Archives

March 2008

SELECT A MONTH:

Mar 31

Having just started to look at Komar and Melamid’s Most Wanted Paintings - paintings created based on actual polls, where people could say what they liked - I thought finding the photographic equivalent couldn’t possibly be that hard. I went to Flickr, which I use only very occasionally (and thus don’t really know all that well), and went looking for the photo that had the largest number of people calling it a “favorite”. The utterly unscientific results: 4,967 people call this photo a favourite (with 1,308 comments), followed by this photo (2,464 favourite votes), this photo (2,238), and this photo (1,935). Over at photo.net, the all-time favourites (based on all-time average ratings) are this photo, this one, and this one.
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Mar 31

Well, not really. But for reasons that need not be discussed I do have an extra copy of “Let’s talk about love - A Journey to the End of Taste” (which I talked about here), and I will send it to you if you email me and either offer me something cool/funny/interesting in return or give me a good reason why you should be the extremely lucky recipient of this great book (US and Canada only, please). Emails received by next Monday (31 March 2008) will be considered. Update: The lucky winner (no, seriously, it’s a great book) is Daphne Chan, who writes “I was born in the heartland of Celine Dion. […] Growing up in Montreal, and not having access to US sitcoms on cable [is that such a bad thing?], I was forced to watched public television, […] featuring Ma Chere Celine, All Dion, All the time. […] In fact, I’m still scarred from having to learn the song she sang for The Pope when he visited Montreal.” Here at Conscientious we like to support trauma victims wherever we can, so Daphne, the book is yours.
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Mar 31

Jessica Todd Harper’s portraits show domestic life and the interactions between friends and/or family members.
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Mar 30

At the beginning of the 21st Century, it seems that the only way to discover landscapes never seen before is to send robots and satellites to other planets or their moons. Those landscapes then amaze us, and I often wonder why that is. Have we really seen everything there is to see about our home planet? Is it the often somewhat unusual aesthetic of un-Earth-ly images, which are taken by often monochromatic, low-resolution cameras and only get their final look via the computer algorithms of scientists? Or is it just us, the viewers, being blasé after having seen everything? Everything?
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Mar 28

Found this little gem by chance. The digital artifacts actually even enhance the experience.
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Mar 28

I like Daniel Everett’s “Departure” project, not so much the layout of the presentation, though, which reduces too many of the photos to postage-stamp sized images on the screen.
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Mar 28

“There’s the war photographer who dodged bullets abroad only to be beaten up in his own South London backyard by a paranoid parent who (wrongly) thought his child was being photographed. There’s the amateur photographer punched prostrate in the London Tube after refusing to give up his film to a stranger; the case of the man in Hull, swooped on by police after taking photographs in a shopping centre.” - story
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Mar 27

Martin Eder’s paintings have titles such as “Masturbating Woman Surrounded by Bad Towels” or “The Ass Sniffers”, and if you are wondering what they show there is little surprise in store for you (hey, the guy is German!), except maybe the fact that the sniffer in the latter one is a fuzzy kitten (no, seriously, a cat, there are tons in his work). Here’s a nice article about the work, even though I would probably have given it a different title (not that the published one is no good), but that would probably have been unprintable. In any case, Martin Eder has also done some photography, which you can see either here or here (and from what you have just learned about his paintings, you might realize immediately it’s not safe for work) - well worth the visit!
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Mar 27

Since I am German (and thus European) American friends of mine often tell me how in Europe things are just so much better, which is, of course, the mirror sentiment of the smugness one often runs across in the European press when the latest American scandal is discussed. Take shopping, for example, and here the chain Walmart serves as a nice example. Walmart abandoned Germany after a few years of trying to break into the market, and my American friends tend to think that’s because Germans just hate that kind of business and everything Walmart stands for. Not so. Well, they did hate Walmart (in the just so slightly different cultural context of Germany, old people greeting you at the door are simply creepy, and those employee rituals to boost morale reminded Germans way too much of times past), but the main reason why Walmart had no chance was because German discount chains are even more ruthless. To wit: Germany’s Lidl chain was just caught spying on its workers.
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Mar 27

