Archives for category: Photography Reviews
Neil

Armstrong’s Lunar Glove, July, 2012 (c) Dan Winters Photography

As a photography editor, I’ve met many photographers I enjoyed or learned from and many who are still my friends today. In the evolution of my working relationship with Dan Winters, the underlying quality was a sense of old connection, like we’d known each other forever. With each project we worked on together, there was a deepening awareness of substance, humanity and mutual trust.

ru

Rubber Stamps, 2012 (c) Dan Winters Photography

A lot of people love working with Dan Winters, so in that I’m not unique. He is one of the foremost editorial photographers of our time for good reason. For me, there was always something about him that made me feel at home, a shared origin rooted in art, orchards, the West and the understated.  It had nothing to do with magazines or the politics of publication so I often felt that we “got away with” making art in a context that’s not always accepting of art. When an artful being raises from the drought that publishing plus commerce creates, it’s a thrill. It is especially so when that artist has the tools, aesthetic, and craftsmanship to convince editors of their gifts, allowing art to thrive and excel even when sandwiched between the aspirational ads for jewelry and furnishings.

m

Apollo Mission Control Console, Houston, 2012 (c) Dan Winters Photography

When I call Dan Winters a friend, I should explain that I never shared dinner with him or his wife and manager Catherine, though with both we shared enough thoughtful conversations to place them in a respected place in my world. We spent time together as he photographed beloved vintage robots and science fiction movie props at a collectors cluttered house in North Hollywood and I watched in admiration at the comfortable way he photographed Anthony Hopkins in a hotel room turned studio in Santa Monica. He skillfully executed my concept of still life top hat and cane for a classic Hollywood feature in a way that was fascinating to observe and stunningly beautiful.

c

Endeavour on her pad, May 15, 2011 (c) Dan Winters Photography

A few years ago when I was in Austin, Texas for SXSW, I had plans to visit Dan and Catherine at the studio where he made so many of the still life photographs that we spent our phone conversations working through. I wanted to see for myself the studio where I’d shipped him orange trees and crates of a range of citrus fruit for the California Citrus series that now sits on my mantle – the studio he said smelled absolutely amazing. Ultimately my schedule didn’t end up allowing the visit so when I found Dan by chance sitting across from me in the airport as we both were leaving town, it felt like kismet.

Endeavour Passes Through the Clouds, May 16, 2011

Endeavour Passes Through the Clouds, May 16, 2011                              (c) Dan Winters Photography

All this is to say that it’s probably impossible for me to critique Dan Winter’s work objectively, so I won’t even try. I will urge you to go see his exhibition Last Launch at Fahey Klein Gallery in Los Angeles through August 31. Winters received close-range access from NASA to photograph the last launches of the space shuttles Discovery (February 24, 2011), Atlantis (May 17, 2011), and Endeavour (May 11, 2011). With multiple automatically controlled cameras, bolted into place for stability, Dan Winters records the dramatic launches of the last flight of these shuttles as they were sent hurtling into space. The resulting launch photographs are breathtaking, whether one has an interest in space travel or not.

m

Discovery Flight Deck (aft view with robotic arm controls), Cape Canaveral, 2011              (c) Dan Winters Photography

The exhibition depicts far more than the launches alone however, and large-scale “portraits’ of the shuttles, lunar rovers and elite fighter planes, cockpits and mission control panels remind those familiar with Dan Winters’ work just how good he is at photographing gadgets, machines and all things science. My personal favorites were the detail shots of the astronaut’s gloves, as well as the full-length flight suits. Neil Armstrong’s Lunar Glove is much more than just a discarded piece of a uniform. In Winters’ hands, the glove appears to be fully inhabited. In my mind it is filled with all the dreams of everyone who once huddled around a television set to see Armstrong’s fuzzy apparition, as he was the first to put a boot down on the surface of the moon. Last Launch is as close as many of us will get to experiencing the historical space program and a rare opportunity to see work by the gifted Dan Winters.

kk

Neil Armstrong’s Lunar Suit, Smithsonian Institute, July, 2012              (c) Dan Winters Photography

Last Launch: Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis is also a book published by the University of Texas Press.  His other books include Dan Winters’ America: Icons and Ingenuity (2012), and Dan Winters: Periodical Photographs (2009). Dan Winters is a regular contributor for Vanity Fair, New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Texas Monthly.

Self Portrait (c)Dan Winters Photography

Self Portrait (c) Dan Winters Photography

Fahey/Klein Gallery is located at 148 North La Brea Avenue, between First Street and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. The gallery is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, 323 934 2250.

