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.

Source unknown – Title unknown (201X)

The use of line in this is truly exquisite–the way outer edge of the body is firm and between subtle shading and softer lines, a sense of the softness of the feathery hair and skin are embodied.

Compositionally, I’m not sure the top drawing works on its own. There’s too much negative space to the far right of the frame–the eye scans past the face and doesn’t return.

Yet–in combination, as a diptych–there’s a range of strangely authentic, unselfconscious experience presented that is fascinating.

A strange thing that I experience is there are times when my empathy is running hot or something and an scared emoji can make me worry about the poor thing’s well being. Most of the time–I really am phenomenally bad at interpreting expressions.

However, looking at these I’m certain that the top drawing might best be a depiction of the feeling we term ‘pensive’; while the lower one is almost certainly ‘abandon’–in the sense of something letting go as opposed to being let go of. (’Abandon’ a strange word that encapsulates both the experience of the subject and the object, depending upon contextual deployment.)

I sort of feel like this is an accurate depiction of the extreme poles of the spectrum upon which my own feelings exist.

Traci Matlock & Ashley MacLean – Title Unknown (2006)

This was the first image from Matlock and MacLean’s collaboration that I encountered.

I remember being profoundly impressed with the simplicity of it. The edge of the bed perfectly aligned with the top-left corner and the exact middle of the frame to the right. The woman’s body stretched out intersecting the bottom of the bed plane at a perfect 90 degrees.

It was simple but so intricate in its mannered specificity.

And the light–fuck me, the goddamn perfectly sublime light: the way the right hand is almost blown out and the rest of the skin is so exquisitely perfect.

It was as if someone had taken Caravaggio’s stylized lighting and mashed it up with Helmut Newton’s can’t-decide-whether-it’s-fashion-or-trash/heavily-expressionist-inflected work (some of the very little work of merit the shit heel ever made).

I immediately went through everything they had posted on Flickr, then clicked over to their absolutely gorgeous website (which like most gorgeous websites, turned out to be nearly impossible to navigate). Hell, I even bought a year’s subscription to Nerve to follow their column.

Almost a decade later, I still find the effect of this photo to be hypnotic. And I think if there’s one thing their work has taught me it’s that good creative work doeen’t answer all your questions–instead it ensures that the questions you ask of the work are productive.

And honestly the questions their work asked of me–continues to ask of me–is the reason (for better or worse) I’m still out there fumbling around with a camera myself.

Bruno DayanWinter’s Tale for Ilva Hetmann and Erin Axtell Flair Italy (2011)

I really like this image.

A big part of my attraction is tied up with perhaps the closest thing I have to a legitimate paraphilia, namely: I get unspeakably aroused by things which press up against the boundaries separating traditional conceptions of the sacred vs the profane.

In this image it’s the Amish inspired wardrobe rubbing up against a quasi-masturbatory sensuality. (I can’t tell if the white on her thighs is her pulling her dress up to reveal knee-high stockings and a swatch of skin–essentially exposing herself to the open window and summer breeze–or if it’s pattern that’s a part of her pants; either way, it’s extremely evocative.)

The other part of it is the art historical resonance. This image immediately aligns with at least three other undisputed masterpieces: the young woman’s expression is a riff on Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa and the view out the window of the scorched grass is obviously intended to invite associations with Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, as well as Malick’s film Day’s of Heaven.

Also, perusing Dayan’s other work, this project is interesting as it steps well outside his usual pre-Raphaelite sensibilities.

This post is guest curated by azura09:


How to bend light

And in the dark we will take off our clothes
And they’ll be placing fingers through the notches in your spine

When I first looked at you in the almost-dark, scared that you would not like my breasts. That I would see disappointment on your face. But you still pushed me to touch you, my fingers climbing your back as I held you and kissed you near your mouth. 

Years pass and I’m used to your hatred of overhead lighting. I expect it when you reach over to turn on the desk lamp or light a candle I don’t like the smell of, wax and apple cinnamon. I’m grateful for the way you now know my body so well it’s not necessary for you to see me, but yet you still want to look.

Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as the psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance (Barthes, pg. 9-10).

Perhaps it’s the introversion suggested by the huddled pose or the comely skin. My eye—wishing it was a tongue—darts and circles the erect left nipple.

But the wetness of wanting is thwarted by the shallow depth of field which pushes my gaze away over oceans of cream floating morning glories, wilds rose and springs of red baby’s breath before being pulled back again over small breasts and pale skin to sunlit shoulders and long strands of red silk hair.

And in this seeing I have an honest-to-goodness itty-bitty petit mort every time I glance at this picture.

No, it’s closer to a lover shifting slightly and the movement sending cascades of shivers outward through the ebbing pulsing of orgasmic spasms.

A feeling not unlike the memory of pixie with snow white skin, wire straight, carbon black hair and mischievous eyes wider than miles of un-translated manga: I gazed as she reached across the table, her motion pulling the lower edge of her too-small t-shirt away from the waist of her too-large belted jeans. Thinner than a rail, the ridges of her spine led my eyes down to the orange on purple Victoria’s Secret underwear.

Edges are important. Particularly given their extensive history of being manipulated in order to objectify and sexualize the female body—expertly lampooned by Duchamp’s Etant Donnes.

But the headless woman does have anonymity. And where this previous implied women as little more than fodder for men’s sexual appetites, it now is put into service in order to facilitate the open expression of a sexual identity from behind the safety of a mask.

To be clear, I think that’s awesome; but like all awesome things, it is not without its problems. In this case, the line between anonymous expression and exhibitionism is razor thin at best. What is presented as artful and considered frequently suffers as a result of compositional inconsistencies necessitated by the requirement for anonymity.

This beautiful photograph is one of the few that manages to be rigorously consistent in its composition while also employing the frame edge as a means of masking idenity. A slight shift in perspective, however, would have almost certainly transformed it into something either nakedly exhibitionist or visually impoverished.

It for that reason I think most photo dabblers would do well to borrow from the book of Bellocq’s brother by making a thoughtful image first and then blacking out faces and identifying features later.


Reto Caduff 

It is unnecessary to state this comes from a series called Road Trip; the feeling of driving through some summer night with the windows half-down into dawn is embedded:

The thick-limbed weight of waiting as humidity films the skin.

The lulling half-time found in shared space, motion and momentum.

Eyelids heavy with loneliness, with wind-whipped hair, with the world of trains and lightpoles smeared against the windows.


Blue over green fields and a distant siren sings muted rendition of fire engine red—the world’s colors are so effusive sight often spills into sound.

Black and white photography distills the manifest to its base visual elements: “light, line and form.”

Whereas color photography displays the world more-or-less as it appears. Among the keepers of culture, this begged questions as to the inherent art value of color in photography. What criterion could separate mundane snapshots from carefully considered works of art?

William Eggleston was one of the first to breakthrough this impasse. His use of color worked as a logical extension of his compositions and was anything but incidental.

Today, color is viewed as having equal viability with black and white as a medium for fine art photography. And while this allows photographers to focus on one or the other without recriminations, questions about the purpose of color in photography still linger.

You Are Cordially Invited to Piss Off posted this photograph by Ahndraya Parlato, who fuses a contemplative spirit with edgy surrealist hallucinations on sheets of large format film. The results are goddamn breathtaking even if the work is in color not about it.

The preceding image is a stunning exception: a young woman—framed from midriff to mid-shin—lays splayed on a green lawn flecked with autumnal leaves in a wet red dress; clear water pooling in the fabric between her thighs—a doubtless intended visual innuendo.

There are themes of sexuality as potential, the elemental (earth, fire and water) and I am of a mind that there is an auto-biographical element (every dead leaf in the frame appears specifically placed to me). However, it is impossible to dodge the insistence of the color in any conceptual consideration; the red and green complement one another perfectly, the skin tone, a touch sickly as a result of the hyper-stylized color. Stylization masked by echoing the pooled water with colors approximating the heightened saturation after rainfall on overcast days.

