On The Beach

"I want to go to the Gulf Coast to document the catastrophic oil spill currently happening in the Gulf of Mexico. My interest is in documenting where people are waiting for landfall, as well as documenting places where the oil has made landfall already. The finished project will be a small self-published book of approximately 30 photographs.

Money will be used for flying down there, for places to stay, for renting a car and getting from place to place, for external hard drives to hold the photos made down there, for food, for research, and if there's any money left, for publishing. The more money I get, the more that will go into the project. The more $ that comes in, the more ground I can cover and the longer I can stay...and that will mean a stronger group of photos, and a better publication!

I’m going to focus on those waiting for landfall in Alabama and Florida. However, I also want to photograph the barrier islands in Louisiana that have been devastated by the spill if it’s possible to raise enough money to get over there. I foresee the majority of the work being about the waiting and the anxiety".

-Zoe Strauss

On The Beach Project Site

I'm not much of a comic book fan. I think that is mostly a result of timing more than anything. My young teen years were the early 70's. That was a low point for comic book popularity. I didn't know anyone who collected comic books in those days.We were reading Mad Magazine and following the work of R Crumb.It was totally uncool to read comic books in my day. By the time the 80's rolled around with the renewed interest and explosion of comic books and comic based movies, I was too old to hop on the band wagon.

But cool or uncool, every red blooded teenage boy in the 70's knew who Wonder Woman was, as portrayed by Lynda Carter on TV. So it caught my attention when I saw a headline about Wonder Woman getting a makeover at 69. Check out this link to see the changes to WW since her debut in 1941, and below is the latest version... very Asian/Manga influenced if you ask me. She has very noticeably lost her Americana element.

The Evolution of Wonder Woman

warminster, pa. 2010
Visual Design

Here is the next answer to this design test


The top design is the better one because (1) it is balanced, and (2) there is contrast of direction with the dominant (left oblique at 75 degrees) in harmony with the vertical short sides of the enclosing shape. This produces a better balance of direction by re-enforcing the verticals or short sides that otherwise would be overpowered by the horizontals or long sides. This results in a stronger and more interesting contrast of direction.

It is interesting to note that the author and designer of this test, Maitland Graves, intentionally made these images minimal and abstract. He felt that using realistic subject matter would tend to suggest associated ideas and prejudices, that the test taker could be influenced by factors foreign to pure design. (such as color preferences)

As a reductionist/minimalist artist, I find these to be very instructional. These types of abstract designs are the things I look for everyday in the real world. They are what catch my eye. Patterns in the everyday.
Visual Design

From the design test I recently posted, here is the first answer directly from the book..


The left side is the better design because it is more unified than the right, and at the same time it has as much variety, On the left side there are more contrasting values with the black preponderant. There is a contrast of line with curved lines dominant. There are contrasting directions with the vertical dominating. The left is also more interesting than the right because of a variety of spacing, that is, the three vertical lines are not monotonously spaced as are the lines in the right side design, but have large and small spaces between them. The right side is structurally weak. There are contrasting values, lines. and directions, none of which dominates.
Harleysville, Pa. 2010
The Geography of Nowhere...

Mt. Casino 2009

For years my friend Randall Updegrove has been suggesting I read The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler. When I finally did get around to reading the book, it was like finding the perfect narrative to my photographs. I was blown away, page after page, not just because I agreed with most of what was being said, but because someone had put into words what I had been feeling suffering from for years. It was like finding a long sought medical diagnosis and now I could begin to work on the healing process.

One of many examples from the book...

The dogmas of Modernism only helped rationalize what the car economy demanded: bare bones buildings that served their basic functions without symbolically expressing any aspirations or civic virtues...Try to imagine a building of any dignity surrounded by six acres of parked cars. The problems are obvious. Obvious solution: Build buildings without dignity.

Is there a more pathetic example of a lack of dignity in architecture than the recently constructed Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pa.? This facade consists of nothing but enormous video screens that provide non-stop high definition advertising for the winning potential to be found inside. Advertising so powerful that a few weeks ago a man was arrested for leaving his 15 month old son outside in the parking lot in a locked running vehicle while he was inside for over an hour playing the penny slots. The guy claimed he had only intended to be in there for ten minutes, and he had left the air conditioning on in the car.

Many thanks to Kunstler for a brilliant expression of words that most of us are incapable of coherently assembling, even though we feel them inside our souls.

Clusterfuck Nation
Sunset Beach, Ca. By Joe Deal 1978

Joe Deal, New Topographics Landscape Photographer (1947-2010)

An intrinsic element of Mr. Deal’s work was its perceptive and at times disquieting take on the American landscape and we who inhabit it. Deal and other photographers whose work was brought together under the description “New Topographics” recognized the increasingly threatened state of the American landscape, both physically and psychologically. They directed attention as well to a sense of ennui and hopelessness that characterizes so much of life in this fragmented post-modernist time.
St. Louis Beacon

St Louis Beacon Obit

PDN Obit

New York Times Obit
Blogger has some new templates. I'm always interested in making this blog visually readable and as comfortable on the eyes as possible. A few of the new templates caught my eye, such as this one you see here. It seems to help the images stand off the page a little better than the template I was using. Let me know what you think...
Read the Printed Word!

