“Artists live by curiosity and enthusiasm, qualities readily evident as inspiration in dogs.” Robert Adams
Animals represent Nature and ourselves. It is a reminder of where we come from. They are uninhibited with a sense of innocence. In postmodern circles, animals equal creativity.
William Wegman is probably the photographer one would immediately conjure up when thinking of artists who utilize animals in their work, but there are a plethora of others that have also made animals their subject. One example would be Roger Ballen, whose book called Animal Abstraction is full of beautifully disturbing black & white images of human/animal interaction.
Here is a small collection of some of my favorite images in which artists have included animals in their work.
I was recently invited to photographer Chrisitian Witkin’s Brooklyn loft for dinner. The conversation ranged from art to inversion boots to family to Brad Pitt. After dinner, I had the privilege of viewing a prototype of Witkin’s upcoming book, Ordinary Beauty.
Here are some photos and notes I took from that evening:
This week I got to visit with emerging photographer Sara Macel at her Williamsburg studio. An MFA grad from School of Visual Arts, Macel gave me a first hand look at her provocative series May The Road Rise To Meet You, as well as her on-going project Kiss & Tell and a new series of work whose working title is What Did the Deep Sea Say.
JK: Your studio is awesome! How did you manage to come by this?
SM: For about a year after grad school, I was working out of my tiny, windowless home office and holding studio visits at bars. One day at my desk, I just reached my breaking point and searched on Craigslist for studio spaces out of pure frustration. This was the first place I found. It’s a 5 minute walk from home through Cooper Park, and has more windows than my entire apartment (which only has 2, so not really saying a lot). Around the same time, I received the Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship grant, so that has helped me afford such a great workspace. The studio and the grant really changed my life in terms of making it possible to continue to make new work. The grant is awarded every spring, and I highly recommend all photo-based artists to apply: http://www.aaronsiskind.org/grant.html.
JK: Can you talk about your project May The Road Rise To Meet You? I think it’s kind of crazy that Bruce Davidson told you to pursue this! And then, also having Tina Barney mentor you through the project.
SM: After undergrad at NYU Photo, I spent two years working for Bruce as his studio manager. He and his wife Emmy love looking at images and were great about looking at my work and talking about my motivations. At the time, I was making all these road trip photographs taken along the route from New York to Texas. I thought the project was about tracking where I came from to where I live now, and Bruce was the first person to suggest I switch gears and make a project about my dad’s life as a traveling salesman instead. It took a few years of letting that idea mull around in my head before it became my focus. What the project became is much more abstract than what Bruce originally suggested, but I really do credit him for planting the seed, so to speak.
And Tina Barney’s help came about as part of SVA’s thesis mentorship program. I would walk over to her gorgeous little apartment off Gramercy Park with my big stacks of prints once a month to get her feedback. The apartment was so clean and white that I was always worried I’d mess it up. Tina was awesome though. One tough cookie. And a really insightful, soulful person. She just got what I was doing right away and was a huge help in keeping me on track. I got some advice during the creation of MTRRTMY to make it more literal about my dad’s life on the road, and Tina gave me the license to be more abstract and focus more on the emotional qualities of the road and less on his life.
JK: So, when you your were working on this series, you knew that you would be creating a book. Did you storyboard your shoots?
SM: Ever since I was a kid, I loved to draw, and storyboarding ideas for photographs is something I’ve always done since I started taking pictures. So, yes I definitely would do that in planning certain shots, but a lot of it is just scenes that happened in the moment. In terms of planning the sequence of the book, I made small 3×4 inch prints of everything and made a couple different book dummies throughout the creation of the project.
JK: Why was it important for you to make it into a book?
SM: I love books. I collect photo books. When I think about the end goal of most of my projects, I see them not just as big gorgeous prints, but as carefully designed books. This project specifically made sense to have the narrative flow of a book since it is about a journey that I went on as a photographer and the weird mash-up of my dad’s life story and my feelings about him and about the road and our different versions of America. Some of it is real and some of it is made up but in the end, it’s what me and my dad want his life on the road to be remembered as.
JK: I really love the book, but I also love looking at the large prints. I enjoy seeing the details of some of the images like the one of the pink stairwell, where we see your sneakers in the mirror or the one of the interior shot of the hotel room with all these objects from different time periods.
SM: Thanks, that’s nice to hear. The book has gotten some attention, which is fantastic. But it’s nice to hear that the individual images can be appreciated on their own as art objects. I recently started working with the amazingly talented Matthew Baum for exhibition printing. Matt taught me digital printing at SVA and besides being a wonderful artist himself, he started his own print lab called Big Thumb Printing. He’s the best.
