Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Must Read: Spencer Platt's Cholera Journal

A cholera patient being delivered to a hospital in Haiti. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
 My friend Michael Shaw, who does the excellent Bag News Notes website, has a piece up featuring photojournalist Spencer Platt's images documenting the cholera outbreak. The pictures suggest the reality of the deadly disease in a way I haven't experienced before. Platt has also written a journal about his experience in Haiti. He's a very strong writer. Here is an excerpt, in which he describes seeing patients being treated in a hospital room that once was used as a maternity ward:
This room, which had been used to usher new lives into the world; whose walls witnessed the screams, fears and sobs of the joy of birth, is now home to an ominous sight. Men and women, young and old lay prostrate in the late afternoon light with rehydration drips tethered to their thin arms. They are the fortunate ones, the ones who made it to the hospital and didn’t die in a fetid shed where shafts of light filter through wood slats to reveal worlds of dust and rot.
Please go to Bag News and see the rest of Platt's images, and read that journal. This is a prime example of what photographs do like no other medium. They provide the emotional sticking points that make the abstractions of current events real for us. And the combination of pictures and words remain as powerful as ever.

A cholera victim is buried. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Print: Linsday Vonn As Sharon Stone, Model Sues Over Nudes, Tim Gunn's Best of Life

Has the magazine industry recovered, like all those stories say it has? I think not. But let's agree that all those titles we love are trying really, really hard to: 1) Get attention, even if it means going off message; 2) Be cutting-edge, even if it means fudging photos; and 3) Stay relevant, even if your magazine doesn't exist. The corresponding evidence follows:

1. ESPN, The Movie Issue

What am I most surprised about...the fact that the woman on the cover of ESPN, the Magazine is not Sharon Stone but Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn, or that fact the ESPN, the Magazine has a movie issue? Apparently the NFL, with it's monster TV ratings, just isn't enough for today's sports fan. I'm wondering if the editor who wrote the cover line "Back to Basics" was in fact feeling that the publication might bestraying a bit too far from its core mission. No matter, Vonn doesn't look like Sharon Stone in this homage to Basic Instinct. In this behind-the-scene video of the photo shoot, Vonn talks about her resemblance to Stone. One commentator, recalling the famous scene reacted here, wondered whether the underlying message was that "even if a female athlete has a gold medal, never forget that she also has a vagina!" Your thoughts? By the way, while there are lots of stories about this cover on the Internet, none of which will tell you that the photographer of the cover was Ture Lillegravin. 

2. GQ Spain

Model Irina Shayk (click it, trust me) is said to be suing GQ Spain for making her appear to be nude in several images of its current issue (cover above, nude below). Shayk's agency, Elite, said in a statement (go here) that the model was wearing lingerie in the "artistic and tasteful shots done by famed photographer Vincent Peters, and that she was supposed to have final approval over the images before they were published. According to Elite, the lure of nudity and Photoshop proved to be too great for the magazine to withstand. As you look at the image above, remember that those are just pixels and not real flesh that you're seeing. As a matter of fact, it's good to remember that whenever you look at any fashion, advertising, or portrait photography. It's about fantasy.

3. Life

 Life magazine stopped publishing a weekly edition in 1972.  Last week, however, Life.com had a fun piece up in which Project Runway's Tim Gunn was asked to pick his favorite fashion images from the pages of the magazine. The selection is fun to look at, and Gunn is as impeccable in taste as always, but the piece struck me as a bit of a stretch, since Life was never the home of great fashion photography. For Life, fashion, like the movies, was news, not art. It's just a little silly looking at the history of fashion imagery through the eyes of Life's photographers. Having said that, however, let me add that the shot below, which appeared in 1969, when I was but a lad, had a very...profound effect on me, and I am thankful that Gunn included it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Great Piece of Literature from the Afghanistan War?

I have a new blog entry up on the Huffington Post...it's about photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who has just released a new book, Infidel, which documents Battle Company of the 2nd Battalion, 403rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which Hetherington photographed over the course of a year's deployment in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. It's a different kind of war book, more focused on the quiet moments of a soldier's life...and it's reality is absolutely compelling. The finest part is a series of images of these warriors asleep, like young boys, in their bunks. I wonder if it isn't part of the first great piece of literature to come out of the war.

