Sunday, June 28, 2009

Taken Today

Portraits from Open Train Doors, San Francisco, June 2009.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Lisa, Colma, California, August 2007.

Parting with a View
I don't begrudge the spring
for coming back again.
I can't blame it
for doing its duty
the same as every year.

I realize my sorrow
won't halt the greenery.
If a blade wavers,
it's only from the wind.

It doesn't cause me pain,

that clumps of alder above the waters
have something to rustle with again.

I accept
that—as though you were still alive—
the shore of a certain lake
has remained as beautiful as it was.

I don't hold a grudge
against a view for a view
onto a bay dazzled by the sun.

I can even imagine,
that some-not-us
are sitting now
on a toppled birch stump.

I respect their right

to whispers, laughter,
and happy silence.

I even assume
they're bound by love

and that he puts a living arm around her.

Something recently birdly
rustles in the bulrushes.
I sincerely hope
they hear it.

Let them be as they were,
those waves lapping on the shore,
sometimes swift, sometimes lazy,
and obedient not to me.

I ask nothing
of the deep waters below the woods,

To one thing I won't agree.
To my return.

The privilege of presence—
that I'll give up.

I've survived you just enough
but only enough,

to reflect from afar.
(Translated by Joanna Trzeciak)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fall into the Gap

Dedicated to Tiff

GAP holiday lights, San Francisco, December 2008.

What do these photographers have in common? Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz, Mikael Jannson, Matthew Rolston, Inez van Lamsweerde, Michel Comte, Christian Witkin, Gus Van Sant, Albert Watson, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, David Bailey, Peter Lindbergh, Brigitte Lacombe. They have all shot ads for the Gap, the San Francisco-based clothing retailer that was established in 1969.

Gap built itself on the strength of image and marketing. Its ad campaigns employed the best image makers in the business whose collective work for the company not only changed the face of advertising, but created a group portrait of celebrity during the last two decades.

Photographers themselves took center stage in Gap campaigns. Diane Keaton, Karl Lagerfeld and Peter Lindbergh made self-portraits for Gap. Annie Leibovitz photographed Steven Meisel and William Wegman in 1988, and Herb Ritts shot a magnificent portrait of Sheila Metzner in 1990.

Gap's ongoing "Individuals of Style" campaign, which began in 1988, has featured hundreds of the most famous - and unlikely - endorsers to grace its print ads. Beyond their notable achievements, what these celebrities had in common was an idiosyncratic sense of style, not just in fashion, but in everything they did. Gap kept its finger on the pulse of the cultural scene, and brought its leading figures to the attention of the public-at-large: art world personalities such as Francesco Clemente, Santo Loquasto, Will Kemp, Aaron Eckhart and Isabelle Adjani. Gap didn't shy away from controversial personalities like Tony Kushner or Timothy Leary, and lured very private people like Joni Mitchell, William Burroughs, Marianne Faithfull and Ali MacGraw out of their hideaways and into the posters of Gap.

Gap campaigns were not just about image, they were also about music. Every pop musician at the top of his game has shot a Gap ad. The Legends of Jazz campaign featured wonderful new portraits of jazz greats like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie by Ritts and Leibovitz. And the "Favorite Songs, Favorite Jeans" campaign, which best captured the music+fashion philosophy of Gap image-making, featured young musicians like Joss Stone, Keith Urban, Jason Mraz, Michelle Williams, John Legend, Alanis Morisette, and Brandon Boyd (see video below).

Then there were the TV ads (a few are shown below) which showed impeccable taste in pop music. The songs "Tempted" by Squeeze and "Love Train" by The O'Jays were stuck in my head when the ads first came out. My friend, Jorge, recommends playing all the videos below at the same time to create a "wall of sound" -- the sound of Gap ads.

Joss Stone, Keith Urban, et al., "Favorite Songs, Favorite Jeans"

Will Kemp, "Stuff Like That" (Quincy Jones)

Scarlett Johansson, Ashton Kutcher, et al., "Feelin'" (The LA's)

Raoul Bova, "Tempted" (Squeeze)

Gap Holiday, "Love Train" (O'Jays)

Orlando Bloom & Kate Beckinsdale, "Love Is All Around" (The Troggs)

Khaki Swing, "Jump, Jive An' Wail" (Louis Prima)

Madonna & Missy Elliot, "Hollywood" (Madonna)

"Dress You Up in My Love" (Madonna)

Everybody in Leather, "Just Can't Get Enough" (Depeche Mode)

"Mellow Yellow" (Donovan Leitch)

Claire Danes & Patrick Wilson, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better"

Raoul Bova, "I'm Free to Do What I Want Any Old Time" (Rolling Stones)

Khaki Soul, "Lovely Day" (Bill Withers)

SJ Parker, JC Chasez, Will Kemp, "Shinin' Star" (EW&F)

Herb Ritts, k.d. lang, 1990.
Herb Ritts, Chris Isaak, 1996.
Diane Keaton, self-portrait, 1989.
Karl Lagerfeld, self-portrait, 1993.
Peter Lindbergh, self-portrait, 1996.
Herb Ritts, Sheila Metzner, 1990.

