Photo by Ezra Stoller. Design Research, a store in Cambridge, Mass., 1969, designed by Benjamin Thompson.
Currently there is an exhibit of the work of Ezra Stoller at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City.
Stoller (1915-2004) was a pioneer of modern American architectural photography. He photographed for such famous architects as Frank Lloyd Wright and Erro Sarrienen.
I love how the inside merges with the outside in this twilight photo. I also love how this photograph breaks some of the “rules” of quality architectural photography. There is a dead tree, a parked car and melting puddles of snow, which are all elements that shouldn’t be in a “perfect” photo. These elements provide context and also make the image more real.
With the Super Bowl, watching the ads can be as entertaining as the game itself. The Chrysler ad for their trucks really stood out for me because it uses still images and no live motion.
The advertising world is shifting toward using more video and less stills. The number of ad pages in print magazines is shrinking. On the competitive advertising stage of the Super Bowl, ads with big budgets compete using lots of computer generated high powered imagery, and big stars. So this simple TV spot grabbed my attention because it was different.
With the authoritative voice of Paul Harvey laid over nostalgic imagery of farmers and farms, it’s a very soft sell. The product, Dodge trucks, doesn’t even appear until halfway into the spot.
The ad shows a wide range of people in its salute to the hard working lives of farmers. Farmers who will use Dodge trucks in their selfless pursuit of growing our food.
While photographing an apartment building in Philadelphia we encountered the Hollywood Photo truck. I imagine the owner of the Hollywood Photo truck makes his/her living photographing at events where every-day-mortals fantasize about being Hollywood stars.
In that spirit, I had to pose like the silhouetted photographer on the truck.
Thanks to my intern Mark Karrer for snapping this shot of me.
Last weekend I went with my wife, my daughter and son and saw the film, Bill Cunningham (trailer), a fascinating documentary whose subject is a documentary photographer.
It’s a great film about the quirky photographer, Bill Cunningham, who says, “The best fashion show is on the street. Always has been, always will be.”
Originally a hat designer and then a writer on fashion, years ago he was given a camera by a friend who told him to use it like a pen to take notes. He has taken that advice and become a photographic note taker extraordinaire. Cunningham is eighty-two years old and still produces his weekly photo essay called On the Street for the New York Times.
Wearing his trademark blue jacket, the same one worn by Paris street cleaners, Cunningham rides around New York City on a basic Schwinn bicycle, stopping to photograph what people are actually wearing on the street.
Bill Cunningham shooting from his bicycle.
Bill Cunningham on the street. From Wikipedia (creative commons license)
In this age of digital photography he shoots 35mm color negative film, has it developed at a lab called Photo King and then has the New York Times scan his best frames. Cunningham is obsessed with his work and lives to do his work. His living quarters are spartan, a bed surrounded by filing cabinets, no kitchen, and a bathroom down the hall. He values his independence and will not accept meals or drinks at events that he covers.
His knowledge and connections in the fashion world are encyclopedic. The French government honored him in 2008 with title of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters.
I can only hope to have his energy and enthusiasm for taking photographs if I am blessed to live into my eighties.
Artist Richard Prince, along with his gallery and publisher were sued in 2008 for copyright infringement by photographer Patrick Cariou. This week a federal court ruled in favor of Cariou.
Patrick Cariou's Rasta photo on left, Richard Prince's appropriated image on right.
The court ruled that Prince’s use of many of Cariou’s photographs was infringement and not fair use. Prince is likely to appeal. Assessment of damages and attorney’s fees has not been made. Registering your photographs’ copyright is important. You never know if a famous artist might appropriate your work.
In the April 19, 2010, issue of the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl has a review of the Cartier-Bresson retrospective.
In the review he quotes Robert Frank, (the photographer known for his book The Americans) commenting on Cartier-Bresson, “He traveled all over the goddamned world, and you never felt that he was moved by something that was happening other than the beauty of it, or just the composition.”
This morning I have pondered this quote and looked at many images by Frank and Cartier-Bresson with the intent of pairing their images to show Cartier-Bresson’s strong composition and lack of compassion and Frank’s indifference to composition and his empathy with his subjects’ emotions. The reality of their work is that it is complicated.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Telavi, Georgia, Visitors from Kolkhozy to the 11th Century Alaverdi Monastery", 1972
Robert Frank, "Funeral—St. Helena, South Carolina", 1955
In comparing Cartier-Bresson’s photo of Georgians on a picnic at a monastery with Frank’s image of an African-American funeral I am struck by how strong the composition and arrangements of forms is in both images. Yes the placement of every element: the monastery in the distance, the rake of the car fender, the placing of each of the people, even the picnic blanket all fall into place, as if sketched by a painter instead of aligned by a photographer.
The funeral photo has its own pictorial structure with three figures receding in space. On the question of empathy, the picnickers appear a bit nervous and dwarfed by the landscape. While the foreground mourner is lost in his thoughts and to me almost seems to be playing a harmonica. Trying to determine who the most compassionate photographer presents one of the dilemmas of photography–how accurately does our reading of a photograph reflect the reality of the emotion state of the people in it.
