Tuesday, February 27, 2007

100 Views - 94

(for Adam Harrison)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Garry Winogrand - Proof Sheet (PD 142) c. 1982-83

Figments of the Real World, Winogrand's massive, out of print 1988 MOMA monograph has been lying around the apartment now for almost a month. I keep meaning to take it back to the library (they know I have it, they keep calling) but I wanted to wait until I had a chance to scan a couple of the images before I dropped it back into circulation.

I'm not a big fan of Winogrand in general. His personal aesthetic, now pretty much codified into a genre called 'photojournalism,' puts a lot of weight on angling of the camera, wide angle distortion and the anecdotal mis en scene - things that don't (for me anyway) have much life beyond their initial visual jolt. There are notable exceptions in this book, pictures which I would happily point to as being among the best the genre is capable of - Dallas, 1964, Bronx Zoo New York 1963, Central Park Zoo New York City 1967 to name just a few (all taken in his early prime,) but it's the photographs that the artist took in the last few years of his life that really hold my interest; in part because I've never actually seen them.

At the time of his death, it was discovered that Winogrand had been sitting on 2,500 rolls of exposed, but endeveloped film, and an additional 6,500 rolls of developed, but unproofed, film. That's 9,000 rolls of film that he shot but never bothered to look at.

John Szarkowski, from his introductory essay:

"The last few thousand rolls are plagued with technical failures--optical, chemical, and physical flaws--in one hundred permutations. The most remarkable of these errors is his failure to hold the camera steady at the moment of exposure. Even in bright sunlight, with fast shutter speeds, the negatives are often not sharp. It is as though the making of an exposure had become merely a gesture of acknowledgment that what lay before the camera might make a photograph, if one had the desire and the energy to focus one's attention.

...it seems that Winogrand was at the end of a creative impulse out of control, and on some days a habit without an impulse, one who continued to work, after a fashion, like an overheated engine that will not stop even after the key has been turned off.

In Los Angeles Winogrand made thousands of pictures of people who were too far away to be described in detail, perhaps to test how much could be conveyed in terms of posture, stride, silhoutte, autographic gesture. Often he would begin to photograph an attractive woman--or a woman that his long distance intuition told him was attractive--when she was still half a block away. Surely he was interested in the formal photographic problem: what was the greatest distance at which she could be convincingly described? Perhaps, consciously or not, he was also trying to make a photograph that would justly express the true relationship between him and her."

If we put aside Winogrand's obsession with 'attractive woman' for a moment, and consider that last sentence simply as a description of the photographer-subject relationship, I think it becomes really, really interesting. Is it possible that Winogrand had had enough wide-angle, dime store surrealism for one lifetime? Was he sick and tired of photographing strangers at a proximity that suggested that he was a part of their lives when he knew that he wasn't, and never would be? Did he have a new artistic vision near the end, but no precedent to encourage him in it's pursuit, the way that Frank and Evans had encouraged his earlier one? The part of me that is fascinated by those piles of unexamined contact sheets would like to think so. After all, as the strangers retreated further and further away in his photographs, the people that he did know were being brought closer.

"He...photographed his daughter Melissa, who was nine when he died, in a spirit that seemed more closely allied to ritual than to art. He photographed her each morning when he put her on the school bus. The filmmaker Taylor Hackford thought that the intent of these pictures was a kind of magic, that they were tokens of possession that would assure her safe return."

Could it be possible that, through these tectonic shifts in methodology, Winogrand was undergoing an honest-to-god sea change in his approach to his medium (a change that priviliged the act, not the results?) Is it an accident that the late contact sheets bear more than a passing resemblance to the medium-subverting projects of John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha? Was Garry Winogrand becoming--in his own stubborn, round-about, contrarian way--a conceptual artist?

My skeptical side suspects not. My skeptical side suspects, as Szarkowski suggests, that Winogrand was simply stuck on a kind of photographic auto-pilot; his daily act of shooting pictures now utterly detached from it's original impulse.

But one way or the other, there are several photographs in my own 100 Views that approach the act of photographing strangers in exactly the way Szarkowski describes, and while it's obviously still up for debate as to how aware Winogrand was of his own intentions near the end, I can't help but feel I now owe him the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps a nod of gratitude as well.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

100 Views - 93

Looking back on the previous views in the series, I've noticed that several small 'series within the series' have formed, quite organically and without any foresight or intention on my part. The picture above, one of my favorites for personal reasons, is the fourth in one such series. Scroll back to views 11, 28 and 54 to see it's predecessors.

(today's view courtesy of lower Vancouver St. - just one block north of Beacon Hill Park - a vantage point I've somehow never stumbled upon in almost a year of circling the building. It's a precarious view - a block in either direction and the tower disappears - but at this late stage in the game, a discovery of a completely new view is like finding a $50 bill on the ground.)

