April 2, 2007


Simon Roberts' Motherland will be hitting bookstores soon. Like Andrew Moore's Russia it is ambitious in it's scope. Roberts' images are a bit less formally elegant than Moore's and have a more of a documentary feel about them, but I like sense of national melancholy they suggest. I hope we see more strong photographers venture out into the Russian hinterlands as there is much to chew on out there.

In addition to the book site linked above, Roberts' personal site includes additional projects from Russia and elsewhere.

p.s. if anyone knows of a good survey of contemporary Russian photography I'd love to check it out.

April 4, 2007

Always in Motion

...even while asleep:
This is what one month and 4 days looks like.

April 5, 2007


About a week ago I found my wife sitting alone at the kitchen table with tears in her eyes. "What’s wrong," I asked.

"Three kids were killed in a car accident in Chicago. One was killed instantly. The car caught on fire and the other two were burned to death as people tried to pull them out." She began to get teary eyed again...

"Were these people you knew?"

"No. Friends of Theresa and Grace... I mean you raise a child for 20 years and then this?"

Now things were becoming clearer. Of course there’s death all around, and mainly we ignore it, because we have to, because life would be too painful otherwise, but when you imagine a tragedy like that with own kids, it all changes. That’s the thing about being a parent. For all the cool points you lose walking around with your baby bjorns, you are forced to be more vulnerable and maybe more humane. Dealing that that vulnerability is one of the hardest tasks a parents face, because love inverted is an abyss...

A few hours later my son and I are sitting in a hot allergist’s office full of jumpy kids slowly becoming unnerved by the muffled sounds of other kids screaming as their backs are being pricked with tiny doses of potential toxins, you are finally led into an inner office. The doctor is distracted and exhausted, he keeps sweating uncontrollably and patting his brow with a handkerchief. I think how quaint it is to carry a handkerchief. He looks so different from man in wedding picture on the wall—a smiling young man in traditional Bengali garb with his arm uncomfortably around his bride’s waist. He’s doing paperwork and only seems to notice us when my son picks up a snowglobe on the desk. "Don’t let him throw that." he says. Then glancing down at the test results on his desk, "The boy has a peanut allergy. He had a strong reaction. It is serious, maybe life threatening. So no peanut butter for him."

"Do people ever grow out of these allergies?" I ask.

"There is so much we don’t know about allergies," he answers.

Soon we were whisked out the door... My son is glad to be out of hot office and the screaming kids. We chase each other home. Every time I stop he says, "More daddy more."

That night I keep dreaming of my son in school. Another kid offers him an M&M. He's happy. "Treats" he says. They're hiding away in a corner... He doesn’t hear me calling for him....

I wake up in a cold sweat, but when I wake up I see those kids in the car. The scene plays out in excruciating detail. In that moment I see my own life as a series of near misses. The collision in England. The crash in Texas. The undertow. The man with the knife at 2 am. My poor dad. Then I imagine the parents of those kids in the car who guided them through life and protected them from so many dangers but couldn’t save them from the one they couldn’t see.

April 6, 2007

Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky

Roger%20Fenton1860%20albumen.jpgPerhaps it's the vestigial art historian in me, but I love still lives with fruit. I like them precisely because they are so mundane. Artists have been attempting them for something like 3000 years and so often they fail which is why a good one jumps off the wall.

'Portraits of fruit' as I refer to them were one of the first impulses of photographers. Daguerre himself took many. For the next hundred years most photographic still lives were primarily lush 'our bounty overfloweth' type images taken by painter/photographers like Roger Fenton (the image at the beginning of this post is one of his from 1860) or vanitas of decay (again usually taken by photographers schooled as painters).... After almost 100 years of this the surrealists finally punched life back into the form starting in the late 20's.
(In my fantasy art collection I would own this little Man Ray peach from 1931)
Anyway this is all a long winded way of saying making an interesting still life is a tough artistic challenge so when I see one I like, I immediately pay attention. Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky has a series of still lives taken in her freezer. She says the images "to show the condition things are in when they are photographed," but I read them as vanitas. She lives in Holland—so definitely vanitas whether she knows it or not. For me they = instant happy.

April 11, 2007

Items found at the bottom of an old desk drawer

1. Unused ticket to a 1984 Minutemen concert.

2. A stack of wheat pennies and one buffalo nickel.

3. A post-it note found in a Barstow bathroom that reads:
"I am the man.
I am the mack.
I've seen the world.
This pimp don't look back."

4. A perfectly round black rock I picked up and put in my pocket on a 17,000ft pass.

5. Maps of Peshawar and Kiev.

6. One saucy polaroid of my wife in the tub from before we were married.

7. One note from a friend congratulating us on the daughter we never had.

8. One photobooth strip of my head dated June 1987.

9. A tube of Bestman Blowing Balloon Paste (unused)

10. One piece of torn notebook paper signed by my brother Christopher that reads, " Acids: HCL, H2SO4, HI, HBr, Nitric Acid"

April 12, 2007

Perfect way to end an evening...

