Friday, February 26, 2010

The Screening Room: Photo & Copyright G.P. Fieret

While attending this year's IDFA Festival in Amsterdam with our film Colony, one of the many documentaries screening there that I checked in my program and subsequently sold out was Frank van den Engel's "Photo & Copyright: G.P. Fieret". I caught an exhibition of Fieret's work at Deborah Bell Photographs some time ago and was captivated by this Dutch photographer's rough and ready black and white images, many of them signed by the photographer or stamped with his studio address on top of the prints.

The pictures, mostly amateurish images of young local girls, posing in Fieret's studio, some nude, some just having fun, others seemingly imagining this encounter with a dynamic photographer to be a pre-cursor to a long and illustrious future as a screen siren or model, capture a carefree abandon that transports us right into the Swinging Sixties. Full of honesty and appreciation for his models who exude a confidence and feminine glow in the photographers presence, Fieret's images do not seem voyeuristic or exploitative, his subjects always seeming to have as much fun as Fieret himself.

Untitled, ca 1960s G.P. Fieret

Van den Engel's documentary however, shot during the last two year's of Fieret's life is one of those classic, poignant stories of the artistic line between genius and madness that, being in Amsterdam for the first time and the Van Gough Museum fresh in my mind, couldn't help but reminding me of that other tragic artist's saga.

Depicting Fieret, broke and living in squalor (yes, with his pigeons), confused, angry and close to death, he is a world away from the collectors and archivists who discuss whether a cache of previously undiscovered work would be appropriate fare for the Museum of Modern Art or not. Touching stuff.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Photoshop!

Adobe celebrates the 20th anniversary of Photoshop this year and for any of you who have ever launched the application I'm sure, like me, the name Thomas Knoll has crossed your mind. He's the first name you see on the list of developer credits, right below where it says 'scanning TWAIN menu items'...

Well he is! It's Knoll, in the flesh, reminiscing with fellow Photoshop founders John Knoll, Russell Brown, and Steve Guttman about the early days and subsequent impact of their killer app.

Adobe's video production crew have made these superstar programmers look about as cool as...well...about as cool a software programmer can look, with some o-so-soft lighting schemes, a bottle of Ernest and Julio Gallo and a natty Roaring 20s soundtrack all adding a certain panache to the celebrations.

Happy birthday Photoshop!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eggleston, Album Art, Plagiarism

While loitering in Dublin's Road Records my eye was drawn to the new Spoon record 'Transference'. It was pointed out to me that it was an Eggleston shot on the cover and my brain gave a little smile of recognition that once again the southern master of the mundane had succeeded in catching my attention.

Spoon/Transference. Image: William Eggleston, Sumner, Mississippi, 1970

Eggleston's work is ever popular among musicians for album artwork and just as I thought it would make a interesting post to gather them all here on Milky Blacks, up pops the blogosphere and gazumps me. Shazaam!
This post by Blake Andrews has a run down of all of the Eggleston related artwork that he could dig up and discusses the images used. Kudos to Blake for great minds thinking alike! I'm posting the records he dug up below.

Why do Eggleston pictures affect us so?

They don't tell us what to think I guess...

They just are.

Radio City, Big Star, 1974

Alex Chilton, Like Flies on Sherbert, 1979

Big Star, Live at Missouri University, 1993

Gimmer Nicholson, Christopher Idylls, 1968/1994

Green on Red, Here Come the Snakes, 1989

Primal Scream, Give Out But Don't Give Up, 1994

Primal Scream, Country Girl, 2006

Primal Scream, Dolls, 2006

Robin Holcomb, The Big Time, 2002

Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American, 2001

Paramount Pictures 90th Anniversary Memorable Songs, 2002

The Derek Trucks Band, Soul Serenade, 2003

Chuck Prophet, Age of Miracles, 2004

Silver Jews, Tanglewood Numbers, 2005

Joanna Newsom and the Y Street Bank EP, 2007

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Portfolio: The Afghans #1

Below are a few outtake images from my 2009 work 'The Afghans'. If it's not already online, the project edit will be on my website soonest and I'll be publishing more from the series in the weeks to come.
Funded by a Simon Cumbers Grant, I hoped to illustrate national identity and culture beyond our perceptions of Afghanistan as a country that is somehow only an American led war zone, showing the daily life of ordinary Afghans. I wanted to show the psychological impact of more than three decades of war on the civilian population with it's attendant social problems, undocumented mental illness and spiraling rates of drug addiction.
While the project was a success on some levels, it's scope was broad and sprawling for the short time frame I had to work with and as a photographer in Afghanistan you are automatically seduced by the beguiling, raw beauty, tumbledown palaces and the stunning, fairy tale quality of this land and it's people...

