GUP Portfolio Issue: Cholita

Peru ya me voy! In my heart I am already slurping down some conchas a la parmesana with good friends on the beach, well off the beach, apparently some people have prejudices against eating seafood alfresco.  I just received in the mail the latest issue of GUP magazine, the guide to unique photography brought to you from the Netherlands, which for their anniversary issue featured the portfolios of some of their favorite photographers.  I am happy to say that my work in progress, Cholita, was included among other portfolios by Erwin Olaf, Bieke Depoorter, Kadir van Lohuizen, Otto Snoek, Machiel Botman, Albert Watson, Pieter Hugo, Francesco Giusti, Stephan Vanfleteren, and Sohrab Hura. WOW.

Swamped with cookie-making, menu-planning, invoicing, website updates (or not), marketing, etc, I have relegated to the back-burner my upcoming trip to Peru in January. Thank you Erik, and all at GUP for fortifying and refocusing me so that I may keep up the long-distance race which ends (or does it begin again?) when I land at Jorge Chavez.

Cholita will be featured in various iterations this winter and spring:
SATURNALIA, Irvine Contemporary, Washington, DC, January 08 – February 12, 2011

THE CORRIDOR, Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC March 2011

ENFOCO 2011 PHOTO FELLOWSHIP SHOW, Brooklyn, New York, March 2011

Happy holidays to all!


Inside the Studio: DC Photographer Frank Hallam Day

Frank Hallam Day in his studio

Frank Hallam Day is a Washington, DC based photographer, artist, former State Department employee, and the son of a librarian and the artist Arthur Day (who also worked for the State Dept).  His most recent body of work, RV, which recently closed at Georgetown’s Addison Ripley Fine Art, has received much attention: an honorable mention in the Lens Culture competition; a finalist in Voies Off 2010 in Arles, France; and was recently featured on the cover of the Photo Review where I saw the work for the first time.

The beauty of the RV work, for me, is the depiction of this American experience: the industrial design and man & machine idea of car culture, captured amidst this Floridian fecundity of foliage.  Spanish moss drapes over Airstreams. Nature looms as man sits in his little pods protected from the outdoors.  I contacted Frank for a studio visit and shortly thereafter found myself sitting with him in his lovely Mt. Pleasant row house, surrounded by enormous prints (EVERYWHERE) and African artifacts – the legacy of his State service, sipping espresso and chewing the proverbial photographic fat.

From RV at Addison Ripley Fine Art

FHD is a bit of a format chameleon, and while his previous work was shot on 8×10, Hasselblad, and large format banquet cameras- among others, this current body of work was shot on 35 mm digital, and he professes a new found loyalty to this format because of the large file size and ease of turn around.  Like me, who will soon be heading to the warmer climes of the Peruvian summer, Frank is a fond devotee of Winter Avoidance.  Thus the RV project originally started as something else. he was simply looking at the Florida landscape and the glow of the campfires whilst more frigid temperatures prevailed up north.  Then he turned around and saw an RV.

“The first one you see is usually the best because its so good it gives you the idea and after that you are just trying to match it.”  Indeed, it was the ensuing photograph, Airstream #19331 that was featured on the cover of the Photo Review.  The names are taken from the directory of airstream owners.

“I’m much more interested in the history of painting than the history of photography, ” Day asserts. He expounds further on the connections of his work to the painter Henri Rousseau. The portrayal of foliage in the RV pictures for him is evocative of the medieval landscape painting of Jan Van Eyck, whose “Adoration of the Lamb,” is marked by a non-directional light source, the anti-Rembrandt, if you will.  To achieve this effect, the apparently spry FHD climbed into the surrounding landscape and painted, unbeknownst to the pod-dwellers within, as he worked over the greenery with a flashlight while creating long exposures on a tripod-mounted camera.  The resulting images are then printed as large as 66″ across on a Canon inkjet printer and mounted to aluminum in editions of 15 for the smaller pieces and 7 for the larger.

