Part of it seems to be the temporal nature of the app; it captures moments within a certain frame of time, with filters reflecting users’ moods and visual ideas around events. It’s temporal, with a leaning toward the personal, taking the best bits of social media and putting them within a visual interface. Thus, it’s become a beautiful complement to reporters’ toolkits. For evidence, check out WSJ’s impressive collection of Occupy Wall Street Instagram shots. Photojournalist Richard Koci Hernandezsees it as a game-changer. It was used for New York Fashion Week. Plenty of people – journalists and non-journalists alike – use it as a kind of blogging shorthand for what they see around them. Plenty don’t, however, and in a neat twist of irony, they’ve used other social media outlets (particularly Twitter) to air their displeasure. Is Instagram a threat to traditional photojournalists? To journalists overall?
The line between reporting and art feels perilously thin when considering the potential of the app. I happen to like it for on-the-go shots of my daily life, though I’m careful to avoid the “this is what I ate for breakfast” mundanity that seems to dominate so much social media photo-sharing. As a former photographer who worked in (and occasionally misses) film, I find Instagram’s range of “vintage” filters more amusing than annoying. Still, there’s something to be said for the tactile, and more than once, I’ve found myself drawing (or wanting to draw) some of the shots I come across on my daily Instagram look-throughs. Perhaps that’s the basic beauty of the app: it embraces the sharp, thorny terrain of the present, while snuggling with the soft, messy sheets of yesteryear. It’s Now, and Then, and Maybe, all at once.
It feels good to have that week over, though it did afford me some great opportunities to chat with some great people. One of those was John Coburn, a Toronto-based artist whose work is being exhibited on Wall Street September 1st through 15th. John did a series of sketches when 9/11 happened -and they’re gorgeous. I can hardly believe it’s been ten years. Oh my dear city, it’s been through so much.
Look out for that feature soon.
Also, and this feels right to announce here, casually: I’m going back to audio interviews. Not through a radio station, but independently. In this age of social media interaction, of emails flying to and fro across the vast buzzy darkness of cyberspace, there’s something awfully good about the human interaction of sitting in a room, with a live breathing, thinking person for half an hour, and having a real conversation. Would you tune in? Would you listen?
Photography has always been a great love of mine. I stood on O’Connell Street bridge years ago, with friends holding each ankle,trying to capture a rapidly-setting smudge of sun over the spires of a dull, charcoal-sketched Dublin. I loved walking around with my old SLR Minolta snapping bits of graffiti, odd sights, small moments and cherished ephemera.
The camera was put away at music gigs. The dance of sound, motion, and drama made that beloved piece of equipment feel like a demanding, distracting, high-maintenance lover I didn’t want to deal with. Even with the advent of digital photography, my non-photography stance at concerts remained resolute. I’m just not one of those people who pulls out the camera (or phone) to snap away when a favorite performer takes to the stage – I prefer to absorb the magic of the moment directly, taking a mental photo of that time, not just sights but smells, sounds, the pressing of excitable people and the slow-fast shuffle of feet.
Aaron Richter, however, is another breed. An accomplished music and fashion photographer as well as the art director for music magazine Self-Titled, his work is at once universal and yet very intimate and personal. It has an immediacy and vibrancy that points to a deep appreciation of both music and the modern, urban culture from whence it springs. Aaron’s work is being showcased at the W Hotel Times Square now through August 12th.
I had the privilege of exchanging ideas about music and photography -and the strong connections therein -with Aaron. His answers are sure to delight both photo and music enthusiasts.
How did you first get interested in photography?
I first started taking photos as a kid, doing B&W stuff in darkrooms, and, from probably senior year of high school till about two and a half years ago (I’m 27 now), I didn’t really take photos at all. I just sorta stopped for some reason and started focusing on being a writer instead. I moved to New York after college to be a writer and editor for magazines, and that’s what I did for about three years.