I am very impressed by David Spero’s photography, especially his Churches.
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Mar 26

“When art abandons color, as it did in the nineteen seventies, it can only recede into the domain of abjection - into the protocols of language, history, and representation. The consequence of this […] is that all discussion of art under such régimes begins at a position of linguistic regress that renders invisible the complex dialogue between what we want to see and what we want to see represented.” (Dave Hickey, “Pontormo’s Rainbow”, found in Air Guitar; emphases in the original text)
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Mar 26

Found via Mrs Deane: The almost monochromatic, minimalist photography of Friederike von Rauch.
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Mar 25

Liz Kuball just started posting her own series of interviews, which you might want to check out. So far, she got one with Jennifer Loeber and one with Kate Hutchinson. Update: Now the interview with fellow bloggers (and personal friends) Mrs. Deane is up!
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Mar 25

Rob Haggart’s new offer might be what many people have been hoping for for a while: “I’ve wanted to do this for awhile and my thinking on the future of photography and photo contests and other things I’m cooking up has gotten me inspired to offer everyone the chance to promote your best work for free by submitting a couple images for a slide show. There’s plenty of photo editors and art buyers who are readers and I know they will find it extremely beneficial to view a quick slide show with hundreds of different photographers featuring their best work and I can’t think of any other examples where this exists […] There will be a bar for entry and I will edit out any photographs that are a waste of time for potential buyers to look at. I know there are a lot of top shooters who may be wary of submitting their photographs so I’m going to make sure all the work displayed is top notch.” Flickr, combined with actual quality control - it will be interesting to see the results.
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Mar 25

If you feel like almost going back to the days when you’d record your own set of music to create a “mix tape”, Muxtape is where you want to be. Check out Noah K.’s or Raul G.’s or mine.
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Mar 25

Found at the new Photoshelter blog: Stacy Mehrfar’s photography - check out “American Palimpsests”.
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Mar 24

Another must-read: The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib. Noteworthy this description of why the most well-known Abu Ghraib photo is iconic: “The image […] achieves its power from the fact that it does not show the human form laid bare and reduced to raw matter but creates instead an original image of inhumanity that admits no immediately self-evident reading. Its fascination resides, in large part, in its mystery and inscrutability - in all that is concealed by all that it reveals. […] The picture transfixes us because it looks like the truth, but, looking at it, we can only imagine what that truth is: torture, execution, a scene staged for the camera? So we seize on the figure […] as a symbol that stands for all that we know was wrong at Abu Ghraib and all that we cannot - or do not want to - understand about how it came to this.”
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Mar 24

I’m sure by now everybody is sick and tired of the US campaign season (regardless of where you live). However, for anyone interested in studying the use of images, campaign season of course is one of the most fruitful periods, and TV ads are often most revealing (albeit not in the way the campaigns originally intended). Take this TV ad by the Clinton campaign and this response by the Obama campaign. In a sense, these ads neatly summarize the difference between Clinton and Obama: Clinton treats voters like children, who are clueless and who need a strong leader to protect them. Obama treats voters like adults, who can make their own choices based on information presented to them (and if you haven’t watched his speech on race, you might want to watch it to see someone talking to people like adults and then addressing one of the most difficult issues the country still has to face).
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Mar 24

Tony Fouhse is a commercial/editorial photographer, whose personal portfolio contains quite a few interesting shots. I’m somewhat torn about “User”, though - not so much because of the photography, but because of the subject matter. I’ve lately seen a quite a few series on drug users, and I’m not sure whether turning drug users into a fine-art photography fad is going to help them too much. Needless to say, this concern applies not just to Tony’s work, but to all the other photographers who have produced similar work as well.
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Mar 21

