Wednesday, 2 September 2009

BILL TILDEN

Big Bill Tilden

In honour of the 2009 US Open, here's a tip of the cap and a wave of the racquet to Bill Tilden, a native Philadelphian, and one of the greatest tennis champions of all time.

Friday, 28 August 2009

TED KENNEDY

The Kennedy Family, Hyannis Port
c. 1948

Edward Moore Kennedy
22 Feb 1932 - 25 Aug 2009

"We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make. I have lived a blessed life."

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

MARCO QUERAL

Photographer Marco Queral shakes hands with a Humpback Whale

What a busy summer it's been. Since I last posted on here, I've been out to Colorado and gone hiking with Zeke, the wonder dog. I've been to Philadelphia for a Phillies game. I've been to Brooklyn for a friend's wedding; for another friend's birthday (what was Ralph Lauren doing there?); for an artist's exhibition. I've been out kayaking on the Hudson River.

There are a number of pictures I want to post that would have been timely during the past month. I'll catch you up with them in no particular order. Look for upcoming images by Julius Shulman, Robert Capa, Bruce Weber, pictures of Woodstock, and even Ralph Lauren (because how often are YOU hanging out at some dive bar in BK w Ralph??).

In the meantime, I'm resuming the blog with this picture of the underwater photographer Marco Queral and a humpback whale. It seems fitting that my last post was of a man on the moon, and this one is of a man under the sea with a 50 ton whale. I am wonder-full.

Monday, 20 July 2009

NEIL ARMSTRONG

On 20 July 1969, Mission Commander Neil Armstrong & Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon. As the lunar module touched down on the moon, Aldrin declared "Houston, Tranquility Base, here. The Eagle has landed." At 10:56 pm Armstrong began his descent to the moon's surface. He stepped off the Eagle and onto the moon, the first human ever to walk on another planet. His words still resonate today: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The event was broadcast back to Earth; at least 600 million people watched live, as Armstrong & Aldrin walked on the moon. Walter Cronkite, who passed away 2 days ago, anchored the CBS news desk and exclaimed "Oh boy!"

Forty years later, it's been suggested that NASA was too concerned with collecting rocks and not enough with the bigger picture. Tom Wolfe, the author of The Right Stuff, writing in The New York Times, complained that "NASA...neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers." But in looking for the meaning of the bigger picture, we sometimes forget to look at the pictures themselves. The images snapped by Neil Armstrong have lost none of their power. They are thrilling and, literally, wonderful. Armstrong and Aldrin left behind a plaque that stated "We came in peace for all mankind," and took away the pictures that are a lasting testament to one of our greatest achievements, our finest hours.

Friday, 17 July 2009

RYAN MCGINLEY

Dash Upstate
2002

Dash Snow, who rebelled against his privileged and art-loving family to become a promising young New York artist in his own right, died Monday night at a hotel in the East Village. He was 27 and lived in Manhattan.
His death, at Lafayette House, on East Fourth Street, was confirmed by his grandmother, the art collector and philanthropist Christophe de Menil. The cause was a drug overdose, she said.
Mr. Snow was known to be a heroin addict, but Ms. de Menil said he had been in rehab in March and had been off drugs until very recently.
Mr. Snow was a rebel as young as 13, when his parents — Taya Thurman, a daughter of Ms. de Menil’s, and Christopher Snow, a musician — sent him to a reformatory-like school in Georgia. He stayed there two years. After his release, he returned to New York and began living on his own. With no more than a ninth-grade education, he was largely self taught. His art would eventually include photography, drawing, collage, installation, zines, film and video. But he began, in his teens, as a graffiti artist known by the tag “Sace.”
Handsome, heavily tattooed, with waist-length blond hair and a full beard, he soon became something of a downtown legend. He began taking Polaroids of the sex- and drug-fueled young bohemian circles in which he moved, recording his life and times in a style similar to that of his close friend Ryan McGinley and older artists like Nan Goldin and Larry Clark. Several of these images were included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial.
Mr. Snow had his first solo show in 2005, at Rivington Arms, a gallery on the Lower East Side. (His work is now represented by Peres Projects of Los Angeles and Berlin.) By then, Mr. Snow had become close with a group of artists that included Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen and Dan Colen, all of whom were experimenting with appropriation, or found-image, art in various mediums.
He began using newspapers in different ways, drawing in colored pencil, for example, on historic images, like a photograph of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. He made large collages out of headlines and strange, delicate, sexually suggestive ones that evoked the medium’s Dada origins. He had also started making short Super 8 films and converting them to video.
Sexuality, violence and life’s fragility were frequent themes in Mr. Snow’s work, but there was also an air of exuberant misbehavior. A 2007 article in New York magazine, “Warhol’s Children,” highlighted Mr. Snow’s art, antics and underground stature, bringing his notoriety to a wider audience. It mentioned that he and his friends liked to turn hotel rooms into “hamster nests” by littering them with torn-up telephone books.
That summer, Mr. Snow and Mr. Colen went public with this practice. In their installation “Nest,” they filled Deitch Projects, a SoHo gallery, with several feet of shredded phonebooks and invited visitors to hang out, party and add graffiti to the walls. Many cooperated.
Mr. Snow was born in Manhattan in 1981 to a family whose cultural contributions included the Menil Collection in Houston and the Dia Center for the Arts in Manhattan and Beacon, N.Y. When he was 18, he married Agathe Aparru, now the artist Agathe Snow. The marriage ended in divorce.
In addition to his grandmother and his parents, Mr. Snow is survived by a grandfather, Robert Thurman; his sister, Caroline Snow; his brother, Maxwell Snow; his companion, Jade Berreau, and their daughter, Secret, all of Manhattan.
- Roberta Smith, NY TIMES, July 15, 2009