I started a magazine called MusicMusicMusic with friends and it was real cool. We only did one issue. But the model Erin Wasson was dancing to LCD Soundsystem on our cover in a photo shot by Kenneth Cappello. I also worked full time at a magazine called GIANT that had an incredible art department: iconic creative and art directors and amazing photographers—both well-established (like Ellen Von Unwerth) and up-and-coming (like Ruvan, Miko Lim and Cameron Krone)—shooting for us. I fell in love with that part of the job, and after I got laid off, as everyone working in magazines eventually does, I spent my severance on a camera and have been taking pictures ever since.
How does your work at Self-Titled influence your visual output?
Since I was young I’ve always sorta thought musicians were the coolest people in the world. And I think a lot of what gets lost in the over-blogged coverage of music these days is any sense of the artists behind the music being legitimately cool anymore—at least a sense of cool that’s actually captured and conveyed through the coverage, if that makes sense.
We know so much about musicians now because there’s more and more demand for more content and more interviews and more analysis of the music, so there’s less mystery, or maybe less intrigue, which makes it seem like you know all your favorite musicians all too well. Imagine if Kurt Cobain had to give a million blog interviews every week and had a Twitter account? We’d have probably all thought he was just a total dickhead, albeit one who wrote incredible songs.
So a lot of what I try to do with Self-Titled is present musicians in a manner that takes back that sort of cool exclusivity, unattainable yet aspirational—this very unarguable, visceral and immediate visual sense of “Wow, fuck! that’s cool!” Whether we achieve that from issue to issue, I dunno (it’s tough). But as far as my photography is concerned, that desire to make musicians look cool (whatever that means might change from band to band) is always my top concern. To a large extent, I miss that element of music, so I’ve take it as my job, both as an art director and a photographer, to bring it back as much as possible.
How much is a relationship with your subjects important to you? I especially like your shots of Bootsy Collins & Kareem Abdul Jabbar at Bonnaroo.
Every photographer will tell you this is one of the most important elements to a good shoot. It just makes sense. If a subject feels comfortable around you, your photos will be better. My Bonnaroo photos are a weird example here. Most of the work we did in Tennessee for the festival was done very quickly and within a five-minute block of time while an artist was en route to another obligation or about to head onstage. Getting subjects comfortable was something that had to happen almost instantaneously.
You mention Bootsy Collins and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Both were instances in which I really didn’t get a chance to develop any sort of relationship with the subjects at all. Bootsy was great because we met up and he was immediately just a total ham for the camera. Kareem was tough. He’s notoriously a tough subject. He really didn’t even acknowledge me at all while I was shooting. And I sort of felt like a paparazzi stealing photos that weren’t mine. I actually connected with him pretty well only after we stopped shooting. I noticed he was carrying a book about chess and asked him if he played, and he loosened up considerably once he was able to start talking about something he loves.
As far as the rest of my Bonnaroo photos are concerned, two of my favorite series of images are with Smith Westerns and Alexis from Sleigh Bells. The guys in Smith Westerns were very welcoming to me coming into their space and hanging out with them while they got ready to play live, and they let me come up on the stage during their set to shoot. They’re very comfortable in front of the camera and are generally just sort of adorable. Alexis from Sleigh Bells I’ve known for about two years.
I shot Sleigh Bells’ first press photos but haven’t really seen either Alexis or Derek from the band since then, though we’ve kept in touch. At Bonnaroo, meeting up was sort of like a little reunion and I got to spend a longer bit of time (maybe 30 minutes) with her backstage. There was no need for any, “Hi. Nice to meet you. My name is Aaron. This is what I’d like to do…” and we were kind of just able to casually catch up, with me every once in a while taking a photo, before I had to head out for my next photo obligation that night.
What do you think of the resurgence of interest in celluloid photography?
It’s great that people love shooting on film. Whatever you feel most comfortable with taking photos is awesome. I shoot pretty much entirely digital–probably 90 percent. And I prefer it.
Film is fun, and not having the back of a camera to look at to check to see if the photos are turning out is an incredibly liberating limitation that does wonders for enhancing the mood of a shoot. But with film, I usually prefer point-and-shoot, and in general, I tend to concentrate too much on and get obsessed with imperfections in the resulting photos to let myself be OK with an out-of-focus or weirdly lit photo the way a photographer like Cass Bird can. One of my friends, Bryan Sheffield, has made the shift to shooting film almost exclusively, and his portfolio has just exploded with incredible work since then.
