Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: July 2008

Jim Lommasson, from the series On the Road, c. 2003


Photolucida’s Northwest Summer Portfolio Reviews—a smaller, localized version of the nonprofit’s biennial reviews—are happening in Portland this Saturday and Sunday, July 26-7. The reviews themselves are only open to registrants and reviewers, but a free event on Saturday night gives the public a chance to scope out all the artists who signed up for the reviews, as well as the work of 11 Oregon shooters selected by the Photolucida board. In addition to Jim Lommasson, keep your eyes open for these other invitees:

TJ Norris, “Rabbit Test on the Moon,” 2006


Alexis Pike, “A Teton, St. Anthony, Idaho,” 2004


David Paul Bayles, “Severed Limbs #1,” c. 2002


Bruce Hall, from the Portland Grid Project, 2006


Heidi Kirkpatrick, “Rose” from the series Botanical Photograms, 2005


Sika Stanton, untitled, tintype


Blake Andrews, from the series Big Pink, 2002


Ann Ploeger, untitled, c. 2005


Angela Cash, untitled, n.d.


Bob Gervais, untitled, n.d.


Photolucida’s Portfolio Walk happens at the Art Institute of Portland, NW Davis & 11th, Sat, July 26, 6-9 pm, free

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #55,” digital c-print, 2008


A relentlessly cheerful treatise on grotesque post-human fantasies, Daniel Barron’s A Numb Hinge is one of the most provocative, sly, arresting, and sensual photography shows I’ve seen in Portland. In a remarkably conservative photography climate (local and national) that continues to favor “straight” photography (in color and with a 4×5, please), Barron’s abstract, digitally-assisted creations of fleshy pink cavities, wet eyelids, broken blood vessels, and bubbly glycerin tubes push the medium toward new aesthetic and technological territories.

The statement that accompanies A Numb Hinge indicates that technology is at the fore of Barron’s artistic concerns. But his interest isn’t in Photoshop’s ability to create fantasies that look, by all measure, strictly photographic, as his do. (I am not privy to how the images in A Numb Hinge were made, nor do I think it’s a particularly relevant question.) The artist is interested in the unemotional nature of scientific advance; how the beneficial effects of penicillin on bacterial infections and the destructive reactions of nuclear fission are, in and of themselves, entirely impersonal. Technology, by this way of thinking, can be seen as “an emotionally unresponsive, indifferent device on which subsequent events depend”—e.g., a “numb hinge,” which, unscrambled, reveals itself as “human being.”

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #57,” digital c-print, 2008


Rarely, however, has cyborgian impassivity been so fun: If the soulless detachment of a post-human future has typically been imagined as fatalistic outcome, whether by Phillip K. Dick or Aziz + Cucher, Barron takes a different tact. A Numb Hinge envisions our fleshy future, in which bloodshot eyeballs occupy meaty knuckle sockets, as a consumerist idyll-a technological advance that can be beautified, photographed, and marketed like a Prada handbag.

“A Numb Hinge #55” exemplifies Barron’s gleeful, pop aesthetic approach to these quasi-scientific, disquietingly graphic subjects. With unflinching verisimilitude, “#55” depicts a fleshy object of Barron’s photo-digital creation: A human eyelid (though not attached to any larger skull), opens itself to accommodate a shimmering tube of ice, which slides into the orifice almost pornographically. (Pubic hair, however, has been replaced here by dew-y eyelashes, which are photographed with immaculate clarity.) The eye-socket aperture is presented as a cropped fragment of a larger whole that we can’t discern, although one can see that another similar eyehole exists at an unnatural 90 degree angle to the first, like a fleshy, pink, elbow joint. An un-readable attachment protrudes from the left side of the object, connected either by a honey-colored resin or a natural sap. “#55” is a speculative vision of mad science at play-the human body as a purely mechanical system that can be genetically and physically adapted to accommodate oblique, inhuman purposes.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008


