Al Zoe Leonard: Al río

The day after we went to Paris Photo we went to the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris and got tickets to the Zoe Leonard exhibit, Al río / To the River, recommended by classmates who had seen it the day before. It’s an immense show that goes on and on for rooms and rooms, vast expanses of white space, perhaps conveyed by the images above. We arrived late morning and were, initially, the only ones there, other than the guards. I was almost more impressed at the opportunity to wander through the vast, empty white space of the museum (reminiscent of my trips to NY’s Metropolitan as a kid, when it was often so empty you could go bowling without disturbing anyone) than I was by the photographs.

The images look at the US/Mexico border area, as loosely defined by the Rio Grande/Bravo. On each wall is a series of pictures, looking at a particular scene, over the course of time (seconds, or minutes, I would guess). Some of these are very affecting; cumulatively, they certainly are. But I was unable to guess at the reason for some of them. One entire room was dedicated to pictures of the swirling water taken, perhaps, over the side of a bridge. While they are far from identical, they are all the same. Another follows a man on horse from a distance, behind, as he travels a short way. The final room is a series of color pictures of a laptop showing security footage of people crossing a barbed-wire-surrounded bridge. No indication of whether this is a public website, or if she’d been granted access to a security control room. Beyond the brochure materials about the exhibit (shown at the link above) there are no placards, captions or other text to explain what you’re looking at or why – which is, in itself, a kind of statement, I suppose. I confess, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Of course, the same might be said of my series of images of the exhibit.

As always, click any image to see them all full-size.

Blog Note

It’s been a busy week for travel. Friday we took the train to Waterloo, then the tube to St Pancras, the EuroStar to Paris, and 2 Metros and a short walk to the hotel for Paris Photo. Walked about 8 miles around Paris before the Expo opened Saturday afternoon then wandered through the glorious (exhaustive and exhausting) expanse of it, along the way picking up a copy of Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures (the 2020 Aperture edition not the one at the link) and meeting her when she signed the book. Sunday walked another 8 miles around Paris including a stop at the Musée d’Art Moderne and the Zoe Leonard exhibit. Then took the 2 Metros back to Gare du Nord to get the EuroStar back to St Pancras, the tube to Paddington and the train to Bristol, then a short cab ride to the hotel for Monday’s collage workshop with Justine Kurland at the Martin Parr Foundation. The Workshop was an all day session with about 12 students. Justine was fantastic – very engaging, discursive, open, collaborative, erudite and discussions with her have really forced me to re-evaluate what I’m doing in photography and how I can better strive to achieve the level of artistic mastery that she displays in her work. In particular I think it is pushing me to start using film in medium or large format again and get serious about more deliberate photographic subjects. Martin Parr wandered in now and again and was truly charming, one of the few male photographers to reach out positively to Justine about her SCUMB Manifesto (which I had previously bought as a gift for my collaging daughter). In the evening she gave a talk to a packed house which walked through several of her projects and was again, insightful, engaging and inspiring.

The next morning the cab to the train station never arrived, the rain was dashing down as we trundled our suitcase to the bus stop, getting drenched, then sat in Bristol traffic and passed the train station where construction has closed the bus stop and walked back through the rain and puddles to Bristol’s Temple Meads train station, hustled to the ticket window to upgrade our tickets for an earlier train we needed to catch to Paddington. Then the tube to Waterloo and the train back to Farnham where, panting, I just made it to my lecture on Queer Theory. Alas, rain had seeped into one of our bags and badly damaged the cover of Girl Pictures although, at least, none of the pages or images seems to have been harmed.

All this by way of excuse for not posting. More pictures to process and post soon.

Blog Note: End of an Era

The last post will be my last shot from New York for a while. At the end of August I “retired” from life in the corporate world and in the middle of September I moved to England where I’m pursuing an MFA in Photography.

Needless to say, this will have an impact on the pictures I’m taking and presenting but I’m not sure yet what it will be. Starting tomorrow I’ll be posting some of the touristy snapshots I took in my first couple of weeks here as I got to know Farnham a bit. Where I’ll go from there, I don’t yet know. Stay tuned.

Fotografiska, New York

Some years ago, on a vacation in Stockholm, I persuaded my family to accompany me to Fotografiska a vast and excellent photography museum there. For something like a year leading up to its opening, I received regular teaser emails presaging the advent of their New York branch. When it finally arrived last year I was disappointed to learn how high ticket prices were and, in the midst of the pandemic mostly forgot about it. But my wife gave me a couple of tickets and a pandemic appointment for an hour last weekend and down we went. (Click any image above to see them all enlarged.)

I have ambivalent feelings about what we saw. There were 3 featured exhibits and a fourth one dedicated to the winners of the Photography 4 Humanity 2020 contest, photo-journalistic work dedicated to human rights issues. There was some excellent work here, in the traditional documentary photography school, some of it dramatically artistic as well.

Next came a powerful exhibit dedicated to death-row inmates who had been wrongfully accused and had been exonerated by DNA evidence, many after years of incarceration and some just hours or days before being scheduled to be executed. While it was a very powerful and moving exhibit, it was only marginally photographic. Each of the subjects was shown in their own floor-to-ceiling portrait, in a darkened alcove, with their voice describing some element of their experience. However, the portraits weren’t still photographs, they were video portraits of their faces.

Next was Naima Green’s Brief & Drenching. The first part was a series of portraits, seeking to explode traditional binary-gendered portrait styles. These were quite good, and certainly had their own style, although they remained, essentially portrait photographs. The rest of the exhibit was less photographic. there was an installation of objects, a video (snapshot of bloody pearls, evidently being pulled from a vagina, above, is from the video), framed collections of motion-blurred, deliberately “artless” Polaroids, and so on.

