Monday, September 30, 2013

Week of 09/30/2013

Place: Ridge and Buttonwood Sts.
File Size: 12.5 x 18.5” @300 dpi
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: 28-105 AF Nikkor (used manually)
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Develop and proof scan: PhotoLounge
Scan: Epson V500
Conversion to black and white in Photoshop
Full size print: Epson Artison 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

I try to be democratic with my lens, but something about this woebegone vacant lot near Tenth and Spring Garden and its immediate environs seem to get under my skin—in a good way. Maybe because it is one of the few places in Philly where one gets such an open view of early Twentieth century industrial buildings.  I ended up trekking down there twice this weekend to re-photograph it in the ultra-clear afternoon light Philadelphia has been experiencing these last few days.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

09/23/2013: More Mannequins!

Location: 17th and Chestnut

File size: 11” x 14” @ 240 dpi (slight crop)

Camera: Fujica Gs645

Film: Tri-X 120 rated at ISO 200

Develop: HC 110, 1:49, minus 1 stop

Scan: Epson V500

Proof: Epson 1430 Artisan/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

Photography is largely about romancing the fleeting moment.  Each photograph is an intersection of multiple factors, an unrepeatable performance that never plays out quite the same again. The ongoing process is a hard teacher too. As the old saw about experience goes: It gives the test first, then the lesson. Certain images make me wish I’d spent more time the subject, or had been able to muck around in the confluence of light, form, space and atmosphere a bit longer; they worm their way into memory for future reference. They are like nameless lovers who vanish into the night.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not Exactly a Kodak Moment

Image Size: 13 x 17 @240 dpi

Locations: Woodland 
Cemetery/ Rittenhouse Square/Studio

Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2

Lens: 14-42 ED

ISO: 200

Proof: Epson 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Epson Lustre

This last week I've just wanted to break routine, so I thought I’d risk unleashing some of the other work I’m doing. This is from a series entitled: “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Maybe it has to do with taking my first vacation in ten years, an all-too-brief but fantastic jaunt to Seattle.  There is also a kind of psychological shifting of gears that always happens for me as summer gives way to fall.

Without this becoming a statement of purpose, let me say that I often encounter interesting spaces that look like they should be stages for some kind of drama. It must be my theatre background (I did my undergraduate in set design). It’s also an idea that goes back to work I did in drawing and painting in graduate school.  So, I sometimes experiment with these vacant spaces and move figures from photo to photo to create compositions that exist solely in my mind's eye.

It surprises me that the artistic validity of creating a synthetic photographic moment is still an object of bitter dispute. Is not any methodology that gets one to the desired ends fair game?  In this case, it is the ability of Photoshop (and constant practice!) to meld separate realities together. The figures were captured in Rittenhouse Park, the landscape is a cemetery in West Philadelphia, and the odd figure with the mask is an abundantly talented artist and model named Holiday Noel, photographed in my studio.  All were shot with no specific end in mind. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Week of 09/09/2013: Development Opportunity

Location:  Near 6th and Green Streets
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: Nikkor 135mm f2.8
Image Size: 6” x 9” @260 dpi
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Develop: PhotoLounge
Scan: Epson V500
Print:  Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone color inks/ Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Lustre

At the time of its construction, around 1900, the steeple of this church was likely the highest point in the neighborhood.  Serving both as a religious and social anchor, houses of worship like this often took decades to complete and were over-built with care and artistry; they needed to endure for centuries. Now their numbers are dwindling in Philadelphia’s urban-scape.  The steeple of another church near 11th and Spring Garden, likely to be razed, is visible in the background.

Although I don’t harbor the grandiose notion that I can move the world, doing this shot made me think of the quotation from Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand…” As I recall, I spent a great deal of time looking for a vantage point from which to shoot. There was a fenced in lot adjacent and I just couldn’t get close; though I did eventually find a spot that worked, but not as precisely as I would have liked.  I really could have used a huge 200mm lens which would have required a tripod.   Such are the problems when one travels on foot and can carry only limited gear.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

On Johnny Redleaf and the Freaks of Nature by Kent Allen Jones

Although lasting a few short minutes, and being only a teaser for a larger project ( a full length screenplay), I found myself watching this video over and again as a kind of daily fix. Based on the life of Johnny Redleaf, a friend of Jones', Jones has created a coterie of remarkably detailed figure sculptures that he has set in stop-action motion to the song “The Bird That Follows Me,” a soundtrack by the group The Strumbellas.