In the back of the book, Hetherington includes statements from many of the soldiers of Battle Company. One of the most interesting to me came from a man who, like many soldiers from wars past, talks about how the fact of killing changes a man forever. But in today's volunteer army, the weight of that feeling is an extra burden. He notes that he chose to join the military, and chose the infantry, and so the killing he has done could, as he notes, have been avoided. It's not an idea I'd ever considered before.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

About that NYU Prof With the Camera Implanted in His Head...

A few years ago a colleague and I got into a discussion about how soon it would be before people started having camera lenses implanted in their foreheads. This was a fun, light-hearted discussion, mind you, prompted by some news about digital miniaturization or something like that. But even as we joked, I had this unpleasant feeling that we were actually just predicting the real future. And I was right.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that a professor at New York University is having a camera implanted in the back of his head, giving the term "20-20 hindsight" a whole new meaning. The professor, Wafaa Bilal, is an assistant professor in the photography and imaging department of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He's doing this camera-in-the-head thing as part of an art project commissioned by a museum in Qatar, according to the WSJ. For one year, the camera will take pictures at one-minute intervals and feed them to monitors at the museum. The Journal quotes press materials from the museum as saying that the project will  "comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience."  Bilal's head-camera (as opposed to a camera head, which is entirely different ) is worrying students who worry that they will be snapped every time he turns around. I suppose they could just always try to stay in front of him as he moves.

This sounds weird, and funny, but getting back to the discussion I had with my associate, how long do you think it will be before humans are equipped with visual memory aids in their heads. My cell phone has already completely destroyed my ability to remember a phone number; why not get a third eye that does the visual stuff as well? And a memory-card slot just behind the ear?

Monday, November 22, 2010

How's the Weather Been Out Your Way?

It's everyone's favorite topic, though no one has figured out how to do anything about—besides, apparently, taking pictures. All of a sudden I'm seeing lot's of pictures of severe weather. Are we just preparing psychologically for the effects of climate change, which only a few short years ago was known as global warming? Or maybe we just love looking at big storms...that other people have to live through. (That particular emotional cocktail is one part schadenfreude, two parts whistling past the graveyard. Don't drink too much; it's strong.) How bad is the bad weather this year? I asked an old friend, photographer Jim Reed, who specializes in the severe stuff, how the weather's been out his way. I could have predicted the answer after looking at his photo (above) of  a low-precipitation thunderstorm over  Adams, Colorado last June, and his photo (below) of a landspout in eastern Colorado last May.

"It's been my busiest year yet," he said. From photographing a rare snowstorm in Myrtle Beach, South Caroline and getting legendary TV meteorologist Tom Skilling his first tornado, to shooting record-setting hailstones in Kansas, and supercell thunderstorms in South Dakota, and witnessing record heat in Montana." So there you go. Below are some other weather pictures in the news.

1. South Dakota

Yesterday's New York Times ran a big, big article on how bad the weather's been this year in South Dakota. This struck me at first as a dog-bites-man story, which is to say, isn't the weather always funky in South Dakota? Otherwise everyone would move there and it would be New York. But then I read that a recent storm had brought hail the size of cantaloup to the state. Cantaloup. Accompanying the piece was this remarkable image of a tornado (credited to Chris Collura) that struck near the town of Bowdle, which looks like this on Google maps.

Have you noticed that you never see tornado pictures that don't have a news van or two in them anymore. So many storm chasers, so few storms. Let's face it, we really do love crappy weather.

2. New York City

One of the pleasures of working very late in an office building in New York City is watching what happens with bad, bad weather rolls over the New Jersey and hits town with a fury. You raid someone's office for food, turn the lights out, sit back, and enjoy the show. This photo of lightning hitting the Statue of Liberty was made by Jay Fine, who entered into this year's National Geographic photo contest. Incongruously, Fine wrote in his caption that there was "little wind and no rain, which allowed me to stay safely inside and shoot from an open window." Usually, inside is the place to be when there is lots of wind and rain. But we New Yorkers take no chances when it comes to weather.

