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.

Bedtime Story

September 22, 2007

You never know what you'll miss about a house until you've been gone a while— sometimes it takes years to know what was important about a place. But I know when I think about this particular house, I'll miss the pattern of lights that play across the living room ceiling as seen from the foot of my son's bed when it's my turn to tell the bedtime stories.

Related: Pepper's Ghost

Late Last Night...

September 20, 2007

Very late last night I found myself in the City Hall subway stop with 8 other stragglers waiting for a non-existent R train. We were all spread out across the platform, all standing, but after half an hour everyone had migrated to the benches and we were all sitting in a row. Nobody had anything to read, cellphone service wasn't working, and most unusually, no one was attached to an ipod.

After a few minutes a very tall girl with long brown hair who I would later learn was a Parsons design student, broke social convention, turned to her fellow benchmates, and said, "My God, wasn't today beautiful." At first she just got a few quiet affirmations,"yeah, gorgeous", "best day yet" etc, but then a young woman in a business suit again broke social convention and revealed personal information: "It was so nice, when I woke up I decided I didn't want to feel miserable about anything, and broke up with my boyfriend. I ditched him at 7:30 in the morning. He didn't know what hit him." This revelation shattered the dam of silence and soon the entire group: a couple from Denmark, the Parsons student, the businesswoman, a somewhat scruffy writer named Mike, a lady carrying a violin, and a young tough-looking couple from Coney Island were all chatting. In short order we covered breakups, design books, Facebook, muggings (The Danish couple were surprised to learn none of us had been violently mugged...), and Thai food in Brooklyn. Another half hour passed. Finally Mike, said, "screw the train, let's walk, my car is on the other side and I can take some of you home." We immediately lost the Coney Island couple ("That's foolish man. Foolish.") but everyone else was on board. The violin woman slipped out of her heels into white tennis shoes and we headed out into the night.

Midnight walks across the Brooklyn Bridge are always beautiful, but last night, particularly so: a half moon hung low in the sky, the lower deck of the bridge was covered in little red flares which gave everything an otherworldly light, and the air was velvety cool. Perfect walking weather. Except for Mike who apparently walks the bridge regularly, and myself, for most of our group this was a new experience. "The only time I've ever walked across was going home on 9/11", said the businesswoman, "It was my first week on the job, my first week in New York."

The Parsons girl who had not known the bridge was walkable looked out over the water towards the city, "I was 13 on 9/11. Afterwards my weird reaction was that I wanted to move to New York. From then on, I knew I would end up here." Mike, who had been deep in conversation with the Parsons girl beforehand was startled. "You were 13? My God." He crossed himself.

At the second tower we lost the Danish tourists. They had been headed to the Fulton Ferry Landing and decided the view from down below couldn't be better than the view from the bridge itself. They said no goodbyes, and as we walked away they practically lunged for each other and began making out. "Name the kid Brooklyn," Mike called out after them. The conversation turned to PDAs. Mike felt they were unavoidable. The Parsons girl pled guilty. The businesswoman said, "I've never been with anyone that made me want to kiss them outside," and the violin lady just giggled.

On the other side of the bridge we all headed up Henry Street in silence into Brooklyn Heights where we found Mike's car am old Volvo. "I can walk," I said, I'm pretty close." "Me too," said the businesswoman. Mike insisted. "

It's more fun if everybody goes," said the violin woman who had hadn't said much since leaving Manhattan. We bundled into the car and rolled down the windows. "Such a pefect night," said the businesswoman sticking her hand outside. " A few minutes later we dropped her off. "Thanks," she said, "that was fun."
"You make me feel like we were on a date," Mike answered.
"Hey, I'm available now," she smiled, "and you know where I live."
We drove off leaving her waving on the curb. "I don't think she's over her boyfriend yet," noted the Parsons girl.
"No way," said Mike, she's much too happy. Can't be real."
"Nope," chimed in the violin woman.

I was the next to be dropped off. "We'll look you up on the web," everyone said. "Just google raul", I replied. We waved goodbye and I wondered what observations would be made about me when I was out of earshot. I smiled and watched the Volvo headed down Henry towards Cobble Hill marveling at how little takes to transform a group of tired grumpy New Yorkers into friends if only for the span of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Clayton Cottrell and Jaret Belliveau

September 19, 2007

cotterell.jpgCheck out SVA MFA student Clayton Cotterell's project 'Teens'. The series is shot without the sentiment or judgment or worship so often seen in series about that age group taken by older photographers.

Cottrell's series brought to mind another somewhat darker set of portraits called The Dirt Squad by a young Canadian photographer Jaret Belliveau. Belliveau has several hyper intimate portfolios most centered around his family and their friends...

