Ran over last night to the Palo Alto Art Center for their annual Fall program, which consisted of sculpture and photography. I'd listed the Photography portion on Upcoming but it was really Edward Eberle's porcelains that impressed me the most.

Palo Alto is a money sort of town, and the Art Center plays the game of high-end decor, with flyers to hand out in each gallery, well-printed on heavy stock, ready to explain the art to the well-heeled and bow-tied retirees that tend to show up for these sorts of civic art events. Almost all the works on display were borrowed from private collections (collections of center patrons, one assumes). I brought Rebecca and as we came in the receptionist looks up at me (sorry, dressed for the wrong kind of art event!) & immediately asks in a friendly way: "are you one of the artists?"

Okay, I did have the Bronica strapped across my back, but at that moment I don't think she could have seen it. And Rebecca (who was more properly attired) did have my Canon. But all I could think, looking past the receptionist into the gallery, was that we didn't fit the standard visitor profile.

It annoys the heck out of me (though I have to live with it) that for so many in this country "fine" art (both consumption and creation) is something that you do when there's nothing better left to do — that is, put aside until they're retired or otherwise in stasis, maybe after a mid-life crisis or the kids have wandered off to random jobs and colleges (and the flip side — art is great while you're in college, but once the careeer gets going, why are you worrying about trends in reworked vernacular painting? And why are you traipsing all that sawdust through the living room?). If art is what you do, is what you are, then what are people doing the rest of the time? Who the heck are they then? Why are they art-free? Totally enslaved by the convenient received social roles? It's one of those late-night desperate searching questions, to wonder about others' late-night desperate searching. Anyway.

Just one more checkbox on my list of possible reasons to think that maybe the whole idea of fine art is dead. Listen close, one can almost hear the suction. Then again, people have been saying that since the Academie. Maybe even before (Or maybe it's just the whole wine-and-nosh scene that needs to collapse into a black whole), certainly since.

As for the photography exhibit itself:

"Romancing the Shadows" was organized around alt-process: Ambrotypes, Orotypes, dags, etc. As sometimes occurs, the largest pieces, impressive and expensive, were also the weakest. Oooh, big paper. Oooh, gold. But at their core: dull.

As it worked out in the random order of gallery-wandering, the best works were the ones we saw last: Adam Fuss dags, Deborah Luster tintypes (she had a whole cabinetful a year or two agao on display at SFMOMA), and a couple wallfulls of Linda Connor gold-chloride sun prints. Connor's series was the most engaging work in the show, a collection of visits to holy places and each given a mystical treatment by her 8×10 — each, that is, but two photos, one of the Ta Prohm temple and another of the tombs in Petra, which seem a bit out of place, more luxe postcards than fitting with the rest (an impression strengthened by their popularity as tourist destinations).

I'll be back there — my upcoming class with Margo Davis is being held in a studio at the back of the same building. As with most shows, it's often good to go back after some digestion.

After a visit to the bookstore we went home and I got to rearranging all my flickr contacts (the subject of another post, really), doing a little more (okay, a lot more) web exploring & exciting housework, and then, following the examples given recently by Nicole and Min Jung, faded-out on top of the bedcovers, cuddled and warmed all the night through by the comforting fan of my still-running laptop.

Tonight it's out with the boys to talk about — well, hockey. And stuff.

Tomorrow it's Robert Adams at SFMOMA and a sync-up with Graham; Saturday in Pacific Grove and Monterey; and then back to SF Sunday for the EFF 15th Anniversary BBQ, before the week fires-up again so I can take a break from all this relaxation.

Posted September 29, 2005 | Comments (1)



I really should have anticipated that after attending WebZine I'd be spending a good chunk of time picking-through all the many blogs and bloglike web resources that I'd see there. doi! In fact I'd already started before WebZine began, and the pace has increased significantly.

Not just the many sites that were featured in the official schedule, but the sites of the volunteers too — most of whom I knew a bit, but many new to me — and also taking the time to catch-up on some of the blogs of my friends and acquaintances, which have been illuminating and exciting in their own ways. There are people who I know who are much cooler than I realized (sorry guys for not realizing it sooner).

There's already been immediate cross-pollination: meeting someone at WebZine whose blog led me to their company and it turned right back at my professional life over at the office. Wonder if that means I can expense-account the Bacardi...

