Category Archives: photography

First Calbees (巨人)

One of the things that’s happened after I wrote about how baseball cards formed a certain amount of my visual literacy has been that I’ve become increasingly aware of non-American cards and how different they can look. In particular I’ve been increasingly exposed to Japanese cards from the 1970s and have been stuck by how different they feel compared to my experience with Topps.

The main product here of course is Calbee whose full-bleed photo-centric cards with minimal text and design is as much a polar opposite you can get from anything Topps was doing in the 1970s.* And that’s before even getting into the photography itself.

*The Yamakatsu cards and their own wonderful photo-centric look which, when coupled with the player signatures, creates fabulous looking cards deserve to be mentioned too.

I found myself seeing samples of Calbee cards using telephotography that put the 1970s action cards to shame. It’s not just that it feels like the camera technology was better* but the light itself is better. Most of the Topps photos are shot in the day with full sun—resulting in harsh shadows and high contrast images. The Calbee ones have flatter light which often feels like they were taken indoors or in the night.**

*Given Japan’s position in the camera industry—especially in the 1970s—this is entirely possible.

**Which makes me wonder what kind of film they used and if this is an early Kodak vs Fuji difference. And yeah these results would put me on team Fuji. 

There are also ones which use wide angle lenses to give us beautiful cards that we can only describe as the kind of thing that Stadium Club aspires to today—over four decades after Calbee printed cards like this in Japan.

All of these factors combined have made me periodically search on ebay for Calbee cards. Usually the results—if any—are way too expensive (especially once shipping from Japan comes into play) but low and behold I found some at a decent price which would ship in the international version of a plain white envelope (in this case a manila policy envelope). So I took the plunge and got a half-dozen 1975–1976 Calbee cards that caught my eye.

Amusingly they were all Yomiuri Giants. This is completely coincidental to my collecting interests but not that surprising. As the Yankees of Japan, the Giants had the biggest budget and biggest name players at the time and it was only fitting that the first Calbee cards I’d purchase would feature those players.

From an American point of view, Sadaharu Oh is the obvious must-have card. I was pleased to find two of them at an affordable price as his cards often command the “only Japanese star Americans can name” markup. I really like both of these and am glad to add them to the only Oh card in my collection.

The head shot is close to the standard Topps look with that raking shadow. But it’s super tightly cropped and has wonderful detail on the helmet logo. If it’s posed it doesn’t look it. The batting shot meanwhile shows off his distinct leg kick while also being an unusual angle of not just right behind the plate but also almost below field level.

Shigeo Nagashima meanwhile was the most popular player in Japan and had taken over as the Giants’ manager. So it’s nice and fitting to have his cards as well. The portrait is a nice casual shot but I really like the celebration photo. There are so many great things going on with it with all the other photographers in the frame and the park details such as how the foul pole has lettering on it. I also appreciate that the date stamp for the celebration is not just October 16 but specifies 3:40PM too.

I grabbed the Davey Johnson card because I liked the way it shows how differently the caps were constructed. But it’s also an interesting artifact which fills in a two-year hole in his Topps card record. Because he went to Japan to play from 1975–76 he has no 1976 or 1977 Topps cards and the only mention of what happened in that two-season gap is his 1978 card mentioning that he was a teammate of both Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.

And I just liked the card of Hisao Niura tying his shoes. It’s a photo I’ve never seen on a card before and reminds me how the current all-action approach to baseball card photography misrepresents the sport. It’s nice to have cards capturing the down time when “nothing” is happening but which make baseball baseball.

Niura is also an interesting character in that, like Oh, he wasn’t considered Japanese despite being from Japan. Where Oh was Chinese, Niura was Korean and I like having these in-between cases in my collection too.

I’ve titled this post “First Calbees” since I can see getting more of these in the future—especially if the photograph catches my eye. However these are also plenty sufficient to satisfy my curiosity. I wasn’t ready for how thick they are compared to what I’ve come to expect from food-insert baseball cards.  The printing is also pretty good—especially for its time.

