September 1, 2006

First Photo

I'm sure I had taken other photographs before especially with our little 110 camera, but this is the first one I remember. It was 1974 and I was 7. Morning. A school day. My brothers were still asleep and my dad was trying read the previous night's paper before heading to work. I entered the kitchen with his Pentax around my neck having just figured out the light meter... Focus. Click. So satisfying. My mom said, "You shouldn't be playing with that," and I replied, "I'm not playing mom, I just took your picture."

September 2, 2006

Brian Lesteberg

Brian Lesterberg's photographs from North Dakota strike me as unmistakably and viscerally American. I love the clarity and sensitivity of his vision.

September 4, 2006

Show Opening

Travels Without Maps: 
Images from China's Western Frontiers

"Nelson Hancock Gallery
111 Front St. #204 (Dumbo)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Opening Reception September 14, 6-8PM
Show continues through October 14th.

I hope you can excuse me for being a bit self promotional, but I wanted to let everyone know about my upcoming show. If you're in the New York area on September 14th, please stop the opening by and say hello.

September 4, 2006

When Country Wasn't Cool

A must read: Lisa in Austin investigates the fates of the Mandrell Sisters.

September 6, 2006

Gowanus Canal At Night

Does anyone happen to know the story behind the little building on 3rd Avenue and 3rd street. All the buildings around it have been torn down and it remains marooned and forlorn looking... As an aside apparently Rooftop Films has a venue across the street at the Old American Can Factory. Why did I not know this? (If you live in New York and don't know about Rooftop Films, you probably should. Only a few films left in the season.)

Ever wonder about the Kentile Floors sign which so defines Gowanus? Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York has done the research: "Kentile was founded by Arthur Kennedy in 1898 and once billed itself as "America's largest manufacturers of super-resilient floor tile." Kentile hung in there till just a couple of years ago following a series of strikes and costly asbestos lawsuits. It's purple neon sign no longer burns brightly but it reminds folks for miles around that there was once a Kentile." (more) Scores of pictures of the Kentile sign (most taken from the F train) can be found on flickr.

September 7, 2006

Photographer + Baby = Blogger

Alec Soth's child had inspired him to blog. (via a tip from Eliot.)

Update: In a few short weeks this blog has moved up to the top of my daily read list. Soth is every bit as sensitive and intelligent a writer as he is a photographer.

September 8, 2006

Entire contents of my pickpocketed wallet

1 Fortune cookie fortune: "Live the Dream"
1 Fortune cookie fortune: "Fly away. Go far."
1 Snapshot of Raul Andres at 6 months
1 Torn photobooth strip of a woman in chador (found on Atlantic Avenue near Court)
3 Credit Cards (each was used within an hour of the theft to purchase multiple $60 subway passes)
1 Rubber band
1 Paper Clip
1 Bandaid, transparent
Texas Driver's License
Several expired subway cards.
1 pencil drawing of a monster with three eyes and a unibrow made while waiting for someone to show up for dinner
1 partial blog entry written on torn hotel stationary titled "What's happening in room 312"
On the back of said stationary another partial blog entry titled "Why I would make a lousy aristocrat."
Assorted business cards, most with doodles of sea monsters on the back.
1 business card from a cabdriver in New Orleans with a "Places I must visit" list on the back in tiny handwriting.
A few dollars from the cash machine
2 business cards with cars drawn on them so I can play cars with my son any time.
2 wheat head pennies
1 buffalo nickel
A gift certificate to Barnes and Noble with 8 dollars left on it.
My secret—only in case of emergency—hundred dollar bill
1 lottery ticket from a few months ago, never checked

September 9, 2006

Mexican Monographias

I'm not sure how I landed on their distribution list but in today's mail I received a slim booklet on Mexican Monographias from Pentagram Design, and it's one of the best things I've received by mail in years. Monographias are posters made up of comic book-like panels that teach lessons. The lessons cover just about anything you can think of from astronomy, to famous wrestlers, to world dictators, to social evils. There have been popular in Mexico since I was a kid and are very similar to Indian educational posters which serve the same purpose [they are so similar that you wonder whether there was some cross pollination or whether there was a third source that both are imitating...or perhaps it just has to do with the types of presses used and the respective levels of development/social education needs.].

