Friday, February 29, 2008

Jock Sturges Comments on

Dear Gerry,

I went through you site at speed a while back and then again yesterday.Sorry not to have replied sooner but we have been crazy busy this last little while.

The work is strong and in some instances, very strong -- stark and on balance very sad.

You run the camera well and reveal yourself in the work as extremely charismatic to have persuaded such a tatterdemalion host of beings to allow you to pinion them thus.

So. On the constructive criticism side of the coin I will opine that you are perhaps a shade less kind than I might like in using light and ground as harshly as you do. The plight of these beings is pretty bleak already. The eyes and the bruises give us that as does our imagination of where they are bound thus employed. Mary Ellen Mark's Indian brothel work is just as honest but somehow considerably more humanist in its illuminations.

The difference may be that she spent a great deal more time with far fewer subjects. If you permit me the arrogance to make a specific recommendation that is what I would suggest as your logical next step. Choose. Go through all these images and pick a half a dozen or so of the individuals who are the most visually arresting AND whose situation in life would make them easily accessible over a period of time and do work of them in depth. At the very least this would humanize them and move you away from the blank stare with which people defend themselves from photographers whom they do not know.

Every picture of a person ever made is a record of the relationship that existed between the photographer and his or her subject. When the relationship is deep, the pictures are complex, rich. When there is little or no relationship, the is no depth, no story beyond the simple and sadly reductive anthropology of surface. Your work as currently conceived is about the fact that there are a lot of sex workers and impoverished people in the third world and their plight is not pretty. I think it fair to say that most thinking people know this already. But work that humanizes its subjects could make the point with an entirely different sort of emphasis. When an individual is drawn in art with sufficient sympathetic detail it become far harder for the viewer not to understand and experience the perfidy of their social predicament.

It is not volume that floats us higher in art. It is quality.

Very Best,


Follow up email from Jock

Happy to have you do anything you like with my notes to you. But please do remember that 
my opinions are limited by my own world view. Your first and most important critic is 
you, yourself. Ideally we make work to please ourselves most of all. True success in the 
business of making art comes when we get to the point where the sheer joy and 
satisfaction of making what we make eclipses and makes irrelevant the opinions of anyone 
else. That's when you have arrived. So many people in art think that what they want is 
fame and recognition. Sadly they have the cart miles before the horse. The point is to 
love what you do so much that the work is its own reward and you finally could care 
less what anyone else thinks. THAT'S when the art world shows up at your door because 
achieving this state means that you have achieved true passion in your work - passion 
not for recognition but for the work and its content. That passion is so rare that 
getting to it is the holy grail. Those lucky enough to do so will be lost in play, 
happy in their work for all their days.

It so matters what a photographer's work is ABOUT. If it is about a hunger for 
affirmation and recognition then its subject is commonplace and venal. But if it is 
about an all-absorbing fascination with the content of the pictures then it becomes 
interesting. Being obsessive about what you shoot means that because of application and 
the investment of time and heart you quickly come to know things about what you are 
photographing that none of the rest of us could. My acid test for work is to consider 
whether the pictures are really only a symptom of a passion larger than the medium 
itself. Salgado's pictures for example are a symptom of a hugely embarked passion for 
the dignity and condition of the people of the third world. He barely cares about art 
at all and that is precisely why he is such an important artist.

I am huffing and puffing like an old fart with all these unsolicited opinions. I will 
leave off. But not before saying that the sheer quantity and persistence of the work you 
sent me is strong evidence of exactly what I have been talking about. I have the sense 
that for whatever reason you can not get enough of what you are shooting -- that you 
are very much a bird transfixed before the cobra. That is the vital and lucky 
circumstance that leads to great places. Let no one dissuade or deflect you.



Thursday, February 28, 2008

Recommended Book....Bill Burke's "AUTREFOIS MAISON PRIVEE"

Damn weird title but an outstanding book, the subject is portraiture and building photographs from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Found many of the images especially the portraits quite powerful. The book also has sort of a serene beauty to it, the power of black and white photography comes through in the wonderful softly lit and printed images.


Product Details

184 pages
powerHouse Books
Published 2004-06

Book Description

Photographer Bill Burke has taken annual trips to Indochina ever since he first traveled to Asia in 1982. Although he usually photographed the people, Burke became aware of how the architecture absorbed as much as reflected the region's history. Transfixed by buildings like the municipal offices built by the French in the 1860s, the vaulted railroad stations and post offices of the 1930s, and the art-deco fantasy cinemas of the 1960s, Burke saw the region as an architectural museum, rotting in the humidity and untouched by economic ambition, and began to trace the cultural changes in the area through its architecture. In Autrefois, Maison Privee - the title means "once a private house," and refers to prevalent reappropriation of once private houses for municipal and government uses - Burke captures the dramatic history of the area, from the influence of French colonialism through the rise of communism and the devastating effects of the Vietnam War, to the repopulation of Cambodia after the fall of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rough and the opening of the area to capitalism. Burke's first entree into Indochina occurred during the period of Soviet control, a period of recovery that allowed for the the current explosion of capitalism, which has already begun to devaste an architectural heritage that was well preserved in the deep freez of socialism. What the B-52s and tank didn't destroy during the decades of war, developers from neighboring countries are busily replacing

Friday, February 22, 2008

Future Pictures

Been seeing the faces of people I have known and tried to photograph recently. The memories come and go and flow through my mind, I see those forgotten figures and reflect back on what I could have done differently. Often I feel that what I needed to do with the camera I was unable to do. I feel that I let the subject and myself down.

