Extra, Extra

Miranda July teamed up with photographer Roe Etheridge to direct this cinematic photo essay in Vice.

In her charmingly awkward style, July introduces the piece with a note apparently penned by an angst-ridden teen: “Dear Julie, It seems like I am forever stuck in the background, watching other people say and do all the things I feel inside. One day I’m gonna surprise everyone with my talents. They will be laughing and crying and texting me so often that I will be annoyed.”

July and Ethridge proceed to take the overlooked extras from several Hollywood films — in this particular photo Vertigo — isolate them and blow them up full size. Suddenly the lady in Podesta Baldocchi’s floral shop with her camel coat and blue cloche hat — once just a split-second flicker on the screen, a distraction from the real star, James Stewart — seems intensely fascinating.

Free Falling

Ran across work by Japanese photographer Masao Yamamoto at Robert Tat Gallery here in SF. It was a trio of tiny prints no more than 2″ x 3″ grouped in a constellation inside a shadow box. The images were random and unrelated — a bird, an outstretched hand, a delicate nude — with the old and tattered look of vintage photos.  Yamamoto distresses his prints, often tearing, rumpling and staining them or carrying them around in a pocket. They have the sheen of well-worn objects.

The image above is from his latest series called “Nakazora,” which is a Buddhist term meaning “a state when the feet do not touch the ground, and the space between sky and earth.” The definition fits perfectly. He captures little bits of the universe that float disconnected and pure. More images here and a write-up from the NY Times.

News Flash

jocko_weylandSo I missed this, but artist/writer Jocko Weyland had a show earlier this Spring at Kerry Schuss in NYC called “Almost News.” Wayland works for the AP NewsPhoto Library, which gives him access to a torrent of images going back 100 years.  Many of them, detached from their original news story, beg for explanation.

The catalog copy for the show riffs on the AP archives filing system and the curiously poetic categories used to tame the often banal subject matter:

“Rolling open with a satisfying whoosh, the solid overstuffed drawers would reveal upright cardboard files whose condition ranged from crispy brand new to disintegrating scraps. “Schauffler, Jr;, William G. Col. Airforce D E A D 10/22/51,” for instance, on the Personality side, or on the Subject side: “Toys: Historical,” “Models: Ships and Submarines,” or “Portugal: Industry: Misc.” There were “Hands,” “Magicians and Mind Readers,” “Brushes,” and “Monocycles.” Everything was broken down into a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million different categories, subgroups, subsets, and variations. There were wild unfulfilled notions that had been photographed in the planning, the making, the testing, or the aftermath, curious pursuits, causes, philosophies, social issues, ideas, and adventures never dreamed of.”

The show was laid out with photos streaming in bands along the gallery wall — like racing stripes or lines on a highway.

There was a catalog published with the show, though I’m not sure if it’s still available.

I like the image “Stencil Lips” — for those moments when your hands just aren’t steady.

Room with a ViewThis photo was taken in the old Packard Plant in Detroit.  The factory once sprawled over 35 acres and today it’s a crumbling shell where lichen and trees have taken hold.  Endless corridors that once flowed with rivers of shiny new parts and pieces are now filled with broken glass, peeling plaster, and crumbling cement and wood.

We snuck in with Julia Solis, a German-born Brooklyner and urban explorer who spends a good deal of time haunting the ruins of Detroit and taking pictures, many of which she’s published on her site in a series called Detroit Wonderland.

We wandered for a couple of hours and ended up in this room  — a room with a view where the factory wall had fallen completely away, leaving a gaping, spectacular hole several stories up.  I plunked down in the old car seat, which could have just as easily been a seat in a movie theater, and took it all in. For me it was the perfect ending, a reminder of the way moving cars and moving pictures induce the same desire to project ourselves into space, to be anywhere but here.

Check out Julia’s other photo diaries of secret journeys through the New York subway, East German hospitals, the Paris catacombs and my particular favorite: abandoned theaters.

FordJust back from the Motor City where I spent most of my time marveling at and taking pictures of the ruins — the Michigan Theater and the Packard Plant stand out — not to mention all the boarded up store fronts, foreclosed homes and tiny, lone houses surrounded on all sides by urban prairie.

