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Category Archives: Around the Web

Alex Webb, “US/Mexico Border (San Yisidro, CA),” c-print, 1979

I eagerly awaited the premier issue of Photography & Culture for so long that the new journal—edited by longtime favorites Val Williams, Alison Nordstrom, and Kathy Kubicki*—completely slipped my radar. The $40 price tag** also prevented me from pestering my local bookseller about the impending release date. This morning I was excited to learn that Berg Publishers has made the entire journal available free online, and my early impressions are very favorable. In their introductory letter, the editors state their intentions to “challenge the traditional language and mind-set of art history,” while fostering “new investigations of photographs.”

Photography has never been more interesting than it is today. Regarding this medium as it enters a state of flux, we are equally transfixed by the possibilities and implications of its technological advances, yet constantly refer to its past as we contemplate the ever renewing fascination with the archive. Photography & Culture will look at photography as an integral part of our contemporary culture, asking questions about a medium which, more than any other, illustrates our world, as well being a conduit for our imaginations, a provider of evidence and information and, at times, a kind of magic. It may also be a destroyer of illusions and a purveyor of horror.

Highlights from the table of contents include Shinrei Shashin: Photographs of Ghosts in Japanese Snapshots by Richard Chalfen, archival photographs of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated crew, and Geoffrey Batchen’s review of Dutch Eyes: A Critical History of Photography in the Netherlands. Hopefully, the editors will be able to maintain a critical tone that is academically rigorous yet vigorously readable, so that these rich topics germinate outside the confines of museum and university libraries.

*Kubicki probably doesn’t qualify as a “longtime favorite,” as I just heard of her this morning. I can, however, attest to the professional company she keeps.

**The per-issue newsstand price is $40, although non-institutional subscriptions are only $65. Volume 2 will be published this November, and then it goes to thrice-yearly in ’09.

Noel Rodo-Vankeulen, from the series Nocturne, 2007-8

Gentle readers,

My apologies for the leaden dearth of activity on That’s a Negative; freelance life is in overdrive at the moment, and I haven’t had the opportunity to compose anything substantial for the blog. My “to post” backlog is enormous, with half-written reviews of great shows in Portland and Seattle, previews of exhibitions in both of those cities, thoughts on several new books, and other tokens of photo-miscellany. Normal posting should return by next week; in the meantime, a few quick thoughts:

If you’re in Seattle, Isaac Layman’s show at Lawrimore Project is a must-see. There are a few aspects of the work I still harbor reservations about, but rarely do I have an ongoing mental argument with a show for this length of time. It’s as smart and bold as any gallery show I’ve seen in Seattle, and Layman is clearly an artist who has given the nature of photography a lot of consideration.

Next Tuesday, August 12, artist TJ Norris and I are co-presenting a mini-slide jam at a Pecha Kucha event, to be held at the corner of NW 8th & Couch. I’ve never been to one of these, but participants show 20 slides at 20 seconds apiece, so at eight presenters, it should be a wham-bam, visual overload of a free event. (Other participants include the project manager of Maya Lin’s Confluence Project; bike advocate Meghan Sinnott; and a former curator of the Harvard Film Archive.) TJ and I curated a jpegshow (formerly slideshow) that zigzags from Klansmen to Trekkies to hot air balloons. Hopefully we’ll figure out how to tie it all together by next week. (Event is Tues, Aug 12, 34 NW 8th, 7:30 pm [starts at 8:20], sliding scale.)

Noel Rodo-Vankeulen’s Nocturne series strike me as the antithesis of every tedious trend currently being played out in contemporary photography. I’ll defend my position soon enough, wishing all the while that I was able to check out his prints on view next week at Brooklyn’s Bond Street Gallery.

Lastly, what’s happening San Francisco? If a particular photo enthusiast were passing through in a week or two, what would said stalwart be foolish in missing? I’m planning on catching Amy Stein at Robert Koch; Double Exposure at the Museum of the African Disapora; RongRong at SF Camerawork; Lee Miller at SFMOMA; and perhaps Edwin Hale Lincoln at the deYoung. Have I missed anything fantastic?