Darul Aman Palace, Kabul 2009

Khair Khonair Area, Kabul, 2009

Image of former dictator Dhaoud Khan, Kabul, 2009

Kabul, 2009
Afghanistan is a place like no other and besides it's incredible people and amazing landscape it's also a kind of a paradise for the hard-nosed journalist or photographer. With it's well established network of fixers, drivers and translators and the plethora of international media who are used to ready access to prisons, hospitals, military institutions and pretty much any area of society that would normally be considered behind closed doors in Western countries; it's a supermarket of visually striking, seemingly edgy stories and images.
This can be reflected in the vast amount of photography from Afghanistan that in a way re-inforces our stereotypes of this country and kind of maintains a status-quo in how we in the west view the Afghan conundrum as a kind of 'beautiful suffering.'

Shooting heroin, Kabul, 2009

Patient possessed by spirits or 'Djinns'. Shrine of Mir Ali Baba, Nangarhar province, 2009
Indeed, producing this body of work led me to question what my position was as another photographer in this ruined land. Was I really saying anything with this body of work or was I standing on the shoulders of a thousand other photographers?

Funfair, Kabul, 2009

Kite Runners, Kabul, 2009

TV Tower, Kabul, 2009
Ethical questions aside, the spirit, humor and resilience of the Afghan people will continue to linger long in the mind and I look forward to returning in the near future.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Coffee Table: Mario Giacomelli

There are not too many books out there that do justice to the work of Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli but this edition, aptly titled 'The Black Figure is Waiting for the White' is a comprehensive overview, that even in it's title, sums up the existential conundrums at work in Giacomelli's images.

While photographers like William Klein and Robert Frank have long held the limelight in the art world for their abrasive street photography of the 1950s, Giacomelli has flown somewhat under the radar for most of us. A self-taught photographer without regard for much of the technicalities of image making, his Wikipedia entry states: "At 13, he left high school, began working as a typesetter and spent his weekends painting. After the horrors of World War II, he turned to the more immediate medium of photography. He wandered the streets and fields of post-war Italy, inspired by the gritty Neo-Realist films of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini."

With images that tap into the unconscious, rendered in ultra high-contrast black and white, Giacomelli may be seen as a Godfather figure to many modern stars of the black and white photography scene, photographers who choose to engage us with their Lynchian psychodramas and tortured souls such as Roger Ballen, Michael Ackerman and Jacob Aue Sobol.

There's not a lot of information to be uncovered about the man online but I did stumble across this interview by Frank Horvat.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paul Graham: Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult

Image: Paul Graham

This essay, found over on the fantastic American Suburban X, was written for the Yale MFA Photography graduation book "We Belong Together" and I felt was a great place to start posting on Milky Blacks as it was something that resonated strongly with me.

It made me want to re-capture the transformative power of photography, the sense of discovery, the excuse it gives you to be 'in' the world, making those moments of everyday life your own. Enjoy.

Paul Graham: Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult

It’s so easy it's ridiculous. It’s so easy that I can’t even begin – I just don’t know where to start. After all, it’s just looking at things. We all do that. It’s simply a way of recording what you see – point the camera at it, and press a button. How hard is that? And what's more, in this digital age, its free - doesn't even cost you the price of film. It’s so simple and basic, it's ridiculous.