He insists he couldn’t achieve a successful result without the immediate feedback of the digital (as someone who painted with light in school on chrome film, and spent two hours “working” a trashcan on MF film with a snooted strobe, I respectfully beg to differ), but photographer’s choice it is, and he prefers the cleanness, sharpness, speed and “colors gone off” of the digital long exposures. As I am currently sitting on about 1,000 undusted images you will find no argument from me there!

Installation at Addison Ripley Fine Art of RV

A social scientist major from the University of Chicago, who completed a masters in sociology at UC Santa Barbara (again shades of Winter Avoidance!), Day insists that sociology plays no role in his work.  But in his huge inventory of work from Africa, I do see a bit more of sociology coming into play as he mediates the western influence upon the African identity.  Unfortunately only a small selection of the work is available on his website, but for me it is this body of work that ultimately intrigues me the most.

An isolated George Foreman statue looms over “the middle of nowhere,” and speaks to the famous 1974 Ali/Foreman fight “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire.  He’s got quite a backlog (9000 negatives according to him) of material from this subject, no surprise since he was stationed in Africa for the majority of his State experience and is a fluent Amharic speaker.  I look forward to him organizing the material into a monograph in which his distinctive viewpoint on the African identity as an insider/outsider will certainly interest both Africans and cultural tourists such as myself, alike.

He insists that now that he is retired from State he is not as productive as when he had a full-time job.  Snarky comments about federal employees aside, if you please, I empathize with the idea of the increased productivity that is gained when you are running on all 8 cylinders, though I offer that his immune system is probably much more grateful to him now.

George Foreman Statue © Frank Hallam Day
© Frank Hallam Day

He started off with photography in the late 80’s and essentially was working two jobs as a federal employee and artist.  He had his first show at the now defunct Kathleen Ewing gallery, a Washington institution, and gradually made his way over to Addison Ripley.  He’s served as a cultural envoy to Ethiopia for the State Department where he ran a couple of workshops and set up two shows, one directly across the street from the Cloth and Curtain Market in Addis, so his subjects could see the fruit of his labor.

Photographs by Day are included in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Sackler/Freer Gallery of Art, and the Berlinische Galerie und Landesmuseum.

Some of his previous bodies of work, Ship Wrecks, Ship Hulls, American Waterscapes, the previously mentioned Ethiopian Beauty Salons, Blow Up (on parade balloons), are available on his website, (which is flash oriented and not individually linkable) but not his early work on the changing landscape of Berlin, where he grew up right after the wall came up, and returned to after its fall.

Much of his work is marked by ambiguity, loss of a sense of place, scale, things transformed and an compulsive return to the same subject in countless iterations as in a series on Baltimore bridges which he explains as a kind of Buddhist philosophy about the shimmering lovely portrayal of ugly things, the relationship between man and nature being all “fucked up, the world is shit, but if you look at it in the right light it is lovely . . . about seeing the same depressing stuff and being happy about seeking the underbelly and talking about the worst of the worst” and transforming that into a state of grace.

As much as it is au courant to attribute one’s influences to the painting tradition, one can not but admit that Frank walks the walk as he paints to this writer’s eye with as much proficiency as he photographs. Witness this painting inspired by one of his Baltimore bridge photographs:

Painting from the Baltimore bridge series © Frank Hallam Day

We talk a bit about the validity of working in traditions and approach to subject matter.  I unload a bit about my insecurities with the color large format work I’m currently pursuing, and I have my doubts as to the worth of it or not, though ultimately, I decide to take the approach of the “journey is the destination,” and it is the process that creates the value for me and that is all I can control.  He decries what he terms as  “the fascism of the new, if it’s not new it really doesn’t matter and if it is new it’s great, even if it’s crap.” Which serves to buck me up a bit and I leave him happily ensconced with his prints and philosophies as I head back to my bat-lair across Rock Creek Park to ponder. Thanks Frank Hallam Day. Please do check out further.  A short quiz will follow.