Another photographer I hire for work in self-titled is Caroline Mort, who shoots a very unstudied amateurish style of photography, quite often with disposables, that has such incredible heart and emotion to it. Pretty much every issue, my favorite photo is one of her shots. Again, I’ve always felt that film, especially the way I’ve been able to approach it since my darkroom days and compared to shooting whatever-mega-megapixels of a digital camera, is somewhat of an imprecise medium, and there’s this awesome charm to a photographer being OK with and having confidence in an image’s imperfections. Cass Bird is probably the best at this. Her Urban Outfitters catalogs lately and her T magazine stories… incredible.
Who would you like to photograph that you haven’t yet? Why?
Elle Fanning. My goal for 2012 is to become best friends with her. So my thinking is that if I somehow get to photograph her, I can spark our long friendship and then we can hang out all the time and watch Netflix and eat pizza and stuff. That’s not weird, right?
Chris Owens, from the band Girls. He’s seems legitimately genuine and honest, and he’s easily one of the best songwriters we have. All I’m asking for is a week crashing on his couch to follow him around and take photos. Also, Jason Pierce of Spiritualized. The epitome of rock-and-roll cool to me and kind of totally a mystery.
A little piece of inspiration, amidst the Christmas/holiday nutties.
The ocean has always been a source of inspiration for me. When I lived in Dublin, I used to have to take the DART south for work twice a week; I loved being along the Irish sea and looking out at the swirling waves. It was a hell of a public transit ride for a wide-eyed Canadian girl more used to seeing concrete and tracts of homogenous suburban town-boxes along commuter routes. I marveled at the many people who simply fell asleep on the ride. How can you miss this?, I thought. Maybe it’s something you get used to, and sick of, the way us Canadians are about snow and winter scenes.
On the (few) days the sun shone in Dublin, the watery landscape turned into a glinting kind of jewel; I only wish I had been painting then. Still, I had my trusty Minolta with me. The photos I took are languishing somewhere in Ireland. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again; the feeling of seeing that dance of sky and sea will be with me, though, forever. Another ride along the DART is inevitable, both physically and otherwise.
Watching pieces of the movie Frida recently, amidst bites of crostini, answering emails, and half-sketching, was a strange experience -and not just because of the multi-tasking.
When I saw it in the cinema in 2002 I was bowled over by the mix of images, plot, and music within Julie Taymor‘s vision of the Mexican painter’s life. My initial viewing was at an early point in my own personal explorations into drawing and painting; after years of photography, including nearly two years spent in Ireland and England with an ancient, beloved manual-forward SLR camera, I thought it might be a good idea to strip the technology away to get to the heart of art-making. And so the drawing/painting/sketching odyssey began, and photography, however slowly, fell by the wayside, paralleling the dwindling of film stock and the rise of mobile (and, for that matter, internet) technology.
It was during a recent dinner party at my home that I felt a deep twinge of nostalgia for my old snapping days. I brought out the old Minolta at the request of one of my guests, a photo enthusiast. The weight of the camera, the ka-chunk of the shutter, the cylindrical beauty of the lens, the quasi-surprise of the prints… it was all magical to behold after so long away from it. Yet spying the light meter again created a small panic, a palpable sense of, what am I doing?! It was a curious mix of panic and passion.
I’m a longtime admirer of Frida’s work -“admirer”, actually, feels too mild, but “fan” feels too slavish. She takes her place, like Patti Smith, in my mental curio cabinet of beautifully imperfect heroes: shriekingly female but defying categorization, always personal but ever-cryptic, physical but very heady, hugely experimental but deeply traditional. A mass of genius in contradiction, Frida’s work, like Patti’s, has the power to bring me to tears, and frequently has.
