Archives for category: Photographers worked with

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Spot Photo Works, the new Los Angeles based, contemporary photography gallery started by myself and Russell Adams, will be occupying most of the corners and curves of my mind in its first year. I’ll still be doing some freelance editing and mentoring, but for the most part my writing is going the way of the gallery and you can find me holding forth to that end on the Spot Photo Works Facebook page and on Spot’s blog.

Chris Anthony's series "Seas Without A Shore" opens November 15th.  Pictured:  Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony

Ladybird No. 2 ©2012 Chris Anthony from his upcoming exhibition, “Seas Without A Shore.”

 

Spot’s first year of artists include: Dennis DeHart, Victory Tischler-Blue, Chris Anthony, Gregg Segal, H. Lee, Robert Harding Pittman, J.K. Lavin and Todd Weaver. We’re excited and we hope you visit.

I’m wrapping up jurying for Critical Mass and I’ll be reviewing portfolios at Photo Lucida in Portland in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll see some of you there. I’m also judging a yet to be announced competition for the Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, Colorado. I may also get inspired to write here on occasion and if time allows perhaps I’ll be able to pull on the threads of my own art making as well.  If so, I’ll keep you posted if anything juicy comes of it.

In the meantime find me at Spotphotoworks.com or at Spot’s Facebook page. Be well. Be in touch. Be inspired.

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Six or seven years ago I sat at my first portfolio review table opposite a budding hobby photographer with a shoe box full of snap shots of lovely scenes that caught her fancy. I gave her as much consideration and thought in helping advance her work as I did in my office the day before meeting with a well-known editorial photographer or I do today sitting across the table from an artist with a highly sophisticated presentation. At whatever level a photographer is working, benefits can be had from opening up and allowing another pair of eyes to share in an artist’s work process. I learned this in art school and I believe in it today.

Books by a few of the photographers with whom I was pleased to meet at a variety of review events: Norihisa Hosaka, Cynthia Greig, Jesse Burke and Photographer Hal.

After participating as a photography reviewer in a number of festival and reviewing events, I am pleased to participate in Eyeist.com, a sophisticated new reviewing opportunity for photographers working at all levels all over the world. The experience for photographers in participating in live reviews such as Center Santa Fe, Fotofest, Photo Lucida or Paris Photo is a unique and special one for many reasons, not least of which is the sense of camaraderie one feels on both sides of the table. The fact that I often refer to the experience as being akin to summer camp for adults, in no way diminishes its value. It can be extremely motivating to spend a few days in deep immersion with other people facing the same challenges as one’s self. A glass of wine over dinner and engaged conversion with a growing pool of new friends and colleagues is irreplaceable. That said, its not always possible, physically or financially to trek to that really great live review. This is why Eyeist.com is such a special thing.

I often wince at the number of new portfolio reviews that seem to sprout like weeds. In fact I just declined an offer to organize yet another one.  I fear for the photographer who like everyone else in the world, must face financial reality that one can’t really afford attending every event, even though there seems to be mounting pressure to do just that.  The sense of missing that one chance to meet with someone who might open just the right door is extremely compelling.  These things do happen – sometimes.  Several handfuls of the work I have loved most at reviewing events are beginning to get their day in the world and that’s a really great thing.

Even so, I feel proud to participate in Eyeist, because it offers a very good option to being there.  Especially for those who need to target their time or target their money, Eyeist is terrific and if I work up my nerve, I might even send my personal work over to a colleague for their take on things.

Currently 48 reviewers are on board with a wide range of expertise from major magazine photo editors to accomplished advertising art buyers to agents, curators as well as a handful of photographers in a variety of genres.  There are people who may be able to offer direct exhibition or publication opportunities and there are people like me, who come from places of deep experience, that may be able to help photographers progress enough to open doors to new opportunities.

After a year of challenging work and dedication by Eyeist founders Allegra Wilde, Micah and Jesse Diamond and their techno-wiz developer Doug Dawirs, they have created a unique and accessible system for assisting photographers that works exceptionally well.  I’m not going to spell out the details as their website does that, but I will say that we reviewers all participated in a number of training sessions and beta tests to get the system to function with great ease.  A benefit to the reviewing process that I hadn’t anticipated was that I was able to give a far more in-depth review than I am able in live review situations due to the potential to have a little bit of advance time with the photographer’s work.  I could look, think, make notes, formulate suggestions in a quiet, non-distracting space and provide a valuable service for my test subjects.  In addition the subject’s ability to choose a specific reviewer or trust Eyeist to do so, allows an ability to target to a photographer’s unique needs.

I don’t believe that Eyeist can or should replace the live, in-the-same-room experience provided by the more reputable reviewing events, but I think it can be a terrific addition to one’s toolbox.  I continue to meet with local photographers privately and that’s a completely ideal work process and setting, but Eyeist offers an opportunity to reach out, for all of us.

https://www.eyeist.com
Press Release:  https://www.eyeist.com/pdf/Eyeist_Press_Release_120925.pdf

While walking to a screening at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, I passed a storefront featuring a toy castle similar to this one. My comment at the time was “Look, it’s our vacation!”  While we skipped any historic reenactments on our trip to southern France, on the recommendation of my good friend-the-New-York-Times-Film-critic, we stretched our 2000-mile road trip to include the village of Carcassonne, which largely dates to the 12th Century.

Carcassonne is one of those places in which one could have created the word “awesome.”  It would not have referred to a plate of freedom fries or a new brand of sneakers.  It would not accompany the word “dude”.  The word really means something in a place like this.  This was my third trip to France and I love nothing more that traipsing through ancient villages and I’ve clambered through more than a few at this point.  Still, when the road finally turned to the formidable walls surrounding the medieval village and château, I gasped and “awesome” was the first word that came to  mind.

The 12th century ramparts and towers of Carcassonne.

Medium gray walls protecting the Chateau.

An epic and storied city, Carcassonne would be a field day for a photographer gifted in shooting elegant images of grand places.  I’m thinking Gustave Le Gray  or Michael Kirchoff or Debra DiPaolo or Jonas Yip.  Oh, for a deep gray day in the dead of winter – too cold for the hoards of tourists, but with a somber sky and subtle middle tones. September was as far from the peak travel season as our schedules would allow, so armed with my trusty Canon G9, I photographed to kindle memory recall, not for art’s sake.

The Ramparts of Carcassonne by Gustave Le Gray, 1851 (taken before the restoration of 1853, which added the less-than authentic pointed slate rooftops not-typical of the region).

Michael Kirchoff's Uspenski Cathedral and Clouds, Helsinki, 2008

Debra DiPaolo's view of Paramount Studios, Hollywood (mid 1990s).

From Paris Dialogue, Jonas Yip, 2008

We had a few ideas of sights to see in Carcassonne, knowing full well that in most good adventures the best parts are usually what happens along the way.  My traveling companion is an excellent planner so between the unstructured and the structured, there is more often than not, a compelling path.

While walking through the modern city outside the medieval walls, I spotted a young woman trying hard to be French-looking.  Or perhaps, she was French, just trying too hard in general.  Whatever it was, she was a wonderful extreme stereotype, enraptured by every word her boyfriend uttered over lunch and a mid-day carafe of wine.

Viva la France!

The exterior facade of the Chapelle de Dominicaines

Her table was near the entrance to the Chapelle de Dominicaines, a former church from 1860, which serves as an exhibition space and interpretive center for the City.  Sadly, I don’t speak French and the handful of phrases in my repertoire allowed only limited comprehension of, well, basically, everything. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the exhibition called “Perspectives,” presented within the Chapelle.  The installation was an educational tour of the development of the Bastide de Saint Louis, which is the more modern, lower city of Carcassonne built primarily in the 18th and 19th Century.

The smaller than actual size version of the city with the backdrop of leaded glass.

