Saturday, May 31, 2008

Daily Polaroids Detail Last 18 Years of NYC Man's Life

Daily Polaroids Detail Last 18 Years of NYC Man's Life
Saturday, May 31, 2008

For 18 years Jamie Livingston kept a record of every day of his life, but this was no ordinary journal.

Livingston, a New York City-based cinematographer, amassed thousands of Polaroid photos, taken each day of his life during those years, and a collection of the photos has been posted online by friends for people to see and experience, according to a report by MyFOX National.

Many of the photos were of friends. The subject sometimes was as ordinary as a smile, a window or a household item. Another was taken on his wedding day.

Livingston's friend Risa Mickenberg told MyFOX National the photos are an essay on life.

"'Photo of the Day' is a work of light, color, laughter, pain, travel, beauty, wonton soup, afternoons, coffee, hanging out, love, life in its entirety," she said.

Livingston was born in New Jersey on Oct. 25, 1956, and died in New York City 41 years to the day in 1997.

In 1978 at Bard College he began to take photos with his Polaroid camera, according to MyFOX National. After a few weeks he realized he had taken almost an image a day. He then began to earnestly take one photo a day and continued the project until his death.

"It's the masterpiece we all create," Mickenberg said. "It's just that Jamie thought to take its picture."

Friday, May 30, 2008

Photo Story: Dying Street Lady Bangkok, Thailand 1999

This photo has sort of an interesting tale to it, I thought I would share the story.

The year was 1999, I had been photographing for a number of months on the streets of Bangkok at night. The 3 series I was working on that year were freelance sex workers(bargirls), street life and 3 hearts. Every night I would leave my apartment at about 8pm and take a bus or tuk tuk to the Sukhumvit sex worker bar area. I would then wander the streets, hotels, bars and restaurants making photographs till about 6am. After the night of shooting and meeting people I would head home take a shower, sleep for a few hours wake up and develop the film in my bathroom darkroom. I would then make up contact sheets, cut them into small pictures and place then in envelopes with the subjects name written on them. When I walked and made photos the following night I would hand out these little pictures to the people I had photographed the nights previously as free gifts. I had a steady stream of people asking to be photographed, I was happy making pictures and they were happy to be photographed and get the freebies.

One of these nights I was photographing some freelance sex workers on the street when the lady in the photo walked by slowly and sat down on a cement step near me, she seemed very very frail and about 70 years old. I finished what I was doing and walked over to her and sat down. I introduced myself and started to talk to her in the Thai language. I asked her what her name was but she said nothing, all she did was hold a blanket over her mouth and stare back at me. I asked her how old she was again in Thai and again there was no response. I tried the same 2 questions 2 or 3 more times but she just stared back silently. I think she was dying because she was so thin and weak and she had the most terrible smell I have ever smelled from a living person. The odor came from her mouth, I think she realized this and that was the reason she covered her mouth with the blanket. The smell was very very strong, almost indescribable it smelled like what I imagined someone would smell like when the inside of their body was dying little by little. At this point I asked her permission to make photographs, again she said nothing. I slowly raised my camera but she did not object so I started to make pictures. For the next 20 minutes I tried to communicate with her and made photographs while she silently stared back never turning away, one of the girls working the street saw her and sat down beside me and tried to talk to her but the dying lady said nothing to her also. When I figured I had the shot I stopped making photos and we just sat beside each other, then she got up and slowly started to walk away but then she seemed to have a change of mind and turned to face me. In very clear English she said " I am 47!" she said it with a hint of anger and defiance in her voice, then she turned again and walked off.

I am not sure who she was, I doubt she lived much longer after this photograph was made. I always imagined that she was a ex bargirl/sexworker dying of AIDS who came back to her old haunt one last time.

10 Print Portfolio Boxes

I was thinking about doing a series of 10 print portfolio boxes. The prints would be made on fiber b/w or metallic color paper all in the 16x20 size, they would be matted and overmatted. The boxes would consist of some past photographic series.

1) Sex Worker
2) Bargirl
3) 3 Hearts
4) Street Life

I do not know if I will try to sell any of the box sets, probably not, but it would just be nice to have the photographs printed and matted properly. I would need to get some large storage boxes made to keep the prints in pristine condition and it would be quite time comsuming to do the printing but to have the best images printed, matted and boxed should be quite rewarding.

All those old prints are filled with memories for me. The memories of the people in the photographs and the memories of the making of the photographs would all come flooding back as I held the prints. Cartier-Bresson in his you tube biography video looks back at the photographs he made in his youth and you could see the emotion in his face, even from such a closed and private man you could see how much being near the work he created meant to him. I need to be closer to the work I made in the past, it is bound to help with the work of the future.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: VAAA Open Photo 2008

Went to the Opening for the Open Photography 2008 competition tonight. Lots of people crowding around the prints in a hot room lacking a/c which made for a intimate evening out! It was fun to chat with friends but overall I was disappointed with the photography.

Many of the works I found rather trivial and un involving, some of the stuff I would not even call photographs. The winning photographer for example created large collage images not work which I would classify as photographs. A photograph by my definition is a single decisive moment captured on film or digitally and for the most part not altered much from that original visualization. The photograph is captured in the camera at the time of exposure, not later through darkroom or photoshop trickery.

