that time in which Paul Strand backs me up

in the previous entry, I closed with this aphorism:

« quite simply: the idea of the photographs is not to tell a story of the scene, as most people like to praise a photo by such an accolade, but for the photographs to tell a story of how the photographer sees the world. »
— KX

and in the documentary by John Walker Paul Strand: Under the Dark Cloth [ link ], he quotes Paul Strand as saying:

« you have to have to say something about the world. »
Paul Strand

which is a one way to look at why one wants to take a (series of) photograph(s). this also calls for a selfishness which may not suit a social-photo site's best use.

however, there was another comment in the documentary about Strand's photos in Taos, New Mexico. the photos were about the New Mexico light. principal among the photographs from Taos from Strand is the church wall, which I consider among his best and most inspiring.

© Aperture Foundation, Inc., The Paul Strand Archive, Millerton, NY  (via  PRweb )

© Aperture Foundation, Inc., The Paul Strand Archive, Millerton, NY (via PRweb)

Lewis Baltz   © Orange County, 1970   From the series The Prototype Works   Vintage gelatin silver print   (via )

Lewis Baltz
© Orange County, 1970
From the series The Prototype Works
Vintage gelatin silver print

the Taos church photograph has some relation to some of the photos presented within the New Topographics genre. many examples can be found within Lewis Baltz's work, in which New Topographics propels the photographer(s) to say something about the world — perhaps in a collective quasi-anonymous sense. the work from Bernd and Hilla Becher also promotes a composition similar to the Strand photo. 

it strikes me that, by looking at many photos in the New Topographics style, that "the light" is not of great concern, and that more commonly, the photo is very bright and shuns the presence of dark shadows, with some shadow welcomed to highlight the geometries present. (examples can be viewed in this tumblr blog
[ link ] .)

the contrast of Strand's "typographic" work to anything similar from New Topographic has been a question that has propelled me to find a way to photograph in that style. particular to their respective styles, Strand's are more emotive — in the same way that Orson Wells and Gregg Toland brought composition to Citizen Kane — while New Topographics are very cold and not engaging, with a heavier emphasis on information.

"mobile photography" was/is a great means to bring out the intuitive ideas, by thinking of disposability and constant access to a camera to enable new styles and ways of seeing the world. while this was done with many phone-snapped photographs.

it was not until a few days in Kyoto (and Tokyo), in which this way of looking at city topographies: combining the idea of the compound of time by manmade, and/or arranged, objects and the proper distance/magnification that a consistent result was to come of it. while mobile photography is meant to be prompt and mobile in its creation, there is also a need to revisit the work after some time, and with greater care. still, the idea is not to linger too much in the processing, and to that end, I used VSCO Film set of presets to carry most of the weight in finishing the work within a short amount of time.

to that end, the photos at VSCO's Grid [ link ] present the mobile-platform work, while the photos with greater consideration are shown at Dunked [ link ]. 

the title for this latter collection Impermanence comes from a Wabi-Sabi notion, and what is seen in the photos. further to this concept of impermanence, it is an attempt to voice the play of this impermanence as it interacts with the surroundings: be they objects or "panels" which co-exists with the main focal object/panel. like with Strand's work, the hope is that the impermanence of the object(s) bring about an "pathos of things" to the viewer.

in the context of Strand's suggestion of "having something to say", this series is not designed to say something about impermanence before they were taken, but rather, like Wabi-Sabi, it is about finding more concises/known terms that describe how I have been seeing things all along and are converging into something more intuitive and innate.

[ ps ] a newer post delves into the work on Impermanence [ link ]

the love for something absent: Polaroid books

« when mystified viewers, many of whom owned the same model of camera, asked how he got such remarkable results, Kertés explained, " you have to learn to work on the edges of those boundaries " »

Robert Gurbo, Introduction to André Kertész The Polaroids.


for many years, I did not see this Polaroid "magic". sure, everyone seemed to have a Polaroid camera as I was growing up, and all through to this day, but I was never captivated by them. they were ways to capture ephemera, in the same that we can look at phone-camera photos, but without an artistic intent.  

then in 2007 I got this book by Kertész, and was captivated by the results one could get from a Polaroid.  not surprisingly, and despite my longtime avoidance of Polaroid as a means for my photography, this is among the favorite books I own. part of it may be the story behind the photos included in the book, and how it reflects so well the told story of Kertész's life after his wife's death.

by André Kertész

the current state of Polaroid books

the current state of Polaroid books

since then, and despite the slightly-reduced aversion to using "Polaroid" — now Fujifilm equivalent Type 100 film — the collection of Polaroid books is my most affectionate genre of books. 