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Thursday, 9 July 2009

GORDON PARKS

Canadian Pianist Glenn Gould Playing Concert Grand Piano as He Records Bach's Goldberg Variations in Recording Studio
1955

Glenn Gould's landmark 1955 GOLDBERG VARIATIONS, was as startling a debut in music as any, comparable to Bob Dylan or the Beatles. Glenn Gould represents pure intellectual energy as well as a particular kind of quirky secular culture that was all the rage in the supposedly conformist '50s. This was the age of Holden Caufield and James Dean, not to mention Thelonious Monk and Jackson Pollock. Gould fits in with all of them, far more than any other '50s classical musician, all of whom were merely bourgeois highbrows (with the notable exception of Maria Callas and maybe Toscanini). He also delivered on the promise of this debut throughout his career. While he may have declined physically, there was no concurrent artistic leveling off. Even his failures, like his series of trashed Mozart sonatas, are as fascinating as car wrecks.
- Joe Sarno

I first encountered a vintage print of this image at G.Ray Hawkins' Gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles. It was probably the late 1980s. I've always admired Glenn Gould's landmark recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations. I thought this picture captured some of Gould's eccentric genius. If you look closely, you'll notice that Gould has kicked off his shoes and is playing the piano in his stockinged feet, hunched over the keyboard in that inimical way he had. But there are two pairs of shoes! I always wondered: did Gould start recording earlier and go home that night in just his socks, only to return the day this picture was taken, wearing a new, second pair of shoes??

The print of this photograph ranks high on my list of The Pictures That Got Away. I should have bought this print on the spot, but for a variety of reasons (excuses, excuses), I didn't. But I know where it ended up. Almost a decade later, I discovered this very print up in Toronto, Canada. I always thought it was fitting that this image of Gould returned to Canada.
- Peter Hay Halpert

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

DON HUNSTEIN

Glenn Gould Testing 4 Steinways
1957

Glenn Gould's eccentricities and perfectionism were legendary, a part and parcel of his musical and artistic genius. His need to recreate the music he heard in his brain led him on a quest for the perfect piano, as responsive to his intuition as it was to his fingertips. In April 1957, Gould visited the Steinway factory in Astoria, Queens, and, after playing every piano in the showroom, had the final four contenders sent over to the 30th Street Studio for a more intensive audition. Don Hunstein caught the maestro, in one of the low-slung stool-like chairs he traveled with, hunched over the keys in search of the perfect sound.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

BILL HENSON

From Lux et Nox
2002

In a photograph, we have simultaneously an absolute presence in the evidential authority of the medium and an entirely impossible dreamscape.

What draws you in is what slips away.

And yet, this longing persists - this lack of connection to someone or something.

The sweet expression of a face, eyes cast down, thoughts turned inward...Such things send us back into a different space, but remarkably it's always our own.

Now as the light form a row of TV screens blends with the last rays of the sun, both play over a face staring into a shop window, and as the sound of the mall dies away, imagine as that face curves off into shadow.