Advertisements
xx

Hippocampus #5 (c) Chris Anthony

Bottomless vales and boundless floods,

And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,

With forms that no man can discover

For the dews that drip all over;

Mountains toppling evermore

Into seas without a shore

– Edgar Allan Poe

The large set of leather-bound books seems deeply significant in the recesses of my childhood mind.  The five members of our family were readers, and we collectively made evening outings every three weeks to the public library in our suburban neighborhood to bring home arm loads of modern writers like Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, and Truman Capote.

The novels on the living room shelf, however, were classics:  Twain, Dickens, Flaubert, Dumas, Hawthorne and such.  They carried the weight of middle-class aspiration to finer living – to a life less drab. There may have been reproduction Americana folk prints on the walls, but Oscar Wilde’s sophisticated and humorous musings on the shelf. Aside from their literary value they delivered a physical quality of richness as they sat amid the regular bound books in a ranch house filled with faux-colonial maple furniture.

There was also an untouchable quality, due either to our mother not wanting us to gum up the pages with sticky fingers, or just due to the fact that the books themselves had a certain nobility.  Regardless, there were two strong qualities I recall, one of which was just how good they felt in my hands: supple leather and shiny smooth gold gilded pages.  There was also a spooky quality amid certain books: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and all the works of Edgar Allen Poe.  The darkness of these stories may pale with the horrific and violent imagery in contemporary culture, but their power in story-telling set an atmosphere of apprehension that seemed to emanate from the bindings themselves.  That’s the power of imagination in a child’s mind.

x

Self #2 (c) Chris Anthony

Expiscorari (c) Chris Anthony

Expiscorari (c) Chris Anthony

All this brings me to a beautiful and mysterious new book by photographer Chris Anthony. Informed by the prose and imagery of Edgar Allen Poe, “Seas Without A Shore” is rooted in historical image making without being stuck there. Anthony implements the wet plate collodion process beautifully along with using 150 year old lenses, but those are just a few of the tools in his bag of tricks. Anthony has one of the finest visual “voices” I’ve known in recent years. Part mystic, part conjurer, vaudeville ringmaster and antique portraitist, Anthony is a rare animal.  His ability to set both simple and elaborate stages creates elegant enigmas throughout all of his bodies of work that allow the viewer to witness something of a different reality while exploring themes of solitude, hope and survival.

xx

Melanie #1 (c) Chris Anthony

When I once worked with him on a series of editorial portraits at Hollywood’s Magic Castle, I was actually surprised that he didn’t arrive in a Victorian morning jacket or step out of a coach rather than a car.  He so thoroughly created his own landscape that I came to expect him to inhabit it as well.

xx

Ladybird (c) Chris Anthony

In “Seas Without A Shore,” Chris Anthony writes: “An image that I go back with since I’m perhaps three or four years old is a vintage movie poster for the 1934 film, The Black Cat, hanging on my Aunt Maggie’s living room wall in Stockholm. The disembodied heads of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi zooming across the blackened vortex of the cat’s silhouette made a huge impact on me. Their facial expressions were terrifying. Like a stick in the wet cement of a young brain, it wires you for good, and save for perhaps an Arthurian therapist attempting to pry it loose from your noodle, one is rather stuck with it for life.  But even at that age, the poster didn’t scare me. It thrilled me. It’s also the first time I ever saw the words: Edgar Allan Poe.”

xx

October Rust (c) Chris Anthony

xx

Skid Row (c) Chris Anthony

In an era of rampant shutter releases, Chris Anthony’s vision takes us to a selective and sophisticated level of image making with fictional narratives from the bizarre to the banal.  “Making the masks, and many of the props and costumes is a big part of the process and it helps me define this unique and demented little world I live and shoot in. There are many still-lifes (or portraits rather) of Seahorses, which I find to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating creatures in existence. The mysteries of the sea is certainly a big part of the subject matter in these pictures and I like to think that the book ends with a sort of crescendo of color images of survivors braving waves and currents, perhaps the result of a future world where ocean tides will wash away the planet’s coastlines.”

