Two Lectures on the Jena 6

I’ve just returned from Louisiana, and thought I’d post first word about two events I’ll be doing in early November. One in Baltimore and another in Atlanta.

I’ll be doing a presentation about the Jena Six, citizen journalism, and the role technology is playing in mass media (as seen through the Jena Six story). Details below:

We Want Full Justice, Jena Six Rally
“We Want Full Justice” © Michael David Murphy

Jena Six: A Photo Story
Friday, November 2nd, 7pm
Showcase School of Photography
1135 Sheridan Road
Atlanta, GA
Listing on
Wednesday, November 7th, 12:30
Part of “Bias, Prejudice, and Hate- Free Campus Week”
Community College of Baltimore County (web)
Essex Campus
Baltimore, MD

As background, I made two trips to Jena this summer, well before the story exploded into what it’s become. I posted pictures, write-ups, and a video which can all be found on In recent articles, “black blogs” and networked college students have been cited as primary reasons as to why the story has attracted so much attention. I’m glad was able to play an early role in getting the Jena 6 story the attention it deserves.

Sultan Does Landis, Matter of Factly

Can’t think of a better photographer to address the strange psychological purgatory where accused-doper Floyd Landis lives; that cinched space between personally right and publicly wrong, and all of that in sunny Southern California.

There’s nothing street about these images (save for the whirling dogs by Landis’ wife); Sultan accomplishes so much with stillness, he needn’t the flash of motion or slice of a moment to pull you in.

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Larry Sultan, New York Times

19outcast3-650 (by whileseated)
Larry Sultan, New York Times

Two great things about Sultan’s work. First, his collaborative book “Evidence” of found gov’t photos was the first book that showed me how art might be developed through editing and selection, and that great pictures are everywhere, it just depends on who’s looking (both at the moment of capture, and later on, with a new frame of reference, perhaps).

bb3c721ffa98b2ed030ce363353f6277 (by whileseated)
Larry Sultan and Mike Mandell, Evidence

Plus, when his “Valley” show of photographs from the adult-film industry opened at SFMOMA a few years ago, it was a real home run with my dad, who isn’t really a museum kind of guy. Thanks, Larry!

Simon Norfolk – Host Gallery (2 part podcast w/ images)

Definitely check out Simon Norfolk‘s presentation from May 31st, 2007, over on the Host Gallery podcast. Norfolk is erudite, engaging, and doesn’t mince words. I won’t quote him here, but you might enjoy how he realized he was a “gimmicky” photographer who relied on odd angles, off-camera flash, and shutter-drag before he discovered the straightforward pleasures of large-format photography.

Part 1 (.mov)
Part 2 (.mov)

Via Raul, there’s another interview with Norfolk here.

David Hockney on the Camera’s Failings

My ears perked-up when I saw this clip from Robert Hughes’ “The New Shock of the New” in which he visits David Hockney in his studio. Hughes is predictably grumpy about the state of modern art, and justifiably so, I’d say, but he finds four artists who are fighting the good fight and one of them’s Hockney.

Hockney talks about what the camera can’t capture, which reminded me of my other online project: unphotographable.


Paul Kranzler’s “Tom”

I’ve seen a lot of books and shows this year, but there’s one that’s really stuck with me. Paul Kranzler’s “Tom” (fotohof) is an amazing piece of work and here’s why:

* It’s a photo project that tells a story. Most projects I see begin as methods of visual categorization and just stop there. Kranzler takes the time to find, develop, follow and edit the story; correspondingly, the book ends when the story ends.

* Kranzler is a photographer who knows as much about “streetish” timing as he does about a still-life or landscape. The more photographs I see, the more I’m beginning to admire the professional generalists, rather than the narrow specialists – the photographers who can take a picture of anything; portraits, a busted-up house, a moment in motion, and make it work.

* Kranzler’s wide-eyed. You can sense, from his photographs, that the whole world is visually interesting to him, and as a photographer, he has the skill to translate this visual excitement into solid pictures, regardless of the subject or setting.

* “Tom” shows what can happen when a photographer is dedicated and works with his subjects to create more than just access. The photos range from set-ups in which it’s clear that his subjects are looking at the camera and are waiting to be photographed, to spontaneous pictures in which the photographer has completely disappeared and we’re left with nothing but a remarkable view. By staying with medium-format, Kranzel allows himself the quickness of the snapshot and the long look of large format.

