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OT: A very long twitter conversation about “females.”

Friday, June 7th, 2013

I’d use Tumblr for this, but tweet embedding blah blah blah.

Yesterday, I had a pretty fascinating conversation on twitter with @girl_onthego, @vossbrink, and @earthtopus, following on the thing that was circulating about a NYT post using “female” as a noun in contravention of the paper’s style guide.

I’m reproducing most of the conversation here in what is not quite the right order (I did my best; sorting out long discussions on twitter is a real pain).









































Catherine Opie at SFMOMA

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Went to see Catherine Opie last night at SFMOMA. It was delightful — she’s funny and her work is both daunting in quality and diversity.

Here are my rough notes. Opie talks pretty fast, and some of these quotes may be imprecise. I also may not have always put the breaks between which work she was talking about in the correct spot. So, reader beware.

  • Talking about 1999 on, not earlier stuff


  • “The quaint fear of Y2K” – (so, rural America is a proxy apocalypse?)
  • Bought an RV
  • In conversation with Tina Barney and Peter Galassi
  • “The American road trip” — pretty much every photographer has experienced that
  • Sequenced in relation to how Opie feels about the images, not geography
  • Rebecca Solnit on wandering
  • “What is iconic” tends to collapse into cliche
  • Backs of sunflowers is dystopic, fronts is utopic
  • “Poorly attended civil war reenactment”
  • Backs of billboards as disinformation — re: Y2K and feared loss of information
  • Switched from 4×5 to Mamiya 7 for this project
  • Referring to Winogrand and street photogrpahy, came out of “that school”
  • “I don’t live with my photographs in our house.”
  • “I’m interested in photographs that work a little harder than just being pretty.”

In and Around Home, ’04-’05 (Post 9-11, c. George Bush re-election)

  • Opie’s home and neighborhood
  • “This is a blonde news reporter. This is a brunette news reporter.”
  • Re: polaroids in the time of digital photoraphy: “The materiality of a certain type of truth” that isn’t manipulated — Opie pairs that with TV is a form of artificiality
  • Iraqi national appears in the frame relative to the “white hand of democracy.”

American Cities 1996 ->

  • Focused in grad school on master plan communities, New Topographics type stuff, etc.
  • Canham 7×17
  • Done early on Sunday mornings when it’s empty, just the architecture
  • “New York is always photographed in this idea of its verticality.” — So horizontal panorama is a departure
  • Opie talks about photographing places that are later marked by death or disaster (9/11, earthquake, Elizabeth Taylor’s death)

Estate project for AIDS/Ron Athey

  • Moby polaroid camera (giant)
  • Opie often includes a “pause” betwween figures in an installation for those we’ve lost
  • “Art history is never far away from me in terms of grabbing for it.”

Ice Houses

  • Day after a blizzard, “white on white; I couldn’t have blue skies after that.”
  • “You need a blizzard for this level of abstraction.”
  • Ice houses bring together rich people with lakefront property and satellite dishes on their ice houses and the guys who drive in to actually fish. A kind of mixed temporary/nomad community
  • 8×10 camera working on the ice. (That’s crazy.)

Surfers ’03

  • “75% of surfing is waiting.”
  • Only foggy days / matches the white on white ice houses
  • “Got very interested in the idea of waiting” — which connects to the darkroom for Opie
  • Previously had done all her own printing and was a proud printer, but stopped while trying to get pregnant — the waiting aspect of the surfer photos replaced the meditate aspect of the darkroom experience
  • Guggenheim did “dream exhibition” of ice houses and surfers (in a long, narrow space with the horizons matched and facing each other from the two walls)
  • Portraits of surfers were made right as they came out of the water

Children portraits

  • Opie bummed out by unnatural contemporary portraits of children
  • Considered being a kindergarten teacher, but “I couldn’t do the little chairs for the rest of my life.”
  • Didn’t want to impose a sexuality on children, as Opie feels is often done
  • Wanted natural photos that capture the awkwardness of being in the studio

High School Football

  • (?) titled an exhibition “American Photographer” — “American photographer? I’ll be American for you.” So, football photos.
  • Sports photography is normally zoom lens and action; she wanted the moments in between
  • Opie talks about the realization of bearing witness to something, as opposed to identifying previously as a documentary photographer
  • Football as a precursor to military service in many areas
  • First time she’d done model releases — there were some photos she loved but could not use because she didn’t receive a release from the parents
  • In two years she received two letters from parents of boys in the series who had tied in Afghanistan — that was when she realized she was bearing witness
  • “These were the kids in high school who scared the heebie-jeebies out of me.”
  • “One of the hardest things was the incredible homophobia”
  • Used a Hasselblad digital handheld