The timing of Taymor’s movie on television was curious on a personal level (never mind Taymor’s directing Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark, opening next month on Broadway. More on that in a future post.). I’d been berating myself for not being productive enough artistically lately. I should be drawing/painting/etc is a frequent mental mantra. It’s feels like a hard thing to go off and do, and yet it shouldn’t be. That old want-to-be-doing vs should-be-doing battle is raging. The other reason productivity falls away is that I have a genuine sense of not knowing what I’m doing, that it’s all for naught, that it’s all horribly amateur and pointless and stupid. That voice of doubt is sometimes louder than the calm, quiet one that asks me to keep going.
And so, it was appropos that, looking through a bookshelf for something else entirely, Peter London’s No More Secondhand Art (Shambhala Publications, 1989) popped out at me. I opened it, as if my magic, to a page with the following header: “Am I Good Enough?” That would be my other mantra, a much older one that applies to several areas and pursuits. But I was fascinated by London’s dissection of this question to self as applied to art-making, one that works whether you love drawing, painting, photography or performance:
We can never win the encounter with such a question, because the very underlying assumption of “Am I —— enough?” is a faulty appraisal of the human condition and a false understanding of what it does take to engage in creative enterprises… Rather than paralyzing ourselves with the existential bone-crusher “Am I good enough?” we would do better to ask ourselves question that invoke no comparisons. Instead, we could become interested in describing the new terrain being uncovered or invented.
I dream of the day that voice stops -or at least softens. I dream of the day I’ll have the most precious things any artist could ask for -time, space, resources -to do what I want most to do, when my heroes smile and say, see? It wasn’t so hard after all. Because really, it’s not.
Paintings: Top: The Two Fridas, 1939. Bottom: Viva la vida, 1954. Frida Kahlo’s last painting. Photo credit: Photograph of Frida Kahlo by Lucienne Bloch, 1932.
That was my exact reaction reading a friend’s tweet recently. Technology is everywhere; so go the accessories. Life without a cellphone (and the ubiquitous apps) seems unreal; twenty years ago, life without a Walkman was unthinkable. Technology has been so ubiquitous now that it’s turned into a simple matter of choosing what we want, and when, and being absolutely confident it’ll be there at our convenience.
It’s hard to imagine the shock waves English photographer Eadweard Muybridge created with his early experiments in photography -experiments that lead to the creation of cinema. Can any of us imagine life without movies or still images? It’s easy to take them for granted, especially since they’re everywhere: TVs, movie screens, the internet, computer monitors. A work colleague of mine has a lovely photo of her daughter set as her desktop; in Muybridge’s time (the mid/late 1800s), the only image of the girl that could’ve existed would have been a painting. Beautiful, but hardly the same thing.
The conveniences of technology, and its role in our lives -scientifically, artistically, socially -ran through my mind watching Studies In Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge, produced by Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre and presented by The Canadian Stage Company, currently on in Toronto at the Bluma Appel Theatre. The lauded work opens with a naked man carefully manoeuvring his way across the stage; I write “manoeuvring” because there is a real sense of trying to capture the basic -or seemingly-basic movements Muybridge did in his own experiments. The English-born, American-living/working photographer worked at the University of Pennsylvania between 1884 and 1887, and invented new techniques and technologies that significantly furthered the art of photography and lead directly to the world of cinema. The opening scene of Studies In Motion is exactly what its title suggests: studies (that is, people) in motion, across a grid-like space, forcing us to look at muscles, bones, structure and form, and the various shadows they cast across the bare expanse of stage -this mortal coil, perhaps or the new terrain someone might embark on whenever they try anything new.
Within the context of societal mores depicted within the play, the nudity is a source of shock, of course. One not-so-amused woman looks on pie-eyed and mouth gaping as the models demonstrate their daily business in the lab. Yet Muybridge (Andrew Wheeler) tells the shocked visitor this isn’t about titillation; if he could, he’d rip the flesh off to see the bone, and then take away the bone to see pure movement itself. Models cover and uncover according to the readiness of the equipment, but they are also comfortable around their technician cohorts. Thus the straight-laced Victorian world falls away, and we are taken somewhere considerably more modern; this modern sense is reflected, meta-theatrically at least in a sense, via Crystal Pite’s dance interludes, where the actors become the motion their theatrical counterparts set out to study. With a pulsating soundtrack (courtesy of composer Patrick Pennefather), the ensemble reaches, runs, stretches, and sashays through all variance of human-doings.
