Saturday, July 23, 2011

Change of Address: Please Check Out My New and Improved Blog--"The Big Picture"

I'd like to invite everyone to check out my new blog--a new journal of the visual culture and the way we see the world in pictures. Here's the new address:

We'll be looking at news pictures and magazine photography, advertising imagery, the art market, going behind the camera with photographers, looking at new art books and emerging photographers, and making some big new announcements about a new project in the very, very near future. So join me and join up, because I think it will be interesting...and fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Books: George Platt Lynes and the Male Nude

George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes
Edited by Steven Haas
Foreword by George Platt Lynes II
Afterword by Allen Ellenzweig
256 pages/10” x 12”
Rizzoli, $12

There have been a number of books about the photographer George Platt Lynes, whose work in the 1930s and 1940s helped set the stage for much of what we see in the visual culture today. This newest volume, which was release in May, is one of the best. It is the most comprehensive collection of Platt Lynes’s male nudes in print, according to the book’s publisher, Rizzoli. This was work that the photographer pursued privately and obsessively during the time he became one of America’s best-known celebrity portraitists. Until now, much of the work had never been seen; after Platt Lynes’s death in 19TK, the images were stashed away in the archives of the Kinsey Institute, hidden from view, just as they were during the photographer’s life.

Platt Lynes’s work was never forgotten, however. It influenced a generation of photographers who created the visual culture we live in today, in which the eroticized male is seen and accepted as both art and commerce.

“People like Robert  Mappelthorpe, Bruce Weber, and Herb Ritts all investigated the history of male imagery,” said art and photography critic Allen Ellensweig, author of the The Homoerotic Photograph, when I spoke with him recently. “In their work, the male body is rediscovered for its plastic, sculptural quality. Platt Lynes pointed the way in that direction.”

In an afterword to the new book, Ellenzweig adeptly puts Platt Lynes’s male nudes into a cultural and historic framework—the work is, he says, “sui generis, a project so unalterably his own, with so little promise of any serious recompense, that it is significant he pursued it with such passion. But that, of course, was the point. He was a passionate lover of beautiful young men—a category more various that those three words imply.”

Charles "Tex" Smutney and Charles "Buddy" Stanley, 1941
Carlos McClendon, 1947
 It was in the late 1940s that Alfred Kinsey became acquainted with Platt Lynes and his male nude. The pioneering sex researcher became attached to Platt Lynes’s social circle, which included the novelist Glenway Westcott and Monroe Wheeler, who for many years headed the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibitions and publications department. Wheeler was Platt Lynes’s lover, and Wescott had been Wheeler’s lover before that. 

“The three had been a ménage a trois fromm the late 1920s through the early 1940s,” said Ellensweig. “Kinsey entered their circle through Westcott. He was fascinated with the work he discovered. Platt Lynes had been doing for years on the male nude. The work was consonant with his growing understanding of homosexuality in the United States—its prevalence and its diversity—and he was keenly interested in erotic art for his own scientific purposes.” A decade later, as Platt Lynes approached death, he decided the work should reside at the Kinsey Institute. “He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed,” Ellensweig said. “We have to remember the time period we’re talking about—America during the post-war Red Scare..

He added, “In fact, during the McCarthy era, it’s quite possible that more people lost their jobs because they were accused of being queers or perverts than those accused of being commies. The Red Scare was also a Pink Scare.”

A Complicated Life

The book’s centerpiece biographical sketch, written by Steven Haas, director of the George Platt Lynes Foundation, does a sturdy and often detailed tracing of the photographer’s life. It begins with Platt Lynes attending the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, where the English master once commented that his “work, in composition, is showing less of the utterly weird element which so dominated last term.” It was no surprise, then, when he was shipped off to Paris on the RMS Mauretania as a preparation for college.

Gordon Hanson, 1954
In Paris, his life changed when he became associated with Gertrude Stein and her ex-pat circle, which included Westcott. He eventually gave up the idea of a literary career and took up photography. By 1932 the art dealer Julian Levy was exhibiting his work in New York. Platt Lynes opened a studio and began shooting for the big fashion magazines, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He later became the unofficial photographer of George Balanchine’s new American Ballet company.