Hippocampi #1 (c) Chris Anthony

Hippocampi #1 (c) Chris Anthony

x

Rex Pelagus (c) Chris Anthony

Chris Anthony was born in Sweden and lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, Stockholm, Brooklyn, Hong Kong, Washington D.C., London, Bath and San Francisco and published in the Los Angeles Times, Eyemazing, Art News, American Photo, Blink, Paper, Photo+, Nylon, Black Book, Juxtapoz, Zoom, Corrierre della Serra.Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 2.52.38 PM

“Seas Without A Shore,” is a self-published book, available through its author, offered in a variety of versions including a signed edition limited to 200 copies with cloth bound cover and options of slip cases, clamshell boxes and original prints. Unlike the fearsome books of my youth, the gorgeous “Seas Without A Shore” begs to be opened, pored over, considered and reconsidered. Contact chris@chris-anthony.com  http://chrisanthony.viewbook.com

xx

Wings #1 (c) Chris Anthony

Sankore Mosque rises above the eponymous surrounding neighborhood. Together they formed the famous "University of Sankore," which gave Timbuktu its reputation as a center of Islamic scholarship; it was not a formally incorporated university, but rather a collection of highly respected scholars who each held their own majlis. In the sixteenth century, the golden age of Islamic learning in Timbuktu, subjects ranged from Arabic grammar, literature, and poetry to mathematics, magic, medicine, history and law.

The 16th century Sankore Mosque rises above the eponymous surrounding neighborhood. Together they form the “University of Sankore,” which gave Timbuktu its reputation as a center of Islamic scholarship; it was not a formally incorporated university, but rather a collection of highly respected scholars who each held their own majlis.

Several years before I met Alexandra Huddleston she began her ten month research and photographic residency in Timbuktu, Mali.  The recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, Huddleston created “333 Saints: a Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu,”  the story of a rich and beautiful African intellectual culture that remains largely unknown in the West. As all documentarians know, it is a rare talent to photograph as if one is a fly on the wall.  Perhaps her birthplace in the nearby country of Sierra Leone gives her a regional instinct.  Even so, I found it striking what a light footprint she wielded in her images of a community in love with books – scholars of all ages who seek knowledge and wisdom. Huddleston’s beautiful photographs and informative text reveal a city that has built its identity around a culture of scholarship.

With foreheads pressed against the outer wall of the great mosque of Djingarey-Ber, celebrants of Mawlid pray for their hopes in the coming year. Islam In Tibuktu is highly influenced by Sufism.

With foreheads pressed against the outer wall of the great mosque of Djingarey-Ber, celebrants of Mawlid pray for their hopes in the coming year. Islam In Tibuktu is highly influenced by Sufism. (c) Alexandra Huddleston

Huddleston writes of her experience “I gained a deep respect for the history and traditions of Timbuktu and a healthy skepticism for one of the most sinister truisms of the twentieth century: that tradition and social and economic development are incompatible. I saw that it was love and respect for one’s own culture that gave the greatest strength, adaptability, and creativity in the face of change.”

Two women study Arabic.

Two women study Arabic. (c) Alexandra Huddleston

Utilizing her new imprint The Kyouda Press, Alexandra Huddleston has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to self-publish a book version of this extensive photographic series. The photographs in the book were taken several years before the turbulent current events that have transformed Mali’s political and cultural life. However, they show the culture of moderate Islam that has been under direct attack: a deeply rooted, ancient Islamic tradition of tolerance, erudition, and faith. Photographs from the body of work have been acquired by the US Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art.

Several of the 9,000 ancient manuscripts in the Mamma Haidera Library.

Several of the 9,000 ancient manuscripts found in the collection at Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidera Library. (c) Alexandra Huddleston

Alexandra Huddleston holds a BA from Stanford University and an MS in broadcast journalism from Columbia University.  Her work has been published in The New York Times, Zeit Magazine, National Geographic Explorer, and exhibited worldwide. To contribute to her book project:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1101472817/333-saints-a-life-of-scholarship-in-timbuktu-book

Alexandra Huddleston

Alexandra Huddleston

Sep_25_Upper_Lower

Sun/Moon (Trying to See through a Telescope), 2010
2010 Sep 25 7:02:27 AM – 2010 Sep 25 7:02:38 AM
2010 Sep 25 7:08:01 AM – 2010 Sep 25 7:01:21 AM
Ultrachrome print on Canson Rag Photograpique paper
17 x 69 3/8 inches each

Following my winter hiatus spent working on a variety of projects including a book photo editing project, I attended an exhibition by artist Sharon Harper and was captivated by her work. Harper happened to be among a group of photographers with which I shared a brief, but lively conversation last spring at Fotofest.  I had the most minimal look at her photographs at the open portfolio night, before some distraction pulled me away from her table. I was pleased then, to have the opportunity to see her work at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.

Selections from Sharon Harper’s series “From Above and Below” elevate the small interior gallery space with a handsome series of large-scale images of the sky, taken primarily through a telescope. More specifically, they were taken with a camera attached to a telescope.