It’s not the subject matter that makes “#55” so remarkable, however: It’s Barron’s treatment and presentation of the material. If and when the artist’s vision of all-out post-human anatomical modification is realized, we can be sure that the idea will be sold to us (subconsciously) as a technological advance capable of ensuring that we (a) never have to die, and (b) have a good shot at getting laid. The skin in “#55,” as in all of the pieces in A Numb Hinge, is flawlessly nubile—pink, blemish-free, unwrinkled flesh that evidently repels water so that it beads up and cascades off, like a Man Ray teardrop or an opaquely shellacked D’Anjou pear, coated in a light mist of water before the catalog photographer shoots it. Whatever they may graphically depict, the real messages of A Numb Hinge‘s body parts are “sex” and “youth.” If the throbbing penetration of the wet tube into the tight, slippery opening of “#55” was too subtle for audiences, the small protrusion of a lapping, curved flesh-mound attends to the base of the shaft like a tiny tongue. (The bubbly, icy tube, all the while, looks like the sum manifestation of Wilson Bryan Key‘s hysteria about subliminal images erections and skulls allegedly being airbrushed into beverage advertisements in the 1970s.) If any doubt should linger about Barron’s advertorial approach, “#55’s” background of hazy, candy-colored stripes promises a bright, carefree future that carries the aesthetic hopes of both psychedelic transcendence and an afternoon of retail therapy at the mall.

Daniel Barron, “A Numb Hinge, #52,” digital c-print, 2008


These strategies recur throughout A Numb Hinge. “#52” shows the “head” of a meaty flesh-worm, whose slippery surface is closer to the lining inside your mouth than the flesh on your palms. The center of the slimy, pink tube nestles a strange, flecked, yellow and green ball that could be both a citrus rind and a diseased eyeball. Repulsive on one hand, the form’s oozy tactility begs to be poked and fingered. In the background, we can make out slightly unfocused, similar forms, included in the photograph as if to assure viewers that scarcity is no issue, and that there’s enough for everybody, including you. As with many of Barron’s pieces, there is a large portion of the composition left mostly blank, which good editorial and commercial photographers know, is always appreciated by picture editors and art directors who need a spot to include the sales pitch.

Formally and technically, Barron’s attention to detail is meticulous. When one of his watery, glycerin tubes penetrates a bodily orifice, the tonal reflections of the skin are rendered in the bubbly with impeccable, rippley precision. These images withstand the closest scrutiny, and never betray their digital seams or in-camera trickery. The photographs’ uncanny realism is responsible for the squeamish response they invoke, but it’s the artists’ use of ultrasoft lighting and tender chromatics that make the images in A Numb Hinge so undeniably seductive. Barron’s beauty is of the repulsive variety, and he’s adept at teasing out the carnal elements of grotesquerie. These fantastic subjects may indeed be numb to the banalities of their own applications, but Barron is too deftly attuned to our propensity for novelty and our evolutionary mechanisms of desire to allow us to remain unmoved by the numb hinge of progress.

A Numb Hinge is on view at Pushdot Studio, 1021 SE Caruthers, Mon-Fri, through July 25.
Daniel Barron dot com

Richard Billingham, “Untitled,” c-print, 1995


The British artist Richard Billingham photographed his family—his alcoholic father, large mother, and unruly brother—in their council flat in the West Midlands, England, between 1990 and 1996, producing the photo book Ray’s a Laugh (1996). It departs from the typical images of wedding/new baby/graduation/birthday family photographs, revealing the artist’s rough childhood surroundings and life in a council flat. The photo book was an immediate success. Widely debated in the 1990s, it produced two types of interpretations. On one hand, it read as a political documentary targeted to the upper middle-class audience and addressed the working-class poverty of 1990s Britain following the years of conservative government. On the other hand, with the 1990s witnessing a rapid expansion of reality-television culture, Billingham’s series was also interpreted as an entertaining reality drama, satisfying a never-ending appetite for confessional revelations. Although neither of these interpretations were intended (nor was political art or reality-drama entertainment of primary concern to the artist), this article, based on an interview with Billingham, revisits these earlier readings and examines how they might reflect the spectator’s interests and position within our culture.

Continue reading Outi Remes’ Reinterpreting Unconventional Family Photographs: Returning to Richard Billingham’s “Ray’s a Laugh” Series

The University of Texas’ archive of more than 8,000 Texas border photographs by Robert Runyon from the early 1900s constitutes one of the most remarkable visual histories imaginable: Runyan (1881-1968) was a commercial photographer in Brownsville, Texas who tirelessly shot Masonic parades, bull fights, prize-winning cabbages, executions, grapefruit (and rattlesnake) farms, impatient iguanas, and the local militia in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Northeastern Mexico. When the Mexican Revolution reached the Texas border in 1913, Runyan was ready with his camera, and made invaluable photographs of military operations and soldiers’ camp life alike. “As with popular subjects such as bullfights and Mexican Revolution casualties,” reads his bio, “Runyon sold many of his Fort Brown views as postcards to the soldiers and to Valley residents and tourists.” After the Revolution, Runyan flourished as a studio photographer, and eventually turned his interests to botany (which is evidenced in his photographs of native plants) and an unsuccessful run at the Texas House of Representatives before his death in Brownsville at the age of 87.