There were a few good images in the show mostly moody pieces along with some technically satisfactory work, overall I would say thou that there was not a lot of heart on display, more a show of gimmickry and style over substance, sort of like a sugary donut that you eat and after feel lousy about the taste left in your mouth. The work for the most part will be forgotten quickly, all gloss and no meat was my first impression. After the show I felt a sort of emptiness, not a moving experience as art at it best should be. I should be angry/happy/sad/bitter/challenged/thoughtful, some kind of emotion should fill my heart and mind but I felt nothing as I left the gallery. The problem might be a result of the format, such a large group of photographers caused the show to lack cohesiveness, it sort of just kicked around in 30 or so different direction, never really pulling the viewer in. There were a few exceptions, one photographer who created work using a pinhole camera made images that stood out, the photographs made me think and ask questions about loneliness, I wanted to see more of his work and less of the stylish sugar coated empty images.

Art lacks importance when there is no emotional connection to it, like what reading pulp fiction does to literature, style with no emotional connection leaves you with the same empty pulp feel. Photographs should draw the person into a connection through the power of the artists vision. To make something shiny and sweet that lacks heartfelt feeling seems a waste of time to me, both for the artist and the viewer. Maybe I am being to hard on this show but I still have this lousy taste of a super sugar coated donuts in my mouth.

One suggestion I would make for Open Photo 2009 would be to accept more work from less photographers, selecting 5 pieces from 12 photographers, or better yet 10 works from 6 photographers would create a more cohesive overall exhibit.

How refreshing it would be if the VAAA chose work that was unique and outstanding in some way. My one criticism of the gallery is that it plays it safe most if not all the time. Why not show work that is strong and opinionated, even, gasp gasp, controversial! Why not get people asking questions and get them involved in the photographs shown, get people to take notice!! Make the average person off the street become interested in visiting the gallery, put work in shows that challenges and confronts Joe and Jane public. Putting safe stylistic pablum on the walls for the family and friends of the photographer helps no one. Where would the world be if galleries from the past did not have the courage to show the work of Diane Arbus, Jock Sturges, Robert Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin and Nobuyoshi Araki. Art should challenge us and provoke discussion not put us to sleep!

I will have to go for a second viewing when there is more space and air to breath, the opening environment is not ideal for viewing of images, maybe my second impression will be better than my first, hope hope!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Straight Forward Honesty in Portraiture

Been looking at this photograph Richard Avedon shot of his father tonight. The straight forward honesty of the image gives it great power. Years ago I realized that the un true (pretty/flattering) pictures made by commercial portrait photographers was not the way I wanted to go with my work. A closer truth to what a person is can be seen when the attempts to prettify things are removed, truly good/great portraits come out of the artists honest interpretation of his subject along with the subject opening up and allowing their inner true self to be captured.

I must strive to show the humanity of my subjects, their individuality/intensity must be captured, the light that makes them who they are must be reflected in the picture. I owe it to the people that trust me to photograph them to be honest, it is important that they are remembered as the unique people they were.

Got to Get the Old Stuff Developed

Spent 2 days developing color neg film from 2003 a few days back. I still have quite a bit of film to get through, time to get that stuff developed, contacted and out of the way. The photographs are from the Bargirl series shot in Thai. I also have to finish developing the 5x7 film from the the Sex Worker series of images. Having all this film to develop is fun in a way, like rediscovering old friends but it is also a bit of an anchor around my neck, dragging me down. I need to see what I did in the past and improve on it in the future. More darkroom time required! I have to do daily darkroom work like Brett Weston did, devotion and hard work is where it's at.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Had a very rewarding email today. One photograph from the Portrait Series has been added to a prestigious private collection. Thanks very much Jim, it's an honor to be included.


Hi Gerry,

To answer your question, I've been seriously collecting only a few years and my works include Nobuyoshi Araki (Colorscapes and Erotos), Albert Watson (Jack Nicholson/Smoke), Michael Eastman (Woman in Doorway Havana), Elliott Erwitt (California), Sebastiao Salgado (iceberg and Churchgate Station), Danny Lyon (several in the Conversations with the Dead (prison) series), Willy Ronis (Le Nu Provencal and Les Amoureaux), Alfred Eisenstaedt (Marilyn Monroe), Sid Avery (Newman and Woodward), Chim/David Seymour (Sophia Loren), Frank Horvat (Gare St. Lazare), and Marc  Riboud (Antique Dealers' Street Beijing).

As you can see, you are joining some great portraitists and brilliant photographers!