Turn ever so slightly, a single camera movement brings the distant lights of a freeway into view, blinking through the darkening forest.

And the sun goes down behind the mountains.

- Bill Henson

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

STEVEN MEISEL

Untitled (From the Four Days in LA series - The Versace Pictures)
2000


Steven Meisel exhibited a number of large-format photographs that form the core of the acclaimed advertising campaign he shot for Versace. At a time when the teenager continues to be the cultural staple catered for in both the fashion and music world with Teen Vogue, boy bands and singers like Britney Spears, Meisel's Versace Pictures reintroduce the notion of the grown-up woman.

The pictures, shot in just four days in palatial Los Angeles residences, feature leading fashion supermodels Amber Valetta and Georgina Grenville as virtually identical women with their elegant frocks, dressed platinum hairstyles, full make-up, and huge rock-like jewels. Posing demurely in their anonymous interior-decorated homes, like their pampered pets, they appear perfectly tamed, preened and manicured.

If the images present a kind of over-the-top extravagance, it is a frozen opulence, languorous and rarefied - a throw-back to the fifties, a pre-teen era, evoking the styles and subjects of Pasolini and Fellini by way of Beverly Hills. These women, like their interiors, are perfectly arranged, tranquillised and in control. Often placed high in the picture plane they recall the Mannerist portraits of Bronzino and Pontormo, where the sumptuously adorned female subjects are both hieratic and untouchable. Now, as then, it is wealth that signifies. Bruce Hainley suggests that what Meisel is doing with these images is giving us an 'opulent fantasy structure' about the power of the female adult 'at a time when what many desire is forgoing adult responsibility (a Californian stereotype)’. We want to be told what to do and these women know how to tell us.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

JONI STERNBACH

Adam
07.08.11

“We know that people are formed by the light and air, by their inherited traits, and their actions. We can tell from appearance the work someone does or does not do; we can read in his face whether he is happy or troubled,” — August Sander from “Man of the Twentieth Century”



My pictures over recent years engage traditions of landscape, seascape, and architectural photography. Working with a large-format camera and historic process (wet-plate collodion, also known as tintype photography), I have concentrated on locations that are close to or directly on the water. At this juncture between land and sea, I explore subject matter in a constant state of transition. .

For the last year I have been drawn to the people present at these locations, specifically the surfers in Montauk's Ditch Plains, at the eastern end of Long Island. Their avocation is on the water; they are persistent elements in a shifting scene. We overlap on the periphery of two powerful elements; the land and the sea. The singular, primitive act of surfing on the water is eclipsed by the social and negotiated state of human interaction on the shore. The surfers act as a bridge between the sea as an unbridled force of nature and the shore line, a place of leisure and cultural phenomena.

Working with a "wet" instantaneous process that must be prepared and developed on location serves me well. It draws spectators as well as entices new subjects. Using collodion compels me to compose carefully before sensitizing the plate, yet its very nature is spontaneous and unknowable. The raw quality of the process suits the subject matter, and the distinctive appearance of the finished works echoes nineteenth-century traditions of anthropological photography. - Joni Sternbach

Thursday, 25 June 2009

WILLIAM CLAXTON


Steve McQueen in his Jaguar on Mulholland Drive
1962

William Claxton called photography "jazz for the eyes". But jazz photographs have to be music to the ears as well. The best pictures of musicians are drenched in the sound of their subjects. Claxton's photographs…are imbued with the subjects' music style and personality. As Bill Evans hunches over the keyboard there is so little to be seen - ear, hair, neck, a glimpse of spectacles - that he shouldn't be recognisable but, like the lightest touch of his fingers on the keys, these few details are enough to identify him immediately and reveal the admonition at the heart of his technique: it takes more strength to caress the keys that to pound them.

Because he was a true improviser, Claxton's photographs look lucky and inevitable in equal measure. In a famous picture of Kenny Dorham soloing, a plane passes overhead like a note of music floating clear of the trumpet. Although they are frequently seen performing on small, cramped stages, Claxton's people are rarely crowded by the picture frame.

Continuing the musical parallels, it's tempting to characterise this light, spacious style as west coast. Claxton grew up in southern California and is probably best known for his portraits of LA-based musicians such as Art Pepper and Chet Baker. The off-the-cuff glamour that marks Claxton's pictures of Pepper and Baker served him even better when he was photographing celebrities. The trademark suggestion of a spontaneously improvised pose is like the equivalent, in a still image, of Steve McQueen's impassive idea of what constituted acting and action: doing nothing and making the idea of more look histrionic.