3. Montana

I was watching the History Channel the other night about how effed-up Montana is going to be when the super volcano bubbling under Yellowstone National Park finally blows. So perhaps supercell thunderstorms like this one don't count for much out there. (At first I thought this was another tornado, until I noticed there were no news vans in the picture.) This shot, by Sean Heavey, was another National Geographic photo contest entry, and it is indeed an impressive photo. My friend Rich Clarkson, who used to be the director of photography at Geographic and now runs some wonderful photo workshops in Jackson, Wyoming, always tells his students that "bad weather makes good pictures." So this picture must be great.

4. Space

I don't think there's much bad weather up there, unless you count sunspots and micro-meteor showers . But astronauts on the International Space Station get a good view of the ridiculous mayhem we put up with down here on Earth. It seems that one astronaut, Douglas Wheelock, has been Tweeting pictures from up there. This one is a spectacular shot of Hurricane Earl, which formed off the Cape Verde Islands and picked up energy over the Atlantic and went on to become the first Hurricane to threaten New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991. That probably doesn't mean a lot to people in Florida and other Gulf states, who face these things every damn summer. But for us up in the Northeast Corridor, it was attention-getting.

5. Earth

This photo (credited to Lou Dematteis/AP /Spectral Q), doesn't show bad weather, but it's climate-related, and it's pretty super, so I decided to include it here. I found it on The Big Picture, in a portfolio of images of protests around the world. The people on this tiny island in the barrier reef of Belize City, Belize, where the Belize Reef Summit was being held a week or so ago. The demonstrators were making a none-too-subtle point about the environmental health of the planet. Call it climate change, or global warming, or whatever, no one like bad weather. Except photographers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Photo of the Day: Medal of Honor

Sergeant Giunta receives the Medal of Honor. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP
This photo, which I saw in yesterday's New York Daily News, shows Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta receiving the Medal of Honor from President Obama on November 16. Giunta became the first living soldier since the Vietnam War to receive the medal (seven soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the medal postumously) for action in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, during which he saved the lives of two friends. But that isn't the whole story. Pictures invite us to study emotion--that's the information they deliver as no other medium can, and it's the basis of their power. In this picture, by J. Scott Applewhite for AP, Giunta appears...let's say solemn, and the reason can be found in this video clip, which comes from photographer Tim Hetherington and writer Sebastian Junger, who made the documentary Restrepo, about a company of U.S soldiers in Afghanistan.  Giunta was one of those soldiers, and in the clip he tells the story behind his medal. (Hetherington also has a short interview with Giunta in the December issue of Vanity Fair.) If this photo doesn't tell the facts of the story, it tells the meaning. It's all there on Sergeant Giunta's face.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Craving Retro Tech: Why We Still Want Our MTV

A few months ago, I ran across these retro-ads, which of course aren't real, though I wish they were. In my fantasy, they created by Don Draper, who knows about the power of technological nostalgia, but in fact they were done by an ad agency in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and were meant to be used at seminars by a company that wanted to let its employees know about the importance of social media. Let's agree that they're brilliant.

I thought of them recently when I was reading this essay. The writer, Claire Gordon, waxes on a bit about how good she felt when she learned that a friend was still collecting movies on VHS cassettes...not because VHS quality is superior to DVDs (no analogies to audiophiles who prefer vinyl, please), but because her misty memories of the old analog world made her feel...good. That leads her to a bigger point:

So it's no wonder that digital natives, born into the greatest social revolution since the invention of the printing press, would get nostalgic so prematurely. In the last three decades, change has been so quick that technology -- the agent of chaos -- has itself become an object of nostalgia, whether VHS or dial-up, brick cell phones or Casio keyboards, Walkmans or Tamagotchi.
New technologies make everything faster, more efficient -- and we get nostalgic faster and more efficiently too -- for Sim City or the first generation iPod or the Facebook interface of four years ago (it appeared briefly on screen in The Social Network and my heart swelled). It's a pattern: A new technology is introduced to the market, becomes the reservoir for all society's anxieties, and then gets domesticated, becomes obsolete and is transformed into the totem of a quainter time.
I'm a little older than the age group Gordon is talking about. I am old enough to remember going to work one day and being very excited to learn from my boss that I was being upgraded to an IBM Selectric typewriter, so I'm not a "digital native." But I did use my Selectric to work on a story about this new thing called the personal computer, and a decade or so later I was working on my own personal computer. After that, I seemed to get upgrades about every year.

