Model Home

January 2, 2008

One of my wife's aunts just bought a new house in one of those pre-fab subdivisions that seem to be taking over middle America, a McMansion. The subdivision is still brand new. The streets aren't on maps, and most of the houses are half-finished, or have that just-moved-in look. But there is one house with green grass and trees outside. It's the model house, and that's the one they bought—fully furnished. To give the illusion of the perfect life, the model house has fake family photos in each room—the pictures always feature a handsome couple with one or two kids. The couple would vary from room to room, but you wouldn't notice if you didn't look closely. The mom was always blonde, the dad, muscular, occassionally shirtless. In the kid's room a framed drawing titled, "World's Best Dad" was carefully hung in the corner while the master bedroom was decorated with glossy travel magazines, and books in bookshelves that invitably carried the word "success" in the title. In the living room a pretend television displays a serene ocean scene.

My wife's aunt and uncle and their daughter will move into the new house leaving most of their old furniture behind, walking into a readymade life. In truth the new life looks pretty similar to the old life. The new house is virtually indistinguishable from the old one which is also in a pre-fab subdivision. Inside the house feels the same- miles of beige carpet, huge windows with plastic sills, and a sense of complete anonymity. The cherry veneer furniture and bland paintings on the walls are indistinguishable between the homes. But in the new house the rooms are all one or two sizes bigger, there's a third door on the garage, and the basement is graced with a media room. A year from now little will have changed in the model house. The furniture will not have been moved, the paintings will stay exactly as they are, and my guess is it will take months if not years to replace all those family photos scattered around. Even the plastic TV will stay put.

It is easy for my wife and I to be horrified by all this as the house and everything it represents is pretty much the opposite of how we believe life should be lived, but for my wife's aunt and uncle, immigrants from Korea who were both children of war who arrived here with nothing, the house is tangilbe evidence of a life of unbelievably hard work— year upon year of labor without vacations or government holidays often in dangerous neighborhoods where they are mocked and threatened. The house will remain chilly in winter as they would never waste money on something as frivoulous as heat, and it will feel empty to visitors, but out in the back Jenn's uncle will plant a vegetable garden with seeds sent from Korea. He grew up on a farm and still sometimes refers to himself as a farmer. He'll complain about the soil, but he'll make it work and before long the garden will be overflowing with tomatos and squash and chilis. In the summers he'll host barbecues complaining about the expense of such a big house, but enjoying hosting everyone in it, and dreaming of a bigger one.

Obsequies for 2007

December 31, 2007

Remember when years measured the time between Christmases and birthdays?
A year was 4 summers.
A year was a new notch on the doorway, your height scribbled nearby.
A new year felt new because
A year was everything.

On television the crowds in Tokyo and Paris would smile, and cheer, and kiss while we waited...
In Times Square the ball would drop at eleven o’clock.
This was the burden of living in Central Time.
The hour between eleven and twelve would crawl slower and ever slower....
Fighting sleep.
Until those last seconds.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 3, 2, and then...
A dive into the unknown.

We would write out the new year because it felt weird to see it in ink.
In a year we could learn geometry, the stories of Athena and Apollo, and how to catch catfish on rainy days.
In a year we might fall in and out of love 20 times.
In a year we might kiss a girl. With tounge.
In a year we had time to build forts in trees.
A year was something.

Does the calendar change anything now?
Wasn’t it just... Wait. That was 4 years ago.
My favorite winter overcoat is six years older than some of my friends.
I return to places and find trees I planted towering above the rooftops.
I see someone else in the mirror.
Birthdays mean nothing to me.
I’ve forgotten how to measure things.

Mikiko Hara

December 28, 2007

As a response to yesterday's post a friend asked if I had ever seen the work of Mikiko Hara. I haven't seen it in person, but I recently read a nice post on Hara on, one of my favorite photography blogs. Hara's work is quiet and poetic, a rare quality in street photography. Works for me.

Update:Lesley Martin, who always writes incisively about photography has written a nice piece on Ms. Hara in the Winter 07 issue of Aperture. I've met Lesley a couple of times while sitting on Jen Bekman's Hey Hot Shot Panel, she also happens to be swell in general.

The Internet Giveth

December 28, 2007

20 year old clips featuring my wife. I plan on using the phrase "Drop the Monkey" often around the house.

Hiromi Tsuchida

December 27, 2007

hiromi tsuchida
Hiromi Tsuchida always included on the short list of great Japanese photographers for his books Hiroshima and Counting Grains of Sand. He's recently released New Counting Grains of Sand, a continuation of the original project. It's a delightful book and worth tracking down (you can find it on PhotoEye .)