JK: I also find your images incredibly enigmatic and mysterious. There’s a certain quality about this work that seems to ask more questions rather than getting any answers.
SM: I love that! Thank you. Someone once told me if your work doesn’t scare you, you aren’t trying hard enough. I don’t think my stuff is that provocative, but it definitely acts as a form of therapy for me. I just like leaving things open to interpretation and keeping some cards close to my vest.
JK: You talked about the role of man in your work – generally, it’s something that is subtly present in all your work and spans different generations of men – why do you think you’re drawn to this subject?
SM: Having grown up in a house full of women, I’m so curious about men and how their brains work; by what is it to be a man; and how that definition has evolved from one generation to the next. I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost 12 years. I think being so connected to one person and having the privilege of being such an intimate observer of his life has hugely influenced my work. I’d love to do a project on him, but he’ll have none of that. So I think my fascination with him worms its way into my work in subtler ways.
JK: Let’s talk about Kiss & Tell. How did this project come about and how has it evolved?
SM: Kiss & Tell began years ago when we first started dating as my way of dealing with monogamy or maybe find a harmless loophole. It was such a fun, almost intimate experience to meet with someone and tape-recording their story about a place that person had sex or made out or whatever the case may be. And the act of going to the place to make a photograph and editing the story down for the book vicariously lets me turn someone else’s story into my own.
More than my other projects, K&T is based on such a simple, almost gimmicky premise: tell me a story about a kiss. For that reason, it has become the project that refuses to die. There’s always more stories to tell and more people to contribute. Over the years, whenever I’m stuck or can’t think of ideas, I go back to K&T because it is so fun to work on and keeps me shooting.
Right now, I’m working on designing a book version of Kiss & Tell, along with a blog where I’ll be asking viewers to anonymously contribute their own stories and images.
JK: One thing we didn’t discuss was the commercial world of photography – which is part of both our backgrounds – for you personally, do you have an interest in that world? We both know tons of photographers who straddle the commercial/ art line, but do you think that would work for you?
SM: Definitely, yes. In the past year, I’ve begun shooting more editorial and advertising work and am always looking to work with new clients. It’s really exciting, after spending years as a producer, to now be the person behind the lens. That was always the goal. But I love teaching and, at the end of the day, it’s really all about making time and money for personal work.
JK: I noticed you have Words Without Pictures – I have that book too. I’m going to ask you two questions from that book- one which is about teaching photography as that is something you do as well. “What are some of your objectives as a photo educator?” and “What do you see as being in store for the medium?”
SM: I have been so lucky to have amazing teachers and mentors over the years, so my biggest goal as an educator is trying to continue in that tradition of teaching visual literacy. It’s important to know art and photo history, so I emphasize that in my classes and suggest artists for students to look at based on their work. You have to know what came before you in order to figure out where you fit into the visual landscape and what you can offer to the conversation. I also like to do a class that I call Photo World 101 that gives more real world advice on getting internships and jobs and what are the best places to submit your work when you’re just getting started.
As for your second question, have you heard of the iPhone app called SnapChat? It allows users to take a photo, set a timer, and the recipient can only view the photo for as many seconds as were set on the timer, and then the image is gone forever. It’s the anti-photograph in that it was created not to preserve a moment in time but to destroy it. The idea of photography as something impermanent is pretty fascinating.
JK: I have not heard of that, but, yes, it is fascinating. It gives me chills too. I’m definitely going to check it out. Okay, getting back to your work – what about this new work about unrequited love and abandoned boats?
SM: It’s still really new and I’m still sorting through the ideas and figuring it out. I began shooting the abandoned boats a couple years ago, but they aren’t easy to find, so I put the project away for a while. At the time, I didn’t know if it would turn into anything, but I’ve always been drawn to the ocean and anything related to it. After the dad project, I turned to my mother’s side of the family (at her suggestion- I think she felt a little left out!). I have these great old portraits of my grandpa in his sailor uniform and my grandma lounging on the beach. There’s a much larger backstory involving the war and my grandma being close with the family priest, who happened to be very handsome. The priest married my grandparents and eventually also buried them when they were all old and gray. Now, they all rest in the same cemetery and all that’s left are these photos and letters and my own ideas about what their story really entailed. The title, “What Did the Deep Sea Say,” is a Woody Guthrie song about a sailor lost at sea and the love he left behind. I see the rusted boats as a metaphor for the sailors like my grandpa and the foggy boatyards as cemeteries themselves. And I love the idea of an old abandoned boat as a symbol for love that has been neglected or lost.