After the first book, it was The Polaroid Book, that just wowed me. it is a compendium of photographs, and I loved the cover by Taschen.


The Polaroid Book , and a copy with its original wrapper.

The Polaroid Book, and a copy with its original wrapper.

of course, the book is not uniformly excellent, but hardly any photo is uninteresting, and some examples are just incredible. it is quite the journey through photography, admittedly, not all through the same type of Polaroid film.

seemingly, Taschen, on the first printing of the book, went quite a bit into a splash on the book design. not only on the hardcover design, but that in came wrapped in a silver-coloured bag like Type 100 film does.  

what sealed my interest in Polaroid books, and there seems to be quite the push to publish as many of them as possible, was the release last year of the book by Sibylle Bergemann. ( not to be missed is the review by Jörg Colberg [ link ]. )

by Sibylle Bergemann



 « in an [sic] 1970 interview with Sonntag, the newspaper that published her first photographs, she admitted: " When I take one hundred pictures on a topic, for which the blurry image conveys the greatest truth, then I simply offer the blurry photograph." Lack of focus as a potential asset. truth and blurriness — a fascinating combination. Sibylle Bergemann allied herself with the Polaroid, particularly in the last years of her life." »
—  With Immediate Effect by Jutta Voigt on S.B.

both Kertész and Bergemann managed to extract a similar magic out of the medium, in the way that they saw the limitations of the medium and how it still revealed a truth they wanted to convey about their personal convictions of this truth. that... is very powerful, and a clear distinction among photographers.  

be it the mastering of the medium, in this case the shortcomings of the Polaroid camera and presentation, or the subjects chosen being so closely personal to both of them in their late stages of life, there is nothing short of amazement at the collections of Polaroids that both offer.

by Sibylle Bergemann

these days, I have come to be curious at the Polaroid system: a Polaroid 350 with some modifications, and its use in a Graflex camera. the Type 100 film from Fujifilm does not offer the colour shifts that the original Polaroid offered, but there are still the quirks of these cameras that brings the slow-thinking required by the set up to take a photo, and the immediacy of instant development. 

you can see a lot by looking: ideas via Saul Leiter

actually, it takes more than what Yogi Berra said, and these words from Saul Leiter may give a hint as to what else is required:

« “I arrived at a way of looking and photographing that was, if I may say so, personal. It was a beginning of a certain kind of photography for me, [...] and my mother was kind enough to keep me afloat. My father would have allowed me to sink.[...] But my own view was that you have things for a while, and then they go off and they live in another place. They deserve to have another home.” (laughs) » [ link ]

thus, you can see a lot by looking and see beyond if letting it be  personal.

as we dive into photography, we may (naturally) be concerned with finding “the shot”, until we realize that the “the shot” can be accidental, and that anyone can get it. this is the equivalent of being trapped in a “one hit wonder” type of syndrome. soon after we may drift into seeking a style, but then, as confronted and dissected in Mike Johnston’s Element of Style [ link ], one can realize that style is not always necessary. “the shot” and having a style are calling cards... but a calling card to what exactly?

Saul Leiter seem to have hit on his stride by realizing that photographing is personal. if one can dare to do so, because if it is personal, then other people’s criticism may also feel personal. however, this is only sensitive because we grant a talent for seeing to whomever offers a criticism. where was that most critical (and rare!) of talents given so easily to so many? they are offering an opinion bathed in their bias and understanding of what a photograph should do to them. rare is the person that tries, and never can achieve, seeing what the photographer intended. is this a copout? hardly. it does not call for ignoring what others say, just to digest it properly, which requires even more effort on the part of the photographer.