Harper has served on the photography faculty at Harvard for the last eight years and has work included in such prominent collections as MOMA and the Whitney in New York, Portland Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. She also has a striking new book of her work “From Above and Below,” published by Radius Books in 2012.

Sun/Moon (Trying to See through a Telescope), 2010
2010 Jun 2 3:31:35 AM – 2010 Jun 2 3:32:38 AM
Ultrachrome print on Canson Rag Photograpique paper
17 x 69 3/8 inches

Sharon Harper’s photographs feature an ethereal, minimalist esthetic. They are at once graphically beautiful, clean and spacious and also provoking of curiosity. The sequences of the moon as it rises and falls through the night sky in one image and into the morning in another, feel scientific but also somehow comfortingly familiar. They are the stuff that we spent our childhoods day-dreaming about. Her telescope is clearly more powerful than the one my grandfather put on the porch above the Columbia River as we squinted to try to find the craters, cheese and the man on the moon, yet her sense of discovery is full of the same wonderment.

One Month, Weather Permitting, 2009
Night Sky over Banff, Alberta
September 12 – October 10, 2007
25 September

In “One Month Weather Permitting,” Harper charts the night sky over Banff, Canada.  She writes that the photographs are “capturing long-exposure star trails for two or three consecutive nights on a single sheet of film throughout the period of a month.  Environmental interruptions, such as passing clouds, light pollution, and light leaks, are all recorded in process.”  The resulting images appear at first like drawings by the most delicate of hands.  Exquisite fine lines and scratches fill the frame, reflecting the movement of both the camera and stars alike.

In a sense, Sharon Harper is a classic documentarian.  Her detailed notes of photographic times of shutter release mark many of the frames and her photographs not of the sky, but of the location where the sky photos were taken, give a sense of place and orient the viewer in the way a more typical documentarian might lay out their story.

Sun/Moon (Trying to See Through a Telescope), 2010                                       2010 May 27 10:48:35 AM - 2010 May 27 11:08:34 AM                                   Ultrachrome Print on Canson Rag Photographique paper                                17x58 1/8 inches

Sun/Moon (Trying to See Through a Telescope), 2010 2010 May 27 10:48:35 AM – 2010 May 27 11:08:34 AM

In the most compelling art, the longer one looks, the more one sees. Sharon Harper’s photographs allow us to escape the confines of our terrestrial visual rootedness for glimpses of something beyond our world and yet so much a part of it.

The biggest disappointment about the exhibition was that Harper’s work was not featured in the larger dominant space at Bergamot Station’s DNJ Gallery.  It’s not the first time a gallery has shown its strongest work in the lesser exhibition space, and to my dismay, I’ve noticed it several times at DNJ.  Harper’s photographs are so esthetically strong and so conceptually interesting that it’s truly a shame that they aren’t the first thing one sees upon entering.  It was well worth my time to enter, but I would have enjoyed a larger sampling.

Sharon Harper with her photographs.

Sharon Harper with her photographs.

Sharon Harper’s “From Above and Below” can be seen through April 13, 2013 at DNJ Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Suite J1, Santa Monica, California.  Her work is also represented by Galerie Stefan Ropke, in Cologne, Germany and by Rick Wester Fine Art, New York.

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

Nature Morte no. 4 (Still Life Inside and Out) by Cynthia Greig, (c) 2009, chromogenic development print

While I was growing up my family moved with alarming regularity. My father, a retail clothing buyer and manager was frequently transferred and consequently our family found ourselves moving from Portland to Seattle to Los Angeles and back again at the whim of the rag business. By the time I graduated from High School I attended a total of eight schools in the span most kids go to three and I’d lived in ten different homes. Family photos were abundant and our histories in each house were duly recorded and treasured. Throughout Junior High and High School I began to cherish the school yearbook as a way of retaining memory of each place and the people I cared about within those places. In typical pubescent fashion, it was also a way of wallowing in misery in coping with loss and rootlessness. The byproduct of all this was that I found I often knew the names and two-dimensional faces of everyone in each yearbook even though the majority were barely acquaintances.

As a photo editor living in Los Angeles it is not uncommon to find myself seated in a restaurant adjacent to someone who I knew only by virtue of the fact I had assigned or taken a portrait of them at one point or another. In the case of actors or sports figures with public faces like Hilary Swank or Javier Bardem or Kobe Byrant, recognition is obvious.   With other subjects such as a Nobel Prize winning scientist or a best selling author or cutting edge architect, well, that was different. Their faces might not be so default famous. Did I know them? Were they friends, I’d half forgotten? If so, from which city? From which yearbook? Did I go to college with them? I once ran into an old college mate in the middle of the Yucatan jungle, so I know it’s possible to re-cross paths in unlikely places.