I used to collect these posters as a boy when visiting Mexico and was always looking for obscure subjects published by small time vendors. My favorite was a collection of martyrs who died by crucifixion. I was also partial to the "Animales Peligrosos" which featured a little boy being devoured by a lion. The booklet I received today was published by the design firm Pentagram as part of their Pentagram Papers series, a set if personal design projects put together by Pentagram's partners. The booklet features a thoughtful intro by partner Armin Vit titled "The World on a page at Five Pesos a Piece." I hope they put the whole thing online so all of you can enjoy it. In the meantime you can find a few reproductions of Monographias showing social evils on this site, a book on the Indian versions is available on Amazon (review, postersfor sale).

Armin Vit's essay ends with this, "Today in our information-heavy environment, I long for those simpler days when research, information and, ultimately, education on any given topic involed only a single, double-sided page."

. . .
as an addendum: another example of a Pentagram partner doing inspiring work.

September 11, 2006

September 11th

The day has been so politicized, the consequences so damaging to us as a nation, it has become almost gauche to talk about it. Especially here in New York. But if you don't have to look very hard to see reminders of it everywhere. Cheap Chinese restaurants always have a poster or two. Middle Eastern restaurants do them one better with a poster and a flag. And of course there are the memorials... at every fire station and at seemingly random spots all around the city. On the promenade here in Brooklyn tourists invariably scrunch up their faces trying imagine where the buildings stood and how high they rose. I still see holes in the sky. The unpunctuated skyline is still foreign. But I don't think about the buildings much, I remember my friend who was on the 103rd floor who didn't have a chance. Sometimes I imagine her of those tiny tragic figures etched in our memory. Perhaps that is my perverse wish: that she did jump and in jumping she was able make a final choice about her destiny and maybe in the long moments of terror that followed there was some flicker of hope, a primal dream of flight, that sustained her as she fell through the firmament to face whatever it is that comes next.

September 12, 2006

Sweet Flypaper of Life

I found a copy of Sweet Flypaper of Life by photographed by Roy DeCarava and written by Langston Hughes in a used bookstore yesterday for $3. I've always wanted a copy, but have never found one in good shape at a decent price. It's a picture book marrying an imagined story by a woman in Harlem to images...poetic fiction. I couldn't think of many other examples of this kind of collaboration, (Photobook text even when it is written by poets and famous authors is usually simple description, and when photographers do create imagined narratives they usually write the text themselves). Anyway, beautiful and fascinating book. My guess is in this case the words came first and they were illustrated by DeCarava but somehow it would please me more if it were the other way around.

September 12, 2006

Frank Bruni on Burgers

A Hamburger Today, my favorite hamburger blog (yes there are several), interviews NY Times critic Frank Bruni on his burger preferences. Interview here.

September 14, 2006

The Nature of Obsession

Most mornings these days I am woken up by son's plaintive plea "Cars! Cars. Cars. Cars!" I seek out the two cars from the night before (he falls asleep holding them) and put one in each hand. He pees on his kid potty leaning over to roll the cars on the floor and when he's finished we head upstairs. I pour some milk as he seeks out his favorite vehicles. Today's favorite a green truck. We sit on the rug together and push cars around the floor. He announces each one. "Blue car. Digger. Red truck!" Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks are introduced with a serious look and a siren sound. Eventually he will throw himself on his belly car in each hand pushing them under chairs, over pillows, and around over his own arm totally engrossed. This is my cue to check email, write a blog post, and catch up on the news on my computer. He will gravitate to me ending up under my desk moving cars and trucks round and round my feet waiting for the moment when I'll be done so we can take a walk around the block looking at for more cars.

September 15, 2006

Leica M8

DP Review feaures a preview of the Leica M8 today. For a digital camera it's design is refreshingly clean without the overabundance of buttons and controls found on most comparable machines. The size is just about perfect. Still my dream digital cameras would not be a rangefinder. I still hope for an SLR, with this level of simplicity, about this size, with a full sized sensor. And all this said, even if someone were to give me an M8 tomorrow I'd still mainly shoot with my Nikon FM2 and Mamiya 7... well I think I would. Give me an M8 and let's see.

