Monday, December 27, 2010

Down River

Yesterday. I was cruising Belmont Shores the hip beach section of Long Beach for images. The sun was nicely diffused by some residue cloud moisture from the previous day's rain. I eventually meandered my way to the Alamitos Bay side of the peninsula. The tide was low and laying neatly along the beach, parallel to the shoreline, was a column of debris. The refuse was an olio of plastic, styrofoam, tree branches, and other crap that had made the long journey from its origin, the streets of East Los Angeles county. Most of it had probably already been in the storm drains, lying dormant until it was swept up by the recent rains and finally flushed through the storm drain's intestines flowing into the San Gabriel river and eventually swept out to sea. Conversely and ironically this junk finds its way back to land by the eastward ocean currents emanating from where the storm came. Dumped on the beaches where it now rests for those who live in very nice coastal properties to view while sipping on their morning coffee. This debris was able to survive the long journey because it's an entwined mix of floatable and hardy non-biodegradable detritus. One, although I would not recommend it, could safely walk barefooted on it because its sharp edges had been worn smooth due to its long eroding journey along asphalt, concrete, the ocean's bottom, then finally buffed by the fine sand of the beach. The debris would not entice such strong feelings of disgust if it consisted merely of broken branches and other naturally occurring organic matter; however, the ugly imprint of modern civilization has it's footprint all over it. I picture, staring at a remnant of a Styrofoam cup, someone however long ago discarding it after exceeding its purpose without thought or consequence. To that at best uneducated person it was only a useless expendable cup, but multiply that by hundreds of thousands and what results is what you see on my post. And what washes up on the beaches is only a minutia of what ends up in the ocean. Where do all those cigarette butts go that you see smokers toss out of their cars. Do you think those butts are biodegradable?
There was another photographer also documenting the mess. He blamed the debris on corporations for producing the non-bidegradble mess. This made me laugh, knowing how the new congress will attempt to whittle away at environmental regulations enacted under the Obama administration, which they label as job killers. I disagree with my colleague. I say, look no further than us. We did this.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Keeping it Analog

In Brian's last class I showed my tintype of Larry. This image, taken directly onto a tintype with an 8x10 camera, with 300 mm lens wide open at 5.6, was a 4 second exposure. Fortunately, Larry was able to hold very still. I am still learning how to spread the emulsion onto the plate as you can see by dark spots on the edge of the plate. I feel they work for this image, but my inability to spread the emulsion evenly made many of the plates unusable. But I got one, and in the end that's all that matters. You can have a successful shoot if you have 99 horrible images but one great photograph. Likewise, you can have a painfully unsuccessful shoot if you have thousands of just good images.
One of the other students asked me if I would ever do a tintype from an inkjet transparency-- a contact print. I answered absolutely not, just like I can't imagine making a platinum/palladium print from a digitally produced negative. To many I might seem stuck in the past, which admittedly I am, but I consider using digital technology to obtain an analog affect cheating. It's an insult to the masters. She seemed a bit surprised by my response.
As is in most instances the better answer came to me much, much later. What I love about making tintype images in camera is the result is first generation-directly from light rays to emulsion, very much like a polaroid. There is also the mystery of not knowing I have an image until after the required fix time and I turn on the light in the darkroom . The bottle of Ag plus does not come with a film speed, although after some trial and error I start by assuming it has an ISO of about 1/2. And it doesn't hurt to play it safe and overexpose it. But that's the magic of the tintype process-- it's inexact.
On the other hand if I was to make a tintype with a digital transparency it would be indirect; the image would have to make its way through at least two computers (I consider an printer a computer), and the soul of the image would be lost in a binary code. And what you would see embedded in the tintype would not be nearly as magical.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Artistic Profile

Hi All,
In August the city of Lakewood sent out a video crew to film me at Phantom Galleries where I had my show, Lakewood, a Photographic Journal of Sacred American Journal. I thought Jerome Academia, who produced and edited the piece did a marvelous job. It's a bit awkward for me to watch myself. As I can so easily see the flaws of my photographs; I can, likewise, see the flaws of my character. Cheers....

Monday, December 6, 2010


Sydney and I recently visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art primarily to see the current exhibition of William Eggleston. I have been an admirer of Eggleston’s work since I was introduced to it about ten years ago. Like many other of my contemporaries his pictures have and will continue to influence my own. But this evening rather than just appreciate Eggleston’s work, (Actually, I can never just appreciate photography, when I look at the work of others I have a terrible habit of torturing myself about my work. If I wish to merely enjoy art I’ll view sculpture and paintings, two mediums I have no intention of dithering in) I wanted to understand why his work is so revered.

I acutely studied Eggleston’s Color Dye Transfer Prints. The simple answer to my inquiry is he is a genius. He was/is able to do with a camera and color film what Miles Davis could do with a trumpet, Brando a script, Picasso a brush, and Updike a typewriter. They could take the same instrument their contemporaries used but do something their contemporaries couldn’t: take something simple and make it brilliant. William Eggleston was born with the innate talent to see an angle that composed a normally mundane chromatic scene into a two dimensional masterpiece.

In the forward of William Eggleston’s Guide, the book originally published in conjunction with Eggleson’s exhibit at The Museum of Modern Art in 1976, John Szarkowski explains that before Eggleston photographers were struggling with color film in their camera. Color photographs were either taken without consideration of the hues and form was ignored, or with pretty colors being the focus resulting in an image that, “comprises of beautiful colors in pleasing relationships” (Szarkowski 9), yet substantially meaningless. Eggleston was the first to be able to organize colors the way the greats of black and white photography mastered the composition of shadow and highlight.

Within his images I feel the touch of a jazz musician, an improviser of scenery who can twist a note or extend a beat that tickles the ear, or in Eggleston’s case the eye. In some of his images the scene is classically composed in perfect thirds as if to demonstrate to the viewer that he knows the rules. Then the next image, a famous photograph, of a white man in a suit in front of a black man wearing a white jacket both to right of a white car. At first glance this photograph is unsettling because it appears unbalanced. Yet, like an unmelodic Stravinsky opus it grows on me and I begin to admire its offbeat ness. The open car door, the pairs of trees that fall off into the background, the similarity of the two men’s posture and melancholic expressions, all sustain, within a monochromatic brownness, a 3-4 tempo that swirls around and around the white man’s red tie.

Many before me have tried to dissect Eggleston and his photographs, and from what I have read and seen the artist gives very little insight as to what motivates his imagery. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., a director at MOMA suspected that the inspiration for most of Eggleston’s work radiated “from a central circular core.” Eggleston’s response, perhaps a bit flippant, was that the composition of his work was based on the Confederate flag (11). This description is appropriately implied, not in composition, but in the theme of the photograph in the preceding paragraph. The references to the old south are obvious. Even though the two men stand in a similar pose there is a droop to the black man’s shoulders. Standing behind the white man, his white jacket without a tie, suggest the black man is subservient. The reference to the days of the confederate flag could not be clearer and more painful.

Eggleston once noted that he was at war with the obvious, and from my point of view there isn’t an obvious credo to his work. It’s feel and nonintellectual. Eggleson’s famous exhibit at MOMA in 1976 was initially harshly criticized. Hilton Kramer reviewing for the New York Times wrote, “the truth is, these pictures belong to the world of snapshot chic” (Weski). Perhaps there-in lies the answer to my original question: Eggleston was apt at conveying so much with an irreverent click of the shutter, and southern life of the 1960’s and 70’s is explicitly there.

Szarkowski, John William Eggleston’s Guide. New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.

Weski Thomas “William Eggleston: “The Tender-Cruel Camera.” American Suburb X February 2009