Am wondering what the future will hold, where things will go creatively. Sometimes I am so concerned about the technical look of the photographs that I forget the soul. Should I not be looking at things from a emotional aspect more! The subject should be the basis of the image just let "the look" fall where it falls.

Instead of wasteting time playing with new gadgets and new looks, I should be concentrating on communicating the emotions I feel in my heart.

I need to make more photographs to feel my way through my confusion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Preparing for Coming Thai Photos

Have been preparing for the coming series of ladyboy headshots I want to make in in July when I take a 3 week trip to Thailand. I have to do some more tests with color film and metallic paper to make sure I am going to get the exact look I want. Not sure what color film I will use, in the past it was Agfa but now that they have gone belly up I will to go to Fuji or Kodak. I need a nice punchy color film that will emphasize the make up and that plays well with my direct flash.

I am also hoping to get my Razzle camera before the coming trip. I am not sure Dean Jones can deliver it before June but there is always hope. I want a few weeks to get the camera down before I go out in the streets of Bangkok and shoot for real. I would love to spend some time this trip working on my "Bangkok at Night" project. It would be encouraging to get things started this year, I could continue it next year when I have more time in Thailand.

Have purchased and am bidding on a number of Grafmatic 4x5 film holders. This holder setup allows you to put 6 sheets of film in 1 slightly large holder. I want to get 5 to 10 of these things so I can wander all night making photographs without worrying about not having enough film. From what I read these holders are easier to carry and work with, they allow you to shoot fast which is essential when working with subjects on the street at night.

Social Artist Bill Stapleton

Social Art, I have never heard this term before but it fits pefectly. Human-scapes another right on the mark term. I never knew about this man before he died, I wished I could have met him, he created work not for himself or for personal recognition/fame, he created work that tried to help others. He thought of the subject before himself and made sacrifices for his art. His art was not about the me but instead about the we. Thanks SH for bringing this mans life and work to my attention.

Asked by his biographer whether, at 75, if he still had "the fire" in him, Mr. Stapleton reflected, "Sure, I still get passionate about causes, about inequity and inequality, about what's wrong with our society, with the environment and with the economic system ... Look, you have to have anger, passion, indignation, love, tenderness - the whole gamut of human emotion - if you're going to be a real artist. Injustice is always with us, and one of the jobs of responsible artists is to respond to it. Art becomes an essential voice in all the chaos of our times: A tool for bearing witness, and a weapon for effecting change."

He never made a living at art, he admitted, "but I lived through it."


He used his brush as a weapon to empower the powerless
Once a sincere and ardent Communist, he spent more than 60 years depicting strikes, refugee camps, political rallies, native reserves and the lives of ordinary working people

Special to The Globe and Mail

February 16, 2008

TORONTO -- Bill Stapleton was more than just another artist with a social conscience. His documentary art prodded, pushed, shamed, confounded and made people think (and sometimes squirm). He knew that not many people wanted to hang socially relevant art like his over their living-room sofas. It was just as well.

No bucolic landscapes, postcard portraits or pictures of fruit for him,
but fulminations against inequality, oppression, poverty and the misery of society's dispossessed. These were powerful reminders of humanity's shortcomings, but also depictions of the inner strength and dignity of people accustomed to hardship.

In the words of his biographer, Mr. Stapleton held "strong, unabashedly partisan empathy" with the compositions the artist called "Human-scapes."

Largely unsung, though he was once dubbed "the People's Artist," Mr. Stapleton was a committed socialist, activist and a sensitive, persuasive man "who celebrated the dignity and independence of the human spirit without irony but not without humour," wrote C.H. (Marty) Gervais in People In Struggle: The Life and Art of Bill Stapleton (Penumbra Press; 1992).

Print Edition - Section Front
Enlarge Image

Working in a variety of media - pen-and-ink, charcoal, watercolour, ink wash, oils and acrylics - Mr. Stapleton spent more than 60 years depicting strikes and picket lines where workers squared off against police and company goons, refugee camps where he heard tales of torture, women's rallies and the lives of ordinary working people, and native reservations where he faithfully recorded disgusting poverty.

"Sketching is honest and immediate," he'd say. "You can't go back and pretty it up."

His artistic activism wasn't limited to Canada. He journeyed to Mexico and Central America to document injustice and despair with nothing more than brushstrokes.

"People have been neglected," Mr. Stapleton explained on his 90th birthday, "and that's why I've concentrated on them. Social art doesn't play enough of a role in art." He saw his role as almost journalistic, a visual Upton Sinclair whose solidarity with his subjects only hardened. Mr. Stapleton was committed to using his craft "as a tool and weapon for the benefit of the powerless and the denunciation of the powerful," Mr. Gervais found.

Collections of Mr. Stapleton's work are housed in the National Archives of Canada and, ironically for a man who worked so hard toward peace, in the Canadian War Museum. In 2006, he donated more than 1,500 canvases and sketches to the Cabbagetown/Regent Park Community Museum in Toronto.

Born and raised in middle-class comfort in conservative small-town Ontario, his father was a salesman. A 1933 strike at a local food plant that was violently suppressed left a deep mark on him. "The father of a friend of his was beaten in that strike," said his daughter, Lynn Taylor. "That left a very raw impression. It had a lot to do with influencing his politics later in life."