In the 1940s, disillusioned with New York, he moved to Hollywood, where he photographed movie stars and others. Haas tells the story of Platt Lynes’s heterosexual affair with Laurie Douglas, known as Dougie, who eventually married producer William Harbach. At the time of their affair, Platt Lynes was also involved with Jonathan Tichenor. Once, when Jonathan also began flirting with Dougie, Platt Lynes became angry. Haas quotes Dougie as saying, “He didn’t want his boyfriend making passes at his girlfriend.” It was a complicated life.

The Homoerotic Aesthetic

Through his career, Platt Lynes pursued the personal work that compelled him—the male nudes. “The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing,” said Ellensweig. “There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved—he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

Charles Boyton,1930
As Ellensweig noted, homoeroticism in photography had not always been underground—but it had been disguised, as in the images of early photographers like Wilhelm von Gloeden and F. Holland Day. “Working in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, they were under the prevailing ideas and understanding of homosexuality, and the model for homosexuality at that tme was ancient Greece,” said Ellensweig. “It was a model and a rational, in which you could see yourself as a homosexual person as part of a glorious tradition that reached back to antique times. It also gave you a kind of imprimatur and permission within the larger society. In visual terms, it meant you would pose your subject next to a classical column, or some of the better-known statues of the golden Athnian era. They certified the male nude as honorable, not obscene, without necessarily evoking homosexuality itself, which would have been impermissible.”

By the time Platt Lynes was working, there was, says Ellensweig, “a totally different understanding of same-sex love.” More people were aware of homosexuality—a term that barely existed in the time of Von Gloeden and Day—yet (or perhaps as a consequence) there was more fear of it. In was in this context that Platt Lynes created his work—filled with theatrical studio lighting that sculpted bodies, which were often juxtaposed with odd objects in surrealistic compositions.

“He investigated the male body as an object worthy of investigation—in the way that the female body had been investigated since the beginning of photography,” said Ellensweig. While Platt Lynes didn’t need an excuse to portray the male body, his work nonetheless feels closeted—trapped indoors, secluded, utterly private, set in what Ellensweig calls “a twilight eroticism.” 

It would be the photographer that Platt Lynes inspired, particularly Weber and Ritts, who would bring that eroticism outdoors and into the light of day.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Photos of the Week: The Visual Verdict on Casey Anthony and DSK

My weekly review of media photography in La Lettre de la Photographie is on hiatus now, and will return in September. Meanwhile, I'll be doing some of that here on Fridays. This week, we focus on two high-profile criminal prosecutions.

1. Not Guilty, Part 1

The week before Casey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her daughter, People magazine prepared trial watchers with a what can be seen as a prediction or a judgement. The photo of Anthony--the irksome yet ambigious--was a piece of masterful photo editing.

2. Not Guilty, Part 2
 Photo by Red Huber/AP

When the verdict actually was delivered, Red Huber captured the most of relief. Were we hoping to see proof that Casey Anthony was human after all? It's there in the touching of hands.

3. Not Guilty, Part 3
Photo from Press Pool

On Thursday, Anthony was back in court, where she was sentenced to four years jail time for lying to police. (Because of time served, she will be set free a week from Sunday.) The press was not done delivering its own sentence, however: The New York Post put a press pool photo on its Friday front page, noting Anthony's apres-verdict makeup and her hair style, which it termed the "jailhouse version of the Snooki poof."

4. Not Guilty, Part 4
Photo by Mario Tama, Getty Images

The Manhattan's DA's office saw its high-profile case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn crumble when its own investigators turned up inconsistencies and lies in the story of it chief witness--the hotel maid who had accused DSK of rape. The rush to indict Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, was followed by a rush to drop the charges against him, according to lawyers for the maid. In this photo--a kind of inverted perp walk--Strauss-Kahn and his wife are seen leaving a hearing in which he was released on own recognizance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From Photo to TV to Film: An Interview with the formidable Indrani

Indrani and Klinko
Earlier this week I got to catch up with the formidable Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, better known as Indrani of the photographic duo MarkusKlinko & Indrani, the stars of the Bravo reality show Double Exposure. I’ve known Markus and Indrani for a number of years—I frankly was endeared to them when for some reason they ran afoul of a magazine publisher I once worked with; the steamed publisher vowed to me (literally, I kid you not) that the pair “would never work in this town again.” I immediately set up an appointment to meet them to see how I might feature them in my magazine.