Berkley's Japanese Historical Map Collection

September 17, 2007

I was doing research on a Meiji Era World Map I'm about to sell when I came across the Japanese Historical Map Collection at Berkley.

The collection is full of graphic delights and is highly recommended. Safari 3 users note the site uses some custom code that works much better in Firefox. This collection is but a small part of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection which seems to be a garden of delight so vast I have yet to jump in for fear of getting lost for hours.

As a side note during my web wanderings I also came across a few sites with Meiji era photography. The best I found were this small gallery of vintage Japan photos (by Western photographers) collected by curator Richard Gadd and this larger database of photographs taken by Japanese photographers from the University of Nagasaki.

Because things are happening out there...

September 17, 2007

I've been looking at lots of art photography lately and realize I am, for the most part, tired of posed pictures. I'm hungry for images with the spark of life, pictures that raise more questions than they ask- those that force you to look and look again.

Two of my favorites from this week:
eliotshepard2007.jpgEliot Shepard

emilystein.jpgEmily Stein

Celine Clanet

September 13, 2007

Celine Clanet is a versatile photographer with a wide ranging set of portfolios covering editoral and photojournalistic work, but I'm most drawn to her personal portfolios. Check out her sets titled Maze and Une mélodie japonaise.

On Saying Goodbye to a House

September 13, 2007

I spent last week down in Texas packing up my childhood house. My parents built the place when I was 12 and ever since it’s been home for me. When we moved there the roads were dirt and the nearest neighbor was over a mile away. 28 years later the woods behind the house are still wild full of coyotes and snake and deer, but the city has moved closer, other mailboxes dot the road, and the nights are less dark. It is hard to pack up a house you have lived in so long. What do do with the junk drawer by the kitchen not so much full of junk, but of small memories?

And this house had another burden. It was where my mother and brother died. With them much of the life of the house was frozen. My mother was constantly reinventing the place, in fact she had planned to build a new house and sell this one, but my dad, after the deaths, perhaps out of comfort or perhaps out of a need to hold on, changed very little. So for the last 17 years the house has been almost a museum piece. My room was exactly as I left it when I drove away to college. My brother Christopher’s room remained full of his unfinished model planes, a kite ready to fly, and stacks of astronomy magazines none dated later than 1989. What do do with all this stuff, so sentiment-laden and yet inert?

I received the call that the house was sold and I was needed to pack it up at the worst possible time. We’re moving here too (just a few blocks away but of course we still have to pack everything), so instead of the normal amount of time we would give ourselves to do such a job, we only had 3 days. I was dreading the flight, dreading the 2 hour drive from Houston, dreading the drive into the dark pines. We flew into thunderstorm-the type of pounding rain and violent thunder you only see in Texas. The drive was long, but of course familiar and pulling into the driveway I was, as always, shocked by the size of the trees. The house is surrounded by forest but the trees close to the house were planted by us. I remember the magnolia as a sapling. Now it towers some 30 feet. The dogwoods have canopies. The holly tree is so big some limbs have fallen. The heat at this time of year in Texas was oppressive and lends a heavy quiet to things. The dirt dobbers were busy building their mud tubes. Hummingbirds were buzzing everywhere. There have always been hummingbirds.

Opening the door, the slight cedar smell overwhelmed. I was home. I looked down at my childhood handprint in one of the tiles on the floor. My 2 1/2 year old ran into the house, "Daddy’s old house", going from room to room, pulling toys and books from the shelves, and mixing things up that had been so carefully kept apart for years. Within minutes he had set up a fort of sorts and was happily engrossed. And seeing him playing in rooms that have not been enjoyed in so long suddenly made the whole task easier. We would be clearing the way for another family to live there—to fill the place with their stories as we once did before the house became immobilized in memory. With that thought, it became easier to give away what needed to be given away, to pack what needed to be packed, and to finally say goodbye.


September 10, 2007

For the last several months I've been working with my friends Jen Bekman and David Yee on a project called 20x200. 20x200 is a company that aims to change the art world. Sounds ambitious and it is. We're starting with getting high quality prints from fine artists and photographers out into the world in a way that makes sense for the artist, for the buyer, and for the gallery. We're in preview mode now, but starting next week we'll be fully launched, shipping prints, and introducing two new editions two per week... Please check it out and let us know what you think. We'll be tweaking and polishing based on your feedback... I have a feeling 20x200 is going to be a big deal.

Still in Texas...

September 6, 2007

One thing I keep noticing: All the people my age (40) have kids graduating high school. All the people with kids the age of my kids are in their 20s.

Much more when I get a decent internet connection.

