Man Ray was the photographer who made me want to be a photographer when I was a 15 year old who had just enrolled in Photography and was trying to make sense of my grandmother’s well-worn Olympus. I think I liked him so instantly because his work seems exotic and intangible when you’re 15 and wishing you were anywhere but where you are (sorry, Omaha in the late 90s). Surrealism is a good place to camp out when reality is SO EXHAUSTING and I think most 15 year olds can identify with the need for escapism.
I’m not sure if this was the exact image that made this click in my brain, but I definitely tried to replicate it the minute I found a friend with an accordion, just as I tried to make increasingly complicated photograms as soon as I convinced my mom our laundry room needed to be a darkroom and she relieved a friend of her barely-used enlarger.
Thank you so much for reading my blogs the past few months. You can view my photos at gvbq.org, you can read my writing most months in the Artseen section of the Brooklyn Rail, and you can find me wandering around New York with a Nikon (until I hit the lotto and finally get that Leica S2)(unless you have an S2 you aren’t using)(please send it to me)(thanks).
Gail Victoria Braddock Quagliata
Estelle Hanania has a brilliant series of images from Purim she took in one of London’s largest Hasidic communities. I found the work fascinating because I’ve lived in Williamsburg for about 6 years and I still find it nearly impossible not to gawk at the strict religious community plunked smack in the midst of our own silly hipster epicenter – and in my nearly 9 years in New York City I have rarely found myself with the balls to point my camera at a Hasidic person, even one in festive masquerade costume, out of some weird respect for the odd, unspoken division drawn between their lifestyle and mine… in spite of the fact that we’re neighbors all. That and the fact that I personally always feel weird photographing kids, because you never know if their parents will decide you’re some kind of perv and flip out on you.
Anyway, Hanania DID have the balls to photograph these children and this community, and her images are glorious and maybe just slightly peculiar.
It’s easy to get old and crotchety and cynical when you’re a. actually rather comparatively old (because you spend most of your time on a college campus and the rest of your time student teaching in an elementary school) and/or b. running on very little sleep and surrounded by peppy kids who think they’ve got these amazing, transgressive, fresh artistic ideas, but you’re too tired to be anything but a surly postmodernist. I recently came across this post by Martin Parr on photographic clichés and it hammered home for me why I love this man and why I find myself so frequently wanting to poke out my own eyeballs when I look at the photographic work that is supposed to be super-cool and interesting today. If you can’t be bothered to click on things, Parr basically states that our magical field is becoming predictable (and even tosses himself in among the guilty) and mentions the new tropes pervading photography, from format – formal portraiture (“smiling is banned… a tripod is also a prerequisite for this method of shooting.”) and long landscapes – to tone, “I am a poet”, etc.
The point is, Martin Parr can do whatever he wants because he is funny (and I happen to love his work, but that isn’t the point). You can hate his work, hate his face, hate Magnum, British people, ring flashes, and every man ever named Martin, but you can’t refute that he’s RIGHT about this.
So let’s look at some of his nice pictures of very rich people in Switzerland, shall we?
…or so said Mr. Robert Capa, born Endre Friedmann, died stepping on a landmine in 1954 clutching a Contax and a Nikon S in pursuit of that very closeness.
After lamenting the fact that, due to statistics frowning at me (plus my lack of buying a lottery ticket ever), I haven’t hit the Powerball jackpot yet, I’ve decided to stop whining about my lack of a Leica S2 or Nikon D3X – because if whatever she pulls from her magic drawer of cameras works so beautifully for my brilliant friend Arlene Gottfried, then I should make the best of what I have in my own camera bag.
I became a Nikon person because of photojournalists like Robert Capa. Full stop. Well… half stop. I couldn’t afford a Leica then, either, as a teenager making just above minimum wage. Studying photo history in high school brought me to this rigid equipment decision in spite of being gifted my Grandmother’s well-loved Olympus at age 15 (insert my impassioned plea for stronger vocational education programs in our country – my hometown has a great one that made me fall in love with photography when I was sure I’d just broken up with art entirely). I bought an FM2 with proceeds from my after school job and have spent the past 15 years gathering lenses and accessories to match – but I forgot allllllll about my old standby 50mm when I moved on over to the D80 back before I started grad school.
I think (and I might be crazy) that non-photo people associate “real photography” with massive gigantor lenses because bigger must mean better (USA! USA!) – but until fairly recently when every tourist on 42nd Street started wielding a tricked-out 7 pound DSLR with every dial set defiantly to auto, the most common photo-makin’ (read: 35mm film) tool was the 50mm lens… because it came with your camera. I recently dug out my trusty, tank-like Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and my intimidatingly fragile Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro – and instantly wanted to retake every image I’ve wasted on my lazy bastard’s crutch of a zoom over the past 3 years.
