Speaking of haiku…

Maybe this blog should be called Twitter for Photography.

This article in the San Francisco Chronicle is about a recent study on how Twitter is like haiku. Twitter use skyrocketed in Japan when traditional media and communication failed after the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

“The researchers noted similarities between the set architecture of haiku – 17 syllables total formed by three lines of five, then seven, then five syllables – and Twitter, which allows no more than 140 characters, including hashtags and usernames. Both are interactive expressions created by one author and read by many followers or listeners.

And retweets of Twitter messages can be like haiku strung together ‘to form linked poems as part of running haiku contests,’ the report said.”

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Are You Really My Friend? The FB Portrait Project

I like this. And, appropriately, I learned about it, somewhat circuitously, on Facebook.

I was looking at my newsfeed, which informed me that some number of my friends had changed their profile picture — one I recognized as a friend from Boston, where I used to live, who I haven’t seen in several years. I clicked on her new photo (showing her in Venice!) and the top entry on her page was a link to this project, “Are You Really My Friend? The FB Portrait Project”. The artist, Tanja Hollander is friends with my old Boston friend and her husband; I have admired her photographs in their house.

I manage to get the topic of how photographs are used on Facebook (or other social networking sites) into most of my history of photo courses, in one context or another — the history of albums, self-portraiture, photography in new technology, snapshots, etc. — and I’ve had fun talking with friends about whether they’ll let me take screenshots of their FB pages to illustrate various topics in class. This is a nice addition to all of those conversations.

As Hollander writes on her website, “I am in the process of photographing all 626 of my “friends” on facebook in their homes all over the world….At the end of the project, I am asking all of my friends to change their profile picture to the portrait I make of them, so Facebook then becomes the medium.”

Hollander has a website devoted to the project, but I think the most fascinating and addictive way to look through the portraits is on the project’s own Facebook page — when you go to the Photos section, you can open up a series of the first 100 images in the series, each captioned with the subjects’ names, where they live, how Hollander knows them, and how long they’ve known each other.

I don’t know Hollander, but she and I technically have four mutual Facebook friends (and others who I recognized in the photos but am not “friends” with) — it will be fun to see all of their portraits.

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Vast Empires and Discrete Objects (and good installations)

Top left: Jon Rafman; top right: Michael Wolf; bottom left: Michael Wolf; bottom right: Jon Rafman.

I had noticed that several of Jon Rafman and Michael Wolf’s images used the same Google Street View source and was happy to find this essay in Wired by Peter Brook, “Navigating the Puzzle of Google Street View ‘Authorship’” (thanks, Greg!) Brook sums up his assessment of their differences: “Rafman’s Nine Eyes holds a mirror to the surprises of Google’s world, whereas Wolf wants to interpret Google’s data and establish a statement of his own.”

By pressing on the question of authorship, Brook gets at some interesting points about both the two series and Google Street View more broadly. Rafman quoted is as articulate and interesting as he is in his own writing… “The unspoken reality or challenge in the question of authorship is the fact that Google has claimed ownership of all it has purveyed and filmed with an unmanned camera,” says Rafman. “Moreover, the sheer vastness of what Google has photographed, and placed a copyright sign on, is an imperial claim so vast that it mirrors England’s claim to an empire upon which the sun never set.”

GSV + vast imperial archives, what could be better?

Moving from vast empires of images to discrete object (but sticking with Google Street View), in July I visited Pier 24 in San Francisco for the first time… one of the best things they have going in their current show is several galleries displaying dozens of photographs (or more) from the same series. Heaps of early Richard Misrach hung salon style, Lewis Baltz’s Candlestick Park series, a whole gallery of Larry Sultan’s Homeland series, and it went on. They also had a room full of Doug Rickard’s “A New American Picture” — his take on GSV — and I found myself astonished to be looking at the images as objects. 5B4 has a thoughtful post on the publication and comments a bit on Rickard’s (or Google’s?) color, the aspect of the series that really just hit me over the head in the gallery in a way I hadn’t quite caught on to looking at the images online (their original source, after all). Here’s one example:

Doug Rickard, from “A New American Picture” at Pier 24

And, just for fun — the Pier 24 installations of Misrach and Baltz below:

I wish I knew if Baltz had anything to do with this arrangement, or if it was a curatorial decision. For better or worse, Pier 24 doesn’t give much info about anything on the walls.

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Hipstamatic War

Left: Amindi, a refugee from Kandahar province, walks through the Charahi Qambar refugee camp on Feb. 27. Right: A U.S. Marine guards Combat Outpost 7171 in Helmand province on Oct. 28, 2010.

When I saw these war photographs taken by Balazs Gardi in Afghanistan with the Hipstamatic app on an iPhone, I thought of Nathan Jurgensen’s thoughtful take on how faux-vintage photographs are made to create a nostalgia for the present. Sure enough, when I went back to look at his first essay on the issue (which treats this contemporary trend generally), Jurgenson had already written up his thoughts on Gardi’s Afghanistan photographs.

Jurgenson writes, “saturated, vignetted, faded, scratched and portrayed on simulated photo paper, Hipstamatic war photos frame contemporary conflict as like the wars our parents and grandparents fought”. (See his full essay here)

I don’t think that the images actually look like they were taken during our parents’ or grandparents’ wars — I think they look like they were made with Hipstamatic, which is, oddly enough, a very contemporary look. It’s similar to the way Sally Mann’s wet collodion prints, or Chuck Close’s daguerreotypes, or any number of the artists working in what Lyle Rexer has called “The Antiquarian Avant-Garde” don’t actually look like 19th century objects…. instead they look like late 20th/early 21st century objects made to be reminiscent of older objects. [Jurgenson clarifies and nuances this piece of his argument in his original essay, as he rightly points out in the comment below — sorry not to include that info in the original post!]