It’s also nice to see cards in a size that doesn’t follow the Topps standard. These are slightly smaller but don’t feel like minis. With the slightly smaller size and the slightly thicker paper they feel really good in hand.

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Clarence H. White

The Michael Kenna show is actually intended to supplement Princeton’s current big show of Clarence H. White photographs. The hook is pictorialism and its legacy and, as someone who doesn’t really enjoy pictorialism, by including Kenna’s landscapes in the pictorial tradition offers one explanation for why I don’t like them too much.

Pictorialism for me is a period of photography when the medium hadn’t quite figured out what it was best at. Even though people like Watkins and O’Sullivan had created work which still influences landscape photography, a lot of photograph was having problems escaping from the idea that photos should look like paintings. I enjoy seeing exhibitions of pictorial photographs because I can see the evolution of the craft. I just don’t like the photos themselves.

DSC_0007

It is fun however to see the photos treated as objects rather than images. The wall of pictorial frames is great as are the examples of prints cut into triptychs. While this sort of feeds into the idea that the photos need to be part of a larger art object, it’s an important reminder how even today we need to think of photographs as things rather than just images.

It’s also really interesting to see how photography interplays with illustration. White has a number of commercial works for books as well as gum bichromate prints* and glycerin development.** Oftentimes the photos are reworked by hand after they’re printed in order to give them a more painterly texture. since many of these images are intended to be printed in books and used as illustrations, the mannered pictorial style feels much more appropriate since it’s working in the service of the text.

*Not inherently pictorial but in this show, often used in ways to block up shadows and enhance the surface texture so the photo actually looks like a painting.

**Effectively a resist technique for platinum printing where parts of the paper don’t get get the developer. White then uses developer to paint new details into the undeveloped sections.

The show though is mainly about White’s evolution as a photographer and, more importantly, his influence as a photography instructor. So we can see his growth as he works toward the medium we recognize today and his early fuzzy posed portraits become more assured in their lighting and compositions. The same goes with his students’ work which often demonstrates the medium’s growth into what we recognize as photography today.

Rouge: Michael Kenna

When I first encountered Micheal Kenna’s work I was struck by how beautiful it was. Wonderfully elegant and serene, they were photos the likes of which I could see myself aspiring to. Then I kept seeing his work come across my Tumblr dashboard and found myself getting kind of bored. The images began feeling too perfect and almost sterile. They’re still beautiful but they’re begging for a story or some context.

So I was a little wary when I went to see Princeton’s exhibition of his Rouge series and found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The photos are all still very much the Kenna™ brand but rather than idealizing nature we’re seeing the elegant beauty of the man-made industrial forms.

Kenna is at his best as a photographer of atmosphere and silhouettes. He’s able to find the bare minimum of a form and abstract it in ways where it becomes two-dimensional at some points. He has a very graphic sensibility which, when applied to industrial objects, turns them into found art.

If his landscape photos are initially appealing in that they’re pretty photos of pretty things, Rouge operates in that wonderful transformative way that the best photography does. The photos are still beautiful, but the beauty is tougher to see and the photos help us recognize it.

The silhouettes of the factory buildings. The way those elements interact with each other visually whether in their repeated forms or how they overlap and intersect. How massive solid shapes disappear in the mist and how their reflected forms disappear in the moving water. The way light gleams when it reflects off well-worn patches of metal. How imposed on the land everything feels—especially when it snows—yet there’s a beauty in how the clean lines of the factory contrasts with the texture of the earth.

I just really enjoyed looking at these.

The exhibition also frames Kenna’s work as a dialog with the earlier photographs—especially Charles Sheeler—and paintings both of Ford’s Rouge plant and with respect to America’s view of industry. Technological utopia versus dystopia is a fine line. Many of Kenna’s compositions directly reference earlier works which show gleaming sunlit structures embracing the power and promise of industry. Kenna though shoots them at night or in the fog, with long exposures that create otherworldly smoke and lighting effects.