The digital archive contains thousands of photographs, which are helpfully divided into categories such as Aeronautical accidents (Texas), Executions (Mexico), Sports (Texas), Birds’ Eggs and Nests (Texas), Funeral Rites and Processions (Brownsville), Pancho Villa, Women Soldiers (Mexico), and Fairs (Texas). Happy hunting.

Robert Runyon, “Copy Photo: The grave of a federal officer executed in Juarez”


Robert Runyon, “Armadillo”


Robert Runyon, “Abel Garcia and wife”


Robert Runyon, “Landscape around Point Isabel Railroad”


Robert Runyon, “Rio Grande Snake Farm, Joe Guerrero”


Robert Runyon, “Agricultural fair, display of heads of cabbage”


Robert Runyon, “Oil well near Loma Alta, February 24, 1920”


Robert Runyon, “Copy Photo: Hanged man, February 13, 1912”

Bruce Conner, “Teardrop Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1974, 89 x 38″


Bruce Conner, “Butterfly Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1975, 89 x 38″


To create these, Conner’s body was placed between a large sheet of photosensitive paper and a light source. Because the photograms are, in effect, photographic negatives, the area in which Conner’s body blocked the light from reaching the paper is seen as white, while areas where the light struck the paper without interruption came out as black. In the earliest examples, which were exposed to the light source for a relatively brief amount of time, Conner’s figure appears as a stark white silhouette against a jet black ground. Eventually, he began exposing the paper to light for longer periods of time. In these, his form is seen as a gray silhouette, but any point where he was actually touching the paper—thereby blocking out all the light—glows bright white. In those in which the paper was exposed to light for the longest period, the silhouette is blacked out entirely and all that can be seen are the points where his body touched the paper, as in “Flame Angel,” 1975.

In these photograms, Conner’s figure seems to be made of pure light as it shines out from the blackness around it. He appears as a radiant evanescence—spirit rather than flesh—hence the title of the series. But the figures’ associations are not just angelic; they are also distinctly Christlike. The impression of the full figure on the paper calls to mind the Shroud of Turin, where the image of Christ’s body has supposedly been burned into his burial cloth (it does not hurt that Conner’s shoulder-length hair and beard can be clearly seen in a number of the images).

Peter Boswell, from “Bruce Conner: Theater of Light and Shadow,” 2000 BC: The Bruce Conner Story, Part II, (Walker Art Center) 1999

Bruce Conner, “Enfolding Angel,” gelatin silver photogram, 1974, 36 x 33″


More of Conner’s Angels here

Anon, “Le Laboratoire de Satan,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard (detail)


When Parisian optician Jules Duboscq introduced the stereoscopic viewer in 1850, few could have imagined the raging success stereo photography would enjoy internationally for the remainder of the century. By 1858, the London Stereoscopic Company boasted of having over 100,000 images for sale, and in 1901, New York’s Underwood & Underwood claimed to manufacture 23,000 stereocards a day.

Anon, “La Torture en Enfer,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard


Stereographs do not lend themselves well to long, contemplative viewings in the same way that photographs of the era by artists like Baldus or Le Secq do. Stereoscopy is built on novelty; the stereo image reaches its “climax,” as Ian Jeffrey puts it, “when depth was grasped or focus achieved.” Once the photographs pop into three-dimensional illusion, viewers are typically more interested in repeating the phenomenon with new slides than studying the palm-sized pictures. These viewing habits, combined with the wild popularity of the form, and the relative low cost of production resulted in thousands upon thousands of mostly unremarkable stereoscopic slides in the late 1800s.*

Anon, “Satan Malade,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, hand-tinted stereocard (detail)


Certainly the most remarkable body of work made for stereo viewing, however, was Les Diableries, a suite of 72 cards published anonymously in Paris, 1861. Produced during the rise of the Second Empire, Les Diableries‘s sculptural visions of satanic torture and merriment would have meant swift imprisonment for the artists under Napoleon III’s authoritarian rule. The photographer of these wonderfully macabre tableaux remains anonymous, although several of the sculptures appear to have signatures carved into the plaster, leading many to conclude that Pierre Adolphe Hennetier (1828-1888) was responsible for creating most of the tabletop dioramas.