I'm looking forward to tracking your career. Don't get discouraged if you don't receive immediate acceptance by galleries (their owners usually follow their own personal tastes); follow your passion wherever it takes you, and constantly seek to improve both your eye and your craft. Jock Sturges's comments about that are right on. You've got both subject and the craftsmanship down, so refine the humanity that you obviously see in the people you photograph.I'm a designer and I find that having studied the masters in my field early on, as you are doing today, really helped me set my own standards of quality. I still get a charge every day doing my work and I've been doing it now for about 35 years. Passion about your work is not underrated! Good luck in Thailand. Your ideas about ladyboy portraits and Bangkok at night are great. I'm looking forward to seeing your portraits, whether they are in color or B&W (which obviously is my preference). Stay true to your heart and keep up the great work.--Jim

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wish We had shows like this in Edmonton

Art: Master of Black and White
Sunday, April 13

German-American photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt -- best known for his picture of an American sailor kissing a young woman in Times Square on V-J Day -- is often called the father of photojournalism. Harold Edgerton is an American electrical engineer and photographer who invented stroboscopic and ultra-high-speed photographic techniques that changed the way photography was practiced. Berenice Abbott spent most of her photographic career in New York City, and she's widely regarded as a pioneer in architectural photography for Changing New York, a series of works that documented a rapidly changing cityscape. These three, along with Diane Arbus, Ruth Bernhard, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, Edward Weston and other history-making, 20th-century image takers are featured in Masters of Black and White, a new exhibit at Florida Museum of Photographic Arts. The majority of works are on loan from the expansive Drapkin Collection; Dr. Robert Drapkin gives a talk about his ever-growing (5,000-image-plus) collection at 10 a.m. Sat., April 12. On display April 10-May 31, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 200 N. Tampa St., downtown Tampa, $4 suggested donation, 813-221-2222,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Haunting Image

This image has been haunting me lately. Every now and again I cannot get a image out of my mind, now it's this photographs turn! The cracked glass negative, the eaten away emulsion, what is it that grabs and holds my mind? I think it is the pose and expression. Who was this woman? She displays herself as a submissive, worn down object for the photographers gaze. I wonder what happened to her, how long she lived, what was her name? Did she have children, was she happy at times? how did she end up in the brothels of 1912 New Orleans.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Where the Yaum in Gerry Came From

When I was in Thailand in 1999 there was a very popular song that I would hear all the time. The song was called Yaum, sung by the Thai group Labanoon. The story was about a man who worked as a security guard and who from a distance watched and protected a girl who did not know who he was, he sort of hid in the shadows making sure no harm came to her, never receiving any credit but doing the right thing none the less.

At that time I was hanging out in a all night bar/restaurant/club called "The Thermae Coffee Shop" that catered to Westerners looking for sex in Bangkok. The normal bars, gogos and such would close at 2am and the Thermae back then was open until 5 or 6 am., so after the bars closed all the sex workers would flood the Thermae looking for customers. I would hang out nightly meeting people to photograph and working on my Thai language skills, I used to sit in this loud smoke filled room with my little notebook asking how to say different words, slowly but surely learning the language. Every night the girls in the Thermae would walk over to the jute box put in some baht coins and listen to music, the song Yaum came up often, usually 2 or 3 times a night. When I decided to use a pseudonym I thought Yaum would do nicely.

Check out the song here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Quote: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cartier-Bresson speaking about the reason to create.

"...that's all that only lovemaking...but just plain for for ------"

Quote: Ansel Adams

From an interview of Ansel Adams when he was in his 70s.

Interveiwer: " Have you taken the perfect picture yet?"
Adams : " No the best picture's around the corner."

More Youtube Photographer Videos

Great series of interviews.

Ansel Adams at 81

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Quote: Edward Weston

"Composition in photography is the strongest way of seeing."

Youtube Photographer Vids

Ansel Adams on BBC Part 1-4

Adams by Burns

Portrait of Imogen Cunningham Parts 1-10

Photographing this Week

Going to make some photographs this week! They will be a series of practise shots using techniques and camera/flash combinations I hope to use in Thailand in July. I need to photograph daily, this once in a blue moon photography does not satisfy, I need more. I wish I had the resources to make photographs of my chosen subject matter daily, got to figure out some way to do that.

Bellocq's Woman from the New York Review of Books

Volume 44, Number 4 · March 6, 1997
Bellocq's Women
By Joseph L. Ruby, Reply by Janet Malcolm
In response to The Real Thing (January 9, 1997)

To the Editors:

In her article titled "The Real Thing" [NYR, January 9], Janet Malcolm wonders why it matters whether E.J. Bellocq was an asexual dwarf or a man of ordinary proportions and propensities. Surely she sees that John Szarkowski's understanding of the Storyville photographs requires a Bellocq who was a freak. For Szarkowski, Bellocq's deformities led him to empathize with the prostitutes, who were also outcasts. His small size and sexual passivity allowed them to open up to his camera in a way that would have been impossible with a potential customer. Bellocq's pictures are "the real thing" precisely because Bellocq himself was not a real man.

When he mounted his Bellocq show in 1970, Szarkowski also had to deal with the problem that the photos were potentially offensive. By asserting that Bellocq's interest in his subjects was not sexual, Szarkowski placed the photos within the tradition of the nude, out of the category of photographic pornography. Szarkowski's evidence for a dwarf Bellocq was slim, but it was essential to his presentation.

But Szarkowski's version does not explain the pictures. If they were intended as art, then why are they so different in style, composition, and feeling from the studio photography of the period? And, if what Bellocq and the prostitutes shared was their status as outcasts, then why do the women appear to be so happy?

