Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

No Hanging Out

There’s a review by Holland Cotter in today’s New York Times about a new show at the International Center of Photography called “Archive Fever: Uses of the Document in Contemporary Art.”

Holland’s fascinating and glowing review has prompted me to see the show which runs from January 18 – May 4, 2008.  (I’m fortunate to live in such a beautiful, rural area with a 90-minute trip into Manhattan.) 

Holland writes: “Photography, with its extensions in film, video and the digital realm, is the main vehicle for these images. The time was, we thought of photographs as recorders of reality. Now we know they largely invent reality. At one stage or another, whether in shooting, developing, editing or placement, the pictures are manipulated, which means that we are manipulated. We are so used to this that we don’t see it; it’s just a fact of life.”

Of particular interest to me is this exhibit in the show:

“The thousands of images in a looping 36-hour slide projection by Jef Geys would seem to be linked by a firmer thread. They are a visual archive of Mr. Geys’s photographic output of 40 years. Whether they provide evidence of aesthetic development, though, or insight into the artist’s maturing mind and soul, will be known only to the most devoted of viewers.”

(Let’s see… the longest the museum is open on any single day is ten hours, and the longest anyone could realistically sit through a slide show might be three hours. So it’ll take at least 12 well-coordinated visits to see the whole thing!  With $12 admission, that’s $144, but an individual membership at $75 allows unlimited free visits.  Yay!)

Another exhibit in the show by Hans-Peter Feldmann sounds like a thoroughly intriguing study:  a room full of framed front pages of 100 international newspapers printed on Sept. 12, 2001.  To Feldman’s credit as an artist, and to Holland’s credit as a reviewer, both get past the fact that this event is still fresh to us and are able to raise all sorts of questions about image placement, text placement and the manipulation of content from country to country. 

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Jakey’s Gloves and Jacket

I recently recommended an inexpensive but excellent lens to Becky over at Moontree Arts:  the Canon 50mm f/1.4.  Becky’s just getting into the art of photography and it’s a superb starter lens.  But after talking with her, I realized I haven’t used my own 50mm lens since I bought the Canon 85mm f/1.2L (mmm, mmm good) in July 2006! So I put the 50mm back to work to rediscover its charms.

If you’ve sold your soul (and waistline) to zooms and wide angles over the years, or if you’re on a budget, a 50mm lens is worth thinking about. If you need a nudge, consider that Henri Cartier-Bresson used only his 50mm lens for everything from portraits to landscapes.  I think I understand why: the 50mm offers a highly personal view of what’s being photographed.

The great color photographer Ernst Haas said, “The best zoom lens is your legs.”  Why?  Because a fixed focal length lens like the 50mm gets you immediately involved:  you must be entirely conscious of your place and your angle because you can only zoom with your legs.  You must think about your composition with your mind and your body.  The result has a delicious and natural subjectivity, further enhanced at 50mm because that’s the focal length most similar to what we observe with our own eyes.  

A 50mm shot is a personal, physical view — the very voice of a photographer.  That seems like reason enough to use a 50mm lens, but its natural look gives the observer a direct experience as well, as if he or she was there when the image was taken.

Most 50mm lenses are pretty fast (f/1.4 – f/1.8) and relatively cheap.  The ability to shoot in low light with a gorgeous, addictive bokeh and a price tag under $300 make most 50mm lenses a great value for the money.

I should mention that if you’re shooting with a typical DSLR (the Canon Digital Rebel XT, for example) you’ll need a 35mm lens to get the effect of a 50mm lens because of the digital sensor’s 1.5x crop.  Using a 50mm on the Rebel will get you a 75mm view, which is the ideal focal length for portraits.

By the way, here’s a landscape and a dog portrait I shot with the 50mm on my Canon 5D last Sunday.  And the shot of Jakey’s gloves that accompanies this article was shot yesterday with the 50mm on the 5D.

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Two Steering Wheels

Frank Deford is an author, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and a commentator on NPR.   Even though I don’t care about pro or college sports, I regularly listen to his sports-centered pieces on NPR’s Morning Edtion. Deford’s distinguished tones are invigorating and he gives an ethereal message about humanity even when he’s talking about doped-up football players.  He’s an admirable thinker and writer.

In 2005, Deford participated in a documentary film about higher education called Declining by Degrees. One of his quotes is worth repeating:

“How can anyone rationally argue that a baseball player should get a college scholarship, but a piano player shouldn’t? What does it say about a college’s regard for art, literature, drama and music if the finest young painters, writers, actors and musicians are not eligible for the same rewards as are athletes?”

What does that say about our colleges and universities?

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Tractor Cat

I find it inspirational to study paintings and films.   I’m informed by the use of style, symbolism, craft, skill, history and light.  Ironically, I’m not often inspired by still photography.  It’s sometimes challenging to find enlightening work outside of the masters of photography, old and new. 

But as I found out this morning, a trip through The New York Times Photo Store is a real feast. You can see (and purchase!) an amazing array of images going back to the 1800s. Of particular interest is the “American Experience” category with riveting photos of American life over the last 150 years. If you’re looking for inspirational still photography, you’ve hit the jackpot.

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Crow on Old Barn Cupola

The first thing I look for in each new edition of the New York Times is an editorial piece by Verlyn Klinkenborg.  

Verlyn’s ongoing editorial column The Rural Life is always the best thing to read in the whole paper (which is saying something because every edition of the NY Times is a work of art). I’ve been reading Verlyn’s editorials for a few years but it was only today I realized that Verlyn is a man!  Well I’ll be jiggered!  I was going to mention her breathtakingly beautiful, deeply moving, thoroughly visual style of writing in my entry today. I’m glad I did a little research first.

Mr. Klinkenborg was born in 1952 and grew up in Iowa and California. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton and he’s been on the editorial board of the New York Times for ten years. His work has appeared in a gazillion great magazines, he’s won many awards and a fellowship, taught literature at Harvard, and is now a visiting professor at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He’s written a few books, two of which are on my reading list: Making Hay and The Last Fine Time.

Verlyn lives on a small farm in rural upstate New York.  That’s within stalking distance of Durham Township, right?

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