Suffice it to say the publisher did not end their photo careers. Their dazzling images—Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Kate Winslet, work for Lancome, Shiseido, Nike, etc.—led to the TV show, which featured the pair in their natural state, which is to say often battling each other over creative choices. (Go here to see a scene featuring Lady Gaga and Klinko telling Indrani that she is driving him crazy.) The big news from Indrani is that she is now branching out on her own at a filmmaker, though she assured me that she and Klinko are still a photographic team. “Marcus is the producer on my shoots, and a lot of the time we’re actually shooting stills and video at the same time,” she said. 

From the Keep A Child Alive campaign
The pair teamed in that way to create the controversial Keepa Child Alive ad campaign featuring celebrities (Serena Williams, Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian) lying in coffins. Last month the campaign won a couple of big awards for the TBWA agency at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Indrani also shot a video project with singer/actress Mandy Moore in the Central African Republic for PSI, an organization the combats malaria.

"It was life changing in many ways. It was really challenging, shooting this wonderful star, Mandy Moore, in this intense situation where lives are at risk, and to see the tangible benefits of distributing nets. And then to create to both videos and still was rewarding."

Here is a clip from that project:

Crisis in Central Africa with Mandy Moore from Indrani on Vimeo.

Another project featured fashion icon Daphne Guinness. “For that we shot stills for Barney’s New York and at the same time shot video, so the two have gone hand in hand in a unique way that really I don’t think we could do if we didn’t have that strong partnership that Marcus and I have built over the years,” Indrani said.

Here is a clip from that project:

The new extended collaboration has in fact made the duo’s working relationship less contentious. “People who saw our show on Bravo will know that in the past we’ve had quite a few arguments and disputes, and the film work has actually helped provide a  resolution to that,” said Indrani. “We’ve become so occupied that we don’t have time to fuss over ourselves and rethink the strategy all the time. In the past we’d both have good ideas, and it was which one are we going to do. Now there is so much more room for me to play creatively.”

Indrani, who was born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, began a modeling career at age 14, and that work helped her put herself through Princeton, where she took a few film courses while majoring in anthropology. “I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense with what I do now,” she said. “Anthropology is about human behavior and cultural choices, and that’s what fashion is all about--how we display who we are in some kind of artistic culturally coded way.”

Indrani remains active in an organization she founded with her father called Shakti Empowerment Education. They converted a 300-year-old family home a few hours outside of Kolkata into a school and support center for about 300 students—many of them from Bangladeshi refugee families. “These are people who have not been a part of the big changes in India,” she said. “We’ve piggybacked vocational training onto the literacy sections to provide students with practical skills or to enable them to sell handicraft. We’ve also used microfinancing to jump-start women’s village collectives so they can impliment their skills. So they’re able to create small projects and perhaps give employment to their neighbors.”

It’s what I meant when I said formidable.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday Dispatch: How to Make Film Developer Out of Coffee and Vitamin C

After an Independence Day weekend infused with both ribs and burgers, I was filled with can-do American spirit and spent a few hours on the website of Make magazine. There I learned that a dedicated group of photographers who still shoot film actually make their own developer out of coffee, vitamin C, and some other household items. It sounds geeky, and it is--but it's also cool. Here's a video explaining it all:

Making home-brew developer isn't for everyone, obviously. But why not? What else are you going to do with that box of Arm & Hammer soda ash (washing soda) you have lying around? Once upon a time a large part of the thrill of photography--for many dedicated amateurs and professionals--was the hands-on nature of the process, the quiet, creative time spent in darkrooms, inhaling the heady chemical aromas of developers and fixers. There may be a crying human need to recreate that quality experience--if you look through the Make magazine site you'll see that there is almost no digital gizmo that can't be amended into something satisfyingly analog in nature. (Example: "Learn to construct a basic long necktie with stripes to represent your favorite value of resistor – fashion inspired by the electronics bench!")

