Barrage of Questions for Michal Chelbin

© Michal Chelbin

When the barrage of questions finally started, what the audience wanted to know was: How do you achieve such seamlessness, and such precise—and natural—lighting? Do you shoot digital? No. Do you use special film? No, Kodak or Fuji. A particular speed? 800 for color, 3200 for black & white. A special camera, perhaps? The same Hasselblad and the same lens, always. Photoshop? No—never!

via New Yorker Blog, and/or see Chelbin’s book Strangely Familiar.

Robert Frank on Monday on XM Public Radio

I had the pleasure of seeing the Robert Frank exhibit at the National Gallery on the next-to-the-last day of the Bush Administration. Walked through with new friend Susana Raab, whose work I’ve enjoyed over the years. The highlight for me were Frank’s contact sheets. All the different views of the car accident in Winslow, Arizona. Some frames that only required one shot. I believe there were four that led to this frame:

Nearly an entire contact sheet for this one:

You’re not supposed to do this, but I’m quick with the cellphone.

It was interesting to see how the exhibit was arranged, in sequence, just like the book. But “The Americans” is so much a book that I didn’t really feel the flow of the pages while seeing them on the wall. There’s so much going on with the page turns and white space in the book; and that experience didn’t translate to the gallery setting, for what it’s worth.

For completists, the National Gallery has the sculpture of prints that Frank made, when he drilled through them and mounted them with bolts to a block of wood. Good, cranky stuff.

Oh right, Frank will be on XM on Monday, on the Bob Edwards Show. I’ll bet Edwards handles the interview better than LeDuff.

More Robert Frank on 2point8.

Updated: And here’s curator Sarah Greenough talking about the exhibition.

Old Cameras at the Inauguration

Interesting to see all the varieties of photographers out and about this weekend in DC.

Here’s the guy with two Rolleis and a strobe-on-a-pole photographing teenage girls.

Here’s the guy with the Mamiya twin lens. Click for detail. Looks like he could have used some glittens. Camera metal was C O L D on Tuesday.

Here’s a lone 4×5’er, from a cell phone.

Hannah Pierce-Carlson

Hannah Pierce-Carlson‘s photo here reminds me of things I used to think about a few years ago when I had a camera on me all the time, everywhere. I’ve been slack on that score (the everywhere part) in the last year, working on praahjex, but in the past month or so I’ve been trying to relearn the old lessons, and feel the thrill again, and I caught a flash of what’s both satisfyingly old and the jolt of the new in Hannah’s picture – a visual nudge in all the good directions.

© Hannah Pierce-Carlson

Barbara Crane’s “Private Views”

Aperture’s Barbara Crane's new Spring catalog is out (pdf), and at first blush, I’m looking forward to seeing Barbara Crane’s Private Views which will be released in conjunction with an exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX.

“Armed with a Super Speed Graphic camera and Polaroid film, Crane waded in close to the revelers and focused on capturing the details of clothing and hairstyles, but most importantly, gesture. The images are tightly cropped and terrifically alive, viscerally bringing us into the crush of people eating, drinking, and enjoying the crowd dynamic—an incredible inventory of private gestures performed in public spaces.”

Ying Tang, Shanghai Streets

Ying Tang is the only female Chinese street photographer I’m aware of, and here’s a quick program from Chinese TV about her work. Ying can be found here and over on the flickr, if you’re into that kind of thing.

If any of you have seen interviews (like this, in other languages, no subtitles needed) with street photographers working around the globe, I’d be pleased to post them; let me know. The goal: to keep the view “wide open”.

Happy New Year to you all. Not sure where 2point8 will be heading in ’09, but I’m looking forward to finding out!


Tidbits 11/08

I can’t wait to see Ballast, and hope I haven’t missed it, like I missed Trouble the Water. The director, Lance Hammer, namechecks Eggleston and Hido on KCRW’s The Treatment, all while sounding like my kind of filmmaker, one who isn’t scared of stillness, silence, or not using the latest digital camera. When was the last time you saw Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies, or that weird Affleck/Van Sant experiment Gerry ? (Everyone hates that film but me.)

