Les Diableries

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Anon, ‚ÄúLe Jour de l‚ÄôAn en Enfer,‚Äù from ‘Les Diableries,’ c. 1861, stereocard (detail)

So, I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. I’d been stalled by trying to think of something to add to the conversation. I haven’t. But I’m posting anyways because they’re FUCKING AWESOME. Go check it out at That’s A Negative [which is well worth adding to your RSS feed reader].

Another Dirge

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Yet, paradoxically, visual culture is ever more important. It seems that everyone now takes photos and saves them and distributes them, and that all these rivulets supply a great sea of images for editors to use. This carries certain risks. If they are taking snapshots, amateur photographers are likely not developing a story, or developing the kind of intimacy with their subjects that brings revelation. So what’s the actual photojournalistic value of all of these millions of images now available on Flickr and other photo-sharing archives—so many that they can seem like dead souls? And what about the fate of photographers like [Antonin] Kratochvil, whose ashily stylish images honor Modernist photography? He will clearly continue shooting—and avoiding public speeches—but what of his tradition?

Huh. Print journalists have finally noticed. Alissa Quart ponders the future of photojournalism in the Columbia Journalism Review. [via Concientious]

Avedon At Jeu de Paume

Monday, July 28th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Richard Avedon, ‘Sunny Harnett, evening dress by Gres, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’, September 1954′

I picked a really stupid day to decide to go to the Richard Avedon show at Jeu de Paume, ‘Richard Avedon; Photographies 1946 – 2004.’ The Tour de France ended yesterday, approximately 100 meters from the entrance to the museum, so the entire area was a mob scene. It was worth it though. After having braved our way through the carnival, the hapless tourists, and the fans equipped with made for TV banners, we found ourselves in a really well put together show.

Like most serious photo people, I’ve seen like a million Avedon shows, and they all seem to follow a kind of set formula. You must, as a curator, include some of the early fashion pictures (especially ‘Dovima with elephants‘), the 60s white background portraits (with the image of the Factory), ‘The Family‘, and ‘In The American West.’ This exhibition hit all of those notes. However, some of the selections within this formula were unexpected and well chosen: The early fashion pictures, for example, contained a series of Avedon’s original prints provided to Harper’s Bazaar for publication replete with crop and gutter directions; ‘The Family’ was presented as a grid of 8 x 10 contact prints; The Factory image was blown up to larger than life size and shown mural like on the wall; and many of the ‘In The American West’ miner pictures had a room to themselves with black walls and rectangles of light framing each print. All in all, a good show.

A few things occur to me though…

For one, much is made of Avedon’s skill as a portrait photographer – you often hear the argument that he is somehow able to bring out a subject’s true self. Avedon, in some measure, rejects this argument. One of the texts in the stairwell of the show, dated 1980, quotes him:

My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface.

But he still maintains that his photographs are in some way a window into something that goes beyond mere image. His implication, when he said “readings of the surface,” is that the viewer is able to read between the lines, so to speak, and somehow discover something more than just superficial image.

Other later photographers, for their part, reject this idea and adopt the more cynical view that an image is able to display nothing more than that which it precisely shows [see the interview and the quote I pulled from it in my previous post about photographer Pieter Hugo].

Perhaps a middle ground can be found, typified by the classic Diane Arbus quote:

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

In other words, there may be more to a photograph than what it shows, but good luck finding out what it is.

Pieter Hugo

Thursday, July 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Pieter Hugo, ‘The Honourable Justice Julia Sakardie-Mensah’

Oh, and Pieter Hugo, who I spent some time with in Arles, is the subject of an article on the Guardian’s site. In it, he says,

I have a deep suspicion of photography, to the point where I do sometimes think it cannot accurately portray anything, really. And, I particularly distrust portrait photography. I mean, do you honestly think a portrait can tell you anything about the subject? And, even if it did, would you trust what it had to say?

Kriegsmann Files

Thursday, July 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

C-Monster links to this Flickr feed of photos by James J. Kriegsmann found in a pile in an alleyway in Venice Beach, CA. They’re fun and worth the look. As the text that accompanies the text states:

kriegsmann got his start as the cotton club’s first “house photographer,” and from there, went on to build one of the greatest headshot empires of the 20th century. the other great headshot pioneer of the century, maurice seymour, is also represented in this collection. seymour was best known for his elegant photographs of ballet dancers, which he successfully published. however, he made his real money shooting portraits of entertainers, mostly strippers, in his studio.

