Friday, May 29, 2009

Weekend Video

With two #1 hit singles, a platinum album and a talent and persona that have made her pop’s new princess, Lady Gaga appears to have come out of nowhere to grab the zeitgeist of the moment. (For the full backstory click here.)

One clear indication of this is the number of Lady Gaga tributes on YouTube - and having not done this for a while, I felt it was past time to do another of our tribute round-ups. This time to Gaga’s 2nd hit “Poker Face”.

Comments, please, on the one you like best! (Not counting the original above.)

And last, if you're not completely sick of the song, a highly alternate live version from the real Lady Gaga showing that none of these pop successes are accidental. There's real talent here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hugh Van Es. 1942 - 2009.

Hugh Van Es. Saigon Evacuation, 1975.

The Dutch photographer Hugh van Es, who died this week, became justly famous for this one picture of Americans leaving Saigon, on one of the last helicopters out, on 29 April 1975, the day before the city was captured by the North Vietnamese army. At the time he was working as a staff photographer for United Press International.

The simple futility of the mathematical equation - number of people in line ÷ space in helicopter - made this a symbolic picture then, while the composition of the curved line of desperately waiting people, the outstretched hand of the person trying to help, elevated it into one of those of photographs for all time. Extraordinary moment x elegant composition = iconic picture.

The photograph has usually been assumed to be of the US embassy, but in an article in The New York Times a few years ago, Van Es wrote: "If you looked north from the office balcony, towards the cathedral, about four blocks from us, on the corner of Tu Do and Gia Long, you could see a building called the Pittman Apartments, where we knew the CIA station chief and many of his officers lived. Several weeks earlier, the roof of the elevator shaft had been reinforced with steel plate so that it would be able to take the weight of a helicopter. A makeshift wooden ladder now ran from the lower roof to the top of the shaft. Around 2.30 in the afternoon, while I was working in the darkroom, I suddenly heard Bert Okuley [a UPI staffer who escaped that evening] shout 'Van Es, get out here, there's a chopper on that roof!'"

Van Es grabbed his camera and dashed to the balcony. "Looking at the Pittman Apartments," he said, "I could see 20 or 30 people on the roof, climbing the ladder to an American Huey helicopter. At the top of the ladder stood an American in civilian clothes, pulling people up and shoving them inside. Of course there was no possibility that all the people on the roof could get into the helicopter, and it took off with 12 or 14 on board ... Those left on the roof waited for hours, hoping for more helicopters to arrive. To no avail."

After shooting about 10 frames, Van Es went back to the darkroom and prepared a print for his regular 5pm transmission to Tokyo. It took about 12 minutes to send a single print with a caption but, as he laconically put it: "Editors didn't read captions carefully in those days." The picture was erroneously described as showing the embassy roof and, after years of trying to put the record straight, the photographer gave up. "Thus," he said later, "one of the best known images of the Vietnam war shows something other than what almost everyone thinks it does."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Currently exhibiting the work of the Bechers, this is the first room you walk into when entering the Fraenkel Gallery.

One of the most impressive photography sites in San Francisco is the Fraenkel Gallery at 49 Geary Street. Now celebrating their 30th Anniversary, the gallery pretty much sets the bar on how to do things with the utmost refinement, quality, and care - as you will see from all these pictures. I'm not sure that the early masters of photography could have even envisioned something like this - multiple galleries and private showrooms, busy staff, a level of finish you would expect to see only when looking at old master paintings. But Fraenkel have not only grown but thrived - and the secret of their success, I believe, is a passion for the work they show and the environment they create for it. Whether in their gallery, or in the cards and catalogs they print, or when they do an art fair there is a level of perfectionism that puts them in a league of their own. Follow me ...

A second gallery leads to yet another room.

In every room, the sight lines into the next room are carefully thought out.

Here, Richard Avedon's portrait of Robert Frank.

In the back office, a wall of invitation posters from previous shows.

Gallery registrar, Claire Cichy at her desk. Note the poster of a great image I had never seen before - Lee Friedlander's "The Topless Bride" from 1967.

A framed group of photo booth portraits taken at the gallery's 25th anniversary party. Click to see how many photo notables you can identify.

A work in progress - a maquette for the gallery's booth at next month's Basel Art Fair.

A Friedlander and an Eggleston in one of the private rooms.

A large Sugimoto movie theater and a smaller Robert Adams.

In the same back room a specially constructed table flips open to present smaller works.

An Adam Fuss and an Idris Khan.