The result is a sense of foreboding. The end is coming and the promises of 90 years ago didn’t pan out the way we desired. It’s not going to blow up, it’s just going to gradually wind down and become deserted. We see the echoes of industry in the photos and can picture the ruins that’ll remain once these jobs no longer exist.

That Kenna erases the labor aspect in his photos helps our sense of seeing these as being deserted. There’s still smoke belching from the powerhouse cloud factory but we don’t see the factory workers themselves. At most we get the sense that people have worked here in the past. Machinery is worn, and surfaces are no longer shiny and new.

This is more of a human touch than I’m used to in Kenna’s landscape photos but it’s still in keeping with his standard operating procedure for landscapes. And I found myself questioning the ethics of it. Yes it helps these photos work as elegies to American industrial production but with the times being what they are, I find myself wondering how many people are working and how many of them will be out of work soon.

I also don’t usually do a comparison of the catalog with the exhibition but this shows is the first time I’ve picked up a gallery copy of the catalog and directly compared it to the prints on the wall. My initial interest was print size. Kenna’s prints are all pretty small—around eight inches square*—and I was curious if the book printed them the same size as the prints.

*I’m increasingly used to art photography being printed huge.

I was pleased to see that they are the same size in the catalog and on the wall. I was surprised however to see such a huge difference in contrast. Kenna’s prints are very high contrast with crushed shadows that emphasize the bulk of the factory and the silhouettes of the equipment. The catalog on the other hand has way more shadow detail which suggests that they either come from a different set of prints or that they’re new scans from the negatives.

Neither version looks bad. I feel like the higher contrast look helps set the mood better however.

Also at the Getty

While Chris Killip was the best thing I saw at the Getty there were a few other cool photography exhibitions as well. I don’t have much to say about them but they’re both totally worth mentioning still.

David Hockney

Pearblossom Hwy., 11 - 18th April 1986, #2; David Hockney

Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #2; David Hockney

There was a small, wonderful room of David Hockney Joiners. I’ve loved these for a long time but they’re also things I’ve only ever seen online. As is often the case with art they’re much much much more impressive in person. His earlier ones of just the Polaroid grid are fun en0ugh but as he becomes more virtuosic in his technique and starts layering and zooming with the 4×6 prints they become amazing.

It’s tempting to say they’re paintings or collage rather than photography since they use the photos almost as brush strokes. But they also are profoundly about looking and seeing and how, when we scan a scene, we notice specific details. This is something that any photographer is deeply aware of and looking at a Hockney Joiner feels very similar to the way I asses a scene before taking a photo.

Also, these are huge. They have to be since they’re composed of hundreds of  4×6 prints. But even though I knew this I wasn’t prepared for how big they actually were in person.

Thomas Annan

Close, No. 37 High Street, negative 1868-71; print 1871, Thomas Annan

Close, No. 37 High Street, negative 1868-71; print 1871, Thomas Annan

Right next to the Killip show was a large show of Thomas Annan. It’s a great survey of a photographer about whom I knew nothing. If I were more familiar with Glasgow I suspect I would really really have liked this. It’s a very interesting contrast with Killip’s photos of industrial decline since so much of Annan’s work is about celebrating and demonstrating the rise of industry.

I also enjoy the range of work. We have photographs of tenements and their residents, fancy new buildings, construction projects, and industrial machines. It’s an good reminder that all of these disparate subjects can indeed fit together as a cohesive body of work.

Chris Killip

Helen and Her Hula-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland; Chris Killip

Helen and Her Hula-hoop, Lynemouth, Northumberland

Terraced Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside; Chris Killip

Terraced Housing, Wallsend, Tyneside

I was in LA—Beverly Hills actually—for a weekend and decided to take a looksee around The Getty. I don’t really have much to say about the permanent collection but I was very pleased to see their show of Chris Killip’s In Flagrante.