At the very least, this Steampump version of photography shows how arcane the idea of film photography has actually become.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Photos of the Week: Beyonce kills (maybe)...Serena Returns (definately)...and more

My weekly review of media imagery is back in its usual Friday slot at La Lettre de la Photographie. Here is the excerpt:

1. Other Voices, Other Rooms
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images 

President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing American troops from the war in Afghanistan absorbed the attention of the 24-hour news cycle and then, for the most part, disappeared from view, eclipsed by the stalled budget negotiations, the debate over same-sex marriage, and other issues closer to home. In Chip Somodevilla’s shot, the president is seen live on monitors in a deserted White House press briefing room on May 22, announcing his plan to bring home 10.000 troops this year and 20,000 by the end of next summer.
2. American Express
Photo from EPA 

Migrants from Central America are seen traveling north atop a train near Veracruz, Mexico. The transit is perilous—and not just because of the seating arrangements. Last week at least 80 migrants were allegedly pulled from the train near Veracruz and kidnapped by masked gunmen.

3. Serena's Return
Photo by Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Carl de Souza caught the distinctive handiwork of Serena Williams as she prepared to serve during a match against Simona Halep of Romania at this week’s Wimbledon tennis tournament. The tournament marked Williams’s return to the sport after a long absence caused by health issues. She beat Halep but was eliminated in the fourth round by Marion Bartoli.

4. Devotion
Photo by Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

In the remote village of Bibiclat, north of Manila, hundreds of people covered in mud and dried leaves took part in a Mass to celebrate the Feast of John the Baptist. In Romeo Ranoco’s beautiful photograph, the hands of one celebrant become a sculptural tribute to devotion.

5. Showstopper
Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

From all reports, Beyonce’s show at the Glastonbury music festival on June 26 was killer. “Following this performance,” read one review, “she'll be in the dreams of thousands of British music fans for a long time to come.” Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but authorities did find a British man—identified as a close friend of British Prime Minister David Cameron—dead in one of the festival’s portable toilets on the day that Beyonce performed. In this shot, photographer Adrian Dennis shows us what all the commotion was about.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wednesday Dispatch: Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, Rolling Stone's Summer Doubles

It's apparently becoming a trend--or enough of one for me to mention, anyway. Every time Rolling Stone does a Summer Double Issue, the cover girl's breasts are turned into a sight gag. Last year, Lady Gaga sported machine gun jumblies, and this year Katy Perry's famous chest become candy kisses. Whom do we have to thank for that transition? The photographer was Terry Richardson, but Perry gives credit where credit is due inside the magazine, with this shot:

I could see Michelle Bachmann in that top. You?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Dispatch: Three Views of the Asteroid that Barely Missed Us

Every story I saw about the bus-sized asteroid that missed hitting the Earth yesterday by only 7,500 miles put the reassuring stuff in sentence two, after sentence one had already caused me Lower GI trouble: The 30-foot-long asteroid would not hit, said reports leading up to the fly-by, and even if it did, no worries, because scientists don't consider asteroids to be hazardous unless they're bigger than 490 in width. In any event, I wanted to see pictures of this thing, which came close enough to be viewed with a small telescope. (See Point 1, below.) Not much was available, so news orgs got creative with visual concepts used to describe what was happening:

1. First Sighting

It's not much to look at, if you're expecting to see a hellish rock like the one in Armageddon. This image, one of the first taken of Asteroid 2011 MD, was taken by Peter Lake, an amateur astronomer from Australia. The shot was taken with a 20-inch telescope in New Mexico, which Lake could control with his iPhone through the Rent-A-Scope program.

2. The Composite

This image is actually made up of three separate sightings of the asteroid as seen in different wavelengths of light--red, blue, and green--by Australia's Faulkes Telescope South. Not much, but red, blue, and green are better than nothing.