Dylan Chatain

September 2, 2007

I've mentioned Dylan Chatain on this blog before... he recently updated his website... there are no new images, but the edit is somewhat different than before and it's fascinating to see how a new edit can dramatically change the mood of a particular project... The work on the site was culled from thousands of images taken during some very long road trips in which he did nothing but shoot film for days on end....and from what I've seen there are several projects in there just waiting to be curated...

Miranda Lehman

August 29, 2007

Like many young photographers Miranda Lehman's portfolio is full of moody pictures of couples in bed, but the photograph on her site that hooked me is one above that evokes classic Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia imagery..

Weronika Łodzińska & Andrzej Kramarz

August 26, 2007

Andrzej%20Kramarz.jpgI'm almost always a fan of photography of interiors of places that look well lived in... the type of photography that people like Bert Teunissen or Seth Thompson do so well, so I was pleased to come across a team of Polish photographers who work in this subgenre. Their projects can be seen here or (in bigger sizes but with fewer images) here.

The Alchemy of Oatmeal

August 25, 2007

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to camp out in the open under starry skies you know that if you stare up long enough and get yourself into the right frame of mind you can see the stars slowly rotating through bowl of the sky. If you happen to be near a mountain the little dots of light blink out as they pass behind the silhouette. I am always overcome with the hard to resolve simultaneous feelings of slowness and extreme speed. Some geeky part of me knows the earth is spinning at almost 1000mph and barreling around the sun at 67,000mph and yet you almost have to slow your heartbeat down to experience that nightly show starry transcendence. Look away for a second and the sky stills, the show ends, your brain readjusts to a normal recording speed and it takes a long time to find your groove again.

A few have asked what life with 2 kids is like now that we’re almost 6 months down the road and the first thing that comes to mind is that same sense of paradox: of speed and of slowness. Our baby Gabriel sometimes demands to be held in the middle of the night. So we will spend an hour, two hours rocking him while he ever so slowly falls back into sleep. Time stops. It is almost possible to believe the world is all still and yet.... overnight he grows, literally. He’ll fall asleep fitting his pajamas, he'll wake up and we'll find they are too small. Fingernails must be cut every few days. Pictures from a month ago are almost unfamiliar.

Our other child, a 2 1/2 year old might spend an hour preparing his oatmeal—picking exactly the right blueberries to add, carefully spooning in brown sugar and a single icecube. It is a s l o w process. And then he’ll put his head on the table looking deeply into his bowl and say that the milk is the ocean and the oat grains are like the land—a first metaphor, a leap of imagination he couldn’t have made a few weeks ago. The terrible twos for all their whininess and tantrums are also a time of staggering sweetness. You’ll be sitting there sleepily, grumpily accompanying the daily oatmeal extravaganza when apropos of nothing you’ll get a heartfelt hug, "I love you daddy. I love mommy too. Daddy, Mommy, Gabriel," and then it’s back to eating the oatmeal. "I love oatmeal! All done. I dump it out?" And as much as you enjoy the moment you know it will pass quickly, the baggage of life will accumulate. Things will not be spoken. You see yourself and your own father and your father with his father. You see the little boy next to you chattering away and can’t believe he was was once like the infant in your arms. You try not to be distracted and look away too much because you know it can take a long time to find your way back.

Cambodia, 1992

August 18, 2007

From an old journal on this date:

Was advised against train travel because the tracks are regularly bombed.

Opted for the bus instead.

Bus stuck in mud for 6 hours near Kempong Thum.

Lunch was a surprisingly delicious soup made with an unclassifiable meat, cilantro, and chilis.

At around 8PM the bus stopped and was boarded by 4 masked men carrying guns. Actually one boarded, 3 were outside. One of the gunman, a kid—he couldn't have been more than 16—shouted something and everyone ducked down in their seats or went down to the floor. I was left sitting there like a jackass. He smiled at me and pointed his finger down. I went down to the floor as best I could hugging my backpack. He was looking for someone. Robbed the bus driver. Rattled the hell out of everyone else.

Ended the night very late near Phlouk. No electric. Totally pitch black. Bugs. Sleeping in one of those big platform houses. All the men are on one side women are on the other. We all have little mats on the floor protected with mosquito nets that hang from the rafters. I'm being urged to shut off my flashlight.


4:54am Woke up in the inky dark to a a woman's blood curdling screams. Then everyone started screaming. Men turned on their lighters. Quite a scene with all the yelling and shadows dancing all around.

A giant snake had fallen from the rafters onto a pregnant woman's mosquito net getting itself (and the woman) trapped. The bus driver clubbed the snake to death with a stick. Everyone laughed when they discovered it was just a snake (I was sure the screamer was being murdered...). The snake, conservatively 70 pounds, is being cut up to be eaten for breakfast. Everyone is in an oddly good mood. Even the woman is sort of jolly/teary.

Bus departs at 6 sharp. Wondering if I should have taken the train.

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