Sunrise, Sunset

As I was leaving Enon after my winter 2009 visit to see my parents, I became compelled to drive by the cemetery where other relatives are buried and where Mama and Daddy bought plots. It was just after dawn. I walked out to the stone that is shared with cousins and photographed it and the neighboring stones where my grandparents and numerous uncles and aunts are placed.
It was bitter cold. The sun was just coming up giving the frost covered ground had a crystalline appearance in places.
I stared at the plots and thought to myself, one day they will be here. The idea was so abstract, so unbelievable… I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it. I just wasn’t real to me in any way.
In hindsight I knew things were getting rough, and were likely to get worse very soon. I was determined to hang on to my life out in California.
Had I not been so paralyzed by the situation, the decades of her reminding over and over how disappointed she was (and I read: in me), had her expectations not been so high, had I not become so absorbed in staying away, I might have seen that this was the point that I should have started to prepare myself to come back to help. I didn’t think I could stand it.
I can’t help but think how, if I had been able to see past all this, if the relationship hadn’t been so stagnant from the stress of mental illness, I would have wanted to be there for them.
It’s hard to remember the blunt force of her constant fury now. I never thought anything would dull that.
At the time I was convinced she would live forever, that perhaps I was trapped in some weird continuum with her.
I knew that Daddy would go first. He was already so exhausted. He refused help if asked, but that was his generation. Had I insisted he would have accepted help and been proud that I offered, and would have gone along with it.
I didn’t though.
An obvious foreshadowing, yet I kept my back turned.
I still feel that chill.
Posted in Art

Time for Art

Back again.
Where to start?
I feel like I am starting over. I feel like a different person.
Loss has a way of changing you permanently. I don’t feel like this is negative, just still so unfamiliar.
In the past I was inclined to post frequently about political issues, but I am so burned out on all that right now. Everything feels pointless, especially political grandstanding (and it is ALL theatre),  and pop culture.
They have become intolerable to bear.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been through an incredibly traumatic few years, and I really want to concentrate on creative ideas and expressions, rather than get angry over shit I can’t change or do anything about.
I guess I’m in a nesting mode.
Spending time with my partner, friends and family, cooking, eating, slowing down and appreciating how lucky I am to have wonderful supportive people in my life.
On the artwork side—
I have thousands of photographs to sort through, process and edit, tons of writing to do and books to read. and very soon a class to teach.
I’m working on several photographic series too, which I will post working versions of images occasionally.
I’ll start with this portrait of my Mother:
Mama, in her room, November 2010.
This was made three weeks before she died.
It breaks my heart every time I see it.
It was a spontaneous shot.
She normally wouldn’t let me photograph her unless she made herself up, but I think she knew at that point time was short and when I asked this time she said okay.
I knew I couldn’t hesitate. The cancer made her mood unpredictable. One minaret she could be fine and the next in a fury or in incredible pain.
I had borrowed a good digital camera so I grabbed that. Unfortunately the battery died while trying to make there first shot. I was so frustrated.
Their wasn’t enough light to shoot film, so all I had was a cheap point and shoot camera. I paused, almost defeated, but took a deep breath and pressed forward with what I had.
Technically, this shot is compromised. It suffers from a low light source environment, too much image compression— typical with jpg format and the limits of a point and shoot level chip. (11 MPX with a panasonic lumix)
Viewed purely as an image, on an emotional level, I think it does capture something and I am thankful that I have anything from this very delicate and difficult time.
She could be a holy terror, but I miss her so very, very, much…

José Parla

 José Parla 

Visit the artists website.