He planned to become an engineer and, to that end, accepted a job surveying the Trans-Canada Highway in White River, Ont., north of Lake Superior. The Depression was on and he was grateful for the work. His older brother, Bruce, an illustrator well known for his war-bonds and Red Cross posters, sent him some paints, and Mr. Stapleton sketched the scenery and his fellow workers - 12 to a tarpaper bunkhouse. With little else to do after long, gruelling days, he honed his talents, sending pieces to his brother, who returned them with notations suggesting improvements.

He toiled in the north for 18 months and, with $800 in savings, headed to New York City where he studied art at the U.S. National Academy of Design, and where the apolitical 21-year-old first encountered radical politics. His roommates in a teeming tenement near Central Park were leftists, and the Big Apple was a magnet for Marxists. Finding and sketching hobos and street urchins a stone's throw from the gleaming towers of Wall Street helped seal his political views.

But New York was as competitive as people had warned. After two years, he failed to find work as an illustrator and came home. In Toronto, he worked as a printing salesman, which allowed him to take evening classes at the Ontario College of Art.

In 1941, Mr. Stapleton was emboldened to join the Communist Party of Canada after Ottawa banned it. This was no act of petulance but a sincere belief that the party could better achieve the dreams of social justice than other leftist groups. (He would quit the party in the early 1950s, dismayed by Stalin's treatment of artists in the Soviet Union.)

Later in 1941, when the Soviet Union entered the Second World War, he signed up for service in the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a pilot. It was around this time he first achieved recognition. A work of his titled Canadian Airman was included in a travelling Canadian military exhibit.

Shipped to several bases in England, he ended up with the 418th RCAF Squadron in North Yorkshire and trained on Wellington and Lancaster bombers. But the war ended before he could fly any missions.

Meantime, he'd sketched.

"It got so I was annoyed if we had to fly because it cut into my art time," he would recall to his biographer. "I usually rode a bicycle, with a small canvas bag I could sling over my shoulder, and I'd pedal off to sketch. Fortunately for me, when the fog set in - and this was quite often, English weather being what it is - we'd be grounded for two or three days. It was a great opportunity, and not having to make art to make money was like being subsidized."

At war's end, he chose to stay in London to study at the famed Slade School of Art. Though his own war art portfolio grew, an appointment as an official war artist eluded him, and he returned to Canada in time to document two seminal strikes, one by Stelco workers in Hamilton in 1946, and the other by the Canadian Seaman's Union in 1949 on the waterfronts of Welland, Toronto and Montreal.

That same year, he married Margaret (Mickey) Rylance. He'd met her at an art show, and later explained that he fell for her despite the fact she believed in God.

With a family to support, he started his own advertising agency and bought a cottage and a split-level house in Toronto. The middle-class life was maybe not what communists aspired to, but "with a wife and three daughters and a couple of mortgages, I had to have a job - so I went into the advertising business. It was a living." There was a line he once heard about working in advertising and loved to quote: "I never told my mother I was in advertising. She thought I played piano in a brothel."

In 1974, he visited Russia on a cultural exchange. Describing it as the trip that had the greatest impact on him, Mr. Stapleton reconciled conflicted feelings. "They led the world in science and were the first to the moon. Freedom of the sexes, women were ship captains and factory heads. Socialism led the world then, but was betrayed from within and without. I still believe in revolution."

He divorced his wife after 23 years of marriage - there were no hard feelings and the two stayed friends - and moved to Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood ("it was here I joined the human race") where he began depicting ordinary people doing ordinary things. For about a decade, he was resident artist at three Toronto landmarks: The Hotel Winchester, the Paramount Tavern, and the Trojan Horse Coffee House. He'd sit for hours, sketching and painting exiled Chilean musicians, leftist activists, and the regulars.

"I liked pubs like the Paramount," he recalled. "It attracted a mostly black clientele. The guys were cocky, exuberant and graceful; they just had this way of moving and expressing themselves. And their music - wow! The mixed clientele provided a real slice of life - fights, shootings, stabbings and four police vans on a Saturday night."

As for his style, it had a relaxed structure but his lines were "direct and bold, drawn with rock-steady hand and a sharp eye," noted Carol Moore-Ede, Mr. Stapleton's friend and curator. "He painted in startlingly vibrant colours and bold strokes, as forthright in his technique as he was in his social convictions."

One reviewer lauded his oeuvre as being in the tradition of Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

His pace quickened in his sixties and seventies. He journeyed to Nicaragua in 1982 to sketch the suffering and despair caused by the country's political upheaval. In 1984, he went to Mexico to document the scores of Guatemalan refugees flooding the border in a struggle for safety and food. The following year, he was part of a delegation that travelled to Spain to seek recognition for the 1,239 Canadians of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (the "Mac-Paps") who fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. And in 1989, he joined the Innu of Sheshatshit, Labrador, to protest low-level test flights of NATO fighter jets and bombers over traditional native hunting grounds. An exhibit was mounted in Toronto.

He belonged to Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, and in the early 1980s, helped mobilize artists in a national disarmament movement, Arts for Peace, chaired by novelist Margaret Laurence and numbering the likes of Pierre Berton, Norman Jewison, Margaret Atwood and Karen Kain.

In his later years, he volunteered for ArtHeart, a community-based effort that provides free access to studio space, instruction, and art supplies. He'd give away quick sketches to children.