“The release of the Paris Hilton vehicle The Hottie and the Nottie has revived the debate as to which is the worst motion picture ever made. […] Anyone can make a bad movie; Kate Hudson and Adam Sandler make them by the fistful. […] Anyone can make an unwatchable movie; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. And anyone can make a comedy that is not funny; Jack Black and Martin Lawrence do it every week. But to make a movie that destroys a studio, wrecks careers, bankrupts investors, and turns everyone connected with it into a laughing stock requires a level of moxie, self-involvement, lack of taste, obliviousness to reality and general contempt for mankind that the average director, producer and movie star can only dream of attaining. […] To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars [Paris] Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? […] There is one other requirement for a movie to be considered one of the worst ever: it must keep getting worse. By this, I mean that it not only must keep getting worse while you are watching it, but it must, upon subsequent viewings, seem even worse than the last time you saw it. […] Madonna’s Swept Away […] seems more amateurish on each viewing, like a morass that starts out as a quagmire, then morphs into a cesspool and finally turns into a slime pit on the road to its ultimate destination in the bowels of Hell.” - full meditation on what makes a truly terrible movie
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Mar 21

Via No Caption Needed I found Tom White, whose American Landscapes I like very much.
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Mar 20

As a child, I hated circuses (and especially clowns - just like most other children), and I still do. Luckily, Simon Menner’s Fahrendes Volk shows just the outsides. Also browse through his other work - there is a lot of good stuff to be found on his site!
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Mar 20

“The concept of what constitutes a derivative work seems to elude far too many courts, particularly in the photography context.” Yes, it does. No, it doesn’t. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this, so stay tuned for more from the argument clinic. But seriously, this is a tremendously important issue.
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Mar 20

“In the hallway of a hospital in Kirkuk I am photographing Mahmood al-Obaidei, who has a hive of hospital workers battling to keep him breathing after his body was devastated by a roadside bomb detonated near his shop. Though I am making photographs it is not the images I remember from this moment. I remember hearing Mahmood trying to breathe. The hospital workers throw the paddles of a defibrillator on him. Two shocks to the chest and his pulse again give a weak beep on the monitor. There is a brief sign of life. The paddles are readied again. Then darkness. The power in the hospital has gone out. The staff members groan as they stand in place waiting for the power to return. In a moment the generator kicks on and the machine has to be recharged. A jolt blasts Mahmood’s chest. Nothing. The moment to save his life has passed. And I remember hearing only my own breathing.” - Max Becherer
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Mar 20

A little while ago, Alex Ross recommended Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love, and based on what he wrote in that post I thought I might as well read it. I don’t know much about Céline Dion’s music (I don’t listen to the radio, and I don’t watch much TV), but from what I know her music is the musical equivalent of Annie Liebovitz’s photography: It fits perfectly into the kind of stuff churned out by major corporations - blockbuster movies or ads for amusement parks - but beyond that… Which is the same kind of attitude that Carl Wilson had towards Céline Dion’s music before he decided to dig into it and to learn about what is behind all it and, especially, to see whether he was maybe wrong and missing something entirely. So I thought that maybe by reading Let’s Talk About Love I could learn a little bit more about how to approach tacky kitsch, to move beyond simple reflexes and to maybe discover something. Having made it through about a third of the book, my original intent might prove to be more complicated than anticipated (now there’s a surprise), but Let’s Talk About Love has already proven to be well worth the money. A truly recommended read, very well written and full of surprises.
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Mar 20

Is Britain turning into the perfect surveillance society, where photographers not working for the police or other authorities get routinely harassed by the police when taking photos outside? Of course, it’s hard to tell from the distance, but the number of reports like this one has been rapidly increasing lately (note how the cop merely dismisses the sheet the photographer printed out about photography rights!). Also see this clip.
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Mar 19