From the Artist’s Statement:

“My work is inspired by the anonymous art found in the streets. The art is often in the form of calligraphy or the actions of torn and stripped posters. The inscriptions in my work are used as a form of drawing, and to maintain a record of my observations. In my travels I have encountered a similar dialogue that takes place in most cities. I find compositions on surfaces of deteriorated walls, and remnants of construction markings. 
I am using my imagination to capture the psychology of a segmented reality. These realities, which are deposited into our subconscious everyday, are the basis for a dialogue that goes mostly unnoticed. Once these “segmented realities” or images are transferred and converted into paintings they become a “memory document,” a sort of time capsule for my experience in history.” 
Chelsea Museum Curator Manon slome writes of Parla’s work:

“The haunting beauty of Parlá’s dense calligraphic line often dissolves into
organic and abstract shapes that resemble drawing rather than writing. In their
multi layered complexity José’s paintings draw the viewer into their
indecipherable depths, but once there, once we have given up the attempt to read
for “content,” we are subsumed in the play of line and color – blues, cool whites,
rusts, reds and umber – drawn further and further into a mesmerizing depth
where stories both happy and sad play out, summoning emotions about life, love,
friends, politics, and sex.”

Greg Tate writes:
“There’s a saying that goes ‘if walls could talk’. Parlá’s art arranges means
for the walls to speak in several tongues simultaneously via his ‘diaristic’ mode
of ‘handstyle’ glyphs that embrace the calligraphic futurism of graf, and through
well-worked loquacious patinas that elegiacally address the glorious entropy
of urban collapse, anarchy and civil regeneration. The artist’s own conceptual
take on his art is embedded in descriptions of it as ‘psycho-geography’, ‘a
segmented reality’ and as revelations of the ‘memory in the walls’’.

Posted in Art

Adrian Chesser and Timothy White Eagle

Beaster Bunny and Bear

I ran across this image and followed it to the artists site Mercury Vapor Studios. Very interesting photography. Check out their Portfolio.
From the artists site:

“We are a team of two artists who work together under the name Mercury Vapor Studio. Adrain Chesser was given his first camera more than 20 years ago and has been taking pictures ever since. He is a photographer who over the years has developed a working style which often involves using aspects of ritual to capture his photographs. Timothy White Eagle spent his twenties involved in theater, visual and performance art. He spent his thirties diving deeply into ceremonial ritual, working extensively with native American, pagan and Haitian traditions.”

“Together we explore the intersection between art and ritual. We use ritual to create an environment of opening and safety. Together with our subjects we go into an undiscovered country. We ask our subjects to expose their truth. Through our lens we seek that same truth. We do our best not to expect anything in particular from a shoot. We play the sacred fool stepping off the cliff, trusting that we have everything we need.”

Willy of the Trees
Ligger Lounging

Aids Boy Takes One for the Team
The Deification of Bear

In Shadow

It’s So Pretty It Looks Artificial
Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Equivalents)

Gregory Crewdson
The work of Gregory Crewdson also comes to my mind strongly when I think of landscape photography- albeit a sort of emotional landscape.  His constructed tableaus look more like film stills, yet are open to a broad range of allegorical possibilities.
When I see his images I view them as extensions of our emotional conflict as a civilization at this moment in time. Exteriors and Interiors are fused together in a kind of dream state.
Each image seems poised at the moment of revelation or pivotal decision, often imbued with a kind of catastrophic atmosphere. 
Strangely this feels “natural” give the chaotic speeds at which our live are propelled forward. When viewing his images it is like stepping into one of those dreams where you are lost and can’t remember how you got to such a place, such an impossible situation. I feel like this in my waking life too and it is disconcerting.  
Crewdson’s tableaus are anchored on the individuals who inhabit them. These people often appear exhausted and drained. A new kind of everyperson for the visually over stimulated.

His images are haunting not for their odd collisions of nature and human surrender, but because they are so familiar to our emotion experience of the stresses we encounter everyday through their own visual narrative.

In the past the stresses of civilization drove the poetic among us back to nature to balance mind and body.
For most of us the concept of “escaping to nature” is now a pretty fiction. It was possible at one time and numerous writers have given us eloquent accounts of their experiences, such as Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, among others. But for most of us, we are tied to our debts and jobs and numerous responsibilities. Civilization has eclipsed nature in many ways, or at least our access to it. 
Even national parks require fees and have camping restrictions, almost everything else is private property. Where are we left to go?

We “escape” to virtual places. Landscapes each with myriad individual emotional flora and faunas to navigate. 