Anon, “Conference par Mlle. Satan,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard (detail)


The artists most likely wished to remain anonymous for reasons beyond the profane: Les Diableries was a vicious satire on the Second Empire and Napoleon III, who was dubbed “Napoleon the Small” by Victor Hugo and mocked by Karl Marx. I haven’t studied the stereoscopes (or French history) enough to analyze them through this political lens, but a New York Times article from 1856 gives us a general list of grievances that may have been on the anonymous artists’ minds.

The state of things revealed there reminds us forcibly of the days of Louis XVI. Put a plebeian Emperor in the place of the legitimate old King and the aristocracy of wealth in place of the aristocracy of blood,… the stern unbending mind of Louis Napoleon in place of the soft, wavering, pliable heart of Louis Capet, and all the other features of both epochs—fraud in the higher, disgust in the middle, and want in the lower classes, blindness in the ruler, inanity in the clergy, impotence in the press, levity in literature, scandal in the theatres, debauchery in morals, cynicism in ethics, and depravity in society—all will with some slight modifications be found to be the same.

(It does feel safe to assume that “Visite du Soleil à Satan,” pictured here, represents an imaginary meeting between Napoleon III and Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” who was widely regarded as one of the country’s great historical rulers.)

Anon, “Visite du Soleil à Satan,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard (detail)


Regardless of its political underpinnings, Les Diableries mesmerizes on countless levels: the macabre charm of its handcrafted anti-Christs, the visual richness of its miniature scenes, the subversiveness of its anonymous origin, the way it presages unforgettable photographs and films by Jan Svankmajer, David Levinthal, Hans Bellmer, and Lori Nix by a full century (70 years in Bellmer’s case). But most of all, these images arrest us because of their exclusion from the historical canon: Who among us was taught that photographs like these circulated the streets of Paris during the decade of Le Gray and Disdèri? Given the lack of scholarship on Les Diableries, I’d guess very few.

Anon, “Le Loterie Infernale,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard


Pockets of political and aesthetic eccentricity like these remind me of an interview with Malcolm Daniel, Curator of Photography at the Met. “It remains one of the things that’s so exciting about photographic history, that there’s so much there to discover and also to present for the first time to the public and have them feel that same sense of discovery,” he says. “In photography, there are artists of absolutely the highest tier about whom little research has been done. We think the person’s already been done if there’s a catalog on Gustave Le Gray or Édouard Baldus. They’re not. There are many great photographers about whom there’s a single book or no book. So that’s exciting. It’s exciting as a curator, as a researcher, as a writer.”

Anon, “Le Jour de l’An en Enfer,” from Les Diableries, c. 1861, stereocard (detail)


The most comprehensive online resource about Les Diableries is unquestionably Early Visual Media, although it leaves a lot to be desired, both in terms of visual documentation and scholarship. In 2004, Portland’s own Stereo World (“The World’s Best 3-D Magazine”) published “Classification of Diableries” by Robert Schrieber, and the only book devoted to the anonymous series is an extremely rare French volume entitled Diableries: La Vie Quotidienne Chez Satan à la Fin du 19e Siècle (Satan’s Day-to-Day Life in the Late 19th Century). Additional images from Les Diableries can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

*While most stereocards are indeed unremarkable (as are most photographs of any form), there are boundless exceptions to this generalization. A fraction of them can be found at these fine websites.

Jindrich Štyrský, “Untitled [Bez názvu], from the series The Movable Cabinet [Stěthovací kabinet], 1934, photomontage


The catalog for Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945 is one of the richest and most impressive historical surveys I’ve received in ages. If, when asked who your five favorite photographers of the 20th century are, five American names leap from your mouth (*bashfully raising hand*), put down your copy of Uncommon Places and check this book out. If you’re not so native soil-leaning, pat yourselves on the back, and then check this book out. (BTW, Robert Frank and Cartier-Bresson count as honorary Americans in this exercise, because of their Yank influence and towering stature in stateside photo history courses. My blog, my rules.) In addition to familiar names such as Sudek, Renger-Patzsch, and Maholy-Nagy, Foto features countless mind-blowing photographers who get virtually no play in America, and whose working styles are so wonderfully divorced from our realist tradition. DC, NYC, and Minneapolis have all had an opportunity to see Foto (please leave a comment about the show if you caught it); the exhibition is in Edinburgh now, and Adrian Searle was thoroughly impressed. “Our culture seems so homogeneous by comparison. Even the word ‘experiment’ feels hollow now. What a killer show.”