Prime lenses are nooooooo fun if you’re not willing to work for your image. YOU have to move YOUR ASS if the framing doesn’t look right because your lens won’t do the legwork for you. This likely explains why zoom lenses have basically become the default for pro/sumer DSLR setups – you won’t have to get up and run after little Timmy to get a good shot at his soccer game, or get a nice, tight shot of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square without paying him $5 for the favor of his company. Maybe you’re lazy – maybe you’re missing something by not actually walking over there, maybe you’re not close enough and your photos would be much better if you were the one doing the zooming instead of your lens, thankyouverymuch. The 50mm probably came with your SLR (back in ye olden tymes before there was a D preceding SLR) because it’s the lens everybody can agree on, really – capturing a field of view not unlike what the human eye sees (hence its alternate moniker, the “normal” lens), dealing beautifully with low light, and handling a broad range of subjects and situations competently, where specialty lenses would falter.
I thought I’d fill this page with Capa’s images but frankly I hope you know what they look like. If not, here is his page at Magnum. I think a more interesting experiment is to look at what the randoms over at flickr have done – these images are from some of the over 31,000 members of “The original 50mm group,” and in spite of not all apparently being represented by Magnum (unless Martin Parr has an even weirder sense of humor than I thought), there are genuinely stunning images to be found with a bit of digging. I’ve learned from the many 50mm fetish blog posts that have popped up recently that, strapped on to a DSLR that isn’t full frame (like most, if not all, of these images), the “nifty 50” is more like an 80 or 85mm lens, so, less like your very own eyeballs, but still a brilliant jack-of-all-trades prime. As this random sampling from the world wide web would indicate…
So as I was saying earlier, Documerica was a project launched by the EPA in the early 1970s to call attention to the pollution problems plaguing the U.S. in the same way the FSA photographers had so famously revealed the plight of the rural poor during the Depression. But why don’t we (not the royal “We,” of course, but people like me, let’s say), as products of an American public education or even simply as photographers born into the Reagan/MTV/Pacman era, know the furrowed brow of John H. White‘s “Black Youngster Taking Out the Trash On Chicago’s South Side,” like we know the furrowed brow of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother“?
Anyway, while our country is broke, I’m beyond certain there are enough freelance photographers to capture every single foreclosed home, shuttered factory, bizarro weather-stricken farm, and nouveau immigrant tenement-style dwelling to fill another wing (data center?) of the National Archives. In the meantime, here are some of the works completed in the early 70s by brilliant photojournalist John H. White, under the loose umbrella of “A Portrait of Black Chicago.” Most remarkable to me is White’s eye for the city’s gritty beauty, so tenuous in a time when it was barely healed from the post-King assassination riots that damaged much of the poorer sections of this deeply segregated city.
The idea of creating jobs for artists through the government seems completely untenable now – as does the idea of my generation having Social Security, of course, but the lofty goal of reaching the population through art and actually digging into U.S. coffers to make this happen – HA! We should be doing this, because it’s another point of view, another unifying voice, a glimpse into something major corporate media sources might not be interested in pursuing, and (selfishly for those of us who don’t have a marketable manual skill or something) some greater validation to the elusive pursuit of that decisive moment. On a massive, government-sponsored scale, even. Public art doesn’t have to suck and exist exclusively in the realm of tourist-pandering kitsch or inoffensive abstract sculptures that might fit nicely inside that government building’s courtyard, really.
From 1971-1977, The Environmental Protection Agency employed nearly 100 freelance photographers to “photographically document subjects of environmental concern” around the United States. This ambitious (if ambiguous) project, which, to me seems so similar to the iconic photographic work undertaken by the “Information Department” of the Farm Security Administration from 1935-1944, yielded some amazing work that really should be seen more. The U.S. National Archives made much of the work available online, oddly, through its Flickr account. Here are some of the images taken by Michael Philip Manheim, whose 1973 assignment was “to document the noise pollution crises in the East Boston neighborhood around Neptune Road.” A bit of research reveals that the “noise pollution” in question was that produced by Logan International Airport, and that, nearly 40 years after Boston native Manheim was tasked with scrutinizing an aural problem with his camera, noise has beaten out humanity – the neighborhood is essentially vacant as the remaining homes were bought out and transformed into airport land.