(Disclosure: I collaborated on writing and editing catalog copy for the US distributor of “Tom”, pasted below.)

“Young Austrian photographer Paul Kranzler’s latest book project Tom is his second excruciatingly intimate journey inside the life of his subjects. A riveting study of adolescence, family, and a farm community in rural Austria, Tom is photo-reportage firmly in the style of Larry Clark and Paul Graham. Whether it’s a picture of Dad sucking on a baby’s bottle in front of a long strip of flypaper, or a more formal portrait of Tom’s Turkish friends leaning on their car, Kranzler’s pictures enter that rare space for photography: the place where as much is revealed as concealed.

Kranzler’s photographs are mysterious facts. While his strobe sometimes freezes Tom and his family in moments of banality, the project’s warmth is expressed through softer, available light portraits and occasional landscapes. While focusing on the human drama of the family, Kranzler’s wise to observe the inanimate reality of house and home. Laundry’s on the floor. Cigarettes are on the table.

Documentary to the end, and two years in the making, Kranzler looks, lingers, and allows his camera to capture this story’s essential views. Edited into a narrative, cross-cut with humor and sub-plots, Tom is an essential book that confirms the promise Kranzler suggested in Land of Milk and Honey. With an essay by Markus Binder from the band Attwenger.”

Kranzler’s site
Web version of “Tom” book, with pdf of opening pages

Ways of Working #10 (Share)

or “A Lesson In Putting It Out There”

I’ve received a bunch of mail over the last year asking when the final installment of “Ways of Working” might appear, and I procrastinated because it seemed like the title, “Share”, said enough. Share your work with others; you might be surprised what happens when it’s out there in the world.

I’ve had a very interesting week in which I’ve put this idea into practice (more than usual) and it’s both emboldened and occasionally frightened me.

A month ago I came across a news story that piqued my interest. I looked around and there was local coverage of the story, but no substantial national press. I decided to quit my day job a week early and drive six hundred miles to Louisiana to see what was going on, with my own eyes.

Simply, I went to Jena to see what I could see. I brought a camera. I don’t have a laptop or great audio/video capability, so I was underequipped for contracted professional work. I went on my own dime.

I spoke with one of the accused, with family members, with the working press, with residents. I held a small voice recorder in my hand while photographing. I approached the whole thing as a freelance photographer who wasn’t working for a particular publication, but had personal interest in observing what transpired.

Jena Six (4 of 6) (by whileseated)
© MDM, Gotta Go, 2007

What I found didn’t necessarily surprise me, but it inspired me to come back home and “get the word out”. I threw together a quick youtube video, gathered links, and put it all up on whileseated. That’s when things got interesting. Suddenly there was another forum for people to learn about the case, discuss its complexities, and monitor developments as the week drew closer to a verdict.

Along the way, 30,000 people (a day) were looking at some pretty amateur work of mine. The photos weren’t special, my text was hardly objective, but the benefits of the discussion outweighed the fact that I know very little about photojournalism, and in reality, am just another guy with a camera and a blog. My merits and motives were questioned and I was personally attacked (in text, not physically). Many of the discussions devolved into the bizarre. But in a small way, I felt I was making a difference.

If you’re a photographer, think about how you might be able to use your skill to do something beyond getting your pictures in a gallery with a four-figure price tag attached. Volunteer to take portraits for a non-profit. Borrow a car and make a trek to witness a developing story that’s underreported. If you’re sitting around waiting for the phone call from the New York Times or that downtown gallery, get outside and chase things down. Seek out the stories or situations that will lead to the kind of picture(s) you’ve always imagined but have never been able to take; on the street, or off.

A few months ago, a friend shared some notes from a seminar he had with Martin Parr in which Parr said, “photograph things you don’t want to photograph” (not verbatim). If you’re whetted to the street, try something new! Shoot widely and see what happens. Do what’s difficult and learn new skills. Sharing your work, even in process, or when it’s about a controversial issue that might result in negative attention, can be beneficial. Not just for you, but for others who need examples for forging their own paths.