If you don't visit Tsuchida's website for the photography, go for the 20 year timelapse of his head... I have a weakness for time based projects...

And if you happen to be in London you still have a week to see some of Tsuchida's prints in person. They are part of a show titled The Eyes an Island: Japanese Photography 1945-2007.

Related: Noah Kalina, Time Photography

Charlie Wilson's War

December 22, 2007

For my entire childhood in Texas Charlie Wilson was my congressman. I have yet to see the movie in which he is portrayed by Tom Hanks but I can heartily recommend the book on which the movie is based. It's the story of how one congressman from a district of no special importance managed to get the United States involved in a covert war that played a major part in bringing down the USSR and how that involvement ultimately gave rise to the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden's brand of fundamentalism. My guess is that at each step from which the story is removed from the man, the story is diminished, although perhaps these versions are more believable than the truth which is outrageous enough to seem fictional.

Wilson lived down the road from my first childhood home, and although he was rarely around, he was hard to miss when he was in town. He often held court on Saturday mornings at local breakfast spots like the Hot Biscuit and the Holiday Inn and if you were anywhere in earshot of his table you would inevitably catch loud profane tales of Washington skullduggery... And then there were always whispers about his various girlfriends around town. If you're curious about the man, he's profiled in today's Washington Post in an article titled "Charlie Wilson Sticks to His Guns". A football coach in Lufkin once said of Wilson, "You either love the fella or you hate him, he'll be re-elected unless he kills someone so you might as well love him. Hell, he might have already killed someone, with Charlie you never know."

Sidenote: The Post article mentions his campaign ads, which I remember fondly for their pure outlandishness. This is a somewhat tame selection. I hope someone digs up some of his earlier ads.


December 22, 2007

Years from now I look forward to torturing my kids with a collection of 'scared of Santa' pictures. This one is pretty good, but 2005's is my favorite.

Guillaume Herbaut

December 19, 2007

Guillaume Herbaut travels to many of the world's grim hard places; his portfolio is a catalog of suffering and woe. By photographing what most of us would run away from he forces us to consider the large swaths of the world where misery is the norm. The two images above are from the series Vendetta taken in Albania where thousands of people are locked in blood struggles...

Children's Books I love

December 11, 2007

A friend who's baby is still a few months away from being born asked me for some suggestions for children's books because she wants to start building a library. Assuming she has the basic classics covered, here's a list of slightly less well known books that my sons and I love. Many of these books are out of print but can easily be found on Amazon, ebay, or on Here are a few to get you started...

The Birthday Party - Maurice Sendak
Little Blue and Little Yellow - Lionni
May I Bring A Friend - de Regniers
Where Everyday Things Come From - Aldren Watson
Tall Book of Nursery Tales - Feodor Rojankovsky
The Tall Book of Make Believe - Garth Williams
A Tail is a Tail - Katherine Mace
Rotten Island - William Steig
Doctor Desoto - William Steig
Today's Basic Science - Navarra and Zafforoni
Henri's Walk to Paris - Saul Bass
The Wonderful House - Margert Wise Brown
Choo Choo - Virginia Lee Burton
The Dead Bird - Margaret Wise Brown
The Line Up Book - Marisabina Russo
What Makes A Shadow?- Clyde Robert Bulla
Tiny Nonsense Stories
Goodnight Gorilla - Peggy Rathman

My general advice on buying kids books:

1. Always buy hardcover. A used hardcover is usually better than a new softcover. If your kids loves a book, he will read it hundreds of times. Softcover books just don't hold up.

2. As a general rule avoid celebrity authors.

3. Avoid modern "message" books.

4. Love the politically incorrect. The Tiny Nonsense Stories feature gun wielding kittens, cigarette smoking ducks, and pig families that sneak around scaring the daylights out of each other. Kids of course love these stories.

5. For vintage books, never worry about finding a first edition if you plan on actually reading your children's books. Your kids will want to bring them to the dinner table, they will bend them, tear, them and so on. This is how children's books like to be read. Just find the cleanest cheapest copy you can find.

If you are looking for more book buying ideas, check out this japanese site which always has a well curated selection of vintage visually spectacular kid's books... (the little links that read A-C, D-F, and so on show thumbnails of the covers)

Melanie Schiff

December 10, 2007

In interviews Melanie Schiff often references music. "You hear a sad song and you feel like it's your experience, and I wanted to make art like that, to make photos like that." And many of the images in her current portfolio literally reference music. There are still lives with skulls and cassette tapes, another of light bouncing off cd cases, and a self portrait with a Neil Young album. It might sound silly when described but it all just works. The image selection is eclectic and personal and for me it does play like a very good album.