On the other hand, if we accept the new evidence that Bellocq was physically ordinary, a simpler explanation presents itself. As Malcolm sees, the women pose for Bellocq with beautifully unguarded smiles, as if "sharing an extremely pleasant moment" with him. They are having fun being photographed. Malcolm quotes Susan Sontag's observation that the pictures are "goodnatured and respectful." Yet they are also sexually highly charged. The best explanation is that the subjects are Bellocq's lovers, and the photos are a personal record of mutually enjoyable sexual relationships.

Once we posit that the pictures were not intended for exhibition or sale, the problem of Bellocq's modern-seeming taste is also resolved. If Bellocq did not pose his subjects in the self-consciously "artistic" settings of his time, the simplest explanation—as Malcolm acknowledges—is that he was not trying to make art.

The new edition of Bellocq photos includes a number of previously unpublished prints in which the faces have been scratched out. In rhetorically heightened yet ambiguous language, Malcolm appears to propose a literal "defacer" (probably Bellocq himself) intent on metaphorically obliterating the humanity of his subjects. She ignores the obvious reason for scratching out a face in a sexually explicit photo: to disguise the identity of the subject. Some of these women may have emerged from the brothels to lead conventionally respectable lives.

When Malcolm describes the "savage black scrawls" that "cover" the faces in the modern prints made from these ruined negatives, she assumes that Bellocq printed them. She invokes the "violation and violence" of the contrast between the white linen bedclothes and the "indelible blackness of the blotch," causing the viewer to recoil as if "before a scene of rape." The defacer, says Malcolm, has "inscribed a chilling metaphor for the brutality of the enterprise that offers bodies for sale." At long last, she concludes, we have arrived at "the real thing."

But of course we have not. Bellocq made no black blotches covering women's faces. He scraped away the emulsion of the reversed images on the plate negatives, leaving clear glass. A negative is not an intelligible image of anything at all, and does not become one until it is printed. Yet there is no evidence that Bellocq printed these plates, and it is unlikely that he did so. It is far too anachronistic to assume that he could have conceived of prints made from these ruined negatives as works of art in the modern fashion, or as having any value or meaning at all.

In 1970, John Szarkowski, although he could mount photos of prostitutes on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art, could not admit the possibility that they had enjoyed consensual sex with their photographer. Instead, he gave us Bellocq the dwarf—a tragic artist, powerless and outcast. In 1996, Janet Malcolm seems equally ill at ease with the comfortable sexual relationships that emerge from the photos, and so she conjures up Bellocq the defacer—an enraged male proclaiming his dominance over his powerless female subjects. This shift over the last quarter-century tells us something about the changing art-world clich├ęs of our era. It tells us nothing about the reality of Bellocq's own place and time, as we can see it in his engaging photographs.

Joseph L. Ruby
Silver Spring, Maryland

Janet Malcolm replies:
Joseph L. Ruby raises—or re-raises—an interesting question: Can you tell from a photograph whether the subject and the photographer have slept together? Georgia O'Keeffe, in her introduction to the 1978 collection of photographs of her (a number of them nude) by Alfred Stieglitz, writes: "When his photographs of me were first shown, it was in a room at the Anderson Galleries. Several men—after looking around awhile—asked Stieglitz if he would photograph their wives or girlfriends the way he photographed me. He was very amused and laughed about it. If they had known what a close relationship he would have needed to have to photograph their wives or girlfriends the way he photographed me—I think they wouldn't have been interested." We know from Edward Weston's journals that some of his most famous nude photographs—of Tina Modotti, Sonya Noskowiak, and Charis Wilson, among others—were done as a kind of pre-coital exercise.

If these photographs tell us anything, it is that Bellocq probably did not sleep with his subjects. Whether he was a dwarf or of normal height has nothing to do with it. There are many photographers of normal height who do not sleep with their models. It is no disgrace to not sleep with your model. But as the Stieglitz and Weston photographs (and other photographs in this genre) confirm, a lover's lot is not a happy one—O'Keeffe, Modotti, Noskowiak, and Wilson look very grave, almost grim—and the Storyville prostitutes' look of cheerful insouciance practically spells out the uncomplicated platonic nature of their relationship to the photographer. The Bellocq pictures have a kind of holiday spirit—the sex workers on their day off. They are horsing around with a pal who has a camera.

Ruby's theory that the faces were scratched out on the plates to hide the identity of the models makes a lot of sense. I agree that it is the most obvious explanation. However, it leaves unanswered the question of why, in a number of cases, a woman is de-faced in one plate and left whole in another. In one picture (reproduced on the cover of The New York Review of January 9) a woman in a body-stocking is looking coolly out at the viewer, but in another, the same woman's face has been scratched out.

In the final three paragraphs of his letter, Ruby leaves off speculating about matters that cannot be settled one way or the other—matters where his guess is as good as mine—and moves on to interpreting my text, as if it, too, was unknowable and therefore fair game for fantasy. To correct his bizarre misunderstanding of my essay would require the effort of writing a new one. I will let the old one speak for itself, reiterating only that of course the scratches were made on the plates and not on the prints, and of course the social and aesthetic statements made by the defaced photographs (a species of found object) are creations of the present.

