Monday, July 28, 2008

John Baldessari - "Wrong" (1967)

This weekend, the Mrs. and I did one of our favorite Sunday activities - lunch at the Farmers Market followed by an afternoon at LACMA. We again stopped in at the Philip-Lorca DiCorcia exhibition, then onto the modernists and finally the contemporary building.

This week's eye-catcher for me was John Baldessari's "Wrong" (1967), in which a black and white photograph of Baldessari standing in front of a palm tree is captioned simply with the word "Wrong." This piece is part of a series of work by Baldessari in which he painted text on canvas, in an attack on the art "establishment" of the time. Here is a blog with pics of a few of the pieces in this series, including one of my favorites, "Everything is purged from this painting except for art..." (1967-1968).

For "Wrong," Baldessari had been referencing a chapter on composition in a book on photography technique. Clearly the composition of the photograph is a little off and perhaps not-so-compelling. But the irony of the word "wrong" slapped on there in black, like an edict or a final judgment, is just delightful. The wonderful thing that Baldessari and other artists of his time such as Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, and Ruscha did was to turn convention on it's ear and just ask the question "says who?" Just like Picasso, Rothko, Matisse, Magritte, Pollock and so many others did a few decades earlier. That's the wonderful thing about contemporary art and photography - there is no "wrong" execution of the idea - there is just the idea. Baldessari, considered to be one of the most important influences on contemporary, conceptual-based photography, was quoted as saying "You don't want anyone to say 'You can't do that!' But you do get a lot of that in New York. One of the healthiest things about California is - 'Why not?'

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Excerpt From "Visions From America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art 1940-2001"

This excerpt is taken from Visions From America: Photographs from the Whitney Museum of American Art 1940-2001

A Medium No More (Or Less): Photography and the Transformation of Contemporary Art -- by Andy Grundberg

During the final fifty years of the century just past, contemporary art changed in so many crucial respects that if a reviewer had been cryogenically frozen in 1950 only to be thawed out in the year 2000, he or she would find most of the art we now enjoy to be incomprehensible. But one fact would be readily apparent to even the most discombobulated critic: where once contemporary art was synonymous with painting and sculpture, it now consists of a broad spectrum of media--foremost among them photography and its sister lens-based forms, film and video...In 1950 this was not the case; indeed, photography was virtually invisible. How did this transformation from stagehand to star take place, and why?

The question is not uncomplicated. The story of how photographs came to be an integral presence in the art world does not have a single, linear narrative. Nor is it accurate to say that two independent histories, one of photography and the other of art (read: painting and scultpure), came together at last. Rather, there are three interlinked narratives to consider, each of which has its own complexities. We might refer to these narratives, albeit approximately and crudely, as the history of photographers making art, the history of artists making photographs, and the history of hybridity in contemporary art....

Photographers Making Art
For photographers in the late 1940's and throughout the 1950's, the dominant aesthetic presence to emulate or rebel against was Alfred Stieglitz. Although Stieglitz died in 1946, after a lifetime of promoting photography and later American painting as significant forms of art, his legacy endured for at least two more decades....

Artists Making Photographs
...In 1962, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol began to make paintings by silk-screening photographic images onto canvas. In Rauschenberg's case, the method was akin to collage; he melded a variety of images onto a single canvas. Warhol took a more radical approach, repeating the same image in rows and columns...

Within the space of two decades, from 1970 to 1990, photography had been normalized as a medium for contemporary art. It had served the aims of artists as an instrument of conceptual, anti-material practices, as a cultural manifestation with its own intriguing metaphysical and semantic qualitites, and finally as a party to the investigation and so-called deconstruction of lens-based representation. In the course of this progression, photographs became valued objects in a newly expanded marketplace for art. This market grew in part as a consequence of the establishment of new support structures for photography: galleries that presented photographs as saleable artworks, museum departments of photography that collected and exhibited photographs...and new publications that served as information sources for collectors, critics, and curators.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Basic Forms at the Getty

Two weekends ago the Mrs. and I took a visiting friend up to The Getty Center, which never fails to have great photography exhibitions. This time, it was Bernd and Hilla Becher's Basic Forms.

The two were prolific in the 60's, 70's and 80's, photographing industrial architecture in the US and Europe. Their style was well defined, always using the same 5x7 film, medium-contrast silver gelatin prints, and the subject always centered within the frame. However, rarely did one shot stand alone. Rather the two typically presented their work in groups, typologies of structures with similar functions (water towers, homes, blast furnaces, etc). These typologies were what defined them best.

This was really interesting to me, because I've been thinking a lot lately about how to express bigger ideas in photography. Typically the way I shoot is to get out and experience the world, and just bring my camera with me to capture whatever I find. But a lot of contemporary fine art photography on the other hand is heavily staged, with a lot of set-up, lighting, models and so forth. But what if, similar to approach taken by the Bechers, the solution to presenting a bigger idea is through a collection of "found objects," rather than trying to stage/compose the entire idea within one shot?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hasselblad H3DII-50

The other day I was talking with a photographer friend, who gave me a heads up about a new 50 Megapixel camera that just came out - the Hasselblad H3DII-50. The camera's sensor is double the size of any current 35mm digital sensor, and every picture you take is 300MB in file size. Absolutely nuts? Probably... Price tag? $39,995... BUT if you buy now, they will throw in any lens of your choice for only $2,500.

For commercial photographers this camera is probably a really good solution. For example, you might have noticed a couple posts ago I was talking about the Guitar Hero Aerosmith campaign I worked on at my day job. Part of the campaign was a print ad, which featured a Guitar Hero guitar tied up with Aerosmith style scarves around the neck. It ran in the June issue of Rolling Stone. When we were at the photoshoot, the photographer, Rick Chou used a Hasselblad. And my friend, Don Lupo, who told me about the H3DII-50, also used to shoot with a Hasselblad when he shot commercially.

