Sunday, September 27, 2009

Enough Robert Frank

Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac On the Road Together

Oh, enough Robert Frank...for the moment. (I've actually got lots more Frank-related stuff but let's take a break.)

For those unaffected by the economic downturn, here's a treat from Steidl:

Jack Kerouac On the Road
by Ed Ruscha

Ruscha's personal affinity with Kerouac's seminal novel On the Road has been wonderfully resolved in this limited edition book. Ruscha has designed the book, illustrating Kerouac's text with his own photographs. The text is printed in Letterpress on 220g Hahnemühle paper and every one of the 55 photo-plates is blind embossed and tipped in by hand to create an exquisite and original edition of On the Road.

Published by Steidl with Gagosian Gallery
55 Photos on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper tipped in by hand.
228 pages
44.5 cm x 32.5 cm
Leather-bound hardcover delivered in a leather-covered slipcase
Limited edition of 350 copies, 35 APs and 5 PPs, signed and numbered by Ed Ruscha
ISBN: 978-3-86521-947-3
Publication date: October 2009

UK £6,250.00
US $10,000.00
EC €7,200.00

You can order the book here. I'm thinking of getting three copies. I kinda think maybe it'll be a collector's item someday, maybe.

This sells for more than his most expensive self-published books.

I'm just saying...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All Bob, All the Time: More Frank


Frank by Allen Ginsberg, 1988

This is a fun little Frank-related item from NPR.

Robert Frank's Elevator Girl Sees Herself Years Later

August 30, 2009: One of photographer Robert Frank's most famous images aroused a particular interest from his friend, beat writer Jack Kerouac.

In his introduction to Frank's book of photos The Americans, Kerouac writes, "That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what's her name & address?"

Now we know.

Today, Sharon Collins lives in San Francisco. About 10 years ago she visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and found herself drawn to a particular photo — the same photo Jack Kerouac wrote about.

"I stood in front of this particular photograph for probably a full five minutes, not knowing why I was staring at it," she says. "And then it really dawned on me that the girl in the picture was me."

The iconic shot shows a young girl, pressing an elevator button, looking up with an unreadable expression.

At the time, her name was Sharon Goldstein, growing up in Miami Beach. At fifteen, she got a summer job as an elevator girl at the Sherry Frontenac Hotel. She says the hotel was always full of tourists, and many of them had cameras. Although she wishes she remembers this particular tourist, she doesn't. But she pieced together what happened by looking at Frank's contact sheet.

"Robert Frank took about four photos of me without a flash in the elevator. I didn't know he was taking them. And then when the elevator emptied of its 'blurred demons,'" she says, "he asked me to turn around and smile at the camera. And I flashed a smile, put my hands on my hips. I hammed it up for about eight or ten frames."

But from the single image that was chosen for The Americans, Kerouac guessed she was lonely. Collins thinks he was pretty close.

"He saw in me something that most people didn't see. I have a big smile and a big laugh, and I'm usually pretty funny. So people see one thing in me. And I suspect Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac saw something that was deeper. That only people who were really close to me can see. It's not necessarily loneliness, it's ... dreaminess." ©NPR

Sharon Goldstein today, by Ian Padgham/SFMOMA

NPR has a couple more articles related to the Robert Frank exhibit "Looking In" that aired when it was at MOMA, SF.

'The Americans': The Book That Changed Photography
Other recent meditations on Frank and the book:

America, Captured in a Flash by Holland Cotter, NY Times

Road Show by Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Furthermore, Robert Frank will be at the MET, NYC, for "An Evening with Robert Frank" on Friday, October 9, 2009, at 6:00 PM. (Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, $23.00)

Now, this is not necessarily a good thing, given Frank's last two public appearances in New York City. Both were disappointments in one way or another. The advantage this particular evening has over the others is that academics will be moderating and asking the questions. Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator, Department of Photographs, MET, and Sarah Greenough, Senior Curator of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, have the honor of presenting the performance and I think there should be a higher level of conversation. Also, the event is not being held at the main Public Library on Fifth Avenue; always a plus.