“It is with great sadness I have to write that Philip - a monumental, irrepressible force in photography and in life - and a courageous fighter against the cancer that finally defeated him - passed away early this morning. […] It was Philip’s consummate skill as a picture maker, carefully able to draw the viewer closer and closer to his subjects through his emotionally-charged compositions that lent such power to his work. Philip was always concerned with individuals - their personal and intimate suffering more than any particular class or ideological struggle. And the strength of his vision, that inspired so many of us, led Henri Cartier-Bresson to write of Philip: ‘not since Goya has anyone portrayed war like Philip Jones Griffiths.’” - story
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Mar 19

Lynndie England’s bad luck is that the Abu Ghraib “abuses” (if we want to use such a meagre word for what amounts to torture and murder) are still mostly being investigated from the bottom up, with - so the official narrative goes - everything just being a case of a few “bad apples”. The official narrative, of course, is provided by the very same people who are responsible for Abu Ghraib, namely the people who ordered “harsh” treatment of prisoners and who drafted secret memos about how laws such as the Geneva Convention or the prohibition of torture simply didn’t apply any longer. It’s not clear whether we will ever see people like John Yoo in court, just like it is very likely that Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush will enjoy the same kind of elder-statesmen accolades as Henry Kissinger. What is increasingly clear, though, is that the Abu Ghraib photographs will be the defining images of the Bush jr presidency. In any case, in a new interview, Lynndie England, the woman holding the leash in the image above, talks about her role: “Of course it was wrong. I know that now. But when you show the people from the CIA, the FBI and the MI the pictures and they say, ‘Hey, this is a great job. Keep it up’, you think it must be right. They were all there and they didn’t say a word. They didn’t wear uniforms, and if they did they had their nametags covered.”
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Mar 19

“Frank Gohlke is a leading figure in American landscape photography.”
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Mar 18

For me, Hellen van Meene’s portraits of adolescents are exceptional. There’s a very nice interview/feature with/of her here - also not to be missed by people who are interested in the relationship between a portrait photographer and her subject.
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Mar 18

For all those who have been missing some typologies on this blog, there’s Matthias Petrus Schaller’s work. All others (and, of course, also the typologies fans) want to scroll down and not miss the series “Werkbildnis I” and “Werkbildnis II”, images taken in photographers’ studios/flats and architects’ offices, respectively.
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Mar 17

I think my main problem with Jock Sturges is that I tend to ignore the usual ‘controversies’ (which, given their predictable nature, are nothing more than some sort of weird and pointless ritual) or ‘issues’ and that when I look at his photographic work I see… well… nudes that more often than not simply border on kitsch. You might disagree. In any case, there’s a video interview with Jock Sturges here.
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Mar 16

Leave it to the five anonymous photographers behind You call this photography? to point out How To Photograph Nude Women, For Free. Lots of good things to know: “Being pretentious doesn’t hurt” or “It’s a nude shoot, not a gynecological exam. That means working up to the spread shots by asking her to do relatively harmless stuff, such as run up the beach and back. While she’s running, you can scheme how you’re going to get her to open her legs. If you need more time, tell her to run up the beach again.”
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Mar 16

Yesterday, The Sonic Blog has celebrated its first birthday - congratulations, Peter! And, wow, you look so happy in that photo! In any case, I’m looking forward to many more great posts!
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Mar 16

Why would someone load an 8x10 camera - a heavy and cumbersome piece of photographic equipment - into a small, inflatable craft and them move up the coast of Greenland to take photographs? There are probably many reasons for such an endeavour, and it would seem that picking just a single one would miss too many other important aspects. In that sense, treating Broken Line by Olaf Otto Becker as merely a book of landscapes, would be too one-dimensional.
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Mar 16

“In 2002 Werner Bab, a Holocaust survivor, and Christian Ender met in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. This spontaneous meeting soon led to the general question what a citizen could do against right-wing radicalism, against the oblivion concerning the Holocaust, for the promotion of human rights and international understanding on a social level. Furthermore Werner Bab wanted to come into contact with school classes to give them a firsthand warning as a witness of the Holocaust against the consequences of totalitarian regimes. The idea to make a documentary as an introduction to the discussions with a contemporary witness of the Holocaust resulted in the DVD Production ‘Time Intervals’ (Zeitabschnitte), which by now is available with subtitles in 19 languages.” (source) The full movie can be viewed online.
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Mar 14

