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Category Archives: Writers on Photography

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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

untitledImplosion_smJim Kazanjian, Untitled (Implosion), Archival Pigment Print, 2009


Aberrations, an exhibition of Jim Kazanjian’s hallucinatory photo-composites are on view at 23 Sandy through the end of the month. Kazanjian’s images are pretty amazing, and I was happy to pen a short essay about his work, which can be downloaded here (PDF). Aberrations is on view through Saturday, May 30.

Chen QuilinChen Quilin, from the Garden series, 2007. From China Urban at Reed College.


Readers of the Oregonian might have spotted a few of my reviews in the paper last month. This new gig is particularly exciting to me for two reasons: I haven’t penned local reviews on a regular basis in a few years, and the O is the only daily I’ve ever written for. So far, they’ve been great editors and have been more than generous with their creative allowances, so I’m excited to help the paper expand its critical presence in the local art community.

The three pieces I’ve written so far can be read by following the links below:

Review: Susan Seubert at Froelick Gallery

In its best moments, Seubert’s balancing act of horror and beauty yields artworks that are exquisitely tense and captivating. At other times, though, the two qualities work against each other, creating the sensation that the photos want their proverbial cake and to eat it, too.

“Science/Fiction,” Seubert’s sixth show with Charles Froelick, walks this tightrope with a lighter touch than we’ve come to expect, and employs an array of techniques and strategies to explore notions of home and family, scientific achievement, natural beauty and — just to keep things interesting — mass annihilation.

A Short Editorial Recap of Photolucida

While the Portland nonprofit has garnered a stellar national reputation for serving the needs of its conference attendees, Photolucida is still figuring out its relationship to the local community. While early incarnations of the biennial emphasized citywide exhibitions and public photography events, the increasing popularity of its portfolio reviews has made it even harder for the small organization to organize broader programming.

Review: China Urban at Reed College

Chen Qiulin’s video cycle and color photographs bear poetic witness to the demolition of her hometown, which was flattened and flooded to make way for the [Three Gorges] Dam. Beginning with “Bei Fu,” Qiulin intersperses footage of Wanzhou’s destruction with operatic vignettes of costumed characters engaged in their own destructive dramas. Subsequent videos continue this blend of documentary and performance practices, casting the regions’ drowning death as the central arc of Qiulin’s epic Chinese opera. The artist’s most recent video, “Garden,” follows two migrant workers as they haul cumbersome vases of artificial peonies by foot on an all-day journey through the dense, hazy city. However unnatural, their pink floral arrangements are bright explosions of color in the dingy landscape of overpasses and narrow alleyways.

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Tim Lee, “Untitled (James Osterberg, 1970),” C-print, 2004


GLOOMY SKIES MAKE GREAT SOFTBOXES
NORTHWEST PHOTOGRAPHY NOW

A Presentation by Chas Bowie

PNCA • 1241 NW Johnson, Portland OR
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 • 12:30 pm

In Gloomy Skies Make Great Softboxes, Portland art critic Chas Bowie surveys the state of contemporary Northwest photography, assessing the work of regional artists who are actively cultivating new photographic idioms and avenues of exploration.

The Pacific Northwest has a longstanding and multi-faceted engagement with photography, as evidenced in part by the legacy of Portland’s Blue Sky Gallery; Seattle’s acclaimed Monsen Collection; and Vancouver BC’s concentration of noted “photoconceptualists.” These disparate traditions are not only well-documented, but markedly at odds with one another, rendering any Northwest photography “scene” more compartmentalized than unified.

As the demographic makeup of the Northwest shifts, however, so too does the application of photography in the fine arts. Gloomy Skies Make Great Softboxes demonstrates how emerging artists such as Isaac Layman (Seattle), Andrew O’Brien (Eugene), and Holly Andres (Portland) are transcending regional aesthetic trends and moving toward an increasingly progressive and critical mode of image-making.

peterbrown4lPeter Brown, “Snapping Turtle Sunning on the Road, Sand Hills, Nebraska,” C print, 2005


The Fall/Winter issue of SPOT arrived today, sporting a cool cover from emerging Houston artist Ariane Roesch. The Houston Center for Photography‘s twice-yearly mag is a critical and sentimental favorite, so I’m pleased to be included in the new issue with a review of Peter Brown and Kent Haruf’s collaborative ode to the High Plains,  West of Last Chance. The review has been added to the Selected Writings section of this site, but I encourage everyone to hunt down an actual copy of this handsome photography magazine for themselves.

