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Monthly Archives: February 2009

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Doug Keyes, “Chuck Close,” 1999, dye destruction print


In recognition of the “unprecedented number of applications by photographers” to the 9th Northwest Biennial, the Tacoma Art Museum is hosting a five-hour extravaganza Saturday entitled Taking Pictures Through Multiple Lenses: Photography in The Biennial.

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Rebecca Cummins, who teaches at University of Washington and is a very interesting artist in her own right, will moderate a conversation between four Biennial photographers: Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, and Susan Seubert. The lineup promises to be a compelling mix—the artists, all extremely good at what they do, each approach photography with very different conceptual and aesthetic attitudes.

l26Layman is incredibly bright and talented, as I’ve mentioned here before, and I was a fan of Keyes long before moving to the Northwest. (Keye’s recent monograph, Collective Memory, is fantastic, and from what I gather, the first printing is going fast.) Kenna’s work isn’t a personal favorite, but that’s about my tastes and preferences, not the merit of his photography.

maskHis relatively traditional approach to the medium, his exquisite attention to craft and technique, and his years of popular success should all nicely balance nicely the younger artists’ experimentation. Portland’s Seubert the wild card I’m curious about; some of her series, including “The Ten Most Popular Places to Dump a Body in the Columbia River Gorge” and “Chimeras” hold up really well and continue to impress me, but I wish more of her work had the same effect. (Actually, her editorial work knocks me out. If you want to see really well-done assignment work, look no further. I grew up around this kind of photography, and can’t help but stop in my tracks when I see it done so well.)

Taking Pictures Through Multiple Lenses: Photography in The Biennial
February 28, 11 am-4 pm

Submissions to The 9th Northwest Biennial saw an unprecedented number of applications by photographers. These numbers reflect the tremendous growth in this medium over the past decade. Historically, artists were bound by the limitations of film and equipment, but today many select from a myriad of technologies, processes, and tools.
Biennial artists Michael Kenna, Doug Keyes, Isaac Layman, and Susan Seubert participate in a half-day program discussing photography’s role in fine art and commercial imagery. Rebecca Cummins, Associate Professor at University of Washington School of Art, moderates a panel conversation.
Cost is $10 and includes museum admission; $5 for members and students with ID. Email Education@TacomaArtMuseum.org to reserve your seat.


Thumbnails, from top:

Isaac Layman, “Bookcase,” 2006, archival inkjet print
Michael Kenna, “Skyline, Study 3, Shanghai, China,” 2008, gelatin silver print
Susan Seubert, “Mask,” tintype
09202101Stereograph Representing a Telescope, anon, c. 1862, from the Getty Collection


On the occasion of the upcoming exhibition, History of the Stereo Card, at Portland’s 3D Center of Art and Photography, March 5-May 3, 2009, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ classic, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph:”

(The Daguerreotype) has fixed the most fleeting of our illusions, that which the apostle and the philosopher and the poet have alike used as the type of instability and unreality. The photograph has completed the triumph, by making a sheet of paper reflect images like a mirror and hold them as a picture.

This triumph of human ingenuity is the most audacious, remote, improbable, incredible,—the one that would seem least likely to be regained, if all traces of it were lost, of all the discoveries man has made. It has become such an everyday matter with us, that we forget its miraculous nature, as we forget that of the sun itself, to which we owe the creations of our new art. Yet in all the prophecies of dreaming enthusiasts, in all the random guesses of the future conquests over matter, we do not remember any prediction of such an inconceivable wonder, as our neighbor round the corner, or the proprietor of the small house on wheels, standing on the village common, will furnish any of us for the most painfully slender remuneration. No Century of Inventions includes this among its possibilities. Nothing but the vision of a Laputan, who passed his days in extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, Could have reached such a height of delirium as to rave about the time when a man should paint his miniature by looking at a blank tablet, and a multitudinous wilderness of forest foliage or an endless Babel of roofs and spires stamp itself, in a moment, so faithfully and so minutely, that one may creep over the surface of the picture with his microscope and find every leaf perfect, or read the letters of distant signs, and see what was the play at the “Variétés” or the “Victoria,” on the evening of the day when it was taken, just as he would sweep the real view with a spy-glass to explore all that it contains.