Killip’s documentary photos around northern England in the 1970s and 1980s are fantastic as just historical documents but they’re also especially interesting in terms of how they were made. Instead of the typical social documentary unobtrusive Leica rig, Killip shot with a handheld Linhof 4×5. That’s just insane to me in terms of both how it severely limited his ability to blow through exposures and in how it’s anything but unobtrusive.

The large negative meant that he could crop and rotate images without suffering any grain issues on the print. There was a wonderful section of work prints and contact sheets which demonstrated how he worked through his negatives before creating prints. And the amount of access he had with that large camera demonstrates the degree to which he’d embedded himself in these communities.

This isn’t a photographer parachuting into a place. Killip has gained the trust of these communities—many of which are very private or defensive— and as a result is able to take amazingly gritty but humane photographs as they struggle with deindustrialization and the resulting anxiety which comes from not having an obvious trade to practice.

It’s tempting to view these as being about the bleakness of the Thatcher years but  Killip’s view isn’t to critique Thatcher but rather highlight the way people are having to survive as their economies collapse and transform into something else. The photos aren’t about suffering or blame, they’re about coping and living and to a certain extent, remembering these jobs and communities before they’re completely lost.

We see how people are still working and making ends meet. We see how the kids play and how families stick together. We see how they live and the harshness of their lives deserves our empathy.

We also get to look at these in a time when very similar changes are going on in the US. Factories are closing. And if they’re not closing, they’re being automated. Factory towns are dying. As much as “economic anxiety” is often a euphemism for racism there is truth there as well. People don’t know what their next gig will be or where they’ll be able to get money from. Plus a ton of the people being affected aren’t white anyway.

One of the best parts of this show though is in how it shows Killip returning to his 1980 project and spinning two additional projects out of it. I love this idea that even if you’ve locked a good project up that you can always come back to parts of it and use those as the cornerstones for something new.

Seacoal and Skinningrov are both wonderful little series of photos in and of themselves. They serve to provide context to some of the images in In Flagrante but they also demonstrate how a deep dive and immersion into a community makes it hard to truly delete photos. Instead of being about the general sense of things at the time, these two additional projects document specific communities and how they’re coping with the changes going on.

Good 70s

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series Mrs. Kilpatric, 1974

from the series Mrs. Kilpatric, 1974

Mike Mandel, Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston

Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the portfolio People in Cars, 1972

from the portfolio People in Cars, 1972

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series, Myself: Timed Exposures, 1971

from the series, Myself: Timed Exposures, 1971

I was sad to miss the Larry Sultan show but I’m very glad I made it up to SFMOMA for the Mike Mandel show. Sometimes it’s nice to just see things that are fun and make me smile.

This isn’t to say that Mandel’s work is somehow simple or trivial, just that the concepts are both remarkable easy to grasp and Mandel’s default approach mines the humor. It’s a goofy humor which I really love and, despite being funny, manages to maintain a certain seriousness and empathy for the subjects. I’m not laughing at the photos or the people in them, I’m laughing because of them and what they make me recognize. This is an approach which is sadly lacking in a lot of photography.

Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston is a perfect example of this. It could easily be seen as a stunt. Or something making fun of Edward Weston—or all these other Edward Westons. But it avoids those pitfalls and becomes so much more. It touches on how everyone takes and consumes photography—each of the Edward Westons supplies a portrait and talks about photography. It touches on the nature of fame and what it’s like to have a name in common with someone famous. It provides a sympathetic glimpse into seven men’s lives. Seven men whose only thing in common is that they share the same name as a famous photographer and were generous enough to share about their lives to a complete stranger.

It’s also hilarious. Not because of who those men are what their responses are but because there’s simultaneously an everyman, what if I shared my name with someone famous, thing going on plus the sly suggestion that maybe each of these guys is actually the Edward Weston. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I read each of these and looked at the photos.