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.

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.

Stephen Spurling III, “Logger’s Bend, Gordon River, Tasmania,” 1906, silver gelatin print

The National Gallery of Australia created a wonderfully thorough site for Picture Paradise: Asia-Pacific Photography 1840s-1940, which opens this Friday in conjunction with Vivid, Australia’s first National Photography Festival. In 2006, NGA Director Ron Radford announced his intention to build “the first museum collection dedicated to representing the history of photography across Asia and the Pacific.” In the two intervening years, they acquired nearly 10,000 photographs, with an emphasis on Indonesian, South and Southeast Asian, and Australian images, ranging from 19th century colonialist documentary work to high Modernism. “This exhibition,” reads the website, “will be the first survey of the history of photography from India and Sri Lanka through Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific to the west coast of North America, from the formative decades of the 1840s to 1860s to the early 1940s and advent of the Second World War.” The National Gallery has 99 images from the exhibition on view, as well as a ton of supplemental material, including a fine short history of Asian-Pacific photography by curator Gael Newton.

Francis Chit, “‘Golden Mountain’ Inside the Palace on the Occasion of the Ceremonial Haircut of the Heir to the Throne,” 1891, albumen print

Charles Scowen, “Nutmeg,” 1895, albumen print

Charles Shepherd, “Afreedis,” c.1862, albumen print

J.W. Lindt, “Body of Joe Byrne, Member of the Kelly Gang, Hung up for Photography, Benalla,” 1880, silver gelatin print

Olive Cotton, “Papyrus,” 1938, silver gelatin print

Lillian Louisa Pitts, “Pretending I was making the animals at the zoo,” from My Summer Holiday at Merrigum, Victoria, c.1915

“He calls me over by himself (recalls Gere)… and we’re looking at a picture and he says, ‘This is really poor quality.'”

The first thing you will do as a photo critic is ask yourself two basic questions of each and every photograph that you view:

•Is the photograph a technically perfect image?

•Is the photograph an aesthetically pleasing image?

If the image cannot meet these two basic requirements—technically perfect and aesthetically pleasing—you should stop the critique. Any photographer who cannot create a technically perfect and aesthetically pleasing photograph should not expect to have his or her work exhibited to the viewing public.

Enroll now: Photo Criticism School

Melanie Bonajo, from (Our) Nature Has No Boss, published in Foam Magazine #15

Big thanks to 2point8 for steering me to, my favorite time-waster of the week. Billing itself as “somewhere between a blog and a directory,” combines the best elements of Useful Photography, Evidence, August Sander, bad product photography (my Achilles heel of campy delights), Google Image, and Yahoo Answers for a clusterfuck of un-self conscious, web 2.0 vernacular giddiness. On your visit to the “Billboard Charts for gadgets,” be sure to check out Ghost Particle Detectors, DIY Frankenstein Lab Items, Drug-Smuggling Submarines, and, of course, the Walls of Death.

Although it might not have the initial sexiness of other free online photo mags like Seesaw, Purpose, and 1000 Words, one would be remiss in not checking out Volume 1, Issue 1 of Photographies, a new biannual journal from Routledge that “aims to open up a forum for thinking about photography within a trans/disciplinary context, open to different methods, models, disciplines and tactics.” Sure, it’s an academic journal, but I think it’s about time that academics and artists/enthusiasts declare a working truce, as we’re all in this for the same reasons, although our “methods, models, disciplines and tactics” may differ. I’d suggest that scholarly writers begin to reign in some of the impenetrable jargon, and to consider putting those massive brains to use for an audience beyond their fellow conference-goers, just as I’d urge the academically adverse to be a little more open to theoretical writing , for the sake of being exposed to some frequently mind-blowing propositions. Give and take, give and take. And since Photographies is giving it away free, that seems like a good place whence to start taking. May I recommend “Traumatic Images” by Jessica Catherine Lieberman, “Blessed be the Photograph” by Juha Suonpää, or “Digital Imaging Goes to War” by André Gunthert? (via the slightly cryptic pentimento/polarama)

This some slipped under my radar until I was penniless and book browsing the other day, but Geoffrey Batchen has penned a monograph on Henry Fox Talbot for Phaidon, which looks gorgeous and is officially at the top of my summer wish list. Batchen is perhaps the leading Talbot scholar in America these days, and his short essay on “The Latticed Window” in Singular Images is one of the most extraordinary short works of photo history I’ve ever read. Until I get my hands on the new Phaidon book, I’ll have to content myself with The Correspondence of Henry Fox Talbot, and unbelievable collection of nearly 10,000 letters to and from the Wiltshire genius.