Alaska, 2007

  • These were going to be theatrical backdrops
  • “I’m really interested in displacement” of people in relation to nature


  • Play on Richard Prince’s Girlfriends — but her ideal is butch dykes
  • “Some of them are girlfriends I actually had, some aren’t, but all are about desire for me.”
  • When she’s preparing an exhibition, she’s very aware of how she wants to place it relative to the history of either photography or painting
  • (She was really cute when geeking out about k.d. lang in the middle of presenting this series)

Hanjin shipping – commissioned – Sunrises and Sunsets

  • Restraint of time; conceptually how do you deal with the cliche of a sunrise or sunset”

Empty and Full

  • Marches, protests, rallies, etc.
  • “How do we gather? Why do we gather?”
  • Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival juxtaposed w/ national Boy Scout Jamboree

Somewhere in the Middle

  • Seasons of Lake Erie — Opie grew up on the lake
  • Displayed in a hospital, past the chapel / a place to gather oneself

New work – Regen Projects

  • “Wanted to talk about a more internal place”
  • The idea of the sublime, 17th c painting, portraits emerging out of black
  • Everybody’s doing abstract photography; what does it mean?
  • Opie describes seeing people drive to an attraction, getting out, snapping a photo with their phone, and getting back in the cars and driving away.
  • So, re: her OOF landscapes “By racking the focus, by abstracting it, I’m hoping to get people to spend more time with it.”
  • The only color here is red — b/c of blood and b/c Opie is menopausal
  • Portraits as oversized cameos
  • Always uses models when preparing exhibitions


  • Q re lack of snark/aggression/sarcasm/mockery of conservative, homophobic, etc. subjects
  • Opie implies that there’s some sarcasm that can be read in a lot of the photos, but “I never approach anything w/malice”

  • Reference to prior observation by (?) of a connection between Opie’s interest in horizons and the idea of equality

  • Q re: upcoming work

  • Elizabeth Taylor — Opie photographed in Taylor’s house for around six months, in the middle of which Taylor died
  • Trying to make a portrait through still life of Taylor’s home/belongings
  • She and Taylor share an accountant
  • Eggleston’s Graceland
  • “The book will not be the experience that I had,” it will be trying to make a portrait of Elizabeth, but also the history of tha tmoment
  • 5,000 images
  • Opie’s partner would say, “You were in the vortex again today” when Opie got back from working on this
  • Q re: diff. btw. students today and in Opie’s time
  • A: Yes. Hards to be an image-maker now. Hard to get students to think about the formal aspect. Trying to educate them about the history of image making and their place in it
  • Built her own dark room when she was 14
  • Curator Corey Keller: “At this point in time, to identify as a photographer is so unfashionable”
  • Right, they’re artists…
  • Q re: other media
  • I have a very secret sculpture practice of making ceramic stumps.”

Tumblr Post Roundup

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

I’ve recently posted a bunch of stuff on Tumblr that I would normally have posted here, because I’ve found myself enamored of Tumblr’s newly un-crappified photo post UI. But, because Tumblr has not un-crappified its search, here’s a list:

  • Measure DD and Flood Control Station tours, organized by Wild Oakland. I was super excited by both of these.
  • I’ve been shooting a ton of flags. Feels great to have forward momentum on a project. See here, here, here, here, here, here.
  • Unusually, I put together a couple of diptychs I kind of like. Here and here.
  • I’ve some photos of recent local events, incl. the opening of a sculpture park, a CA historical society whatsit on “Curating the Bay,” and a videogame thing at SFMOMA. Here, here, here.

Eyes, balls, and a camera

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

I got a little shout out today over at The Online Photographer for, “Eyes, balls, and a camera,” which was my semi-humorous response to the question, What three things do you most need to enjoy or participate in photography the way you practice it?.

Sorry for the implicit chauvinism; obviously balls here is a shorthand for the mixture of courage, audacity, and shamelessness that is sometimes essential if one is to make an excellent photograph. Obviously not something that’s gender-limited. : )

Of course, my own photography is only occasionally ballsy, but I do know that I owe some of my best photographs to a moment of uncharacteristic ballsiness, and I certainly know that some of my greatest photographic regrets have come from moments when I didn’t have the balls required by the situation.