I have the feeling that some fine-art purists might find Alex Prager’s work a bit too commercial/slick looking, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
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Mar 14

I found this clip (along with another one) on Harper’s blog, and I’m somewhat torn about it, for a large variety of reasons. The use of the historical photograph at the end, I’m sure, will make some people quite uncomfortable; but I do think there’s a very valid point there.
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Mar 13

One of the most impressive presentations I’ve seen in a while: Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor describes experiencing a stroke herself (thanks, Michael!).
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Mar 13

Kate Hutchinson has a lot of very beautiful work on her website - don’t miss “Why am I marrying him?”.
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Mar 12

Find the (a) list here. To answer Internazionale’s question (“E poi dov’è Conscientious, che ogni mattina mi stordisce con la sua raccolta di foto incredibili?”), if you use Technorati to rank blogs by the number of sites linking to them - which one might think of a fairly good measure of how widely read a blog is - this one is at position 9564 (at the time of this writing). Note that their Top 100 differs a bit from the other list (especially since using links leads to the inclusion of blogs like Beppe Grillo’s, which most non-Italians probably have never heard of).
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Mar 11

Kinetic art - sculpture that moves in smart ways - I can’t get enough of. I just found the work of Theo Jansen, whose TED presentation (incl. lots of movies of his fantastic sculptures) you can see here. Update (21 April): There’s a nice interview with him here.
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Mar 11

When I tell people that I now live in “Western Massachusetts”, they often have no idea what or where that is (in all fairness, I didn’t know, either - but then I also was not born in this country, so at least I have an excuse). Calling Northampton, where I now live, the ‘new weird America’ is probably nothing more than the kind of embellishment you’d expect to hear from an aging alternative rock star who decided to move here (to rationalize not living in New York City), but this article is quite a bit more accurate: “The Pioneer Valley is arguably the most author-saturated, book-cherishing, literature-celebrating place in the nation.” For someone who loves browsing for books (and who hates the corporate book supermarkets) this area is just ideal, and it sure helps that it’s also intensely beautiful, in a very quiet way (make sure to check out the slide show of book stores in this area).
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Mar 11

To a large extent, Laurence Bonvin’s recent work deals with the transitions between cities and their immediate surroundings.
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Mar 10

First, there’s this kitschfest, “20 beautiful HDR Pictures”. And then there’s Photoshop Disasters, such as, for example, the woman whose belly button disappeared.
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Mar 9

Michal Chelbin was included in this year’s PDN 30. When looking at her work, make sure not to overlook the restaged religious imagery. (updated entry)
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Mar 9

“An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition. […] Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. […] Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness”, as reported by the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium (with many more details and - as is the case in any serious scientific study - caveats concerning observed correlations etc.).
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Mar 9

Any art critic who says things like “I despise art education. Art doesn’t lend itself to education. There is no knowledge there. It’s a set of propositions about how things should look.” or “There are no serious art magazines.” or “Training sissies for teaching jobs.” (when asked what the MFA’s raison d’être) or “With the artists, I don’t teach, I coach. I can’t tell them how to make art. I tell them to make more art. […] My job is to be current with the discourse and not be an asshole. That’s all I wanted in a professor.” has my ear, that’s for sure (interview, found over at Exposure Compensation).
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Mar 8

… and vetoes a bill that prohibits “harsh interrogation techniques” (aka torture). A legacy - as the NY Times calls it - indeed.
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Mar 7

Something light for the weekend: Are you familiar with the weirdest town names in Germany and Europe?
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Mar 7

“They met on a train and fell in love. Then [photojournalist] Jason P Howe discovered that his girlfriend Marylin was leading a secret double life - as an assassin for right-wing death squads in Colombia’s brutal civil war.” - story
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Mar 7