Now the bad news:


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Robert Frank in Fortune magazine

Walker Evans was an associate editor at Fortune from 1945 to 1965. He commissioned Robert Frank to do this photo-essay for the magazine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Robert Frank and The Americans

In honor of the opening of the Robert Frank's "Looking In" exhibit, September 22, at the Met, NYC, here's a spread of "Never-Before-Seen" photos from The Americans.

(The text of the intro)

The Americans Revisited

In the post- "Family of Man" euphoria of the late 1950s, when the photographer was celebrated as the empathic bearer of brotherly love, the publication of Robert Frank's The Americans seemed an ungrateful gesture, at best. In the chronicle of his now legendary cross-country journey of 1955-56, the Swiss-born photographer brought back images of an automobile-obsessed populace, some bored by a surfeit of abundance, others disappointed by the unrelieved burden of poverty, and all uncomfortable in their social, economic and racial relationships.

Photographing in large cities and nondescript places in between, Frank shattered a precious, cosmetic fantasy of a post-war America years before her promising young novelists were sober enough to confront it. The American dream was not to be seen through Frank's viewfinder. In his intentional disregard for conventional pictorial composition, lighting, sharp focus and fine print quality, Frank's critics found little more than willful distortion by a talented photographer acting as if he did not know how to operate a camera.

But Frank withstood his critics and denied any a priori condemnation of his adopted country. "I know that life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference," he wrote in 1958 just before the publication of Les Américains in Paris. "Opinion often consists of a kind of criticism. But criticism can come out of love. It is important to see what is invisible to others–perhaps the look of hope or the look of sadness." For his friend, Jack Kerouac, it was the sadness that made Frank's pictures the perfect embodiment of the "potry" of the Beat Generation. "With that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand," wrote Kerouac, "he sucked a sad poem right out of America."

Two decades, several wars and countless photographic images later, we have seen sadder pictures. The content of Frank's imagery now appears more expected than shocking. Today it is his technical indiscretions–unacceptable in the fifties–that endear him to an emerging generation of modernists continuously striving to define the expanding frontiers of the medium. The photographs seen here, accompanied by Jack Kerouac's ramblings from On The Road, are from that original odyssey but never have been published before. They will be exhibited at Venice this month. –Nancy Stevens

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Photographers' Self-Portraits

From the New York Times:

NY Auction to Sell
Famous Scribbled Self-Portraits

NEW YORK (AP) -- Self-portraits scribbled by Truman Capote, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other famous writers, athletes and artists that were collected by a Manhattan bookseller are going on the auction block next week.

Burt Britton's hobby began in the mid-1960s with Norman Mailer while Britton was bartending at the legendary Village Vanguard. The author was the last customer late one night and was refusing to leave, according to the auction catalog's notes.

''What do you want from me, kid?'' Mailer repeatedly asked.

Britton says he finally handed the Pulitzer Prize writer a piece of paper and told him, ''Do a self-portrait for me, drink your drink, and let's call it a night.''

He doesn't know why he made such a demand, but that ''began all this madness'' -- a decades-long collection of mostly quick, ink-on-paper drawings from the famous and soon-to-be famous, Britton says in the notes.

Bloomsbury Auctions in New York will offer 213 lots of the self-portraits on Thursday. Some are crude and funny caricatures; others depict a close likeness to the subject.

Mailer's abstract angular profile with curly hair is expected to bring $2,000 to $3,000.

''Rarely do you get to see authors looking inward this way and expressing themselves in drawings, let alone making portraits of themselves,'' said Bloomsbury rare books and manuscript specialist Peter Costanzo.

Also interesting, he said, are the sketches by artists and photographers who identified themselves with the tools of their trade. Photographer Andre Kertesz, for example, drew himself as a camera with a single human eye and inscribed it, ''I am the camera.''

Britton's later jobs at Strand Book Store in Lower Manhattan, where he was vice president for 10 years, and Books & Company on Madison Avenue as co-owner both afforded him opportunities to meet celebrated authors.

© AP

I was wondering what that self-portrait of Kertesz looked like so I got the catalog and it turns out that there were a number of photographers' self-portraits up for auction. Here they are, in reverse alphabetical order. The auction is Thursday, September 24.

