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

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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

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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

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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

Wanderers

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

We real cool

June 4, 2008

I haven't read or thought about this poem by Gwendolyn Brooks since high school but for reasons unexplained it has been running through my head all day:

THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

Mars

June 1, 2008

For all the art photography I look at some of the pictures that compel me the most are taken by robots. This view taken yesterday by the Phoenix Lander of of what is almost surely ice on Mars sent my little geek heart aflutter:
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And since we are on the subject of Mars here are two other favorite images: below is the much reproduced sunset over Gusev crater (Spirit Rover):

and

A view into a deep pit crater on the side of a volcano taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
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Somewhere in storage I have a big book of Mars images (including 3D images) produced by the Viking Landers which I picked up with grass cutting money after a visit to Nasa when I was around 12. The pictures might look fairly primitive compared to the ones coming through now, but there were very few single books that had a greater impact on my adolescence.

More adolescent geekery: ASCII Days

Thomas Holton and the Lams of Ludlow Street

May 31, 2008

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I don't buy into the whole idea of universality — the popular "it's a small world after all" belief that if you scratch the surface a bit we're all just plain folk who are the same underneath. Our culture, our families and our unique quirks mold our worlds and define the physics around which our lives revolve often blinding us to other worlds that exist beside us. I enjoy the work of artists who expose the intersections and rifts between worlds allowing us to peek into the unknowable territory that marks the boundaries of other people's lives. This is what Thomas Holton's The Lams of Ludlow Street does for me.

Reader Question: Contact Sheets

May 29, 2008

I think I'm going to make the reader question thing a regular feature so here's another one by a reader named Daniel, a NY transplant from Wisconsin, who I met at the recent photo festival in DUMBO: "One thing still bothers me about our conversation. You said you make contact sheets. Were you talking about old fashioned contact sheets or digital ones? Isn't it easer to just do view them on the computer?"

I do scan most of my 35mm film and I manage the files in Aperture but for project related photography I always make physical contact sheets (sometimes I now print them from the digital files because having them made traditionally is so darned expensive).

Why waste the paper when we can see everything bigger and better on screen? Mainly because I like to see the boundaries of the roll of film contained on sheet of paper. I rarely shoot more than one or two rolls of film in a day so a contact sheet represents a definable moment. Those edges of those days get lost on screen and make editing more difficult. I edit all my medium format film as contact sheets out of necessity as I don't own a decent medium format film scanner.

amdocontactsheet%2323small.jpga large version of the contact sheet

Above is a contact sheet from Amdo. Most of my film had been ruined by being frozen so I was shooting parsimoniously. In the first couple of frames you can see I wandered off the road to check out a house-raising. I ended up staying in this village for a few days. The roll of film covers a day and a half.

You can download a large version of the contact sheet here if you want to check it out in more detail.

These are some of the resulting images: Number 10, Number 16, Number 18, Number 19, Number 25.

Got a question? Feel free to ask just email my first name at mexicanpictures.com

My Dad's Vietnam 1966

May 27, 2008

My dad was served as a doctor in the war we call the Vietnam war, the war the Vietnamese call The American War. He was there from 1966 to 1967. My dad's Kodachromes—there are hundreds of them—were my first sense of 'the other side of the world'. Many photos are of empty landscapes. There are shots taken from the backs of jeeps. The barracks. A whole roll is devoted to a praying mantis that lived in his dorm.
There are many shots of red dirt roads and palm trees. The palms and the red dirt must have made some deep psychic impression because during my trips there as a backpacker, my first impression was of a kind of overpowering and almost haunting dejavu. His photos largely turned away from the horrors he experienced. In the year he served more than 6,000 Americans died. 12,000 South Vietnamese died and 61,000 North Vietnamese. More than 30,000 were wounded. The hospital where he worked was one of the busiest in the country. When I was growing up we would sometimes talk about that year during long Texas car rides, but his answers to my questions always seemed like riddles to me. They still do.

