søndag den 28. december 2014

Allard and Eggleston

Whew, it has been more than 2 years since my last post. I have been thinking about it for some time, and now is the time for a new post. It was plain fun to write the last time, and I am going to try for that again.

This Christmas holiday came with an urge to revisit some of my photo books, and for some reason I wanted to look at color photographs. I don’t really know how many photobooks I have, at least 40, and many are all or partly in color. But I was going for something very specifically in color. Something where the color is a big and conscious part of the photographs, and where the compositions of colors means at least as much as the compositions of shapes and of tones.

I knew right away which two books I was going to revisit. The first is by William Eggleston and the second is by William Albert Allard. Eggleston is of course one of the most famous photographers ever; Allard is famous, but not quite as much as Eggleston is. There are quite a few similarities. They both became well-known when they began shooting exclusively in color in the 70’ies. The 70’ies was (I think) the first century where color film really became common and with good quality. And it took some new photographers to bring color into photography as not just a coloration of a black and white photography.

The photo above by Allard is at the same time just perfect and (I think) iconic and then also almost too much. The yellow and the red letters are perfect together and the yellow against the green is so cool; the woman’s dress is an echo of the colors on the wall! Allard writes about the coincidence of color: "Time and again I would see examples of how the colors of this place and the appearance of its people were virtually interwoven". I just love that! I can be so good it is too much, but heck, it is pleasing. Such coincidences of colors is a big part of what makes a color photograph something extra. Eggleston does it a lot as well, of course, just usually not quite as obvious.

I only have one early book of Eggleston while I have a tome with a five decades retrospective of Allard so I may be pushing my conclusions, but I think there is another big similarity between the two: they use their photography to show something about a place. And color is part of that tool. They show landscape, but usually the cultural landscape, and they show people.

This photo by Eggleston is one of my favorites. Not that much color really, but still so much a color photograph. There are coincidence of color, but as often with Eggleston, there is also coincidence of shape. It is just great as they stand alike, and how the car door mimics the arms, and how their legs mimics the threes. Again almost too much, but this is for sure an iconic image.
I also think there is a distance in this photograph as there is in most of Eggleston’s photographs. That has nothing to do with color, of course, but is something specific about Eggleston. A bit more about that at the end of this blog post.

My book by Allard is “William Albert Allard: Five Decades”. It is a fantastic book! Choke full of fantastic color photographs and some really great essays by Allard him self that introduces each chapter. Allard mainly shot for National Geographic for almost five decades although he also was a member of Magnum for a few years. I remember reading National Geographic (for the pictures, what else?) in the eighties, but don’t really recall any of Allard’s photos. National Geographic is almost a cliché nowadays I think, but Allard is no cliché. His photographs are an experience in the best possibly way and they are engaging and usually shows a lot of compassion. Each of the many photographs adds to that a visual richness and some great compositions – he calls it coincidences, but it is clearly no coincidence that he has been able for find it again and again.

My book by Eggleston is “William Eggleston’s Guide”, and was published together with the exhibition at Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1976. This is big art and it was one of the most influential exhibitions; the book is a classic. Just look at the tricycle photograph at the cover of the book – you probably have seen it even if you don’t know Eggleston. The colors a cool, the composition simple and centered. The tricycle is an object - it rules the world even more than the big American cars that are on several photographs inside the book. The book is small and neat and one of my favorites – the foreword is the usual babble that is so common in many photo books, especially if published by a museum.

What do I like most, Allard or Eggleston? There are lot of similarities, and they are all about colors, but they are also completely different photographers. Allard is about compassion, instinct and intellect. Eggleston is about observation, expression and intellect. It has been just so great to rediscover both the two books!

onsdag den 16. maj 2012

The Suspension of Physics Necessary for All Athletic Endeavors

I have had "The Suspension of Physics Necessary for All Athletic Endeavors" by Colin Blakely haning on my wall for a little less than half a year, even though I bought is some time before that. Once again this is a print from 20x200 (which I have written about 20x200 before), and I like it a lot.

By first look the photograph appears to show little more than a lot of fog, but then you note the many small people. Its sepia tone and vignette gives it an old-fashioned look witch is immediately offset by the not-at-all old-fashioned way that the small people are moving around. And why are all these people moving around in the fog? This is mysterious in an intriguing way.
Even if the title did not give a hint you quickly sense that these people are doing some sport. And the people must be women, at least they are so in my perception. It is a strange choreography where everybody seems to move in different directions but at the same time is following some rule of game. I get a sense that this must be football (in the European way), but where is the ball and the goals?
These girls playing football grabs my attention, who are they? They are to small and to foggy that I can really see any of them clearly, but one of the girls draws my eye with a certain slim, lithe presence. I can't but think about what it would be like to meet her.