We support the printed word in all its forms: newspapers, magazines, and of course books. We think reading on computers or phones or whatever is fine, but it cannot replace the experience of reading words printed on paper. We pledge to continue reading the printed word in the digital era and beyond.
Here is a very practical and realistic way to look at technology and it's sometimes dangerous consequences. Every new innovation has a positive and optimistic beginning, but also many times has darker and unintended or unknown side effects. We live in an age of Technology Worship, assuming it will solve all of our problems. Read the following list in the context of deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, or Genetically Modified Foods, or Television, etc, etc, etc...

Ten Recommended Attitudes About Technology

By Jerry Mander
from In The Absence Of The Sacred (1991)

1.Since most of what we are told about new technology comes from its proponents, be deeply skeptical of all claims.

2. Assume all technology "guilty until proven innocent".

3. Eschew the idea that technology is neutral or "value free". Every technology has inherent and identifiable social, political, and environmental consequences.

4. The fact that technology has a natural flash and appeal is meaningless. Negative attributes are slow to emerge.

5. Never judge a technology by the way it benefits you personally. Seek a holistic view of its impacts. The operative question is not whether it benefits you but who benefits most? And to what end?

6. Keep in mind that an individual technology is only a piece of a larger web of technologies, "metatechnology". The operative question here is how the individual technology fits the larger one.

7. Make distinctions between technologies that primarily serve the individual or the small community (for example, solar energy) and those that operate on a scale of community control (for example, nuclear energy).

8. When it is argued that the benefits of the technological lifeway are worthwhile despite harmful outcomes, recall that Lewis Mumford referred to these alleged benefits as "bribery". Cite the figures about crime, suicide, alienation, drug abuse, as well as environmental and cultural degradation.

9. Do not accept the homily that "once the genie is out of the bottle, you cannot put it back", or that rejecting technology is impossible. Such attitudes induce passivity and confirm victimization.

10. In thinking about technology within the present climate of technological worship, emphasize the negative. This brings balance. Negativity is a positive.

Design Test

A wonderful old book, The Art of Color and Design, by Maitland Graves (1941) contains an interesting Visual Design Test, consisting of 20 sets of charts, each with two designs. The test taker is to decide which of the two designs is better, or more appealing.

This test was once part of the entrance exam of the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and was taken by hundreds of art students at the Pratt Institute, where Maitland Graves was an instructor. Graves writes..."A group of well-known artists, designers, interior decorators, and architects averaged a score of 94 percent in the test. Although laymen usually have a lower score, it is interesting that those who have an instinctive discernment of fine design as revealed in their dress, their homes, and their taste in music and literature generally register high scores".

Here are some samples of the charts. Choose the better of the two designs for yourself. The book gives a detailed analysis of the reasons for the correct choice for each chart. I'll post the answers in a couple days. I'll post more of the charts if anyone is interested. (I'm proud to report that I scored 19 out of 20 on the test, for a 95 percent!)






I'm not sure why I am so drawn to the image of the dead deer under the chain link fence. Something about the posture of the body, seemingly caught mid-leap and as if the fence was the cause of death. The fence surrounds a vacant (dead) retail property. The deer lays just below a large real estate sign that says "Available".

The image also pairs up well with previous photographs, such as Chain Link Paradise, and I like it with the above Roadside Memorial image taken on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia in 2008.

People’s Biennial is a traveling exhibition organized by Independent Curators International. Art institutions in Portland, OR, Rapid City, SD, Winston-Salem, NC, Scottsdale, AZ, and Haverford, PA will present a biennial of contemporary art consisting of works by five artists in each of the institutions’ local communities, selected by the show’s guest curators, Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffmann.

Drawing on a series of open calls, People’s Biennial will feature artists who haven’t had significant exposure, or who may not even consider themselves part of the “art world.”

Children’s science fair projects, mathematicians’ notebooks, painted window displays, collections of all kinds–by presenting the work of local artists who would not typically show in a gallery or museum, People’s Biennial explores the limits of traditional exhibition models, questioning the exclusivity of the art world and considering sustainable alternatives.

People's Biennial
continuation. 2010
Talented young photographer Sarah Kaufman has an upcoming show in June at Soho Photo consisting of twelve 20" X 20" digital prints entitled Recent Work

"This exhibition is an inherently human investigation. I visit people in their homes and ask them to try to show me the world that they inhabit when they are alone. The resulting photographs chase glimpses of this world and explore the relationships among the subjects, their bodies, and their spaces. They reveal the possibility for a quiet intensity within the everyday and ideally allow the viewer to soak in the gestures and details within another person's domestic space and routine. Perhaps upon looking at another's moments of absorption, we may recognize something about our own.
-Sarah Kaufman

Sarah Kaufman previously on PHOTO/arts Magazine

Sarah Kaufman's website

Soho Photo
Organic & Inorganic structures...