JK: Who are some of your favorite photographers? Or people that have influenced you? When I look at your work, some people that come to mind are William Eggleston and Alec Soth.
SM: Well, you nailed it. Eggleston and Alec Soth are my guys. But I also love Joel Sternfeld, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Sally Mann, Justine Kurland to name a few. Christian Patterson makes such smart and interesting work. And I love Maureen Drennen’s photographs. But if you were to ask me who the greatest living photographer is, I would hands-down say Philip Perkis.
JK: I had fun today! I’m glad I got a chance to come by your amazing studio and see your work in person.
SM: When you walked in with your fur-lined hooded coat holding the leashes of those two gorgeous wolves, you look liked some kind of superhero or mythological character! The pleasure was all mine. Thanks for the great conversation.
NOTE: Macel will be hosting the Hurricane Sandy Relief Pin-Up Show at her studio at 340 Morgan Ave, studio 7 on Nov. 30th from 6:30-9. $20 for 11×14 prints, $40 for larger prints with free beer and donations taken at the door. 100% profits go to relief efforts for those who are recovering from the hurricane. For more information please go to www.saramacel.com
To see more of Sara Macel’s work, go to www.saramacel.com
Tumblr – saramacel.tumblr.com
Twitter – twitter.com/saramacel
Facebook – www.facebook.com/saramacel
I asked my friend Aeli Park, a photo agent at theCollectiveShift, to fill out a Q&A about the photo industry. Her agency represents prestigious photographers such as Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Inez and Vinoodh, and Clang.
1. Your Name: Aeli Park
2. Your occupation: Agent
3. How did you get you into the biz? I first started out interning at W Magazine when I was 19. During that summer I also was curious about going to a real fashion show and figured the only way I could go was to work at one. I called up Calvin Klein/KCD to see if they needed an intern and serendipitously they hired me for the 1st season and from then on I worked on all the Calvin shows for the next 2 years.
4. What do you love most about what you do? Watching ideas come to life and then realizing what works better in our heads versus in real time/life.
5. What do you hate? That money and politics can get in the way of creative endeavors.
6. What would you tell aspiring photographers who want to be the next Annie, Steven, etc.? Good luck!
7. The biggest misconception of the photo industry…It’s a generic answer but always so true. The glamour is such a false idea that many people have. Anything can seem glamourous – you just need a good video editor, throw in a few smiley people in the background, add a hyped up soundtrack and get it aired somewhere.
8. What’s the most outrageous experience you had on a photo shoot – at least that you could tell us. A legendary photographer sitting on a toilet seat – holding my hand – crying and apologizing to me and then asking for my forgiveness.
9. Fave non-working photogs? Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdain, David Hamilton.
10. Are you finding that photogs are getting more into video? Yes absolutely. More content please.
11. Your best decision Letting go of my producer position to become an agent. Going to theCollective Shift. My best decisions have always been the ones that require risks. Knocking on wood now that this formula keeps working for me. 😉
12. Your worst decision N/A
13. How do you deal with crazy ego-driven artists? I’m sure you’ve had some – can you give example. I don’t. Truth be told I have not dealt with crazy ego maniac artists. We all have egos to a certain degree – its healthy and normal. Maybe its my vibe but the artists I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with have all been absolutely genuine and down to earth – real people with real problems with just enough superficiality to at least entertain you.
14. Difference between fine art photographers vs commercial photographers? That difference is blurry every day.
15. Can you tell us something about working with PL? PL is the most quick witted person I have ever met. Every time I talk to him I learn something whether its about life, people or art. And unlike most ‘artists’ he sees himself quite clearly. His intentions are very pure and honest. I admire that.
16. You have a great rep as a producer – do you ever miss it? Haha!
I do? ha! I don’t miss it at all. Having anxiety about catering is the last thing I want waking me up in the middle of the night. As an agent though – there is still a level of production that I still need to be involved in – you can never really get away from it. But I am happy the entire weight of the production (cube trucks and all aren’t on my shoulders anymore).
17. What I love about working in this industry is that it’s not like a typical 9 to 5, corporate America, kinda industry, and also being able to bring my dogs to work is a plus as you know. But, it is also is pretty intense and stressful – how do you create balance in your life?
Having a personal life is important. For me – being bicoastal helps me get balance. Being with my family is a reality check as it really makes me see my priorities in life and reminds me of what is most important to me. You won’t be able to find balance without knowing the foundation of who you are and family provides that in many ways.