I’ve always been a sucker for installation design.  My father managed women’s clothing stores when I was a kid and two of the stores were particularly appealing visually.  As my brothers climbed around the mannequin displays, I marveled at the tufted upholstery and wallpaper and the jewel-box design of the showcase windows.  Even now, I find myself in restaurants, museums and shops looking with proprietary interest at grommets, steel bolts, Plexiglas, airline cable and fabrics. I’m fascinated by the ways signage and images are mounted and how lighting is designed, sight lines are directed.  It was a happy accident then, to stumble upon the “Perspective” exhibition and find myself in a miniature photographic street.  I suddenly became a giant doll – a Gulliver walking down the Lilliputian block, able to peer into upper story photographic windows without looking up.  The photos mounted on foam core or some sort of board, along with an extensive time-line, told the lesson of the city and it’s origins.

La Bastide de Saint-Louis in miniature.

Drawings, text and photographs set within the beautiful old church informed the viewer of the rich architectural history of the city. Photographs became the buildings rather than just being images of buildings hung on a wall.   As a pure craft thing, it was an innovative use of photography.  It wasn’t commercial and it wasn’t art.  It was purely educational visual record keeping manifested in an engaging way. It’s a rare thing to be able to participate in photographs physically and then step outside to the street beyond and have some sense of how a place came to be (sort of a live-action Google maps).

A quiet street in the Bastide St. Louis, Carcassonne, France.

Adrift on the Canal du Midi.

Amusing distractions aside, our mission this particular day, was to find the Canal du Midi and hire a boat to drift down the calm waters through the 200 year-old Plane trees (in North America we know them as a type of Sycamore). The 150 mile long canal was constructed in the 17th Century to connect the Mediterranean with the Atlantic – an engineering feat in any era.  We hoped to experience a few miles of river before the stately trees are gone. Suffering from a wilt disease, 42,000 Plane trees are slated to be cut down and replaced with another species over the next twenty years.  The Plane trees are superb, not only in the way in which they support the riverbanks, but also in their symmetry.  It’s not easy to locate a more beautiful site than a road or canal lined with Planes, so the necessity of removing them is heartbreaking. This classic location must have hosted numerous painters, photographers and filmmakers in its lifetime and we were appreciative of the chance to see even a small stretch in the few hours spent on the canal before darkness and a thunderstorm set in.

Silhouette on the bank of the Canal du Midi.

Only mildly soaked by the sudden downpour on the walk back to the medieval castle and our hotel within, I was relieved to be carrying only the small point and shoot and not a larger more vulnerable camera.  Yet I always think, it would be so great to come back with a good camera with more interpretive abilities and more time to shoot.  That won’t happen though, because I know I would rather just go and discover some other place where I can be reminded that life is too short to see it all, much less do it justice with great photographs.  I leave that to others, whose mission is less restless.  Someone else will take the time to find the photographs or drawings that these special places hold in potential. I, on the other hand, needed to retreat to glimpse the sun break through the surreal view of the 12th Century castle wall that would so many years later inspire a manufacturer to make a toy semblance out of plastic.

View from the Hotel de la Cite, Carcassonne.

Kernstown, Virginia. Confederate horseman Todd Kern rides over the site of the second Kernstown battlefield, where in 1864 future presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley fought for the Union. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

State of the UnionGregg Segal’s personal photo essay that appeared in Time magazine’s recent Civil War Anniversary issue, is nothing short of wonderful.  In the extensive series of environmental portraits Segal studies the “juxtaposition of two contrastive eras: an idealized Civil War embodied by period reenactors vs. the commercialism of contemporary life.”  It was recently selected as a winning editorial photographic series in 2011 Communication Arts Photography Annual and I feel it deserves much wider recognition.

Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Robert Lee Hodge sits on picket duty near the Old Telegraph Road. In the winter of 1862-63, over 40,000 Confederates were encamped here. To pass the boredom in camp, great snowball fights would erupt, including one that was so violent that snowball fights were banned. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Stafford County, Virginia. Lars Prillaman, dressed as a Federal Zouave, brushes his teeth on part of the 1862-63 winter encampment of the Army of the Potomac. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Segal recently reminded me that we met originally in the black and white darkroom at USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts in 1995.  I was teaching a beginning class, which was enjoying the revelatory experience of processing film.  He was pursuing his Masters in Education with an Independent Study in photography, allowing him darkroom access.  I followed his work afterward and increasingly appreciated his strength in bridging environmental and conceptually based portraiture.  Gregg Segal’s highly intelligent approach to image making was undoubtedly honed with a good deal of critical thinking as well as attention paid to social content in his undergraduate work at Cal Arts.  I always thought of him as something of a cultural anthropologist.

Captain America Getting His Mail, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

Over the years I was able to offer Segal a handful of strong editorial portrait assignments.  His call offering a first look at a new photo series back in 2005 wasn’t his first pitch to me, but it was the first I was able to have published.  I’ve often referred to the act of selling an editor on a photographic idea, especially a photo essay, as feeling a lot like trying to sell a used car.  You point out the benefits, kick the tires, try to downplay any drawbacks.  Segal’s Super Heroes at Home was anything but a tough sell.  The vivid portraits managed to be both funny and oddly poignant.  His powerful graphic style took the costumed action characters lining Hollywood Boulevard in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater way beyond the easy perception of kitsch.  Most of us locals view the people in costume with suspicion.  Their sweaty, dingy presence cast as the Incredible Hulk or Spiderman are primarily seen as obstacles as they pester tourists for money to share in a photograph and cause us to walk a little more quickly as we pass.  By following the “actors” home and photographing them in costume, on their own turf, Segal took the series beyond the obvious.  In that domestic context, the need to dress as comic characters became more pronounced, more obsessive, than on the street where it made show-biz sense.  It was a no-brainer for a perfect portrait portfolio for Los Angeles magazine.

Superman Cleaning House, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

Wonder Woman Takes Out The Trash, Gregg Segal (c) 2005-6

Following the publication of Superheroes at Home we were able to mount a terrific show of the work at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood.  The Arclight first opened with Robert Brugeman directing the exhibition program and actively pursuing high quality artwork relevant to the city and to cinema.  Since Mr. Brugeman moved on, exhibition standards slipped for the most part, but for a time it was an exciting alternative space.  Gregg Segal’s intensely saturated color images were accompanied by a wry, ironic backstage photo essay on B-movie production by the wonderful photographer David Strick.  The combination of the two bodies of work was perfect for the location and I was told over a million people saw the exhibition.  If only there had been a book to accompany it.

Red Maria Blumberg, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

Dan Ray, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

The idea for Gregg’s second costumed series, Pirates at Work came, like many good things, by chance.  The city of Los Angeles has been lucky to have a great photo editor in Lisa Thackaberry (currently at Angelino), but at the time, she was Segal’s agent.    In the 90s her work as Photo Editor at Los Angeles Times magazine produced what I consider to be its finest issues.  I was editing at LA Weekly at the time and I looked forward to whatever she pulled out of her hat each week.  She eventually left the Times for Los Angeles magazine and after a couple of years, decided to try her hand at running her own photo agency.  While I took her position at the magazine, she opened Negative Artists, moved to New York and began representing some very talented photographers including Trujillo + Paumier, Jennifer Rocholl, Alyson Aliano, Naomi Harris and Gregg Segal.  Even as Negative Artists began to be successful, selling didn’t come naturally and Thackaberry longed for her creative home in the West.  Her move to the L.A. suburb of Sherman Oaks, led to her re-discovery of Los Angeles’ bounty of strange wonders.  When she phoned with giddy excitement to inform me of a fantastic pirate supply store called Enchanted Deva’s Last Wish and Treasures, she was like a kid in a candy store.  I generally preferred to generate my own ideas of photographers to fit assignments.  After all, that’s the creative fun.  In this case, Thackaberry was right and I knew it.  Gregg Segal was the perfect guy for the job.  On the heels of the Superheroes at Home, it couldn’t have been a better fit and Pirates at Work was born.