Nature Morte no. 9 (Head with Pomegranates) by Cynthia Greig, (c) 20110, chromogenic development print

Knowing someone’s face without knowing the person makes for an extremely one-sided relationship. I recognize them, but in an uncomfortably familiar way. After all, I’ve stared at every follicle trying to make a clean edit.  I know their faces too well.  I often have to flip through a mental notebook to determine why I felt I knew them without knowing them. I always remember eventually and then everything I knew about them runs through my mind. They’re ordering a nice arugula salad and the sea bass and I’m recalling which street they live on and whether they were witty or kind.  I must be careful and avoid small talk as though we’re old friends when the person may well be a film director or the designer of an electric car. Knowing is not always knowing.  I was touring an open house recently when I ran into the author James Ellroy and we did a not-so-subtle eyeing of each other across the worn-out kitchen until we realized we did in fact know each other. In that case I had taken photographs for James’ memoir “My Dark Places,” some years ago after initially meeting on assignment. That relationship was more deeply forged and small talk was warranted. I didn’t have to feel like a voyeur to say “hello, how are you?”

At Fotofest in Houston I finished a post portfolio review drink and found myself chatting with a table of photographers in the lobby bar.  I was delighted when Cynthia Greig introduced herself, as I am quite fond of her work.  Her photographs of familiar traditional still life arrangements are not unlike those that adorned my mother’s walls in each of our suburban houses, but whitewashed and stripped of most color, altering their dimension and straddling a world somewhere between painting and photography.   I think she was generally floored at my recognition; much less the fact that I once considered showing her photographs until I realized she already had representation in Los Angeles. Greig is based in Detroit and I imagine getting exposure is somewhat tough in the world beyond. Even so, I’d seen the work previously and added her to my list of people I felt were doing something unique in the medium.  Meeting her in Texas seemed to me a random lucky fluke, yet these photo events put us all together in ever expanding concentric circles.

Digital access to photography has also made discoveries that were once challenging now commonplace.  The artists and their work are not less special, but the hard won nature of finding significant art and artists in the past allowed presenters of work to feel accomplished in finding an exceptional discovery. The sense that I’m not alone now as I search the equivalent of that school yearbook makes the act of locating distinguished artwork more of an uphill battle.   Pouring over assignment contact sheets in the past was an act conducted in solitude, without audience or competition.  Today there are thousands of others alongside, somewhere in the digital ether, clicking “like” with their morning coffee.  I do find work that I’m fond of, but I miss the joy of what once felt like an exclusive hunt.

Nature Morte no. 5 (Mixed Fruit), Cynthia Greig, (c) 2009, chromogenic development print

The intimacy of viewing the art with artist at hand and stepping out of the two-dimensional into a live experience seems to be the best way of dissipating the overwhelming nature of mass access.  And so the chance introduction to Cynthia Greig created the opportunity to meet again on the occasion of her exhibition at Santa Monica’s dnj Gallery.  Showing through June 2, 2012, Nature Morte is well worth a visit.

Cynthia Greig’s statement regarding the work follows:

“I’m fascinated by the persuasive power of the photograph, and its unique role in negotiating what we believe to be real or true.

Nature Morte revisits the tradition of still life to explore photography’s relationship to the vanitas themes of death, decay, and transience while meditating on the nature of reality and illusion. Exploiting the camera’s monocular point of view, I create two-dimensional photographic documents of three-dimensional drawings, rendering physical objects to first appear as crude and simple outlines. The photographs deny expectations to encourage the observation of subtle detail as a means to examine the deceptive nature of appearance and the presumed transparency of the photographic image. Muted colors emanate from beneath the whitewashed flesh of fruit; drawn charcoal outlines and shadows fix moments in fictional time; defining lines warp, wrinkle and decay with the organic matter they represent. The accompanying videos further explore time’s capacity to unfold and reveal the illusory nature of appearance.

I make images that embrace both the limitations and possibilities of photography. They prompt essential questions about the nature of reality as well as the medium itself: what do we expect a photograph to look like? To what degree are our beliefs and realities based on appearances and misconceptions? Nature Morte investigates the malleability of representation and identity and the potential for reconfiguring the physical and imagined boundaries we impose upon the world.”

dnj Gallery is located in Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Suite J1, Santa Monica, CA.  Gallery Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

The Valley, (c) Kelli Connell

Kelli Connell’s series “Double Life” seemed special enough when I first saw it online, but I had the sense that comes with website viewing that I’d already seen the pictures.  So why bother attending the physical exhibition?   Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I dropped by Kopeikin Gallery on a weekday.