Landscape as inhabitations experienced by people of various socio-economic status, race, and class…

Landscape as spiritual or allegorical visages and the detritus in our wake…

“Landscape” itself has become a mirror of the many psychic alignments of civilization.

Emotional intersections that have indistinct borders as much on actual land as they do in our experience of our environment, whether it be and exterior or interior space.

“The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences.” —Aurthor Rimbaud

Minor White spoke of his theory of equivalence:

“Equivalence is a pregnant discipline. Hence the photography that grows out of its practice is bound to develop and change with the photographers and writers on photographic criticism who become mature enough to understand the nature of the theory or approach. The Equivalent is one of those ideas that in practice grows by the efforts and accomplishments of the people who explore it.”

Robert Polidori

“…photographs originate in a known feeling state. They are not self-expressive, or self-searching; they are self-found. Communication is of no importance, evocation of little significance, competition nonexistent. They are shown as an event out of which Equivalence might occur. The possibility of the reader’s being confronted with something of himself is their only reason for being reproduced. They will function as mirrors of the viewer, whether he admits it or not. It will not be pointed out which of the images knows happiness, the one that knows anger, or the one that knows sadness because viewers of photographs need the opportunity to learn faith in their own feelings.”

Sally Mann from What Remains
“Mann asks us in What Remains to contemplate the beauty and efficiency with which nature assimilates the body once life is over. Here she seamlessly connects the landscape of the earth to the topography of the body and examines how both are tightly interwoven.”

Philip Brookman

Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 10: Steven B. Smith)

In my research for this piece, I accidentally ran across the work of Steven B. Smith
Smith photographs landscapes in the midst of development. 
Sculpted Fence #8, Bloomington, Utah, 2007
I thought it was interested that he focused on developments where the design of the structures and surrounding spaces attempted to integrate with the local environment.
As with the slow food movement, the rise of eco-concerns in recent years has shifted the ways many people view their own position and participation in the radical transition of so much natural land into spaces for use. Softening the contrast of natural verses man-made  seems to be one way of convincing ourselves that all this new devolopment isn’t entirely destructive, regardless of the evidence that it is.
Too few are really interested in the long term solution- which is restraint in continued development, but details like this are evidence of the emergence of the consciousness of our increasingly overwhelming footprint on the land.
Smith zeros in on the biggest issue (in the west) over development— water. Without access to water development is not possible, yet for decades municipalities have appeased developers and have managed to steer water toward new development at great cost to local waterways, wet lands, and eco-systems which will have long term consequences.
From his Close To Nature series:

Saratoga Springs, Utah, 2009

 North Salt Lake, Utah, 2006

Bio info from his website:

Steven B. Smith is a photographer whose work chronicles the transition of the Western landscape into suburbia. For this work he was awarded the First Book Prize for Photography by the Honickman Foundation and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. His book The Weather and a Place to Live: Photographs of the Suburban West was published by Duke University Press (2005). He has received Guggenheim and Aaron Siskind Fellowship.

Sculpted Fence #7, Ivins, Utah, 2008
“The idea I had of using conservation methods as my language helped me step up to the plate and work with a subject matter that had been explored a lot, and well. While I felt a little nervous about photographing in a similar vein, I also felt there was something more that needed to be said. The landscape continues to evolve. The technology for restraining the land, as well as bringing in water, has changed dramatically in the past ten years—in fact, it changes every couple of years.”

Herriman, Utah, 2007, #3
“I started trying to use the landscape as a still-life. I remember reading about how Walker Evans would go on scouting trips during the summer and winter, because he didn’t like the light those times of year—he was very particular about the kind of light that he wanted.”
North Las Vegas, Nevada, 2003.
“I don’t want these issues to overwhelm the form and content of the physical photograph. The politics is in there, but I’m trying to take a tone that isn’t accusatory. There aren’t any easy answers. Sometimes it’s scary, and beautiful, because the land is all torn up and being completely reconfigured. But once the landscaping grows in, it looks like a pretty decent, well-managed, well-thought-out place. And then there are examples that are not nearly so nice. I’m trying to show the complexity of what is out there, what these water and soil control systems do to the land. One of my main issues, that I’ve tried to point out directly, is how water is used and channeled, and how water in these areas is imported.”
Las Vegas, Nevada, 1997
La Mirada, California, 2003

“When I encountered developers or other construction people, they tended to be pretty conservative, and they’d let me know my views weren’t really appreciated. [Laughs.] But I tried to avoid asking them what they thought—politically, I’m not in favor of this massive expansion and development.”

Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 9: Sze Tsung Leong)

From Guernicamagazine:
“[Leong’s] History Images frames the tragic beauty resulting from global modernism’s disdain for history and evinces all that recurs in Leong’s other works, including a series of oil paintings: the loss of historical space, the nuances and specificities of cities around the world, and the hierarchies represented by urban architecture.”

The Artist on his work from a lecture series at ICP.

“The photographs in History Images are of histories, in the form of cities in China, either being destroyed or created at this juncture in time. They are of past histories, in the form of traditional buildings and neighborhoods, urban fabrics, and natural landscapes, in the process of being erased…


…They are of the absence of histories, in the form of construction sites, built upon an erasure of the past so complete that one would never know a past had ever existed. And they are of the anticipation of future histories, yet to unfold, in the form of newly built cities…



Cities are the largest, most enduring, and most encompassing documents of history, uniquely recording the variations and residues of time.


Substantial urban change is generally expected to span over prolonged periods: decades, generations, centuries. The evidence of these changes is usually gradual and cumulative; residues of history are slowly left in built form, giving physical shape to the accretions of time.


There are moments in history, however, that accelerate the rate of urban change: warfare, changes of regime, transformations of social structure, economic prosperity. These moments force societies to evaluate their relationship to their own history and their attitude to their future, in turn affecting their relationship to their environments.



China presently finds itself in one of these moments, as its recent transformations in politics, society, and economics have triggered changes to its cities to a degree not previously seen in its contemporary history. . .” — Sze Tsung Leong

Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 8: Richard Misrach)

Richard Misrach’s photographs have always emphasized the enormity of nature to me, an in contrast how trivial our presence here is.
He is best known for his continuing series Desert Cantos studying human intervention in landscapes.

“I’ve come to believe that beauty can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas.”—Richard Misrach

Misrach is represented by Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.
Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 7 David Maisel)

From his site:
“David Maisel’s large-scaled, otherworldly photographs chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention, piecing together the fractured logic that informs them both.Maisel’s aerial images of environmentally impacted sites explore the aesthetics and politics of open pit mines, clear-cut forests, and zones of water reclamation, framing the issues of contemporary landscape with equal measures of documentation and metaphor. As Leah Ollman states in the Los Angeles Times, “Maisel’s work over the past two decades has argued for an expanded definition of beauty, one that bypasses glamour to encompass the damaged, the transmuted, the decomposed.”

His images appear related to the earlier work of Emmet Gowin, though more richly complex in color.
Maisel sees this body of work as a collection of “Black Maps”. As grim testaments to what we’ve done, they are uncomfortably beautiful. Strip mining, clear cutting, leaching fields, firestorms, and other devastations look like patchworks of unbelievable color separated by the brushlines of tiny vehicle tracks.
These images also remind me of the canvas meditations of Mark Rothko.
Maisel is inspired by the apocalyptic writings on the Great Salt Lake of Robert Smithson.
“Smithson wrote that “the sense of the earth as a map undergoing disruption leads the artist to the realization that nothing is certain or formal.” Maps, like photographs, are designed to offer an objective overview, a means to comprehend our location; they are both place and concept, figurative and abstract. But a map that is black, as the title of this work suggests, is a kind of negation. Black maps are indeed unknowable and unnamable; they are ciphers. Perhaps these are the only kinds of pictures, with their compelling ambiguities, with which we can mark the demise of these landscapes.”
Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 6: Laura McPhee)