I would love to hear her lecture. I just discovered her last week when I picked up Purple Magazine, which hails her as “the new talent to watch.” Check out her website and blog at www.sandykim.com
Whenever I go to Chicago, I make it a point to go the Museum of Contemporary Photography. However, this past weekend when I was there, the museum was closed for installation. I had limited time on this trip, so I had to resort to photographs mostly hung in hotels and restaurants. If you can get past the bad lighting and reflective surfaces, here are some images that I came across.
I had asked our waiter who the photographer was for the above images, and he said “You know, everyone asks me that. But I never got a straight answer from anyone that works here.”
This past weekend was the Chicago Marathon. There were these photo stations where participants could take photographs of themselves against these screens. Not exactly fine art, but I can appreciate the interactive aspect.
Four monitors nestled in a grid of a cityscape.
What I got out of this study of images is that the hospitality/service industry likes to remind you where you are. They love black & white images, as well as historical images that describe the city or place.
Fortunately, I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the Sullivan Galleries at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which included works by Jeanne Dunning, Roger Brown, faculty and students.
Tonight I went to see Rineke Dijkstra at Pratt Institute – I was really looking forward to seeing her lecture, and having seen her retrospective at the Guggenheim a couple of months ago, I especially wanted to hear her talk about the videos included in the exhibition.
I have to admit that going to lectures is not at the top of my list – one of the last lectures I went to the “photographer” took himself so seriously, and spoke so monotonously about the details of how he created some elaborate metal sculptural frame, I was so bored I wanted to leave. He didn’t leave any mystery. I had walked in a fan of his work, and walked out disliking not only him but also the work.
Dijkstra was more interesting – the structure of the lecture was more informal – more conversational. With the Chair of the Photo department, Stephen Hilger, as the other participant, the attendees witnessed an exchange between the two. Dijkstra was very thoughtful and chose her words carefully when asked questions, but when she told anecdotes and personal stories, she was casual and at times funny. The mood was intimate and engaging. And, even though I knew some of her stories already, it was fun to hear them coming directly from her.
The lecture started off with a very brief history about her early photography days shooting for magazines and annual reports. At some point she decided to take 2 months off to figure out what her next step would be – during this time she got into a bike accident, which left her with a broken hip and 5 more months to figure out what she was going to do. Part of her therapy was to swim 30 laps, and she decided to photograph herself after the strenuous and exhaustive exercise. And this was what preempted her to make the beach series. Dijkstra was interested in photographing people when they were too tired to pose and wanted to capture a natural state. She also talked about how she doesn’t direct her subjects very much – that it’s more of an observational process.
Dijkstra also addressed technical aspects explaining that she works with a 4×5 view camera and flash. The flash was utilized mainly to keep the images looking consistent, specifically in the beach series. Because she was shooting during different times of day, the lighting would obviously be different. Using the flash created a uniformity within the series, which was shot all over the world.
The discussion then moved to New Mothers, which was a series of images Dijkstra made of mothers in Holland who had just given birth. They stood clad only in underwear, clutching their newborns close to their traumatized bodies. The images were all made at the mothers’ homes, and in the same minimal style of beach series where there was little background information. She moved furniture and set up her “studio” – just a simple white wall. Here, she also used flash, and told us how one of the babies was reacting to the flash. Worried that she was “ruining” the baby’s eyes, Dijkstra had asked the mother to cover the baby’s eyes. The baby, now 16 years old, apparently loves watching fireworks. She made 3 images for the series – the first woman was shot just an hour after giving birth, the second – a day after, the last one – a week after.
A recurring subject for Dijkstra is young people. When asked why she was so interested in them, she answered that it was because they were “less defined” and “less self-conscious.” That they were “somehow more authentic and more open.” I think this is most prominent in her videos of teenagers dancing at the Buzz Club and the Krazy House Club. For the Buzz Club, which was in Liverpool, she she set up her “studio” in the club. At first the teenagers seem uncomfortable, but the video slowly builds to an uninhibited natural state.
Finally, she presented her triple channel video of young Liverpool students describing a painting by Picasso, The Weeping Woman.
During the lecture, Dijkstra compared photography to other media, specifically painting and sculpture. She claimed that photography was the only media where you couldn’t go back and change what you made (of course, she is not considering Photoshop) like you could in painting or sculpture. She also pointed out that in photography you don’t really work alone, as in painting and sculpture where one is usually sequestered in a studio in solitude. I found these comparisons a bit odd if not irrelevant, since she didn’t really seem to consider herself as an “artist” per se, but rather a photographer. However, later during the Q&A, responding to a question, Dijkstra made some sort of allusion to having a latent desire to be a sculptor. Could you imagine Dijkstra sculpting?