But for me, since I'm lightyears away from having anything in Rolling Stone, I guess for now I'll stick to my trusty Nikon D80. But if I ever win the lottery and want to get a $40,000 camera, maybe the new H3DII-50 will make it onto my shopping list.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Re: Quantaray 2x Teleconverter - Nikon

OK, because I know you all are dying to hear the intimate details of my epic struggle to find a teleconverter for my Nikon D80, here goes. Sadly, I was never able to find the Quantaray teleconverter, despite a ton of hunting on ebay, the B & H Photo Supply website, Ritz Camera all over town, and all the Samy's Camera stores as well.

The good news is, there are a lot of other brands out there: Nikon, Tamron, Sigma, Kenko, and others less well-known. The bad news is that pretty much anything except the really off-brands is more than I was hoping to spend. I could get a brand called "PRO" or a brand called "LENS" (never heard of either one) from ebay for about the same price, but without much of a safety net in terms of guarantee / warranty / return policy. Plus, who knows if it actually really fits and works with my camera/lenses. So I'm a little hesitant to make the leap of e-commerce faith with a product like this. (A little ironic actually, because I sell matted prints and greeting cards on my website, and I'm basically asking my customers to make the same leap of faith I seem to be afraid to make myself)... Thankfully, folks have so far been wiling to take the risk.

So anyway, back to this compelling and highly entertaining story. After calling around and searching websites all day last Thursday, I finally decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I found a 2x converter from Tamron at a relatively decent price, at the Samy's Camera store over near Hollywood. At the counter I took it out of the box and fit it to my camera/lens, and took a couple of quick snaps to test it out. Everything worked, so I busted out the ol' plastic and took 'er home. So now, after a bunch of searching and two (simply amazing, I'm sure...) blog posts, I now effectively have a 400mm lens for ball games, while still being small enough to be allowed into most stadiums.

Now I just need to go to a Dodgers or Angels game to test it out before the Mrs. and I go to Wrigley Field in August.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2008 Los Angeles Juried Exhibition, cont'd

Well, it's almost that time where I need to get my piece "Libertad" submitted to the LA Municipal Art Gallery for the 2008 Juried Exhibition show.

I have until the 21st of July to make the handoff. So I've been looking at frames and mats to give it the right size/look. I've decided I'll go with a 24" x 18" print, and place it into a 30" x 24" frame. I lose just a little bit of the width going with that aspect ratio, but not so much that the image is sacrificed. It gives me a really nice big image size and is a more balanced aspect ratio vs. being too long & skinny. In that size frame, it will have 3.25 inches of mat all around, which should look nice.

So last weekend we went to Aaron Brothers in Marina Del Rey and grabbed two options for the frame - brown wood & black wood. While I was there, I ordered a custom mat to fit the frame (Nielsen Bainbridge acid-free 8-ply mat in Spanish White). The good news is I just got a call from them yesterday saying my mat came in, which gives me about a week to get it all mounted up.

In the meantime I've been doing a number of test prints to get the color & contrast just right - so it matches the on-screen image. It's getting closer. The lab where I get my prints done tends to run out a little darker than the onscreen image, so I've corrected it a couple times to lighten it up. I think one more notch brighter and it will be there.

Stay tuned for more info - once I make the handoff and everything is fully "official," I'll post more information about the showing and the opening reception on Aug 3.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Philip-Lorca diCorcia at LACMA

This past weekend, the Mrs. and I decided to hit the Farmer's Market for lunch. And while we're up there, why not stop by LACMA. I mentioned in a post a while back that LACMA has a new building with all contemporary art (it's like 3 stories of really great work). So we dropped in there to "check in" on some of our faves, then grabbed a beverage at the museum cafe and wandered down to the park area to catch some Latin Jazz (summer concert series).

Then the Mrs. showed me her latest find. In the Ahmanson building the entire 2nd floor is dedicated to modern artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, Rothko, Braque, Pissarro, Degas, Magritte and others. This is simply heaven for her (art history major) and is really great inspiration for me as well. Then just by chance, on the way out of the Ahmanson building I happened to see a photography exhibit out of the corner of my eye. Perfect - I love checking out contemporary photography - helps me see the type of stuff I could maybe someday ever dream of coming up with (yeah right...).

Anyway, I peek in and it turns out it's a whole gallery of Philip-Lorca diCorcia - one of the most influential photographers out there. There were works from his most famous collections: Lucky 13, Hustlers, Streetwork, and Heads. And a new collection of 1,000 Polaroids called Thousand was also displayed as well. Very very cool, totally made my day. Well worth checking out if you're in the area. Meantime, checkout LACMA's page about the exhibit. Also - I highly recommend the video listed in the right margin on the LACMA page, which is diCorcia's narrative to the Thousand collection (just a heads up, there's a little bit of adult content).

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Guitar Hero Aerosmith

OK, what kind of advertising schill would I be if I didn't find a way to drag my day job into my photography blog?

As you may know, I work for an advertising agency as an account mananger. Me and all the folks at the agency work together to create commercials and advertising campaigns for our client (Activision video games).

The most recent campaign we just launched is for the next installment in Activision's Guitar Hero series - "Guitar Hero Aerosmith." The game lets you play Guitar Hero just how you've come to know and love, but now almost all the songs are Aerosmith classics. Songs from other bands are included as well - Joan Jett, Run DMC, Lenny Kravitz, The Black Crowes - and other opening acts who have played with Aerosmith throughout the years. Activision also "mo-capped" (motion captured) the band members from Aerosmith and uses animated versions of them in the game. The animated Aerosmith characters also make an appearance in our commerical. Enjoy (and go pick up a copy when you have a chance)!

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