The team behind Studies In Motion are a talented bunch; director Kim Collier is a Siminovitch Prize-winner, and the impressive set, lighting, and video design is by Canada Council award winner Robert Gardiner. Crystal Pite is celebrated across Canada and has won a Dora Mavor Moore Award (a Toronto version of a Tony). Writer Kevin Kerr’s other works include Unity (1918) and Skydive, and the show itself was previously produced at Montreal’s impressive Festival TransAmériques in 2009. While there’s a true sense of exploration and curiosity and even wonder, I was left cold emotionally -but then, that’s probably the point. Kerr’s work eerily echoes the cold efficiency with which Muybridge approached his work, and even the inclusion of the famous murder he trial he was involved with (he shot his wife’s l0ver) fails to touch; it’s at its most compelling when in the lab, showing movement you take for granted -human technology at work -across a massive, sprawling grid.
Gardiner’s contribution was, I admit, my favorite part of the show. His eye-poppingly gorgeous grid-like design was complemented by various projections of Muybridge’s original works flashed acros the long screen running the length of the stage. The natural tendencies of the eye (moving left to right, small to large) were challenged, gently, skillfully, with a notion of continually widening, then narrowing Kerr’s narrative focus. The design was a dramatic dance companion to the occasionally-maudlin script, though it shuld be noted that Kerr is incredibly good at knowing when his characters should shut up and let the images do the talking. Here Collier’s incredible eye for integrating the piece’s various elements -dance, video, images, movement -comes forward as truly impressive, and truly remarkable. There was a nice future-looking play of words and sounds and images I experienced in watching Studies In Motion too; artists like the Lumiere brothers, Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, and in a more contemporary sense, Daft Punk, Jenny Holzer, the early 90s videos of U2 (Mark Neale’s direction of “Lemon”, above, was directly influenced by Muybridge’s work), and the entire Krautrock and industrial movements are all here, in various guises, occasionally naked, occasionally still, probing and pulsating and prowling.
Muybridge, and by extension, Collier’s work attempts to look at the mytery of humanity and existence by taking mall slices of movement and analyzing them to bits; thing is, there’s an art in those small moments, in and of themselves, that doesn’t require analysis so much as acceptance. We may marvel at the technical and scientific feat Muybridge achieve, but it brings us no closer to the mytery of the human heart, or indeed, the mysterious ways we’re moved by art itelf.
So this, then, is the final question Studies In Motion left me with, one I’m still wrestling with: does a person make better art through isolation? isolated movement, position, placement -consciouly created -good or bad for art? I don’t expect easy answer -and in fact, I’d rather enjoy the questions anyway. There’s poetry in the motion, and in stillness, and having both at my disposal through this little life feels like the best kind of technology I could want, iPhone gloves be damned. Photo credits: Top and bottom photos courtesy of Canadian Stage Company. Photos by Tim Matheson.
Eno Kisses The Future: Producer/musician/all-around genius Brian Eno is the Guest Artistic Director of the 2010 Brighton Festival, running May 1st through 23rd. Discussing the vital role of art in shaping future events, he says “it’s very easy to be pessimistic about the future” but adds that “artists offer new kinds of worlds” from which imagination can rise to offer new, creative solutions to problems like climate change and poverty. The fest will include Eno’s 77 Million Paintings and a sound installation set up throughout the city.
“Legacy is greater than currency“: Best-selling author and wine guy Gary Vaynerchuk gave this talk at the Web 2.0 Expo in 2008. He talks about “hustling” and the benefits of pursuing what you love, rather than being stuck in a job you hate. I’m still not sure how it relates to the world of journalism, but there’s something heartening about his energy and enthusiasm, and I like his idea of establishing “brand equity in yourself.”
Women Who Go Beyond: This collection of photos is a nice complement to this past weekend’s Women In The World conference. Based on The One Campaign‘s recent trips through Ghana and Sierra Leone, the photos are both beautiful works of art an incredible documents of people making a difference. The stories accompanying them are equally fascinating and inspiring.