These days many people holds many different kinds of beliefs. Many seems to seek an explanation for their life and for what is happening to them. This is very clearly something that is important to many and I can understand a lot of that. But my own mind is much to logically thinking to accept much of what I can not see for my self - clearly a large limitation in who I am. And even for me, things happen that seems connected in mysterious ways - are this all by chance? For anybody how have read Paul Auster it is clear that this is one of the themes in many of his book. Is it just chance? And if it just is, can it then still have a meaning? Paul Auster is my all time favorite author, and it is clearly time to reread some of his books - and perhaps then blog a little more about chance.

But why this odd diversion in a blog entry about one of my prints? Yesterday it suddenly appeared to me that there is a strange connection between this photograph and something I experienced my self recently. Even my logical mind can not quite help seeking a meaning where for sure none can be found.

I don't know much about what the definition of art is. And much less fine art (print). But I have my own very simple definitions. Art is when the image makes you experience something more than just the immediate motive. Good art is when what you experience is connected to your feelings. Great art is when many people gets such feelings. My Blakely print clearly is at least good art!

mandag den 7. maj 2012

New iPad

My new iPad is now not quite so new as it was when I got it two weeks ago. I have had the original iPad for about 1½ years and was very satisfied with it. The iPad 2 didn't lure me, and only one feature on the new iPad sounded really interesting: the new retina display!
I use my iPad almost exclusively for two things: I browse (this and that) and I read magazines and the like (but I read novels on my Kindle). Browsing was OK on the original iPad, but for magazines I have always found that the screen was both a little to small and with too low a resolution. When reading magazines not specifically edited for the iPad, that meant I had to constantly zoom in and out.
Well, the new iPad for sure fixed the problem with the resolution, and it actually did it so well that I don't feel anymore that the iPad is to small! That is great!

I dropped CD's and other physical more than 3 years ago when I got my Sonos. I dropped physical books - well, novels anyway - when I got my first Kindle more than 3 years ago. And I (almost) dropped physical magazine more than 1 year ago when I got my first iPad. Going digital is of course great because of the convenience, but living in Denmark it has the added benefit that media in English is a lot less expensive in digital form than in physical form. I do not read that many magazines, and still my savings on going digital with the magazines can pay for almost half of a new iPad every 2. year.

This is the magazines i currently read on my iPad:
  • British Journal of Photography. I had never read that before it came in an iPad edition. This is a really great magazine if you are interested in photography. It covers both new trends and important well known photographers and both the art photography and the more commercial photography. It is edited really well, and of the magazines I have seen, it is clearly the one that has the far best iPad edition. The only bad thing is that it is only a quarterly.
  • Amature Photographer (AP). I read the Journal to learn about photography and photographers, but I read AP to learn about taking photographs my self. It is well edited and with a lot of news and inspiration. And it is a weekly! AP does not have an iPad edition, so I have my subscription through Zinio. The Zinio reader works really well on the new iPad.
  • Wired. Compared to its previous glory Wired is a little tired. But it still has the occasional article that enlightens on a new important trend. The iPad edition reads quite well.
  • Popular Photography (popphoto). I probably bought my first edition more than 25 years ago, so it is with a little nostalgia I still read it. But even if the iPad edition is definitely lightweight then it is also very cheap.
  • Outdoor Photographer. This is not a very interesting magazine but Zinio had an offer for a two-year subscription for almost nothing. I does have a lot of stunning landscape photographs and a different twist on its gear coverage.
Beside of the above I occasionally by a single edition of some other magazine i Zinio. Zinio really is you virtual newsstand for magazines.

lørdag den 28. april 2012

Photogravure at Fotografisk Center

A few days ago I was at an exhibition at Fotografisk Center in Copenhagen. The exhibition is a show of photogravure crafted by Niels Borch Jensen, and the evening I was there, there were talks by both Niels Borch Jensen and Clay Ketter. It was very, very interesting, both because of the photographs in the exhibition but also because of the photograveure as technique.

Gravure is a form of print engraving. The photograph is etched into a hard plate, usually through a raster. This means that very dark areas have rather large and deep holes, grey areas have smaller less deep holes, and very light areas have the tiniest holes. To print you fill the holes with paint and press the paper against the plate in a manual high pressure press. Usually a matt paint is used on matt paper, but you still get very dark blacks as the dark areas get a lot of paint because of the deep holes.
The prints all have a very painterly but also three dimensional feeling. As I understand it, it is partly because of the varying thickness of the paint, but also because of the very slight fussiness of the print because of way the paper is pressed against the plate. Multicolor print can only be made by making a plate for each color separation and then press each plate with different color onto the same paper – a very difficult manual process.
The process was originally developed in the mid 19th century and was used by Alfred Stiglitz and Paul Strand. It was abandon in the 1920’s until it was redeveloped in the late 20th century. It has in this modern incarnation been made known largely by Niels Borch Jensen. It was really great to hear him tell about the technique and about working with artist to find the right expression for just their art. This is not about simple reproduction, it is about using a special and difficult craft to express new art.

