Be Yourself Tonight

May 3, 2007


Talking about his project Be Yourself Tonight in which he rephotographs images from his family photoalbum Norwegian photographer Dag Nordbrenden says, "[this project] very much deals with the sadness of returning home... there is the experience of returning home to something that appears to be exactly as it always has been, but at the same time confirms that things have changed, since you have changed. The family photo album is in a way a celebration of the family - a celebration of the family that used to be. It is both something very private, but still something that one is eager to show in social gatherings to resent the official image of the family. But still photographs of holidays and celebrations will never guarantee that family members actually know each other."

(via Foam #7)


May 2, 2007

Today I wandered around Amsterdam with my friend JP from New York who now lives in Brussels. He came in on the train for the day. I was shopping for some gifts my wife when I noticed he and a local shopgirl were flirting heavily with each other (falling for Dutch girls is a major hazard for unattached American guys in this city). He was just asking her ordinary tourist questions about what to see and do... but something was going on, everyone could feel it, there was palpable frisson between them...

And then I paid, the gifts were wrapped, and it was time to go. "Vamos," I said and we headed to the door. The girl was watching JP. Just as we were almost outside, an unremoved security tag in my bag set off an alarm and we had to go back inside. Grabbing the opportunity, JP asked the girl out for dinner... "Oh, but tonight I have a birthday party," came the reply. She sounded disappointed... He was flustered and said something like, "Ahh. Um ok. Sorry." Again we headed out. He started talking about her immediately. "My god," he said shaking his head. As we walked away he kept looking back, his disappointment growing... "It's like she was tearing apart my molecular sctructure." "Dammit why didn't I ask her to do something after the birthday party, or before...tea. Anything"

"Just go back," I urged, "The worst thing she'll say is no." We walked another few blocks before he finally turned around. I waited at an outdoor bar. An hour or so later he returned, crushed. He had procrastinated. The shop had closed. The girl was gone.

But at least he tried and maybe some day soon he'll return to find the place again, because those moments when your molecular structure gets torn apart are rare indeed and you never know what might happen when you ask the right girl the right question... sometimes you even end up married to her.

Nelson Hancock

May 1, 2007


My gallerist Nelson Hancock is a fine photographer in his own right (and also, for good measure, a trained anthropologist). He's known for his sumptuous large format landscapes, but I also love his medium format portrait work... He just updated his gallery website and on it has posted a set of portraits taken around the eastern fringes of Europe in the early 90's. They are wonderful.

Juul Hondius

April 30, 2007


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

The White Bicycle Plan or Why I Love the Dutch

April 30, 2007

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

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

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


April 28, 2007

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

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

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

April 26, 2007

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

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

Camera Obscura

April 26, 2007

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

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

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

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

List of Scary Things

April 24, 2007

by Raul Andres, 2 years 5 months

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

*The scary tree:

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

NY vs LA

April 23, 2007

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

Olivier's Kabul Video Log

April 20, 2007

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

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

Brancusi Self Portraits

April 16, 2007

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

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


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

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

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

Continue reading "Brancusi Self Portraits" →


April 14, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Mud Mosques of Mali

April 13, 2007


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

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

Perfect way to end an evening...

April 12, 2007

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

Items found at the bottom of an old desk drawer

April 11, 2007

1. Unused ticket to a 1984 Minutemen concert.

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

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

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

5. Maps of Peshawar and Kiev.

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

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

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

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

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

Eva-Fiore Kovacovsky

April 6, 2007

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

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


April 5, 2007

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

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

"Were these people you knew?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always in Motion

April 4, 2007

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


April 2, 2007

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

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

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

Witching Hour

March 30, 2007

In literature the witching hour happens around midnight, but for the infants my wife and I produce, it's 6PM. At that hour Gabriel like his brother before him, regardless of being well fed, held by someone who loves him, and otherwise comfortable, begins to cry. But not just any crying, it's desperate crying, as if all sadness in the world were wrapped up in that little 12 pound bundle. He's inconsolable for about 90 minutes. Then as suddenly as it starts, it ends. The kid sleeps. Our first son outgrew this in a few months and we trust the second will follow. Of course we try all the standard calming techniques, but they have limited effect. [The only things that take a bit of the edge off are a mechanical swing, the one horrible baby device that passed through our 'no plastic baby crap' filter, and a pacifier. We are new to pacifiers (Raul Andres spit them out as if we had put garbage in his mouth), and Jenn doesn't like them either ("Yikes, makes him look like a little Hannibal Lector."), but whatever works, right? ]

Jenn blames the daily crying session on the baby's new and undeveloped digestive system, but my grandmother would have had another explanation were she alive. For her an inconsolable baby was obviously the work of someone who had given the child "mal ojo" (the evil eye). "It happened to you once," she would always tell me with a laugh.

Then she would explain that once she had forgotten to cover my face when we went out and the neighborhood fortune teller peeked and hated my blue gringo eyes. "You started to cry right there," my grandmother would recount, "and you cried through the night and into the next day and we couldn't do anything to help you."