BP Protest. 2010

Like most Americans, the oil catastrophe has been on my mind quite often. It has consumed the media for better or worse. The one thing that strikes home so powerfully is the toxic culture of blame we all surround our selves with. This is Katrina all over again. Chest pounding, finger pointing, lawsuits galore. Dump money into easing the symptoms, and nothing towards curing the disease. Zero long term solutions.

This is our collective shame. We carry out our days in isolated bubbles of comfort, with nary a thought to the consequences of our unsustainable lifestyles. And when the shit hits the fan we gasp in horror. How could this be? How could they let this happen? It's all Bush's fault. It's all Obama's fault. It's all BP's fault. Stomp our feet and demand payment for damages in full, and when the media stops shoving the horrors in our faces we will all go back to our comfy little bubbles and feel safe again.

And that will be our fault, and our own toxic shame. No one to blame but ourselves.

I've made numerous photo books in the past. Hand made single editions that would be impossible to duplicate in multiples of more than three or four due to the time it would take versus the limited amount of money I could sell them for. Most of the results from publishers like Blurb have never fully satisfied me for one reason or another. The available templates are too generic, the print quality is unpredictable, etc etc. The best book I ever created was a small five inch square format hard bound book that I ordered from a company called Photoworks. It was a collection of my Chocolate Polaroids, and the small square format was perfect for Polaroid photographs. The book is bound in a black cloth cover and the quality of the binding is the best I have ever seen from a self publisher. I only ordered two copies of the book and eventually stopped using Photoworks because their books had to be edited and created while on an internet connection instead of with downloaded software like most self publishers use. I got sick of the slow and unstable system they were using so I switched over to Blurb. To make a long story short, everyone I ever showed that small Chocolate Polaroid book to loved it and I decided to order a bunch more to offer for sale. When I went back to Photoworks I found out that they had discontinued that book format. Double Ughs. I can never recreate the book. The saved file for my book wasn't even on their site anymore.

So the whole point of this post is that with all of my past issues with self publishing photo books, I have decided to create some small editions of hand made books without getting overly fancy. I've been thinking about this quite a bit ever since going to the Philadelphia Photo Arts Book Fair in April. I was so impressed with some of the micro publishing that was on display, it helped me break out of my overly traditional concepts of what makes an interesting and collectible photo book.

At this moment I'm thinking about small editions of no more than 50, Themed books made of high quality paper, maybe 16 pages or so with an essay (or two) relating to the images. Signed, numbered and dated of course. The key feature of this series would be their simplicity and hand made nature. Just basic staple bound Zine style, but also consisting of decent archival photo paper, so a bit more than the ephemeral nature of a Zine. I've got a mock up under way, and I'm really happy with it so far. See photo above.
The courtship of Mary

Yesterday I saw her sitting in the second floor window of her time worn cottage, looking out at the gardens below. A quiet little house surrounded by the sprawl of suburbia. The image froze me instantly and I regretted not stopping and trying to take a photograph.Today I drove down the same street, hoping to see her again. She was in the front yard, tending to a patch of yellow flowers. The flowers were no match for her radiance. I summoned the courage to stop and introduce myself. I confessed that I had seen her the day before in the window and had returned to see her again. She smiled coyly and we began to talk about the house and her garden. She had moved there from a basement apartment when her only child was born. Her husband was an artist and times were tough, but they somehow managed. She never thought she would live to see times so bad again.

Mary spoke slowly and at times her memory would fail and she would pause, waiting for the thoughts to return. Even in those moments however, the resilience and wisdom never left her eyes. She would brush back the hair from her face and continue with her story, looking off in the distance as if seeing the events in real time. Growing up on a farm near Salem, New Jersey. Attending art school in Philadelphia. Marriage and a family and the struggles of the great depression. The freedom and peacefulness of still living in the same home for over 75 years now.

Mary is "over 100" years old as she proudly told me. Something in the combination of Welsh and English genes has kept her looking like she is still capable of working the soil of a small garden. She was quick to add that she never drank or smoked, and her farm upbringing had something to do with it.

I was politely denied a chance to take a portrait of Mary today. She informed me that she never takes a good photograph, and I could sense the ageless reticence of a woman who doesn't feel quite prettied up enough to sit for the camera as she instinctively reached for her face upon my request. I thanked her for the gift of meeting and talking to her today, and promised to visit again. And I warned her that I would be bringing my camera with me.

Stay tuned...
fabulous steaks. 2010
Excellent short documentary film about Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss...

Through The Lens of Zoe Strauss
The Architecture of Being Alive...

Yet each of us knows from experience the feeling which this quality creates in us. It is the time when we are most right, most just, most sad, and most hilarious.

And for this reason, each one of us can also recognize this quality when it occurs in buildings. We can identify the towns and buildings, streets and gardens, flower beds, chairs, tables, tablecloths, wine bottles, garden seats, and kitchen sinks which have this quality- simply by asking whether they are like us when we are free.

We need only ask ourselves which places- which towns, which buildings, which rooms, have made us feel like this- which of them have that breath of sudden passion in them, which whispers to us, and lets us recall those moments when we were ourselves.

And the connection between the two- between this quality in our own lives, and the same quality in our surroundings- is not just an analogy, or similarity. The fact is that each one creates the other.

Christopher Alexander
The Timeless Way of Building