As much information as I'm enjoying from WebZine's online shadow, the live experience itself was deeply worthwhile, it was a fantastic on-ramp for me as I merge back into the life of Kevin as a single-passenger vehicle. I blame no one but myself for it, but for the past couple of years (since moving here from Hawaii, at least) I'd largely abdicated all maintenance of my social life outside of a few photographer buddies, leaving my non-working life to someone else's management.

WebZine, full of friends, new friends, re-interpreted friends, and nary a conflict in sight, was a much-needed burst of sociability. It fit well into the P.O.R. for my General Worldwide Social Plan: to apply broad efforts to reconnect with old friends; to connect directly to solidify and differentiate relationships with a number of interesting friends and acquaintances whom I previously only knew through joint socialization; and to expand my social horizon by going ahead and just getting myself out there in the world.

I'll work-out a more formal list of Key Objectives and Metrics later, right now I just want to spend time with People Who Are Not Me, because they all seem pretty darned cool.

If I have my way, I'll see at least one friend outside of work every single day (or make a new one outright). I'll go further, and say that I'm keen on discovering something new about each of them as I do it., even if I end up seeming a bit of a pest to a few.

The downside (?) of this is the realiziation that I have more friends and activities than there are days of the week, even as I'm piling-on the additional personal podcasts and watching my stack of library books steadily grow (four books just today, Bowlby's Attachment, Separatation & Loss, and Anxiety & Anger joined by the more-recent Ethnography in the San Francisco Bay Area, III stacked atop the Michael Kenna collection — thanks, Library Elf!). Who'd a thunk it?

The other big event of the past weekend was the Eikoh Hosoe lecture at SFAI, sponsored by PhotoAlliance. As mentioned before, my admiration for Hosoe is without bounds. Having him sign my copy of Ba·Ra·Kei — Ordeal by Roses was exciting. To meet Hosoe at the reception & talk to him, and then to see him with his photographs, standing among them and interacting with them, was an enlightening & moving experience.

Posted September 27, 2005 | Comments (0)

WebZine 2005


This weekend promises to be filled with WebZine 2005 and the many associated sub-events, parties, and general blitzfests. I'll be doing some simple volunteering on setup today and doing video services in the main Freya room on Saturday afternoon. As usual at such event, I'll also be doling-out a few badges for PHOTOPERMIT.ORG. WebZine 2005 promises a good solid dose of new-media goodness plus, as of last night, they've announced a full one-hour rant on Sunday afternoon by Jonas on why social software is a big stinking lie... w00t!

Next weekend will also see a wire-related event, namely a celebration of the 15th Anniversary of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Yeah, I'll have buttons, assuming my supplies don't dwindle to ridiculous lows. Quite a few buttons were guerilla-distributed among the coincidentally almost-matching flickr buttons during the past week's flickr fiesta. They're prized collectors' items now, kids.

On the topic of social software, a few readers may have noticed some changes to the archives page — photo gallery and other art listings for the Bay Area are now being included, powered by UpComing.Org, a service I really like; though browsing through upcoming lists can be a bit like crack — especially for someone living down here in the SV and somewhat removed from the central SF club & gallery orbits. Tonight's feature in my listings: a lecture (presented by PhotoAlliance and the Aperture Foundation) by Eikoh Hosoe. I was just about floored with excitement when I saw that he was coming to the bay; Hosoe is of of my all-time most-admired photographers, right at the summit. Heck, this is the guy who out-sensualized Yukio Mishima. Other potentially-great visits upcoming include Alec Soth and Michael Kenna.

The other bit of social software I'm keen on (and intermittently perplexed by) is dodgeball, which tries to merge the virtual and real(istic) worlds via SMS. Creator Dennic Crowley gave a couple of talks about dball (and related projects like the spectacular PacManhattan) at this past Siggraph.

I'd hoped to be able to use dodgeball to coordinate party-hopping during Siggraph, and told people about it well-before the conference, but the response was slim — the experiment stumbled across the reality that there are sometimes very few users within a particular geographic area — at least, users visible to me. The service helps coordinate your established social circle, rather than expand it. You need regular non-electronic interactions for that part. So much for software that can turn my life into an episode of Wild On...

Try them out. Make "bjorke" your friend :)

Still, I think dodgeball and related programs have a great future. Sooner or later Microsoft and the other giants will step in (Dennis did manage to sell dodgeball to Google) — maybe something like Yahoo! 360 will become a useful hub? One awkward aspect to all of the various social software that connects to the real world (that is, social software other than online chats and such, which keep themselves contained in virtual space) is their lack of connectivity. In virtual space, time is of secondary importance — in the real world, it's a big deal, so integration with schedulers and maps and so forth become a bottleneck. And integration of social softwares/networks with one another is another.