The video can be seen here:

Jones, in a video interview by Gene Shibuya , which on a recent Laboratory Arts Collective DVD precedes the animated short, cites the influence of Breughel and Goya. In keeping with finding inspirations in pre-modern ideas, Jones’ animation is heir to animated clocks,  found in old European towns and villages whose cast of characters, like Jones’, include the grim reaper. Specters that are both curiously engaging and strangely moving, we are reminded of the transience of life; that the sand in our hourglasses is irrevocably slipping away. The lyrics to the soundtrack reprise: “Oh, I believe in death, ‘cause death has always won the last hand…”

Like their Gothic antecedents, Johnny and crew’s gazes are fixed, their expressions blank or limited, they wink and grimace, smile or look surprised as a jack-in-the-box. They move about haltingly, they don’t walk; they slide as if they are being pulled along. Their bodies are oddly deformed. The men share a stock build (perhaps made from the same mold) that also appears in Jones’ other works; they have huge barrel chests, sway-backed haunches that are hyper-developed yet they rest on spindly, wasted legs that frame deep set genitals accentuated by the skin-tight union suits and thermal underwear that many of them sport.  Their anatomies as well as their outfits are puzzles left open to interpretation, but the overall impression is their physical shells are cast-offs, gratuitous costumes; their last vestments have been put back on so they can be seen in the earthly realm.    

Deep in our psyches, we think of statuary as fixed and immobile. Living sculpture is the stuff of the Pygmalion myth. By animating figurative sculpture whether by mechanical devices or stop-action there is a peculiar disconnect that occurs.  Knocked off balance we are launched into a space where we don’t quite know how to digest what we are seeing. Are we amused, frightened, or both? 

The simple story line of the music video consists of the characters entering a forest for a cookout (they bring along a grille, but there is never any food prepared or eaten) and they then play their various instruments. We hear singing voices, but they come from somewhere else. That the vocals and perhaps their playing of diminutive instruments doesn't synchronize is not really an issue; these characters live in their own underworld.  

However, there is a short but pivotal section of video that takes place away from the mythical space. It likely is a side-room in Jones’ studio. Jones in full costume, made up as a Freak of Nature, complete with major body padding and a false W.C. Fields-like nose enters the space. He then meets up with his initially still and lifeless pint-sized double whose face is unmistakably shared with the artist. The tiny figure comes to life and there is a dumb-show and a bit of clowning around. It as if they are comparing themselves and perhaps chaffing each other as to who looks better or is more true to an ambiguous reality.

Because the interview precedes the music video, the viewer recognizes that here is Jones, disguised as his creation, engaging it directly and giving it life. It’s like the mirror that faces a mirror and recedes into infinite space.   But the emotional gut punch is delivered by the realization that the artist is willing to become identified with his creation and descend into its world full stop despite its grotesque, unlovable form. Unconcerned that he might look utterly ridiculous and creepy, he demonstrates his full immersion and commitment to the creative process; he metaphorically takes the last plunge.

Jones appears to be in his 50’s. For a twenty or thirty something artist to have done this, it would not have worked; it would not have made sense. When one is art school age it’s very easy to have a fascination with death and knock it about, and be dark for the sake of effect; death and finality is far away, an abstraction.  One doesn't think about this or that project possibly being the last go round or about what one’s whole career tallies. For the middle to late career artist, as in the song that accompanies the video, these are everyday realities: “There’s that bird that follows me, singing from a branch of a dying tree…”  Jones makes the elegy take wing. 

Photo courtesy of, Astrological clock, Prague. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Week of 09/02/2013: Improbable Anatomies

Location: Approx 17th and Walnut

Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2

Lens: 14-42 ED

Image Size: 10 x 13 @300 dpi (full frame)

Proof: Epson 1430, Cone color inks, Epson Ultra-Premium Lustre

Occasionally I have a day or run of days when everything feels like it is on fire. Last weekend into early in the week was like that; everything was cooking. I had an idea (always a dangerous thing!) that had been my head a long time-- to use bits of the photographed urban landscape as part of collaged drawings with which I'm experimenting. The time seemed right, so I headed out.

Although I shoot mostly film these days, here digital seemed like a better choice; I could try lots of things, do it fast, and without the expense of film or developing. I decried last week about how the more polished parts of town didn’t work well for me, but lo and behold! This week’s shot just appeared while I wasn’t looking.

My eye is always drawn to representations of the human form, be they commercial or purely aesthetic. Like so many instances, my timing was pure dumb luck; this retailer had decided it was time to usher in the fall fashions. Also, as so often happens to me, there ended up being a number of odd things in the shot that I had not consciously seen at the point of capture. This is one of the beautiful things that helps keep me at it: visual bonuses.