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Category Archives: Photo History

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Laurie Simmons, “Big Camera, Small Camera,” silver gelatin print, 1977


This was indeed a pivotal moment for art. Pictures Generation features women who entered the art world at levels equal in importance to their male counterparts for the first time. Often, they surpassed men in terms of invention and impact. Most of the women—Kruger, Levine, Lawler, Sherman, Charlesworth, Bloom and Laurie Simmons—worked with photographic imagery, partly because photography was still regarded as a bastard child of art. This was a field they could have pretty much to themselves, while gaining the support, rather than the envy, of the bad-boy painters around them.

“I turned to photography because I thought it was the dominant language of our culture,” says Charlesworth, who is represented in the show by photographs from her first two series of newspaper appropriation works, “Modern History” (1978) and “Stills” (1977). “I remember seeing Richard Prince’s first show at Anina Nosei and thinking, ‘Oh! This guy is interested in the same stuff I am,’” Charlesworth recalls. “Photography suited the things we wanted to address.”

Prince, the token male in the New York group, was taking a critical approach to appropriated photographs, most famously of the romantic Marlboro Man cowboy. But no man in the 1970s could have made Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80). Nearly a dozen works from the series are in the Met show. Here, Sherman presents female movie stereotypes with a caustic humor that mocks the way men fantasized about women, while giving women who internalize those stereotypes a sharp poke in the ribs.

Bloom remembers seeing Levine’s appropriated Walker Evans photos and thinking, “Oh my God, that is so radical and so insane. It was also brilliant. Sherrie didn’t address any of the esthetic issues, just narrowed it down to the most essential idea about what constitutes ownership of an image, and that was it.”

Read “Photo Play” in its entirety at the Art in America website

The Pictures Generation at the Met

via AFC

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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.”)

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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

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


Big thanks to 2point8 for steering me to Oobject.com, my favorite time-waster of the week. Billing itself as “somewhere between a blog and a directory,” Oobject.com 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

Roger Fenton, “The Queen’s Target,” 1860, albumen silver print


Thank you to everybody who came to “Before there was Ballen” yesterday at Quality Pictures. I was thrilled to have such a great turnout and a provocative discussion about Roger’s work at the end of the presentation. Extra thanks to Erik Schneider at Quality Pictures for hosting the event and supporting challenging photography, as well as the ideas that surround it.

You can read two very kind writeups of the talk here and here. And to answer the question put forth in Carlisle’s summary: Yes, there are plans to publish BtwB, and that’ll be announced here when the time comes. (Thank you for asking!) In the meantime, I think That’s a Negative will take a well-deserved Ballen Break™ in order to focus on some of the other amazing photography out there that’s calling my name. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume momentarily.