I wondered whether the photographs might gain something by hanging on the wall?  I should say that this question wasn’t really aimed at Kelli Connell’s work specifically, but really at all photographic work of late. I’d been feeling a creeping sense of image burnout on and off for the last few years.  Professional photo editors see hundreds if not thousands of photographs each week.   In fine art, it’s not much different. The bounty of work available to be seen online along with the sheer numbers of active photographers can sometimes have a numbing effect on the viewer. Keeping abreast of beloved work prior to living life on a desktop was manageable enough with part of my brain devoted to Duane Michaels and Judy Dater, and part of it to Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn and Mary Ellen Mark.  There were many others of course, but the point being, it wasn’t all that crowded a field.

Websites for editorial and advertising photographers offer an instant reference for those in a position to assign or buy photography.  It’s a good thing.  For fine art photography, the net seems to me to walk the fine line of being friend and foe.  While it expands opportunities for awareness and outreach, it also risks a sense of  “been there, done that”.  It’s always been a good idea to put a strong image on an invitation, make a couple of images available to the press and hold tight to the rest of the work to give people something fresh to see at exhibition. Seeing work on the wall is seduction after all.  It’s difficult to feel the pull of the words “buy me” when it comes to art that you only experience in the condensed format of a computer screen.  When we have the opportunity to see every image in a series prior to the show, it diminishes one’s desire to change out of our sweatpants and drive across town for an opening.  We lose that wonderful sense of discovery.

Ponder, (c) Kelli Connell

In spite of all that, it was with great pleasure that I found myself in a room full of Connell’s images.    The dozen or so prints were all pictures I had seen before, yet somehow they moved me in a way I hadn’t experienced in prior small version looks.  Seeing a beautifully crafted photograph, equally well framed is a nicer experience than seeing it with menu bars and a multitude of files on my desktop.  I must remember this.

Immediately I was reminded of another simple fact.  Seeing art in an empty room without the opening crowd can be a wonderful thing.  I was alone here except for Mr. Kopeikin and he was occupied on the phone. I could actually consider the images in peace.

Trying to put two and two together is a pleasure and sometimes a challenge in art and while I like to eventually read the artist’s statement, I always feel like I’ve cheated and looked at the answers before reading the questions if I read it first.  In this case I was glad that I hadn’t read Connell’s statement or any interviews before seeing the work.

Lucky Lou's, (c) Kelli Connell

There have been volumes of compelling work made based on sexual identity: photographs, films, videos and mixed media work in the last twenty odd years including many works by my former school mates and friends from Cal Arts, UC Irvine and UCLA, such as John Di StefanoTammy Rae Carland, Catherine Opie, Millie Wilson, Keith Mayerson, and even by myself.   I pretty much walked away from the topic years ago feeling it had run its course for me at the time.

Young photographers like Kelli Connell find their own routes of exploration, however, and her subjects are depicted with a gentle subtlety.  Each nuanced frame makes a look at a relationship in an everyday life.  The normalcy of the images is their beauty.  Simple arrangements of two women in very utilitarian locations – a couple, but they are an identical duo.  Are they lovers?  Are they identical twins? They appear to be quietly engaged in the details of their lives, two sides of one coin. Bits of gendered behaviors show, but quietly.  I think I tired of the heavy-handedness of the genre in the past, but Connell’s compositions are elegantly balanced and her subjects low-key.  They’re a relief from so much posing in the world.  These are posed, but they just don’t feel like it.  They’re not dogmatic. Her technical skill is flawless and while I’m not generally one to give away the ending before you’ve had a chance to see the film, much has already been written about her casting a friend to play both roles in the relationship.  Connell masters the images together in an ultimate Photoshop embrace.

Convertible Kiss, (c) Kelli Connell

I tried to fathom how it was possible to weave the two versions of her model so seamlessly given the connectedness of the couple.  It only made sense once I read that Kelli Connell herself serves as a stand in or placeholder for one side of the two characters.  This way an embrace feels like an embrace.  More important than Photoshop technique is the way in which Connell filling this role affects the images.  She is in the images and she’s not.  She’s there in the ether.  Her presence appears to make up for her absence in that she occupies the heart and soul of the work, including the minor details: a thumb hooked into a blue jean pocket, a hand cups an ear and the nape of a neck.  “What is really recorded on the film is our interaction together.”