It would be awesome to check-in on dodgeball and have it respond about people at the venue from my upcoming list. It's always a bit of extra work to make sure that all of the venues listed in your upcoming lists are available for checkins via dodgeball and that maybe they pop up on Yelp (dodgeballs' own "venue review" feature" is a bit thin and redundant compared to Yelp) and somehow migrate into Outlook and show up in your PDA/phone. Right now it's all by-hand, which violates one of my personal principles of system design: Any time a human is copying information from a computer screen so they can re-type it into another computer screen, the system is broken.

Maybe there should be some sort of microformat standards for these issues? (Or will we just see it get the old "embrace, expand, extinguish" from Redmond, now that the long-expected "blogging features" of Outlook are on the horizon?)

Addendum: See the flickr tag "webzine2005" for moblogged updates during WebZine 2005. Click-through the links inside to see event coverage by others as well.

Posted September 23, 2005 | Comments (0)

Veni, Vidi, Valori

The word of the day (well, Sunday) is "valorize," rarely-seen in America these days and which I encountered twice in the same morning's reading, in two different (non-American, ahem) texts on related issues, each written some forty years apart.

The older passage came from Pierre Bourdieu's 1965 Un art moyen: essai sur les usages sociaux de la photographie whose title his American editors provocatively streamlined to Photography: A Middlebrow Art:

(This section from "Professional Men or Men of Quality: Professional Photographers" was actually written by Luc Boltanski & Jean-Claude Chamboredon)

For photographers, contact with prestigious professional groups is really an opportunity to photograph valorized objects. The major specialization as defined by the importance and nobility of the object photographed; so much so that a change in status may be accomplished by a change in specialization, which, becuase it involves neither special equipoment nor a different qualification, is simply a change in object. Invited to name, from a series of possible photographic subjects, those from which a 'beautiful photograph' could be made, photographers seemed to be guided, in their choice or rejection, primarily by the prestige suggested as the subject of a photograph.

Now let us jump forward four decades to a recent article by William A Ewing in The Guardian Weekend, concerning his new book reGeneration: 50 Photographers Of Tomorrow:

The traditional genres that have dominated art photography for a century are now largely passé. The nude, the classical portrait, the sublime natural landscape — all have been largely dismissed, or are fading away as meaningful categories. The nude — traditionally almost always female, youthful and inert — was entirely absent from the portfolios we looked at, and portraits in the classic sense (claiming to reveal the soul, or otherwise valorising the individual) have given way to studies of types: faces have been replaced by facades.

When the sociologists look, they see subjects valorizing the photographs (and photographers) — when art critics look, they see sociological types. I get the impression that Ewing (and his co-editor Radu Stern) are distrustful of "valorising" portraits, that they suspect that such pictures don't really deliver on what they're "claiming." Well all pictures are fictions, yeah. And in this post-Becher world, taxonomies of appearance seem almost inevitable.

I don't know the contents of Ewing's book but suspect it contains portrait "facades" along the lines of those like Jona Frank's High School series or Billy & Hells's "neo-trivial" costumed clichés. Even the photographers themselves can be a typed group: Lumas lists part of its catalog as simply "Students of Thomas Ruff" (not a bad thing to be, but...). Yet wasn't such collecting the spark that also illuminated such classic portraits as those made by August Sander?

(Never let it be said that I'm shy about reading too much into material I haven't even seen yet, heh)

Even when portraits reveal a facade in addition to a face, they are still a record of that face, that time, of the relationshiup between the sitter, the shooter, the viewer — adding a sociological prism doesn't change that, only (potentially) enriches it. If anything, adding emphasis on social typing emphasizes the idea of fixing value, not only for a class of persons but for each indivual, specifically due to the nature of their variation away from the classified norm. If this were not so, wouldn't just one image per class suffice?

Personally I both trust and distrust the notion that a photograph can valorise the sitter. That a prestigious subject can smudge prestige onto the photographer is no surprise — how else to explain Ellen Graham? — but surely the other is just possible, if perhaps more rarely achieved. There are no shortages of humble subjects valorized by photographers, consciously or not — Strand, Winogrand, Frank, and Avedon to name only a handful — and even the pre-valorized may be transformed, as in Avedon's tired Marilyn and his world-worn Eisenhower. Was it their sort of "pre-valorized" nature part of what inspired Dianne Arbus to call the "freaks" she photographed "a kind of nobility"?