Also, while balls are obviously more mandatory in street photography or wildlife type situations than in, say, tabletop photography, courage can take many forms. Sometimes it’s more about about a willingness to make a photograph that will challenge or provoke the viewer, sometimes it manifests in areas as prosaic as how you spend your money or to whom you show a photograph…

Photographing white people

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

000 MAIN (Re-Scan)

I wonder sometimes about the extent to which my street photography skews toward white subjects…there is a trend there, I’m fairly sure. In part this is because some of the bustling areas I like to photograph in are comparatively gentrified, and also I think partly because of a sort of habitual racism or reverse racism (or maybe a little of each) which registers caucasians as fair targets, as opposed to people of other ethnicities. (And yes, I do sometimes think of street photography subjects in that way, as targets.)

I think also, though, it touches on the problem of reality in photography. One of the things that I think draws me to some of my street photography subjects is the illusions they carry with them, and in general white people are a much richer source of illusions than people of color. (If you don’t know what I mean, try googling “double consciousness.”)

Not sure why that leapt to mind just now. Something to do with Robert Frank, I imagine, since I’m reading the expanded edition of Looking In right now, and since I have a lot of qualms about how Frank deals with race. Also possibly because of this post on Colin Pantall’s blog, which was in my google reader earlier today.

In case anyone is curious and didn’t already know, I’m of mixed race.

The subject of street photography

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

000 MAIN

I had a minor epiphany about street photography today:

In street photography, the subject is not a person; it is a situation.

I don’t mean by this that people aren’t essential to a photograph in this genre; of course they are. But such a photograph does not become a portrait, not even an environmental portrait which works by placing the subject in a context which allows us to refine our understanding of the subject. There is an essential difference, which becomes apparent in how such are composed, what sort of moment is captured, and — perhaps essentially — the way the photographer’s gaze functions and appears.

Street photography is in this respect more like landscape photography than like portraiture. In landscape photography, every element of the composition can, potentially, have equal weight, and the subject of the landscape photograph is the sum of the parts, or the synthesis of them.

I think that effect is very much at work in Cartier-Bresson. Bresson’s photographs often display a surprising lack of interest in the particulars of the people who populate his images. Often the person appears at a great distance, or as a blur, or with their features obscured or out of focus. But Bresson has captured the shape or the motion of the person at a particular point in space or time which fits with the city or countryside around them in a why that is sublime — in much the same way as a windblown tree or a stray cloud may unite and transform a landscape.

Telegraph Avenue

This notion has been very helpful for me in understanding the task of composition in street photography. Composition is critical, and it takes place in four dimensions. Each conjunction of human and inhuman elements in space and time is unique and cannot be recovered after it is lost; thus, the “decisive moment” really is.

Ferry Building Farmer's Market

Of course, I don’t intend to present these comments as the sage remarks of a street photography wizard. (Especially not given some of the harsher things I had to say about Frank’s The Americans recently.

Hell, I’m not even past the struggle with my social reticence and ethical qualms about whipping out my camera and photographing people in their sight. I’m just thinking things out in this context because trying to explain things to someone other than oneself is often the best way to actually start getting a grip on them…

Telegraph Avenue

Ektar 100

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

It’s nice that Kodak isn’t just gradually eliminating film types from its lineup. They’re also adding some. Ektar 100 — available now in 35mm and soon in 120 (a particularly good sign), this is a super-fine-grain, super-saturated, high-contrast film. It appears to look best somewhat overexposed, which — unfortunately for handholders — means shooting it at ISO 50.

Ektar 100 exposed at ISO 50

It’s not really my cup of tea — I prefer Portra 800, with its more neutral colors, and its lovely grain. Not to mention its high speed But the Ektar definitely has its own charms. And working with the slower shutter speeds and wider apertures dictated by working with Ektar handheld can lead to some interesting results…

Ektar 100 exposed at ISO 50

The virtue of a daily debrief

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I’ve started trying to take some time on a daily basis to write briefly about what I photographed, and why, and what the results were. The rationale is this: when I’m trying to learn some technique or get fluent with some piece of gear, it’s easy for that to become the point of the work I’m doing, or to subsume the original purpose of it.

Charred Broccoli

I spent an hour or so working with this piece of charred broccoli, two flashes, umbrellas and diffusers, different backgrounds, etc., along with the bits and pieces of Light: Science and Magic that I’ve been absorbing intermittently (and incompletely). And when it was done, I had a couple of images that are a bit interesting, and I had largely forgotten why I had started shooting that subject in the first place.

