Friday, July 31, 2009

The Genius of Photography 2: Documents for Artists

August Sander, from Man of the 20th Century, 1929.

The Genius of Photography continues with photography during the 1920s and 1930s. In Episode 2, photography as document: the Machine Age, Alexander Rodchenko and Soviet Utopianism, August Sander and human classification in the Weimer Republic, Man Ray and surrealism, Eugène Atget, Walker Evans and the Farm Security Administration.

Episode Two, Part One

Episode Two, Part Two

Episode 2, Part 3

Download Episode 2 in high-definition from Rapidshare here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The Genius of Photography 1: Fixing the Shadows

André Kertész, Meudon, 1928.

BBC-Four's The Genius of Photography is a comprehensive -- and immensely enjoyable -- documentary of the history and art of photography from the earliest daguerreotypes to photography in the digital age. The six-part series takes us on an illuminating ride across the entire landscape of the medium, stopping at important milestones, guided by some of the most influential photographers, critics and curators working today. From the documentary's very first image of André Kertész's 1928 photograph of Meudon, and how this image came to be, you are assured to be mesmerized.

In Episode 1, broken up into three parts below, the origins of photography: camera obscura, Talbot, Louis Dagguer, Eadweard Muybridge, Nadar, George Eastman, Kodak, Lartigue, André Kertész, New York forensic photography, industrial age, Edward Steichen, Chuck Close, Luc Sante, David Byrne.

Episode One, Part One

Episode One, Part Two

Episode One, Part Three

Download Episode 1 in high-definition from Rapidshare here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A new book by Brigitte Lacombe

While on assignment at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival for Elle, Brigitte Lacombe, then a fledgling photographer, met Dustin Hoffmann and Donald Sutherland who invited her to the sets of All the President's Men and Fellini's Casanova. The meeting started Lacombe's remarkable career photographing what she calls "a cinema of exception." Exceptional too are Lacombe's spare but emotionally probing portraits of film and stage personalities in cinema/theater, published in 2001, a compilation of her magazine work and her seven-year stint as staff photographer of The Lincoln Center.

Lacombe has a new book from Steidl, anima/persona, a collection of favorite portraits of actors, artists, directors, politicians, writers, and musicians. Charlie Rose talks with Lacombe about the book and her process in the video below. Towards the end of the interview, a special treat: Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Charlie Rose interviews Brigitte Lacombe

We interrupt this blog . . .

. . . to play the happiest video on earth.

Sigur Ros, Hoppipolla.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Faces at a music festival

Loving Stern Grove, San Francisco, July 2009.

What can be better than spending a Sunday afternoon in the woods, listening to live music for free, surrounded by happy people? When you can do it all over again the next Sunday.

For ten consecutive Sundays this summer, San Franciscans can dance, groove and chill at the Stern Grove Festival, the city's annual outdoor music festival that is now on its 72nd season. The eucalyptus-lined grove was a gift to the city by Mrs. Rosalie Stern as a venue for admission-free summer concerts. The first concert at the grove was held in 1932 with the San Francisco Symphony, and the festival series started in 1938.

Traditionally a venue for symphonic music and jazz, the festival repertory has opened up to pop music and world beats. Last Sunday, the festival had its first all-hiphop program. Still to come this season: Bollywood music, Colombian cumbia, Brazilian maracatu, an all-Balanchine dance program, and Italian arias.

The festival holds a special treat for people like me who find pleasure in photographing happy faces. Here happiness abounds even before the first musical note is played. The setting has a lot to do with it: one feels nestled by the towering trees that circle the grove and the air is unseasonably crisp and scented with pine. People of every age sit on the ground or picnic tables, giddy with anticipation. Wine flows freely, lunch is alfresco, and someone being naughty somewhere perfumes the woods with cannabis. When the beats finally come, the crowd rises to its feet, roars as one when the band screams "Howyadoin', San Francisco!," hips groove, hands sway in the air, lovers embrace, and for the next four hours, everything is just fine in the city.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Responding to Anonymous

Duane Michals, Shopping with Mother.

In my post San Francisco Faces, Anonymous commented on one of the portraits (left), comparing him to a defeated Estragon waiting for a "black Godot," perhaps an allusion to promises of stimulation that will never come, made to a nation that has become an inert waiting room.

The comment of Anonymous made me think of photographer Duane Michals. I've been wanting to write about Duane Michals for some time now. He is a poet whose gift for storytelling was too expansive to be contained by the conventions of still photography. In a medium that proclaimed the image superior to the written word, Michals found the single image inadequate to convey his ideas. At first, he started layering his pictures; then he shot them in a series like frames in a silent movie. When that wasn't enough, he started to scribble stories and poems on the pictures, misspellings and all. In the end, he got rid of the image altogether and simply wrote on photographic paper.

"Shopping with Mother" is one of those imageless pictures, and was the picture that Anonymous made me think about after I read his/her post.
Shopping with Mother

When I was a little boy, my mother often took me shopping with her, and our last stop was always Cox's dress shop. She would set me down in a chair surrounded by our purchases and say, "Sit there. I'll be right back." And off she would vanish into the dress racks. For the first five minutes it was a relief just to be seated, but a terrible anxiety began to grow within me that she would never return. I had been abandoned! In 1932 God dropped me off on this planet and said, "Sit there, I'll be right back." Well I have [been] sitting here now for forty six years, and the bastard hasn't returned. For all I know he's off in Andromeda trying on dresses and has forgotten all about me. And I know he is never coming back.
Curator Marco Livingstone said that in Duane Michal's work, God is a sorrowful absence, "the source of profound disappointment and his sense of existential aloneness . . . an unseen force or character who never arrives, like Beckett's Godot, but whose rumoured existence still scratches at his consciousness."

eman59, Waiting for Godot, Oakland, March 2008.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Red wall

Untitled, San Francisco, May 2007.

Every city needs a hideaway to mute the hurlyburly of living in it. It can be as grand as Central Park or as modest as a rock (shade would be nice, ocean view optional). What matters is getting a chance to zone out and tune in.

I have such a hideaway in San Francisco that is as modest as hideaways come: benches made of concrete with a grove of bamboo trees beside them. Behind the benches is a wall of fieriest red that blazes even hotter during certain points of the day. The bamboo leaves would cast shadows on it like Chinese brush paintings that move with the wind. The traffic signs would make patterns on it that remind me of Paul Klee's balloons. The shadows on the wall mesmerize like passing clouds that you watch while lying barefoot on a knoll. It's my hideaway, and I won't tell you where it is.

Paul Klee, Red Balloon, 1922.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

San Francisco Faces

San Franciscans, California Street, April 2007.

From "Faces" by Walt Whitman

Sauntering the pavement, or riding the country by-road -- lo! such faces!
Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality;
The spiritual, prescient face -- the always welcome, common, benevolent face,
The face of the singing of music -- the grand faces of natural lawyers and judges, broad at the back-top;
The faces of hunters and fishers, bulged at the brows -- the shaved blanch'd faces of orthodox citizens;
The pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist's face;
The ugly face of some beautiful Soul, the handsome detested or despised face;
The sacred faces of infants, the illuminated face of the mother of many children;
The face of an amour, the face of veneration;
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock;
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated face;
A wild hawk, his wings clipp'd by the clipper;
A stallion that yielded at last to the thongs and knife of the gelder.

Sauntering the pavement, thus, or crossing the ceaseless ferry,
faces, and faces, and faces:
I see them, and complain not, and am content with all.