In her collaboration with Virginia Beahan No Ordinary Land, Mcphee explores the ways people interact with the landscapes in which they live.
In River of no Return She focuses on Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley. From Yale Press:
“McPhee depicts the magnificence and history of the Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho. Her subject matter includes the region’s spectacular mountain ranges, rivers, and ranchlands; its immense spaces and natural resources; the effects of mining and devastating wildfires; and the human stories of those who live and work there.”
Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 5: Toshio Shibata)

Toshio Shibata
From Laurence Miller Gallery:
“The photographs of Toshio Shibata convey a powerful drama generated by the conflict of natural forces against man-made structures. Water spills, crashes, glides, and pours over walls, sluices, concrete blocks and channels, in an endless gravity- propelled dance. Huge structures wind around highways and grasp the hillsides on which they are built.”
“Under Shibata’s eye, the man-altered landscape becomes a mysterious abstract composition in which the shapes and patterns intrinsic to both the natural and artificial forms becomes visible.”
“Shibata began his career in Japan, and the photographs he made there explore the inherent visual contradictions of a land relinquishing its natural resources to structures meant to contain and preserve them.”
“His sublime portraits of public works projects in both countries show that human intervention on a pristine landscape need not be jarring but can, in fact, be in exquisite harmony with nature.”
Posted in Art

Anthroposcenes (Part 1)

Its funny what we “see” and what we don’t when we are looking at art or anything in front of us. I started thinking about landscapes when I was growing up in Hopewell VA. I watched as the town essentially disintegrated into urban blight and suburban sprawl, consuming the land as it went, leaving ugly swathes of debris, vast empty parking lots, and more than a few shuttered shopping malls in it’s wake. The center of town was flattened. Only a few buildings remain of the original “downtown.” I was simultaneously repulsed and attracted to these ruins. Repulsed by the thoughtlessness of it, and attracted to them for the purpose of deciphering what really happened.

Only later when I encountered works by Laura McPhee, Stephen Shore, Sally Mann, Richard Misrach and David Maisel did something click. A bigger picture began to emerge.

What do you see?

David Maisel

David Maisel

Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach

Sally Mann

Sally Mann

Laura McPhee

Laura McPhee

My first impressions were simply renderings of the epic defiling of nature by civilization, but it has since broadened to be something much more. More subtle, and strange.

So many artists doing incredible work…(future posts will focus on some of these)

I know there is much discussion of this topic, classes devoted to it, and plenty of media attention, but I have yet to see a major museum mount a curated exhibit of the most intriguing work in this area. If you are aware of one, please let me know the details.

In the mean time I’ve decided to curate something myself.

I am exploring different bodies of work for a dry run on this blog, and if that is successful, then perhaps a more formal presentation and text in the upcoming issue (5) of my art journal Fluxion.

David Maisel

David Maisel

In Geological history we are in the middle of the Holocene Epoch, a division of the Quaternary period.

Recently, the term “Anthropocene” was debated by some scientists to describe the most recent period in the Earth’s history—and the notion that civilization is now reshaping the earth more than nature itself.

In my view many of these photographers are giving us glimpses of this new reality.

wikipedia explains:

It has no precise start date, but may be considered to start in the late 18th century when the activities of humans first began to have a significant global impact on the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. This date coincides with the 1775 commercialization of the Watt steam engine.Other commentators link it to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture.
The term was coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological era. Use of this concept as an official geological concept gained support in early 2008, with publication of two new papers supporting this idea.
Andreas Gursky

Andreas Gursky

Toshio Shibata

Toshio Shibata

David Maisel

David Maisel 

Peter Bialobrzeski

Peter Bialobrzeski

Joshua Lutz

Joshua Lutz

Posted in Art

The Photography of Adi Nes

Adi Nes is an Israeli photographer. His images are complex stagings that deal with issues of identity: masculinity, homoeroticism and other issues connected with Israeli identity.
He is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery.

A collection of his images called Adi Nes was self published in 2007.

Another collection called Adi Nes: Photographs was published by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2003.

More on the artist at wikipedia.