3.The Bigger Picture

Photographic imagery having largely failed to tell the story in satisfyingly terrible detail, the nerds at went with a screen shot from the Asteroids video arcade game, which they, I me, have probably spent too much time playing. This would a an example of whistling past the graveyard.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Last Week: The Pictures We Wanted to Talk About

Because of a welcome vacation, my regular weekly review of photography in print at Le Lettre de la Photographie has not appeared for the past couple of weeks. It was supposed to have reappear last Friday, but due to some technical glitches it appears there today. Herewith, the highlights, focusing on sports.


The Kiss
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Rich Lam’s shot of lovers embracing in the midst of angry Canadian hockey fans became an instant classic the moment it went viral. After the Vancouver Canucks lost the decisive Game 7 of a thrilling and brutal Stanley Cup championship series, the team’s fans went from avid to rabid, taking to Vancouver’s streets to loot local stores and set cars on fire. The anonymous couple inadvertently captured by freelancer Lam didn’t remain anonymous for long: After the picture was published, the lovers were identified by relatives, and within days Scott Jones and Alex Thomas were being interviewed on a morning television news show, joining a pantheon of famously photographed kissers. Final note: Are there any scarier words in the English language than “angry Canadian hockey fans?”
Hazard Ahead
Photo by Doug Mills

The big story of this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament was the dominating win by 22-year-old Irishman Rory McIlroy, who finished on Sunday at an astonishing 16-under par, erasing memories of his final-round collapse in the Masters tournament in April. Photographically, a better story was crowd-pleaser Phil Mickelson, who struggled on the tough Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. In this shot, we see Mickelson’s reaction as he watches a shot go into water during the second round of play. That kid on the left, with the gray pants, blue striped shirt, and bushy hair sticking out from under a white hat? That’s McIlroy. That look on Michelson’s face? It’s why I gave up golf a long time ago.

A Hero Rises
Photo by Greg Nelson

The essential narrative behind all sports events is the rise and fall of heroes. Last summer, National Basketball League superstar LeBron James joined a Miami Heat “dream team” to assure himself the championship he had never won. But a funny thing happened on the way to athletic immortality: James played poorly in this month’s finals, and his team lost to the Dallas Mavericks, led by 13-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki. Sports Illustrated told the tale with Greg Nelson’s cover shot.
Class War
Photo by Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP

A sign of the times? New austerity measures imposed by the Greek government led to a strike by the country’s largest labor union. This banner reads, “Yes to the Society, No to the Power.” If you think Greek politics have become polarized, take a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin.
The Fire
Photo by Dean Knuth/AP/Arizona Daily Star

This photograph sums up the heartache of loss caused by the wildfires that continue to burn in Arizona. On Sunday, the so-called Monument Fire raced down a mountain and into the town of Sierra Vista, forcing 3,000 people to flee. Sierra Vista resident Pete Tunstall stood amid the remains of his home.

The Princess
Photo by Patrick Demarchelier

On July 1 the world gets another royal wedding. Prince Albert of Monaco will marry Charlene Wittstock, a former competitive swimmer who represented South Africa in the 2000 Olympics. The couple met a decade ago, at an event in Monaco. “After seeing me swim, Albert asked my management for permission to take me out,” Wittstock says in Vogue’s July issue. Patrick Demarchelier’s photograph explains the prince’s thought process.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"The Shot That Almost Killed Me"...

Last Saturday, the British Guardian newspaper ran a terrific story, which my friend Deborah Mauro just to me. It's called "The Shot that Almost killed Me." Seventeen photojournalists tell the tales about their most harrowing experiences. If you ever wanted to know what's it's like to be a war photographer, this is it. Below are a few of excerpts. Go here for the complete piece.