Another view on the National Portrait Gallery Imbroglio

By now, many of you may have heard of the outcries of censorship for the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly,” which was part of the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” a celebration of gay and lesbian portraiture.  Protests were heard round the globe, and an impromptu march upon the National Portrait Gallery for removing the piece was held late last week. Exortations of “It’s Mapplethorpe all over again!” referring to another outcry by the public funders of art over a proposed and then subsequently withdrawn Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which ultimately forced the resignation of the museum’s director in 1989. (I won’t go into the popular theory that Mapplethorpe would have been nothing without the support and influence of his rich patrician lover Sam Wagstaff, but do direct you to the excellent film, Black, White, and Gray, about Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe so that you might draw your own conclusions.)

I viewed the “Fire in my Belly” piece, and have to admit was pretty non-plussed with it all.  Transformer Gallery in Washington immediately took the work and put it on display.  It’s freedom of speech was actually not suppressed at all, just removed from one publicly funded gallery, to an independently funded one (though probably still funded by government funds through DC Commission on the arts and humanities, but I digress).  And A LOT more people heard and viewed the work, people like myself who never would have sat through it in the National Portrait Gallery.  Thus I would argue that this is probably the best thing that could have happened to Mr. Wojnarowicz, who made the video in response to a friend’s death from aids.  Making art from tragedy and injustice is a worthwhile response, and indeed the best art mediates the personal for me.  That said, making art from tragedy and injustice does not automatically make art worthwhile.  Though I humbly admit that this is my subjective response to the piece. The video did do one thing for me, and that is get me thinking about shock and awe in the art world.

See, I’ve been having conservations with artists lately about newness in art, how if it is new, it often is perceived as great regardless if all we are left with is an empty urinal, proverbially speaking and with apologies to Marcel, who I admire.  The same holds true with art meant to shock.  In our post-Duchamp world, we have become more inured to the shock which calls for greater and greater lengths taken to achieve the same effect (this best exemplified by the economic theory: the law of diminishing returns, but it applies to other modern cultural entities as well, the Dallas Cheerleaders uniforms come to mind).

I remember vividly a performance art piece here in DC a few years back in which a local artist circumcised himself in a “performance piece,” which for me was just meta-reality television sans screen, yes, even the curator was shocked, but to what end.  The dangling bit of foreskin remained on the wall post-performance, a tangible post-mortem of the fete.

So, while going over last week’s paper pile this AM, I was intrigued to discover Eric Felten’s remarkably cogent essay, “After the Shock is Gone,” which articulated for me, some of the befuddlement going in my head.  You can read the complete text here, and I’ll highlight some favorite lines:

Perhaps the museum capitulated for reasons of pure politics—why, they may well have reasoned, make it too easy for the new GOP House majority to find a place to cut the federal budget? (One can imagine NPR was hoping the Portrait Gallery would hold its ground, if only to divert fire from Capitol Hill.) But maybe just as salient in the curators’ calculations was a sense that the art in question was hardly worth going to the mattresses over.

Salman Rushdie—whose credentials at discomfiting theocrats are unimpeachable—has lamented how lame and predictable transgressive art has become: “Once the new was shocking, not because it set out to shock, but because it set out to be new. Now, all too often, the shock is the new. And shock, in our jaded culture, wears off easily.”

Where does that leave the artist or curator who wants to shake things up? According to Mr. Rushdie, he “must try harder and harder, go further and further, and this escalation may now have become the worst kind of artistic self-indulgence.”

Who knows how long it will take for the one-trick transgressives to realize that they don’t have the impact they imagine, and soon may have no impact at all. I look forward to the day when—like the Grinch, straining to hear the boo-hoos from Whoville only to hear singing—the artists who fancied they could shock with their trite antics discover their targets are unperturbed, unfazed and uninterested.

Which is why I don’t plan to contribute to stifling anyone’s freedom of outré expression. I’ll be too busy stifling a yawn.