This is solidly beautiful work.  It’s both portraiture and performance. Poetic and banal in the way that real life can be.

Carnival, (c) Kelli Connell

Many years ago I was lucky enough to hear a lecture by the late film historian Vito Russo in which he spoke of wanting to see the day in which gay films didn’t have to constantly deal with coming out, or with characters being killed off for that matter.  He longed for the day when the fact of a character’s queerness wasn’t even mentioned.  They merely existed within the context of a story.  Just like straight characters existed.  They did other things, lived their lives, had relationships, had jobs, were heroes or just regular people.

Kelli Connell’s images do just that.  They live their filmic lives.

Brickhaus Cafe, (c) Kelli Connell

Connell has fielded the question of whether the series has run its course since she began it in 2002.  Artists periodically ask themselves what’s next when consumed by a long body of work.   It is a question only time and the photographer herself will discover.  While I would be fascinated to see what an entirely new body of work might be, it is equally compelling to consider the idea of continuing along this path, allowing her subjects to continue to play out their relationship as we continue to follow along. Rarely in photography do we have the opportunity to see characters develop, change, age and transition in their fictional lives over a long period of time.  When it happens, it’s a rare and special thing.

Kelli Connell’s “Double Life” shows at Kopeikin Gallery, 2766 Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles through April 14, 2012 with J Bennett Fitts “8 Dead Palm Trees.”

She also has work in “Contemporary Queer Photography” at Photo Center NW in Seattle, April 6th through May 12th with a lecture April 13th at 6:30 pm.

No matter how strong photography’s attraction may be for me, I deeply enjoy mixed media exhibitions.   A combination of beautifully made objects including the functional along with the purely esthetic is an exhibition after my own heart.  This could be because I started out in craft.   Ceramics in Southern California in the 70s drew the artful suburban kids out of our ranch houses, away from the beach and to the tactile pleasures of clay.  There’s no cadre stronger than one born of earth, fire and water and the beer keg parties in the kilns at Paul Soldner’s ceramics department at Scripps College in Claremont were alive with the energy of what was then still a happening crafts movement.  My interests evolved in many directions over the years but my “form follows function” needs were happily met on a recent visit to California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA.

California Design, 1930–1965: "Living in a Modern Way” at LACMA includes a wide range of the craftsmanship that led the way for Americans to incorporate design into their daily lives.

Julius Shulman's 1959 photograph of Pierre Koenig's Bailey House (Case Study House #21, Hollywood Hills, 1958

The sultry Avanti designed by Raymond Loewy in 1961 and manufactured 1963-64 is displayed on the cool white rock often found on rooftops all over the West.

This beautifully mounted exhibition designed by architects Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung and installed in the museum’s new Resnick Pavillion is the first major survey of mid-century modern design manufactured in California.  Featuring over 300 objects including furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion, textiles, and industrial and graphic design, the exhibition creates not only a window on cutting edge design of the era, but also a look at California’s role in leading the way.  Apparently most things do happen here 15 minutes before the rest of the country.

A home away from home - designers Ray and Charles Eames' living room, recreated in the museum gallery, down to the last Philodendron leaf.

Much has been written of the installation of Charles and Ray Eames’ living room staged in one end of the museum hall.  What struck me most about this room was not so much the elegance and simplicity of their design but just how much they filled it with clutter.  Every spacious architectural home in the West has been photographed with minimalist furnishings “evoking” the Eames duo, yet they themselves packed their own home with an exceedingly great amount of clutter, knickknacks, folk art and potted plants.  Surrounding themselves with inspirational objects, the spiritual parents of contemporary Southern California lived among the kinds of oddball things gathered on vacations bearing little or no similarity to their own designs.

Wallace "Wally" M. Byam, Clipper, 1936, Auburn Trailer Collection

When I asked my seventeen year-old son what part of the show he liked the most, I thought for sure he’d go for the shiny 1936 Airstream Clipper trailer.  When he immediately responded with his choice of the Polaroid Swinger, I found myself smiling.  Situated in a display case next to Barbie’s Dream House, the small, white molded plastic camera was the lust object equivalent of the iPad in its day.  In its installation at LACMA, it had the added benefit of being presented with a video of one of the television spots made for the Swinger when it was launched in 1965.

Neat, sweet and petite - the Polaroid Swinger.