Claxton in a nutshell: everyday greatness and a charged sense of the ordinary in the same instant.

- Geoff Dyer, "Jazz For The Eyes", The Manchester Guardian, Wednesday 15 October 2008


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

JOHN DEAKIN

Portrait of Oliver Bernard
c. 1956

They were a particularly ambivalent yet strangely fitting pair of friends. Francis Bacon was one of the pre-eminent post-modernist painters of our times, while John Deakin, despite a prolific career as a photographer for British VOGUE, remains a relative unknown. Now, an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York provides an opportunity to reassess Deakin's work, in the process shedding significant light on the influence and inspiration photography had on Bacon's painting.


A self-taught painter, with no real formal art education, Bacon made conflicting claims about his use of photographs. In a conversation with Michel Archimbaud which took place in 1991, he said that "Photographs are only of interest to me as records. I know people think I've often used it [photography], but that isn't true. But when I say that to me photographs are merely records, I mean that I don't use them at all as a model. A photograph, basically, is a means of illustrating something and illustration doesn't interest me." However, in the same discussion, Bacon explained that "Since the invention of photography, painting really has changed completely. We no longer have the same reasons for painting as before. The problem is that each generation has to find its own way of working. You see here in my studio, there are these photographs scattered about the floor, all damaged. I've used them to paint portraits of friends, and then kept them. It's easier for me to work from these records than from the people themselves, that way I can work alone and feel much freer. When I work, I don't want to see anyone, not even models. These photographs were my aide-memoire, they helped me to convey certain features, certain details."

Bacon's disengenuity at this stage in his life (he died a year later, in 1992), seems designed to contradict earlier statements made in a noteworthy series of interviews with his friend, the art historian David Sylvester. In those discussions, which began in 1962 and continued through 1974, Bacon spoke much more specifically about his use of photography. "The thing of doing series may possibly have come from looking at those books of Muybridge with the stages of movement shown in separate photographs. I've also always had a book of photographs that's influenced me very much called POSITIONING IN RADIOGRAPHY, with a lot of photographs showing the positioning of the body for the X-ray photographs to be taken, and also of the X-rays themselves." Later, referring to photographs by Marius Maxwell which he admired in the 1924 publication, STALKING BIG GAME WITH A CAMERA IN EQUATORIAL AFRICA, Bacon acknowledges that "one image can be deeply suggestive in relation to another. I had the idea that ...textures should be very much thicker, and therefore the texture of, for instance, a rhinoceros skin would help me to think about the texture of human skin." In addition, Bacon was well aware of DOCUMENTS, one of the great European magazines of the late 1920's and early '30's; one issue in particular featured photographs of slaughterhouses, which became a recurring motif in several of his paintings.

He also alludes to different, more oblique role photography had on his approach to looking at things. "Photographs are not only points of reference; they're often triggers of ideas...I think one's sense of appearance is assaulted all the time by photography. So that, when one looks at something, one's not only looking at it directly, but also looking at it through the assault that has already been made on one by photography. I've always been haunted by them [photographs]; I think it's the slight remove from fact, which returns me onto the fact more violently." From these comments, it becomes clear that Bacon was discussing not just with the influence specific images had on his work, but also the inspiration he derived from the particular regard of photography.

Even when creating works that referred to other paintings, Bacon preferred to work from photographs. The Velazquez and Bacon exhibition at the National Gallery imparts a sense of reunion that is misleading. Bacon's four studies from Velazquez' portrait of Pope Innocent X all derive from photographs and reproductions of the earlier masterpiece rather than any first- hand experience with the actual painting. Despite traveling to Rome, Bacon never saw the "Innocent X" in the Doria-Pamphilj Collection. He spoke, instead, of "a fear of seeing the reality of the Velazquez after my tampering with it." Andrew Sinclair suggests that Bacon's use of photography in this regard derives from a Surrealist approach to picture-making, in which the artist finds inspiration in the objet-trouve, the random thing or postcard or photograph.