Mrs Kilpatric is also fun. So simple that in many ways it’s just about goofing around with a friend and neighbor. But the unposed—well, semi-posed—unplanned nature of it all is completely disarming. She’s incredibly trusting of Mandel to let him take her photo no matter what she’s doing or wearing. But the photos are great. They’re the kind of photos that she might not like because they’re a bit silly but which her family members will love because of how they portray her.

People in Cars is a similarly straitforward project.  One of the things which stands out looking at Mandel’s work is how visible he must’ve made himself as a photographer. Even a series like this which lends itself to surreptitious shooting is very clearly full of interaction. Most of them are people being amused by whatever Mandel is doing when he’s behind the camera. Which makes the few where the subject is upset really stand out in a way which produces a wry smile from me.

Myself meanwhile had me laughing in the gallery. I love the Half Dome one (of course there’s a Half Dome one) but they’re all great. Mandel is indeed a goofball. The idea of photobombing his own photos is hilarious. As is the way that the other people in the frame end up having to react to him. Sometimes there’s surprise, other times there’s group acceptance, and sometimes he’s ignored. But you know that everyone in the frame has watched him set up the tripod and camera and is now trying to figure out what the hell this skinny kid with long hair is doing standing with them while the camera is buzzing.

You can hear the camera buzzing.

There’s confusion. There’s joy. There’s curiosity. There’s all the things that we all do when confronted with a camera. But Mandel is in the frame along with the “subjects” adding an extra layer of bizarreness and humor. It’s fantastic.

Mike Mandel, Skyway

Looking at how Mandel interacts with the people he’s photographing brings me to his photos of The Boardwalk.*  Having just been at Pier 24 earlier that day I couldn’t help comparing Mandel’s photos to Winogrand’s. Mandel isn’t creepy even though many of his subjects are Winogrand-bait. It’s not just that he’s made eye contact or something before taking the photo, there’s a level of interaction which gets a flirting versus a death stare.

*The first time I’ve seen an extensive series about a place which I’m super-attached to as home. My kids love going every summer. Just seeing what it looks like in the 70s and how much has, or hasn’t, changed is wonderful from a purely documentary point of view.

And yes, a lot of this might be 1960s New York versus 1970s California. But Mandel was a skinny goofball kid and Winogrand was a larger more serious presence. And it certainly seems like their approaches were also quite different—especially in that Mandel appears to be having fun with his photography. It doesn’t feel like an obsession or quest but instead just messing around and playing with the camera.

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series SF Giants, an Oral History, 1978–1979

from the series SF Giants, an Oral History, 1978–1979

Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series Prelude to Making Good Time, 1979

from the series Prelude to Making Good Time, 1979

Which brings us to Mandel’s baseball photos. I had a hard time viewing these as a photographer since I was a Giants fan first and those instincts are much more deep-seated than any of my art appreciation instincts. But they’re great. I’d love to spend a lot more time with SF Giants, an Oral History—it’s a shame this isn’t part of the catalog—but just looking at the photos is plenty enjoyable.

Mandel again both includes himself in the frame and manages to create an interaction where players are encouraged to be silly rather than serious. The resulting images feel like insider snapshots more than anything else. Part of me wonders whether this approach would’ve worked on a better team—mid 70s to mid 80s Giants were not so good—and part of me feels like he only took photos of the players who were cool with him anyway.

In any case, even with everyone having access to social media, Mandel’s photos manage to capture a view which we still don’t usually see.

And his light painting images caught me by surprise. This is one of those gimmicks which has been beat to death as self-indulgent Flickr explore bait. Mandel‘s images though show that he understands the game. Rather than being a gimmick they illuminate key action traces like how and when a batter twists his wrist during a swing or a pitcher’s hands come apart during his windup. It’s motion capture which highlights important details in the motion.

Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975

Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975 Mike Mandel, Baseball-Photographer Trading Cards, 1975

Which brings me to the Photographer Baseball Cards. Aside from Evidence, these are what I knew best about Mandel. I’ve always loved this project but had never really had a chance to look at a complete set before. So many wonderful things going on with these just as photographs without even getting into the baseball card aspect.

I love that his range of subjects runs from Ansel Adams to Bunny Yeager.* We’ve got star photographers who everyone knows, photographers’ photographers who aren’t appreciated as much as they should be, and photographers who’ve kind of been forgotten now. It’s very much a proper baseball card set in this way.

*Though women are still outnumbered like four to one and the non-white photographers can be counted on one hand. As always, lists are a bad idea.

I love that we get to see what the photographers look like. That Lewis Baltz is called “Duke.” That John Divola’s card features him in blurred motion. Divola’s card is the best in the entire set in terms of capturing a sense of what Divola was interested in as a photographer—pushing the boundaries of the concept of what a photograph depicts, or should depict in terms of time or reality— while also being “baseball” in terms of its pose and language.

I love the way that these are mass-produced offset lithography. Photography, especially art photography, is almost always obsessed with process and image quality. Even in  a book we get duotones or quadtones and insanely fine line screens and every attempt to make them look like “real” photographic prints. But these are printed by Topps. The line screen is coarse. The cuts are common. The ink is black only. And that’s not only appropriate but any other option would be just wrong.

I love the way that everyone seems to know what baseball and baseball cards are. You can see this especially in the contact sheets where each subject plays with different tropes of baseball posing. There’s a common language both in terms of baseball and baseball cards that we all know. But of course we should know, we’ve been making and consuming these photos since the 19th century.

I also appreciate that SFMOMA dedicated two rooms to showing samplings from many of the depicted photographers. This is helpful as both a reminder to people like me who recognized names but momentarily blanked on what they photographed* and an explanation for people who may have questioned whether the subjects of the cards were photographers at all.

*Nathan Lyons, Art Sinsabaugh, and Judy Dater in this case for me.

Sometimes though the photograph selected by SFMOMA felt like the wrong choice. This sampling isn’t the time to go on a deep dive into a photographer’s work but rather an “explain this person in an image or two.” So yes, I was mightily confused why they selected an black and white Eggleston image to display for him.

All in all though, a great show. I knew who Mandel was when I walked in. I just wasn’t aware about how much I liked his work. Also, while I still have concerns about SFMOMA’s new direction turning away from local art and artists—especially given the general sense of its upcoming exhibitions being much more FAMSF rather than what I’ve gotten used to at SFMOMA—I have to give them props for putting on a show which couldn’t possibly be more local.

The Grain of the Present

LaToya Ruby Frazier
Henry Wessel Lee Friedlander
Robert Adams Robert Adams
Vanessa Winship

Took my second trip to Pier 24, this time to see their Grain of the Present exhibition. Pier 24’s shows are so expansive and generous with the amount of material from each artist that I find it difficult to write about the show in general. Too many directions to go and things to think about.

That said, most of the photographs on display do reflect a sublime sense of photography as a reactive, perceptive medium. Rather than being previsualized images, we see the products of the photographer recognizing something they liked and finding a way to get the shot before the moment passed. At their best, the resulting photos both show each photographer’s unique point of view and help us learn more perceptive ways of seeing the world around us.

The highlights especially deserve to get mentioned individually. I’m just going to go in alphabetical order.

For Robert Adams they had a selection of his Prairie shots up. Adams is in this show because of his involvement in New Topographics but instead of looking at any New West of suburbs and development, we got to see effectively pre-suburban living. Same eye but a very different feel. Time’s stopped. Hope remains. There’s something elegiac because we can sense the decline coming.