Annie Leibovitz, Steven Meisel, 1988.
Brigitte Lacombe, Isabelle Adjani, 1993.
Patrick Demarchelier, Timothy Leary, 1993.
Annie Leibovitz, Santo Loquasto, 1989.
Herb Ritts, William Burroughs, 1991.
Herb Ritts, Joni Mitchell, 1990.
Annie Leibovitz, Tony Kushner, 1992.
Peter Lindburgh, Ali MacGraw, 2002.

Mikael Jannson, Will Kemp, 2002.
Inez van Lamsweerde, Aaron Eckhart, 2006.
Gus Van Sant, Francesco Clemente, 1993.
Mikael Jannson, Marianne Faithfull, 2002.
Peter Lindburgh, Jakob Dylan, 2002.
Annie Leibovitz, Miles Davis, 1989.
Albert Watson, Bryan Ferry, 1993.
James Houston, Keith Urban, 2006.
Christian Witkin, Scarlett Johansson, 2001.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Viva Almodóvar

Dedicated to Alan and Isabela

After Volver, Oakland, California, November 2007.

Pedro Almodóvar is on a roll. Since 1999 he's been making one gem after another, starting with All About My Mother and continuing all the way to Volver (2006), which featured Penelope Cruz at her sauciest and his entire pantheon of great character actresses. Bookended by these two movies about women were two movies about men, Talk to Her (2002) and Bad Education (2004), rarities for Almodóvar and equally great. Almodóvar's movies before 1999 were all irresistible in their own ways: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was so popular it may soon become a TV series for Fox, and at the core of Live Flesh was a great performance from Javier Bardem. But none of them could have prepared us for the complex depths of feeling and tragedy found in All About My Mother and the later films. He has a new movie coming out soon, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), and a new movie by Almodóvar is always a good thing.

There's one more reason to look forward to a new Almodóvar movie: a new musical score from Alberto Iglesias, the brilliant composer who scored Almodóvar's last seven films. (Listen to -- and be swept away by -- the title track from Talk to Her in the first video below.) Almodóvar reputedly likes to haunt karaoke bars and sing his heart out. It shows in his movies; the tragic ones are like operas and the day-glo comedies are Broadway musicals waiting to happen. His soundtracks mine the best of old and new music from Spain and some of the best heartbreakers ever recorded (listen to Caetano Veloso's Cucurrucucu Paloma or Maysa Matarazzo's version of Ne Me Quitte Pas). His new movie, Los Abrazos Rotos, which is about a filmmaker who has become blind, features the beautiful song "A Ciegas" (Blindly), scored by Iglesias and performed by Miguel Poveda (see video below).

All About My Mother

Talk to Her

Bad Education


Almodóvar Images (music by Alberto Iglesias, Talk to Her)

From Los Abrazos Rotos, Miguel Poveda sings "A Ciegas"

Penelope Cruz sings title song of Volver

Anatomy of a Movie Poster, Volver

Main Titles, Talk to Her

Saturday, June 20, 2009

THX-1138, high key, and Harry Callahan

THX-1138, San Francisco BART, April 2007.

This high key picture of a passing train reminded me of THX-1138. Audiophiles will recognize THX (Tomilinson Holman's eXperiment) from the roaring locomotive credits found in some DVDs, the trademark of Lucasfilm's high fidelity quality assurance technology used for movie soundtracks. But for cinephiles, THX can only mean one thing: the 1971 film THX-1138, George Lucas' Orwellian nightmare of totalitarianism set in the 25th century.

THX-1138 is George Lucas' first feature film, which he made after apprenticing with Francis Ford Coppola, six years before the rampaging phenomenon called Star Wars. It was shot in color, but many of the scenes have the feel of black & white in high key. Characters, male and female, wear white, their heads are shaven clean, and they are shot against empty white spaces whose stark incandescence blinds the eyes; they appear imprisoned in eternity.

The high key images of THX-1138 recall the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Theodor Dreyer's masterpiece of minimalism. The movie has been spectacularly restored on DVD by Criterion and features an alternate score, "Voices of Light," which was inspired by the film. The movie is a must see for the performance of Maria Falconetti, who plays Joan of Arc, and its unforgettable high key images.

High key photographs, like the portrait I shot on the right, are remarkable for their exaggerated brightness and shadowless contrasts, achieved through exposure, lighting or post-processing. The white-on-white quality of high key images gives them the delicacy of brush paintings; at their most pronounced, the brightness consumes the forms, leaving nothing but line.

Some of my favorite high key images were made by Chicago photographer Harry Callahan, whose nudes and portraits of his wife, Eleanor, are oftentimes so washed out by light that they become abstractions of the female form. Callahan's pictures have been described as "quiet," like the laconic photographer himself, the kind you would look at while listening to Mompou or Satie. It's the high key; white is the color of tranquility.

High key images from THX-1138