Interestingly, Bacon rarely refers specifically to his use of Deakin's portraits. Deakin started photographing in 1939 and continued to work intently if intermittently through the mid-1960's. His heyday occurred during the '50's when he was under contract to VOGUE (where he had the dubious distinction of being the only staff photographer ever fired twice by the same administration). Although his tenure there was short-lived, in a period of approximately 4 years he produced more work than his contemporaries at VOGUE, including Norman Parkinson, Clifford Coffin and Cecil Beaton. Deakin photographed everything for VOGUE, including fashion and beauty, but his forte was portraiture. The poet and novelist, Elizabeth Smart, remarked that Deakin had "tyrannical eyes," and the art critic, John Russell, wrote that Deakin "rivaled Bacon in his ability to make a likeness in which truth came unwrapped and unpackaged. His portraits, like Bacon's, had a dead-centered, unrhetorical quality. A complete human being was set before us, without additives." Deakin's portraits were characterised by a monochromatic austerity and raw clarity that wasn't in keeping with the buoyancy of the work done by Parkinson or Beaton; indeed, it precedes the nearest thing to it - the photographs of David Bailey and Richard Avedon - by a decade. "Whoever the sitter, Hollywood actor, celebrated writer or valued friend," writes Robin Muir in his catalogue essay, "Deakin made no concessions to vanity, his portraits are never idealised or evasive, and typically contain no pretense to flattery. There is no soft focus, no blurring or retouching. At their most extreme these images are cruel depictions. And even now, over forty years later, his prints are still defiantly modern."

Despite creating a memorable body of work, Deakin remains largely forgotten. His prints were outsized and consequently not easily archived. Deakin himself distrusted their worth. "He really was a member of photography's unhappiest minority whose members, while doubting its status as art, sometimes prove better than anyone else that there is no doubt about it," recalls his friend, Bruce Bernard. His greatest undoing, though, is evident in his portraits. Many of his subjects were his friends and drinking companions from the pubs and clubs of Soho; Bacon and Deakin, along with Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, and Lucien Freud comprised a group (virtually a subset of R.B. Kitaj's "School of London"), that would frequently gather for drinks at Muriel Belcher's club, the Colony Room, a setting described as "a place you could take your grandmother, and possibly your father, but not your mother." But while Bacon would regularly return to his studio from a late night out and religiously put in several hours painting, drinking affected Deakin's work and led to his dismissal from Conde Nast. His career as an independent photographer was not a success and his life devolved into a series of trips abroad.

Deakin's portraits did have a life, albeit largely unacknowledged, in Bacon's paintings. Bacon commissioned many of Deakin's portraits as reference points for his own work. "Even in the case of friends who will come and pose," Bacon said, "I've had photographs taken for portraits because I very much prefer working from the photographs than from them. I think that, if I have the presence of the image there, I am not able to drift so freely as I am able to through the photographic image. This may just be my own neurotic sense but I find it less inhibiting to work from them through memory and the photographs than actually having them seated there before me. I don't want to practise before them the injury that I do to them in my work."

Bacon's studio was notoriously chaotic and cluttered. "My photographs are very damaged by people walking over them and crumpling them and everything else, and this does add other implications to an image," he stated. To see the exhibition of Deakin prints from Bacon's estate consequently becomes an experience in watching the figure deconstruct according to the state of destruction in which the print has settled, much as the figures in Bacon's painting appear tortured, convoluted and deconstructed. While Bacon spoke about the ways in which he used photography, he rarely specifically cited Deakin's photography by name. Nor did he comment on the inspiration he drew from these torn and crumpled prints. However, in the same manner in which photographs of Velazquez' portrait of Innocent X had an object quality and presence for Bacon above and beyond that of the work itself, it is not inconceivable that Deakin's photographs, transformed by the damage sustained while in his studio, came to represent much more than simple aide-memoire for him.

In a different context, Bacon once commented that "his [Deakin's] work is so little known when one thinks of all the well-known and famous names in photography - his portraits to me are the best since Nadar and Julia Margaret Cameron." Deakin's photographic output essentially ended in 1961, yet he and Bacon retained some semblance of a friendship. It was Bacon who was listed as Deakin's next of kin during his last hospital stay and it was Bacon who paid for his convalescence in Brighton where Deakin died of heart failure in 1972. But the kinship seems strongest in the work. The prints of Deakin's photographs which Bacon held in his studio, set alongside Bacon's painted portraits, are evidence of the influence and inspiration photography provided for Bacon. Deakin could have been speaking for Bacon as well when he said "Being fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I photograph it is to make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims."

- Peter Hay Halpert, "Influence and Inspiration: Francis Bacon's Use of Photography," originally published in Aperture, Fall 1996 & updated here 2009