"I'd been in Afghanistan a month when I stepped on a landmine. I was the third man in, and as I put my foot down I heard a mechanic click and I was thrown in the air. I knew exactly what had happened. As the soldiers dragged me away from the kill zone, I took these pictures....I had to keep working."
--Joao Silva, Afghanistan, October 2010


"The situation was very tense--people were drunk and aggressive. I was with two other photographers most of the time, but at this moment I went back to the road alone. I saw three soldiers smoking, playing with their guns, and I felt safe--I don't know why. Then I saw a man with a knife in his mouth, coming out of the bush. He was holding up a hand like a trophy. The soldiers started laughing and firing in the air. I didn't think about it and started shooting." --Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, Congo, 2008


"I got into Ajdabiya shortly after it's fall. The rebels had just moved in and the locals were going crazy, shooting in the air. Bodies of pro-Qadaffi were lying around, beginning to stink as the sun got higher. The fire from the tank was incredibly strong and I was worried that it might explode at any moment. Suddenly this guy jumped up on it....I had wanted to capture that sense of release that everyone had, and suddenly this became the shot. I got as close as possible, within meters, and started shooting, counting to five in my head. Then I got out. I had corpses, torn apart, in the morgue, and I didn't want to end up like that." --Mads Nissen, Libya, February 2011

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

“An Extremely Explosive Year”: Interview with Storm-Chasing Photographer Jim Reed

A Jim Reed photo of Joplin, Missouri after the tornado
Photographer Jim Reed’s business is severe weather, and this year business has been good.

I spoke by phone with Reed, one of the country’s premier “storm chaser” photographers, the day before yesterday, as he was watching a dangerous weather system forming over Wichita, Kansas, where he lives. “We might get disconnected,” he warned me. I’ve known Jim for quite a few years now, and I wanted to get his take on what has appeared to me (based on all the weather-related photos I've seen in the past few months.) to be particularly wicked season of dangerous storms. Or was it just my imagination?

“It was not your imagination,” he said. “It’s been an extremely explosive year. We’ve been looking at extremely large, long-track tornadoes across the country, and the aftermath is really hard to accept.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Splended Photo Projects: Why Farming Is Now Cooler than Being In a Band

A worker at the Hearty Roots farm in Tivoli, New York plants potatoes

 Andy Kropa is a talented freelance photographer who lives in the world capital of hipsterism: Brooklyn, New York. Kropa happens to be from Iowa, a place that is generally not considered hip.
While Brooklyn has a rich culture of artisanal baking, brewing, pickling, and whatever, Iowa has rich black earth that produces prodigious amounts of corn, soybeans, and whatnot. Growing up in Iowa, Kropa viewed farming as being about as uncool a thing as there was. Living in Brooklyn has opening his eyes to farming's new hipness.

“I think it’s now considered way more cool that being in a band,” he told me recently. 

A couple of years ago, after he'd been laid off from a magazine job during the darkest moments of the Great Recession, Kropa started looking around for a long-term photo documentary project to sink his teeth into. "I had time on my hands," he said. He wanted to focus on how other people who suddenly had time on their hands were coping. "But I wanted to come up with an angle on all this downtime that wasn't just another sad story--about people who had turned it into something positive for themselves."

He began documenting Community SupportedAgriculture projects, including a one-acre rooftop-farm operation called the Brooklyn Grange, which ironically is located on Northern Boulevard in Queens. A couple of hours to the north, in Tivoli, New York—in the heart of the Hudson Valley, another center of foody hipness—Kropa shot other younger farmers getting their hands dirty. He also looked at urban farming projects in other cities, including Chicago.

Free-range chickens at Awesome Farm in New York
 What he discovered, he says, was a generation of people in their 20s--just a few years younger than Kropa himself--who viewed farming without the ironic associations he'd grown up with. "I wanted to try to show agriculture in a way it hadn't been depicted before," he said.

You can see images from this ongoing project at, and at Kropa's website. The work will also be on view at the Brooklyn Grange building at 37-18 Northern Boulevdard, Long Island City, Queens, throughout the summer growing season.