I certainly don't miss my typewriting days--I could never figure out how to change a ribbon--but I do remember the day when I realized that it had been years since I'd seen a slide, and maybe it was time to move the light table out of my office. It felt...weird, but good. I hated slides, and the ever-present threat that I might lose some and get sued. (Luckily, photographers were and remain early adopters.) My daughter, who is 20, did however spend a great deal of her high school years glued to those VH1 nostalgia fests for the '90s. An old cell phone brings a lump to her throat.

Which digital gadgets are you already sentimental about? While considering that question, you might also want to look at this article, about current technologies doomed by smartphones. (Hint: digital point-and-shoot cameras.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: The News in Color

Last night I scanned a number of my favorite photo websites to see which news pictures showed up most often. Below are of some of the images that received the seal of approval of photo editors the world over. I was particularly interested in how color was used to tell stories.

 1. Green Day

Among the visual wonders of the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on November 12, these dancers wearing illuminated hats were a favorite of almost every photo blog this week. And with good reason. This was my favorite shot. Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.

2.  White Night

Another favorite of photo editors around the world was this shot of a farmer walking through his cornfield,  covered in volcanic ash from Mount Merapi's eruption in Muntilan, central Java, Indonesia, on November 8. Look closely—it's a color picture. Photo credited to AP.  

3.  The Red and the Black, Part I

Photographer Finbarr O'Reilly scored two big news photos this month. This one, which showed up on several weekly photo roundups on the web, shows an Afghan man being held by Marines from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Bravo Company. The man was taken prisoner after a battle against Taliban in southern Afghanistan on November 7. Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

4. Beige Rage

O'Reilly also made this photo of graffiti left behind by Taliban fighters on the walls of a compound now used as a U.S. Marine Corps command center in Musa Qala, Afghanistan. Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

5.  White Line Fever

It's not a still from the final sequence of  2001: A Space Odyssey. This glowing line is an unusually slender galaxy, named NGC 4452, seen edge-on by the Hubble Space Telescope, which may be the greatest photographic instrument ever invented. Image credited to ESA/NASA

 6. The Red and the Black, Part II

Antonio Margarito (left) and Manny Pacquiao literally go head to head in their title fight on Saturday. Pacquiao won in a decision. This photo wins my decision as a favorite of the fight.

7. Blue Heat

A spectator takes in the scene as a Shanghai high-rise apartment building burns. The photo turns the event, in which more tha 40 people died, into a eerie spectacle of smoke and shadow. Photo by Aly Song/Reuters. 

 8. Red, White, and Blue

Of all the images up on websites documenting this year's Veteran's Day ceremonies, I picked this one. Can you guess why? Air Force vet Bill Ross and Boy Scout Liam Gallagher raise one of 50 casket flags honoring local veterans  in Freeport, Maine. Photo by Robert F. Bukat/ AP

Monday, November 15, 2010

Money, Money, Money: Madoff and the Art Market

Fungible Art: Madoff's Slippers
A couple of weeks ago I tried to connect the dots between the photography auction market and the mood swings of the national economy. Yesterday I found this piece by Marion Maneker, which does a really tremendous job of discussing the economics of art. Glenn Beck might be interested in this excerpt, for instance:
The low interest rates being used to heal the world economy after the debt crisis have created a thriving art market as a by-product. Blue-chip art is no different from gold. It’s equally useless and almost as universally valued. So with gold making new highs at $1400, it should surprise no one that art prices for recognized and fairly fungible artists like Andy Warhol are back at the levels (or beyond) of the art boom of 2007-2008.
Maneker is working with big prices paid for big paintings, but her general points are probably valid for the broad range of art markets. The piece is very, very interesting.

