly discern what the portray–suggest a glimpse into the woman’s thoughts in a way that let’s the mystery be.

Then there’s the light–which as far as I can tell comes from two sources. An ugly, bare overhead bulp as well as a single very direct light source just beyond the left edge of the frame angling down on the table, her face, neck, shoulders, back of the chair and the little leak filtering through the shadowed triangle formed between her neck, shoulder, bicep and forearm, drawing attention to her left breast, accentuating the nipple.

The magic of it is that anyone with a camera could have made this image but only El Dosouky could make it in a way that is both insinuating of a narrative and resistant to such interpretation, that feels so vibrantly alive and authentic. It’s a scene that is so mundane, we might overlook it we happened upon it unaware. But now we get to revel in it’s glorious wonderment.

Colby KernMore from table manners (2015)

Kern telegraphs his familiarity with Nan Goldin and Araki too much for my taste. (There’s some Ryan McGinley in there as well, which would at least be more in keeping with the work.)

It’s unfortunate because there are a couple of things his work does that turns out to be more interesting–at least to me–than the work he’s referencing.

For example: he has no qualms depicting graphic nudity. Yet, when sexual overtones emerge in the images, he always either partially or completely obscures his subjects genitals. Frequently, the frame edges or someone else provide assistance in such obscuring. It comes across as very nearly playful–which is why I think McGinley is perhaps the better reference to pursue given only the three aforementioned photographers.

I think this image is especially interesting because of the triangulation. The image maker is a participant in the image–he may not be casting that dark shadow on the lower table but with the guy looking at his hand covering the boys groin and the boy making eyes at the camera, the circular table cycles the eye continually around the frame. (I do think there should have been a third cup or no cups, however.)

Lastly, although I can’t figure out exactly how to explain it–I feel like there’s some genderfuckery at play in this. The boy stretched out on the table is both clearly masculine but the pose and the way he’s flirting with the camera are something one would typically see in fashion editorials target straight white cismen. Yet the placement of the blocking hand does more than anything to activate a sort of suggestion of androgyny. (Yes, if you follow the implication far enough–I’m pretty sure it turns out to be a problematic depiction. But it’s a sentimental image and when fine art folks eschew sentiment it’s not so much that sentiment in itself is bad; more the tendency to respond out of habit instead of thoughtfully. (It’s the same reason poets are told to avoid cliches, really.)

John DugdaleA Turbulent Dream (1996)

I’m forever suspicious of artists who lead with a list of influences. It always feels a bit like an effort to force your work to rub shoulders with the work that initially drove you from passive consumer to active creator. And it frequently comes off as an attempt to predispose the audience to approaching the work in a proscribed fashion.

I’ve learned to be especially dubious of people who lead with exceedingly obvious options. Like I’m not going to talk about the influence of Francesca Woodman or Andrei Tarkovsky on my own work because the debt is so extensive and front-and-center that to draw further attention to it would be rudely redundant.

Dugdale’s portfolio is there double quick with the suggestion of a genealogy shared with Henry Fox Talbot, John Herschel, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Excluding Talbot, they aren’t the usual suspects.

He goes on to mention the American Transcendentalists: Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau, and Emerson.

I’m always intrigued by the cross-pollination of disciplines in the arts. So a photographer who cites writers as influences, has my attention. (In my own work, although I won’t get into Woodman or Tarkovsky, I will absolutely drone one endlessly about the global impact on my own creativity as a result of the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)

For the benefit of those of you who aren’t necessarily well-versed in the art historical equivalent of card counting, Dugdale is soft shoeing it around a rather obvious exclusion: William Blake.

But wait, you interject, wasn’t Blake all about Red Dragons and The Ancient of Days?

Indeed he was. But, bear in mind that Blake was subversive as fuck. He was re-introducing the fantastic to the familiar–the familiar being prudery surrounding the practice of Xtianity. Or, if you’d prefer: Blake wanted to reappropriate wonder from centuries of lifeless liturgical boredom.

Dugdale’s work seems comparably preoccupied with searching for the transcendent in the mundane.

And now I’ve earned the right to inform you that Dugdale is completely blind and has been for the majority of his photographic career. 

Torbjørn RødlandKneefix (2010-2014)

Jens Hoffman on Torbjørn Rødland:

Tales of weirdos, bizarros and people just like us. The photographs of Torbjørn Rødland  are  strange  and  ugly,  they  are  repulsive,  perhaps  perverted  and  disgusting, somewhat  unpleasant  and  yet  they  are  also  familiar,  pretty  and  attractive,  simple and ordinary, maybe even erotic yet straightforwardly normal. We are caught in a rare mix of reactions, warm and intriguing, cold and captivating, giving us shivers and  comfort  at  the  same  time.  Everyday  items  and  situations  at  their  most  surreal and grotesque, beauties and beasts, terror and tranquility. Uncanny, eerie and per-verted transformations. The gloss of a contemporary fashion magazine and the horrors of Hieronymus Bosch next to one another, hand in hand, face to face. Northern Gothic lens sketches.An  octopus  wrapped  around  a  person’s  hand.  Facial  mask  made  of  plastic  over  a woman’s face. Red haired boy with marker strips on his shoulder and a broken arm. In a forest with hands wearing sneakers. Pair of legs bound together with string. Another body, sideways, gymnastics with the head against the wall, bleeding. High heel, leg and paint. Elbow pads on the floor. Syrup and napkins on the ground. Long dark hair, red and black ribbons, a beautiful girl and a pool. Black paper, white fabric and a bug.Is this here to grab out attention, fascinate and shock us on the level of the eye or are we looking at a fantastic world of true bizarreness hidden underneath our gardens, streets and houses and inside the depths of our souls and bodies? Is this what we will become or where we came from? Caricatures of ourselves or the real us?