Deborah Turbeville
One of a lot of 5 self-portraits which includes
Duane Michals, Ralph Gibson, Danny Lyon and Bruce Davidson.

W. Eugene Smith
Charcoal on paper, 13.75 x 11 inches

Gordon Parks
Ink on paper, 1974, 10 x 6.25 inches

Arnold Newman
Ink on one large sheet, 1976, 23 x 11.5 inches

J. H. Lartigue
Pen on paper, 1976, 10.5 x 8.25 inches
(There is another by Lartigue in this lot but it's not pictured in the catalog.)

André Kertész
Ink on lined paper, 1975, 9 x 6 inches

Lotte Jacobi
Ink on “Books & Co.” paper bag, 1979, 11.5 x 7.25 inches

Harry Callahan
Chalk-pencil on tissue, 7 x 10 inches

Pen on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches

Richard Avedon
Collage on card, 9.75 x 7.5 inches

Berenice Abbott
Ink on paper, 10 x 7 inches

And for Mr. Whiskets:

Cormac McCarthy
Pencil on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches

Bruce Davidson Fashion in Look, 1968

Look magazine, June 11, 1968

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Willy Ronis and Robert Capa

Willy Ronis 1910-2009

Ronis by Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

Willy Ronis died September 12, 2009. The Telegraph of London ran a very nice appraisal of his life and work. It starts:

Willy Ronis, who died on September 12 aged 99, was the last of the great photographers whose images came to define postwar France; like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, he was an aesthete of photo-reportage and street life, capturing politics and poetry in the humdrum and the everyday.

He was, however, more artistic than Doisneau and less patrician than Cartier-Bresson. Ronis had a tender eye, photographing working-class neighbourhoods where men drank rough wine and children played on the streets.

It can be found here.

Here is a piece on The Atlantic's site that uses his death to discuss "humanism" in photography, then and now.

The only bit of Ronis ephemera I have is a book inscribed to Richard Whelan.

And speaking of Whelan and Capa, it was only recently that I became aware of the Spanish newspaper El Periodico's claim to have put the controversy of the authenticity of "The Falling Soldier" to rest. By comparing the backgrounds in a number of Capa's photos taken around the same time to actual landscapes in Spain, they claim that "The Falling Soldier" was taken somewhere other than where Capa said it was taken and that where it in fact was taken, there was no fighting going on on the day that Capa was there. Therefore, the photo was staged.

Robert Capa/Magnum

If anyone missed this, here are places to go for everything from an overview to...really...more than most of us need to know.

The New York Times had a good piece even if they did come to the party a month late.

The Daily Mail Online has a sequence of photos comparing the landscapes.

Then there is a blog that has literally thousands of words on the subject and hundreds of contemporary photos of the areas where Capa shot. The blog is the work of José Manuel Serrano Esparza of the Leica Historical Society of America and the first part (of ten) is a reprint of an article that he wrote in 2007 about Capa at Cerro Muriano. That culminated 11 years of research on where Capa and Gerda Taro went while covering the Spanish Civil War, the types of cameras and lens Capa used, who the people in the photos were, etc. Part ten of this epic is where he analyzes the research of José Manuel Susperregui, a professor of communications at the Universidad del País Vasco, who put forth the information the news reported.

Part 1
Parts 2-10, mixed in with articles on Leicas.

And if you're really interested in the history of all this, Luca Pagni has compiled pdf's and reprints of the many voices that weighed in on the subject. They're available on this website. Some of it is in Italian.

Vu, September 23, 1936

And finally--no really--here is a Capa obit that I found in the copy of Slightly Out of Focus that I bought many years ago. Not sure what paper it's from but at the end it mentions Werner Bishof's death as well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Richard Avedon at the MIA, 1970

Richard Avedon's Retrospective Exhibition
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, July 1 - August 30, 1970

With the publication of his second book, Nothing Personal, at the tail end of 1964, Richard Avedon fell into a funk. The book was meant to be a political statement and that's how it was taken. Unfortunately, the reviews were mostly negative and often brutal in tone and hurt Avedon quite deeply. "I had this block. I finished Nothing Personal...and then went blank. I couldn't photograph--well, I could photograph, but I couldn't do anything that meant anything to me for a great number of years." Four years to be precise.