Casually checking my Flickr as a kind of break from mad bouts of transcribing and article surgery earlier this evening, I came across a rather stern-sounding message: YOU HAVE BEEN BANNED FROM THE ABSTRACT PHOTOS GROUP. Oh dear.
Slightly perplexed, a bit flummoxed, but altogether curious, I took a look around the group to see what rules I had violated. Hmm, no porn, check. No photoshopping, check. No borders, check. No people, well… it’s my hand. Does that count?
Perusing one of the Administrator‘s interestingly-labelled “Hall of Inappropriate” sections (I counted three) in which photos rejected by the group can be commented on by other (non-rejected) members, I came across my photo (above), with the following caption, written by said Administrator: Attack of the hands still here for the month of April 😉
Yes, I like hands. And yes, I’ve posted weird close-ups of my hands before. They’re an ongoing theme for me artistically and personally. I’m fascinated not only by mine but by others’. One of my earliest, most seminal inkling into visual art, before painting, drawing, or anything else, was taking hand traces. This particular shot (or series of shots) was taken during an especially joyous -and very fruitful -sketching session that yielded a lot of good material. I find something weirdly romantic, and deeply moving, about artists’ hands dirtied by their passion. And yes, I do think some of these are abstract. But that’s my opinion.
Alas, I suppose it wasn’t -isn’t -shared by ImaginationAlone. Admittedly, I may have violated the group rules by posting too many, else the Administrator just doesn’t think my work is a good fit for his/her Abstract group. I wonder what he/she would make of Guggi.
Attack of the bowls/jugs still here since 1988! (insert cute winky)
Artists can’t help what they’re drawn to. By the same token, artists can’t help what they’re repelled by, either. It’s all a matter of beauty in the eye of the beholder, of maintaining a degree of respect between artists. Not stepping on toes can be a full-time job; it takes patience, maturity, and a good sense of communication. Holding something you may not like up to ridicule by way of group-think doesn’t strike me as an entirely classy way to handle what you deem to be a poor fit for your collection, even if it is egalitarian in a cold, technological sense.
Alas, I take being banned as a weird badge of honour. Here’s looking at you, Groucho.
Years ago, I decided to explore the one art I hadn’t yet tried: drawing.
After drama, music, dance and photography, learning the basics of good drawing is a logical step, after all. I tend to be one of those people who strongly believes in a balanced diet of exposure to all things; art is, for me, a big, madly delicious buffet of experiences and expressions. A little bit of this, a scoop of that… Jill of all trades, master of none, but happy. Once you find the right dish, you never run out of ways to improve it, or want to stop experimenting with the ways in which it matches up with other tastes.
I’m more conscious of my visual side lately, noting the beauty of theatrical design in various productions I’ve attended; the costumes, lighting, props, and set all started out as ideas first done in drawing. My own initial work with pencil, charcoal, conte, and watercolour years ago lead to one of my great passions: oil painting. I painted with mad passion for years, and found much solace and calm through my work with brushes, palette, and a bare canvas. At times it was my greatest comfort, at others an utter torment -but it was always there.
Alas, life being cyclical, I’ve moved away from painting and back to my earlier love of photography. Looking through recent shots, I was struck by their painterly qualities. Amazing, how some arts naturally integrate themselves within artistic expression and form. Does this mean I’ll be doing any free-form features in my arts writing? Doubtful. But it does mean I might trust in my subconscious instincts a bit more, without trying to fit into a mold of how I think I “ought” to sound. Writing is, for me, a careful balance of research, reason, observation, and experience; that doesn’t, however, mean it should lack passion or personality.
In that vein, the next Play Anon interview will hopefully be published this week. I recently met with a painter who thinks the Canada Council should be abolished; before you get your shoulders up, take a deep breath. He dislikes government -period. It was one of the most enlightening conversations about art that I’ve ever had. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Stay tuned.
Now get outside and enjoy the splendor of autumn. Take your camera, your pencil, your paintbrush.