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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.”

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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.

This might look like a page from a J. Crew catalog, but in fact it’s a clever photographic experiment called “Sort” that appeals to the collector, the organizer as well as the photographer in me. Not to mention I love any excuse to group things visually by color (see Etsy, lynda, Crayola).

Paho Mann

Paho Mann

Paho Mann, a Texas-based photographer, took pictures of everything in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend Leigh, cataloging his own consumer tendencies. He then uploaded the images to a website and grouped them by object size, material, color, location, owner, use type, price, etc. Using dropdown filters, visitors can “rummage” through the “apartment,” peeking into closets and rooms, building a vague sense of who these people are by what they own.

Behind the Scenes

Taryn Simon‘s photo project, “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” answers questions most of us wouldn’t even know to ask.

Taryn Simon

Taryn Simon

Does Playboy publish a Braille version of its magazine? Yes. Did the CIA use Abstract Expressionism to advance pro-American thought abroad? Perhaps. What happens to all the forbidden fruit brought into the US on foreign flights? The answer lies in this photo of African yams, Andean potatoes and Bangladeshi cucurbit plants piling up like a Flemish still life gone bad.

Simon explains in a footnote: “All items in the photograph were seized from the baggage of passengers arriving in the U.S. at JFK Terminal 4 from abroad over a 48-hour period. All seized items are identified, dissected, and then either ground up or incinerated. JFK processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States.”

She documents the off-limits — cryogenics labs, quarantine rooms and nuclear waste facilities — with a quiet clinical, abstraction that throws the illicit nature of these scenes into sharp relief.

Tear Down This Wall

With elections around the corner, it seemed appropriate to bring up Swiss artist Simone Niquille whose photographic mashups scramble the images and discourse of politics.

Her altered photos offer degraded versions of historic moments, once filled with import but now just static memories where the words and gestures of politicians break up and disappear.

In this photo of Reagan giving his “Tear Down This Wall” speech in Berlin, Niquille took the first image result on a Google search for Reagan. She converted both the image and the words of the speech into two separate hexadecimal files, then combined the two hexadecimal files to create one new one, then converted the combined hexadecimal file back to an image. Whew. Sounds complex but the result is striking.

Check out her interpretations of speeches by Malcolm X, FDR, JFK, DeGaulle and more.

Bringing the War Home

In her unsettling photo collages Martha Rosler combines domestic images with snapshots of war. 60s housewives pull the blinds back on soldiers in trenches while teenagers with cell phones yammer as explosions go off behind them. The New York Times recently published a video slide show of her work.