Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Another Memory Triggered

A while back I wrote about having slogged through Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.  It was pretty sticky going but I did agree with much of what he said once I had found the needles in his literary haystack.  (see 2014 blog post “Roland Barthes Deconstructed”)  One of his gems, buried in page after page of convoluted prose, is that photography more than any other visual medium can evoke a memory.  (see 2014 blog posts “Water Music” and “Portrait of Harold”).

Boy, did that happen again today. 

For the past couple of years I’ve been reprinting old negatives in addition to making new ones.  My original goal was to reprint perhaps 100 older negatives in a common format.  It’s now up to 200 or so and I’m betting on 300 before the tide comes in all the way.

The photograph above is from the Fremont Solstice Parade in 2009.  As soon as the first test print came up in the developer the circumstances when I took the photograph were as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday – perhaps more clear because at the time I was preoccupied with photographing the parade.

I had arrived on 35th early enough to get a prime spot on the curb west of “the center of the known universe” in Fremont.  I was standing but most of the other early birds were sitting on the curb.  To my right was a middle-aged woman and by the time she arrived the curb was completely occupied for blocks on either side.

The girl in the picture and her mom wandered up.  Mom took up a position behind me and to my right with her little girl in front of her.  Middle-aged woman on the curb turned and said: “I do NOT want that child to stand behind me and if she does I will make sure that she doesn’t enjoy it.”

Mom, the couple sitting on the curb to the right of middle-aged woman, and I all looked at her with what I’m sure was a “Did she really say that?” expression.  Little girl, who likely had never heard a grown up say something that nasty, looked like she was going to cry.  Without planning or thought I said to little girl “Come stand in front of me.  I’m not an old crab.”  Middle-aged woman gave me one of the dirtiest looks in the history of non-verbal communication.  Little girl, rather shyly, moved in front of me and her mom completely lost it -- fell into a gale of out-of-control laughter.  So did the people to the right of middle-aged woman. 

The happy ending is that middle-aged woman said “WELL!”, got up and walked away.  Mom sat down on the curb and little girl stood beside her (as in the photograph).  Mom continued to bubble over into fits of giggles now and again for some time.

Turns out that little girl’s auntie/cousin/older sister/? was one of the nude bicyclists that year.  I asked her to be sure to clap her hands and cheer when she went by and she did so.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Every Photograph is a Battle....

Gary Winogrand claimed that every photograph is a battle between form and content.  If  you expand ‘form’ to include print quality and change ‘battle’ to ‘race’ then I really agree with this.

I’m big on content (see January 2010).  That is not to say that I don’t spend a lot of effort trying to make my prints sing.  I want it all.   Sometimes I have to accept that a print is only going to hum loudly.  I just made one (above). 
I really like this photograph – the content: mom and daughter going off to a Paris street market on a chilly Saturday.  The form: not so much. 

The negative is just a bit soft, depth of field is right where I want it but the background/foreground contrast is low, it’s a grab shot so there is a lot of extra background to be cropped off.  After three head-banging sessions in the darkroom I have declared victory at the “loud hum” level.  That’s as good as it’s going to get.

One of my all-time favorites is by the great Willy Ronis – “Merchands de frites, Rue Rambeteau, 1946”.   
Two young women are behind the counter of a sidewalk shop.  The print is grainy, it’s not very sharp, the skin tones are muddy on one face, it was obviously strained out of a very soft negative.  I suspect that the tapestry of Ronis’ French profanity while he was printing it is still hanging over Paris somewhere.   Would either of these prints be ‘better’ if they were tack-sharp, if the subject/background separation was more obvious, if the skin tones were opened up?  Beats me.

I try to keep Ronis’ print in mind when I am watching the form versus content race.  The best outcome of the battle is a draw in which both win.  Sometimes content wins and form is close enough.  Sometimes form wins (and the print winds up in the recycle bin).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

“Terminal” Show at Photo Center NW

Until April 5 at Photographic Center NW in Seattle

This show includes photographs from a lot of big name photographers.  The signature photograph, in addition to the piece hung in the gallery, is presented in a translucent wrap on the large show windows facing on 12th Avenue.  It is of a woman lying in a hospital bed looking directly at the camera.  Clearly in great distress, she is the photographer, Eugene Richards’, wife who shortly after the photograph was taken died of metastatic cancer.  The title is “The Last Chemo Treatment”.

I would not for a moment claim that Mr. Richards or any of the other photographers whose work is in the show should not have taken the photographs.  Nor would I claim for a moment that curator and PCNW director Michelle Dunn Marsh should not have conceived of this show or curated it.

However, I can confidently claim that I would not have done so.

“At the moment of love and the moment of death we should turn our heads.” 
-- Henri Cartier-Bresson