EJ Bellocq

I have been studying the work of EJ Bellocq lately, he was a hack pro photographer from New Orleans who in 1912 did some private work. The personal work was a wonderful series of portraits of the prostitutes working the Storyville red light district. He was discovered long after his death by the photographer Lee Freelander. I am searching for some of his books online, the joy/sadness/frankness he gives these woman is something I am going to work towards, I want to give a more rounded view of who my subjects are.

I found this article by Nan Goldin online and thought I would post it.


Bellocq Epoque - photographer E.J. Bellocq

Nan Goldin

Late one Berlin night in 1991, a famous German fashion photographer invited me and two friends to join him for a trip to Bel Ami, his favorite brothel in the Grunewald. The presence of a woman as a customer created a ripple of surprise, but the photographer, being a regular and popular visitor, put them at ease. Glossy prints of his published photographs of the house, group portraits of the "girls" who worked there and the pimp ("host"), were hanging on the walls. Though the setting was a German villa, the props were familiar: patterned wallpaper, heart-shaped velvet pillows, mirrors, chandeliers, gilded Turkish figurines holding red lamps, pink fleshy faux-Baroque nude paintings. One could imagine the same prevalence of gold and red in the brothels of Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans in the early part of the century.

We drank overpriced splits of cheap champagne with the girls in the living room while chatting about the most mundane aspects of Berlin life. Finally, while the photographer was otherwise engaged, my friend, a shy poet, and I hired a beautiful young Brazilian woman to take us to a room. She stripped to her G-string while we sipped champagne and I questioned her about her life history. She kept asking us what we wanted her to do. I asked if I could take some photographs, and shot a few pictures of the decor of the rooms, and then of her nude and smiling, at ease on the round bed. I wanted these images to come as close as they could to the experience of her having to be intimate with strangers, like putting myself in the position of a john without forcing any sexual transaction. The experience of photographing her served as sublimation for the act of caressing her velvet skin. We each kissed her, paid her, and left. A gallery in Los Angeles recently exhibited a wide variety of photographs of prostitution that included one of these pictures of Linda from Bel Ami. The artists represented ranged from Brassai to Lisette Model to Mary Ellen Mark to Philip-Lorca diCorcia, but on the cover of the invitation, appropriately enough, was an image by E.J. Bellocq, the remarkable early-twentieth-century photographer of the Storyville whorehouses whose pictures are among the most profound and beautiful portraits of prostitutes ever taken.

In October 1996 a gorgeous new book of Bellocq's photographs was published by Random House, much to the delight of all who have known his work since the early '70s. Eighteen photos have been added to the thirty-four that were included in Storyville Portraits, put out by the Museum of Modern Art in 1970 on the occasion of a survey of Bellocq's work. The frontispiece is new: a charming picture of two women in their underwear playing cards in an opulent room. This elegant book, a collaboration between the brilliant editor Mark Holborn and photographer Lee Friedlander, is also in a larger format - the same size of the original glass plates - than the earlier publication, allowing one to see the details of the interiors with clarity and inviting entry into the world of Storyville. The printing in tritone instead of duotone permits much more gradation and subtlety in the print quality. The book is as sensual and seductive as the women in it.

Without Friedlander's intervention, no one would know the work of E.J. Bellocq. A frequent visitor to the Crescent City to photograph the jazz scene, Friedlander was friends with a compulsive collector named Larry Borenstein, who owned an art gallery in the '50s. One night Borenstein showed Friedlander a number of the glass plates, which were among his collections and from which he had made some ordinary 8 x 10 prints that he sold around town for about $100 apiece. Apparently, the plates had been discovered in a drawer in one of Bellocq's desks when the contents of his apartment were sold after his death. A number had incurred water damage, and some were damaged by the cracking of the glass itself during Hurricane Betsy in 1965 (many of these cracks weren't evident in the rare earlier prints). Friedlander couldn't forget these images, and felt they should be preserved and seen. So in 1966, he bought the plates from Borenstein. When one thinks of the massive amount of negatives and glass plates one comes across in flea markets and thrift shops, Friedlander's power of discrimination becomes even more admirable, rivaling Berenice Abbott's rescue of Eugene Atget's work from oblivion. As a prominent photographer himself (and, like all artists, undoubtedly always behind in his own work), it is exceptional that Friedlander took the time and energy to research the appropriate printing technique for plates from that period. With this work-intensive method he printed a total of eighty-nine images. He took them to magazines and book publishers, one of whom told him they could only be published on the condition that Tennessee Williams write the introduction. Finally, John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art agreed to exhibit Friedlander's prints and publish the book, Storyville Portraits.

The body of Bellocq's portraits has been dated to around 1912, a period of legal bordellos in Storyville (women lived in these houses and were subject to arrest for working outside the quarter). Although little is known about Bellocq, many believe that the pictures were taken at Lulu White's Mahogany Hall (the wallpaper in some of the photos apparently matches that from White's whorehouse). Bellocq takes us into the brothel, one that is thought to have been a high-class joint frequented by prominent men. In those days, guides to the various brothels in Storyville called "Blue Books" were occasionally illustrated with photographs and euphemistically describing the girls' talents in Victorian language ("she serves amber fluid, reads poetry beautifully"). Although some believe that Bellocq may have made the photographs with the intention of publishing them in one of these catalogues or on a commercial assignment, the fact is that they remained hidden away until after his death.