Although I have yet to see a hard copy, the new issue of Foam looks like another winner, with fascinating-looking work from Melanie Bonajo, Moira Ricci, and Toshiko Okanoue all standing out. These three artists only contribute to my recurrent but entirely unscientific belief that women are completely kicking guys’ asses in contemporary photography. I’m not willing to defend this to the death just yet, but when I think about whose work I really love these days, women tend to dominate the list. (On further reflection, I might be going overboard at the expense of some of my other favorites.)

If, like me, you hadn’t scraped together enough frequent flyer miles to make it to PhotoEspaña this year, We Make Money Not Art was gracious enough to fill us in on the good times and even better photography that we missed in two mustread blog posts. There’s enough new work in these reports to keep me busy all day. (via Page 291; image at left is from To Russia With Love by Monica Menez.)

Harry Gruyaert, from TV Shots, c. 1972

Last night I discovered Guy Lane’s sporadic but impressive blog at Foto8. Among the posts was Do Not Adjust Your Set, a solidly written article about Harry Gruyaert’s TV Shots of the early ’70s, which I was entirely unfamiliar with. From Lane’s post:

Gruyaert’s subject – back in the early 70’s – was television, photographed at the moment of its ascendancy when radiant colour began to replace monotone black and white. TV Shots comprises a series of stills from sitcoms, dog shows, news bulletins and movies, ad breaks and interviews; Come Dancing and the Apollo flights; Coronation Street and the Olympic Games. The result is a sustained barrage of shockingly inconsequential visual noise in which moon landings and terrorist attacks are served up alongside game shows and costume dramas…

The photographs remained a controversial body of work even a decade later when Gruyaert was admitted to Magnum. “Some people were flabbergasted when they saw it and said “Jesus, we can’t take in a guy like this.” I made it in to the agency, but some were very much against my admission because they worked in that tradition of black and white, socially involved photography. But I think TV Shots is socially involved. I wanted to give a message; I don’t know if it worked.”

Harry Gruyaert at Magnum

Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee, “Apple Orchard, Manzanar Japanese-American Relocation Camp, Owens Valley, California,” 1995, c-print

The blog post I had just begun contended that far too few photography writers archive their work online. Drawing a name from the proverbial hat to test my premise, I googled “Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men,” and to my delight, a pdf of Deborah Bright’s essay appeared at the top of the results. If you’ve never read this po-mo classic, the internet (and Deborah Bright) just made it easier for you.

Here’s what Bright has to say about her essay:

Probably my most widely known essay, “Of Mother Nature” was an attempt to answer the question: “Why are there no great women landscape photographers?” With twenty years of hindsight, I can appreciate the polemical tone of the essay as an artifact of its time in the mid-1980s (raging gender wars within the Society for Photographic Education where I was active in the Women’s Caucus, an exciting energy as artists and scholars were speaking truth to power in the academy and art world and inventing new critical tools to dismantle entrenched minority privilege.) Those heady days seem distant, now, as conservative backlash has taken its toll. However, the fact that this essay still strikes a chord with so many young people indicates to me that it’s still doing its good work.

This essay was originally published in Exposure 23:1 (Winter 1985).

Download “Of Mother Nature and Marlboro Men” here, and find more of Bright’s essays here.