Back in the boring old USofA, Page 291 has a very unboring review of Sage Sohier‘s equally unboring show, Perfectible Worlds, at Foley Gallery. (PW was shown at Blue Sky last year, and Portland’s Photolucida published Sohier’s monograph of the same name.) Sohier’s portraits of people who become singular deities over microcosms of their own creation are startling, funny, and deeply humane. They don’t succeed for me every time (visually or conceptually), but when they hit, they’re like bottom-of-the-ninth grand slams on Hot Dog Night. Megalomania should always be so fun..

We’re having a lot of fun here, folks, but if we can get serious for just a minute, it’s time to talk about depictions of abject human suffering. (Effortless segues like that are what keeps That’s a Negative so popular and profitable!) No Caption Needed analyzes photography in ways that nobody else online is touching; the authors don’t come from art-photo backgrounds, and their takes on photojournalism are always as surprising as they are insightful. For example: This recent post about black & white reportage begins with what sounds like a rather clunky generalization, but Robert Hariman tightens his argument until we are forced to consider monochromatic images in light of “our own deficiencies.” (Of course, the recurring Sunday feature that directly precedes that particular blog entry does not do much to support my endorsement of No Caption Needed’s customary intellectualism.)

Lastly, Pentimento/Polarama turned up my favorite photography story of the week. I just really hope that widow doesn’t somehow find that blog and recognize herself (literally and figuratively). How come every time I go to the Goodwill, I just find musty sweaters and barely humorous tchothckes that I carry around for half and hour before deciding to leave empty-handed?

Thumbaniled photos, from the top:
Sage Sohier, “Man applying tanning lotion before a bodybuilding competition, Worcester, MA,” 2003, c-print
Erno Berda, “Hand,” c. 1931, gelatin silver print
Farooq Naeem, “Student Praying in Islamabad,” AFP-Getty Images
Anonymous, untitled, n.d.

Fireworks and freedom interfered with Newspace‘s normal opening reception schedule this month, so the gallery’s juried exhibition (which contains a generous helping of strong photos, I must say) will be celebrated tomorrow night with a reception from 7-10 pm.

But that’s not all that’s happening tomorrow night: I just got word that Michael Burnett is having an exhibition and book release party at Cal’s Pharmacy (15 NE Hancock) from 7-10 pm as well, with live music by Yes Father. Cal’s website says that “Most skateboard types who pay attention will know Mike as the driving force behind Thrasher Magazine over the last 5 years or so.” Presumably, everyone reading this has been paying attention, didn’t need the reminder, and is psyched to check out his new book of photos taken on tour in China and Russia, The Outskirts of Awesome. (The cover photo is pretty great.)

Also happening Friday evening: Apart from That makes its Portland debut at Living Room Theaters (across from Powell’s)! Directors Randy Walker and Jennifer Shainin made this truly independent film in Mt. Vernon, Washington (better known as B.F.E.), and despite critical raves, they found themselves with a completed feature on their hands and zero distribution. So Walker and Shainin produced a gorgeous book to accompany the DVD, and have been hitting bookstores and hosting special screenings around the country. The film is fantastic; click one of the linked reviews for a synopsis, or just soak in these influences that the directors cite online: Uta Barth, Raymond Carver, John Cassavettes, Jim Jarmusch, William Eggleston, Edward Albee, and Daniel Johnston. All together now: *swoooon.*

Apart from That runs Fri-Tues at Living Room Theaters (film times here), but Friday’s 7:25 screening is the one to catch, as Walker and Shainin will be in attendance.

Zhuang Xueben, “Yaks in Mountains, Sichuan Province, Xikang Region,” 1937


Last month, Raul at Mexican Pictures asked if anybody knew about the Chinese photographer Zhuang Xueben, who created an extensive and beautiful record of Western China’s remote outreaches in the 1930s. Nobody has chimed in with anything too definitive yet, so I’ll add what I know. FotoFest mounted a sizable exhibition of Zhuang’s photographs in Houston this Spring, and I spent a lot of time with the work. His story is pretty incredible, as are his photographs. Infuriatingly Unfortunately, all of my notes were stolen when I returned to Portland, but here’s what I’ve got:

(The FotoFest catalogue features 14 of Zhuang’s photographs, and a biographical essay by Zhu Qi, which is where most of my information comes from.)