Time for a yoga break at City Farm in Chicago
Pies at the Eagle Street rooftop farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Planting time at the Brooklyn Grange
The Brooklyn Grange as the new American heartland
I should note here that the magazine from which Andy was laid off was the magazine I used to edit, and that I was laid off the same day he was. So we have a bond. I think this work is, as Andy say, uplifting--and inimitably cool.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Daily Dispatch: The Monster Attacks in Arizona

The Wallow wildfire in eastern Arizona. Photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
I flew to Arizona yesterday afternoon, and on the final descent into Phoenix the giant Wallow wildfire was visible, spread out to the southeast. The smoke billowed up across what seemed to be the entire horizon line. When you read about a wildfire covering more than 600 square miles, you note the epic dimensions abstractly. Seeing it is another thing. The photograph here, by Rob Schumacher, appeared in today's Arizona Republic, describes the breadth of the blaze particularly well. The photo also suggests the living nature of the fire, as if it were a massive beast moving through the landscape, consuming everything in its path. Headline writers understand the metaphor: "Monster Arizona Wildfire as Seen From Space" says the Business Insider website. "Monster Arizona Wildfire Threatens Towns" says USA Today. "Monster Wildfire Continues to Expand" says the Huffington Post. "A New Monster Attacks" says the Yuma Sun. As of today, firefighters say the monster is 40 percent contained.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Daily Dispatch: On Weinergate

 "The proliferation of recorded images undermines our sense of reality. We distrust our perceptions until the camera verifies them. Photographic images provide us with the proof of our existence, without which we would find it difficult even to reconstruct a personal history." Christopher Lasch from his 1979 book "The Culture of Narcissism."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Visual Culture: Daily Briefing

Two Color D-Day Shots by Scherschel
Diaz's Side View
Quote of the Day: “Sex is the sexiest word in the English language.” The New York Post reports that Cameron Diaz’s favorite sport is not baseball, even though she dates Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, but sex. Diaz, starring in the new movie Bad Teacher, also told the Post her relationship with A-Rod “is awesome.” Why this is a photo story: Diaz covers of the June issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Cosmo covers, like Kabuki theatre, adhere to a highly formalized structure, usually a three-quarter frontal shot with abundant cleavage. The slightest variation--in this case, Diaz's side-cleavage pose, comes as a visual shock ...This Day in History, Part 1: To mark the 67th anniversary of D-Day, has a vibrant portfolio of color photos of the buildup to Operation Overlord and its aftermath. The pictures were shot by Frank Scherschel, who covered both the European and the Pacific theaters of World War II. (Scherschel also snapped this iconic color image of Winston Churchill dabbling as a painter.) Among Scherschel's tack-sharp D-Day images: a shot of a French couple sharing cognac with a GI (above left) and a shot of an American soldier back in England, waiting for the "GO' order ... Those Darn British Liberals Are Coming!: Sarah Palin defended her revisionist history of Paul Revere's ride today. It seems Revere really was trying to warn the Red Coats "that they weren't gonna be

Palin's Revisionist Ride. Photo by Molly Riley/AP

takin' away our arms by ringin' those bells." (Business Insider Reports that some Palin fans have been trying to rewrite the Wikipedia entry on Revere to make it cohere to Palin's version of events.) Why this is a photo story: The Palin-Picture-of-the-Day award (something tells me we'll be handing out quite a few over the next year) goes to this shot (by Molly Riley for AP) of the would-be presidential candidate, which appeared in the Week In Review section of yesterday's New York Times to illustrate a story about Palin's recent East Coast tour, but it works even better for the Paul Revere tale. Photos are malleable.  ... Also In the News: Aero Films announces that Indrani (of the noted Markus Klinko and Indrani photo team)  has transitioned to live-action directing, recently creating spots for the London Sunday Times and Ralph Lauren. Meanwhile, Carolyn E. Wright, who writes the very informative Photo Attorney website, reports that the Texas Motor Speedway has become the latest venue to require photographers to give up the copyright to images they shoot there. "Because the Speedway owns the property where photographers want to shoot, it has the right to require photographers sign the agreement before they can get access to the races," says Wright.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Iconic Sunday: Two Images of AIDS

Ken Meeks by Alon Reininger, 1986
Today, June 5, marks what public health historians consider the 30th anniversary of HIV/AIDS. As this absorbing piece from Wired explans, it was on June 5, 1981 that the first bulletin describing a case of HIV was published in any medical journal.