George Cayenne Pepper, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

Segal writes of his initial pirate encounter:

“I went to a pirate get together at Enchanted Devas where I met members of the Port Royal Privateers and Brethren of the Coast.  Inspired by Hollywood and historical texts and the tales of Robert Louis Stephenson, these LA Pirates are devoted to their identities:  they make scrupulous reproductions of 17th century waistcoats and make deals on EBay for just the right pantaloons.  Some freebooters manage to make money off their pirate personas, performing reenactments at tall ship festivals and the like.  But for most, pirating is a way of expressing themselves in a manner they otherwise couldn’t in the modern world.

As with the super heroes I’d photographed, I chose a context which allowed for a contrast of the spectacular and routine.  I asked the part-time buccaneers to wear their pirate regalia and go about their workaday lives.”

Mister Roberts, Gregg Segal (c) 2007

After two very strong portrait galleries featuring people compelled to dress in costume, I recall telling Segal that if he could make one more powerful series utilizing that construct, he might well have a terrific book.  The Civil War photo series provides the conceptual and visual icing on the cake and Gregg Segal is now busy preparing and submitting book proposals.

“The portraits in State of the Union were taken on the actual sites of specific battles in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee,” writes Segal.  The earnest reenactors stay in character, completely engaged with their period props of makeshift tents and rucksacks, seemingly lost way off course in housing developments and parking lots that once were battle scenes.  Time magazine had the good sense to give the gallery a lot of editorial space and the series runs over many pages.  No small feat in a publication that has sadly grown wafer thin.

Spring Hill, Tennessee. Confederate reenactors line up behind the fence of a housing subdivision. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Robert Lee Hodge, Jerry Hornbaker and Tim Cole advance through the Gettysburg Cemetery. The Comfort Suites was recently built on the battlefield just a few feet from the graves. Gregg Segal (c) 2010

Cedar Creek, Virginia. Lars Prillaman walks on the site of the battle of Cedar Creek. The Carmeuse Lime & Stone intends to expand its mine to the battlefield. by Gregg Segal (c) 2010

More images from State of the Union can be found at Gregg Segal and on Time’s website.   Also, a video with Segal’s observations and interviews with his subjects as they discuss their dismay over the rapid development of historic locations in “State of the Union” is available here.

These days Segal continues to be a very busy editorial and commercial photographer, who on occasion crosses those lines and ventures into realms of fine art.  That work is wry, quirky, and sometimes sad, in spite of the obvious humor and juicy, juicy color.  I am no publisher, but please, someone give this man a book deal.  He is represented by Marilyn Cadenbach at http://www.cadenbach.com/.

Mr. Segal and friend in front of the camera.

"American Girl Doll" from "Glass Ceiling" by Jill Greenberg

In conjunction with the Annenberg Space for Photography’s exhibition, Beauty Culture, Jill Greenberg was recently asked to speak about her work.  Greenberg is one of the few photographers whose professional career straddles the worlds of editorial, advertising and fine art with a remarkable amount of balance.  After working with her on a range of editorial assignments including portraits of actors, air-borne fashion and some of the baddest pictures of cheerleaders ever, I’ve had a unique vantage point to observe her career. Not only is Greenberg one of the most focused, hard-working photographers out there, but she is also a witty collaborator, with a dry sense of humor and an unrelenting drive to make the strongest work possible.  She could always be relied upon to bring her best to any job and generally make me laugh in the process.  In spite of the fierce commitment it takes to compete in magazine and ad work, Greenberg’s dedication to building and expanding her body of creative personal work is equally driven.  Utilizing the many skills attained on commercial shoots Greenberg has created a signature lighting style uniquely her own.  So much so, that simple Internet searches of her name can turn up an array of young photographers struggling to emulate the Greenberg lighting.

Greenberg's UCLA v. USC for Los Angeles magazine

Greenberg photographed Glenn Beck in a tizzy for GQ.

Mr. Stewart goes to Washington via Jill Greenberg's TV Guide cover.


The assignment fulfilled by Greenberg.

The former candidate as horror show.

Yet few photographers have sparked the vitriol that Greenberg incurred when she acted upon her political beliefs while photographing then-GOP Presidential candidate John McCain for The Atlantic.  Her sinister, bottom-lit portraits were ultimately edited into vampiric, blood-dripping illustrations, alluding to McCain’s ties to a war-hungry regime, questionable ethics and less-than-honorable tactics to win the election at any cost.  I recall the excitement expressed by Greenberg’s assistant as we waited for actor Richard Jenkins to arrive for a shoot the day after the McCain session. He couldn’t believe they were allowed to get these shots after finishing the portraits intended for the magazine.  After all, any kid with a flashlight knows what happens when you put the light facing up below your chin.

In my experience, every celebrity photographer is hovered over.  Publicists do their damnedest to control shoots to prevent any real editorial opinion from forming in a portrait of their client.  To a large extent, it has gone too far and often backfires into a portrait that could have been stronger had the photographer had his or her way with things.  I also know that certain assurances or trusts are generally made or assumed and no self-respecting publicist would have allowed their client a single minute with the kind of lighting used on the McCain shoot.  They fell asleep on the job, apparently.

When the altered images were published weeks later and I found myself treading along in the swell of America’s economic sinkhole, I welcomed the low blow when Greenberg posted her images on the net.  Of course they plunged into comic–book depths, but on the other hand, my economic-crisis-induced layoff from editorial made me less than sympathetic to the plight of either McCain or any magazine for that matter.   While I would not have allowed a subject to be duped in this way had I supervised that shoot, I no longer had to maintain a journalistic objectivity.  I welcomed the rabble-rousing.  Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

One of the additional shot opportunities was from the simple act of a misfired strobe.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of hateful speech posted in online forums by some photographers (and I’m not referring to the Fox mouthpieces).  I’d spent my career looking after the interests of photographers and I was always surprised by the ease in which they quietly rolled over to sign away rights in order to get the big picture.  I honestly had been too busy working to notice how low people would stoop and how loudly.  The resentment and loathing expressed toward Jill Greenberg for getting the unthinkable shot was palpable.  It was more than just the perceived abuse of her photographic opportunity that was in the air.  Responses reeked of jealousy.  The girl is ruining it for the rest of us.  How dare she.  Photography is a competitive business and there are too many trying to make their living from a small pool of work and very few in the upper tiers of editorial and advertising photography were women.  While Greenberg crossed a line on her Atlantic  editorial assignment, the reaction among photographers seemed personal – like the way some white men reacted to losing a college placement to an African-American through affirmative action policies.  Jill just pissed them off.  She had work they didn’t have, did it better than many, and now had the nerve to cross a line and make it more difficult for them.  She was a lightning rod.

When speaking with Greenberg recently regarding this article, she mentioned a few significant notes regarding her contract with Atlantic:   “I was shooting for free-no fee, just expenses.  I own my images.  I had a two-week domestic embargo, and no international embargo.  I always post images and even outtakes on my site once the magazine has hit stands.  Embargos don’t apply to photographers’ websites and there was nothing in the contract to indicate I could not post them.  Further, the contract said, and this was a totally new one to me:  ‘you will use your best efforts to publicize this shoot.’  The fact that they did a major redesign which launched the month after the McCain issue, is somewhat suspicious.  Before my shoot, brand awareness was close to nil for them.  The scandal that they inflated (but not simply stating that I was a freelancer, who owns my images, acting independently and within my legal rights) drew 1,000,000 hits to their site that week.”