The exhibition was with quite a few artist, all printed at the Niels Borch Jensen workshop. They was quit different and most of them was exquisite. Let me just write about a few of those I found most interesting (the pictures are grabbed from the home page of the Niels Borch Jensen gallery where all the photographs can be seen). Just be aware that the photographs of the prints (of the photographs) do not show the great physicality of the print.

This is by Thomas Demand and it is one in a series of four, showing the same building from four sides. I thought immediately that it was very düseldorpfer like, even though I don't really know what is generally thought to define the Düseldorpfer school. I gave me great satisfaction to later find out that Thomas Demand actually studied in Düseldorpf. This print is as object-like as it can be. Thomas Demand photographed an actual building in Japan, he then build a paper model after his photos, which he then photographed. These photographs was then printed with 4-color photogravure. Whew. They are beautiful and strange. They are lifelike and totally artificial looking. They are cool and interesting. 

Carsten Höller had a large series of birds, all amazing in large format photogravure print. Niels Borch Jensen told about how the photogravuere technique results in a different thickness of paint. Black paint is never really totally black, it always is based on some different tone (cool blue, warm blue, yellow, etc, etc). When the paint is thick it looks very black but when it is very thin the base tone can bee seen clearly. This means that a single-color photogravure print often (depending on the specific paint used) has a duotone effect. This is of cause common in many kinds of photographic print (and is also common with digital editing). But Niels Borch Jensen can make two-color photogravure where each color has a clear duotone effect. The bird prints are two-color prints, where each color is near black but with different base tone color. It is very, very beautiful and fascinating. I thought so also before I knew how they were made - but it was great learning about the craft used to make this art. 

The last photograph I will show here is by Carsten Holler who also was at the exhibition and told both about his art and about working with photogravure. His road pictures was my favorites. Perhaps I was influenced by him telling about it - knowing about something obviously makes it more interesting. But I do think that those road pictures was beautiful in an very obvious way. Everybody knows immediately what the motive is, even though we have never seen it quite like this in real life. The photogravure gave it a physical soft roughness that was perfect.

The prints above all have a kind of objective distance to their motive. But other prints at the exhibition was very different with a more dream-like engagement. If you get the chance, you should see for your self.

fredag den 27. april 2012

My new Olympus and me

I got my new camera yesterday evening - an Olympus OM-D E-M5. Here is my old Camera, a Canon 40D, together with my new Oly. Cute, ain't it?

Probably the main reason I felt the need for a new camera is just that I simply love a new gadget. But also I really felt ready to start taking some more pictures again, and that surely is something to encourage.
I still like my old camera and its lenses a lot, but it has two problems: it is simply to large to lug around; and it is quite noise already at 400 ISO. My new camera is therefor - as you can see - a lot smaller; and it is supposed to be quite good at higher ISO.
It is quite different to use a camera that much smaller than my old Canon. But I have quite small hands and even though I have only used it for an hour or so it already starts to feel good; the in-body image stabilizer is however surely needed as it is a lot harder to hold such a small and light camera steady. The buttons and dials are very SLR-like and I use it like a small SLR which is very different compared to use it as a large compact camera. This is fun!
Adobe Lightroom does not yet handle OM-D raw files, so I have only looked at some JPEG's. That is probably not fair to look to hard at those, but they do seem quite nice. It is however quite clear that the larger sensor of my old 40D in some ways holds up quite nicely with this new-generation 4/3 sensor. My Oly perhaps has a little less detail at low ISO but also a lot less noise at higher ISO.

Here is photo of me and my house taken with my new Oly in düsseldorfer style.

And here is one of the unused greenhouse in the garden.

søndag den 1. april 2012

Andreas Gursky at Luisiana

Gursky currently holds the record for having created the most expensive photograph (auctioned at $4,338,500 US $).

Of course this is by any measure an absurd price for any photograph, but many seems to think that this is a boring or even bad photograph. And knowing that it has been heavenly photoshoped makes it even worse for many.

I liked it right away, and after googling some of his pictures - and even more after seeing the Ben Lewis documentary - I even think that I understand it a little. But can you judge a picture on a web page when it is meant to be seen more than 3 meters long? Yesterday I went to Louisiana together with my brother to see the large Gursky exhibition - time to look for my self.

The Rhein photograph is the first one in the exhibition - Louisiana is clearly not above a little record bashing. It is however at bad choice to have it first; it is a very "distilled" Gursky and it is much better appreciated after having seen the many other photographs in the exhibition.
Most photographs in the exhibition are printed very large and I am pretty sure that not many can see them without been totally impressed and without being drawn into at least some of them.

