Saturday, May 30, 2009


Je t'aime in the shadows, Berkeley, California, October 2007.

In the age of the video scandal, where privately recorded intimacies become lurid public spectacle, it takes art to restore context to the intimate image.

Photographers have used the private image, both erotic and familial, to mine their personal and sexual relationships for meaning. Noboyushi Araki has relentlessly photographed every intimate sexual detail of his life and his many lovers, and the seamy underside of Tokyo's underground sex and bondage culture. His themes of sex, life and death challenge social taboos with their use of the visual language of fetishistic pornography. German fashion photographer Juergen Teller, a friend of Araki's, is also a visual diarist, turning to his wife, child and (very often) naked self to create images that are as sexually frank as they are funny. Nan Goldin, recipient of the 2007 Hasselblad Genius Award, has been called the Robert Frank of the 1980s for her depiction of the attitudes and sexual mores of her generation. In Ballad of Sexual Dependency, she chronicled her personal and sexual relationships with her circle of friends and lovers in the age of AIDS, a groundbreaking work that broke social taboos. Donna Ferrato's Love & Lust is equally provocative. Ostensibly about the sub-culture of sex clubs, it is equally about Ferrato's quest to explore the limits of her own sexuality.

In Living with His Camera, Jane Gallop writes about what it's like to live under the constant gaze of the camera of Dick Blau, an art photographer that she has been living with for more than twenty years and the father of her children. Blau's ever-present camera recorded every nuance of their family life, private, eventful and mundane: "The Leica is a camera for bed and breakfast, pajamas and toast," Gallop observes wryly. "As long as I've known Dick, there's been a Leica around." For Gallop, the cover photo of her sweeping the floor naked, observed by but oblivious to Gallop's camera, is both symbol and parody of the "stock representations of domestic life . . . both serious and a joke."

Above all, the intimate photograph can reveal the threads of love, affection and complexity that bind family members, spouses and lovers, as seen most beautifully in the work of Israeli photographer Elinor Carucci. Winner of the ICP Infinity Award for Young Photographers in 2001, Carucci started photographing her family at the age of 15. In her portfolio, Closer, she assembles portraits of herself and her family that are remarkable not only for their visceral sensuality, but for the unblinking trust she elicits from every member of her family. Carucci's lens literally zooms into the pores of her family's flesh. In a series of macro portraits so close they resemble abstractions, she photographs marks and creases on skin left by pillows, bedsheets or zippers; stitches on her husband's wounded finger; nipple hair being plucked by tweezers; her mother's eye, held wide-open by a Revlon eyelash curler that resembles the torture device in A Clockwork Orange. Together, the individual photographs create a group portrait of a very specific, idiosyncratic family unlike any other, rendered with knowingness and care. "I can't show intimacy in any general way, if there is such a thing as general intimacy," Carucci says. "I can only say something universal about intimacy through actual intimacy. Mine. The actual relationships I have with specific people. With these people that I love."

Noboyushi Araki, From Tokyo Lucky Hole.
Juergen Teller, From Do You Know What I Mean.
Nan Goldin, Couple in bed, Chicago, 1977.
Donna Ferrato, Worshiping Marlena, Lifestyles, Palm Sptings, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, Eran and I, 1998.
Elinor Carucci, My father and I, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, My mother and I, 2000.
Elinor Carucci, Eran and I, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, Wedding rings, 1999.
Elinor Carucci, Mother is worried, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, My mother's back, 1996.
Elinor Carucci, Mom hugs dad, 1994.
Elinor Carucci, Eran almost touches me, 1999.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Polaroid Gallery


Lens, the New York Times photography blog, makes a case for the continued availability of Polaroid film, evidenced by 406 remarkable pictures from its readers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Nature Photographer, Point Reyes, California, August 2007.

In a New York Times essay entitled "Happy Like God," the author quotes philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the meaning of happiness:
If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. (emphases supplied)
Rousseau had this epiphany while floating on a lake, alone, in a small rowing boat. But it's not difficult to imagine experiencing happiness, as pure as the kind he described, while taking pictures.

Consider the man in the picture: alone in a mist-covered pasture with his camera, photographing elk. With every attempt to freeze a fraction of a second, time itself stops for him. He is oblivious to everything outside the range of his tiny viewfinder. The muddy slush on his boots, the bitter cold, the rest of the pretty scenery, the daily drudgery all meld into insignificance. Compared to the thing he is looking at, nothing else matters; the moment of photographing transcends all things. And he is, one can presume, happy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day for night

Untitled, San Francisco, August 2007.