"Torture" (2005) from End Times

Greenberg encountered similar volatile reactions to her earlier body of fine art work.  The simple act of taking a lollipop from a child incurred fits of tears and the sobbing children of End Times became a metaphor to express so many feelings of a failing world.  While the lollipop explanation was enough for me to diminish any abusive concerns, it was barely a speed bump for the cranky masses just looking for excuses to write reams of loathing letters to the artist.   All this anger seems to follow Greenberg around like a shadow.

When I learned of Jill’s scheduled talk at the Annenberg Center on June 2, 2011, I was disappointed that I would be unable to attend.  Knowing Jill, I thought it might turn out to be more complex than the Annenberg or anyone in the audience would anticipate and I asked her if I might use her notes for an article here. She complied.  In the following passages Jill Greenberg discusses critical theory, feminism, and her many accomplished bodies of photographic work.  It’s thought provoking stuff, refreshingly honest, bold and surely controversial.

Jill Greenberg speaking at The Annenberg Space for Photography, Century City, California.

Jill Greenberg’s Annenberg talk:

I am pleased to be invited to speak on the occasion of the Beauty Culture exhibition.  Thank you to everyone at the Annenberg, for inviting me here tonight.  I do have to ask:  who is my audience that snatched up all these tickets in 3 minutes flat?  If it’s photo nerds, just so you know, this talk will barely discuss technique.  And no, feminism is NOT a Photoshop filter nor is the panopticon the latest digital back.

"The Female Object," 1989, still from multimedia slide show

So as it happens, the subject ostensibly at hand was also the subject of my senior thesis at RISD in 1989.  It was called “The Female Object” and it consisted of a multitrack recording and a multiple projector slide show as well as an installation of mural C-prints.  I will show some of it but unfortunately it’s not in great condition.  I provided the voice of a fictitious female narrator.  I adjusted the pitch so that I would sound like Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.  I went on about how if I fixed my body then I would have control of my life; that I wanted to devote myself to controlling my appetite and shrinking my body.  There were staged photographs of my art school friends in various states of anguish about their bodies.  In some cases I projected images onto them.  This worked well visually as well as conceptually to show society’s acceptable images projected onto their bodies.  My father is an eye doctor so I raided his file of diseased eye slides and projected them, lined up with the areolas of my model’s breasts.  It appeared that the male gaze was toxic and eating away at the female flesh.  The eerie pounding music I mixed into the soundtrack was mid 80s art-electronica –Chris and Cosey, formerly of Throbbing Gristle, which added to the surreal and horrific relentlessness of the work.

Slide shows had been a favorite medium of mine since high school when I did one called Photophobia using Cabaret Voltaire as the soundtrack.  In the female object, a male narrator announced, “in contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women, woman lives her body as seen by another, an anonymous patriarchal other.  She stands perpetually before his gaze and under his judgment.”

A panopticon prison.

My studies led me to the amazing book Feminism and Foucault written and edited by Sandra Lee Bartky, and her essay in which she discussed the panoptical and self-policing nature of women’s internalized male gaze. The panopticon prison was a circular shaped structure where the inmates had windows on two sides, the central guard tower could see into the prison cells at any time, and therefore the prisoners had to assume that they were always being watched and modified their own behavior, policing themselves..

These discussions have been going on at least since the 1970s, initially in the work of Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem and in the ‘80s with Susan Brownmiller.  In the early ‘90s, Naomi Wolf wrote The Beauty Myth.  The basic premise of The Beauty Myth continued Bartky’s argument, positing that unconscious forced adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women as they gained power in other arenas.  In the book, Wolf argued that “beauty” as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the goal of reproducing its own hegemony.

For Crest, Greenberg created faux perfection

The work I did for my thesis informs everything I do.  As someone with a parallel career in commercial photography and art, I am often assigned to shoot women, and I don’t even need to be told to retouch them.  I just do it.  I suppose I am a self-policing photographer?  I shoot models and actresses and retouch them to make them look even thinner, younger looking, and more impossibly beautiful.  Everyone in this room knows, or should know, that photographs, even “documentary photography” doesn’t represent the truth, any more than my glossiest and most retouched image.  Images have jobs to do:  sell us a product, make us feel bad about ourselves so we can go buy something to make us feel better, or tell a slanted story about who a person is.

Carlos Ghosn for Conde Nast's story, photographed by Jill Greenberg

For this shot I was flown to Tokyo by Conde Nast, for a three-minute photo shoot with Carlos Ghosn.  We needed to do three different set-ups, and at least one of them needed to make him look like a murderer.  The article was called Speed Kills.  He is the CEO of Renault Nissan and apparently such a tyrant that many of his employees have killed themselves.

The nature of photography is that the subjective taker of the photo composes, lights, and subsequently edits from hundreds if not thousands of images to convey the exact story he or she wants to tell.  There is an implied veracity in photography, but this is wrong.  Especially these days: a single image can be made up of multiple shots of one person “frankensteined” together to create an extra perfect and completely unnatural representation.  Further, the angle, the point of view, from which the photo is taken, is of the utmost importance. Photograph someone from below and they are powerful and heroic. From above and they are weak and passive.  I don’t have images shot from above since I very rarely do this.  I like making people look heroic.  Everyone and every thing photographed becomes objectified, passive, and visually ownable.

Lindsay Lohan, Rashida Jones and Janelle Monae after their Jill Greenberg retouch.

What are we to make of this?  What can we do?  We need to educate everyone, most importantly little girls, that nothing in the glossy women’s magazines represents reality and that it’s futile to compare ourselves to them.  Would an average guy reading Sports Illustrated feel bad about themselves when learning of a top athlete’s successes?  I don’t think so.  I truly love photographing beautiful people, despite the inherent contradictions between some of my beliefs and some of my creative output.  I am very aware that the representation of “perfection” comes with lots of baggage, but it’s exciting and personally rewarding to make beautiful images and I am happy to it for a living.  By the time I was in high school I knew I wanted to be a photographer and artist.  Originally I thought I would be an illustration major. I have been drawing and photographing since I was very young.  In fact one of my first photos that I took at summer camp while in 4th grade was an underlit flashlight shot of my friend Linda. I guess I never got the under lighting thing out of my system.

"Glare" from the Monkey Portraits by Jill Greenberg.

As for the animals… In 5th grade we got a puppy named Plato, and he was my muse.  I used to stage elaborate tableaus where he looked drunk with those little airplane liquor bottles.  For portraits I used Vaseline on the lens to achieve a vignette effect.  I also used to draw horses obsessively.  I sculpted them out of clay, did cast wax horses, photographed my model horses, and even rode horses at riding camp for a summer.  The animal work has continued.

"Anxious" from Greenberg's "Monkey Portraits."

"Untitled #11" from Jill Greenberg's series "Ursine."

"Untitled #8" from "Ursine"

I’ve been working on a series of horses for a book for Rizzoli for the past year.  I had originally associated horses with the male physique, with their muscle, sinew and phallic necks. But then I discovered the dual gender iconography of the horse and the found some comparable issues facing horses and women.  And while I have tried to treat the animal portraiture as a poppy escape from some of the more theoretical personal work, it seems my worlds have collided.

Elegant lighting enhances the sinew and muscularity in Greenberg's "Casey 01."

"Hielke 0356" by Jill Greenberg.

Restraint is explored in Jill Greenberg's untitled work in progress.