William Klein made a really wild movie. Robert Frank painted (right?). Garry Winogrand did an ad for Scotch. Diane Arbus photographed for catalogs. In the interview last week, Richard Kalvar talked about how his professional work funded his amateur explorations. Weegee was Weegee.

What I’m trying to say is there are a million ways to go about being a photographer, and starting on the street is as good a beginning as any. It’s as good a middle, and as good an end as any, too. If you see something (anywhere!) that’s important to you, bring it back and share it. Show us how it is. Whether it’s a good picture, an interesting story, a hacky youtube video, or a terrific series of great pictures, put it together, get them up on a site, and let people know. Quit stalling.

Sharing’s as scary as it is essential. Show us who you are, what you’re made of, and why we should care.

If you can’t, who will?

Back-to-Back White Corners at New York Times Magazine

In the last two weeks, the New York Times Magazine has published nearly identical editorial portraits from two proficient art photographers, Katy Grannan and Todd Hido.

White corners (with subject listing to the right of the wall-join): the new black.

NYT Mag, by Katy Grannan
Katy Grannan for the New York Times

NYT Mag, Todd Hido
Todd Hido for the New York Times

A Photosong, from Winterpills

“Portrait”, from Winterpills, who are having a record release tonight in NYC.

the photographer’s impatient as the train pulls out of the station, and you’re heading further south than i thought you’d ever go. the streets are filling up with snow, the ice floe has no place to go so i’m opening my doors and telling everyone i know. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the light is fading fast on what is true. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the families in the line behind us are trying to get through. there’s honey in the chemicals. you hide so well that nothing shows, you can’t lock eyes with one who knows, and every sheet that comes out white reminds me of that night. if you were here i’d look complete, the cameras wouldn’t have to cheat, something in the photo bath would make us all so sweet. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the light is fading fast on what is true. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the families in the line behind us are trying to get through. there’s honey in the chemicals. your car wheel’s spinning in a ditch, your father called you one cold bitch, he said he would’ve hit you but he didn’t have the strength. my house is filling up with smoke, i’m getting high on jack and coke, the kitchen pipes are frozen and your world is at arm’s length. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the light is fading fast on what is true. i can’t pose for this portrait without you. the families in the line behind us are trying to get through. there’s honey in the chemicals. honey in the chemicals. honey in the chemicals.

words & music by philip price ©2005 lalablahblah music/ASCAP

Richard Serra on Charlie Rose, the abandoned transcript

Back in the day (2001), I set my VCR to tape this interview of Richard Serra on Charlie Rose. I kept returning to it because it was so rich. I started transcribing it one night so I could share it with friends, though my computer can’t locate where it went… Google Video to the rescue.

I’ve learned as much about photography from poetry, painters and cinema than anywhere else. There’s something to be said for art ghettos, and rent’s cheap on photography’s block. It never hurts to take the train uptown and see what’s going on in sculpture, video art, or textiles, even. Even if you hate it.

There’s a great book of Serra’s words and interviews over on Amazon, if you like the direction of this.

Mekas Making Podcastable Movies

In one of the youtube links below, Jonas Mekas explains why he set-up Anthology Film Archives:

If I find a film that is ecstatic, that gives me great excitement, I have to share it with others, otherwise I am unhappy.

When I saw Mekas’ “As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty“, it profoundly affected my view of the world. Years after seeing it, I still think about it nearly every day. It’s a five-hour film. There was one screening of it at PFA in Berkeley, and that was it. I’ve been trying to see it again ever since. (It would make a tempting eyeball decathlon double-feature with Eggleston’s “Stranded in Canton“.)

Somewhere east of Ft. Stockton, Texas last week, I heard this NPR story about how Jonas Mekas will be making short podcastable films available on

Mekas’ work has been attracting attention recently because he lived within the NYC art world in the 70s, and as an autobiographical filmmaker, ended-up filming things like the John Lennon birthday clip on youtube. But Mekas’ life’s work is of a higher order.

If you’re interested in the visual expression of the documentary impulse (whether it’s moving or still), take a look at Mekas’ work. Here are a few more youtube links:

* A curator at Warkwick Arts Center talks through their Mekas exhibition
* Mekas finds a crushed can
* Mekas on underground cinema