Lewis Baltz meanwhile continues being arguably my favorite photographer. I’ve never seen all of Candlestick Point before and I’ve very glad I got a chance to do so here. Being able to explore the photos in a grid is a wonderful way to explore the work and feel my way around both the location and the images. There’s so much sublime subtle stuff going on with the light and the shadows and reflections.

LaToya Ruby Frazier is probably the highlight of the show. I love the mix of scales and subject matter. Her family photos are small and intimate and feel incredibly personal. Yet at the same time I’m reminded of watching my grandparents age. Her cityscapes are completely different. Large, detailed, inquisitive, showing aging buildings and disappearing industries. And they work perfectly with the family images. The big photos need to be big. The small ones need to be small. But in all cases the images are keenly seen and personal.

Lee Friedlander’s Little Screens are hilarious. They’re very much of their time in terms of the hardware, furniture, and tv shows shown. But they’re also entirely suggestive of our screen addictions today. It’s one of those simple ideas which could come off as either a trite gimmick or heavy-handed snark but instead Friedlander’s treatment reveals the humor of how we just shove the TV wherever it fits in a room yet it still becomes the focal point.

I enjoyed Ed Panar’s work and how he keeps returning to the same subjects. While many of the galleries emphasize the idea of being receptive to images when you’re out and about, much of Panar’s work can be seen as recognizing that something as imminently familiar as the view from your front porch or your daily walk is also always changing and will occasionally present itself as a photo worth taking.

Henry Wessel is also always great and I was very excited to see his photo of Richmond again. It was one of my favorite things in the new SFMOMA yet I couldn’t find an image of it anywhere online. I’m glad I got a second chance. Wessel, probably more than any other photographer in this show, fits the description of someone who’s out there just finding photographs with his camera. I know there’s more to it than that but there’s a certain casual grace in his shots that I both admire and envy.

He’s neither super-precise nor is he consciously rough. The light and tones are always this perfect combination of having a slight low-contrast glow while still popping crisply off the page. And his sense California reminds me of home—especially now that I live in New Jersey.

And Vanessa Winship. I like her very much. Her work, especially her portraits, also has a certain grace about it. It’s much more precise than Wessel but there’s a gentleness in the images where I don’t feel like I’m being prompted to gawk at anyone.

I didn’t include Diane Arbus or Stephen Shore in the highlights because, as great as their work is to see in-person, I’m already very familiar with it. While all the older photographers in the show were selected because of their association with New Topographics or New Documents, only Arbus’s and Shore’s work has a massive overlap with the images displayed in those two exhibitions.

That said, Arbus is a nice example of how being receptive to a photograph doesn’t mean grabbing a snapshot and moving on. Arbus’s portraits are keenly seen in terms of how she chooses her subject. That the resulting images are part of an impromptu portrait session doesn’t diminish their spontaneity.

What didn’t fit the Theme

Bernd and Hilla Becher

Each photographer draws inspiration from the ordinary moments of life, often seeing what others overlook—and showing us if you look closely, you can find beauty in the smallest aspects of your surroundings.

Some of the photos on display though just didn’t fit the concept of the show for me. Some may ask us to look closely and see what other people may not see. But they’re not really ordinary moments. Others are indeed ordinary moments but do not show us anything novel. Note, this doesn’t mean that I think these photos are bad, just that, within the context of this show, I wasn’t feeling it.

First, Bernd and Hilla Becher. I love them and their typologies and can sit in a room full of those photo grids for hours. But there’s no sense of moment at all in the photos.

Nicholas Nixon’s Brown Sisters is sort of similar. It’s a project I adore and am already steeling myself for when it devastates me—it’s guaranteed to eventually devastate me. And it does capture an ordinary moment. We all take family photos and can relate to the truths within this project. But this particular project has always been clearly much more than a mere family photo in both the repetition and the collaboration between all five people involved in its production that it feels out of place among the rest of the projects on display.