And last but not least, gallery director Frish Brandt, our guide on the tour.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Memorial Day Salute

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

It may not be "Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima", but the picture above by David Guttenfelder makes an interesting addition to the history of war photographs - a genre we would of course be happy there were no more need for. Nevertheless it's a good picture of a real and courageous moment, so kudos to the photographer, who was embedded with the battalion.

Pictured here, soldiers from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry take defensive positions after receiving fire from Taliban snipers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Spc. Zachery Boyd was woken up by the gunfire and rushed from his bed to join his fellow platoon members without stopping to pull pants on over his "I ♥ NY" boxers.

As the picture made its way on to front pages around the U.S., Boyd was at first concerned he would be disciplined for being out of battle dress, but even Defense Secretary Robert Gates was moved to commend his courage. "The next time I visit Afghanistan, I want to meet Specialist Boyd and shake his hand." said Gates. "Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage!"

The soldiers next to Boyd are Spcs. Cecil Montgomery of Louisiana and Jordan Custer of Spokane, Wash. Spc. Custer is also out of battle dress with no socks and silver running shoes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

From San Francisco

Map charting the three principal trips Robert Frank took from June 1955 to June 1956, shooting pictures for what was to become "The Americans".

At the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I had the chance to catch up with the exhibition Looking In: Robert Frank’s “The Americans” which originated at the National Gallery and now runs through August 23 in San Francisco before moving to The Met in New York.

As most of you know, Robert Franks groundbreaking book was published 50 years ago and pretty much changed the course of photography. With a sensitive and yet tough eye, Frank looked at America and saw a profound sense of sadness under the rah-rah facade. He noted the changing iconography of America and noted that cars, diners, gas stations, and even the road itself were the new symbols of contemporary life. He saw cracks and divisions between rich and poor, black and white, those with power and those without, and recorded his observations in a seemingly loose but obviously controlled manner – shocking the establishment with his blurred foregrounds, tilted horizons, and off-kilter compositions. Frank’s vision of America was a mix of jazz and blues to his friend and supporter Walker Evans’ classical symphonies and perhaps shockingly every picture holds up today.

It’s a fabulous show, presenting some of Frank’s work prior to "The Americans", showing how the book came together, and then plunging you into a breathtaking display of all 83 pictures from the book laid out in sequence. I obviously can’t show all that – and the book is readily available in it’s 50th anniversary edition – but here’s a special treat:

Right before you enter the first room, there’s a huge display of three enormous frames in which a selection of 11 x 14 inch prints are arranged according to Frank’s memory to simulate the way he pinned up pictures on his wall to edit the book. A number of the prints were ones that didn’t make the final cut and I don’t believe that I, or indeed many people have ever seen them before. So here they are. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From Carmel

Well, I couldn't leave out dogs could I? This is Edward Weston's grand-daughter Cara's dog examining me as I'm looking at Edward Weston photographs. My trip to Carmel was to look at the prints that belong to the family that were printed by Edwards' son Cole Weston (Cara's dad).

For a long time these prints were a common denominator of collectors and collections, but they're beautiful and increasingly rare, and I think it's past time for a revisionist approach. So the point of my visit was to work out the details of a show I have been planning with Cara. More on which later.

In the meantime I'll just post a few of the many pictures I'll be showing from the iconic to the less well known, which I've just had the pleasure of holding in my hands.

Shell, 1927

Nude, 1927

Clouds, 1936

Dunes, 1936

Rain Over Modoc Lava Beds, 1937

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Going West

San Francisco

I'm on my way to San Francisco and Carmel for a few days of meetings with photographers, museums, and galleries. As there shouldn't be any lack of internet access I imagine I will post from the coast, but it might be a day or two.


Monday, May 18, 2009


Rachel Alexandra, center, on her way to becoming the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes since 1924. Photo by Steve Helber. A.P.

It's been a great month for horse racing in America with the historic victory of Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness and the unpredictable win of the 50 to 1 long shot Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby. I'm not a big horse racing guy - it all happens too quickly for me - but I'm a huge fan of the backstory of the races and especially the photos that show up in the paper the next day, the best ones looking like great 19th century history paintings.

Surprisingly, no-one seems to have made much of a career of photographing racehorses or races while painters from Stubbs to Duffy to Sir Alfred Munnings made it their bread and butter. So there's an interesting idea or opportunity there.

In the meantime, three pictures by Matthew Stockman of Getty from this year's Kentucky Derby, below:

Aaah - America the beautiful!