And speaking of art, how could I not include the very nice picture (above) of Bernie Madoff's monogramed velveteen slippers? They were featured Saturday in an auction of the disgraced financier's personal effects, which were sold to help pay back the victims he defrauded. The auction didn't come close to repaying the $65 million he looted. But one lucky man paid $6,000 for the lot that included the slippers. (Alas, the buyer wears size 13 shoe, while Madoff was a size 8.) I'd settle for a big print of the slippers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This Day in History: Eugene Ely Makes First Shipboard Takeoff

Eugene Ely heads down before heading up
 On November 14, 1910, Eugene Ely flew a Curtiss pusher aircraft off of a platform that had been built over the deck of the light cruiser U.S.S. Birmingham. It was the first time anyone had done that, and, I suppose if you were a philosophical sort of person, you could say that the occasion marked the beginning of the Battle of Midway. But that would be stretching history a little too far, probably.

In any case, we are lucky that Ely, or the Navy, had someone with a camera positioned off the port side of the ship. Whoever it was had great timing, because the photo taken that day shows Ely's plane just as it plunged off the ship's bow and headed down toward the water. Apparently, the plane's wheels actually dipped into the water of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard before starting to climb. Ely shortly thereafter landed his flying machine on a nearby beach.

Because of the picture that was taken, the moment has become a piece of our collective memory, another piece of evidence of man's intrepid nature. And Ely was certainly intrepid. Perhaps a bit too much so.

Ely the intrepid
He'd only been flying for about seven months before his experiment on the Birmingham, which took place at the suggestion of the Navy. He was an enthusiast of fast cars and thought flying would be pretty much like driving. He was proven wrong when he crashed during his first flight. A couple of months after his historic takeoff, he performed the world's first shipboard landing, putting his Curtiss airplane down on a platform laid over the deck of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18. 1911. The picture below show's Ely wearing a state-of-the-art life preserver—some inner tubes—slung around his neck.

Note life preserver
Ely wouldn't enjoy his fame for long. On October 19, 1911, while flying in an exhibition in Macon, Georgia, he crashed and died sometime later from a broken neck. Naturally, there was a photographer on hand to document the scene.

The fatal crash
Epilogue: In 1933 President Franklin Roosevelt awarded Ely the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously. There are probably some intrepid sorts around who will mark Ely's feat by trying to duplicate it. Good luck to them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Highlights, Lowlights, and Conspiracy Theories from the Visual Culture

1. Video
You just know that there are weird things on YouTube that you never see, and maybe never want to see. Whatever. AwesomeRebo has done the work and rounded up a bunch of the strangest channels to be found. There is the man who wants to be a unicorn, the lady giving anger management advice to a digital Mel Gibson, the man who smokes pipes, and my favorite, featured here. I laugh, though I am also slightly frightened. But if, like me, you like to watch, you will not be able to take your eyes off the screen. You've been warned.

2. Art
Cindy Crawford by Herb Ritts
Hugh Hefner told the Associated Press that Playboy magazine "helped to change the very direction of commercial art—breaking down the wall between fine art and commercial art." When I read that, I wanted to wave the "exaggerated hyperbole" sign, but as usual Hef is right. Anyway, 125 pieces from the Playboy Art Collection will be auctioned at Christie's on December 8. Of course there will be photos. The Herb Ritts picture of Cindy Crawford (left) is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. The photo of Jerry Seinfeld by Steve Wayda is estimated at $7,000 to $9,000. Go here to see more images to be featured at the auction.

3. Blogs

TBDArts has an interesting post about Gawker, which recently announced that it had removed a picture that showed the body of Christopher Jusko, the graffiti artist who was stabbed to death in the East Village of Manhattan on October 25, after receiving lots of criticism in the comments section of the post. As Ryan Kearney points out, Gawker is usually "impervious to criticism," and the removal of the image was an usual act. Why did they do it? Cynically, he thinks it's because the story had just 42,000 page hits at the time the photo was pulled—a small number, by the standards of Gawker, which based most editorial decisions on page hits. Sometimes cynical is right.