My wife and kids are away for the week so the house is abnormally quiet. Arriving home late from a movie and dinner with a friend, I puttered around, but the silence was deafening... I fired up some music... this was the first song that came on. One of my favs. A perfect way to end the evening. (the song was transferred from a cassette tape bought on an Austin streetcorner from the man himself many moons ago). Good night blog people.

April 13, 2007

Mud Mosques of Mali


One of my long standing travel goals is to wander the back roads of Mali seeking out local mud mosques which have come to me in my dreams since I first saw them in an Encyclopedia Britannica when I was a kid.

While the great mosque at Djenne would of course be on the itinerary, I'm most fascinated by the small village mosques which are so simple and evocative. I can't imagine when I'll get a chance to go being a father of two and all, but I'll get there. It's one of those things I just know.

April 14, 2007


As recounted by cousin Esther (age 14):
"It all started when Heather and I wore similar outfits. Grace thought we had planned it and left her out on purpose and she got upset because all three of us-me, Grace, and Heather, were best friends but it was just a coincidence. And the outfits weren't even that similar, I mean they were pretty similar, we bought them together but they weren't exactly similar. But Grace didn’t believe me. Then Grace took me off her myspace heros list. She didn’t even say anything, she just took me off the list. So we don’t talk anymore. I mean we talk, but not like before, we’re not really friends. It was a coincidence. "

As recounted by cousin Nathan (age 14):
"I don't really have friends. It's hard to have friends when you are home schooled. It's hard to talk to people you know? I'm easily influenced. Right now I'm influenced by Starcraft. Sometimes I meet people online when I play Starcraft. They're my friends I guess but I don't really know them. Sometimes I wish we could all meet up and have pizza together, but it would be strange to ask in the middle of a battle."

As recounted by cousin Faith (age 6):
"The turtle got lost. Sometimes they let him crawl around and he got lost and everyone forgot about him for a few days and then he was dead. Dead turtles smell."

As recounted by Lauren (age 9):
"LD is doing so much to save the environment. Did you know that? Did you know he was named Leonardo after Leonardo da Vinci? Did you know he's going to do another movie with Kate Winslet? I like them together so I'm looking forward to it. Do you think he's going to die in this movie? He usually dies in his movies, but that doesn't bother me too much.... Did you know his parents were divorced and he had to live with his mom just like me. "

Also by Faith:
"I don't really have bad dreams. Once had a REALLY bad dream about spiders when I was 3 but that was a long time ago. Oh wait, not spiders, spiderman. But sometimes when I close my eyes I see these orange and purple and yellow things....and after I open my eyes in the dark I can still see them and I try to catch them. Wait, how did we get on this subject?"

April 16, 2007

Brancusi Self Portraits

Have you ever met anyone who didn't love Brancusi's sculpture? I never have.

One of my favorite Brancusi facts is that he considered his careful photographs of his sculpture just as important as the sculpture itself. What I didn't know until today is that he was an avid self portraitist...


Another bit of fascinating Brancusi trivia (involving Edward Steichen) can be found in this blog post titled: Bird in Flight, Brancusi, & US Customs law.

I've included an additional self-portrait of Brancusi (as well as one of a young Edward Steichen) after the jump...

(All these self portraits were found on the Réunion des Musées Nationaux photo site. Start at the portfolios link to sample the scope of the collection).



April 19, 2007

Keeping us busy...


April 20, 2007

Olivier's Kabul Video Log

My friend Olivier Laude just posted a video from his 2003 trip to Kabul. Much of the footage is shot through car windows, it's largely wordless, and nothing in particular happens, but through it you really get a sense of the place, or at least a travelers sense of the place. I recommend it.

Olivier is a photographer and web pioneer. He was one of the guys behind atlas magazine which was updated from 1995 to 1998. Atlas was one of the first great design/photography showcases online showing us how cool the web could be—sort of a proto-boing boing. It's taken the web 10 years to catch up...

April 23, 2007

NY vs LA

Today was one of those glorious spring New York days where the whole city was compelled to venture outside. In my neighborhood people were sitting on their front steps listening to baseball on radio, having stoop sales, or just chatting. The streets were lively, the waterfront was dotted with sunbathers, and everyone, even people with good reason to be depressed, was in a good mood. Strangers kept nodding hello as they passed each other. I kept running into friends. It was one of those days that demonstrated my thesis that New York is more like a small town than most small towns. For all the talk of disappearing bees, the flowering trees of Brooklyn were positively buzzing... and as I was wandering about it struck me that today really demonstrated the difference between living in New York and living in LA. In LA days like this are a dime a dozen and pass without notice. Months and years fade into each other and end up like a dream you can't quite remember. When we lived in LA, I was always praying for rain.