I think that the most immediately fascinating photographs are the ones with a lot of repeating yet different patterns - like Untitled XIII; Hamm, Bergwerk Ost; and Nha Trang (you can google them your self). These photographs works when being seen in smaller sizes but they knocks you socks off when being seen more than 3 meters high or wide. They work in many different ways. When being see from a distance it is the pattern that fascinates you - because of the large format you can both sense the pattern as something abstract and still quite fast grasp what the motif is. Often there is something disturbing about this first view - even though they clearly are photographs of something real, they have a viewpoint and perspective that is not real at all. This is because most photographs are a collage of several photographs taken from somewhat different places, and this really makes you look at things in a new and fascinating way.

When moving closer - or sometimes it is the main theme - you see that the objects (often persons which are usually more object-like than person-like) are all different. And all are perfect in some sense. This "works" in a way I do not quite understand, but it clearly makes you appreciate the photograph in a different way. I think it is something common about all Gurskys photographs, that they make you very intensely aware that you are looking at something.

Most (but not all) of Gursky photographs have a very architectural element. Something about space and objects. This is in many of the "repeating" photographs but it is the (almost) sole element of some photographs, most purely in Prada II. Now we are getting nearer the Rhein photograph. However one of the fascinating aspects of the Rhein photographs is, that although it is a photograph of something that is spatial, then it also mostly appears as flat areas on the vertical canvas. This again strengthens the sense that you are looking at something and makes you think about what it is that you are looking at. In many photographs this flatness has the very architectural sense, but in some even this is distilled away - like in Bahrain photographs and even more in the Bangkok photographs.

The Rhein photograph is kind of repeating without repeating anything else than sameness. It makes the Rhein an object of water flowing through the cultivated landscape.
There is the extra aspect of the Rhein photograph that it is taken near Düsseldorf. I do not (yet) know that much about the Düsseldorf school of photography, but I have seen and been fascinated by the Bernd and Hiller Becher photographs of industrial structures in repeating patterns. The Rhein photograph of course has some of the same German industrial bleakness as the Becher photographs, but also in many other ways it is clearly in this tradition, yet at the same time is is something much more modern.
The Rhein photograph for me is immediately fascinating and impressive seen in real "life". It is very obviously an archetypical photograph taken by a great artist. Even an artist that is immediately understandable by most. And it is exemplifying the influential Düsseldorf school in a great way. I can not understand the price of this photograph, but I can understand that it is something special!

I bought the exhibition catalog at Louisiana at it is a quite nice hard bound book. The format is big enough that most of the Gursky photographs realy work. The print is OK, although a little to contrasty. Some photographs is printed as spreads, and although this usually is totally destroying for any photograph it is actually OK for some of the Gursky photographs. The repeating patterns work even if a slice in the middle is missing and the large size of the spreads is great for these types of photographs.The text in the book is a total bore - uninformative pseudo-intellectual babbling.

tirsdag den 27. marts 2012

The Pike Drive-in

The Pike Drive-in by Carl Weese was the third print I got in my small fine art print collection, and for now it is probably the one I am most found of. I bought it at one of the print sales at The Online Photographer. The Online Photographer (or TOP for short) is my all time favorite photo site and the only blog I have ever cared to return to more than a few time. Actually I do not think I have missed visiting TOP many days in the last couple of years. If I know just a little about photography today, then most of the credit should go to Mike and the other writers at TOP. I have bought quite a few of the books recommend and also a couple of the prints sold.

For someone sitting in Europe there is a little of the same desolate very American-like feeling about this print as there is about my Motel Bien Venido print. There also is some of the same rectangular angels that is all over the Motel print.
Everything else is different of course. This tells a great story with very few means - for more about the story and for more pictures yous should definitely visit NY Times Lens. It is sad, but also a little humorous. It has a tight simple composition that is both effective in telling the story but also is just damn pleasing. Mike Johnston at The Online Photographer surely had a hand in selecting this photograph for the print sale - Mike likes a simple line-in-the-middle composition instead of the all beaten to dead golden rules and two-thirds.
As you can see, this is a black and white print. But not just any black and white print (whatever that is these days) - it is a platinum/palladium print. I will not try to describe the process, but this print is a contact print of the 8 x 10" negative. It is just amazingly beautiful in real life! The tones, the details and the physicality of it is just very different from an inkjet print.

The reason for me to write this blog post just today is that today The Online Photographer had a link to Kickstarter. I had of course read about Kickstarter and had previously visited a few projects. I am fascinated about the idea of it, and just a few weeks ago I had decided with my self that I should find something interesting to back. I just hadn't gotten around to do anything about it.
So when I read at TOP that Carl Weese was doing a project at Kickstarter, I knew right away that I had to back that. And the project is about visiting and photographing some of the few remaining drive-in theaters! And you get prints as gifts! Not palladium prints, but still.