I feel a bit bad putting Awoiska van der Molen’s work here but I just never got the sense of moment at all from it. Her photos are nice enough and, in a different space with a different context,* may have moved me. But in this space, they felt like a more academic exercise amidst photographers who were working on a much more intuitive level.

*The Pier 24 no context thing may also have served her work particularly badly since her titles and descriptions are just as vague.

And Garry Winogrand’s Women are Beautiful was the exact wrong photo series to choose. Yeesh. I’ve tried to rationalize my feelings about it in the past but I also don’t think I’ve ever been subjected to the entire set. Caille Millner is right. It’s creepy and intrusive as all hell. Yes the ice cream woman is a great photo. As is the LaGuardia bar photo. As are a few others. But the rest? Good lord. For most of those photos there are literally only two reasons why he triggered the shutter. And they’re usually braless.

To include those in an exhibition of “see what others overlook” is either hilariously tone deaf or an ironic joke doomed to fail due to Pier 24’s lack of context. Winogrand deserves better than that. I would’ve been filled with joy had it been The Animals which got selected.

On Print Sizes

Eamonn Doyle
The first room of this exhibition included a sample from every photographer in the show. It was immediately apparent who the new photographers were compared to the old ones. If it’s printed huge? New photographer. If it’s a nice small size? Old photographer. New photography is hug both because new art is huge and because digital technology allows for photography to be printed huge.

I don’t like this tendency and feel like it frequently gets in the way of the photos. It’s probably no surprise that the two new photographers whose work I really liked had a mix of small and larger prints which gave me the impression that they’d really considered the optimal size for each image.

Alec Soth’s Niagara is a series I’m familiar with but which I’ve never seen in person. I like it better as a book. The giant wall-size photos of the falls and the hotels work ok. Still too large but the geometry of the hotel architecture gets abstracted nicely at that scale. The portraits though are kind of monstrous. I find myself wondering if the sitters realized their nudes would be larger than life and if Soth intended for us to gawk at them. It’s not an empathetic scale.

Eamonn Doyle’s i suffers similarly in that it feels both intrusive and, rather than inviting us to look closely, enlarges everything to the point where subtlety gets lost. I was dubious as it was about whether his cleverness was enough to sustain a book. It definitely doesn’t scale to giant-size images. Sometimes a clever idea only works at a small scale. I can see these working fine arranged as small prints on a single wall the way that Winogrand, Friedlander, and Baltz were displayed.

And holy moly Women Are Beautiful would be an order of magnitude creepier if it were printed at modern sizes.

Other Comments

A few random comments and observations which don’t fit with the rest of this post—many of which refer to specific things I’ve not seen before.

While the lack of context information at Pier 24 doesn’t bother me too much, I do find myself being dismayed by the absence of any process information too. I think it’s important to know what kinds of prints we’re looking at as the distinct photographic printing processes all result in different kinds of objects.

Henry Wessel

The grid of color Wessel photos! Not something I every imagined and definitely not my mental conception of his work. I was amazed that they kind of amazingly had the same light and contrast as his black and white photos do. How does he do that?

Bernd and Hilla Becher

I have never seen non-typology wide Becher photos before either. I like that they still include typologies in the frame. Also, looking at their grid of spherical tanks makes me want to shoot a typology of soccer balls for all the different patch tiling.

Diane Arbus

San Francisco is full of “Summer of Love” celebrations right now. That Arbus’s Boy with Straw Hat is ALSO from 1967 is a bit of a coincidence but also felt like a wry joke at how it feels like the summer of 1967 has become a myth about peace love and happiness reigning unencumbered by war or racial inequality.

And back to Baltz’s Candlestick Point. As much as I enjoyed the entire set I also couldn’t help shaking the feeling that I must’ve parked in a few of these locations. Candlestick’s overflow lots were dirt and occupied a lot of the land that Baltz was photographing. Many of the images felt familiar to me as places which I walked through before and after Giants games with that oddly hot and direct mid-day sun or the brutal cold wind which whipped up in the afternoon.