Good or Bad Photography?

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Photo by Joe Klamar

Quite a controversy has developed around photojournalist Joe Klamar’s photographs of the U.S. Olympic Team heading to London next month. With less than heroic poses and little to no retouching or any of the slick lighting that we’ve come to expect from Olympian portraits, Klamar’s photos got a lot of pummeling by amateurs and pros alike. Some even accused him of mockery and anti-Americanism. And many said that an amateur could have done a lot better. After lots of speculation as to the photographer’s motives, he finally spoke up, revealing that he was unprepared for a studio shoot and thus had to wing it, borrowing another photographer’s seamless and extra strobes and coming up with a new pose every three minutes. After perusing the comments to some of these articles, I realized that I was definitely in the minority: I find these portraits very realistic depictions of ordinary humans with extraordinary skills who are not pretending to be monumental. There’s an intimacy and vulnerability and playfulness you don’t find in most sports portraiture these days and I really like it. Read about it here, here, here, and here.

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That Damn Leica!

David Burnett,Vietnam Napalm Attack, 1972
Photo by David Burnett, 1972

There’s an interesting article in the Washington Post Magazine by veteran photographer David Burnett about how he missed capturing one of the most famous photographs of the 20th Century. That image--you may recognize the boy who’s in it as wel,l on the right above--was taken by Nick Ut. Turns out, Burnett was struggling to load his Leica, which if you are familiar with Leicas is not at all like loading a Nikon with a motor drive. Nick Ut’s Leica was ready and he got thePulitzer Prize-winning shot of Kim Phuc and her brothers before hustling the burned kids into a car for medical attention.
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Coca Cola Adds Life

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A few of my favorite photographs seen through a pair of Mexican coke bottles. Above, a Garry Winogrand. Below: Bill Brandt and two by Carlo Molino.
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War Photography by Armchair

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It looks like a Matthew Brady image from the Civil War, but it’s acutally an entirely fictional landscape captured by Irish photographer Karl Burke. What he’s done is converted color screenshots from inside the multiplayer video game Battlefield 2 (altered by Project Reality) and converted them into tintypes. The landscapes with burning tanks and wasted corpses are reminiscent of scenes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only the dead in these are virtual. It’s a very interesting project, linking the history of war photography with new meta-experiences of violence. The romantic, static quality of the images removes us from the adrenaline rush and horror of real war. It underscores how war, too, has become just another aesthetic product to be consumed by both civilians and veterans alike. The original story appeared in the NYT’s Lens Bloghere.
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Two New Monographs with my Art Photography

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Two art catalogues were just published featuring a lot of my artwork photography: Irving Kriesberg: Animal Narratives and Alex Katz: Naked Beauty. More about the shows and catalogues: Kriesberg, Katz (Jung + Wenig’s book design, video interview).
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Why I Never Had Enough Guts to Be a War Photographer

Alvaro Ybarra Zavala--Congo, Nov 2008
Alvaro Ybarra Zavala, 2008

Twenty years ago when I was living in Tokyo and shooting more photojournalistic work, I still harbored a romantic desire to be a war photographer. To jump on a plane and document the horrors of Desert Storm, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Timor, the Middle-East. Robert Capa, James Nachtway, Don McCullin, Eddie Adams, and especially Philip Jones Griffiths were heroes of mine. I believed that documenting man’s inhumanity to man was not only noble, but necessary and would change the world for the better. I still believe that, in theory, but not in my gut anymore.

My only real confrontation with violence occurred in Tokyo when I was photographing a feature story about a fringe left-wing group who was opposed to the Emperor system. One late afternoon, as I photographed them protesting with bullhorns and banners near the pedestrian crossing bridges at Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, a bunch of burly, yakuza-looking guys in cheesy polyester suits arrived and started yelling. The threats soon escalated to kicks and punches. I continued to shoot away, totally ill-prepared, my only film left being Kodachrome 64 which was no good in the dusky light. As a gaijin, I was kind of invisible to the bullies who were now swinging bats. They attacked Reservoir Dogs-style, kicking and punching and smacking one of the protestors against the curb rail. Then one of them started shouted at me about taking pictures. In truth, I’d only snapped a half-dozen frames, partly because of the weak light, but mostly because I was not only scared, I just couldn’t frame the violence without feeling nausea and rage and impotence. My overwhelming urge was not to photograph, but to protect my subjects. When the police finally arrived 15 minutes later (the ties between the far-right and the police are pretty strong), I was nearly in tears. The sidewalk was splattered with blood and a few of the protestors were crumpled on the asphalt waiting for ambulances. That was the moment I realized I didn’t have the guts for war photography. I was a chicken and a partisan. After that I became an armchair war photographer.