Detroit has been awash in the media spotlight lately, mostly gloom and doom about the failing car industry, unemployment and worthless real estate. And yes, that’s all there. But one afternoon while we were visiting, we stood talking to our friend Blake, an urban farmer/artist/carpenter, in the backyard of his house in the Near East Side.  He had us peek over the fence into his neighbor’s lot next door, a huge expanse full of green crops and cherry trees.  In winter, they flood the same space with water and it becomes a hockey rink.  Bucolic is the word that kept floating through my head. And even though Blake says there’s gunfire at night, I keep thinking about that green field.

I’ve been following photographers who shoot Detroit. James D. Griffoien otherwise known as “Dutch,” runs a blog called Sweet Juniper (named after his daughter) that chronicles his life in the Motor City.  He moved to Detroit from SF with his wife Wood a few years back, two kids in tow, to live in a Mies van der Rohe townhouse.  They’re both lawyers and he has subsequently turned writer/photographer/stay-at-home dad.

His blog features “tidy little stories” of seemingly disparate things like fatherhood, abandoned buildings, found photos and DIY craftiness all delivered in an endearingly surly tone.  And of course some amazing photos. Check out the series on his family’s weekly haul of produce from Saturday’s Eastern Market tagged “detroitisnotafooddesert” — a humorous, colorful, luscious-as-a-Dutch-still-life portrait of food politics and family. Or his photo of every house on one street in Detroit that he stitches together in one long and lonely panoramic shot: Ghost Street.

If you’re planning on going to the Motor City, check out Sweet Juniper’s travel guide to Detroit on Design*Sponge.

Lines in the Sand

sean_mcfarlandSF photographer Sean McFarland‘s Polaroid landscapes are streaked with movement, traced with the remnants of a human or a natural footprint — whether it’s a twister touching down, a small biplane scuttling above the earth or a sentimental starburst of light in an ocean sunset. His night scenes have the otherworldy dislocation of a day-for-night shot. McFarland just won the 2009 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers.


Mark Steinmetz

Doug Rickard (or dR as he calls himself) has gathered a striking collection of essays and photos on his website American Suburb — everyone from Eggleston and the Bechers to Todd Hido, Mike Brodie, Larry Sultan, David Maisel and lesser-known artists. The theme that runs through it all  is the loneliness and alienation of that idealized and much-maligned place, the American suburb.  “There can be beauty there and yes there is a feeling of safety there but often under the surface things are boiling and rumbling, at the foundation things are ready to fall apart.”  In the photographers he choses to highlight, look for an uneasy mix of the sublime and the sinister.

The Last Days of W.

Last Days of W.

Stephen Wirtz Gallery is showing Alec Soth‘s photo series, “The Last Days of W.”  I wrote the exhibit up for Flavorpill:

As W. heads back to Crawford for good, he leaves behind memories both pathetic and dire — flying size 10s, bungled phrases, and premature Mission Accomplished banners underscore the outrages of Abu Ghraib and Katrina. Now, with pitch-perfect irony, photographer Alec Soth documents #43’s legacy, capturing the shell-shocked American landscape he leaves behind. Lonely images of Osama Bin Laden piñatas, pawn shops, homeless camps called Purgatory, gull-infested landfills, and dying rustbelt towns evoke a twilight zone where, as Soth says, there’s no telling if it’s “dusk or dawn.”

Twilight Zone

Missy Prince

Pearls often wash up on the dashboard of my blog; among all the traffic data, I often look to see where people are coming from.  A photographer in Portland, Missy Prince, linked to my blog from her photo diary.  With the lush title Now It’s Dark, Prince’s journal features a steady stream of muted, dusky images that have the golden tint of old snapshots.  Right now a lot of wintry scenes — snow on cedars and awnings, empty swingsets and dormant summer lawn chairs.

What If?

Josh AzzarellaWith 2008 drawing to a close and eight years of the Bush administration finally coming to an end, a lot of people ponder the “what if’s?”  What if Gore had become president in 2000?  If only we could go back and rewrite the Bush years.  What a tantalizing and hand-wringing thought.

If only we could do like Josh Azzarella and trump history with the erase tool in Photoshop.  Azzarella manipulates both photos and video, deftly removing the prisoners from Abu Ghraib, the airliners flying low into the Twin Towers or the tanks from Tianmen Square.

Oh, and if you want another reason to beg “What If?”, read Vanity Fair‘s just-published “Oral History of the Bush White House.” Read it and weep.