At the turn of the century, prostitution was an even more unusual subject for photography than today, and the experience of being photographed was far different. At that time, it would have been a special occasion, a form of attention that required time and collaboration. In spite of the large, unwieldy 8 x 10 camera, Bellocq's pictures appear natural, and the women seem open and trusting. There's a nonthreatening presence with an unprecedented degree of empathy permeating his work, rather than the usual sense of someone in a power position objectifying his or her subject. Bellocq's photos do not show prostitution as a reductive identity. As well as the many straightforward portraits, there are also pictures that are like a playful game: both parties were fully engaged and indulging in layers of fantasy and self-creation. With the women's obvious trust, warmth, and ease, these pictures transcend the normal customer-to-prostitute relationship, and therefore one must assume Bellocq and the women shared a greater than usual degree of familiarity and intimacy.

Bellocq never betrays his respectful and nonjudgmental position in his portayal of the women. That they are prostitutes does not preclude the fact that some of them are shown as ordinary young women. They seem to have posed themselves, choosing from an enormous variety of identities. Some pose like Pre-Raphaelite heroines, others like college girls with school banners, while some recline in interiors as opulent as Turkish opium dens. There are girls in gymnasts' outfits, in pantaloons and homely nightcaps, and others hold their little pet dogs. There are thin young girls more passive and childlike in their nudity, a la Pretty Baby, the 1978 Louis Malle film supposedly based on Bellocq. Many are ladies dressed in all their finery who look like they are on their way to a garden party. One woman is pictured as a virginal saint with eyes downcast, cradling a huge bouquet, almost like a religious painting. A wide variety of body types are shown with the same reverence and lack of judgment, including women with the voluptuous flesh of Rubens' bodies, which is rare in the history of the male representation of the female nude in photography. And unlike other male photographers - from Weston to Cartier-Bresson tO Strand to Friedlander - Bellocq never severs the head from the female nude in the shot. There are domestic scenes that evoke Vermeer, where one sees the details of the girls' lives in their personal mementos, the steamer trunks, the bedclothes and the laundry. There's a touch of perverse sexuality in some, in which the women, totally nude, wear masks. But the most expressive photos are those overflowing with a casual sensuality, where the woman's bodice is dropping off, proudly exposing her breasts, while her whole being is filled with radiant innocence. One of these pictures, of a woman with bare legs in a silk camisole and curls and a delighted smile, is the most joyous photograph I have ever seen taken of a prostitute.

Contradicting the effervescence of much of the work, many more of the disturbing photographs in which the women's faces are intentionally scratched out have been included in this new book. While the willful destruction of photographic images of the body in contemporary art has become a kind of artful, self-conscious trend, in Bellocq's case, this bizarre and savage act seems to be some kind of personal censorship. In art school in the '70s, I had been taught that Bellocq's brother, a Jesuit priest, had been the culprit, though that theory seems to be disputed now. Some theorize that Bellocq himself scratched the glass negatives while they were still wet, either out of the desire to protect somone's identity or some emotional outburst or jealousy. I think it's highly unlikely that he would have done this to his own work, so lovingly made, and if he had wanted to hide the identity of some of the women, he could have used masks, as he did in some of the pictures. The theory that one of the girls may have done it out of jealousy or a desire to deny the intimacy she had previously been engaged in seems most likely to me, although it could be called into question by the fact that in a few places pictures of the same girl occur with her face both intact and deleted. In the end, the defaced pictures add a darkness that could represent a visual metaphor for violence against women that is in direct contrast to the warmth and tenderness of the book as a whole.

Much has been made throughout the years of Bellocq's supposed identity and its relationship to the women he photographed. Until recently, photographic history described him as a "hydrocephalic semi-dwarf," largely based on an imaginary discussion, patched together from letters and excerpts from recorded conversations, that John Szarkowski published in both the original and the recent versions of the book. Szarkowski's discussants include Friedlander, a writer named Al Rose, jazz musicians, old photographers from the Quarter, and Adele, the subject of several of Bellocq's photographs. They describe him as a kind of peculiar, Toulouse-Lautrec-like figure with a very high head that came to a point, who spoke in a high-pitched voice and walked in little mincing steps. This description of him as a physically nonthreatening and asexual man, different from the others who would have frequented the brothels, has often served as an explanation for why the work is so empathic and intimate. When I asked Friedlander what he knows about Bellocq personally, he answered, "I'm not interested in the man, I'm interested in the pictures." He recommended I call Steven Maldansky, curator of photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art, who has done extensive research on Bellocq while organizing an exhibition of the photographer's life as well as his Storyville work. On the basis of an image of Bellocq published in a turn-of-the-century magazine, Maklansky contends that the description of him as physically abnormal is exaggerated, and that he was indeed a debonair young man with a moustache who did not look so different from the photographer played by Keith Carradine in Pretty Baby. Rex Rose, whose research Maklansky drew on when compiling his exhibition, found Bellocq's hospital records, which describe him at seventy-six, not long before his death in 1949, as a "normal, well-developed male."