Friday, February 16, 2007

V spends the afternoon browsing the local thrifts, scoring a vhs copy of the above for 2 bucks. Meanwhile I'm busy hurling copies of The Secret (hardcover book $28.99 - DVD $58.99!) over the counter as fast as customers can fork over their hard earned cash. What is The Secret? In a nutshell, some new-school mental projection bullshit dubbed "The Law of Attraction" (you can have anything you want if you just wish it hard enough!) mixed with a kind of weird new-age social darwinism that would have made Ayn Rand giggle like a schoolgirl ( victims-all victims-are entirely to blame for their own fate and should be ignored; Katrina victims, Cancer victims, Tsunami victims, all of them; vibrating at the "wrong frequency" according to the book's "author"/editor Rhonda Byrne) all packaged together into a multi-media extravaganza (Book! DVD! CD! All sold separately of course) that seriously claims to hold the key to everything, "unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth, everything you have ever wanted."
Rhonda's been on Oprah twice now to promote the whole shebang ( The Secret apparently changed Oprah's life forever, which makes me wonder, just how many times can Oprah have her life changed? Shouldn't there be a limit on this? Does the woman have a constant bone in her body?) and the phenomenon shows no signs of slowing. Over a hundred copies of the book and dvd sold today alone at the store (the stacks shrinking so fast they reminded me of those stop motion films of carcasses being dissembled by ants.) General consensus among the staff: this is some pretty sad (and scary) shit to have to be a part of.
As the late Bill Hicks said, "Folks, it's time to evolve."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

100 Views - 92

Monday, February 05, 2007

Found in a box full of stuff from 2003. Not sure what I was up to here, but it must have made sense at the time.
Unbeknownest to most people, Star Wars was originally released in 1973 as a low budget blaxploitation film entitled Vader Sessions. Darth Vader was the star of this earlier version- a frustrated intergalactic pimp (surrounded by a bumbling bureaucracy of white know-nothings) who was as quick to dispense beat downs as he was love advice.
Many cite the original film's downer of an ending, in which Vader has a nervous breakdown, kills his most promising pupil and blows up his own death star, as the primary reason for the film's dismal showing at the box office. After a disasterous opening weekend, Twentieth Century Fox pulled it from theaters and spent the next 4 years re-casting, re-editing and re-dubbing it into the glorious anglocentric epic we've all come to know and love. James Earl Jones was kept on as the voice of Vader, albeit in a slightly neutered capacity.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"The truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or systems for using them will allow us to continue running America, or even a substantial fraction of it, the way we have been. We are not going to run Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, Monsanto, and the Interstate Highway System on any combination of solar or wind energy, hydrogen, ethanol, tar sands, oil shale, methane hydrates, nuclear power, thermal depolymerization, "zero-point" energy, or anything else you can name. We will desperately use many of these things in many ways, but we are likely to be disappointed in what they can actually do for us.

...for example, commercial airplanes are either going to run on cheap liquid hydrocarbon fuels or we're not going to have commercial aviation as we have known it. No other energy source is concentrated enough by weight, affordable enough by volume, and abundant enough in supply to do the necessary work to overcome gravity in a loaded airplane, repeated thousands of times each day by airlines around the world. No other way of delivering that energy source besides refined liquid hydrocarbons will allow that commercial system to operate at the scale we are accustomed to. The only reason this system exists is that until now such fuels have been cheap and abundant. We are not going to replace the existing worldwide fleet of airplanes either, and besides, there is no other type of airplane we have yet devised that can work differently.

If you really want to understand the U.S. public's penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period. This dilemma now entails a powerful psychology of previous investment, which is prompting us to defend our misinvestments desperately, or, at least, preventing us from letting go of our assumptions about their future value. Compounding the disaster is the unfortunate fact that the manic construction of ever more futureless suburbs (a.k.a. the "housing bubble") has insidiously replaced manufacturing as the basis of our economy.

The most arrant case of collective cluelessness now on view is our failure to even begin a public discussion about fixing the U.S. passenger railroad system, which has become so decrepit that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of it. It's the one thing we could do right away that would have a substantial impact on our oil use. The infrastructure is still out there, rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. The restoration of it would employ hundreds of thousands of Americans at all levels of meaningful work. The fact that we are hardly even talking about it—at any point along the political spectrum, left, right, or center—shows how fundamentally un-serious we are.

...the agenda for facing our problems squarely can, in fact, be described with some precision. We have to make other arrangements for the basic activities of everyday life."

-the rest here.
What is it about Denmark that makes this sort of thing inevitable?

-courtesy my friend Maya's new blog What the Devil am I Doing?

Friday, February 02, 2007

100 Views - 91

Some other views here, here and here.
Shadows, BHP, 2006. (click on image to enlarge)

From a series I started work on about three months ago, tentatively entitled Mile One. Other images from the project are up now in section 5 of the site.