In cinematography, "day for night" refers to shooting night scenes during the day in order to avoid the expense and hassle of filming at night. With this technique, day is made to simulate night with the use of filters, old film stock, underexposure, and other sorts of tweaks. "Day for Night" is also the title of a hilarious film by François Truffaut about everything that could go wrong while shooting a movie, a must-see for film lovers.

These dark pictures resemble night scenes, but they were actually shot in late afternoon daylight when San Francisco light is at its harshest. The trick, which works best in uneven lighting conditions, is achieved by metering exposure against the brightest part of the frame. This underexposes the other elements or turns them completely black. When subjects enter the bright light, they are perfectly exposed. The light sets apart their faces and gestures from the rest of the scene, as if lit by a strobe, albeit, a natural one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A shaft of late afternoon light

Untitled, Oakland, California, March 2008.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Two Magnum Photographers

. Born in Newcastle, Australia in 1971, Trent Parke now lives in Adelaide, the only Australian photographer in the celebrated Magnum Group. Parke won the prestigious W Eugene Smith Award for humanistic photography in 2003, for his epic road trip around Australia, “Minutes to Midnight”. Obtaining this book has become a virtually impossible quest for his fans unless one is ready to shell out $750 for a used copy. If anyone finds it at a reasonable price (anyone in Australia?) email me!

Trent Parke: Minutes to Midnight

HARRY GRUYAERT. Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert was born in 1941 and joined the Magnum Photo Agency in 1981. "I feel closer to painting and the cinema than I do to journalism. I have seen films whose pictures taught me more than the colour photographs I knew at the time. For example, Antonioni's Red Desert." About "Rivages" from the Magnum essay: "At the heart of Harry Gruyaert’s work is the structuring nature of colour, organised by the tension of the horizon line. With photos taken all around the world, Gruyaert opposes the hustle of the city with a pared-down, yet intense, nature."


Sunday, May 24, 2009


Cafe de la Presse, San Francisco, May 2007.

A photographer is confronted with a complex web of visual juxtapositions that realign themselves with each step the photographer takes. Take one step and something hidden comes into view; take another and an object in front now presses up against one in the distance. Take one step and the description of deep space is clarified; take another and it is obscured.
-- Stephen Shore

To this, add a reflecting surface, and the "web of visual juxtapositions" becomes even more complex. It can be anything: a window pane, a windshield, a granite wall. At the right angle of light, even a plastic book jacket could make Francis Bacon's image of Woodrow Wilson layer itself like magic over a child caught up in books.

Reflections can make visual collages that are the stuff of dreams. An airplane hovers over a bus that runs on a checkerboard street. Salt-and-pepper shakers are candle offerings borne by a woman's shadow. Door knobs turn a businessman into a cyborg. The Manhattan skyline materializes in a San Francisco street. A car crashes through a louvered window, but neither pedestrian nor saints care.

Creating order out of the mad jumble of things apparent and reflected is a puzzle whose solution oftentimes yields delightful surprises.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fly, blackbird, fly


Those of us who can only dream of using a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex twin lens reflex camera can stop dreaming now: Blackbird Fly is here.

OK, maybe it's not exactly a Rollei, but it looks cool, doesn't it?

This unabashedly low tech plastic camera was designed by Hideki Ohmori, the Russian Lomo proponent who now develops toy cameras for his own company, Superheadz. This strange bird comes in a variety of plumage (I like the orange one the best), uses 35mm film, and has a framing mask that lets you take square format photos.

Like its siblings, Holga and Diana, images from the BBF are wildly unpredictable and idiosyncratic, meaning, lots of fun. They can also be breathtakingly beautiful, like the photographs of plastic nico or chomdee.

I want one. Whoever gets me a BBF can be my BFF.

Portraits from open train doors

From series Portraits from Open Train Doors, April 2008.

This series was taken in San Francisco's underground commuter train system. There are a few seconds, just after the commuters have settled into their places inside the train, when the doors remain open.

In a fraction of one of those seconds, I take these portraits. The people in these pictures are at rest; they are in between one moment -- the train about to depart -- and the next -- the train departing. Sometimes they are not aware of my camera, but usually they see it. They do not know how to react to what they are seeing because the camera is unexpected; it's not suppose to be there. The look on their faces is one of disbelief and incredulity. And just before they realize and understand what has just happened, the doors close and the train speeds away.