4. Television

I have two stories the require mentioning. First, we all know now that Matt Lauer's lame, lame, lame interview with former President George W. Bush on Monday night was also a ratings loser, scoring 1.7 among adults 18-49. As you see here, that's lower than ratings for the entire season of Chuck. Americans may have voted in a Republican House, but they are not interested in Bush.

Second, I was happy to find this picture of Chase Carey, the News Corp. executive who prevented me from watching the first few games of the 2010 World Series. Carey, who has a douchy mustache, was the guy in charge of negotiations between FOX and Cablevision. Since this is FOX, Carey has placed the blame on the fiasco squarely on....the government in Washington. He says here that government officials didn't make it clear enough that they would or would not intervene in the negotiations. Not that old-fashioned greed had anything to do with it. And did anybody else think it was funny that baseball came back on the air just as the Series moved to Texas, where George W. Bush (former owner of the Rangers) and his family could be seen behind the plate in about every other shot? Not that FOX has a thing for Bush. Or is that cynical?

5. Advertising

Above, Kim Kardashian in a new campaign for Beach Bunny Swimwear. The photo, she says, was inspired by the film Barbarella. Enough said.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Ansel Saga: Another Contender

One of the Norsigian images
 The story of those "lost" glass-plate negatives supposedly made by Ansel Adams in the 1920s has a new plot development. The plates, discovered by  school painter Rick Norsigian at a garage sale, were valued by a Beverly Hills art dealer with a dubious background at $200 million. But the Ansel Adams Publishing Trust said they were not made by Adams. Then a nice old lady said her uncle, Earl Brooks, had taken the pictures. Today the New York Times reports that another lady has come forward, claiming the negatives were made by her grandfather.

The woman, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, says the Norsigian images look a lot like images made by Arthur C. Pillsbury, a noted photographer of the period. The good this about this story is that I'm learning about some notable people I've never heard of.

It also seems that the Brooks claim has had a boost in recent days: Uncle Earl's grandson released Brooks's 600-plus page memoir and some old photo albums, one of which has an image "that matches," as the Times put it, an image that Norsigian claimed as an Adams.

I would say this: If you know that one of our great uncles, grandfathers, or sundry relatives visited Yosemite in the 1920s, and carried a camera, it wouldn't hurt to try to find their pictures. Maybe you're sitting on a fortune. Or maybe not.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New York Marathon Time Lapse

Today, a break from the still photo. Instead, here's a time-lapse video of Sunday's New York Marathon, released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. (Hey, the New Haven Line trains are wrecks, but at least we get cool imagery like this.) My favorite part is the tiny helicopter flittering around like a gnat in the first sequence. My least favorite part is the music, which reminds me of the music in all the "educational" films I saw in elementary school.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adding Details to the Scope of Darcy Padilla's Epic Documentary Project

Julie Baird and infant, 1993, by Darcy Padilla
 Last week I put up a post on the blog I write for the Huffington Post about Darcy Padilla, the San Francisco-based photographer who recently was awarded the 2010 W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography. Padilla received the $30,000 grant to continue work on a project that has already taken up 18 years of the photographer's life. In 1993, Padilla began documenting the life of Julie Baird, a 19-year-old woman she met while following a team of social workers and doctors through an S.R.O. hotel in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. Julie, who'd recently been diagnosed with AIDS, was holding her eight-day-old infant. The child's father, Jack, also had AIDS. Nearly two decades later, Baird lay dying in Alaska, under hospice care, and Padilla was there. She was there on September 27, when Baird died.

In my Huffington Post piece I asked what I considered the most obvious question: What made her want to spend a significant portion of her own life telling the story of Julie Baird's life? I got some of the answers I anticipated, and much more.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Photo of the Day: Comet Hartley 2

That comet fly-by mentioned yesterday went very well indeed, at least from the perspective of someone who likes to look at pictures of objects in space—outer space, that is. NASA's probe got some awesome closeups of Comet Hartley 2—and I can say that comets are weirder looking than I imagined. Who did the lighting? ILM?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

State of the Art Portraits...Today's Comet Closeup...Brit Photo Controversy...Astonishing Goats

1. The Art of Portraiture

Art dealer and Philadelphia Flyers fan Peter Hay Halpert has launched a program for showcasing the state of the art in figurative/portrait photography. It's called Identity Now, and the idea is to gather imagery from a diverse cross-section of photographers around the world--artists, commercial photographers, photojournalists...all those traditional genres that often don't mean much in today's world. Any photographer can enter; submitted work will be viewed by a selection committee made up of editors, designers, and artists from throughout the photography world, and the best work—judged "solely on photographic merit"—will be published in a book available online and in bookstores. Now, I should note that I'm part of the selection committee, but I'm in great company, as you can see, and I'm really excited about this. This is an area of photography that I am fascinated by, and I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of work. Pass on the word.