While visiting stables and riding with my daughter, I was struck by the oppressive and cruel nature of the portion of the bridle called the bit.  It is pieces of metal inserted into the horse’s mouth.  The horse is made to submit to the bit.  A horse must be BROKEN.  And I felt that the bit was like bondage, and hurtful.  Look at them.  In researching the horse bits I unearthed something quite serendipitous: the scold’s bridle.  Over in Ireland in the 1500s, men used to punish their mouthy women-folk by putting a metal cage, sometimes with a serrated tongue depressor, which would cut up the tongue if speech were attempted.  In many cases a bell, or animal ears and leash were also part of this scold’s bridle.  She could be led around town with maximal shaming.  So this scold’s bridle albeit an item from medieval times is something that goes one step further, SILENCING women.  Speech was said to be one of the main things that set humans apart from all other animals.  By taking away her power of speech, the bridle made a woman more bestial in practice as well as in theory.  Back then, not that it’s really changed, a scold was defined as: “A troublesome and angry woman who by brawling and wrangling amongst her neighbors breaks the public peace, increases discord and becomes a public nuisance to the neighborhood.”  Wait that’s me?

The silent treatment.

In terms of restrictive clothing, corsets, hobble skirts paved the way, but now the modern era we have spanx and high heels.  Honestly, I find purses which require an arm and hand to hold, that can’t be slung over your shoulder freeing up both hands, to be quite restrictive.  We only have two hands.  We need them both!  By the way, I found these on vogue.com’s best-dressed list.  She can’t run, and she only has the use of one hand!  So impractical.  Fashion as oppressor.  Women will never rule the world with these constraints.

Jill Greenberg's "Glass Ceiling 2-298"

Before I began the horse book project, I had been working on a body of work that was intentionally imbued with feminist ideas: my Glass Ceiling series.  It began in 2008, during a fashion shoot with the US Olympic Synchronized Swim Team for Radar magazine.  The magazine wanted me to shoot the women under water, so it was handy that I am a certified scuba diver.  I had shot an album cover for Moby in a swimming pool and we both would just hold our breath over and over.  That was quite tiring.  These I shot while sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool, in full scuba gear:  tanks weights, regulator, two on-camera flashes on arms…I tend to make my life really difficult what with the toddlers, animals and scuba shooting, don’t you think?  Anyway, the images for the magazine were upbeat and graceful, but the images, which really excited me, were the ones I took between the official practiced and controlled formations, when one of the athletes came up for air.  When this occurred the surface of the water sliced through the neck of the woman, seeming to decapitate her, and the water above appeared like a reflective glass ceiling.

"Glass Ceiling 1-1017" complete with accessories.

It took me two years to coordinate, to find local synchronized swimmers for a second shoot.  By then the technology had advanced so I shot with the Hassleblad H2 with the Phase P65 back.  The images have a breathtaking amount of detail.  They are actually quite straight.  The major adjustments occur when I process out the Raw files.  I massively tweak the curves and white points.  In some cases I process the file out multiple times, in 16 bit of course, with varying settings and composite the images together to get an enhanced tonal and color range.  That is for you photo nerds!  I do have a bit of fun painting on the image in Photoshop, which I have used since version 1.0, for over 20 years.  Actually, I feel that my mastery of the techniques, even one might say-domination of the science, hardware and software, is a traditionally male trait and it therefore adds a layer of meaning, since I am nothing if not an incredibly technically adept photographer.  By the way, that self-flattering comment was also quite male.

"Glass Ceiling 2-462" by Jill Greenberg

So, at the root of it, these professional athletes, synchronized swimmers and dancers try to perform and pose but the water knocks them into awkward positions.  They wear high heels and bikinis for work when performing yet it is absurd.  They adjust their swimsuits and shoes, gasp for air, and are pushed around by the force of their surroundings.  Some of my favorite parts of the image are where the figure meets the surface of the water.  Recently I tried cropping out the figures altogether. Now it’s just an image of dissolved women.

"Glass Ceiling" with the woman cropped out.

The late surrealist painter Leonara Carrington, determined to be nobody's muse.

About six months ago, I was reading Deborah Bright’s essays on her own horse photography and I discovered Leonora Carrington, the last living surrealist artist.  She died just last week in Mexico at 94.  It was sad to me that though I have been in love with surrealism since I was in high school, I had not heard of her.  Carrington herself was fighting against being simply categorized as a muse for her fellow surrealists–her boyfriend was Max Ernst.  She wanted to be taken seriously as an artist in her own right.  She said, “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse, I was too busy rebelling against my parents, and learning to become an artist”  Apparently, Miró once handed her a few coins and told her to run out and buy him a pack of cigarettes.  She said, “I gave it back and said if he wanted cigarettes, he could bloody well get them himself.”  She too, became more and more interested in the roles of femininity, patriarchal oppression and used animals, specifically horses, in her work to represent herself.

The conservative British art critic, Brian Sewell, interviewed for the UK’s Guardian newspaper said of women artists:  “The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank.  There has never been a first-rank woman artist. Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness.  Women make up 50 percent or more of classes at art school.  Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s.  Maybe it’s something to do with bearing children.”  Jonathan Jones in the same publication: “it’s not that great women artists do not exist.  It is that men are very good at finding new reasons to underrate them.”  Jones continued, “We didn’t rule the world for millennia without being pretty ingenious when it comes to preserving our territory.”  I discovered that in my two bodies of work the horses, were controlled by the bit and bridle, and women were controlled by the weight of the water.  The opaque and seemingly unbreakable glass ceiling and high-heeled shoes which immobilize them-the signifiers that surround and infect our minds and bodies, were not two disparate series;  they overlapped, joined at the bridle.  I feel that high-heels are like the horse bit and bridle.

Bit and Glass Shoe by Jill Greenberg

I recently had some heels cast in glass.   This is my first sculpture work since college.  Here’s some work I did back then, I made all these disgusting little clay men, painted them and set up vignettes and photographed them.  They were unfired clay so they didn’t survive, except this one.  This is a man I made who had no arms or legs. And he rocks and is trying to give himself a blowjob.  One side of his face is sad and one is angry.  His stump legs and penis broke off.  But I still think it’s hilarious.

"Shock" from Jill Greenberg's "End Times" 2005

"Misinformation" from End Times, 2005

Okay, I am going to show some images of crying little girls, while I talk gender politics for a bit.  Has anyone seen Platon’s new book Power Platon? It has ninety-nine portraits of men but just four of women.  These are the international heads of state and other decision makers.  It’s not HIS fault.  The book seems great.  These are, in fact, all the people who have most of power in the world.  So lets not delude ourselves into thinking that the gender inequality problem has been solved.  Why are women’s issues a special interest group?  We are a majority of the world’s population.  The default setting for our discussions about powerful women is to cut them down, to criticize them much more harshly than we would a man.  They are nags, bitches, scolds.  I call it the Martha Stewart complex.  When she was nabbed for insider trading of a measly $50,000, she went to jail.  The Wall Street banker boys, all of them cronies on the golf links with their regulating counterparts, avoided so much as a wrist slap for derailing the world economy with their selfish and irresponsible behavior – criminal.  Meanwhile Martha still refuses to call her self a feminist.

Hitting the "Glass Ceiling"in heels.

Installation of "Glass Ceiling" at Clampart in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.

The journalist Ann Kornblut, wrote a book about the 2008 presidential run of Hillary Clinton called Notes From The Cracked Ceiling.  Kornblut doesn’t believe America is anywhere near ready to elect a woman president, possibly in 2016.  The thought that sexism is over just because so many women work is absurd.  A woman who is afraid to call herself a feminist is so misguided.  Any woman who doesn’t realize that they are standing on the backs of those who came before them, who fought for the right to vote -it took 70 years of hard work for women to get that right to vote.  And some women don’t want to identify with them?  We need to speak up for ourselves.  The fact is this: we live in a patriarchal culture.  My answer?  Expose the phallus!  I want to turn things on their head.  Since not only did I love to draw horses as a child, I loved to draw penises too.  This (image) is Pork Sword, scanned from a used gay men’s porno mag called HONCHO, that I bought on 14th Street in NYC.  This was from 1991.  Like I said, I have been doing Photoshop a REALLY long time.  Right after school, when I still thought I could pursue both fine art and commercial photography at the same time, I was doing body scans and digital drawings.  I exhibited this image in 1993 at a Brooklyn group show.