Just last December, he received the Ontario Federation of Labour's first Lifetime Cultural Achievement Award. His age prevented his attendance but he received a standing ovation nonetheless.

Asked by his biographer whether, at 75, he still had "the fire" in him, Mr. Stapleton reflected, "Sure, I still get passionate about causes, about inequity and inequality, about what's wrong with our society, with the environment and with the economic system ... Look, you have to have anger, passion, indignation, love, tenderness - the whole gamut of human emotion - if you're going to be a real artist. Injustice is always with us, and one of the jobs of responsible artists is to respond to it. Art becomes an essential voice in all the chaos of our times: A tool for bearing witness, and a weapon for effecting change."

He never made a living at art, he admitted, "but I lived through it."


William Johnson Stapleton was born in Stratford, Ont. on Jan. 24, 1916. He died in Bracebridge, Ont. on Feb. 5, 2008. He was 92. He is survived by daughters Lynn Taylor, Judith Stapleton and Sharon Sherman. He also leaves his former wife, Mickey, and five grandchildren.

An exhibition of Mr. Stapleton's selected works, is on display at Riverdale Farm, 201 Winchester St., Toronto, Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until March 23.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The revolution will not be criticized

This review for me is about what a critic should do. He should be honest and to the point and not pussy foot around trying not to hurt peoples feeling. When you put your work out there to be seen by the public you have entered the world of criticism both positive and negative. All we can ask a reviewer to do is be 100% honest. In the past I have been criticized for my honesty in reviewing work but it’s the only path to follow, being dishonest helps no one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The revolution will not be criticized
Cuba's current regime gets a free ride in Montreal art exhibition; Go for the art, stay for the historical dishonesty

Robert Fulford, National Post
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MONTREAL -- A few insolent words in a wall text summarize the hypocrisy and intellectual torpor that dominate ¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today, a blockbuster exhibition that runs till June 8 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The words belong to I.C. Amador, a contributor to Revolucion y Cultura in Havana. They appear in an essay in the Montreal exhibition catalogue and on a wall near the work of Constantino Arias, a talented photojournalist. Amador claims the photos Arias took of guests at the Hotel Nacional in Havana "focus on the absurd, vulgar and artificial traits that wealth fosters in those who possess it."

That moment of flagrant self-righteousness seems particularly dissonant in a museum created by wealthy Montrealers. Did the curator who picked those words to go on the wall mean they should apply to the Desmarais family, whose riches helped build the Jean Noel Desmarais Pavilion holding the exhibition? Perhaps people named Desmarais are to be considered the exceptions that prove the rule.

The words seem especially inapt when we notice that only two Arias photos were taken at the Hotel Nacional, where he was house photographer half a century ago. One shows a woman sunbathing by the pool, her hat pulled over her face. The other catches a few glum tourists playing roulette in the hotel's casino. How do they express vulgarity or absurdity? The woman's bathing suit now looks outmoded but hardly vulgar. One man at the roulette table wears a business suit, another a dinner jacket. Would that illustrate absurdity?

Nathalie Bondil, director of the MMFA and curator of the exhibition, approaches Cuba and its culture with nervous delicacy, as if afraid her project would blow up if she chose the wrong image, wrote the wrong word or failed to show appreciation for Fidel Castro's regime.

She told a reporter, "It's not a political show. It's just a show."

On the contrary, it's a political show. As anyone in Castro's government would be quick to point out, every expression of Cuban culture is inevitably political. The title of the exhibition refers to a major political event, the beginning in 1868 of Cuba's first war for independence from Spain. Bondil makes sure we know about tyrants of the past, notably Gerardo Machado y Morales (dictator from 1925 to 1933) and Fulgencio Batista (1934-44 and 1952- 59). But somehow Castro never gets censured in the same way, though longevity has made him arguably the worst of the lot:He's lasted more than three times as long as Machado and Batista combined.

Bondil's exhibition includes many paintings and drawings but it's not mainly an art show. She wants to leave us with a generalized impression of Cuban history by showing us movie posters, cigar labels, postcards and a roomful of Castro and Che Guevara posters. She pays serious attention to documentary photography, especially the pictures taken by Walker Evans in 1933 for a book on the crimes of the Machado era. And everywhere a visitor goes, Cuban music plays in the background.

This may well be the most comprehensive anthology of Cuban images ever mounted outside Cuba, but it's intellectually undernourished. The thematic arrangement seems obvious and the 424-page catalogue, much of it written by contemporary Cuban critics, looks good but reads as a string of limp banalities.

Bondil wants us to take Cuban art seriously, but she's assembled strikingly uneven examples. Her major candidate for international importance is Wilfredo Lam (1902-1982), who gets a room of his own within the exhibition. He spent much of his adult life in European capitals, first Madrid, then Paris. In the 1930s, he was part of Andre Breton's Surrealist circle and followed Picasso in his adaptations of African sculpture. He followed so closely, in fact, that in several places his work amounts to outright imitation.

Eventually Lam was collected by Alfred H. Barr for the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but in Montreal he makes no great impression. The evidence on the walls reduces the catalogue's claim that he's among the "truly universal artists" of the 20th century to laughable puffery. Marcelo Pogolotti (1902-1988), who also gets his own room, turns out to be a talented cartoonist but an extremely limited painter, overly indebted to Fernand Leger.