What is known about his life is that he was born Ernest J. Bellocq in 1873 to a middle-class Catholic Creole family. His father was a bookkeeper, and his brother Leo became a priest. Bellocq dropped out of Jesuit college at age eighteen to become a clerk and bookkeeper. He took up photography as a hobby in the early 1890s, and had a career for twenty or thirty years as a commercial photographer, taking mundane pictures of sports teams, graduation classes, and first communions. Around World War I, he photographed shipbuilding companies and machinery parts. He joined the New Orleans Camera Club and had work published in various magazines and newspapers. At the same time he was photographing Catholic schoolgirls, he would have been making these Storyville pictures, and there is also a rumor that he photographed in the opium dens in the Chinatown of New Orleans, though these plates have never been discovered. He was a prominent though not hugely successful amateur, and had some family money. A lifelong batchelor, he lived with his mother a block and a half from Storyville until her death in 1902, after which he moved just a few blocks away. Above his mantelpiece, which is shown in a photograph in the book, hung many photographs of women, vignetted and framed as close-up portraits of their faces. Some of them seem to be among the fifteen or twenty women included in "Storyville Portraits." One of the houses where he lived in the '30s is thought to actually have had a whorehouse in it. In the '30s the shy and reclusive Bellocq retired, but was said to make daily rounds of the camera stores, becoming one of the many familiar eccentrics that the Quarter is known for. His cause of death is not known but seems to have resulted from either falling down a flight of stairs or being hit by a car.

Regardless of the mythology surrounding Bellocq, whether he was a dwarf or an ordinary man, whether his familiarity at Lulu White's was based on being a customer or a confidant, the genius of his work cannot be diminished. Some people have ascribed the pleasure evident in the women from being photographed by him as mirth at his physical deformity. Maklansky theorized that his obviously nonthreatening relationship was motivated by his paying them. Since most interpersonal transactions for a prostitute involve the exchange of money, it takes more than money to make a prostitute smile. I know that prostitution, especially today, can be a dangerous and potentially self-destructive job. Whatever Bellocq's intentions were, whatever the nature of his relationship to these women, his portraits transcend the portrayal of the prostitute as an object. I imagine that, with his loving gaze, the desire and the sexual act that normally occurs in prostitution had been sublimated into the act of photographing. In the end "Storyville Portraits" remains a unique collection of love poems.

Special thanks to Lee Friedlander and Steven Maklansky.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Philip Jones Griffiths 1936-2008

Stuart Franklin

The world that I grew up in will be, from today, a poorer place. It is with great sadness I have to write that Philip - a monumental, irrepressible force in photography and in life - and a courageous fighter against the cancer that finally defeated him - passed away early this morning.

Philip's passing is an enormous loss to us all at Magnum, and I am sure to everyone who knew him. It was a privilege to have brushed, even lightly, against his charm, his brilliance and his passion for photojournalism. Those who only know him through his work will have missed his skills as an orator, raconteur, wit and polemicist. He remained the lovely man that he was - graceful and welcoming - especially to young people trying to make a start in photography. He had much to pass on, not just about the importance of "real" photography, but about the art and craft of picture-making.

Philip was born in Rhuddlan, near Rhyl in Wales on 18th February 1936 and it was there, at the age of 16, that he learnt an early lesson about photography - from Henri Cartier-Bresson: "The first picture of his I ever saw was during a lecture at the Rhyl camera club. I was 16 and the speaker was Emrys Jones. He projected the picture upside down. Deliberately, to disregard the subject matter to reveal the composition. It's a lesson I've never forgotten."

It was Philip's consummate skill as a picture maker, carefully able to draw the viewer closer and closer to his subjects through his emotionally-charged compositions that lent such power to his work. Philip was always concerned with individuals - their personal and intimate suffering more than any particular class or ideological struggle. And the strength of his vision, that inspired so many of us, led Henri Cartier-Bresson to write of Philip: "not since Goya has anyone portrayed war like Philip Jones Griffiths."

Philip's iconic work on the Vietnam War, an unprecedented work, published in 1971 under the title 'Vietnam Inc.' is arguably the most articulate and compelling anti-war statement made by any photojournalist ever. Indeed it led Noam Chomsky to comment that: "If anybody in Washington had read that book, we wouldn't have had these wars in Iraq or Afghanistan".

Indeed, it was Philip's passion for peace that led to greatness in his later work. In 2005 he published "Viet Nam at Peace" a 25 year study exploring the long term consequences of the war. The first Westerner to travel by road from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City after the war, and later the Ho Chi Minh trail, he amassed an unparalleled photographic record of the post-war transformation of this country.

Thoroughly industrious and tenacious to the end, Philip had just completed a new book of his less known studies of British life in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, entitled 'Recollections', and in the last few weeks before his death, Philip became thoroughly engaged in compiling his life's work documenting Cambodia.

