Olafur Eliasson

August 13, 2008

Melting_ice_on_Gunnars_land.jpgMelting Ice on Gunnar's Land by Olafur Eliasson

Sure Olafur Eliasson is famous for his blockbuster art projects like Waterfalls that currently graces this fair city, and sure his big museum installations are thought provoking and spectacular, but I am most moved by this artist's photographs which are usually presented as series in a grid. They are simple and soulful and for me at least are humanizing. There are several photo series on the official Eliasson website, although they are shown in horribly small image sizes. If you are interested you are better off seeking out his books.

. . . . .
Note to artist's everywhere. Show decent sized pictures of your work online. It's 2008, time to size up.

Denis Dailleux update

August 8, 2008

I pointed to Denis Dailleux's Cairo work last year. I'm happy to report that this excellent photographer now has a new website with many more bodies of work online. If these images don't inspire deep wanderlust, well, you just don't have wanderlust.

Last Year's Entry: Cairo

Graciela Iturbide

August 6, 2008


My grandfather made ladies shoes. He didn't physically make them himself, he would cross the border and buy good ladies shoes in Laredo and then have a network of local leather men and cobblers make meticulous copies which he would then label with his Rudy brand (He was also a loan shark on the side). Everyone said his shoes were better than the originals. The leather was better, they lasted longer, etcetera. So some days he would drive around Monterrey and meet with men who tanned leather, cut leather, or dyed leather or who stitched shoes, or fitted soles, or manufactured shoe boxes. Some days he would drive around to the various shoe stores in the surrounding villages making deals for his shoes, and some days he would collect money or collateral from the people who owed him. I used to love to make the rounds with him always up front in those big wide seats of his 70's era Cadillacs or his stylish Ford Elite listening to Pedro Infante on the radio. We covered hundreds of miles on our summers together crisscrossing Monterrey and 50 miles in every direction. My memory of that time is dreamlike. This was pre-Nafta Mexico in the 70's before everything started to look like everything else and many of the things I saw burned into the brain forming the foundation of my visual memory palace. I mention this, because Graciela Iturbide's images remind me of my memories and recalling people and places I saw on street corners and in markets maybe for a few seconds but who were unforgettable. There is not one good site showcasing the range of Iturbide's work, but you can find some of images here and here. If you are really interested, her books are a better bet.

Man on a Wire

August 1, 2008

manonawire.jpgStill from the movie
I saw Man on a Wire last week and the documentary has lingered with me. The film has several annoying elements: the main character is basically a mime (he's not actually a mime, but let's just say he has a mime-like personality, and who among us does not discriminate against the mimes), the film uses cheesy low-fi reenactments mixed with archival footage (a technique more suited to television than film), and the movie has been overpraised (always suspicious), but despite all that I can't deny the movie's resonance. It's a tale that touches on the act of creating art, mortality, creation, destruction, and ultimately vanity and betrayal which is more than I can say for most films I've seen recently. The filmmakers never mentioned 9/11 as the connection is implicit: the planning that went into this performance was the poetic inverse of the planning that went into the towers' destruction and perhaps this is why the film inspires such emotion in its audiences (many in our audience jumped to their feet and clapped at the end). A. O. Scott wrote in his New York Times review,

"It is easy to imagine that, in contemplating the scale and solidity of those brand-new towers, Mr. Petit saw them at least partly as the vehicle of his own immortality (whether or not he survived the crossing). No one looking up at the New York sky on a hazy morning 34 years ago and seeing a man on a wire could have suspected that the reverse would turn out to be true."
Go see this film if you have the chance.

Related: Philippe Petit's Wikipedia page which includes scans of the the famous New Yorker covers he inspired. Also read Paul Auster's Red Notebook which contains a great short story inspired by the walk.
. . .

While browsing around for this article I found a neat little homemade site called Walking Art with many examples of epic walks. The site fails to include the great walking artist Hamish Fulton who is an artistic inspiration and whose family has been very kind to my family.

Your Name, Pomologist

August 1, 2008

They are building a building in the vacant lot next to the firehouse we call home. Rather they were building a building. One morning 2 backhoes trundled in and dug a hole about 15 feet deep and 20 feet wide. Workers put up a big fence blocking the lot from the street, and then everyone left. The diggers rumbled away and the lot has been quiet ever since. Two months have passed and... nothing. We have back door onto the lot so we can go out there, not that there's anything to do. If we were smokers it would be the type place we would excuse ourselves for a minute or two to have a cigarette.

I don't smoke, but I do eat plums and drink coca cola. My family has been visiting my mother in law all week leaving me here alone. You can live alone for 20 years and never notice silence, but after 4 years of marriage and 3 years with kids, the silence is heavy. So all week I keep finding myself venturing outside with a coke or a plum in one hand and chair in the other. Tonight it was a plum.