Process, Content, and Dissemination

Thursday, July 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Words Without Pictures came out with a new essay like a month ago, but it seemed to have passed pretty much unnoticed in the photoblog world. This is perhaps because the essay, ‘Process, Content, and Dissemination: Photography and Music,’ is a doozy. I love this kind of stuff, and it even took me forever to actually read through the damn thing. It’s worth it, though.

The essay, by Charlotte Cotton, LACMA‘s curator of photography, is all about photography in the digital age – economics, distribution, history, fusion with other fields, and also simply how we make work:

In retrospect, I can see that those teams of image-makers were asking an age-old question: “How do we get the money we need to do what we visually want to do?”

The essay is wide ranging and informed. It covers ground as diverse as Madonna and Steven Klein’s advertising model, fashion photography in museums, the expected visual changes with the onset of HDTV, OK Go’s treadmill video, and tons of tons of other seemingly unrelated points where the worlds of photo, art, fashion, and music diverge and intersect. Cotton discusses, as well, why photographers’ fees haven’t risen as much as would be expected considering the explosion of venues to display images on the internet:

While some advertising now covers a modicum of costs for editorially driven online projects, viewers’ surveys about subscriptions confirmed that this would not be its funding structure. Ironically, grant and foundation funding in Europe does reach such forums, perhaps mimicking the support (modest but symbolic) for new media artists and the general eagerness of foundations and cultural institutions to attach their names and resources to those who might meaningfully develop new media, rather than make such investigations a core activity for their own organizations.

You’ll have to read the essay for the full story – it’s too complicated to sum up here. I did, however, want to note that in no part of the essay does cotton cover visual changes in photography brought on by the new technology. Perhaps this has to do with how we define photography – a still image mechanically produced, generally bordered by the four sides of the frame. This formula doesn’t leave alot of room for play – perhaps the only reason photography strictly defined still has a place in contemporary visual culture and the digital world has more to do with its efficiency in delivering visual information than it does anything else.

Photographer Nick Knight‘s project Showstudio.com also pops up in the essay – it’s been around for a while, which is why it hasn’t been brought up on this blog before, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s a great example of how artists are attempting to come to terms with digital media.

The Bechers

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Matthias Schaller, from the book ‘The Mill’

A little while back, Concientious posted a partially translated interview with Hilla Becher about her life and the Becher’s grand project:

Q: You spent your life photographing industrial memorials: Hundreds of furnaces, hundreds of water towers, hundreds of coal bunkers. Is this about being complete?

A: At the end of his life, Bernd often said: Hilla, we haven’t finished the job. And then we almost started fighting because I said: What do you think? We can’t finish our job, since it’s infinite.

Q: Was it difficult for him to accept this?

A: I think it was. He never managed to tell me what he meant by “finished”. We knew we would not be able to photograph everything.

Which reminds me of ‘The Mill,’ a recent book by Matthias Schaller where he examines the Bechers’ living and working space. To me, the images themselves are nothing special, but the methodical nature with which the photographer undertakes his task and the stillness of the living space gives the book a certain poignancy. You begin to wonder, “Where are the Bechers?” a feeling akin to what one gets when pondering their work.

[Schaller’s website, btw, is a similar exercise in typologies, if you’re curious.]


Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

A compound lens

Ever wonder how come lenses are so goddamn expensive? It’s ’cause it’s quite the process to make them. Check out this video from How It’s Made. [via State of the Art]

The illustration, incidentally, is from ‘A Popular Treatise On Photography,’ 1863, helpfully translated and placed online by Albumen, a site dedicated to albumen photography.


Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Iveta Vaivode, from ‘Terminus Riga’

The new issue of Seesaw magazine is up today, and with it some really lovely new work. Some of my favorite’s include Rian Dundon‘s ‘Between Love And Duty‘ series (which I won’t talk about too much because 12th Press has something with him coming up soon) and Iveta Vaivode‘s project ‘Terminus Riga.’ The project could be fleshed out a bit to match the artist’s statement, but is a really really lovely skim of the surface of the city of Riga.

There’s also an interview with Ryan McGinley, a found photo of a topless Tahitian dancer, and work by Betsie Genou, Liam Eyers, Andrew Burton, Paul Kusserow, Laura Pannack, and Katrina Tang.


Thursday, July 17th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Lina Scheynius for nofound(bedroom)

My friend Emeric Glayse, of nofound fame, is about to publish a little concept book called nofound(bedroom), available free this summer. He asked the photographers participating to send him a photograph of an empty bed or bedroom, and he’s publishing them in a little newsprint book. Take a look at the press release and go pick one up soon!