It all also brings to mind a conversation I was having with my uncle over Thanksgiving.  He was complaining that Sen. Harry Reid (D/NV) supports the NRA.  I devil’s advocated that shouldn’t a lawmaker reflect the desires of his/her constituents and that the good people of Nevada were certainly pro-NRA.  Uncle countered that a lawmaker should be a leader.  Agreed, I responded, but if this particular leader didn’t support the NRA, he most certainly would not be in a position to be a leader, in fact, I believe he was re-elected by a thin margin as it was, without his support of the NRA, he certainly would have been trounced. So sometimes leadership is about compromise.

My point? We must pick our battles. Accept compromise sometimes.  The outcry against the Hide/Seek video only amplified it’s voice, so who really won here?  I applaud the National Portrait Gallery for hosting a depiction of gay and lesbian portraiture in the first place, rather than decry a conciliatory gesture that ultimately did no harm.  You want to know about the curtailing of free speech? Go to Russia, where if you speak the pravda you end up underground.

Advice to a Young Photographer from Rainer Maria Rilke

I often get emails asking for advice from young photographers and it is difficult to respond at times with clarity. The path is so nebulous and individual that it is not like prescribing a prescription for a viral infection, it’s part of the process to figure it out.  But in reading my new issue of The Sun magazine I came across this familiar excerpt on the dog-eared page by the poet, novelist, and art critic Rainer Maria Rilke from the book, Letters to a Young Poet, which would probably be worth any seekers time to investigate in greater depth (italics and bold mine for emphasis):

My dear sir,

Your letter only reached me a few days ago. I want to thank you for its great and kind confidence. I can hardly do more. I cannot go into the nature of your verses; for all critical intention is too far from me. With nothing can one approach a work of art so little as with critical words: they always come down to more or less happy misunderstandings. Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity: your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile and commonplace: they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity. Therefore save yourself from these general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty — describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses — would you not then still have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention thither. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past; your personality will grow more firm, your solitude will widen and will become a dusky dwelling past which the noise of others goes by far away. — And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.. Nor will you try to interest magazines in your poems: for you will see in them your fond natural possession, a fragment and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called on to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.

But perhaps after this descent into yourself and into your inner solitude you will have to give up becoming a poet; (it is enough, as I have said, to feel that one could live without writing; then one must not attempt it at all). But even then this inward searching which I ask of you will not have been in vain. Your life will in any case find its own ways thence, and that they may be good, rich and wide I wish you more than I can say.

What more shall I say to you? Everything seems to me to have its just emphasis; and after all I do only want to advise you to keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your must hushed hour can perhaps answer.

Yours faithfully and with all sympathy,
Rainer Maria Rilke


Holiday Shopping Local and Away

Looking for some art that supports a good cause? Two opportunities await you! Locals, attend the Washington Project for the Arts Icebox event, which I participated in last year and will triumphantly return to this year with small prints from my A Sense of Place series framed in vintage 4×5 film holders and accompanied by the catalogue of the same name.  It is quite an adorable and tactile gift, if I do say so myself, and only available at Icebox.  Thirty-five percent of the proceeds go to support the WPA and they kick off the event with a holiday shopping party with victuals and what-not. I purchased quite a few gifts there myself last year, and intend a repeat performance.  Here are the details:

December 3 – December 23
First Friday Opening Reception: Friday, December 3, 6-8pm
Special Shopping Event: Monday, December 20, 6:30-8:30pm

Washington Project for the Arts is pleased to announce the opening of our second annual holiday gift shop, IceBox.  The shop will feature a wide variety of artworks and other handmade goods by WPA member artists. Participating artists include Double A Projects (Athena Robles and Anna Stein), Denee Barr, Sandy Gold, James Halloran, Linda Hesh, Ellen Hill, Rebecca Kallem, Alice Kress, Laurel Lukaszewski, Susana Raab, Amy Carmichael Smith, John Totaro, Katharine Watson and Claudia Vess. Featuring jewelry, small works of art, household goods, totebags and greeting cards, IceBox offers a great selection of creative, unique holiday gifts!