People who study plums trees are called pomologists (Pomology is the study of fruit trees—not specifically plum trees). Can you imagine how great it would be to have a business card reading Your Name, Pomologist. (I've always imagined the Pomologists have an intense rivalry with the Olericulturists who study vegetables and who take pomological abuse in silence: "You study the radish?! Celery?! Cucurbits?!! Live man, for once in your life, live! Get your head out of the dirt and consider the glory of the peach and the pomegranate! Persimmons! We KNOW the persimmon. Go now, enjoy your arugula. Be gone.") Many Pomologists think the plum tree originated near the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus Mountains, but nobody really knows for sure. I've seen plum trees in the Hunza valley in Pakistan and a man there told me his valley was the site of the Garden of Eden and that it wasn't an apple that Eve ate but a plum. He also claimed to be the bastard son of the Mir of Hunza and to be one hundred and three years old, but that's another story. Anyway, I was sitting there in the dark, I ate my plum, and then I said out loud to no one in particular, "There are sweeter things." With that I finally felt the day was done and it was time to start dreaming of tomorrow when the house would be quiet no more.

RFK coda

July 28, 2008

funeraltrain.jpgUntitled (Baltimore) by Paul Fusco

kn9.jpgby Martin Johnson

As sort a quiet coda to Paul Fusco's profoundly moving RFK Funeral Train Exhibition which closes this week at Danziger Projects, Square America (a photographic ephemera site) released a set of found pictures of RFK's funeral as seen on television which the the site has titled What Was On (June 1968). I was one year old in 1968 but the pictures evoke images of my childhood living rooms, some of my first memories. Both sets of pictures in very different ways evoke the emotion of that year and need of the photographers to hold on to those emotions.

If you didn't get a chance to see the Fusco exhibition first hand, Aperture is re-releasing an expanded version of his book. It is available for pre-order. I can't wait for mine to arrive. The Square America guys are releasing their own book titled "Who We Were: A Snapshot History Of America", no pre-release link yet.

Richard Pare, Russian Avant-Garde Architecture, and the Melnikov House

July 25, 2008

richard pare


Every year or so I look for an excuse to blog about Konstantin Melnikov's architectural masterpiece, his own home. This year's excuse is that house now has it's own website: Melnikov House and that Melnikov's wikipedia page has been considerably beefed up with many good links including one to the Russian Avant-garde Heritage Preservation Foundation (which led me to the excellent Russian Utopia Depository of Paper Architecture). This web meander started because I was looking at Richard Pare's work online. Pare spent 14 years shooting architecture in Russia for his celebrated book/exhibition The Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture, 1922–1932.

You can read more about Pare's work in the NYTimes or via this interview. Also of interest for Melnivkov fans is this obituary of his son Victor who was a well known painter. Now off with you until next year when I'll be back with more Melnivkov updates.

6AM with Gabriel

July 23, 2008


1. Bite the apple.

2. Pass the apple.

3. Wait for a bite.

4. Receive the apple.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 until done.

6. Break open the core.

7. Consider each seed.

8. Go start the day.


The same but different: First Hour, Eating Apples

George Eastman House Autochrome Collection

July 18, 2008

The George Eastman House has joined the flickr commons and has included a set of early 20th Century autochromes which have been a source of fascination and inspiration for years.

Flickr Commons is a fantastic idea. My wish is that the whole thing could be taken further. Imagine an open source version of flickr dedicated to showing artwork and photography from public institutions in which users had the opportunity to contribute scholarly work or to group images into collections.

Note I did a quick and dirty color correction to the images I've posted above.

Related: Early Color Photography

Overheard in the Elevator at 195 Chystie

July 12, 2008

Girl on phone: Why? So you can go home and read Vonnegut and be depressed?

Girl on phone: (Long Pause from 9th floor to 4th floor)

Girl on phone: Oh. My. God. Martin you are not being artistic you are being antisocial and gloomy. LIKE ALWAYS.

Girl on phone: You stay home with Kilgore Trout. I'm going to a party. I'm eating ice cream. I'm going to join the human race. Goodbye Martin.

Kate Orne

July 9, 2008

It's hard to image a more hostile working environment for a Western female photographer than a Pakistani brothel, and yet photographer Kate Orne has managed to make a series of compassionate even tender photographs in red light districts there. Powerful stuff.

Virgilio Ferreira

July 8, 2008

Portuguese photographer Virgilio Ferreira's portfolio Daily Pilgrims is one of those projects that sort of snuck up on me. I looked at it a week or two ago and have kept coming back to it. I'm not sure if this will make sense to you (it does to me), but the portfolio evokes the memory of the memory of stepping off a plane into a new and foreign city full of too many new sights and sounds to be processed. When you remember back everywhere there were fleeting glimpses of untold stories, but in being a memory of a memory wires get crossed—in the overload details blur leaving an evocative impression without actually describing the specifics of the place.