Suffering through a long bout of writer’s block years ago, someone trying to be ‘helpful’ mentioned George Polti’s notion that all literature boils down to Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.

I considered the assertion bullshit and still do to an extent, though certain objections have softened; for example: I am inclined to accept newness mattering less with regard to dramatic situations than does innovations in their means of conveyance/form.

While I was thinking this well before starting this Tumblr, the stunning lack of variation in content and form of images crossing my dashboard supports Polti’s thesis.

Thus, when an image like this appears, it stands out.

A young couple fucking in a vehicle—the content—is not as compelling as the execution—the inclusion of both their bodies full in frame and in doing so there is the suggestion of a broader context in which the scenario is unfolding (i.e. a truck cab parked somewhere in the woods).

I could toggle the greyed out heart icon to red and be done with it. But a technically accomplished and innovative shot is not enough for me. There has to be something more. Otherwise it is not unlike so many movies where a superb conceit gets squandered by half-assery.

And vertical framing is almost always half-assed. Let me spell it out as clearly as possible: ninety percent of the time identical information can be better conveyed by a horizontal frame. Of the remaining ten percent, eight consist of architectural images.

There is enough space above her head and below his that a horizontal frame would have provided the same information. I understand the existing frame echoes the positioning of the subjects. However, that logic is equivalent to the infamous parental famous because-I-said-so justification for nonsensical orders.

A horizontal frame unquestionably demands more and more difficult compositional choices be made. For example, do you keep the couple centered in frame or do you shift them off-center, letting more of either the windshield & hood or truck bed into the frame?

The implicit logic behind the vertical framing belies the real trouble with the image: it is self-consciously pornography.

That’s not a bad thing. The problem is pornography has a habit of separating sexuality from any interpersonal context: sex is an appetite, after all; all-too-often pornographers present appetites independent of the hunger that serves as their impetus. In other words, sex is presented as its own justification instead of something motivated by desire, passion and naked human need.

Imagine how much more moving this image would be if the boy didn’t appear to be doing a sit up, his head lulling back, biting the corner of his lip; his right hand caressing her left inner thigh.

The above frame would benefit from a slight shift down and right. Setting that aside—as well as my ambivalence at best toward the Instagram trend—this image is well crafted.

Come on, you may say, explicit images of beautiful young people fucking are not the sort of thing anyone appreciates because of technical merit.

I mean, yeah, this easily succeeds at level of beautiful young people fucking. But, where it blows—pun gleefully intended—the competition away is it’s carefully considered composition.

A lot of people like to drone on and on about composition this and rule of thirds that when all you really need is to realize that composing a visual image is—whether you realize it or not—almost identical to telling a story.

Just as image makers can only represent a limited sliver of the world within a given frame, the storyteller must determine what details serve the story and therefore bear inclusion; as well as those which are superfluous and therefore best excluded.

The skilled storyteller conveys not only the sense of a story but also something of what was excluded. William Carlos Williams’ poem so much depends is the perfect example. It describes two objects; but in describing only the two most necessary objects in the scene our imagination thrills at building a seamless world around them.

The fundamental difference between images and words is that the former allows for the whole and various parts to be taken in simultaneously; whereas even describe something simultaneous by saying: at the same time this and that happened, the linearity of the sentence privileges ‘this’ over ‘that’ by an ‘and’ length measure of time.

The composition of this image guides your eye over the various parts of the image while always reinforcing its place within the whole. For example: before I even take in the extent of his nakedness—fuck, his skin is like milk cooling in the shade—I see the muted variegation of the sedge on which he is splayed.

At the same time it all shifts into sudden focus and I see everything: his outstretched arms terminating in fingers—fierce with whiteness— tangled in the brown of her hair; his hands and her head meeting to form vertex of an inverted V which tenderly frames her right hand taking his erection and guiding into her mouth to a depth only a hair’s breadth above its edged tip.

And the wide gape of his knees, a second non-inverted V, re-frames her body between his legs where she is crouched as naked as he.