Zhuang Xueben, “Woman of Naxi People, Yang Ming County, Yunnan Province,” 1934


There are two crucial contexts to bear in mind when looking at Zhuang’s photographs: the state of Chinese photography in 1934, and the prevailing attitudes at the time within China about Tibetans and other indigenous people of the remote borderlands.

In an illustrated lecture about the history of Chinese photography, there was one unmistakable divide that preceded the Sino-Japanese war: photography before Zhuang Xueben, and photography after. China was very slow to adopt photography (and Modernity in general). It remained a culture steeped and shrouded in its own traditions, and its recent encounters with colonialist Westerners didn’t exactly get the Chinese excited to adopt their latest technological apparatuses. When photography did eventually catch on around the turn of the 20th century, it was used to create what were essentially traditional Chinese paintings, and camera clubs and periodicals at the time were filled with static studio portraits and woefully maudlin, faux-Pictorialist scenes of birds on tree branches and tranquil ponds. (It’s easy to find coffee table books and websites that show photography from China at this time that would initially seem to contradict this assessment, but a quick check will usually confirm that—like so many photography books being published about China today—they are Western views of the foreign country.) Quite simply, there was nothing in the Chinese history books that could have prepared anyone for Zhuang’s clear-eyed, steady vision; in Western terms, it would be like leapfrogging from amateur imitations of PH Emerson scenes to August Sander’s “Young Farmers.” In this sense, Zhuang was a true visionary.

Zhuang Xueben, “Tibetan Buddhist Monk, Living in Heaven and Giving Light to the Soul, Yu Shu County, Qing Hai Province,” 1937


In the 1930s, the Tibetan regions of southwestern China existed on maps as an enormous expanse where few ventured. Popular imagination held that the mountain-dwelling minorities were enormous, barbaric people, “slandered as uncivilized savages,” recalls the Zhuang’s son in an unpublished interview, “with disheveled hair, dressed in leather, eating raw meat, and sleeping in open wild fields.”

In 1933 Zhuang Xueben set out to make the 2,700 mile trek—first on foot, then on camel—to photograph these monstrous, cannabalistic tribesmen. It wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought.

Part two will be posted this weekend.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia, untitled from Thousand, color Polaroid


Early this year, I reviewed Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s doorstopper of a Polaroid collection, Thousand (Steidl), for the Portland Mercury. I’m a lifetime fan of P-LdC’s work, but was getting a little burnt out on his recent fashion images, and felt ready to see a new side of his work. Thousand provided just that by handing over years and years’ worth of outtakes, preparatory shots, and assorted unclassifiable Polaroids from throughout the photographer’s career. DiCorcia’s strategy for sequencing the book was unconventional, but unlike many, I found it to be a very beautiful gesture.

Early reviewers are howling at a truly unorthodox approach the artist and publisher took in laying the book out. In photography monographs, image sequencing is everything—it’s how visual stories are told, and how meaning and significance are implied. Sequencing is sacrosanct. But after untold attempts to order the 1,000 photographs, diCorcia assigned a number to each image, and let a computer randomly dictate their placement in the book. Purists reacted as if diCorcia was torching a first printing of Robert Frank’s Les Américains, and they’re missing the point entirely. By relinquishing the storytelling impulse as much as possible, diCorcia has indeed disrupted the traditional role of book arts. Instead, he’s handed us the closest thing possible to an enormous box of old Polaroids, allowing us to sift through it as we wish.

My review of Thousand has been added to the Selected Writings page.

Thousand makes its exhibition debut as part of LACMA’s diCorcia retrospective, on view through Sept 14.

Watch a short film about Thousand here.

Minor White, “St. John’s Bridge,” c. 1939-40, gelatin silver print, collection of the Portland Art Museum


Aperture‘s spiffy blog, Exposures, reminds us that today would have been Minor White’s 100th birthday. White was a co-founder of Aperture and directed the first fine-art photography program in the country (what’s now the SF Art Institute), but for most photographers of my generation that I talk to, White’s influence doesn’t extend much farther than that.