I read on MAO today that Ms. Schiff was recently chosen for the 2008 Whitney Biennial which is good news indeed. I look forward to seeing her enormous prints here in NYC.

More of Schiff's work can be seen at the Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Stefan Rohner

December 9, 2007

If you've ever found yourself in a taxi roaming a part of the world far from home, you'll appreciate Stefan Rhoner's essay from Morroco "The King Is Coming"...

On Turning Three

December 9, 2007

On Thursday a day shy of his 3rd birthday, my son and I turned a corner onto Prince street when we encountered a man who had just been hit by a car. His face was badly bloodied and his leg was twisted at a grotesque angle. We arrived just as he slumped over to the ground. The man driving of the car was also in distress, also bleeding. He was sitting in the driver's seat trying to adjust his broken glasses, stunned, and surrounded by smoke, presumably from the airbag. The car had jumped the curb and was pressed into a lamp pole. Although we arrived just seconds after the accident people on the street had already sprung into action. Two passersby were comforting the man on the ground. Another man sacrificed an overcoat to keep him warm. A husband and wife team in matching full length fur coats were attending to the driver. My son was still, outwardly impassive. Although my instinct had been to hurry him down the street he was transfixed. Hearing the ambulance siren he said, "The ambulance will take the man to the hospital and give him a big band aid and then he'll be better."
"Yes," I said, "We should go so the ambulance men can do their work."
"Ok," he said.
A few minutes later we were at a restaurant. "I want french fries and cauliflower", he announced and then went on to talk about robots, his mom, a girl he likes in school, his little brother, his upcoming birthday party, robots again, and trains.

In his second year of his life, our son's world has opened up to include all the things he reads in books. He has a sense that the world is round. He knows we live in Brooklyn and that winter follows fall. When it we got a dusting of snow the other day he first wanted to taste it, then build a snowman, then build an igloo. He calls his mom "my cutie pie" and loves to sing Amazing Grace and Clementine. And yet for all that knows and all that he can do at 3, there are still many traces lingering babydom. His parents are still his touchstones and too much time apart from us leave him somewhat undone. A blank face is often presented to strangers, a mask for a vague distrust. He falls asleep alone, but ends up in our bed every night. The upset over an apparently small thing can easily turn into tears.

Raul Andres' world has been turned upside down several times this year, most dramatically by the addition of a brother, later by the loss of a house.

I knew he would be a good big brother when he began asking me to include Gabriel in his bedtime stories just a few days after Gabriel was born. "One day a little boy, Raul Andres, went out for a walk..." I would start.
"And you too?"
"Me too."
"And mommy?"
"And mommy."
"And Gabriel?"
"And Gabriel.... So Raul Andres, mommy, daddy, and Gabriel all went out on a walk..."

The old house, he still misses. We moved four blocks away so it's still painfully close for him. Last week we walked by the old place on the way home from school.
"This was our house," he declared, "we lived here for a long time. Can we go inside."
"No," I replied. "Someone else lives there now."
"I'm sad," he said.
"Me too," I said.
"Can we sit down?" he asked pointing to the stoop.
We had spent countless hours on the stoop during his first two years. Sitting there and watching people pass by was one of his favorite things to do."
"Of course. Let's sit."
We sat for a while in silence and then continued walking home. "I miss that house too much," he declared.

And so it was for much of the year—a wonderful economy in his words.

His terrible twos were miraculously short. We can count the number of limp-noodle-fall-on-the-ground-sobbing incidents on one hand. And that period seems to be long over.

Unlike a 2 year old whose his life is all about the here and now, the 3 year old anticipates events big and small Halloween, Christmas, or maybe just the next time we sit outside and eat peppermint. And after experiencing things he thinks about them. "Last Halloween I was a wolf, next Halloween I want to be a robot and a fireman."

The 3 year old is contemplative. Last night, or 'last night ago' as he would say, my son brought up the man who had been hit by the car. "Do you think that man will be ok?" he asked.
"I think so." I replied.
"We must be careful when we cross the street," he declared.
"Yes." I said, "We must be careful when we cross the street."
"Today is my birthday, tomorrow is my birthday party, just like in my book."
"Yes," I answered."
"Then I will be 3?"
"Yes," I said."
"And then 4?"
"And then 4," I replied.

related: On Turning Two

Time and Light

November 30, 2007

When I was a kid one of things that made photography so compelling was the idea that it was a way to fold time. I dabbled with long exposures, double exposures, photographs of the same exact spot on different days, etc etc. Later I became a light junkie... sometimes spending days scoping out a place to find the exact time when the light would be just right-obsessing over the exact film stock to record the blue of my grandmother's front wall when it was first illumated with morning sun. After that I became emotion obsessed and so on and so on... I imagine most beginning photographers go through some similar trajectory. This comes to mind because today I was looking at the work of 2 photographers who have distilled their work down to time and light. Both work with a camera on a tripod and a mirror to make their images.