Update: I have now both played around with an M8 for a while and seen the files it produces... the camera feels just about perfect in the hand, and for me has exactly the right number of controls (very few and virtually all manual dials). If you love other cameras in the M series, you'll love this one too. The RAW files are very sharp. I was looking at them with a master printer and he feels you could easily go up to 30x40 with them even at 10 megapixels... so in essence they are about equivalent to 12-14 megapixel files produced by cameras with inferior lenses. Noise is pleasantly film-like. Low light performance was slightly less good than the 5D. The price is rumored to be around 5,000. Time to sell the car? Probably not...

September 15, 2006

Korean Propaganda Films

Tadspot has collected several North Korean Propaganda films from youtube all in one place.

September 16, 2006

Men of God

The first man started walking next to me on my way down the street to the parking garage. He started his spiel quietly but with a bang, "You know the devil walks amongst us." And then for the next several blocks continued tying Osama Bin Laden, abortion rates, and the death of polar bears into a neat thesis that can be summed up, 'it's the end of the world.' He did not appreciate my response, "It might be the end of your world or my world, but it's not the end of the world. The world is a little tougher than you might think." As I got my car he waited by the doorway watching me and stayed there motionless as I drove down the street.

A few hours later the second man noticed me taking his picture. "What are you doing with that picture?," he asked. Without waiting for an explanation he continued "Some people want to put my picture in a whorehouse. Can you imagine that? But I'm a man of God. You understand? He speaks through me and I don't want any misunderstandings. My name is brother Elijah. Pleased to meet you."

September 19, 2006

First Haircut

After 22 months, finally a haircut. He wasn't happy about it at first, but a gummy bear made things better. Afterwards.

September 19, 2006

Krisanne Johnson

Krisanne Johnson tells powerful stories with her pictures.

September 21, 2006


I draw these letters
as the day draws its images
and blows over them
and does not return.

- Octovio Paz

September 21, 2006

Letter from New Orleans

April 14, 1986


Went to the beauty parlor today and cut off all my hair. Well not all of it, but it sure is shorter than it's ever been before. My head feels about 20 pounds lighter and I find sleep difficult. You wouldn't like it so I won't send a picture. My dad would kill me. He would say I look like a boy. Not that he ever visits.

My Linguistic Field Methods is interesting. I will subject you to an elicitation session and study your syntactic tree structure some day.

I still dream of Nebraska, the wide empty landscapes, away from all of this.


September 22, 2006

Pieter Hugo

The Michael Stevenson Gallery has posted a number of galleries of Pieter Hugo's work. I hung out with Pieter a few months ago here in New York. He perfectly embodies the image of the brash hard drinking photographer. In conversation he is often dismissive of the art world and indeed of photography itself, but his work speaks for itself. Powerful stuff.

I look forward to his upcoming book.

Wild Honey Collectors, Techiman District, Ghana
Boy Scouts, Monrovia, Liberia.

Related Post: Hyena Men

September 25, 2006

Lady in the hat

You know those Mead Composition books? There is a fragile almost birdlike lady who scribbles in them, literally scribbles round and round, with worn colored pencils on page after page. Over the last 15 or so years I've seen her a couple of times. Once in Room 117 at the New York Public Library. Once on the L train and once sitting at the bar at the Viand on 61st & Madison. I've always wanted to take a closer look at the notebooks, but when she catches me peeking she always closes them a bit and brings them tight to her chest. She wears dark catlike sunglasses so you never see her eyes and bright red lipstick. I passed her on the street today near Church and Leonard, two composition books under her right arm, pencils in hand, walking like she had somewhere important to go.

September 25, 2006

John Hodgman on home towns

"Well, to some degree I was speaking of all home towns. In that, to the person who comes from a particular place — let us call it "Town X" — it is the most unique and interesting and important place in the world. It’s where you first experience most of the common stories that we all experience in life. So it has something of a mythic, novelistic quality to it. But then as you get older, you realize that you share experiences with a lot of older people. You also appreciate that every town is not only the most interesting place on earth, but also the most banal place on earth. Because everyone, more or less, has shared experiences that they go through that make a town seem important."