The next day she ran into the fortune teller who asked, "that baby cried all night didn't he?" My grandmother said yes and getting angry told the woman that neither she nor the baby had done the woman wrong and demanded a cure. The woman (my grandmother always called her una brujita feisima) led my grandmother to her garden and pulled 3 fresh brown eggs from a chicken coop. "Rub these gently over the baby's head when the moon is out. Then break the egg carefully. If the yolk is whole and looks like an eye, the spell will be broken. Throw the eggs out into the dirt. If the yolk will not stay together, you might be in for a lifetime of worry." While the eggs were rubbed on my head I am told I screamed bloody murder. Immediately afterwards the eggs were dropped in water, and eye was formed on the first try. "You stopped crying instantly" and if my grandmother is to be believed, "the crying never returned."

Maybe we need to break out some eggs.

Rinko Kawauchi

March 29, 2007

I have seen some of Rinko Kawauchi's images around the web but had never explored her work until today when I got a chance to check out two of her books, Cui Cui ("a family album for 13 years") and Aila on births and deaths. Both are beautiful intelligent explorations of sharply focused themes. While many individual images are stunners (the shocking birth portrait for example) the books make it clear these images were meant to be seen together and viewing them any other way (on the web for instance) is like taking a single line from a long poem. Many have deemed Aila an instant classic and rightfully so. A few more images can found here and here.

More links: An interview, a 15 month cameraphone diary

Birthe Piontek

March 27, 2007

I love straightforward beauty of so many of Vancouver based Birthe Piontek's photographs. Her project Sub Rosa on teenagers at the cusp of adulthood was selected as a "Juror's Choice" for this years Project Santa Fe (now known as Center) Competition by New York Times Magazine photo editor Kira Pollack.

Changing Diapers

March 26, 2007

A friend I haven't seen since college wrote saying she had a hard time imagining me changing diapers.... photographic proof. Not only do I change infant diapers but I change 2 year old diapers and as Jenn's mom says of our 2 year old, "He makes dong like man!" Taking on diaper changing duties is one of the baseline responsibilities of all good dads. Hell, it's the least we can do.

Two little old ladies recounting their dreams

March 23, 2007

@ the diner on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn

lady in yellow hat: I was flying.

lady in blue hat: I’ve had that dream.

lady in yelllow hat: I went to Jersey.

lady in blue hat: I always go to into city. I shop.

lady in yellow hat: You shop in your dreams?

lady in blue hat: I always shop.

lady in yellow hat: I just fly. Nude... Totally, gloriously, nude.

lady in blue hat: Me too! Well...except for my shoes, I always fly in my best shoes... and a hat. I never go out without a hat.

lady in yellow hat: You always were the better dressed than me.

lady in blue: But you turned the boys heads.

lady in yellow hat: Maybe next time you should leave the hat at home.

Chen Jiaojiao and Peng Yangjun

March 18, 2007

Ever since Colors Magazine changed it's editorial regime in 2004 it's been uneven... but issue 70: Beijing: stories from a city is a return to form. The entire issue, both text and photography, is the work of two Chinese artists, Chen Jiaojiao and Peng Yangjun, and their monograph does a good job at evoking the range of change and contradiction found in modern Beijing.

Better versions of some of the images and more information on the photographers can be found in the press kit.

Babar summarized or why we love Babar

March 18, 2007

Babar's mom is shot and killed by a hunter. He runs away the city where the little old lady adopts him. She hands him a purse full of money and marches into to a department store to buy a green suit and derby. With his fancy clothes he becomes something of a dandy, popular at dinner parties. By chance, he runs into his young cousins Celeste and Arthur who have run away from the jungle and takes them back home. On the same day he returns the elephant king eats a bad mushroom, turns green, and dies. Cornelius the oldest elephant anoints Babar king. Babar promptly marries his young cousin Celeste. On their honeymoon they are captured and almost eaten cannibals (of course strictly speaking cannibals eat each other while in this case they looked like they were going to eat Celeste, but you understand...). The honeymooners escape but are soon sold into slavery in a circus. Luckily they are saved by the old lady. On returning home they find the elephants are at war with the rhinos. With Babar's help the elephants defeat and humiliate the rhinos putting them in small cages. Eventually Babar builds a city of elephants (Well mainly elephants, Cornelius becomes the old lady's gentleman friend). Eventually Babar's wife has triplets while he's out smoking his pipe and shortly after their births the children are a) almost choked, b) accidently sent over a precipice and c) almost eaten by crocodiles.

As it was for me, this is one of my kid's favorite children's books.

H. C. Anderson

March 16, 2007

Long time readers of this blog know I love photostudio portraits. In the hands of a good photographer these types of portraits, when collected, become a more than simply the record of people passing through a studio and function a a poetic window on the life of a particular place and time. Henry Clay Anderson's portraits of the people of Greenville Mississippi are exactly such a window.

You can view some of his images on the web along with thoughtfully organized background information at the The Anderson Photo Service website or in person at the Steven Kasher Gallery on 23rd street in New York.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
« Previous Post (Notes for college interviewees i.e. How to prepare for your college interview.)