2. Closeup of a Deadly Come

As I write this, a NASA probe known as Deep Impact is about an hour away from getting up close and personal with Comet Hartley 2, which is green looking because it is spewing deadly cyanide gas. (It's not going to hit us, so you can go ahead and prepare your submission for Identity Now). The probe is scheduled to fly through the comet's cloud of nasty gas at 10 AM EDT—it's going to pass within 427 miles of the comet itself, and, best for all of us who like to watch, it's equipped with a couple of imagers, one of which sees in visible light. The image of Comet Hartley 2 above was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in September. More info here.

3.Brit Photog Under Fire

Famed photojournalist David Hume Kennerly, who was President Gerald Ford's official White House photographer, put out word on Facebook yesterday that he'd been interviewed by a British newspaper about an unfolding controversy...It seems that  the personal photographer of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been slashing public spending, is on the public payroll. The flap sounds silly to me—the photographer, Andrew Parsons, who was a former Conservative Party employee, probably isn't a budget buster. And, as Kennerly points out, official photographers document history, so the case can be made that they have a legitimate role to play. But it certainly opened up Cameron, who has called for Brits to make "hard choices," to criticism from political foes. Labor leader Ed Miliband rather deliciously mocked Cameron in Parliament: "There's good news for the Prime Minister—apparently [Parsons] does a nice line in airbrushing."

4. Photo of the Week, So Far

Cingino Dam, by Adriano Migliorati/Caters News
 Finally, my favorite picture of the week so far comes from hiker Adriano Migliorati, who shot the 160-feet-high Cingino Dam in Italy last summer. Those dark spots on the dam above are in fact Alpine ibex—mountain goats—doing what they do best, which is scaling vertical rock surfaces. Here's the story. Below is a closeup:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Photography Auctions and Angry Voters

Auction Hero: Robert Frank's "U.S. 90 En Route to Del Rio, Texas"
 One of the resources I use to collect info is a publication called The Photo Review. It has exhibition reviews, book reviews, and portfolios that in the past have featured a number of young artists who've become very big artists. I bring all this up for two reasons, only one of which has anything to do with the mid-term elections. (Read on to see how I deftly link congressional upheaval to photography.)

1. My first reason for mentioning The Photo Review is that it holds an annual benefit auction to raise operating funds—it's a non-profit, like this blog—and this year's auction will be held on Saturday (that's November 6) at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. (You can also bid online; go here for information.) There's good work from old-timers including Edouard Baldus, Edward Curtis, Man Ray, George Seely, and Weegee, and contemporary work from Marilyn Bridges, Larry Fink, Henry Horenstein, and Joel-Peter Witkin, to name a few. If you've got some money to spend, you might be able to pick up something great at a bargain. Which brings me to my second point, which is actually a question:

2. Who's got money for photography? The art market for photography exploded over the past two decades; if you'd bought the right work in 1990, your investment would have outperformed the stock market, including the dot-com and housing bubbles. How's it been doing recently? I decided to ask Steven Perloff, who edits The Photo Review and writes a newsletter for collectors. (Appropriately, it's called The Photography Collector.) Steven keeps a box score of the photo market and an eye on the national economy, because when the stock market is up, wealthy people buy art. (Very wealthy people buy contemporary art, which includes work by Richard Prince and the like.) When it goes down, the rich scrape by in other ways. So the photo market isn't a bad indicator of the mind-set of Wall Street, if not Main Street. And what is that mood? "Umm...it could be worse," said Perloff. But it could be better. Now, about the elections...