Down in the basement of the museum, we can see Cuba Colectiva, a 1967 mural remarkable for its size (60 square metres) and the number of artists who contributed to it (100) -- but not, alas, for quality. Under Lam's leadership, Cuban artists, joined by a few foreigners (including Edmund Alleyn from Canada) divided a huge surface into sections, each to be painted separately. A few poets and intellectuals were asked to contribute poems or slogans. Castro was invited but never showed up, so Space No. 26 remains blank, in memory of his non-participation. The mural has never before been shown outside Cuba and ideally should stir memories of an exciting time. But as a work of art it's a mess.

¡Cuba! Art and History from 1868 to Today lacks both critical intelligence and historical honesty. Still, curatorial imbalance shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying this vast array of imagery. Seeing it is like searching through the attic of a creaky, once-grand house that's filled with quaint surprises and some gems, in this case much of the photography.

Still, its romantic, half-blind approach calls for a strong antidote. Fortunately, there's one available. A visit to the MMFA show should be followed by a viewing of Before Night Falls, the superb film that Julian Schnabel made in 2000 from the memoirs of Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990). As a teenager Arenas welcomed the revolution but later found himself classed as its enemy because he was gay and because he sent his poetry outside Cuba for publication. Schnabel shows Arenas (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem) brutalized by the goons of homophobic communism, which established prison camps for the punishment of gays. Exiled in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, Arenas arrived in New York. He killed himself in 1990, leaving a suicide note that blamed Castro for ruining his life.

Neither Arenas nor anyone who shared his fate gets mentioned in the Montreal show. The governing principle of the exhibition is neither artistic nor historical. What the MMFA has delivered on this occasion is a distorted and pathetic expression of cultural diplomacy.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jean-Francois Millet

The Wood Sawyers
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)

This artist deserves further study. His work depicts the suffering of man in a universal way (faceless). Most importantly he gives dignity to people that are often forgotten by society.

Is there anything better I can do with my work? I think not! To give dignity to people that have fallen through the cracks of our society is a truly noble mission.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Edward Weston Quote

"This is the approach: one must prevision and feel, before exposure, the finished print....The creative force is released coincident with the shutter's release. There is a no substitute for amazement felt, significance realized, at the time of exposure. Developing and printing become but a careful carrying on of the original conception...."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

3 Week Photo Trip

Today while I was developing sheet film I had some time to think about what I want to accomplish on my next short trip to Thailand. I am going to Thai again in July but only for a short time the trip will be less than 3 weeks.

Because of the time limit I think I have to go the route of shooting something I know I can do. I need to have all the logistics figured out and just show up on the ground and start making pictures.

I have decided to do some ladyboy heads in color with the 6x6. I want to shoot the face shots up close and personal with some space around the edges. I expect to shoot with a slightly wide 65mm lens to creat some distortion and a flash to give the images the intensity and harsheness they deserve. The heads will be printed large on 15x15 Kodak metallic and matted with pure white board. If I get the work shown at some point I will use white framing also.

I will need to photograph 25-30 ladyboys which will hopefully give me about 20 good expressive headshots to use in my submission.

I can also learn more about these interesting folk and delve deeper into this difficutlt to understand sub culture.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wacky....Photo Thought....Soldier Portraits

Been thinking of a rather wacky and potentially dangerous photo portrait series. What if I went to some 3rd world African nation that was involved in a war and did a series of portraits of the soldiers/fighters on both sides. These photographs would not involve battle but would be straight on portraits shot of individuals from all ranks and from both sides of the conflict (similar to the single Bill Burke shot of the Cambodian fighter).

I would shoot the series with a 8x10 camera or the razzle.

hmm just a wacky thought but maybe a possibility to make some good photographs.

Zone System Landscapes...haven't I seen that photo before?

Is it my imagination or does most zone system landscape stuff look alike? I often do searches online and look at various zone landscape stuff and it basically all looks the same. I get the feeling they were shot by the same guy using the same equipment and the same technique.

A club I belonged to for a while also had the same thing happening. I could not really tell individual differences in style between the various landscape zone photographers, I would generally just look at the different matting technique to guess who did what. If I did not look at the matting I could not really see differences in the prints.

I guess there might be slight differences in composition, lens, and film choices etc but damn if all that landscape zone stuff does not look twin like to me. Some photographers working in this area have individual vision but in my opinion the vast majority are creating the same pabulum over and over again.

Photo Thought...Bangkok at Night

Was thinking about what I should do on my next long trip to Thailand. I might try a photo series of portraits of Bangkok at night. Brassai did a series on Paris at night and Bangkok is as least as visually interesting if not more so. I’m no Brassai but there might be some good photographs to make wandering the streets of Bangkok at night.

I was thinking that I would use the 4x5 razzle with flash and photograph from midnight to about 5 am. In 1999 I found many people to photograph when I did my night time wanderings, I would like to try it again and go into it in more detail. Not just bargirls, ladyboys, beggars and homeless peoples but everyone. I could photograph tourists, police, hotel workers, street vendors, garbage men, street kids, road cleaners etc. anyone I find could be a subject, am also thinking of doing nightscapes. I could photograph abandoned buildings, closed empty streets, temples etc.

I would develop the film during the day in my 4x5 slosher and make contact prints to measure my progress. I could also give out the 4x5 contacts as gifts to the people I photograph. Good for them, good for me and best of all maybe make some good/lasting photographs.

Might be good project, something that deserves more thought.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Photobook/Photography Blog

Found a very nice photobook/photography blog.