Photographers who shoot long exposures and light trails are a dime a dozen, but Tokihiro Sato's shothe manages to create light that feels organic and mysterious. Many of his images remind me of fireflies (they remind me Crewdson's firefly pictures more than actual fireflies) or of childhood imaginings of sprites and woodland ghosts.

Julianne Swartz makes similarly lyrical images using the same basic tools as Sato. Her Placement series is a project in which she shoots photos of hands holding mirrors reflecting the opposite horizon. I saw a few of them at Mixed Greens recently and they've stuck with me. If you're in Manhattan you should check them out.

David Goldblatt

November 21, 2007

This morning I was reminded of this exhibition of photographs of South Africa from 1998 by a friend who attended with me. Then this evening I got an email about an upcoming Goldblatt show. If you don't know his work you should check it out. The photographs are quiet but powerful, especially in person.

Artist Talk at SVA

November 14, 2007

tracesofdevotion2_image4.jpgPhoto by Lisa Ross
This Friday Lisa Ross and I will be speaking at SVA. Lisa and I have both made made many journeys through China's western provinces and our work from those parts of the world will be the focus of the discussion. Our gallerist Nelson Hancock who also wears a professor of visual anthropology hat (and is an amazing photographer himself) will be moderating the discussion afterwards. The talk is part of the ongoing Artists Talk on Art series. Annoyingly there is an entry fee, but it's worth it to hear Lisa speak. If you don't believe me, check out what Holland Cotter has to say about her work.


School of Visual Arts
209 E 24rd Street, NYC
Friday 7:00 PM, doors open at 6:30
$7 General Admission
$3 Students
SVA students

Simon Roberts at Klompching

October 24, 2007

Ever since I first noticed Simon Roberts' Motherland project I've been waiting for it to show here in New York. Tonight it opened at the newly minted Klompching Gallery and the exhibition does not disappoint. I definitely recommend heading over to DUMBO to check it out.

Klompching is the creation of the husband and wife team of Darren Ching and Debra Klomp Ching both of whom are well known in the photo world, he for his work as creative director at PDN and she for her smart writing about photography. This was their inaugural opening and they are putting together a sharp roster of emerging photographers including Lisa M. Robinson and Tessa Bunney (check out the Romania portfolio). It's a promising start. I know I'll stay tuned...


October 23, 2007

My wife on my hopes of getting internet service in our new apartment which seems to exist in a one block blackhole of telecommunication : "You know what you are, you're a duck in a game preserve. So happy, so hopeful: "Look," you quack, "the cage door is open. A pond, blue sky, lets go waddle out and flyyyy...."

Dinu Li

October 18, 2007

Today I came across the website of Dinu Li a Hong Kong born artist whose family emigrated to England when he was a young child. His work from China/Hong Kong is especially remarkable, and strike me as the images of someone both looking for himself and trying to picture a past that doesn't necessarily exist anymore.

I should note I found this work via Asian Photography Blog which is fast becoming one of my favorite daily reads.

Servant of the Sahibs: A Book to Be Read Aloud

October 18, 2007

Over the years I've put together a pretty good little collection of late 19th century and early 20th century Tibet/Himalayan exploration literature. For years these books have been tucked away in boxes in the attic, but with our recent move I’ve finally had a chance to put the collection together on the shelf. Tonight I unpacked a book called Servant of the Sahibs by Rassul Galwan. It’s one of my favorites-a the dairy of a Ladakhi Muslim guide whose many adventures included a trip from Leh to Yarkland with the legendary Sir Francis Younghusband. The book was published in 1924 and recounts travels spanning 30 years.

Some excerpts:

There were much rocks and darkness and the rain made mud. We fell into unluck that night.

Now I said to these lie-men. "Please tell true, how lost those ponies." They said: "You had charge in our hands. We went a little sleep. Then we looked to ponies, and we lost that place, at what place the ponies had grazing. Therefore we waked you." Now there were many up and down places where I could not get. Now from midnight we searched until morning which had little light. We had traveled wrong way the half-night. These men make bad luck. Head hurting mad.