People will probably not admit them in public, but I have run into a lot of complaints about Gregory Crewdson, which has always surprised me. Whenever I press people to tell me what it is that bothers them, inevitably I am being told about how he employs so many people to do his work. There is an interesting article about this complex here. I have to admit, though, that to a large extent I do not understand what the problem is.
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Mar 7

Mrs. Deane already mentioned Sabine Wild’s zoo series, but I personally find some of her other work more interesting, such as, for example, these architectural studies (if one wants to call it that). I’m not sure they all work, but for me they’re a welcome different look at modern cityscapes.
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Mar 6

Editorial portraiture isn’t portraiture in the simplest sense (with a photographer, a subject, and a viewer). Instead, if contains an additional component: The person who commissions the portrait, who has the intended meaning/use in his/her head before the portrait is even taken, and who thus deprives the viewer of the true experience of a portrait. So we see this portrait in a story about an author writing about her tough life in gangs and this portrait of the same author after it all was revealed as a fabrication (I found this on subjectify). So the New York Times did not commission a portrait, they commissioned photographic illustrations. (to be continued…) Earlier parts: one, two
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Mar 6

“Tensions are running high in Democratic circles between the supporters of senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - and nowhere is that more evident than on the internet. Some of the more explosive blog posts making the rounds today concern a charge from a couple of diarists on the Daily Kos that the Clinton campaign deliberately darkened Obama’s skin color in a recent television ad.” (story) As an update, “Daily Kos” (a site that I usually find extremely irritating) now posts a comment from an anonymous reader: “I work in advertising (copywriter, [Big national advertising firm]). […] Nothing in advertising is accidental. It is over-thought and then subjected to second thoughts and second guessing then over-thought and re-looked at again. I’ve been doing this ten years. It is my professional opinion that the film was made darker, and it has obviously been stretched. I will not comment on their reasons, as I can’t offer an informed case for that.”
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Mar 6

Donald Weber is one of the photojournalists in this year’s PDN 30.
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Mar 6

I used to have a subscription of New Yorker magazine, and part of the thrill was to see the photography, in particular what Richard Avedon had come up with each week (that way, I did learn that even someone like Avedon could also produce extremely mediocre photographs - something, I think, Alec Soth pointed out later on his blog [using the John Kerry portrait as an example]). But I think there was more than just Avedon’s work. Or maybe memory doesn’t serve me right. In any case, after some sort of subscription hiatus I’m now back (hear that, Alec?), since someone gave me a gift subscription. And each week, I’m now dreading to see the new edition because the photography has just become so… well, how can I say this in a nice way? It’s just so forgettable and safe (with the exception of a couple of photographs in the March 10 issue that is). Often, the only interesting photographs are to be found in the Listings pages (after the “Goings on about town” page), when they show an example of work to be seen in Chelsea. Maybe I have to go back and look at older issues now to see whether they still appear to be more interesting. But to see a magazine that, if I remember this correctly, was the first to hire a fine-art photographer as a staff photographer going down such a predictable and outright boring route is a bit sad.
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Mar 5

Katie Kingma is included in this year’s PDN’s 30, and her work is well worth the visit.
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Mar 5

Announcing its annual list of “new and emerging photographers to watch” has become a tradition for Photo District News, and this year’s list was just published. Congratulations to all those who made it into the list! You might recognize some of the photographers in the list from seeing them on this blog, in particular Shen Wei, one of my Photographers of the Year 2006.
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Mar 4

There appears to be a hunger for deviations from the standard way to work on landscapes, and John Chiara’s work provides nice examples for a different approach.
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Mar 4

I mentioned Britain’s love with extreme surveillance before (see this story), which turns every citizen into a would-be criminal. If you decide to spend your vacation in London, say, you’ll find it next to impossible to miss the ubiquitous surveillance cameras, installed, as the story goes, to prevent crime (an almost unprovable and thus politically very useful assertion). And indeed the cameras are extremely useful to identify suspects in those very crimes they didn’t deter in the first place.
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