In the years that followed, HIV/AIDS came to be called “the gay disease” and was largely overlooked by the public. Rock Hudson’s death in 1985 put a famous face to the disease. A year later, Life magazine published a picture by Contact Press Images photographer Alon Reininger that presented HIV/AIDS in an entirely new way. No one could think dismiss the disease, the pain it caused, and the threat it represented any longer.

Reininger, who had covered the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and political unrest around the world, learned about HIV/AIDS through his acquaintance with playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer. “When 50 or 80 people started to [die], it became apparent that something was going on. [Kramer and I] spoke about it, and then tried to figure out how I would climb into it,” Reininger told Photo District News a few years ago. Research led Reininger to an AIDS patient named Ken Meeks, whom he photographed. Three days later, Meeks died.

One of photos Reininger got that day showed Meeks bent into a wheelchair, stick thin, his arm spotted with blood-colored lesions. But it is Meeks’s face, his eyes in particular, that gives the image meaning. The eyes, to me at least, cry out. They want to be heard. They want to tell a story that until 1986 had been ignored.

David Kirby's death, by Therese Frare, 1990
In 1990, Life published another photo that captured the human cost of HIV/AIDS. Taken by a journalism graduate student named Therese Frare, it showed a dying young man, David Kirby, surrounded by his family. The image became another icon of the disease, and, later, a controversial one when it was used in an advertisement for United Colors of Benetton created by the editor Tibor Kalman. Some AIDS activists decried the commercial use of the image, while other groups were concerned the ad marked a mainstreaming of homosexuality. Such is the ambiguous nature of photography. Life later included Frare's image as one of the 100 photographs that changed the world.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Photos of the Week: Obama's Mojo vs. Palin's Mojo and more

The complete weekly photo review is up today on Le Lettre de la Photographie. Here's the sampling:

1. Painterly Photo

The great Frans Lanting has been astounding us with nature and landscape imagery for years, but this photograph, taken at the Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia, goes beyond astounding, all the way to astonishing. The photo, which appears in the June issue of National Geographic, is indeed a photo, its painterly effect coming from lighting conditions at dawn: Lanting explained: “The warm light of the morning sun was illuminating a huge red sand dune dotted with white grasses while the white floor of the clay pan was still in shade. It looks blue because it reflects the color of the sky above.” This might be the nature photo of the year.

 2. Tornado Alley

In the week after the a killer tornado his Joplin, Missouri, residents began picking up the pieces of their lives and recalling the terror of May 22. Photographer Edward Keating, shooting for Time magazine, photographed Ed Boyd and his wife Kathy standing near the closet they hid in when the storm destroyed their house.

3. Clash

In Somalia, clashes continued this week between Somali soldiers supported by the African Union and Islamist fighters—though “clash” seems too weak a word, in light of this image of a Somali soldier standing over the body of a man believed to be one of the Islamists.The photo was taken by Mustafa Abdi/AFP

 4. Obama's Mojo

Visually, if not politically, it has been a very good month for President Barack Obama. There was now-iconic "Situation Room" photo showing him in command as a Navy Seal team killed Osama bin Laden, then came a successful four-nation European trip, during which Obama was photographed performing in a variety of presidential roles. Meeting with with Briton's Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his new wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Obama was the Glambassador-in-Chief. Meeting with  world leaders at a G8 Summit in France, he was the dynamic Chief Executive. This photo, which shows Obama at Paris’s Orly airport on May 27, was shot by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images. Two days later Obama would be photographed with his arms around survivors of the Joplin tornado, fulfilling his duty as Comforter-in-Chief.

5. Palin's Mojo

On May 30, the president was performing his duty as the Commander-in-Chief, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, who may be inching closer to declaring herself a candidate for president, launched an East Coast bus tour at the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally in Washington, D.C. “I love that smell of emissions,” she told FOX News.Who needs Air Force One as a backdrop of power when you can wear a Harley helmet? This photo was taken by Damon Winter for the New York Times.