Now my first wife I had not liked very much. That my mother knew. Yet she was not so bad, and after her death I remembered her much. And my mother said to me: "You must look very careful for next marriage." I said, "Yes mother, and I like that kind of wife who will obey, you the same as myself." Mother said, "You will teach her"

One day my mother said at breakfast to that woman who cooked for us: "Do you know any girl, outside Leh town which Rassul would like and who would obey me?" That woman answered "At Shushat village there is a beautiful honest girl and she will obey you." When I heard that from that woman, I liked that girl without seeing. I said to my mother, "I like this one." My mother said "Without looking, how can you like? No good. Before marry you must look."

I said to my mother again, "This one, whatever kind of girl, I like her, you must send word to her mother and brothers. In a few days my mother sent words, and some tea and butter. Then came the relay that they like to give me their daugher. And I heard my wife had liked me, without seeing. I was much glad with this news.

The writer takes up his pen again, after that long interval of war. I have lost my art. I am not much remember where was much happy. All that, not remember. The difficult and hard place are good remember. And the youth-time remember were very good. In the old-time is not good remember as youth. Anyway I am written with very careful. Not got any wrong, though I had no learning besides travel.

Pierre Gonnord

October 12, 2007

After writing a post about Hendrik Kerstens' Dutch Masters-inspired photos, a friend recommended I check out the work of Pierre Gonnord who also makes portraits heavily influenced by Vermeer Rembrant and the like. This time the photographer is a Frenchman who lives in Madrid. My bet is that he uses simple lighting setups-one big diffused light or a big northern facing window-to achieve this look.


October 10, 2007

Jenn to me while driving on the NJ Turnpike: "Don't deny you make moral judgements about people based on their font choices, you know it's true. Peel the onion a bit and there's an entire corrupt little universe based on a disdain of comic sans and the like."

Status report

October 5, 2007

A few people have emailed asking why I haven't been posting lately... basically it's been a rotten week.

1. My one day move from State St. to Pacific St. turned into a three day move. Thank goodness for capped moving rates (thanks to tina for recommending Brian Shea). Note there's a fine line between being a collector of things and a packrat. I might have crossed that line.

2. On the first night in the new place I turned around while my 2 1/2 year old son was taking a bath. He tried to get out but being unused to the height of a clawfoot tub he fell hard and fractured his arm in two places. So we ended up in the emergency room. My wife keeps saying "at least it didn't happen on my watch."

3. I have no internet or phones at the new place yet. (writing this from a starbucks).

4. The new place is a loft with less square footage than the old place. And the thing you realize about lofts is that without walls you have no place to hang things or put things. Consequently we are living in a maze of boxes right now.

5. Shelves and shelves of books to organize.

6. General exhaustion.

Things should be back to normal next week.

Hendrik Kerstens

September 28, 2007

If you have to be born into a national artistic tradition you could do worse than being born Dutch. The love of natural light, the emphasis on quiet emotional portraits, and the long history of reverence of the everyday interiors gives the modern artist much to chew on whether working within the tradition or in opposition to it. I remember seeing Bert Teuissen’s Domestic Landscapes series for the first time and my first thought, was, "ahh he must be Dutch"- the national DNA is just so embedded in the work.

Another fascinating unmistakably Dutch artist is Hendrik Kerstens. For the last 12 years Kerstens has been almost exclusively photographing his daughter Paula creating photographs that consciously evoke Vermeer and other Dutch masters and yet are unabashedly modern. He’ll make a photograph of his daughter in an archaic hairstyle and in a classic pose, but then you notice her arms peeling from a sunburn. A hoodie will substitute for a 17th century bonnet, and so on... The play between the contemporary and traditional as well as the natural tensions between the photographer and his daughter give the series an unsettling frission and make it worth keeping on your radar.

Related: on tradition and tronies, on his technique, a clickable map of all the known vermeers (generally lousy scans), Vermeer's Camera

A Theory

September 25, 2007

proust-on-his-deathbed.jpgProust on his deathbed by Man Ray
I've long held a little theory (unpopular amongst my friends) that great artists have only one story to tell and once they've told the perfect version of that story they are doomed. Nothing they do from that point on will ever be as good, their story has been told. Some artists escape by fashioning alternate versions of their story, never actually telling it perfectly, always leaving a bit of mystery in the center, always working their way around and around the one truth they know, but maybe these artists are doomed too as they will always fall short...

Anyway, tonight I happened upon something by Proust that suggests he had a similar conviction, "The great men of letters have never created more than a single work, or rather have never done more than refract through various mediums an identical beauty which they bring into the world."

Now he could have been saying that the great writers basically create a single universe, and that all his work is a shade of that universe, but given his other writing about the despair that comes from success I stand by my interpretation...

Don't know why I'm thinking about this at 3:14 in the morning. Enough. Goodnight.

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