Charred Broccoli

Almost immediately after I finished, I had filed the whole thing in the drawer of my mind reserved for technical exercises and shut it.

But when I sat down to write my debrief of the day’s photography, stuff started popping back up:

Today I shot some tabletop macro stuff with a charred piece of broccoli I noticed last night while trying to relight a pilot. It was unususal — for a bit of scorched food-stuff — in that it was fully recognizable and indeed had retained its structure down to a rather fine level of detail. The scorching created a fantastic effect — the surface was highly glossy, but color was still faintly visible below the surface. It was like some sort of beautiful, horrible demon broccoli from another dimension.

That moment of minor revelation — of pure seeing — in which I first noticed that burnt bit of vegetation was easily obscured by the clutter of all the thinking and adjusting and reacting that I had done in playing with the lighting. If I hadn’t stopped to write it down, then the thinking — and not the seeing — would have become the whole story of the thing. And within a few days, odds are, that story would fixed in my memory. Stopping that night to write it down gave me an opportunity to change that story.

I suspect that if I can keep this up, it will play an important role in staving off the disaffection that sometimes comes over me when I’m working instensively on black triangles (technical stuff), and keeping my eyes — as it were — on the real task of photography, which is seeing (and allowing others to see), not mastering techniques.


Monday, January 26th, 2009


Okay, there aren’t pictures associated with this post yet. But I had a very exciting day (for mostly non-photographic reasons), and I want to get this down while it’s still fresh.

Went to SF today to see a live taping of You Look Nice Today with my mom and sister and Andrew

Some things that happened:

We had delicious things from Miette, Mijita, and Delica RF-1.

Andrew fought an epic battle with an eldeberry “refreshment drink.” And yes, there will have been blood.

Later, I spread cheese from safeway on other cheese from safeway and ate it. It was delicious.

You Look Nice Today was AWESOME. Jordan Jesse Go was funny, too.

My sister got a free YLNT t-shirt. This is both more and less awesome than it sounds. (She always gets stuff at events. Sexism, I say.)

She got Scott, Merlin, and Adam to sign said shirt. Awesome.

During the Q&A session, I asked if there was going to be a CD at some point with “Baby on a Dog” and the theme to “Barber and the Balls.” They all slowly backed away from the mics and milled around. Then Jesse got on a table, and it broke.

Despite SF Sketchfest’s Orwellian proclamations about photography, I got some shots with my Olypmus XA and my new (ancient) Koni-Omega. Hopefully awesome — we’ll see once I get it developed. ::crosses fingers::

Took a picture of Adam through the box office window, stalker-style. He played it cool, but then I waved excitedly at him. Because I’m a fourteen-year-old girl. But not really, or else I probably would have gotten a fucking shirt, too.

Then he came out and asked me about the camera (second person today to ask me about it, because it’s awesome), and we talked about surreptitious photography, and it was awesome. Then Merlin told us to make sure to “watch our backs” while taking BART home. Because no, it’s not too soon. Awesome. Scott mentioned his work on a Wii game (“Heavy Metal Food”). Awesome. Also, Merlin said something about a YLNT “Behind the Music.” AWESOME.

There was some kind of alcoholic after-thing, which none of us went to, because some of us have jobs, some of us don’t drink, and some of us had to find a place to stay. Less awesome, but I’m okay with that.

Then, while walking back to BART, Andrew mentioned that something during the evening had reminded him of a Borges story he’d been reading on the train up, but he couldn’t remember which one. I asked to see the book, explaining that sometimes I can figure these things out. He was, to say the least, doubtful regarding my ability to divine what he had been reading that YLNT had reminded him of. Need I say that I got it on the first try?

Fuck yeah.

Good times had by all.

laws, sausages, and vanity fair covers

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

I certainly don’t have any experience relevant to this issue, but man, if I were a world-famous photographer, I would really cringe at the idea of handing crappy shots to a retoucher. Just seems wrong.

Hopefully the retoucher got paid, though, given Leibovitz’s recent litigation problems…

I’ve had to turn a bunch of photos that had no sense of anything technical in to an image worthy of the brand name Leibovitz. Pieces that were supposed to fit had to be horribly distorted to match her post-shoot preproduction mockup made by a low res retoucher on her staff; many times she needed to use a tripod and did not; I also had to match images from different cameras and films together as well. Bottom line is, what is handed to the retoucher is a big pile of doo-doo handled by dozens of her staff—then have to produce images that look impeccable.

The Online Photographer: A Note From Underground.

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