If Walker Evans is the de facto spiritual godfather of the contemporary photography scene (as filtered through his influence of later artists such as Stephen Shore and William Eggleston), then Minor White is the rarely-seen uncle who sends two dollars and a prayer card for every birthday. Where Evan’s vision was cool, literary, and crisp, White’s was enthusiastic, mystic, and fluid. White (1908-76) was passionate about photography’s capacity to create visual metaphors, as well as the power of grouping images into larger sequences. “A sequence of photographs is like a cinema of stills,” he wrote. “The time and space between photographs is filled by the beholder … The spring-tight line between reality and photograph has been stretched relentlessly, but it has not been broken.” These concepts stand the test of time, and would seem to suggest that his work would do the same, but with a handful of notable exceptions, White’s photographs don’t hold the same power today that many of his contemporaries’ do. (That is not to say that they won’t again in the relatively near future, when younger photographers move further and further away from documentary realism, and it’s also not to say that one couldn’t select a grouping of White’s images that look handsome and inspiring today. I just think it’d be a very choosy group that would have to disregard the artists’ key works and intentions.)

Lawrence Smith, “Minor White at the Clackamas River,” 1938


One thing that’s not up for debate, however, is that White came of artistic age in Portland, and left behind a legacy of images from his time here. (It was also in Portland that the wonderful Walter Chappell, whose old high school sits outside my bedroom window, met White as a teenager; years later Chappell followed White to Rochester, and under White’s mentorship, became a curator at the George Eastman House.) Living at the YMCA and working as a night clerk at the Beverly Hotel, White was an active participant in Portland’s photography scene—teaching classes, shooting constantly, and staying involved with the Oregon Camera Club

In 1938, the WPA commissioned White to document the city’s waterfront and 19th century architecture; made before the photographer’s more ethereal forays into New Age-y abstractions, these images have a wonderful charm and clarity about them. White was deeply influenced by the hazy abstractions and symbolism of Equivalents-era Steiglitz , but surely heard the beating drum of America’s flourishing documentary tradition, which championed unflinching realism. White’s WPA work finds the photographer at the crossroads of these two competing visions: It would be another decade before the influence and support of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Paul Strand, and others helped White hone his mature style.

Minor White, “Front Street, Portland, OR,” 1939


In 1940, the WPA sent White to the tiny country town of La Grande, Oregon, near the Idaho border, where he taught photography at the Art Center and wrote art criticism. Returning to Portland in 1942, the Portland Art Museum (PAM) gave White his first solo show, exhibiting his photographs from Eastern Oregon. The same year, PAM hired him to photograph two historic Victorian homes; his images from this commission were later collected in Heritage Lost: Two Grand Portland Houses Through the Lens of Minor White, co-authored by PAM Photography Curator Terry Toedtemeier. (Portland photographer Stu Levy made prints from the book from White’s original negatives.)

Shortly after the PAM commission, White was drafted into the Army Intelligence Corps, where he wrote a book entitled Eight Lessons in Photography, made portraits of fellow soldiers, was baptized into the Catholic religion, and wrestled with his homosexuality. After the war, White moved to New York, then to San Francisco, where he taught in from 1946-53 and co-founded Aperture (1952), and eventually to Rochester, where he would reconnect with Portland’s Walter Chappell. White returned to Oregon often, though, and gave many of his celebrated photography workshops on the coast, where he influenced countless regional photographers.

Minor White, “Worcester Building, Portland, OR,” c. 1938


White’s 1972 group exhibition, Octave of Prayer (published in book form by Aperture in ’73), tarnished the photographer’s reputation, as it found White in full mystic mode. Images of sunrises, hippies, leaves, clouds, and seagulls were accompanied by one of the strangest essays ever to accompany a major photography exhibition.

“When a man… discovers God in himself,” White writes, “he grasps the joy of camera and man working in the service to the divine.” Later: “The spiritual crisis of the times demands that we should heed [the photographer]. The healing capacity of the process of creative work is desperately needed, now! Let ‘greatness’ appear when it will, we do not need that ego trip. Best of all is the using of art and camerawork consciously for healing no matter how few the psychological wounds caused by a society destroying itself.”

Ah, yes. It was that kind of rhetoric—and photographs like this—that remind me why White doesn’t go down so easily. But still: He did make some very impressive images, he co-founded a great magazine, and he’s something of a hometown boy. On those merits alone, it only feels proper to offer a “Happy Birthday, Mr. White. R.I.P.”