Robert Frank, "Political Rally-Chicago", 1958
Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Boston", 1947
Another pair of Frank and Cartier-Bresson images of people lying in parks shows Cartier-Bresson’s focus on people arranged in the picture plane and Frank’s direct confrontation of a man lying shoeless on the ground. As to which photo displays its subjects’ emotions more strongly, I’m not really sure.
And consider this photograph of a shoeless New Yorker. Was it shot by Frank or Cartier-Bresson?
Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris", 1932
This is the first Cartier-Bresson photo that I ever remember seeing. The tension of the moment before the man’s foot hit the water, almost touching his reflection has stuck in my mental image bank. I remember in 7th or 8th grade art club, seeing it in a magazine for young art students. When I think back on it, this was the time in my life that I first started photographing on a regular basis.
A new retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography has opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The show with over 300 photos will run until June 28, 2010. Last night I watched Charlie Rose interview three people connected to the show: Cartier-Bresson’s widow, Martine Franck; the curator of the MOMA show, Peter Galassi; and Agnès Sire, the director of the Fondation HCB.
Cartier-Bresson is a seminal photographer. His 1930s black & white images of “decisive moments” broke new ground in photography. Perhaps because of his training as a painter, composition is paramount in his photographs. Timing, too, is important.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, "Hyères, France", 1932
In the late 1980s I visited Burk Uzzle’s studio. Burk had worked at Magnum, the photo agency Cartier-Bresson co-founded. Burk told the story that when he first was hired at Magnum in the 1960s, he would go in off hours and look at Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets. And apparently, from what Burk said, there were many many lousy photos on those contact sheets. In order to arrive at the stellar moment, lots of un-stellar moments were shot.
In the Charlie Rose interview, when asked about first meeting her future husband, Martine Franck, a successful photographer herself, told the story that when they first got together, Cartier-Bresson’s opening line was, ” Martine, I want to come and see your contact sheets.”
From a 2004 obituary: ”My contact sheets may be compared to the way you drive a nail in a plank,” he said. “First you give several light taps to build up a rhythm and align the nail with the wood. Then, much more quickly, and with as few strokes as possible, you hit the nail forcefully on the head and drive it in.”
The above interior of a townhouse in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, was intentionally minimally propped to complement the minimalist aesthetic of the space, and to showcase the design and workmanship of the construction.
We often provide our clients alternative choices of key photographs from the same architectural shoot. Typically it would be the same shot with or without a propping element.
During the shoot the client showed us a bright green, rabbit-shaped, cookie jar that we all agreed was way too much fun not to include in one frame. It’s great how just one prop can energize a photograph.
There is something lovely and whimsical about the version that includes the green bunny. Also, it reminds me of a famous 1980 photograph by Sandy Skoglund entitled Radioactive Cats.
This is a continuation of my writing about Robert Frank. In 1981 or so I shot a photo of a hot dog cart on the streets of Philadelphia. A sign reading “Roberts Franks” appeared prominently in the photo. It was my visual pun on a Robert Frank street photograph. At the urging of a friend who taught photography, Arno Minkkinen, I sent a copy of the photo to Robert Frank. At the time Frank’s address was simply his name and Mabou, Nova Scotia, Canada. Along with an 8×10 of my photo, I wrote a short letter in which I asked about his knowing Jack Kerouac, and Kerouac’s death from alcoholism in his 40s.
Frank wrote back to me, and in commenting on Kerouac’s life, he wrote, “every life has its tragedies, think of that Philadelphia hot dog vendor.”
I need to rummage through my attic archives and find the original letter and the photo of “Roberts Franks”.
This past weekend I visited Washington DC and saw the exhibit at the National Gallery of Robert Frank’s photographs for his 1959 book, The Americans. This book of Frank’s black & white photographs of America has been one of my favorite photo books since I first saw it in the late 1970s.
Casual and seemingly off hand, the photographs in The Americans paint a portrait of America in the 1950s vastly different than the sanitized image of the country portrayed in Life magazine and Saturday Evening Post. As a European outsider, Frank explored aspects of American culture that are not its best side–the racial divide between blacks and whites, the lonely interiors of bars, the sadness of the wrong side of the tracks.
For me some of the revelations of the exhibit at the National Gallery include seeing contact sheet and work prints of images that never made it into the final book. Frank shot 27,000 images in 35mm black & white on his various trips around the US in 1955 and 1956. He made rough prints of about 1,000 of those and ultimately pruned those down to 83 images. It fascinated me to see many strong images that never made the final cut.
The beauty and poetry of the book is the sum of all of the images rather than the heroics of any one specific image. There is a rhythm to the sequence of images in the book. Frank documented America’s obsession with cars, the ubiquitous presence of American flags, and the despair and mystery of funerals, gas stations, diners and jukeboxes.
Another revelation to me was seeing the cover of the original published version of the book. Unable to find an American publisher willing to publish the book, Frank found a French publisher who issued the book in 1958. Copies of that version were on display. The cover features light blue graph paper representing a modern building coupled with a whimsical ink drawing of a sidewalk, pedestrians, a street lamp and an awning in a style similar to Saul Steinberg’s New Yorker illustrations in the 1960s. This cover is bizarre because it is so different and disconnected from the dark and brooding photographs within.
In his introduction to the book, Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, and a friend of Frank’s sums up, “Anybody doesnt like these pitchers dont like potry, see? ….To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes.”