The full Phoenix interview, Radar Interview
Related: Daily Show Correspondents on the web, Mongolian Death Worms

September 26, 2006

Aesthetics of Being the Youngest of Four Sisters

Take a day off
While your sisters are working
Work on a day
When your sisters are taking off
Be bright in the kitchen
Be sullen in the pantry
Whey they listen to music, cough
Whey go to their lovers, be sultry
There is no solution
To being the youngest sister
The hottest summer day
To you is the most wintry
Take your shirt off
And read a while.

-Kenneth Koch

related: Maria Del Mar

September 27, 2006


A friend of mine is a successful photographer known for doing a certain kind of work... large format cameras, spectacular handmade black and white prints using obscure processes, etc... He's an obsessive photographer who shoots in other styles, but his other work some digital, some shot on 35 clashes in theme and style with his classy 'brand.' To avoid sullying his good name he created an alternate persona and started showing the alternate work under that name. All contact with the outside world is through associates in on the joke. As part of the joke he invited several other photographers to shoot in the style of the alternate persona to create a body of work. The problem is the alternate persona has been successful. The work has sold, been in shows, etc. Dealers and collectors want to meet the artist. The artist always refuses and the refusals of course serve to enhance his popularity. Now an important magazine has asked to interview the artist. The question is what to do. Do the interview and risk a slip up, continue to be mysteriously unavailable and continue the joke, or spill the beans and risk lonelygirl15 type resentment?

September 27, 2006

The Beastly Bombing

My friend Julien is an equal opportunity offender and one of my favorite people on the planet. His play THE BEASTLY BOMBING
or A Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by the Tangles of True Love
opens September 29 for an eight week run at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. From the title you've probably guessed it's a terrorist farce told in the manner of Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Several songs from the production are available on the website. I suggest you start with The House of Saud. If you are in LA don't miss this show.

September 27, 2006

The Midwest Photographer's Project

Photo by Mike Sinclair

I was about to publish the following blog entry, "It seems to me that some of the most interesting contemporary American photography is coming out of the Midwest. The Museum of Contemporary Photography in has put together collection of work from 75 photographers living out there in the middle of the country and has titled it the Midwest Photographer's Project," when I noticed this Gallery Hopper entry in my RSS reader saying virtually the same thing and adding information about a talk this Thursday by three of the photographers at Aperture. Can't wait to pick up the book.

September 28, 2006

The Science of Sleep

Most people are terrible at recounting their dreams ("I was an artichoke but I could dance like a mo-fo." - actual quote), and because most dreams lack narrative we listeners quickly grow bored. But Michael Gondry has made a career of telling us his dreams and what lovely dreams they are. Watching The Science of Sleep last Saturday at the Angelica I could literally feel our audience floating along for the ride. But the movie isn't good because it's fantastical (there are plenty of films that manage to be fantastical and dreadful) or because it does a good job recounting dreams, but because it taps into that feeling of falling for someone both physically close and emotionally far away. It's a painful/delicious/crazymaking feeling most of us can relate to. The movie ultimately falls a bit short because it tells us Stephane is in love with Stephanie without letting us fall in love with her ourselves (Stephane explains he falls for her because she 'makes things' which is fine for his character but perhaps not enough for the audience...or at least it's not enough for me). But this small criticism aside, it's the most fun and transporting picture I've seen in a long while and I might just have to sneak out to see it again.

Related: Gondry's "creepy" gifts, submit your dreams

Now speaking of sleep. To bed I must go.

September 29, 2006

The Physical Print

I was hanging out with my friend and printer Gabe Greenberg (pictured above taking a break on the fire escape) last night and found a copy of Richard Benson's "The Physical Print - A Brief Survey of the Photographic Process" in his studio. This is an super little book detailing in concise clear language (and with beautiful illustrations) the history of photographic printing methods. It seems to be an exhibition catalog for this show. I can't find a copy for sale anywhere online (Gabe received his as a gift). Any ideas?

Update: I called the Yale art department and they sent me a copy... so excellent.

related: interviews with Benson and other artists

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