IceBox, which will take over the WPA office at 2023 Massachusetts Avenue NW, runs from December 3 through December 23. There will be an opening reception on Friday, December 3 from 6-8pm, in conjunction with Dupont Circle First Fridays, and a special shopping event on Monday, December 20 from 6:30-8:30pm. The shop will also be open Monday-Friday, from 12pm-5pm and by appointment.

A small selection of the Collect.Give crew.

Do you all know about Collect.Give? Brain-child of Milwaukee photo legend Kevin Miyazaki, it is a collective of photographers selling prints to support charitable causes of their choosing.  100 % of the proceeds go the charity, so what are you waiting for.  I’ve got a few prints left of Old Havana Street, Cuba, and will throw in a bonus prize for anyone who orders this month.

There are a multitude of photographers with causes to support: Jane Fulton Alt, Jonathan Blaustein, Mark Brautigam, Barbara Ciurej, Amy Eckert, Matt Eich, Jon Feinstein, Sarina Finkelstein, Elizabeth Fleming, Max Gerber, Ben Huff, Dave Jordano, Stella Kalaw, Melissa Kaseman, David Leventi, Lindsay Lochman, John Loomis, Kerry Mansfield, Mark Menjivar, Annie Marie Musselman, Moi, Ellen Rennard, Dalton Rooney, Kelly Shimoda, Emily Shur, Allison V. Smith, Aline Smithson, Brea Souders, Lacey Terrell, Sonja Thomsen and David Wright.

Kevin‘s also upping the ante with some more party favors:

To celebrate our one-year anniversary, we have exciting plans for the first week of December:

• From now through December 8, anyone who purchases a print will be eligible for the following gifts:

(4) $100 gift certificates to the photo-eye bookstore

(5) Food Journal booklets, created by collect.give contributor Mark Menjivar and Kate Bingaman-Burt

• One lucky buyer on Thursday, December 2nd (our official anniversary) will win a FREE PRINT:  Buy one, and have your name in the running for a second print of your choice (any still available), regardless of price.

To be eligible for any of the giveaways, you must email us with the date and print purchased:
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading this.  I appreciate your support and hope to see you at Icebox tonight. I’ll be scrambling to get there on the later side. Do introduce!

500 Photographers: Art Directors Can You Hear Me?

Tragically unhip I am, and late to the game, are you all familiar with the blog site 500 PhotographersPieter Wisse posts from the Netherlands a finite blog (so smart you have conceived of a beginning and an end Pieter, and thus will not need burn out as so many in the blogosphere do, but that’s culture right? not static, transient, so it must be – as for myself I enjoy the verbosity available to me on a blog and have BIG plans to add a few features).

Anyhoo, he’s assembling an eclectic collection and I like the simple grid format that gives you a taste of the variety of each photographer and from which you can explore.  Seems like a great resource to find a certain quirky American photographer to illustrate all your wacky concepts and stories.  Or poignant ones, I do poignant as well.  Humourless ones, I am sure there is something for you on the site as well.

The Way We Live Now

It’s always nice when your long term ouevre finds new homes in magical places.  Dream clips would be the New Yorker fiction illustration, anything topical in Harper’s which is really for me the utmost of the utmost of found image illustration to concept. And I consistently love the art that goes with The New York Times magazine “The Way We Live Now,” front of the book piece.  Really that could be the title of a lot of our books and missions, the analyzing and processing of how we live now is really my raison d’être .  So I was thrilled to have an image from my Consumed series illustrate their piece, “Junking Junk Food.”

I love to see these treasure hunts come to life on the printed page.  For me, this is too-often more compelling than the literal transcription of events that occur on other pages.  But having recently discovered that my “N” status in the Myers Briggs personality test makes me one of 20 percent of the population that sees connections in things that 80 percent cannot correlate (thanks Lisa Hunter!) I am now understanding why so often the most banal picture (for me) wins.

I’m actually borderline INTJ and INFJ, either way, both have a habit of making connections, and I feel comfortable with both characterizations.

Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organized and decisive in implementing their vision.

Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the Ns rule the house at the NYT Magazine, Harper’s, and The New Yorker.  Thanks Luise! and also to the VERY charming Marvin O.