Christopher Rauschenberg, “The Fish House,” from One Handed, Left, 2008


Regina Hackett recently interviewed Portland’s Christopher Rauschenberg about his father’s passing, and asked a lot of questions that I’ve always been curious about.

Were you impressed with his friends when you were growing up?

I wish I’d been more impressed. I remember one time I stopped by his place after school and he asked me to stay for dinner. Cartier-Bresson was coming. I said I couldn’t. I had homework.

Chris has also added a small new series of photographs to his website, taken at his father’s memorial service. These are pretty tough; I know I couldn’t have done it.

In his last years, my father wasn’t able to use his right hand to photograph and he couldn’t figure out how to shoot one-handed with his left hand. As we sprinkled his ashes from his original beach house along the jungle road past the studio to the fish house, I took some one-handed, left-handed tree portraits for him.

Chris has a show in Portland at the Heathman (1001 SW Broadway) through Aug 16.
Robert Rauschenberg’s “Lotus Series” in on view at Blue Sky (122 NW 8th) through Aug 3.

Edwin S. Porter, frame from The Great Train Robbery, 1903


In honor of great filmmaking and a few looming deadlines, today we celebrate the amazing archive of artists’ film and video at UbuWeb. There are several days’ worth of ass-numbing/brain-tickling material here (or, indeed, enough work to foster a heavy duty graduate seminar), so I’ll take the liberty of selecting a few highlights from the collection. Please turn off your cellphones.

David Byrne, “Report from L.A.,” 1986
Sophie Calle and Greg Shepard, “No Sex Last Night AKA Double Blind,” 1992
Jorge Luis Borges (documentary), “The Mirror Man
Christian Boltanski (documentary), “Boltanski,” 1996
Jean Baudrillard (lecture), “The Violence of the Image,” 2004
John Baldessari, multiple films, 1971-3
Tacita Dean, “Kodak,” 2006
Richard Kern, “Five Films,” 1986-91
László Maholy-Nagy, “Black-White-Grey (excerpt),” 1932
Man Ray, multiple films, 1923-38
Robert Smithson, “Hotel Palenque (bootleg),” 1969
Ralph Steiner, “H20,” 1929
Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, “Manhatta,” 1921
William Wegman, “Selected Works (excerpt),” 1972

Flapper Girl, Green Tulle Hostess Apron, 2008


Changing the subject for a moment, I am moved to point out that my favorite crafty lady in the world (and certainly the cutest), Flapper Girl, is featured in this month’s highly selective Poppytalk bazaar. Peep the very cool tulle hostessing aprons (originally favored by post-WWII party-throwing fashionistas), as well as the brand new coffee cozies. (I can attest to the stylish effectiveness of these; I use my “Hustlin'” cup warmer daily.) Be sure to check out the sites, especially if you’re so inclined to support small businesses and well-crafted, handmade goods.

(Photography by yours truly.)

Robert Frank, “Sick of Goodby’s,” 1978, silver gelatin print


I was looking at Robert Frank’s photograph “Sick of Goodby’s” in his book The Lines of My Hand. Moments before I had been listening to a Johnny Cash song called “I Wish I Was Crazy Again.” Then I thought of the goodbyes in the book to old friends caught once and for all and never again to be seen in life, and I was struck by the intensity of the sadness of life and its redeeming qualities as reflected in these moving photos. With Johnny Cash as well, the desire to see it all again, to go out one more time into the wild flame only to be burned up forever and never be seen again except in these farewell photos, is moving beyond description. The photos speak of an acceptance of things as they are. the inevitable death of us all and the last photo – that last unposed shot to remind us of our friends, of our loss of the times we had in a past captured only on film in black and white. Frank has been there, and seen that, and recorded it with such subtlety that we only look in awe, our own hearts beating with the memories of lost partners and songs.

To wish for the crazy times one last time and freeze it in the memory of a camera is the least a great artist can do. Robert Frank is a great democrat. We’re all in these photos. Paint dripping from a mirror like blood. I’m sick of goodbyes. And aren’t we all, but it’s nice to see it said. LOU REED

Read more reflections on Frank’s photography by Ed Ruscha, Mary Ellen Mark, Liz Jobey, Mark Hayworth-Booth, and Frank himself here.