Chris Killip is a genius. Proof:
Waiting 7 years after undergrad to attend graduate school in essentially the same field means you’re crazy, independently wealthy, extremely bored with your life, or desperately seeking some sort of artistic community because spending another day working in your current industry will cause you to develop some kind of really impressively eccentric hobbies, like lampshade hoarding, or breeding exotic animals in your closet-sized NYC apartment. In my case it was a touch of A, a sprinkle of C, and mostly D. When I came to Pratt, my minimum goal was to gain inspiration from the two professors I’d admired from afar and hopefully reshape my own work into something more polished and cohesive. Long winded Hallmark card later, one of the most impressive photographers I’ve ever encountered thus far in my life (full stop, not “in class” or “in Brooklyn” or “not shown in a major gallery”) just so happened to be one of my classmates, Seung Hun Lee. Seung Hun and I both went to SAIC for undergrad, albeit in different years, and immediately had that in common, along with a propensity for photographing vacant urban spaces instead of, say, people. I remember when we first got to know each other and were talking about affordable web hosting services – my first glance at his website, intended as a glimpse into the quality of the customizable template he’d used, turned into several hours of gawking at unbelievably stunning parking lots. Since that time, I’ve gotten to know Seung Hun much better as an artist and de facto older brother of sorts (as he’s perhaps several months older than I am) in our weird little grad school family, and his work has evolved into something haunting, eerily poignant, and undeniably masterful. He’s one of my favorite photographers, even removed from the context of our friendship. The following images were from his graduate thesis exhibition, held in May at Pratt.
Bacalaitos & Fireworks introduces readers to a New York City long gone. This is the New York of broken televisions littered throughout the streets, burned-out abandoned buildings, neighborhood fiestas with pigs roasting on spits, and outcasts living in poverty. Gottfried offers first-hand testimony to the pain of alienation, neglect, drug addiction, and ultimately crime, prison, and death. Amidst these images of desolation, however, there is also evidence of the lively and intimate community able to overcome these obstacles.
About Bacalaitos & Fireworks:
New York City has been home to a Puerto Rican population since the mid-1900s, with the most noticeable migration boom beginning in the 1950s. As Puerto Ricans settled in New York over the years, they stamped the city with their culture, indelibly altering neighborhoods like the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and downtown Brooklyn with rhythm, style, flavor, art, language, and claro, Latino cuisine. Arlene Gottfried, herself a native New Yorker, grew up side-by-side with the burgeoning Puerto Rican community, never straying far from its influence whether living in Brooklyn or the LES. In the heart of the barrio, Gottfried began shooting pictures inspired by her friends, using them as subjects in apartments, on the streets, and in the park, in times of radiant joy and heart-breaking sorrow.
Arlene Gottfried was born in Brooklyn and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She has freelanced for top publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, LIFE, and London’s The Independent. Gottfried has also exhibited at the Leica Gallery in New York and Tokyo, and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., among others. Gottfried is the author of three books: Sometimes Overwhelming (2008) and Midnight (2003), both published by powerHouse Books, and The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1999). Gottfried lives and works in New York City.
Paul Moakley has worked for TIME as the deputy photo editor since 2010. Additionally, Moakley is a photographer, filmmaker, and writer. Moakley lives and works as the curator at the Alice Austen House Museum in Staten Island, New York.
Puma Perl, another Brooklyn native, lives and writes on the Lower East Side. Her books, Knuckle Tattoos (2010) and Belinda and her Friends (2008), have recieved rave reviews. Her work has been published in over 100 print and online journals and anthologies. Like Gottfried, Perl has watched the city change and has lived to tell the tale.
Gail Quagliata is a Brooklyn based artist attempting to construct an alternate universe. She received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in film/video, and is currenly an MFA candidate in photography at Pratt Institute. Gail writes for the “Artseen” section of The Brooklyn Rail each month and is the current guest blogger for “The Camera Club of New York.”
The Leica S2. Behold it. And if you happen to find, say, $33,000 sitting around somewhere and you’re like, “Eww, I don’t want this $33K,” you can go ahead and hand it over to me and I’ll behold the S2 for myself (with lens, thanks – I’m looking at you, Brad Pitt. It’s nice that you can play Mr. Photo Man with your fancy, pricey, tricked-out Leica S outfit, but you already have a day job, sir, so help a sister out, yeah?).
The funny thing is, for all the megapixels in the world, one of the most talented photographers I know essentially shoots on whichever camera she grabs out of a drawer of point-and-shoots. And she gets THIS:
Granted, Arlene shoots a good deal of her work on 35mm (R.I.P., Kodachrome, the demise of which inspired the trip that brought about the photo you see here) and would probably look at me crooked for placing digital capture (regardless of its 37.5 megapizels or 30X45mm sensor) on the same stage, even in the same arena, as film, and, while my brain, eyeballs, and old-school vocational photographic education all concur emphatically, my heart and my, I don’t know, ovaries? belong to this overpriced pixel-hog beast… Oh! S2, you fancy vixen.