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Continue reading "My Dad's Vietnam 1966" →

Seyeoun Yun

May 22, 2008

SUYEON%20YUN.jpgSeyeon Yun is a Yale MFA student with several knockout projects. Incomplete Journey is a astute wander through Korea... The portfolio is split into three chapters and, as the title suggests, it feels that more chapters are on the way. Homecoming is an equally powerful project delving into the lives of war veterans. Yun is part of the Yale MFA group show at Danzinger Projects opening on May 27th.

Just a Few of the Book Requests From my 3 Year Old While We Were Looking For A Parking Spot Today

May 20, 2008

I want a book about all the trees.

And can you find me a book about volcanos?

And leaves. I like books with all the kinds of leaves.

Don't forget shark books. Tiger sharks and hammer heads and sharks with teeth that eat other sharks.

And volcanos! You never get me volcano books.

Also one about salad.

Daddy does it cost a lota money to get a book about train stations?

I want a book with the blue fish and one with brown fish and one with silver fish.

And a book about chimneys! And peacocks! And armadillos!

Do you have a book about the third rail?

Can you get me all these books?

I want one book about streetsweepers and.. and.. and... a concertina wire book!

And maybe one about giants with lotsa lotsa pictures. Three giants!

I will find books about rodeos.

Can we organize my books so we can see the spine?

Daddy do you love books too?

Mark Powell (again)

May 17, 2008

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Mark Powell is a prolific maker of compelling enigmatic images. If you hang out with Mark for any time you realize his world follows him around. Strange things happen. He has kind of a force field that creates mystery.

I hadn't checked in on his website for a while and found that it is full of new work.

Andrew Miksys

May 16, 2008

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If you happen to be at the New York Photo Festival be sure to check out Andrew Miksys' show called BAXT, an exploration of the Gypsy community of Lithuania. The exhibition coincides with the release of a book of the same title. Baxt is the Roma word for Fate. Many of the images on the web don't do the prints justice. For example one of the signature pieces of the show is a portrait of a crying bride. On the web you can't see that she is crying which mutes the impact of the image. The show is on display at the Nelson Hancock Gallery through July 5th.

On the Earthquake

May 15, 2008

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The city of Wenchuan where the recent earthquake in China was centered lies only a few miles away from the Longmenshan fault. The fault severs Sichuan province on the diagonal cutting it roughly in half. From ground the land to the east of the fault appears flat, but if you fly above it, you will see the earth slopes down into a huge basin (geologists call this the Sichuan Basin). On the other side of the fault, to the west, the land immediately deforms and flatlands quickly become foothills and foothills abruptly become an imposing labyrinth of impossibly high mountains and deep river valleys.

Until about 40 years ago the city of Wenchuan was one of the last major Chinese outposts before getting into the serious mountains. It’s lies at 4347 feet above sea level. Respectable, but a drive up the road you start hitting passes that are at 15,000 feet, then 17,000 feet...a day up the road you hit a 19,000 foot pass and those are the passes, the low spots between the mountains. The landscape is beyond human scale. For hundreds of years this was were where China effectively ended. Beyond were various kingdoms and fiefdoms of tribal peoples such as the Miao, the Naxi, the Qiang, the Yi, the Lisu and the many tribes of people we now group under the title Tibetans. Chinese mythology is full of stories of the mountains being the home to demons and spirits and in many old Chinese maps these mountains and the imposing deserts to the north of them represent the ends of the earth. The people in the mountains spoke foreign languages, practiced a foreign religion, and were ethnically distinct from the Chinese.