Bill Burke's Influence

This photograph of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge soldier has been had a big influence on my photography. I saw this image years ago in an aperture magazine and it has haunted me ever since. Who was this guy? What happened to him? I found the combination of subject matter and the look of the image to be stunning. The influence of this photograph led me to making photographs in South East Asia.

Lately I have been thinking of this photograph more and more. Today I purchased 3 Burke Books online which I hope will help me focus on a series of photographs I want to make in the next few years. I will to use flash at night and in daylight along with the 4x5 razzle camera and tri-x film to do environmental portraiture. I did some similar work a few years back with a Mamiya 6 camera (portraits and street series at I want to get the clarity that a larger format negative will give me and shoot more honest street life images as I find them.

From a technical aspect I think the tri-x and a powerful flash will give me f-16 to f-32 with a 135mm lens. I am worried abit about minimum focusing distance, hopefully it will work out. If I cannot get the new 4x5 working the way I want I will use the twin reflex which I know will work up close and personal.

Really looking forward to seeing Burkes other work, not sure why I never bought the books before, but now they are on the way!

Bill Burke Mine Fields

Bill Burke (1943) has made and makes many journeys to Cambodia. Mine Fields is a very personal, 'diary-like' account, resembling photographic psychodrama. Many images refer to the still visible consequences of the war which took place over there. Burke does not want to pass judgement over the situation, but wants to point out to us that there is still something going on, despite the fact that this country is no longer interesting enough to the media. He tries to photograph Cambodia, to find out what is going on and records how people live over there and what their worries are: "A photographer is not a soldier nor a refugee, he is a spectator who tries to show a situation and if possible, also show how it feels".

Friday, February 8, 2008

Interesting Article


January 27, 2008
The Capa Cache

TO the small group of photography experts aware of its existence, it was known simply as “the Mexican suitcase.” And in the pantheon of lost modern cultural treasures, it was surrounded by the same mythical aura as Hemingway’s early manuscripts, which vanished from a train station in 1922.

The suitcase — actually three flimsy cardboard valises — contained thousands of negatives of pictures that Robert Capa, one of the pioneers of modern war photography, took during the Spanish Civil War before he fled Europe for America in 1939, leaving behind the contents of his Paris darkroom.

Capa assumed that the work had been lost during the Nazi invasion, and he died in 1954 on assignment in Vietnam still thinking so. But in 1995 word began to spread that the negatives had somehow survived, after taking a journey worthy of a John le Carré novel: Paris to Marseille and then, in the hands of a Mexican general and diplomat who had served under Pancho Villa, to Mexico City.

And that is where they remained hidden for more than half a century until last month, when they made what will most likely be their final trip, to the International Center of Photography in Midtown Manhattan, founded by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell. After years of quiet, fitful negotiations over what should be their proper home, legal title to the negatives was recently transferred to the Capa estate by descendants of the general, including a Mexican filmmaker who first saw them in the 1990s and soon realized the historical importance of what his family had.

“This really is the holy grail of Capa work,” said Brian Wallis, the center’s chief curator, who added that besides the Capa negatives, the cracked, dust-covered boxes had also been found to contain Spanish Civil War images by Gerda Taro, Robert Capa’s partner professionally and at one time personally, and by David Seymour, known as Chim, who went on to found the influential Magnum photo agency with Capa.

The discovery has sent shock waves through the photography world, not least because it is hoped that the negatives could settle once and for all a question that has dogged Capa’s legacy: whether what may be his most famous picture — and one of the most famous war photographs of all time — was staged. Known as “The Falling Soldier,” it shows a Spanish Republican militiaman reeling backward at what appears to be the instant a bullet strikes his chest or head on a hillside near Córdoba in 1936. When the picture was first published in the French magazine Vu, it created a sensation and helped crystallize support for the Republican cause.

Though the Capa biographer Richard Whelan made a persuasive case that the photograph was not faked, doubts have persisted. In part this is because Capa and Taro made no pretense of journalistic detachment during the war — they were Communist partisans of the loyalist cause — and were known to photograph staged maneuvers, a common practice at the time. A negative of the shot has never been found (it has long been reproduced from a vintage print), and the discovery of one, especially in the original sequence showing all the images taken before and after the shot, could end the debate.

But the discovery is being hailed as a huge event for more than forensic reasons. This is the formative work of a photographer who, in a century defined by warfare, played a pivotal role in defining how war was seen, bringing its horrors nearer than ever — “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” was his mantra — yet in the process rendering it more cinematic and unreal. (Capa, not surprisingly, later served a stint in Hollywood, befriending directors like Howard Hawks and romancing Ingrid Bergman.)

Capa practically invented the image of the globe-trotting war photographer, with a cigarette appended to the corner of his mouth and cameras slung over his fatigues. His fearlessness awed even his soldier subjects, and between battles he hung out with Hemingway and Steinbeck and usually drank too much, seeming to pull everything off with panache. William Saroyan wrote that he thought of Capa as “a poker player whose sideline was picture-taking.”

In a Warholian way that seems only to increase his contemporary allure, he also more or less invented himself. Born Endre Friedmann in Hungary, he and Taro, whom he met in Paris, cooked up the persona of Robert Capa — they billed him as “a famous American photographer” — to help them get assignments. He then proceeded to embody the fiction and make it true. (Taro, a German whose real name was Gerta Pohorylle, died in Spain in 1937 in a tank accident while taking pictures.)