Some of the best photography I’ve seen in the last three months has been in cinema, specifically Robert Gardner’s Forest of Bliss which is one of the most artfully-filmed verite documentaries I’ve ever seen. Some of the shots in that film are so damn simple and expressive, I keep seeing them when I close my eyes. It’s also the world’s best brochure for a trip to Varanasi, in that it shows how beauty and horror can co-exist all twisted-up like two trees with a shared trunk.

I saw three films from Nathaniel Dorsky, one of which answered this 2-year old 2point8 question about the motion-picture equivalent of street photography. Dorsky’s candid cinema from the streets of San Francisco is a marvel. Seek out his films if you can.

A friend told me about Masao Yamamoto, and how he makes small pictures, carries them around in his pocket, treats them with tea, and stashes them in boxes.

Saul Leiter’s “Early Color” at Jackson Fine Art looks like the DNA for color street photography. It’s solid and deceptively simple, a template for shooting abstractly, while incorporating just enough human detail to ground the scene, and in doing so, make it come startlingly alive. That, and it’s amazing to see the color of NYC slush that’s over 60 years old.

A few years ago I was in a film frenzy; the best cinema being a blissful merge of literature and cinemaphotography. Films as photographic fiction. I couldn’t get enough Malick, Marker, or Gordon Green. The other day I found “Rosy-Fingered Dawn” a documentary on Malick which I never knew existed. I wonder what happened to Aronofsky‘s creative mojo (Robo-what?) — how he could make films as innovative “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” with so little since, and why I’ve seen so few films (recently) by young American directors that approach the innovations of each.

I still can’t tell Ellen Barkin and Ellen Burstyn apart.

Eager to see “Slum Dog Millionaire” (I think) and “Gomorrah“.

I’m unsubscribing from a lot of rss feeds these days. Replaced by Twitter.

The shows I had this fall taught me more about art, community, and what it means to engage the world in an upright, responsive (and responsible) way than I’ve learned from photography itself. I’m exaggerating, but still.

After hearing music photographer Danny Clinch talk about how much he relies on his Leica and Tri-x rated at 800, I miss my Canadian-made M4P more than ever. Danny also has a great suitcase full of Neil Young stories.

I don’t recall seeing the work of Sergio Larrain before.

Thanks for your emails about “So Help Me” which came off without a hitch. If you’re eager to get work into a gallery, it might be worthwhile to consider how you can e x t e n d your mission -> how your photographs can be than just “pictures on a wall”. In building So Help Me into an Election Night party, with videos & speeches and everything else (the ballots didn’t really come together after all) it felt great to make a space where people could gather, watch the returns roll in, and generally live through the experience, in real time, and feel the end of this ridiculous electoral calendar, culminating in Barack’s win at 11pm w/ cheers and champagne. I had the chance for a gig at Ebenezer Baptist that night, and although turning down the shoot was tough, I’m glad I was able to experience such an evening with a smaller crowd, in a space we created, on an evening that spiraled into celebrations in the streets.

In thinking about public art that works, Zoe Strauss‘ extra-efforts under that Philly freeway have been on my mind. The mission to get photography in the hands of those who want it most, democratically, regardless of whether or not editioned prints are affordable. (Riding that public art idea into the marketplace is 20×200, of course.) The whole put work in front of everyone, everywhere, whenever possible thing. It flies in the face of “how things are done” and god bless it for that and for so much more.

Speaking of public art, if you have a perfect lens-based public art idea, Atlanta Celebrates Photography is looking for you, and has an Open Call for Proposals. Deadline is January 5th! (No fee.)

If you buy airfare to the inauguration months before the election, you might want to book a hotel room before the hotels raise their rates 500% after the country’s favorite candidate mops-up nearly 370 electoral college votes.

There’s more, but there’s always more, whether I’m updating this site or not, so that’s that.

mus mus dot org goes global on november 4th

Friends of mine in Switzerland at have launched a global photography project on Tuesday, November 4th. Here’s their call for entries. They’re jurying 25 additional photographers/entries: invites PHOTOGRAPHERS to participate to the project @600 to take place November 4th, 2008 @600 Internet time.