In 1993 I applied to the New York’s Whitney museum’s independent study program.  I almost got in.  I had recommendations from Peter Macgill and Andres Serrano, but I sort of suck at talking about art.  I forget people’s names.  I am fine writing about it….so I didn’t make the final cut, but that same week I got a job shooting for Sassy magazine, and shortly thereafter for Time magazine.  So, I felt my direction was chosen for me.

Back to “exposing the phallus!”  In 1999, I used a well-endowed boy toy I was dating, and I did Pork Sword 2000.  It was exhibited it in an awesome group show, at the prestigious American Fine Art Gallery.   I just think it’s hilarious, to poke and prod at the object of repression.  People, especially men, seem too insecure and afraid to look at another man’s penis.  We objectify women, visually chop up their bodies like it’s nothing and are afraid to turn the tables?

Thomas Jane of HBO's "Hung" by Jill Greenberg.

I did some animated digital art in 1997 for Razorfish’s the Nvelope art content.  It’s in SF MOMA…you can tell Hans Bellmer is an influence.  I was showing what I thought men would do if they could genetically engineer the women of their dreams.  No pesky heads, just lots and lots of orifices.  The phallus has been a recurring theme. I recently shot the star of HBO’s Hung, and as much as I try to avoid those “homage” photos since I prefer to make new iconic images.  I came up with the perfect solution on the fly.  Pun intended.  The magazine had sent me a khaki suit, which I had no idea how to use, this was to be for the RISK issue.  Then it dawned on me:  Mapplethorpe’s Man in Polyester Suit. Needless to say, I have not yet found a publication with the balls to run this picture.

Greenberg's portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger for GQ.

I just shot Arnold for a second time.  He really likes being photographed by a woman.  He requested me…and when I shot MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews for The New York Times magazine in 1998 he was obsessed with my appearance as well.  Of course, I was thinner and younger…  We know what a problem with women he has.  During Hillary’s run for presidency Matthews referred to her “scolding manner in terms of public speaking” and called her “witchy.”  The rules are different for men and women.

Let me be clear.  I am not complaining about my lot in life.  I am quite happy to be a woman.  After all, not only can I make photographs– art when I am lucky, but I can also make people (kids photos).  But in this particular case, discussing our culture it would be handy to be a feminist man, since I would not want to come off as a complaining woman.  I am merely stating facts.  Not enough people are calling attention to these glaringly asymmetrical economies of power.  This stuff really matters.  Our government is picking on women’s issues.  Planned parenthood – the US is spiraling backwards.  It’s like a time machine to the Middle Ages.  Soon we will be wearing scold’s bridles.  I should wrap this up without making any more waves, or not.

So…this Beauty Culture show.  From the brochure: Beauty Culture provides a seminal examination of photography’s role…”seminal” indeed.  The etymology of that word is semen. This show is primarily men’s images, men’s gaze, and men’s perspective, despite the stated goals.  There are 74 men but only 18 women photographers represented in this show.  Wow.  Apparently there are four times more appropriate male photographers than female.  Perhaps it is only male photographers are uniquely qualified comment on issues of women’s beauty?  The Lauren Greenfield video is really great. But when it’s not playing, this is primarily a show of men’s objectification of women.  We are purportedly discussing the twenty-first century multimedia objectification of women, the culturally sanctioned self-loathing and the attendant self-mutilation aka cosmetic surgery through a distorted lens, that is 4/5ths men!!!!  This is a space named for a woman, run by women at every level.  Yet as is made plain by the curious curation choices, sexism is truly insidious and operates on a subconscious level.

I recently shot a cover of Wired magazine of the engineer, Limor Fried.  She was the FIRST female engineer to be put on their cover in the 19 years Wired magazine has been in print. About this fact her associate said, “We are what we celebrate”.  And I feel strongly we need to celebrate more women.

Jill Greenberg’s Glass Ceiling and Horses are on exhibition through August 19, 2011 at Clampart in New York.

The beautiful feminized equine from Jill Greenberg's series "Horses."


Santa Fe, on a clear morning, is home to Center's Reviews.

Photography portfolio reviews located in resort towns share a common quality that reminds me of being in a summer camp for grown-ups.  Perhaps all conventioneers feel this way to some extent, but with photography at least there is a collective sense of fun, of being in something together.  We’re there to be creative and constructive.  We’re not looking at spreadsheets or Power Point presentations.  We don’t have our calculators handy.  Considering photography is such a solitary practice, the collective experience is a welcome respite.  That being said, there’s little point in packing a bathing suit, scheduling a massage or making dinner reservations because at rigorous reviews like Center Santa Fe, photography is serious business and our agendas are packed.  With 43 reviewers and 100 photographers, panel discussions and portfolio walks, there is much to be done and many images to view, to contemplate, discuss, share and discuss again.

Christopher Rauchenberg, of Portland's Blue Sky Gallery, gestures to photographer Mike Rebholz and Assistant Curator of Photography at SF MOMA, Lisa Sutcliffe (in stripes), amid the crowd at the opening reception for Review Santa Fe.

My trip started at LAX, where I immediately ran into fellow reviewer Crista Dix of Santa Barbara’s Wall Space gallery.  We both served at Review LA in the past, but never had a chance to talk.  We shared notes before the flight and upon landing in Albuquerque met up with Lisa Sutcliffe, Assistant Curator of Photography from SF MOMA.  While waiting to catch a shuttle to Santa Fe we found ourselves sitting next to Book Designer and Blogger, Elizabeth Avedon and on the shuttle I shared a bench with Julie Saul, of the gallery of the same name in Manhattan.

That evening at the opening reception at the New Mexico Museum of Art I spoke with photographer Gregg Segal, whom I worked with on countless editorial assignments as well as an exhibition in Los Angeles.  By mid-evening I was walking across Santa Fe to an opening at Photo Eye Gallery with Christopher Rauschenberg of Blue Sky gallery.  We both did our undergraduate work in the same darkrooms at The Evergreen State College and exhibited art in the same buildings twenty years ago in Portland.

This sort of social snowball effect may well be my favorite aspect of serving at Review Santa Fe.  The progression of meeting accomplished, thoughtful, passionate people of all ages, who live and breathe photography continued throughout the four days in Santa Fe.  Any anxiety of meeting new people, of needing to be “on,” of being out of one’s familiar surroundings or element, dissipated with every “Hello, my name is.”  For reviewers, collective breakfasts and lunches were times to share war stories, laugh at common circumstance, struggle to overcome the altitude-induced exhaustion, and make impromptu plans. Sharing idiosyncratic life stories and oddball experiences over dinner on a warm Santa Fe night with Anthony Bannon, Director of George Eastman House, Joanna Hurley of Hurley Media, agent Marilyn Cadenbach and Wally Mason, Director of the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, was a high point I won’t soon forget.

Maggie Blanchard of Twin Palms Publishers meets with Paul Kranzler of Austria.

Jesse Rieser meets with James Estrin of The New York Times Lens Blog.

National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Cheng Krist (right)

With the addition of 100 photographers to the equation, it was simply an embarrassment of riches.  Each reviewer met with 27 different photographers in a formal session and additional opportunities existed to see the work of the other 73, namely in the Portfolio Walk, which was open to the public.  While photographers were operating at a variety of levels, most were open to growing and strengthening their work.  All were seeking opportunities.  Personally, I didn’t meet a single photographer that was anything but gracious and warm.  In casual ways, the photographers connected and shared work, not only with reviewers, but also with each other.  Photos were sprawled across lobby tables in the Santa Fe Hilton.  Portfolios were tucked into every corner.  Casual conversations broke out in hallways and poolside and over drinks and dinner.

It was a hard-working few days and I for one, did not see a soul in the swimming pool.