After the recent deaths in Libya of two amazing young photographers, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington (both residents of Brooklyn), there has been much discussion on the risks and worth of documenting brutality and war. The Guardian ran a story and gallery about war photographers shaken to the core. Warning: it’s a sobering read and might be a bit graphic for some.
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Tripod Setup

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I recently upgraded (reverted?) from a ballhead to 3-way pan-tilt head. Above is the hardware I use to photograph artwork. Manfrotto’s 410 head with micro-adjustable 3-axis adjustment. On top of the head is Chris Hejnar’s elegant, custom arca-swiss adapter with clamp for the 410/405. And on top of that are some Really Right Stuff rails, clamps, and their pano adapter mounted vertically. All this hardware allows me to reposition the camera in small increments without having to touch the tripod’s legs--very convenient if you’re shooting a lot of work of similar sizes and you want to maximize the usable pixels of your capture.
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The Best Street Photographer You Never Heard Of


Her name was Vivian Maier and she was born in 1926 and died in 2009. Her father was Austrian, her mother French. She was born in New York, grew up in France, and returned to the U.S. when she was 25. Most of her working life was spent as a nanny in Chicago, where apparently she spent much of her free time walking the streets and photographing square compositions with her Rolleiflex. Her life’s work, 100,000 negatives, was won at auction by a real estate agent, John Maloof, who paid $400 for the mysterious boxes. Below are a selection of her work, all of it scanned by Maloof who has only catalogued a small amount of the total archive and has near total control of her photographic legacy. It is fascinating to look at all of this work and not be swayed by comparisons with other street photography greats: Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Lisette Model, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand. When a life’s work remains hidden, it doesn’t get a chance to dialogue with the culture and it’s hard to ascertain such chicken and egg issues as was she an imitator or a trend setter. Had she seen Callahan’s formalist work featuring Chicago’s light and shadows? Had she seen Helen Levitt’s photographs of kids in NYC? Whatever further research may reveal, what is undoubtable is that she had a great eye and cool sense of formalist aesthetics, and without a doubt, we’ve never seen such a treasure trove of fantastic street work of any city outside of New York. Interestingly, like Garry Winogrand, she died leaving hundreds (perhaps thousands) of rolls of undeveloped film. It will be very interesting to see what unfolds in the coming years. She left behind almost exclusively negatives—very few vintage prints—so all editorial decisions will be made for her. The first large scale exhibition of her work opened yesterday at the Chicago Cultural Center and a documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, is set to be released in 2012. To read more about Vivian Maier, go to Maloof’s VM blog here and view a fairly candid interview with him here. Also check out this in-depth Chicago Magazine piece, as well as here and this TV story on the whole discovery. And as always in such a big find, there’s a bit of controversy on who “discovered” her and who controls what, here. Meanwhile, enjoy the fantastic photographs.
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Kodachrome R.I.P. 1935-2010


Kodachrome was my first color film love. Great name, great colors, great longevity. 2009 was the year Kodak ceased manufacturing it and yesterday the last Kodachrome lab in the world--in Kansas--processed its last roll. Before Ektachrome and high-resolution color negative emulsions became the preferred choice of photographers, Kodachrome was the king of color. Much of the groundbreaking images in the history of color photography were shot on Kodachrome, but none are perhaps as well known as Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl, seen above. NYT has 2 stories on this here and here.
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Hybridization of Beauty, Thanks to Photoshop

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Wedding Photography (Fulton Ferry)

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Another Digital Manipulation Controversy

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Through the Strand's Window

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Recent Published Work

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Manhattan Panorama from LIC

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Homage to Nadar Project

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Flats Fixed

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Panorama of Castle Rock State Park (near Boulder Creek)

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Beach Panoramas

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After the Rain, Santa Maria

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Trees in Fields, Guadalupe

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Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Park

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The Kiss that Ends the War

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Bush in Tears

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Contact Sheet: A Photo a Day

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Painting in the Window

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Holiday Lights, Bokeh Style

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Feels Like the Seventies

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Empire Fulton Ferry Park Panorama

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ISO Urban Landscaper (Jay Street, Downtown Brooklyn)

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Sensor Noise

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A Couple More Fall Colors

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Brooklyn Borough Hall, Dusk

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Necchi Sewing Machine Ad (Chelsea)

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The Manipulator Manipulates McCain

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Photos of Photos

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Another Pierrot Test

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Pierrot Redux

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Buddha Project

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In Praise of Redheads

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Chelsea Hot Summer Afternoon

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Rain Over Hudson (from Battery Park)

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Paris Pix Online

A portfolio of our trip to Paris is now online here.
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Montparnasse Cemetary

Beckett and Baudelaire, among many others...


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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Chalk Project

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Seagulls at Battery Park

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The Beauty of Reststops


Sunset over New Jersey Turnpike reststop, sponsored by Levitra.
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Battery Park Snowy Day

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Staten Island Ferry from Battery Park

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Snow at the Custom House

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1st Big Snow!

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Flag, Gowanus

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Upper East Side: Bloomberg+Citicorp+Chrysler

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Snowy Evening


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Chinese New Year, Mahayana Temple, Chinatown


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Custom House Inside Details











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Custom House Outside Details

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The View from My Desk at the Custom House

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Park Slope Geometries

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Cab Meter at Night on the Way to the Manhattan Bridge

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Wall Street Building Mosaics



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Rainy Night

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Santa Maria, Oso Flaco, Morro Bay

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National Gallery

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Propaganda Photos: Which Came First—Chicken or Egg?

If you haven't been following Errol Morris' indefatigable research into which of Roger Fenton's two pictures of the Valley of the Shadow of Death came first, it is definitely worth a read (part1, part2, part3). Like a one-manned JFK assassination inquiry, Morris tries to refute Susan Sontag's claim that the photo with the canon balls on the road was staged, "a fake." This whole subject is fascinating for photographers like me who strive to document reality, but know that aesthetics often trump when the subject is mundane. Here are the two photos in question. Now, which was shot first and why?
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Visit to Albee Residency, Montauk






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Dumbo Arts Festival






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Brooklyn College Library


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Ogunquit









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Bill Sullivan MTA

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