(via his Hey, Hot Shot! entry)

Adrien Missika

July 6, 2008

Adrien Missika's portfolios hold many haunting landscapes both real and created as well a few super looking limited editions books (Less interesting are the portfolios of natural history museum-like backdrops which have become the new parking garages of photography). I like that Missika prints small as I'm a fan of the intimacy of small prints, but some of these would be spectacular large. No? (via Ned in Toronto who wrote, "You are going to love this guy.")

Related: Oceanscapes


July 6, 2008

"I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deeprooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." - - The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham
(via my wife's tackboard)

Semirelated: A Quote by H.G. Wells

Things I know about Night

July 6, 2008

Nights in LA smell of sweet, like honeysuckle and jasmine,
Nights in Harbin smell of coal and cabbage.
Nights in Monterrey smell of smoke from a grill.

Nights in the desert smell of dew and dust.
Nights in the mountains smell of starlight.
Nights by the sea smell of salt.

Nights in New York smell of silver and burnt electricity.
Nights in Los Vegas smell of old smoker's smoke.
Nights on the moon smell of fresh gunpowder (or so I hear).

Nights holding a newborn smell of piss and lime.
Nights in my grandmother's arms were full of vanilla and cinnamon.
Nights holding my wife are ripe with plums.
Nights alone are full of other nights remembered.

Christoph Niemann

July 3, 2008

I love this piece titled The Boys And The Subway by artist/illustrator Christoph Niemannon on the New York Times website. If you have kids who ride the subway you will too. (via Jen Bekman on IM across the office)

Aside: I wish the Times would give us an option for bigger pictures in art pieces like this one and in photo essays. The Boston Globe has a clunky but simple and functional space for photo essays with larger pictures called (appropriately, The Big Picture). How great would the above NYTimes essay be if the images were of decent size?

Also make sure to check out Nemann's book 100% Evil.

Hin Chua

July 3, 2008

While not all the images in the series work for me, I admire the ambition that goes behind a series with a title as grandiose as After the Fall. And many of the individual images do speak to me. I wish more photographers would try tackling such projects of impossible scale. Chua is Malaysian by birth and is currently based in London.

Overheard on Bowery and Stanton

July 1, 2008

Guy: I think it's over there.

Girl: I think it's over there.

Guy: Do you really want to go?

Girl: Not really.

Guy: Let's go back to the hotel.

Girl: Lets.

Guy: Where are you going?

Girl: To the subway.

Guy: The subway is over there.

Girl: No it's over there.

Guy: I'm sure it's over there.

Girl: Well I'm sure it's over there...

When You Talk To The Seaweed

June 28, 2008

While we were drawing monsters today, Raul Andres told me a story which I transcribed.

When You Talk To The Seaweed

A very long time ago when there were no dinasaurs there were people riding monsters. No, no, sitting on the monsters on their backs and they would help them with their arms. The people had no cars but a lot a lot of toys everywhere and they ate no monsters, just broccoli but when they were sick they ate vitamins. When they were hot they ate flies and dragonflies and when they were cold they ate bumblebees. When they were inside they ate straw but usually they ate food outside at nighttime like a picnic. But the monsters had no mouths and the people put food on their backs with their arms.

The end.

Carolyn Drake

June 27, 2008


2008 Lange Taylor Prize winner Carolyn Drake has been making beautiful photography all around Central Asia which is my favorite part of the world. Her pictures like no others I've seen from the area evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of the region.

Markku Lahdesmaki

June 17, 2008

Finnish photographer Markku Lahdesmaki's high profile editorial work doesn't do much for me, it's too finished and perfect in the way the editorial world demands, but I love many of his personal portfolios, especially the ones taken in Chinese Space Museums and in the Finnish countryside. (via my friend Tina who I've been trying to have lunch with for over a year even though we run into each other all the time)

10 Ghosts

June 14, 2008

Ghost #1
The house, a solid four bedroom colonial on an acre of land in Buck’s Country, had been on the market for years, and each year the price had come down. The stain of death bothered Jenn’s parent’s but their immigrant’s love of the deal overcame any sense of trepidation. Each house they had owned since moving from Korea had been a little bigger than the last, but this one was two steps up the ladder.

Soon after moving in, Jenn, who was 8 at the time and who had heard nothing of the dark history of the place, would complain about a man whistling in the hallways. “Can you tell him to stop,” she would ask her mother. Her mother would shush her. Ghosts should be ignored. Later, through the network of 8-year-olds at school Jenn found out about the dad who had been murdered in the basement. Friends were scared to sleep over. She told the whistling man to go away and as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Four years later when her own father dropped dead of a heart attack in church, everyone blamed the ghost. To a certain extent, they still do.