Many photographers from around the world have been invited to make one picture on the same day at the same moment. All these photographs will be joined and archived on the website for a unique document of that special day. We have invited many photographers who have agreed to join us and participate to this project.

We would like to add additional visions through an open call process!

We are happy to announced that two special guests, Michael David Murphy and Jason Fulford will be among the participants in the @600 project.

We have reserved places for twenty-five of the participants to be selected through a juried process. Apply now and submit an email request to participate together with a link to your website or no more than 3 jpg files at 800 pixels larger size and 72 dpi. The submission should be directed to If there are places remaining we will accept submissions of @600 photographs for one week after November 4 that have been made for @600 according to the project parameters. Those images and a weblink and\or CV should be submitted as outlined above.

You will find all necessary information on All photographers who will participate to this experiment will be listed in the mus-mus website.

You will find some info about Internet time here, and a converter here.

We sincerely hope that you like this idea and will be part of this experiment @600 ! For any questions, email us

Ed Note: From what I can tell with that “Internet Time Converter”, “@600” in Internet Time on 11/04/08 is between 8:24:00am and 8:25:26am in the Eastern Time Zone.

Against Ease: or How the Inifinitely Reproduceable Pushes Us Further From the Source

Does Richard Serra work with steel because it’s easier than aluminum? Does Lucian Freud paint with oil because it’s easier than spray paint? I can’t understand why an artist (in any field) would choose a particular medium because it’s easier to work with. You choose your medium because it’s the strongest, most expressive tool for delivering your particular message, right?

Last weekend I spent a full day in our new color darkroom. A few of us here in Atlanta have pooled resources, formed a collective, and rented a studio space. We purchased and installed a massive color processor. We are making beautiful 30×40 prints the old-fashioned way, with enlargers. It takes time and attention. The resulting prints (those from my studiomates, especially) are some of the best color prints I’ve seen.

6 20x24 Oprahs

Not all photographers are artists, and not all photographers want to make art. There’s a difference between taking pictures and making photographs, I guess. But one thing I can’t understand are fine art photographers who choose their particular tool(s) based on what’s easy. What’s that about?

If you were to interview a random cross-section of photographers who shoot digitally, and asked them why they shot digitally, most would say, “because it’s faster, cheaper, and easier.” I came (back) to photography via digital, but soon migrated to mainly/only film. I prefer how film looks, across the board. I’ve found the right tool for me.

There are those who don’t prefer either film or digital — I wish I were one of them, but I’ve seen one too many poorly printed (and overpriced) exhibitions of too many oversharpened, fashionably unsaturated, over-processed jpgs. (The exceptions are those who use digital to their advantage, to create work that couldn’t be made otherwise, work that speaks to the particular nature and strength of working digitally, but they’re few and far between.)

So, I’m back in the darkroom. It’s slow going, and it’s an anachronistic step backward in many ways, but just because digital photography was invented doesn’t mean analog photography was an exhausted medium. There’s still so much room there to work and explore and pursue. Yes, it’s cumbersome and relatively difficult, and the lure of the new (and everything fast, cheap, and flexible) is strong, my child.

I like prints that speak to the entirety of a photographer’s talents. Prints that show-off the ability to put image to paper, to create something real, something that will last and be a living memory, be infinitely ponderable. But frankly, aside from the great folks at 20×200, or fellow blogger ZS, I can’t see why anyone’s purchasing editioned digital prints. What’s the treasure in owning something that’s potentially infinitely (and inexpertly) reproduceable? I mean, how different is a digital print of your fantastic photograph any different than this? Because it’s sprayed with luster?

An aside: in some ways, the pricing of digital fine art prints seems to be a shift-away from paying for an actual print to paying for all the expense that went into creating the work that led to this actual print, because making the actual print is relatively cheap. And there’s something a lot less seductive in that, to me, as someone who might like to buy a print. I want to pay for the worth of the thing itself, not the artist’s overhead. I’m off my argument here, but I hope you’re still with me.