Posted in Art

Saturday Art break at LACMA

I went to LACMA today see see a few amazing exhibits before they closed.

Sum of Myself: Photographic Self Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.

 A very sexy self portrait by a young Alfred Stieglitz
Bruce Nauman (Top) and Cathy Opie
Classic Mapplethorpe

The exhibit also included an incredible installation by including Natalie Bookchin

Testament, by Natalie Bookchin
From her site on the project:

“Testament is a series of collective self-portraits made up of fragments from online video diaries, or “vlogs”. Chapters focus on a collectively told vignette, story, proclamation, or meditation on topics such as identity, the economy, illness, politics, the war, or work. Testament explores the formal and conceptual consequences of online video viewing and sharing, while analyzing contemporary expressions of self, and the stories we are currently telling online about our lives and our circumstances.”

interestingly while surfing random topics and blogs I also ran across a quirky vlog that lead me to a random string of “coming out” vlogs on YouTube. I rarely watch stuff on you tube but I ended up watching several of these. I was really moved. Amazing stuff!

One of the other exhibits that I spent time in today was an exhibit of still life’s by Luis Meléndez. The traveling exhibit was organized by the National Gallery in Washington D.C.
It was really a treat to pour over these canvases. Every detail was stunning.
Also the objects he used in the paintings were interesting to scrutinize… like the ceramic water jug and the copper containers, and wooden boxes.
The surface of the paintings were as lush as the composions.
One the things I enjoyed most were the flaws he added to the objects and foods. little imperfections that gave them a startling realism.
The New York Times reviewed the exhibit and observed:
“What is captivating is the near-photographic verisimilitude. The leathery grain of a cantaloupe hide, the gleam of copper pots; the spongy insides of a broken bread loaf, the dull grain of old wood, the transparency of glass: everything is seen with a near-microscopic attention to detail and rendered with an almost imperceptible painterly touch. Light and color are often realized with astounding vividness. Piled oranges and gnarly yellow pears glow as though lighted from within. A picture bathed in cool morning light, with eggs in a basket, a tin funnel and a brass pot, boasts front and center what might be the most beautiful head of cauliflower in the history of art.”
“The series was to represent the four seasons, as the artist described it, “with the aim of composing an amusing cabinet with every species of food produced by the Spanish climate.”
A self-portrait by Luis Melendez

The exhibit New Topographics is of particular interest to me. This exhibit was originally an exhibition curated by William Jenkins at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, in January 1975. This was first exhibit to reassess landscape photography and to reexamine the concept and definition of “Landscape.”

In recent years this has become a much more popular area for artists to explore. LACMA’s restaging has it’s own update, but mostly in the form of books on view and one installation by Edward Burtynksy.

More than two-thirds of the photographs by the original ten participants—Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel, Jr. are displayed.

I grew up in a rust belt town, Hopewell Virginia. I was always fascinated by pipe cities and the smoke stacks that billowed out white smoke all day and created an eerie reddish glow at night. The original town was leveled in the early 70s and what was left was an awkward mish-mash of parking lots, ill positioned fast food restaurants and car dealerships.
the tight knit immigrant lead community collapsed over the decade and poor municipal management left the city a virtual ghost town ringed with malls and franchise ghettos.

It wasn’t until I moved to the west and was overwhelmed by the majestic natural landscape that I realized what a violation towns like grew up in had become. I started looking more critically at the space around me… and my definition of landscape broadened considerably. I was excited when I saw an exhibit from the 70s, when I questioned my own ideas about what was and what wasn’t landscape, that others were asking and exploring these same questions too. It was an important validation.

In college I started photographic local industrial ruins, intersections of urban development and nature, and more closely the surfaces of some of these spaces.
I’ve become interested again in landscape photography in recent years… and particularly fascinated by new work being done and a wide array of artists who are able to travel with their discerning eye to capture an emerging picture of the radically transforming landscape around us.

This exhibit was a great introduction to the first ways artists began to rethink landscape in the face of the spread of human habitation and development.

More on this subject soon.

Posted in Art