Mao Zedong made a conscious decision to take control of Sichuan's mountains, as well as Tibet’s 3 primary kingdoms. This area represented to him, and to the majority of Chinese today, part of that country's manifest destiny. Mao's government sent tens of thousands of Chinese up into the highlands as part of an organized "education and cultural assimilation" campaign both to teach city people the value of manual labor and to bring Chinese culture to the region. Local culture was systematically destroyed, monasteries were blown up, local religion and language were banned, and small villages were turned into Chinese cities. Living standards for many improved, but at the cost of their cultural heritage. Instead of small self sustaining organic communities living in symbiosis with the land the Chinese built medium sized cities often on grids, they dammed the rivers and relied almost exclusively on imports from hundreds of miles away to feed and cloth the people of those cities. Today there is hardly a city in the region without a majority Chinese population and in most cities vernacular architecture and customs are rapidly being erased.

As the land in these areas is so steep and harsh, most cities lie in deep river valleys. Because flat land is at a premium cities are often spread out over the thin strip of land on both sides of river bottoms. There are hundreds of rivers as this is China’s watershed and up every river and tributary you will often find a town or two. For the most part, dams have tamed these rivers providing power and most cities are connected by roads to the outside world. But these are tenuous connections. Most cities often only have a single road that passes through and connections to other cities and the outside world have to pass through some of the most rugged landscape in the world. Still, bit by bit, the Chinese have tried to take control of the landscape. Twenty years ago a bus ride to Wenchuan from the mega-city of Chengdu was a 14 hour ordeal. Today there are major highways with many tunnels cutting through mountains and the trip only takes about 3 hours or at least it did before the earthquake struck.

Beyond Wenchuan the mountain roads get narrower and even in the best of times have to be cleared regularly of debris from almost daily rockslides and washouts. Virtually all of western Sichuan as well as the provinces further north and west were recently closed due to riots. The riots in which ethnic Tibetans revolted against Chinese authorities and Chinese setters were the result of years marginalization, a kind of soft apartheid in which non-Chinese speaking locals are inexorably losing control of their historical homeland. The protests (and the crackdown in response) have been going on for months now in an area twice the size of Texas which has been almost completely cut off from reporters and travelers (Nicholas Kristoff managed to get in a rare report from the region in today’s NY TImes) The largest roads into this area run through Sichuan and right now apparently those roads are closed which makes the isolation even more complete. In addition to destroying roads homes and schools, the earthquake damaged hundreds of tunnels, bridges, and dams.

Looking at the images coming out of China I’m of course horrified by the destruction and loss of life wrought by the earthquake, in fact I worry that the actual death toll is much much higher than officially reported. The mountains are full of small towns and in village after village local Chinese governments have had habit of bulldozing indigenous architecture and erecting Chinese style concrete apartment buildings. While sometimes the buildings will have a locally inspired fillip as a nod to the tourists they tend to essentially be cheap concrete boxes, constructed fast and dirty. Judging from the pictures of the disaster it is these structures which have failed so dramatically turning entire cities into rubble. Many of those cities will be totally cut of for some time. Traditional villages in this area were even 15 years ago much smaller, one story affairs often built of wood and less susceptible to catastrophe than concrete apartment blocks perched on steep mountain ledges and at the bottom of deep river canyons.

My suspicion and fear is that the government will use the the world’s sympathy for the quake victims and rightful admiration for the heroics of the People’s Liberation Army whose soldiers working under the worst of conditions to detract from the harsh crackdown on Tibetans in the region. I suspect it will take years to find out what has really happened inland from to epicenter to tribal communities devastated by this this quake. My hope is that the quake will give the government in Beijing pause about overdevelopment in a region so inherently fragile where life has always been tenuous. Perhaps they will even take lessons from the indigenous people who have managed to live in harmony with this harsh environment for centuries rather than taking on the Sisyphean task of rebuilding and controlling the uncontrollable.

Frédéric Delangle

May 14, 2008

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Sometimes all it takes is a slight shift in perspective to make an ordinary photograph extraordinary.

If you have ever been to Ahmedabad in India you know it's characterized by it's crazy chaotic street life. It's a dense warren of a city, home to 5.6 million people, that has been around since the 11th century, so to see it empty is something. Frederic Delangle made a series of photos of Ahmedabad at night which exposes the city beyond the people. (via one of my favorite photography blogs, Hippolyte Bard)


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