Ghost #2
One of the previous owners of a house I lived in on Coronado Street in LA was a man named Fink. Fink had died in the tub and wasn’t found for several weeks. While I avoided tub baths in that house, I didn’t think much of the story until I found an old suitcase full of Fink family snapshots. Most were apparently taken by Mr. Fink himself. There was his shadow at the Rose Bowl, the shadow at the State Fair wearing a hat, the shadow wearing another hat at the Golden Gate Bridge. There was Fink's date at Chasens. Fink's cat. Another cat and another (Fink apparently had many cats). And at the bottom of the suitcase in an envelope, there was a single picture of Fink himself. A picture of Mr. Fink in a bubble bath wearing one of the saddest expressions I have ever seen.

Ghosts #3-#8
My grandmother was one of 11 children. Nine of her brothers and sisters died before her and she claimed to have had premonitions of each death. Her mother was also a frequent visitor in dreams.

Tio Gorgonio had come to her in a dream the night before he died. In the dream he was wearing his best suit, but without shoes. He did not speak when she called to him, but just waved and walked away.

At the very moment someone called to tell her of Tiberio's death, a wind blew up the curtains and slammed the doors of her house. It was a windless day.

With Tia Honda it was a nighttime vision of her sister alone on a bus carrying a live rooster. When my grandmother would call out her sister's name, Honda would turn towards her with a twinkle in her eyes, shush he,r and tell her to get off the bus.

When my grandmother would sleep in her blue rocker, she would dream it was Tio Nacho who was rocking her, and indeed even in the deepest sleep her rocking would never stop.

Her mother, Mama Juela, would show up in afternoon dreams as a 10 year old in a confirmation dress eating Polvorones.

More often than you might think, my grandmother woke up with tearstained pillows.

Ghost #9
Most of all I remember the silence. In the mid-90's I worked for for a movie producer for a few years and we had offices near the top of the old Gulf an Western building on Columbus Circle. The building was on its last legs (it was about to be gut-renovated, renamed, and clad it chintzy bronze by Donald Trump) and our offices were less than glamorous (and made less so by a boss who had a habit of punching holes in the walls), but we all had spectacular views.

One afternoon out of the corner of my eye I saw a man falling. He was out across Columbus Avenue. It was not a graceful fall. It happened in slow silence although the fall itself was incredibly fast. I was spared the impact by some intervening buildings but some officemates were not and I remember the startled yelps that echoed through the office. The man we later learned was a college professor. In the middle of a lecture, he had paused mid sentence, gone to the window, opened it, taken off his glasses and jumped.

A scrum of police cars and fire engines arrived quickly on scene. An ambulance showed up, and then men with power hoses. An hour later it was as if nothing had happened. When I walk that particular corner I always feel enveloped in the cold and helpless silence of that moment.

Ghost #10
My brother Christopher would probably enjoy being thought of as a ghost. He always had a thing for the supernatural although he was an intensely rational soul. In my dreams he is usually reading in the back of the room. I'll have been doing something else and will only notice him after a long time of being engrossed elsewhere. He is always 19 always with a fresh haircut. I try to ask him how he's been, but by the time I reach him, only the book remains, always with one of his elaborate homemade bookmarks. I collect the bookmark hoping that finding it missing he will have to pick up the book again, and I will have another chance at saying, 'Hey there little brother, I miss you'.

More Ghosts
I am in Maine for the week and ghosts are plentiful here. People talk of the ghost of a headless sea captain who roams Damariscove island, the ghost of a mother who lost her baby in the sea, and the ghost of a girl who walked into the woods one day and never returned. In thinking about ghosts I realized the ghosts that scare us are born of other people's tragedies, the things we can't understand, they are the mental form of our fears— a clumsy way of marking the unspeakable and warning us that danger is all around. But there are other types of ghosts, these are the ghosts conjured from our hardest memories, the ones that give shape to sadness. In their strange medicine of allowing us taste to loss anew, these ghosts provide deep comfort even if we must occasionally wake as my grandmother did with tearstained pillows.

Donald Weber's White Nights: Russia After the Gulag

June 10, 2008

donaldweber2.jpgDonald Weber has recently added work online to his ongoing Guggenheim Fellowship taken in the Komi Republic, Russia. After you look a these photos, some brutal, some beautiful, note that they were shot in May. Can't imagine what January would look like.

Zhuang Xueben

June 7, 2008

A reader named Mu Qian turned me on to the work of Zhuang Xueben who travelled the Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham in the 1930s. I don't think it's just my history in this region that makes the pictures so fascinating. Anybody have any more good Xueben links or book references outside what is easily googleable?

another site

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