Tamas Dezso, won a First Place award in Center's project competition for his beautifully austere series entitled "Here, Anywhere;" an examination of the transitional period and symbolic locations of post-communist space in Hungary.

New York's Rhea Karam was born in Lebanon and raised in France. She and Priya Kambli (in pink) who grew up in India and now lives in Missouri, were just a few of the internationals to broaden the American photographic scene at the reviews and seen here at the Portfolio Walk.

Tom Johnson of Los Angeles with Publisher George Thompson to his right.

Boston's Sarah Malakoff with her series "Living Arrangements." On her right is photographer William Mebane of Brooklyn, New York. Christopher Rauschenberg is to Malakoff's left.

Kaho Yu of Hong Kong and more recently New York, is an animator by trade. He showed his lovely series with perhaps the longest title at the reviews: "Infinitesimal Residual Vibration of An Unknown Sound."

Dawn Roscoe of Chicago shows her series "Exquisite Suburbia" to Wall Space's Crista Dix.

The Portfolio Walk was open to the public and received by an enthusiastic crowd. On the far left is Jean-Michel Reed, of Buffalo, NY. Far right is Ayala Gazit, an Israeli, now living in NY.

Jesse Rieser (left) of Los Angeles shows his series "Starting Over" to photographer Brent Daniels, a Canadian who has been living and working in Australia. Mary Goodwin, Assistant Director at Lightwork in Syracuse, New York, is back left.

Debra Klomp Ching of Klomp Ching Gallery, New York, confers with Joanna Hurley of Santa Fe's HurleyMedia at day two of the reviews. Hurley is Chair of Center's Board of Directors.

Photographer Justin Maxon discusses his series "When the Spirit Moves" with Anthony Bannon, Director, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York.

This sidewalk drawing found a few blocks from the review site accurately expresses the sound that broke out in the conference room when the last review ended.

Jonathan Blaustein plays MC at the closing reception for photographers and reviewers. A raffle drawing raised much needed funds for the great programs offered by Center.

Melanie McWhorter is the Book Division Manager at Photo Eye in Santa Fe.

Mark Slankard (middle) of Ohio and Melanie McWhorter await the raffle drawing.

Fraction Magazine's David Bram diggs deep for a raffle winner with much dramatic affect. Photographer Christopher Cappoziello of Connecticut is on his right.

New York Photographer Alix Smith (left) was the lucky recipient of a knockout Julie Blackmon print. Seen with a blurry, if not bleary, Marilyn Cadenbach. Stephen Vaughan of the UK, far right, won a lovely vintage Clarence White print.

Links to all 100 participating photographers may be found  at Center’s site.

"Amanda 1," 2009 ©Marjorie Salvaterra

The diminutive woman with the large portfolio was quietly enthusiastic. She came to the meeting on the recommendation of Kimberly Ayl of Icon International photography agency.  I’m not sure now which I liked most at first, Marjorie Salvaterra or her work, but both turned out to be acquaintances that were extremely worthwhile to make.

When she laid the set of luscious black and white fiber prints one by one on the table, I realize I’d begun to forget how beautiful fiber could be. There’s some kind of glow it carries when the blacks are deeply rich and the grain creates something akin to a halo in the grays.  The subjects were portraits in a series she calls “Hallelujah”, after the Leonard Cohen song.  They were sad and beautiful and craggy with wrinkles and mileage and poetic with youth.  Some were well-known; most were not.  Twenty five or so faces, all with something to love about them.

When I asked her where or how she got her start, she said she’d only been shooting seriously for about seven or so years and had initially been an actor.  The theatrical background made sense as the work reflects a strong emotional depth rarely seen outside of documentary work.  Coupling that with her infectious enthusiasm for photography, it soon became clear that Salvaterra was on a path to learn and progress, rapidly evolving her bodies of work.

Marjorie Salvaterra’s images will hang through July 7th at Clark | Oshin Gallery at The Icon in Los Angeles.  She kindly answered a few of my questions about her work.

"Beverly 1," 2010 ©Marjorie Salvaterra

"Patrick," 2009, ©Marjorie Salvaterra

Could you explain your transition from acting to photography?

I loved photography in high school.  Back then it was all film and darkroom work.  I actually ran out of classes to take so I became the TA for the other classes. Then I left for college and studied acting.  I brought my Pentax to New York but did very little shooting.  At first I was probably too drunk, then I just got busy acting.

When I came to LA and was cast in the Herb Ritts film (“The Faculty Lounge”), I’m not sure if I was more excited to be working or working with Herb.  We rehearsed at his studio and when I was waiting I would sit and look through his photos.  He had tons of photos in boxes, photos in piles and photos lying around on tables.  I couldn’t stop looking and gushing.  The black and whites totally appealed to everything I love about photography.  It was film and contrasty and grainy.  The photos were soooo rich!  And yet, it still didn’t hit me that this was something I could do.

From Herb Ritts, Fondation Cartier Pour L'art Contemporain (France, 1999)

It wasn’t till I married  my husband and we spent three months in Morocco on a film he was a producer on.  I was scared to go to Morocco.  It was a year after 9/11 and I had no idea what I would do all day while he was on set.  We had gotten a little digital point and shoot camera – one megabyte! – as a wedding present.  

We had a very sweet driver who would drive me all over the country every day and I fell in love with shooting the people.  I got wonderful shots — one particular one of a little girl about ten years old, though her face looks about forty and her eyes, one hundred.  She is in the desert, filthy and wearing a shirt that says, “I am what I am”.  

I showed the photographer on the set my photos every day.  Richard Cartwright was a well-known celebrity photographer and was wildly encouraging to me.  He even let me come to the set and shoot with his giant cameras.  He told my husband about Julia Dean and her amazing photo workshops.  He said that I should get into class with her when we get back to LA.

It turned out the studio was five minutes from our house and I’ve been studying with her ever since.  I continue to take class because I feel like it forces me to push my work to new levels and to try things I wouldn’t think of.

"Leah," © 2006 Marjorie Salvaterra

What path led you to begin the portraiture series?

I was in Julia’s black and white class.  I think I decided to shoot portraits.  I shot the first shot of Leah, who was our realtor after an open house on a rainy crappy day.  I begged her for one shot before she left.  And that was the start of that series.

When most girls were reading Judy Blume, I was reading the DSM.  It lists all the psychological disorders and their symptoms.  Diagnosis is made on the number of symptoms.  And yet, it is easy to go through the list of symptoms for the various disorders and think, ‘that could be me.’ Are we all a little crazy — at least at certain moments in our lives?  Is it nurture vs. nature?  Some believe people are either born sane or insane.  Others believe we are all born perfect and it’s the things that happen in our lives that damage us.  I tend to believe the latter.  In each portrait, I am looking for that line in each person: the part of ourselves that we tend to hide, the part that scares us, the part that is usually saved for the people closest to us – the ones that know our secrets.

"Walking Man 1," 2011 ©Marjorie Salvaterra

In this new series there’s a moody quality that connects to the earlier portraiture, yet it’s quite a departure from that work.  More abstract, more dimensional, more alien, yet very much connected to the raw emotional quality of the portraits.  Can you speak about your thought-process leading to the new work?


I remember seeing Giacometti’s Walking Man sculpture when I was young.  It reminded me of the stories I heard about the Holocaust.  My brother-in-law’s parents and grandparents were in concentration camps, as well as other family friends.  I remember when I heard their stories about being in the camps.  

Alberto Giacometti. Walking Man, 1960 Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

I had images of these long, thin, frail figures that had to crawl into their tiny coffin like spaces to sleep.  I always thought back to the Giacometti sculptures.

However, when I looked back as an adult at pictures of the sculptures, they weren’t nearly as pained or frail as I had remembered as a child.