Saul Leiter’s photographs are the most important that I have yet encountered. perhaps contradictorily, I think that dwelling in that admiration, while awesome of itself, is to miss the greater point of his work: what circumstances produced such work, and how it may relate to something that is already natural within my approach to life/photography. thus I can “see” his photos for their fantastic realization of who he is, but then to “look” at his photos for a greater significance: that is, in the context of learning from someone about photography to hasten the learning process in the areas of the persona that may overlap with his ideas.

this way to look at his photographs is perhaps summarized in one of Leiter’s greatest accolade, which he cannot provide through a Q&A on his views:

« Max Kozloff said to me one day, ‘You’re not really a photographer. You do photography, but you do it for your own purposes – your purposes are not the same as others’. I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I like that. I like the way he put it.” »  [ link ]

photography, at its best, is personal... and let others figure out what they see. also, like Yogi Berra said:

« nobody goes there anymore. it’s too crowded. »

and as field of photography gets very crowded, one way to keep going there with no worries is to go personal, instead of going to see what everyone else is doing.


• for a brief history, Greg Fallis’ essay is an excellent starting point. [ link ]
• an excellent selection of his photographs at Gallery 51 [ link ]


from movies to photography

yes, paintings was the medium that informed photography in the early days, and perhaps would choke it to death, but for some photographers at the turn of the 20th Century that said... “hey, discover this.” 

in a simplification for the internets, and my bias of photography, these trails were dominated by Edward Weston [ link ] in one direction, and Paul Strand [ link ] in another. outside America, André Kertész [ link ] would be another force in this movement away from the grips of the painterly... and to “hey, discover this”.

perhaps for many in my generation, it is easier to watch movies throughout a longer period of life, thus an earlier start, than it is to be educated into the canon of photographers that began what we know as photography today.

in my case, Orson Well’s Citizen Kane made me take note of composition, and since I could not go after a movie camera, the question became: can I do that with photography? the magnificence of light, and Black and White tonality, would come at a later date. for now, I was tranced by the composition. in particular, the entrance into this scene:



perhaps it would have been Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc to offer the composition knock out, or German Expressionism since Fritz Lang’s « M » was also a knockout. however, silent film and early talkies were not something I sought in movies until recently.

many years passed since Citizen Kane until I was to be as shocked again about movies as inspiration for photography, though certainly many movies were appreciated for their cinematography in the interim — not the least The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner —  despite the growing loudness and in-your-face approach taken by Hollywood; this loudness and obviousness is not only visually, but also with scripts/dialogue.

then, a one two punch with The Double Life of Veronique by (the much missed) Krzysztof Kieszlowski [ link ], and In The Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai. for the first time, colour was revealed as a useful tool in a photograph, that is, used as a language that felt rather intuitively correct and emotive. in a way, colour was not illustrating the frame, it was offering a layered translation over the composition and use of light: colour, like composition and tonality, was an emotive element in synch with my view of a frame.

meanwhile, from the late 1920’s, Yasujirō Ozu [ link ] in Japan was beginning to develop an impressive body of work, starting with silent movies in the late 1920s. a total of 53 films were made by Ozu, and 26 in his first five years.  

fast-forward to Ozu’s Floating Weeds, itself a remake from his silent film era,  and one of his four colour movies and done a couple of years before his death. then there is this scene:

which can be contrasted, many years later, to Wong Kar-Wai’s:

Christopher Doyle (cinematographer for In The Mood For Love), presents an insight that can apply to both cases:

«  what happens in Western Cinema is “look at this, you are so stupid, you don’t know what we are trying to tell you, let me tell you something”... and we say “hey, discover this”. » — [ link ]

this idea is relevant in spite of Doyle having a completely opposite attitude towards camera placement/movement to Ozu. since Ozu controlled the direction and composition, as well as co-writing the script, more of his vision makes it into the final frame. two key concepts seem to be often referenced to Ozu’s work.

Kieszlowski practiced these Western Cinema values, but Ozu cinematically propelled, in his movies, the photographic composition — via a stationary camera — and the idea of mono no aware ( “the pathos of things” ) [ link ] in a patina of wabi-sabi [ link ]. a stationary camera/scene has an immediate impact to a photographer seeing his movies — a non-photographic mind my relate to a fixed scene as what happens in a theater.

these teachings from Ozu then inform a longer journey into one’s own photography, which perhaps started with a big bang of Citizen Kane. the idea then evolves into achieving a shift from “omg, look at this photo!!1!1!” to a more calm “hey, discover this photograph,” which is proxy to discover the photographer: a much richer experience, most certainly.