(I’m also happy to report that the hardest part of this entry was deciding which great female landscape photographer to use in illustrating the piece. There are so many to choose from… )

Virginia Beahan and Laura McPhee

Thomas Tulis, “Untitled (See Rock City),” 1991, cibachrome print

[Ed.—When I started pulling together links and articles for this web roundup, I was halfway through before realizing they were all somehow tied to my years as a photography student in Texas during the mid-90s. But I figured if Artforum could run two consecutive issues devoted to their editor’s Reagan-riffic glory days, one Around the Web about the “Photoshop 4” years wouldn’t hurt. This post goes out to everyone who lived through this.]*

Just as most photographers have one picture or one image-maker who inspired them to pick up a camera, A.D. Coleman was the single impetus for my interest in photo criticism. Critical Focus and Light Readings were my sacred texts in college, and they inspired me to start making sense of the exhibitions I was voraciously consuming by writing out my analysis and opinion. (I really wish I could find those early stabs at the work of Mariko Mori, Cassio Vasconcellos, and Thomas Tulis.) When I saw Coleman in Houston a few months ago, he said that he was essentially retired from journalistic criticism, and had turned his focus to poetry and curatorial projects (including a retrospective of the wonderful Arno Rafael Minniken and a group exhibition of Chinese documentary photographers), and writes essays at a more measured pace than in previous decades. He also maintains C: The Speed of Light, which along with ZoneZero, were the sites for photonerds in those early years of the interweb. I was poking around on Coleman’s online newsletter today, and ran across a typically smart and readable essay about photographic experimentation that he wrote in 2000 for the exhibition this is [not] a photograph. You can read it here (pdf), but probably for a short time only, before it heads off for the Photography Criticism CyberArchive.

Mark Steinmetz, from the series “South Central,” 1991-3

Speaking of Thomas Tulis, things seem very inactive on his front, as far as I discern from Googleville. He, William Greiner, and Mark Steinmetz were my Southern-photographer heroes in college, but Tulis has an elusive presence online today. There’s a fairly comical Wiki (“Tulis lives a very simple life.”), a five-year old article about starving artists in Atlanta, an online gallery of his paintings (who knew?), which are… um… different…, and an Amy Stein post inquiring as to his whereabouts that went unanswered. (Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the pictures I discovered of Tulis shirtless. At least we know he looks good.) Thomas—the internet calls you. Please turn up online to claim your Recently Rediscovered/Unfairly Obscured Photographer e-card!

There’s been a rash of online video interviews with photographers making the rounds lately, but how about taking a break, making your English teacher happy, and reading interviews with contemporary masters over at the Journal of Contemporary Art. Take a pick from a huge selection of gems from the mid-90s, such as Uta Barth, Larry Clark, Miwa Yanagi, Joan Fontcuberta, and Cindy Sherman, who I think is really going to go somewhere with this photography thing if she sticks with it!

Finally, in keeping with this theme of Pecker-era photography, I’d like to send a shout-out to See: A Journal of Visual Culture, which was, in my opinion, the finest American photo magazine of the decade, and which I sorely miss.

*[Doesn’t it seem odd that Metamorphoses was reviewed here?]

Fred Muram, “Re-Conjoined Twins,” 2006 (Fred Muram and Mike Simi of Fire Retard Ants)

On the topic of passing out thank-yous, I have endless gratitude for the incoming links and nice things that have been said about That’s a Negative online and in emails. (I’ll write back soon, I promise!) This was especially cool: Regina Hackett at the Seattle P-I compiled her top ten eleven photo blogs last week, and That’s a Negative was first up to the plate! Zoe Strauss, I Heart Photograph, Fire Retard Ants (by Seattle artists Mike Simi and Fred Muram) all make the list, as does Alec Soth, which is totally cheating.

That’s a Negative doesn’t have a blogroll because when I tried compiling one, it looked like every single blogroll on every single blog I visited. So on the occasion of Hackett’s Top Ten Eleven List, here’s mine, in alphabetical order:

1000 Words
Lens Culture
No Caption Needed
Notes on Politics, Theory, & Photography
Page 291
Shane Lavalette
State of the Art
We Can’t Paint

Honorable mentions to everyone on my Google reader, and special lifetime achievement award to (duh) Conscientious.