In this series, I’ve tried to capture images of the figures that I have always pictured in my head.  My work up until now has focused on close-up portraits — trying to capture an emotional life in each person, mostly through their eyes.  With this series, I am trying to expose the same emotional life without focusing in on any one feature – but more on each being as a whole.

"Falling Woman 2," 2011 ©Marjorie Salvaterra

"Screaming Man 2," 2011 ©Marjorie Salvaterra

While the portraits are fairly traditional in terms of technique, the vertical full body series are all pretty unique.  They don’t quite look familiar and that’s a pretty exciting thing to achieve.  I know your process here was a fairly difficult one to achieve, so I won’t ask you to divulge any trade secrets, but can you speak simply to the format, stock and such?

All the portraits are 35.  The Falling Man, etc series is a mix of 35 and 120.  Some were taken with a regular camera and some images with a toy camera.  They are created mostly in camera, but not all.  I actually like the 35 mm ones best.  I like the grain on those… which all comes from the Tri-X film.  

Portrait of the artist, courtesy Marjorie Salvaterra

©Christopher Wray-McCann

In the mid ‘90s my office at the old LA Weekly building was located on Sunset Boulevard in the former digs of the Hollywood Reporter, in the heart of Hollywood.  Every photograph on my desk was tinted pink from the huge neon logo on the wall above, which the Reporter left behind when they vacated. Prior to 1936 the art deco storefront contained a failed haberdashery and barbershop, the ghosts of which are still rumored to roam the halls.

In just the few square blocks around us was the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, home to the first Academy Awards ceremony and birthplace of the neighborhood’s booming club scene.  Hollywood High School with it’s famed alumni from Lana Turner to Cher was just a few doors away as was Crossroads of the World, the streamliner masterpiece known as the first shopping mall in America.  Crossroads later housed a porn magazine and these days it is home to the offices of Taschen books and the fine printing of Schulman Photo Lab.  Musicians Institute is just a block away, in the old Max Factor factory building.  Founded by members of the original “Wrecking Crew,” M.I. is one of the reasons Hollywood’s streets and cheap apartments are filled with shaggy-haired kids with guitar cases and big dreams.

The eras that built Hollywood are layer upon layer, veneer upon veneer.

From "Midnight Miles" on the road with Maroon 5, ©Christopher Wray-McCann.

Shortly after arriving in town in 1994, Christopher Wray-McCann was busily photographing one of Hollywood’s younger layers.  He met with me under the neon glow to show his images of young people who made the fabled trek to Hollywood to try their hand at “making it.”  He’d moved into a wonderful old Spanish Colonial apartment a few blocks away and was working his way through a mixture of portraiture, street and music photographs.  Many people do this, of course, but not many do it well.  He had a particularly strong eye for the youth and pulse of the city.  His photographs of bands, on stage, backstage and the places in between were more than just a good beginning; they were full of grit, lust, rhythm, and energy.

Agness Deyn ©Christopher Wray-McCann

From "Midnight Miles" on the road with Maroon 5, ©Christopher Wray-McCann.

©Christopher Wray-McCann

© Christopher Wray-McCann

In the years since, Wray-McCann has been steadily working, photographing in over thirty countries, doing what he does best.  His fly-on-the wall approach has lent itself to a vast array of projects from documenting a tour with Maroon 5, to editorial shoots for Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Vogue, as well as advertising campaigns for Converse, Oakley, Ray-Ban and others.  Brilliantly, he never sacrificed his signature style to cater to advertising.  Rather, his way of seeing has given clients an edgy quality, suitable to their products and customer base.

Still based in Hollywood, Christopher Wray-McCann makes photographs that carry with them an air of authenticity, giving the viewer a true sense of being there.

From "Midnight Miles" on the road with Maroon 5, ©Christopher Wray-McCann.

©Christopher Wray-McCann

Matt Flynn, ©Christopher Wray-McCann

©Christopher Wray-McCann

Can you tell me a bit about your beginnings?

My father was a journalist.  Two of my sisters are journalists.  Storytelling runs in the family.  My parents are part of the World War II generation, and so many of their really good stories had something or other to do with the war.  When I was a kid I used to root around in my family bookshelves looking for pictures and when I found them, they helped me not only visualize what they were talking about, but it helped me feel it, at least a little bit.  The pictures were like poems.

I’d always been drawing and painting, and by the time I made it to the Interlochen Arts Academy, photography seemed like the way forward.

The Detroit Industry fresco cycle was conceived by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera as a tribute to the city's manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930s. Rivera completed the twenty-seven panel work in eleven months, from 1932 to 1933. ©Christopher Wray-McCann

Can you name some of the photographers, artists, filmmakers, and writers who have influenced you?

I grew up in Detroit, and I was fascinated with Diego Rivera’s murals at the DIA.  I used to stare at them for hours.  They completely blew me away.

As far as other people whose work has had an impact on me, I might as well make a list… the internet loves lists.

Robert Frank

Joseph Heller

Sally Mann

Robert Capa

Umberto Eco

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Ernie Pyle

David Shrigley

Diane Arbus

Kurt Vonnegut

Tom Waits

Ellen Von Unwerth

Eugene Richards

Vittorio Storaro

Richard Avedon

Hunter S. Thompson

Gordon Parks

David Fincher

Italo Calvino

Melodie McDaniel

Elliott Erwitt

Ridley Scott

H.L. Mencken

David Simon

Helmut Newton

Irving Penn

David Foster Wallace

Andy Goldsworthy

to name a few…

©Christopher Wray-McCann

Can you talk about recent work you wish you’d created yourself?

I wish I’d invented the camera phone.  Not only would it be a sweet patent to own, but it is in the process of changing the nature of photography profoundly; on the level of Jacob Riis using a flash to bring light into the darkest corners of New York, or the advances that put a small enough camera in the hands of the kid Jaques Henri Lartigue. 

Ultimately the only camera that matters is the one on hand when you need one. Millions of people now carry cameras in their pockets and that changes everything:  policy, perception, aesthetics, democracy… everything.

The best advice I’ve heard so far about not losing your mind in the 21st century is: “become an expert at being a beginner.”

© Christopher Wray-McCann

From 3 Days, 3 Nights, 3 Bands shot for Converse, © Christopher Wray-McCann

Also for Converse, ©Christopher Wray-McCann

Maggie Gyllenhaal, ©Christopher Wray-McCann

I’d like to know if you have a story of an exceptionally gratifying or amusing shoot?

Ahhh.  The best of these stories are told face to face, at the dark end of the bar, with names redacted to protect the foolish.

A massive part of being a professional is keeping your mouth shut even when, especially when you really, really want to open it.  I’ve had to sign so many non-disclosure agreements that I’m starting to feel like they’re the corporate culture’s equivalent of the Mafia’s code of omerta.

That being said…there was one time when I was in Las Vegas, with my entire crew and we were walking through the Forum at Caesars Palace on our way to the wrap party.  Probably because I had a camera in my hand, I was approached by a Japanese couple who wanted me to take their picture.  They handed me their camera and sat down in front of a fountain.  Before I could even put the camera to my eye, the rest of the crew went into action stations.  Hair was being adjusted, suit jackets straightened, lighting options being configured.  We completely took over their world for the next two minutes.  I think we really freaked them out, but they managed to sit still and smile.  I’ve never seen the final picture, but I hope it’s on their fridge.

©Christopher Wray-McCann

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I just finished this video piece and I’m really psyched about it.  I had the honor to work with the Emmy award-winning editor / title designer Josh Bodnar (Showtime’s Dexter, etc), and it was a blast to make:

http://vimeo.com/wraymccann/snap

It’s a new take on the concept of the portfolio.  The band providing the music is A.R.E. Weapons, and the track is “F what you like.”

From the "Never Hide" campaign for Ray Ban © Christopher Wray-McCann


© Christopher Wray-McCann