This was followed by the gorgeous photo-montages of Cooper and Gorfer’s Between These Folded Walls, Utopia, shown in 2 of the pictures above). These were beautiful, sensuous images. I’m not sure exactly how they were made, but certainly not through straight photographic processes.

Finally, there was Andres Serrano’s Infamous. Serrano, no stranger to controversy (think Piss Christ), collected a number of racist artifacts and then photographed them. Taken at face value, they’re a shocking evocation of the extreme racism that was quotidian in this country’s culture throughout its history, reminding us, in the current climate, how important it is to extirpate this scourge. While the photography is pretty straightforward, still-life product photography and the exhibit is powerful, it strikes me that it’s not so much a photography exhibit as a racist artifact exhibit with photography almost incidentally being the medium of display.

So, I came away from Fotografiska having seen some worthwhile, and even important, exhibits but not a lot of photography. Granted, photography is a broad term and all these works can certainly fit within a catholic definition of photography, but only to the extent that the term ceases to mean much more than ‘images created using technology, with content not necessarily concerned with the medium.’ To some extent I know as a white man of a certain age, I tend to think of photography in increasingly outmoded ways. OTOH, it almost feels as if the medium has been exhausted – all that’s left is tendrils of new forms growing out of the corpse of the now-dead photography I grew up with.

New Year, New Project

For over 20 years I have been making trips from New York, via the Lincoln Tunnel and the New Jersey Turnpike, to visit my in-laws in South Jersey. Each trip I look out the window as we pass, what I now know are, the confluence of the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers with Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, from high on an overpass, at beautiful wetlands traced with the arteries of human industry and  commerce and think about photographing the beauty below me. But where to begin? Where exactly am I on the Turnpike? How can I get these aerial vistas other than from a speeding train or car?

This year, finally, as my wife drove, I used Google maps to slap down a marker as we passed. Back home after Christmas, I investigated the area on Google maps. There are various parks in the vicinity, on the shores of the rivers and I decided to check them out. Last weekend I booked a Zip Car and we spent an afternoon in the Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus.

I’m very pleased with the results of my first foray and will be posting them over the next week or so as I travel for business. Some of these images may not be strong enough on their own – I’ll attempt to curate them to work together in small groups. I’m pleased enough with this initial set to think of putting together an exhibition of some kind after visiting the area some more.

Lower Manhattan from under the New Jersey Turnpike

On Color

I had an intuition the other day that has stayed with me (so far). At the risk of boring you picture-lovers out there with dry theory, here’s a brief essay on my realization.

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. I first became serious about photography around age 12 in 1969, purchasing a Voigtländer Vito C second-hand, and I bought my first SLR in 1970 (a Minolta SR-T 101). In those days, serious photography meant black and white. Color was happening, of course –  Pete Turner and Jay Maisel were turning out brilliant color already in the late ’60s, as were Ernst Haas, Saul Leiter and too many others to name here. But for street photographers, aspiring photojournalists, acolytes of Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, it had to be black and white.

One simple reason for this, of course, was technology: I could develop B&W film in my parents’ bathroom whereas color was a bit too tetchy. Another was cost. I could afford on pocket money and odd jobs to buy Tri-X film in bulk and the chemicals and paper I needed to develop and print B&W. Color was mostly out of reach except for photomat-quality 3½x5 prints.

And so, unsurprisingly, my taste and skill in photography were driven by the constraints I was forced to work within and attempt to stretch the boundaries of. So when, towards the turn of the century, I switched to digital photography it seemed quite natural to me to convert most of my photographs to black & white. When I bring up a chip-ful of new images on the screen in Lightroom and start “developing” them, one of the first questions I ask myself is whether the color is an important contributor to what’s going on in the image. In many cases, it’s not and one of the first things I do is convert to B&W. Color has to prove its right to remain. Anyone who’s been coming to this site for any length of time will have noticed there’s an awful lot of B&W street photography of a certain type (and I’ve been posting pictures here almost every day for over 10 years now).

But here was my insight. Color is no longer a constraint of the medium. My camera takes color pictures. For me to convert them to B&W because that looks right to me only shows how my tastes were frozen decades ago when that was a real constraint. In fact, it’s really an affectation in this day and age and a dead giveaway of my age and the derivativeness of my work.

A great example of someone who broke with this way of seeing is Alex Webb. In the introduction to his magnificent volume, The Suffering of Light, we learn how he grew tired of black and white New York street photography and discovered light and color in Haiti.

So look for more color here going forward. That’s not to say there won’t still be black and white images here when that makes sense to me, but more and more I’ll be attempting to justify the conversion to B&W rather than justifying the retention of the color that’s natural to the image captured by my sensor.

Of course, everyone’s entitled to their own taste and their own style so my Damascene conversion may not be yours. But I’d be interested in your thoughts.


Just came upon this screed from over 8 years ago and found I still rather liked it. In the time that’s passed I have lurched way back to the left (a left that scarcely exists in this country, in spite of our incipient fascist leader) and I have more sympathy for Sontag’s views than before. Nevertheless, I remain dissatisfied by critical writing that lacks the connective tissue of facts.

via Resolution

obBLOGato is NYPL on Facebook

I’ve rejuvenated my companion Facebook page. Instead of simply mirroring and cross-posting everything that appears here there will be additional postings and links to what’s going on. I’m trying to post things that will be of interest to anyone with a general interest in looking at  good photography, especially street photography in New York. Re-christened as New York People Live – NYPL (pronounced nipple?),  you can find it here: I hope you’ll come take a look and “like” us.