Curators at the International Center of Photography, who have begun a months-long effort to conserve and catalog the newly discovered work, say the full story of how the negatives, some 3,500 of them, made their way to Mexico may never be known.

In 1995 Jerald R. Green, a professor at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, received a letter from a Mexico City filmmaker who had just seen an exhibition of Spanish Civil War photographs sponsored in part by the college. He wrote that he had recently come into possession of an archive of nitrate negatives that had been his aunt’s, inherited from her father, Gen. Francisco Aguilar Gonzalez, who died in 1967. The general had been stationed as a diplomat in the late 1930s in Marseille, where the Mexican government, a supporter of the Republican cause, had begun helping antifascist refugees from Spain immigrate to Mexico.

From what experts have been able to piece together from archives and the research of Mr. Whelan, the biographer (who died last year), Capa apparently asked his darkroom manager, a Hungarian friend and photographer named Imre Weisz, known as Cziki, to save his negatives in 1939 or 1940, when Capa was in New York and feared his work would be destroyed.

Mr. Weisz is believed to have taken the valises to Marseille, but was arrested and sent to an internment camp in Algiers. At some point the negatives ended up with General Aguilar Gonzalez, who carried them to Mexico, where he died in 1967. It is unclear whether the general knew who had taken the pictures or what they showed; but if he did, he appears never to have tried to contact Capa or Mr. Weisz, who coincidentally ended up living the rest of his life in Mexico City, where he married the Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. (Mr. Weisz died recently, in his 90s; Mr. Whelan interviewed him for his 1985 biography of Capa but did not elicit any information about the lost negatives.)

“It does seem strange in retrospect that there weren’t more efforts to locate these things,” Mr. Wallis said. “But I think they just gave them up. They were lost in the war, like so many things.”

When the photography center learned that the work might exist, it contacted the Mexican filmmaker and requested their return. But letters and phone conversations ended with no commitments, said Phillip S. Block, the center’s deputy director for programs, who added that he and others were not even sure at the beginning if the filmmaker’s claims were true, because no one had been shown the negatives. (Saying that the return of the negatives was a collective decision of the Aguilar Gonzalez family, the filmmaker asked not to be identified in this article and declined to be interviewed for it.)

Meetings with the man were scheduled, but he would fail to appear. “And then communications broke off completely for who knows what reason,” Mr. Block said. Efforts were made from time to time, unsuccessfully, to re-establish contact. But when the center began to organize new shows of Capa and Taro’s war photography, which opened last September, it decided to try again, hoping that images from the early negatives could be incorporated into the shows.

“He was never seeking money,” Mr. Wallis said of the filmmaker. “He just seemed to really want to make sure that these went to the right place.”

Frustrated, the center enlisted the help of a curator and scholar, Trisha Ziff, who has lived in Mexico City for many years. After working for weeks simply to track down the reclusive man, she began what turned out to be almost a year of discussions about the negatives.

“It wasn’t that he couldn’t let go of this,” said Ms. Ziff, interviewed by phone from Los Angeles, where she is completing a documentary about the widely reproduced image of Che Guevara based on a photograph by Alberto Korda.

“I think it was that no one before me had thought this through in the way that something this sensitive needs to be thought through,” she said. The filmmaker worried in part that people in Mexico might be critical of the negatives’ departure to the United States, regarding the images as part of their country’s deep historical connection to the Spanish Civil War. “One had to respect and honor the dilemma he was in,” she said.

In the end Ms. Ziff persuaded him to relinquish the work — “I suppose one could describe me as tenacious,” she said — while also securing a promise from the photography center to allow the filmmaker to use Capa images for a documentary he would like to make about the survival of the negatives, their journey to Mexico and his family’s role in saving them.

“I see him quite regularly,” Ms. Ziff said, “and I think he feels at peace about this now.”

In December, after two earlier good-faith deliveries of small numbers of negatives, the filmmaker finally handed Ms. Ziff the bulk of the work, and she carried it on a flight to New York herself.

“I wasn’t going to put it in a FedEx box,” she said.

“When I got these boxes it almost felt like they were vibrating in my hands,” she added. “That was the most amazing part for me.”

Mr. Wallis said that while conservation experts from the George Eastman House in Rochester are only now beginning to assess the condition of the film, it appears to be remarkably good for 70-year-old nitrate stock stored in what essentially looks like confectionery boxes.

“They seem like they were made yesterday,” he said. “They’re not brittle at all. They’re very fresh. We’ve sort of gingerly peeked at some of them just to get a sense of what’s on each roll.”

And discoveries have already been made from the boxes — one red, one green and one beige — whose contents appear to have been carefully labeled in hand-drawn grids made by Mr. Weisz or another studio assistant. Researchers have come across pictures of Hemingway and of Federico García Lorca.

The negative for one of Chim’s most famous Spanish Civil War photographs, showing a woman cradling a baby at her breast as she gazes up toward the speaker at a mass outdoor meeting in 1936, has also been found. “We were astonished to see it,” Mr. Wallis said. (The photograph, often seen as showing the woman worriedly scanning the skies for bombers, was mentioned by Susan Sontag in “Regarding the Pain of Others,” her 2003 reconsideration of ideas from her well-known treatise “On Photography,” a critical examination of images of war and suffering.)