Ben loves television commercials and often sings their jingles around the house.  The fact that a song like “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” was not created in order to sell fragrance, but originally was a 1967 hit record by Donovan is a difficult reality to convey. He just knows a catchy tune when he hears one.  The LACMA installation included a wonderful white conical audio earpiece, which despite its progressive design, seemed at home when scratchily emitting the pop jingle to accompany the Swinger commercial. It was so popular in my childhood that I was able to conjure up its tune and much of the lyrics even before actually hearing it again at the exhibition.

“Meet the Swinger, the Polaroid Swinger.  It’s more than a camera, it’s almost alive.  Its only nineteen dollars and ninety-five.”  Complete with surf guitar.

A Catherine Deneuve look-alike, a young Ali MacGraw and Gidget goes brunette in Polaroid.

The Polaroid Swinger at the beach in the vintage television ad.

The fact that a stunning young Ali McGraw played the lead in the commercial was lost to me in elementary school. She hadn’t yet had her big film break in Love Story.  For my teenager, she was a gorgeous girl on a beach having fun with her friends and her camera and that song, even with the crackley vintage video was infectious with its ’60s vibe.  The Swinger commercial was a window on what he calls “back then,” meaning any time before life as he knows it.  The commercial took the museum object out of the showcase and into a practical application of how it fit into life and the world, enriching the viewing experience.  The fact that it connected to my son’s life on several levels, including being predecessor to the Tasmanian Devil Polaroid camera I bought him when he was six, brought him deeper meaning.

Tasmanian Devil Polaroid, circa 2000, mouth open in the shooting position.

Upon returning home and doing a little research we found that Ray and Charles Eames also made a short film in 1972 for the Polaroid Corporation detailing the features and wonders of its SX-70 camera.  While the Swinger was geared toward a youthful audience,  this was the camera that became coveted in the art world.  Its gelatin based film emulsion stayed soft for several days, allowing artists such as Lucas Samaras to manipulate a photograph’s surface before it hardened into a fully fixed image.   Samaras’ images, along with Bea Nettles’ Breaking the Rules: A Photo Media Cookbook contributed to stretching the boundaries of what photography could be in the pre-computer era and Polaroid was a contributing force.

Ray Eames with the SX-70 in the studio

The SX-70 was like the Swinger for professionals, which made the educational film all the more interesting due to both the design genius of Ray and Charles Eames and because the camera was just so progressive in its day.  In the last decade, the evolution of photographic technology has felt as though it has turned on a dime, with digital leaving film in the dust.  Watching “SX70” I got a strong sense of the sophistication of the technology at that time and it struck me that the medium has been on more of a continuum than we might often think.  Ever in flux, always in development, photography has always been a work in progress.

A scene from SX-70.

In terms of pure visual appeal, SX70 (the film) reeks of early ’70s cool from the original Elmer Bernstein pop score to the hip scientific animations of Richard Spies.  I would not have been surprised at all to see Ali McGraw pop in again with someone in a sports car, say Steve McQueen for instance.   Which brings me to the Eames’ intriguing film crew and it’s here that I fall down a bit of a rabbit hole.   The film featured Philip Morrison, one of the youngest physicists to work on the Manhattan Project, who later became a leading voice in the drive to halt the use of nuclear weapons.  Also listed in the credits were Eames’ late furniture maker, turned steampunk prop maker Parke Meek, and the studio’s still photographer Dick Donges who later formed the design firm of Neuhart Donges Neuhart.  Also listed in the credits is photographer Peggy Gruen, daughter of Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck commonly known as the architects who created the shopping mall among other things.

This photo of Barton's Barbonnierre designed by Elsie Krummeck and Victor Gruen (with Alvin Lustig as graphics consultant), shows Gruen's chandeliers, one of which is at LACMA.

The idea that these masters of design, the Eames, Gruen and Krummeck were likely either friends or colleagues including a daughter in a film project, fascinates me.  Elsie Krummeck’s ceramic planters were on display about 20 feet from the Polaroid Swinger and Victor Gruen’s whimsical metal chandelier, part of an overall design he and Krummeck created for the fabulous Barton’s Barbonnierre, were just a few steps away.  In my imagination, the reconstructed living room was where the Eames shared cocktails and talked shop with Gruen and Krummeck.  Throughout the California Design exhibition there were similarly linked artists in furniture and fabric design, pottery, photography, metals and graphics.  Friends and colleagues who made wonderful things and inspired each other to do the same and forged the way we see the modern world.

It’s not only who you know, it’s what you know and what you make.  It’s more than a camera it’s almost alive.


California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” is open through June 3, 2012 at LACMA.

A wonderful book accompanies the exhibition and is available through LACMA’s bookstore and in digital form at MIT Press