In this case, the images’ object-ness is far less an issue (when do we look at prints of images taken with Hipstamatic, except in art shows about cell phone photography?) But I haven’t yet seen much writing about is the quality and effectiveness of the images themselves — filter or no filter.

What I’d like to spend more time figuring out is the collaborative and experimental photojournalism project Gardi is working on, Basetrack, which Foreign Policy describes as “a multiplatform, social-media cornucopia; a hybrid of digital maps and feeds, Facebook posts and musings, interviews and stunning photographs.”

In series of eight: Top row (left to right): U.S. Marines and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers leave Combat Outpost 7171 on Oct. 27, 2010.; Marines of the 8th Battalion, Weapons Company, start a security patrol on Oct. 28, 2010; a construction site between Kandahar and the city’s airport on Feb. 24; U.S. Marines leave the battlefield during a military operation near Doghaka village in Musa Qala district on Nov. 7, 2010.

Bottom row (left to right): U.S. Marines during a military operation on Nov. 7, 2010; a billboard on the highway between Kandahar and its airport on Feb. 24; U.S. Marines walk back to their base after a shura, a tribal meeting with elders from the nearby village, on Oct. 27, 2010; Afghan men in the back of a taxi in Kandahar on Feb. 24.

Left: Lance Cpl. Kevin Daly during a military operation near Doghaka village in Musa Qala district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 7, 2010. Right: Ali Mohammad, a 10-year-old refugee from Kandahar province, stands in front of his makeshift house in the Charahi Qambar refugee camp in Kabul on Feb. 27.

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The Meatball and The Worm: NASA logos

Okay, not photography, but a fun little history on the making and drama of NASA’s logos.


Danne describes the streamlined new design as “clean, progressive, could be read from a mile away, and was easy to use in all mediums.” Danne and Blackburn replaced the complex meatball with a stripped-down, modernist interpretation where even the cross stroke of the A’s were removed. During the first design presentation, the proposed system was met with some resistance. Danne remembers NASA’s Administrator, Dr. James Fletcher, and Deputy Administrator, Dr. George Low, having the following exchange:

Fletcher: “I’m simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing.”
Low: “Well, yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Low: “Why?”
Fletcher: (long pause) “I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth!”

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Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels

I knew that Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1976) had to do with orienting one’s self to the surroundings, but I’d always thought more about them (in the abstract – through photos) in terms of how they related to the patterns of the sun, the constellations, etc. But in the same way Walter DeMaria’s Lightning Field doesn’t need lightning, the Sun Tunnels don’t need a solstice, or other solar or celestial event.

When I went to see them, in what felt impressively close to the middle of nowhere in Utah, I was astonished at how obvious it was that they framed the landscape, the horizon, the surrounding mountains, the sky, the clouds, and directed me to look through both small peepholes (mostly at sky, clouds, and mountains) and expansive vistas (mostly to the horizons). It was fun to be pointed toward and discover the different views, and I took pictures like crazy—the whole thing almost seemed like one elaborate invitation to look at the parts of the landscape as if through the aperture of a camera. (It was nice just to look at it, too, without the camera.)

This 2003 essay, by James Trainor, in Frieze is nice; he calls the tunnels “optical to the point of being photographic”.

The elliptical shadows reminded me of Serra’s much more recent Torqued Ellipses, and the Sun Tunnels, like the Torqued Ellipses, had just as playful a vibe. Is there something about ellipses that makes people feel good and kids want to play?

The new book on Holt’s work, edited by Alena Williams (UC Press, 2011) is excellent, by the way, and makes me want all the photographic archives of all the land/earth artists in one spot…like, one spot in Tucson. Unrealistic for a number of reasons, I’m sure, but fun to imagine.

p.s. For all the questions I get about being related to Josef Albers, it would be a fun change if anyone asked if I was related to Nancy Holt (my mother’s maiden name). Happily, there are some Holt artists I really am related to: Rebecca Holt Palmer, Sara Holt, and Virginia Holt.

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Is there anyone I’m not ripping off here? (It seems to be running in the family lately – some sort of intellectual copyright virus). In the course of my research I looked up some of the locations in Joel Sternfeld’s On This Site on Google Street View (others I have visited in person) and was struck, as Jon Rafman and Michael Wolf must have been, with both what I saw and with the google-eye’s interpretation of them.

This first screen grab is of the former Bryant Grocery in Money, MS, where in 1955 Emmett Till allegedly flirted with a white woman; he was subsequently murdered. In Sternfeld’s 1994 photograph the store is run-down and abandoned; now it looks as if it is on its last legs – and how about that sun (well, maybe it’s a little harsh…)

And this one is where, in Sternfeld’s photograph, a little boarded-up house stood in Niagara Falls, NY. As Sternfeld’s text states: “In the late 1970s, an unusually high number of birth defects, miscarriages, cancers, and other illnesses were reported in the Love Canal neighborhood by the Niagara Falls Gazette. Lois Gibbs, whose two children developed rare blood disorders, led a successful grassroots campaign to have the state of New York purchase the homes of five hundred families, enabling them to relocate.” The house is now gone (the Google pin marks the spot), as is the entire neighborhood, eerily, as seen in Google’s satellite view.

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