When human art says to each one of us, I will give you ears that can hear a whisper in New Orleans, and legs that can walk six hundred miles in a day, and if, in consequence of any defect of rail or carriage, you should be so injured that your own very insignificant walking members must be taken off, I can make the surgeon’s visit a pleasant dream for you, on awaking from which you will ask when he is coming to do that which he has done already,—what is the use of poetical or rhetorical amplification? But this other invention of the mirror with a memory, and especially that application of it which has given us the wonders of the stereoscope, is not so easily, completely, universally recognized in all the immensity of its applications and suggestions. The stereoscope, and the pictures it gives, are, however, common enough to be in the hands of many of our readers; and as many of those who are not acquainted with it must before long become as familiar with it as they are now with friction-matches, we feel sure that a few pages relating to it will not be unacceptable.

Read the complete essay at the Atlantic Monthly, where “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph” was first published 150 years ago this June.
(Less anthologized, but equally lyrical and inspired is Holmes’ follow-up essay from 1863, “The Doings of the Sunbeam.”)

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Oscar Muñoz, “Línea del destino (Line of destiny),” 2006, single screen projection




A girl named Bice, someone’s ex-sister-in-law, and another named Lydia, someone else’s ex-secretary, asked him please to take a snapshot of them while they were playing ball among the waves. He consented, but since in the meanwhile he had worked out a theory in opposition to snapshots, he dutifully expressed it to the two friends:

“What drives you two girls to cut from the mobile continuum of your day these temporal slices, the thickness of a second? Tossing the ball back and forth, you are living in the present, but the moment the scansion of the frames is insinuated between your acts it is no longer the pleasure of the game that motivated you but, rather, that of seeing yourselves again in the future, of rediscovering yourselves in twenty years’ time, on a piece of yellowed cardboard (yellowed emotionally, even if modern printing procedures will preserve it unchanged). The taste for the spontaneous, natural, lifelike snapshot kills spontaneity, drives away the present. Photographed reality immediately takes on a nostalgic character, of joy fled on the wings of time, a commemorative quality, even if the picture was taken the day before yesterday. And the life that you live in order to photograph it is already, at the outset, a commemoration of itself. To believe that the snapshot is more true than the posed portrait is a prejudice…”

So saying, Antonino darted around the two girls in the water, to focus on the movements of their game and cut out of the picture the dazzling glints of the sun on the water. In a scuffle for the ball, Bice, flinging herself on the other girl, who was submerged, was snapped with her behind in close-up, flying over the waves. Antonino, so as not to lose this angle, had flung himself back in the water while holding up the camera, nearly drowning.

“They all came out well, and this one’s stupendous,” they commented a few days later, snatching the proofs from each other. They had arranged to meet at the photography shop. “You’re good; you must take some more of us.”

Antonino had reached the conclusion that it was necessary to return to posed subjects, in attitudes denoting their social position and their character, as in the nineteenth century. His antiphotographic polemic could be fought only from within the black box, setting one kind of photography against another.

“I’d like to have one of those old box cameras,” he said to his girl friends, “the kind you put on a tripod. Do you think it’s still possible to find one?”

“Hmm, maybe at some junk shop…”

“Let’s go see.”

The girls found it amusing to hunt for this curious object; together they ransacked flea markets, interrogated old street photographers, followed them to their lairs. In those cemeteries of objects no longer serviceable lay wooden columns, screens, backdrops with faded landscapes; everything that suggested an old photographer’s studio, Antonino bought. In the end he managed to get hold of a box camera, with a bulb to squeeze. It seemed in perfect working order. Antonino also bought an assortment of plates. With the girls helping him, he set up the studio in a room of his apartment, all fitted out with old-fashioned equipment, except for two modern spotlights.

Now he was content. “This is where to start,” he explained to the girls. “In the way our grandparents assumed a pose, in the convention that decided how groups were to be arranged, there was a social meaning, a custom, a taste, a culture. An official photograph, or one of a marriage or a family or a school group, conveyed how serious and important each role or institution was, but also how far they were all false or forced, authoritarian, hierarchical. This is the point: to make explicit the relationship with the world that each of us bears within himself, and which today we tend to hide, to make unconscious, believing that in this way it disappears, whereas…”

“Who do you want to have pose for you?”

“You two come tomorrow, and I’ll begin by taking some pictures of you in the way I mean.”

“Say, what’s in the back of your mind?” Lydia asked, suddenly suspicious. Only now, as the studio was all set up, did she see that everything about it had a sinister, threatening air. “If you think we’re going to come and be your models, you’re dreaming!”

Bice giggled with her, but the next day she came back to Antonino’s apartment, alone.

The Adventure of a Photographer