Philip enriched all our lives with his courage, his empathy, his passion, his wit and his wisdom; and for many he gave to photojournalism its moral soul. He died as he wanted so passionately that we should live - in peace. In his last days he was together with his loving family and friends at his side.

He leaves behind his loving family, Fanny Ferrato, Katherine Holden, Donna Ferrato and Heather Holden.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Quote: Fred Astaire

"I suppose I made it look easy, but gee whiz, did I work and worry."

Overweight Nude to Set Record

Overweight nude to set art world record

By CNN's Melissa Gray
LONDON, England (CNN) -- A picture of an overweight woman lying naked on a couch, painted by the British artist Lucian Freud, is expected to set a record for any work by a living artist when it goes up for auction Tuesday night.

Christie's auction house in New York expects the life-size 1995 portrait to sell for between $25 million and $35 million.

"Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" depicts Sue Tilley, a manager of a government-run job center in London, lying on her side on a worn-out couch with nothing to hide her folds of flesh.

Christie's calls it a "bold and imposing example of the stark power of Lucian Freud's realism," depicting "the forceful and undeniable physical presence of people and things."

Tilley, now 51, told CNN she was initially embarrassed to pose naked for the artist but they soon grew comfortable in the studio -- so comfortable, in fact, that she confessed to falling asleep while posing.

"I didn't mind if he noticed," she said.

The painting challenges modern notions of beauty and elicits a reaction from everyone who sees it. That may have been precisely the aim of Freud, who told London's Tate Gallery in 2002 that he wanted his paintings to "astonish, disturb, seduce, convince."

Though some regard the painting as shocking -- ugly, even -- that is also the appeal for collectors, said Michael Hall, editor of Apollo Magazine in London.

"There's a reaction against art that's regarded as too pretty," he said.

Hall said he is not surprised at the sales expectations and thinks a more conventionally beautiful painting would not be able to fetch such a large amount.

"It's the sort of thing that everyone immediately wants to voice an opinion about," he said of the painting. "It challenges conventional taste ... and people do find that rather exciting and interesting to talk about."

Collectors may also view this as a rare chance to buy something by a prolific artist painted at the peak of his work, he said.

Freud, 85, has been described as Britain's greatest living realist painter. He is the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and came to London from Germany when he was a child.

With Tilley, Freud said he was "very aware of all kinds of spectacular things to do with her size, like amazing craters and things one's never seen before," according to the 2002 interview with the Tate. He added, "I have perhaps a predilection towards people of unusual or strange proportions, which I don't want to over-indulge."

Freud painted the portrait of Tilley over nine months in 1995. Tilley said she posed for eight hours a day, two or three days a week.

She had been introduced to the artist through a mutual friend, Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, who also posed for Freud. It was Bowery's idea for Tilley to pose for Freud, so he arranged a meeting.

Tilley knew the meeting was more of an interview for the job of Freud's muse, and she didn't find out until later -- through Bowery -- that she'd gotten the job, she said.

"Lucian just said to Leigh, 'Oh, tell Sue she can start next week," Tilley said.

Tilley still works full time at the job center in London's West End and calls her new-found fame "a bit bizarre." She laughs as she describes how she now has to arrange her schedule to accommodate media interviews.

She said she's excited to find out how much the painting will sell for, but knowing it could set a record is "a bit scary."

"It's hard to put your head around it, really," she said. "But it's all good."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Quote: Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec

"...a thing is never beautiful only because it is new...novelty is rarely the essence. Only one thing is always involved: making something better from the essence."

Friday, May 9, 2008


Well it's a lucky day today, three of the Sex Worker photographs were added to the prestigious photograph collection of Dr. Robert Drapkin. It is a honor for me to be included alongside work of great photographers and pioneers of photography like William Henry Fox Talbot. Thank you for including my photographs in your collection Dr. Drapkin.

Monday, May 5, 2008


My mind keeps flashing forward to the images I want to make in Thailand. I will call the series "Ladyboy" using 2 cameras I will shoot both color and b/w film. I want to do a series of close tight portraits with the Mamiya twin/flash and vibrant color film/paper. Then do stark 4x5 full and 3/4 shots in b/w and flash.

All that techno talk is one thing but what do I want to photograph? Who and what they are, what makes them tick, the joy, the sadness the reality and unreality of their person. I do not want to just do the sad look as I have done so much of in the past, want to rise past that into a truer visual understanding of who these people really are. To capture the complexity of their uniqueness and individuality should be the goal, to get that all into the portrait is what I must strive for.

It should be about myself plus my interpretation of the person. I need to say something about me in the people I photograph, my inner feelings should also come forth. I should interpret who they are but with the biased eye of who I am.

I am not making an objective documentary of that person, I am making a subjective interpretation of who they are through the eye of who I am.

Quote: Diane Arbus

"They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they'll still be there looking at you."

A brief statment about photographs

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Contact Photo Festival

The biggest photo festival in the world and it's in Canada!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bananarama in Hand

Well my handheld 4x5 rangefinder camera is here!! Am really looking forward to using this new tool. Will be testing it over the next while with some local subjects before taking it to Thailand in July to do street portraiture. I will post some test photographs in the coming weeks.