It’s so difficult because it’s everywhere, every place, all the time, even right now. It's the view of this pen in my hand as I write this, it's an image of your hands holding this book, Drift your consciousness up and out of this text and see: it's right there, across the room - there... and there. Then it’s gone. You didn’t photograph it, because you didn’t think it was worth it. And now it’s too late, that moment has evaporated. But another one has arrived, instantly. Now. Because life is flowing through and around us, rushing onwards and onwards, in every direction.

But if it's everywhere and all the time, and so easy to make, then what’s of value? Which pictures matter? Is it the hard won photograph, knowing, controlled, previsualised? Yes. Or are those contrived, dry and belabored? Sometimes. Is it the offhand snapshot made on a whim. For sure. Or is that just a lucky observation, some random moment caught by chance? Maybe. Is it an intuitive expression of liquid intelligence? Exactly. Or the distillation of years of looking seeing thinking photography. Definitely.

Image: Ross McDonnell

"life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can admit to in a lifetime, and stay sane"

- Thomas Pynchon, V

Ok, so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here and now. How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary? Do I walk down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should just photograph the land, the rocks and trees – they don't move or complain or push back. The old houses? The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all?

Yes and yes and yes. That's the choice you are spoiled for, but just don't let it stop you. Be aware of it, but don't get stuck – relax, it’s everything and everywhere. You will find it, and it will find you, just start, somehow, anyhow, but: start.

Yes, but shouldn’t I have a clear coherent theme, surely I have to know what I’m doing first? That would be nice, but I doubt Robert Frank knew what it all meant when he started, or for that matter Cindy Sherman or Robert Mapplethorpe or Atget or... so you shouldn’t expect it. The more preplanned it is the less room for surprise, for the world to talk back, for the idea to find itself, allowing ambivalence and ambiguity to seep in, and sometimes those are more important than certainty and clarity. The work often says more than the artist knows.

Image: William Eggleston

Image: Robert Frank

Ok, but my photography doesn't always fit into neat, coherent projects, so maybe I need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it's all my life, surely it will make sense? Perhaps. Sometimes that works, sometimes it’s indulgent, but really it’s your choice, because you are also free to not make 'sense'.

"so finally even this story is absurd, which is an important part of the point, if any, since that it should have none whatsoever seems part of the point too"

- Malcolm Lowry, Ghostkeeper.

Ok, so I do need time to think about this. To allow myself that freedom for a short time. A couple of years. Maybe I won't find my answer, but I will be around others who understand this question, who have reached a similar point. Maybe I’ll start on the wrong road, or for the wrong reasons – because I liked cameras, because I thought photography was an easy option, but if I’m forced to try, then perhaps I’ll stumble on some little thing, that makes a piece of sense to me, or simply just feels right. If I concentrate on that, then maybe it grows, and in its modest, ineffable way, begins to matter. Like photographing Arab-Americans in the USA as human beings with lives and hopes and families and feelings, straight, gay, young, old, with all the humanity that Hollywood never grants them. Or the black community of New Haven, doing inexplicable joyous, ridiculous theatrical-charades that explode my preconceptions into a thousand pieces. Or funny-disturbing-sad echoes of a snapshot of my old boyfriend. Or the anonymous suburban landscape of upstate in a way that defies the spectacular images we're addicted to. Or... how women use our bodies to display who we believe we should be, Or...

Image: Jodi Bieber

"A Novel? No, I don't have the endurance any more. To write a novel, you have to be like Atlas, holding up the whole world on your shoulders, and supporting it there for months and years, while its affairs work themselves out..."

- J. M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year.

And hopefully I will carry on, and develop it, because it is worthwhile. Carry on because it matters when other things don't seem to matter so much: the money job, the editorial assignment, the fashion shoot. Then one day it will be complete enough to believe it is finished. Made. Existing. Done. And in its own way: a contribution, and all that effort and frustration and time and money will fall away. It was worth it, because it is something real, that didn't exist before you made it exist: a sentient work of art and power and sensitivity, that speaks of this world and your fellow human beings place within it. Isn't that beautiful?

By Paul Graham

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Welcome To Milky Blacks!

Hello and welcome to the Milky Blacks blog! This is the first post and hopefully of many to come. I hope to bring you musings on photography and film and the best of visual culture from around the web and beyond. Enjoy.