April 24, 2007

List of Scary Things

by Raul Andres, 2 years 5 months

1. "Lobsters"
2. "Shower not tub!"
3. "Under big rocks, under."
4. "Scary tree, scary scary tree"*
5. "Big big lobsters"

*The scary tree:

"The scary tree" from Choo Choo by Virgina Lee Burton

April 26, 2007

Camera Obscura

One of the great evocative travel experiences of my life happened in a dingy windowless room in a Rajastani guesthouse. I was bed-ridden with both dysentery and giardia and had not been outside in two or three days. I wanted to change rooms but was literally too weak to move. There were a tiny pinholes in the wall letting in shafts of light and a dim 5 watt bulb overhead which only worked a few hours a day. Hours were spent watching the ceiling fan circle ever slowly around and around and killing flies... so many flies. The nights were absolute black which was actually a relief as even the flies would stop buzzing.

One morning (at least I think it was morning as time had little meaning in there), when I awoke I noticed a dim but unmistakable image projected on the opposing wall... actually several images. There was the inverted village and the red hills, a tree with a swing, the train... dusty blue skies and clouds... The pinholes in the wall were turning the room into a natural camera obscura... They had been there all along but I had been too sick to notice. It is hard to express what comfort those images gave me and I think they were the boost I needed to get well enough to get out of there. I've never seen the camera obscura phenomena in any room since, although I've often dreamed turning a room of our house into one for a while.

I was thinking of those days in Rajasthan today which led me to revisit the work of Abelardo Morell the great creator of roomsized camera obscuras... His work is a reminder all rooms have secret lives as silent witnesses not only of the comings and goings inside but of the world beyond... and this is as true in the great rooms of New York City as it is in some miserable flyblown guesthouse on the Udaipur to Jodhpur railway line.

Related: a camera obscura fan site, Wifi Camera Obscura, Did Vermeer use a camera obscura?

April 26, 2007


Laurel over on Iheartphotograph linked to a beautiful mellow set of images from the Russian heartland by Sergey Chilikov. The pictures are hosted on an online magazine photographer.ru which features russian photography and has many image galleries by Russian photographers. Definitely worth checking it out. Here's a link to the site translated into English by google. The translation is rough but it lets you know what's going on...

**Correction: There's an English version of the site, someone I overlooked the obvious link on the top right corner of the page.

April 28, 2007


I'm headed to Amsterdam for a couple of days. I know the city fairly well and have visited all the normal museum type places. I'm always looking for suggestions of offbeat things to do, great places to eat, etcetera ...

I'm also looking for names of Dutch photo galleries to check out...

I know there are quite a few Dutch readers so if anyone wants to hang out and hoist a pils just drop me a line at raul @ [mexicanpictures] .com, IM at donleoxii, or hit me on twitter (themexican).

April 30, 2007

The White Bicycle Plan or Why I Love the Dutch

Here's what you need to know about the Dutch: they still believe in the white bicycle plan. In 1964 a group an anarchist group Provo put out a magazine outlining the white bicycle plan. The idea was simple. The center of Amsterdam would be closed to traffic and the city sprinkle 20,000 white bicycles around the city. You would ride a bicycle whenever you needed one, stop wherever you needed to stop, and leave the bicycle in place. Then someone else could use it. ...and so on and so on. Broken bicycles would be flagged and fixed by authorities. It would be good for the environment and you would never have to worry about locking up a bicycle or having one stolen or broken.

The group kick started the plan by distributing 50 white bicycles which were promptly removed by the police who claimed they would encourage theft, ignoring Provo's arguments that bikes without owners could not be stolen. While the plan never got started in Amsterdam, it has been resurrected many times over the years in smaller cities and each time the plan ends the same way, the bicycles are stolen and repainted, often within days, but the Dutch are undeterred. "It could work," a serious looking student told me today, the problem is they never bought enough bicycles." Another student chimed in, "Yes. Of course it will work we just need to think bigger."

addendum: In 1967 Provo announced the white corpse plan for automobile drivers who kill pedestrians: "Whenever the monster strikes anywhere in Amsterdam and someone is flattened against the merciless asphalt, the police must trace the victim's outline on the ground with a piece of chalk. As soon as an ambulance has removed the sad remains, the murderer himself, using a chisel and hammer, must hack out the silhouette of his victim one inch deep in the asphalt, under supervision of the police. Next he will fill the hollow with white mortar. Then perhaps, all the prospective murderers approaching the scene of the disaster will let up on the gas for just a moment".

April 30, 2007

Juul Hondius


Today is the Queen's birthday here in Holland so literally everything was shut down, virtually the entire city was out on the streets wearing loud orange outfits. In the center of the city the crush of drunken revelers looked much like the crowd you see in Times Square at New Years, or in New Orleans at Mardi Gras, but further out it felt more like an American 4th of July, with people barbecuing on their house boats, having picnics by the canals and in the parks, and generally being jolly. My big camera got me invited onto several boats where I was always received with good cheer (I'm now officially obsessed with Dutch house boat living.). Late in the evening I met several blog readers who graciously invited me into their homes and provided an evening of good food and great conversation. My new friends Gertrudia and Hilde recommended I check out the photography of Juul Hondius. Illegal immigration came up several times in conversation today and they see the images as highly politically charged...

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