Posted September 12, 2005 | Comments (0)

Billy Jacked

A couple of years or so back I was browsing at a San Francisco bookstore and came across a book called "Projection Control" by William Mortensen whom I had previously known only as an antagonist to the old f/64 group back in the 1930's. His pictures seemed oddly modern however, so I read further and found that he was an advocate of what we might think of as a ridiculous method. He developed his film not for minutes but for hours.

Today all B&W shooters know "expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights" as espoused by core f/64 paladin Ansel Adams — Mortenson's approach was 100% opposed, "expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows." And the way he did this was to develop until there was simply no more developing to be done, to set the film in the tank and leave it.

So I tried it out, ran a roll of 120 Acros through the Bronica at a variety of exposures from three stops over standard to many stops below, put the film in the tank, loaded it with Rodinal 1+100, and went out for coffee with the SV Bloggers over at Barefoot Coffee. Two hours later I returned and fixer'd the film.

Normal development time for Acros is something like 11 minutes, so I anticipated some pretty black negatives, heavily over-developed. Which is not what I found at all!

Instead, I only seem to have gained a single stop or so in the overall exposure. The underexposed frames were... well, clear. I threw them away. The remaining frames I scanned, down to a faint level where the scanner way just taking a picture of the light source.

The strip above shows the frames at one-stop intevals around "normal" (marked with a triangle). The "minus one" is pretty much right where I would expect a normal exposure to land.

Does it look unusual, different from "normal" agitated development? Yeah, take a look: the local exhaustion effects, to my eyes, look a wee bit like stepping on the "unsharp mask" a little too hard. I like it.

Minus one

Posted September 08, 2005 | Comments (3)

Carrying Your Own Box

Three rolls of Neopan 400 120, three rolls of Acros 120, two rolls of HP5+ 120, two rolls of Ektachrome E100S 120, the B&W in Xtol 1+1, Rodinal 1+50, and in one case, Rodinal 1+100...

You do what you set out to do. Even if you fail, it's normal to frame the failure in terms of the original goal. Goals can be useful and powerful motivators, but they can also restrict. A common tragedy, told many times, is of a protagonist who pursues a goal only to find, as he approaches it, that it wasn't what he thought — everything looked perfect, from far away.

Goals can be lofty, but sometimes the most banal ones can have the greatest power over us. They are so easy to accomplish, they give us a little pat on the head each time. A thousand daily "atta boys" can be more compelling than a single house full of applause once every three years.

And those "atta boys" can be limiting, if after each little reward, each little and repetetive goal, we just stop. Good enough for today. Start over tomorrow. Never get much farther.

I've been feeling that way about the internet again, about my own use of it. It's so easy to post, so easy to collect viewing hits. But to what end? I keep finding myself making and selecting pictures not for their intrinsic value, not for their connection to me, but to illustrate a blog entry, or to round-out my flickr postings, or just to keep up with the traffic. These are all rotten reasons to make pictures, or to reject them because they're not amenable to being exactly 807 pixels wide on the blog or readable at 1K×700 (the photo that did get hung in the PAL-PHIG show was chosen — by me, anyway — partly because I knew that it wouldn't work on the web, that it played off fine detail; presenting it in a frame on the wall was the best way to share it — never on the computer).

Philip Perkis tells this little story:

A fly fisherman died. He awakes to find himself in the most beautiful river he has ever seen. In his hands is the most perfect fishing rod imaginable, with a "work of art" 16 Quill Gordon fly on the end of his line. He casts to a rising fish and hooks, lands, and releases an exquisite 20-inch brown trout. "I'm in heaven."

He casts again with the same result. And again, and again, each time hooking and landing a perfect fish. Slowly it starts to occur to our fisherman he may not be in heaven after all.

Posted September 07, 2005 | Comments (0)

Big Time

Tomorrow starts the 2005 Pacific Art League Annual Photo Exhibition and the photo above (actually a small crop from a much larger photo) will not be on display. One very much like it, however, is...

...the first tangible product of my New Toy, a Bronica RF645 6×4.5 rangefinder, a terrific vertical-format "Texas Leica."

The reception will be tomorrow evening, and the photos in the show will be on display throughout September.

More entries, including a roundup of Siggraph and a range of organization changes, in the coming days.

Posted September 01, 2005 | Comments (0)


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