I want to see the artist’s hand, and I don’t see it in arbitrary edition sizes of digital prints. An edition of 1 makes sense to me, but beyond that, why stop at 5, or 10, or a thousand? (Please don’t say, “to create the appearance of exclusivity and desireability, my friend.”)

I’m in the process of printing two shows. One will have digital prints, in part, but the work is about digitalness, even if the original photographs were shot on film. The second show will be all analog prints, each created by hand, and the process has been incredible. The satisfaction of printing in the dark on Fuji Crystal Archive rather than google searching for some obscure Hannehmuelle printer driver cannot be measured. Which is why most photographers outsource their printing altogether. Leave it to the experts, I suppose.

Mine are cranky old arguments, usually voiced by someone whose been in the business decades longer than me. As someone relatively new to it all, I find it interesting to see so much of the photography culture fall under-the-spell of the ease of shooting digitally, both professionally, and for fine art projects. A critical exception, and a fine example of a photographer who can really write, here.

My impression is that the business of photography exerts too much influence over the easily-influenced artist, from the printer-cartridge rep, to the stock photography buyer, earnest photo editor, and gallery owner. Each and all have created a playing field that requires photographers to produce work that’s faster, cheaper, and easier. As a whole, the handmade, carefully considered print is becoming obsolete.

If you miss the magic of photography, it’s still out there for the price of a few ingredients. Craigslist is a remarkable resource, and prices for darkroom equipment range from cheap to free. Processors can be had too, as labs are getting rid of them left and right.

There’s something about the stew of doing-it-yourself that feels sustaining. Suddenly, your work feels like real Work, not “work”. And bonus! You spend less time with your eyes crossed, whileseated at a computer. The result is completely controlled by you and your intention, not by the whims of Joe Laser at (Like I said, there are great exceptions to this, and amazing people doing great things with digital prints, but they’re too few and far between. They’re not printing the majority of shows I’ve been seeing, that’s for sure.)

If you’re inclined, take photography back, a print at a time, while you still can, and show us what the business has missed. It’s easier than you think.

I meant this. See you at (or from) Invesco on Thursday. Be well.

Not a Photoshopped Man on a Wire

I’ve been walking by this movie poster for the past few weeks, twice a day. It’s the most evocative picture I’ve seen in recent memory; it’s working so many different angles, so well, and it’s doing it all while being grainy, unsharp and out-of-focus. I love it for it for appearing to be an obvious picture of a breaking news event, and for being so much more.


Blurb Photobook Contest

In the “judging a book by its cover” department, I’d be willing to bet that one of these 30 titles will win $20,000 in the Blurb Photobook Contest. I picked less than 1 out 50 entries for this sample. (And if your entry isn’t listed below, it’s because I overlooked its awesomeness, naturally.)

Human Nature – M. Alexis Pike

Johnston – Ed Panar

Watershed… – Jeff Rich

3Situations – Bill Sullivan

Can’tGetThereFromHere – Tod Fisher

Something is Happening – John Lehr

After the Fall – Hin Chua

The Conventioneers – Yvette Marie Dostatni

“Happy is he who calls himself a Turk” – George Georgiou

Racing Seen – Martin Amis

Big Rock Candy Mountain – Tammy Mercure

Here It Is – Bryan Lear

Underground – David Solomons

Sakai-San – Omm Photography

Ditch Plains – Joni Sternbach

Winterground – Thatcher Hullerman Cook

Bound – Dennis Dufer

A Room with a View – Andew Heatherington

Wanderings – Lung Liu

Outskirts of Awesome – Michael Burnett

Golden Meadows – Jackson Patterson

Poured in Place… – Douglas Hill

Photography, Fantasy… – Isidro Ramirez

Gangland – gangbook

Traces – David Goldes

Times Sq. Gym – Mike Peters

Untitled – Uri Korn

Cue the Strings – Farhad J Parsa

Analogue – Dana Miller

May My Effort Not Be In Vain – Christina Page