And, below, an uncredited picture that came up from my Google Image search:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Weekend Video - Kutiman's YouTube mix

One of the felicitous results of my plea for more comments was the opportunity to visit so many of your blogs. So many in fact that I must apologize that I lost track of which blog I went to and saw this amazing edit of various YouTube music performances re-edited into one new and cohesive song. (I'll try to backtrack and figure it out.) However, the editor of this piece is "Kutiman" and all I can tell you is that he is 27 and from Israel. Shalom!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And Now Bunnies!

Hiroh Kikai. "A woman who lives alone with her pet." 1974

Sometimes it's just serendipity. I went over to 535 West 22nd to catch up with some of my favorite galleries and guess what? Bunnies!

First stop was the Yancey Richardson gallery where they were getting ready to hang their Hiroh Kikai show, opening later this week. I showed a couple of Kikai's pictures in my "Sander's Children" show and like many photo people was relatively new to the work of this Japanese photographer who has been making deadpan and slightly odd street portraits since the 1970s. You can read and see more about the show here. While it's not in any way typical, I really liked the picture above as well as its title. (All Kikai's titles have that slightly strange Japanese to English idiosyncrasy.)

Photo by Laurel Nakadate

Photo by Laurel Nakadate

Next stop was Leslie Tonkonow and a new show of work by Laurel Nakadate. Mixing video and photography, I was particularly struck by
a pair of shadow pictures of which the above was one, as well as the coincidence of the bunny theme. There is also one extraordinary six minute video of the artist dancing in the desert to the strains of a Bruce Springsteen song. Beautifully filmed in the fading light of day, and with a sense that the artist is dancing herself into a trance, it has the visceral quality that makes good video/performance stand out from so much of the dreck that's foisted on us in the name of art.

Andrew Bush. From "Vector Portraits"

Sadly, no bunnies at Julie Saul where there is a strong new show of Andrew Bush's photos taken along Southern Californian highways in the 90s. I wrote about the work a while ago so you can read about it here.

And for a sneak preview of the Kikai show, here's a picture (below) of the work waiting to be hung. If you click on the picture you can just make out some of the images.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thank You!

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - a lifelong supporter of photography. (For context read last paragraph below.)

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I truly appreciate the feedback as well as the opportunity to visit many of your blogs. And as you can see it was also a reminder to myself to leave more comments on other people’s blogs.

I’ve been a relatively early adopter of all things web (I started my first blog – so boring it put me to sleep - in 1999) but I’ve always felt that the blogosphere is one of the most genuine and creative forms of expression on the web. It's a community I'm happy to be part of and as I’ve mentioned before, what brought me back was a combination of getting to know The Sartorialist and the much lamented demise of the photographer Alec Soth’s terrific blog.

What I figured out between 1999 when I was doing a general cultural commentary and 2007 when I started to focus on photography was that nobody really cared what I thought about American Idol but they were interested in what I had to say about photography – my field of specialty. You have to speak from the core - at which point you can digress.

And so speaking of American Idol and digressing – this weekend I went to see “Every Little Step”, a documentary currently packing them in Manhattan, that follows the casting of the recent Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line” and interweaves the story of the creation of the original play with the actual winnowing down of the dancers hoping to be cast in the revival. It’s part American Idol goes to Broadway, part exploration of the emotional and physical toll of a dancer’s life, and part the backstory of what was clearly a seminal and transcendant work of American theater. Don’t miss it.

On another subject, if weekend shopping is anything to go by, the recession is roaring to a close. I went with my wife and daughter to buy one of her best friends a bat mitzvah present and wherever we went there were huge lines at the checkout desk. It’s also interesting to see how various stores use photography. Ralph Lauren was a pioneer in this. But the photograph above of Jackie Kennedy came from J. Crew. I only had my iPhone so I apologize for the poor quality snap. You just never know where a great picture is going to pop up!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Weekend Video - The Mentalists

Showing how much it's possible to do with an iPhone, British band
The Mentalists play "Kids" by MGMT on their iPhones and iPod Touches, using only apps downloaded from the Apple Store. (Apps used include Ocarina, Retro Synth, miniSynth, and DigiDrummer Lite.)

Listen Up!


Sorry, but I had to do something to get your attention!

The question is why are people not leaving comments these days? Or maybe the request is: please leave comments whenever you feel even the slightest bit moved to. They are really what keeps a blogger going. I would have thought that this week there would have been more than one comment on the Gursky photo or more than two comments on the amazing Narduzzi picture of the Byblos Art Hotel.

Maybe it's the weather...