The research could bring about a reassessment of the obscure career of Taro, one of the first female war photographers, and could lead to the determination that some pictures attributed to Capa are actually by her. The two worked closely together and labeled some of their early work with joint credit lines, sometimes making it difficult to establish authorship conclusively, Mr. Wallis said. He added that there was even a remote possibility that “The Falling Soldier” could be by Taro and not Capa.

“That’s another theory that’s been floated,” he said. “We just don’t know. To me that’s what’s so exciting about this material. There are so many questions and so many questions not even yet posed that they may answer.”

Ultimately, Mr. Wallis said, the discovery is momentous because it is the raw material from the birth of modern war photography itself.

“Capa established a mode and the method of depicting war in these photographs, of the photographer not being an observer but being in the battle, and that became the standard that audiences and editors from then on demanded,” he said. “Anything else, and it looked like you were just sitting on the sidelines. And that visual revolution he embodied took place right here, in these early pictures.”

Interesting Article

Snap Shots: by Harry Flashman

You and Andy Warhol
What is the difference between you and Andy Warhol? Well, for a start, you are alive and Andy Warhol is dead! However, Andy Warhol lives on in his “art” in the ‘copy’ shops in Thailand. The fluoro ‘Marilyn’ series in particular. However, Andy Warhol left far more than Marilyn and the famous Campbell’s soup can. He left a huge collection of photographs. Andy Warhol and yourself are both photographers.
Andy Warhol was a complex character. He said, “I also take my camera everywhere. Having a few rolls of film to develop gives me a good reason to get up in the morning.”
He also did not think much of the technical side of photography, “I love the new, small automatic-focus 35 mm cameras like Minox and Konica. I think anyone can take a good picture. My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous. It’s being in the right place at the wrong time.”
Andy Warhol was really a voyeur. However, he was a voyeur of people who wanted to be spied upon, which gave it all a pseudo-legitimacy. I looked through the book, Andy Warhol’s Exposures, the other day just to see if his photos had any real lasting ‘merit’ as photographic works of art. At the risk of enraging all the Andy fans, really they were nothing but ‘record’ shots showing the glitterati set doing what they do best – posing and poncing around.
But where Andy Warhol excelled was in the fact that he could get to all the places that the celebrities would go. He was accepted, and his poky little cameras with their on-camera flashes were just part of Andy. The photographs are then only of merit because of their subject matter, not for technique or for final technical quality. Many are ‘blown out’ with the subjects too close to the flash, others are blurred. However, the majority are taken with the subjects looking away from the camera – while they are still posing, rather than actually posing for the camera using ‘eye contact’ with the lens. It was a crazy way to take photos, but still one that helped Andy Warhol to fame and fortune.
Even though the book Andy Warhol’s Exposures is ostensibly a photo book, there being more pictures than words, it is really about ‘exposing’ the private persona of the celebrity subjects. People who did not really have (or wish to have) private lives. Like Dean Martin’s ex-wife’s boyfriend. Yes, that’s the sort of people you could expect to find being photographed by the famous Campbell’s soup can artist. Of course, he also photographed Mick and Bianca Jagger, ex-US President Jimmy Carter, a swag of Kennedy’s, movie stars, transvestites and the works. As long as somebody thought they were famous.
Andy Warhol was the ‘ultimate’ street photographer. Just as Cartier-Bresson photographed the ordinary people, Andy Warhol photographed the out of the ordinary people. His relentless shots taken in Studio 54, the ‘in place’ disco are albums of freaks, hangers-on, minor celebrities, aging movie stars, starlets eager for any publicity, drunks, transvestites, designers, people with designs on being designers, the whole superfluous and superficial crowd. And Andy got them all, and in some ways recorded an era for posterity.
So what was the point of this week’s column? Just that if you want to contribute something to the world of photography, you must take photos. It doesn’t matter whether you know anything about the science behind it all – the important thing is you have to have images.
In turn, those images must have a theme. Andy Warhol’s was the rich and famous, wannabe’s and hangerson. You need to get a theme too. Night life in Thailand has probably been done to death, as also the women of Thailand, as beautiful and beguiling as they are. However, if you are a true disciple of Andy Warhol you would perhaps do a series on the transvestites of Thailand – not in their beautiful stage outfits but rather dressed in ordinary clothes, without make-up and shopping at the supermarkets.
Find a theme and start shooting today!

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I need to be more dedicated and organize my time better. I know several people that while they spend some time at photography are not really devoted to it. Many times they do not make the extra effort to print good work for a show or walk that extra mile to get that special shot. I cannot fall into the trap of giving a half assed effort. I need to become more dedicated, need to work harder. To create important and meaningful photographs you need to put in the time and effort required.

Success if often a result of one thing, HARD WORK!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mr. Jock Sturges

Mr. Jock Sturges, or as I like to call him "Jock" :) has been a great help and inspiration to me. I met him through email when I bought a 8x10 Kodak Viewmaster camera online. It seems that Jock has 4 of these wonderful machines. Out of the blue he offered to help me learn the camera. I ended up having 2 telephone conversations with Jock as well as several e-mails where he explained the strengths and weaknesses of the camera and answered all my questions (I had many) on his work and technique.

A wonderful man who took the time to help someone he did not know.

Thanks Jock

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Well the webpage is coming along slowly but surely. I have been putting more time into it lately as I am making 3 submissions next week and have the website link listed in my CIV.

I am still having a number of problems with the link images and such but at least now it is semi presentable. I have to rescan the photos onsite as well as scan a few hundred additional photographs and add the needed pages but that's tomorrows work!