While West of Last Chance never set off to be an encyclopedic record of the region (the Midwest’s penitentiaries, army bases, cookie-cutter suburbs, and migrant workers are among the absent), Brown and Haruf depict a sort of lyric taxonomy in their subjects: Hand-painted signs, pickup trucks, superhighways and gravel roads, Wal-marts, grain elevators, crosses, high school mascots, diners, swallows, post offices, cattle, and mechanics all coalesce into an ambiguous geography of unequivocal alone-ness. In one lonely Nebraska highway scene, Brown presents a suitcase-sized tortoise, camouflaged by the baked sandy asphalt of the roadway he paddles across, like a holdover apparition from the Plain’s Paleolithic era.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.)

Nan Goldin, “Jens’ Hand on Clemens’ Back, Paris, 2001,” cibachrome print


I just added a review of Nan Goldin’s massive collection of post-Ballad photography, The Devil’s Playground, to the Selected Writings page. This review originally appeared in SPOT, Fall 2005.

Fans of Goldin’s work have had nearly 25 years to watch her career skyrocket and lull, and through her photographs, to watch her and her extended family grow. It is more than a little depressing, then, to see her continue to struggle with her drug addictions in these recent works. After all these years, it feels as if we are seeing reruns, or at the least, a destructive cycle set in an endless spin. Even Brian, the abusive villain of Ballad of Sexual Dependency, makes a few appearances The Devil’s Playground; and it is impossible not to feel a disappointment that his presence lingers in her life. If in art we look for redemption and solace, we might yield to the title of Goldin’s new book. As romantically tragic as her photographs are, more so than ever before, the artist and her subjects remain trapped in a purgatorial playground where they cyclically reenact the same pleasures and the same pains while the audience watches on, devastated by the presentation but hungry for progress.

I just added a tabbed page to That’s a Negative that will host a selection of my published pieces about photography. I will add essays and reviews gradually, and am kicking things off with a creative piece from many lifetimes ago, called “Proposals for an Imaginary Photographer.” I don’t plan to run these older pieces in their entirety here, but am making an exception for “Proposals,” which I wrote in that faraway year of 2000. This was originally published two years later in Glasstire, reprinted here exactly as it first appeared, minus a few typos/formatting errors.



Proposals for an Imaginary Photographer


Pretend aliens have landed on Earth. Document their presence. Look for clues. What ceases to be suspect? Can you be sure? Convince me.

Make 36 religious photographs that make no overt reference to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other organized religion.

Anonymous, “Human Jigsaw by an American Unit,” c. 1925


Show me a storyboard of failure. In reverse, does it spell success?

Please imagine, just for a day, that you are a dwarf. Nobody looks at you but your children. You can not drive, get a job, nor earn your father’s love. You have never been kissed on the lips. What does today look like?

Would you like to be an action painter? A physicist in repose? An actor between jobs or a Tejano musician at 1:30 Saturday morning? What time would you wake up if you worked the press line for a major newspaper? How many earplugs would be on the front seat of your car? Where are you going on that plane overhead? What did you do fourteen years ago? Fifty years from now?

Herbert Bayer, “Self-Portrait Before a Mirror,” 1932


In a boutique, I saw a bar of soap with a photograph inside of it. What picture would you clean yourself with?

What does a low-rider photograph look like?

Show me a cycle. Now a tri-cycle.

Anders Petersen, from “Nobody Has Seen it All,” n.d.


Take vacation photographs without changing your daily routine.

Please pinpoint, in one photograph, the midpoint between sex and death.

What is the strangest picture you know? Whatever pops into your head, re-photograph it.

Arno Minnkinen, “Self-portrait with Daniel, White House Overlook, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona,” 1995


Propose a condensed historical view — of your life, of language, of art, in a suite of photographs. Does it have a soundtrack?

Do you ever think about God?

What is the closest you can get to a barking dog or a naked senior citizen?

Please make a picture for someone you miss.