In the years between 1964 and 1969, Avedon rethought his whole approach to portraiture. He started to use an 8 x 10 view camera for sittings. This had the effect of severely limiting the movement of the subjects. He also came out from behind the camera, allowing him to interact with the person in front of the camera--look them in the eye, so to speak. Also, as a backdrop for his sitters, he dropped grey and began using white which had the effect of detaching and isolating the subject from the world around them.

By 1969, mostly recovered from his psychic bruising and by then in agreement with much of the criticism, Avedon wanted to move on and start a new project. That summer, he and Doon Arbus began work on a series of portraits and interviews of key people in the "Movement"--the political left, counter-culture icons and heroes, travelers in the social underground. They called it Hard Times and envisioned it as a book and an exhibit. While as the project petered out by 1973, he did get some great portraits out of it. (A good portion of The Sixties was originally made as part of Hard Times.)

Given the need to move on, his lingering uncertainty over the quality of his portraiture and, as he said at the time, that going over his old work would be "oppressive and unimaginable," at the beginning of 1969 Avedon deflected a couple of exhibition offers. John Szarkowski of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC, visited the studio three times to look at new work for a show he had offered Avedon the year before, a show that Avedon put off and put off until 1974 (when he showed the series of portraits of father.) Ted Hartwell of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts had first offered Avedon a show in 1966, which was declined and then accepted in 1968. Hartwell visited New York in May of '69 to organize the show that was to be a survey of Avedon's career up till then. One week after Hartwell left, Avedon called it off.

But by the end of the year, energized by the Hard Times work, Avedon decided to go ahead with the Minneapolis show. Marvin Israel was hired to design the exhibit and graphics and to help curate the photographs. The galleries were painted in reflective silver; the photographs were mounted on masonite and framed with aluminum molding. The images ranged in size from 10 inches in height to over 5 feet. Vivaldi played on the stereo.

The last gallery however, was different. At first, they had wanted to end the exhibit with a slide show of Avedon's fashion work. Given the recent work he had done and the tenor of the times, Avedon decided (two months before the opening) that he wanted the show to end with something more of-the-moment. This room was painted and carpeted in black and was separated from the other galleries by a black curtain. In the gallery was hung his triptych portrait of the seven defendants in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial as well as individual portraits of the men. The prints were over eight feet tall, backed with linen, unframed so the rough edges of the cloth could be seen all around the print. They were stapled to the wall at the top and hung like tapestries. Instead of Vivaldi, excerpts from Doon Arbus' interviews with the Chicago Seven played.

The exhibition was Avedon's first non-fashion survey of his work and by all accounts was a big success. As well as the people who worked on the show, the July 1, 1970 opening was attended by Diane Arbus, Hiro, and the art directors Ruth Ansel and Henry Wolf. Avedon had also personally invited many local teenagers. The opening was quite lively and during the event, a spontaneous political rally broke out in the Chicago Seven gallery. Over the course of the show, that gallery became a shrine of sorts for the young folks of Minneapolis and St. Paul. You can find photos of the galleries and opening night here.

Without further ado, here is the catalog designed by Marvin Israel for the 1970 show of Avedon's portraits at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The outer packaging

The front is embossed with the word "AVEDON"
and the rear has an interlocking, swastika shaped fold.
9.25 x 9.25 inches; thin card.

This was the sheet inserted at the last moment to explain the Chicago Seven room.

9 x 9 inches on semi-transparent vellum

The booklet

Close-up of the credits

9 x 9 inches; saddle-stitched.

The exhibition check list

Note the size:
36 x 27 inches; heavy paper
240 images (doesn't include the Chicago Seven photos)

Lastly, there was included in the package,
10 gravure-printed images of various sizes, on stiff card stock

On the back of each is the title and the corresponding number on the poster

6.75 x 9 inches

6.75 x 9 inches

6.75 x 9 inches

6.5 x 9 inches

7.5 x 9 inches

7.75 x 9 inches

8 x 9 inches

8.25 x 9 inches

9 x 9 inches

11.25 x 9 inches
Folded to 9 x 9 inches

And by the way: In conjunction with the exhibition, a portfolio was published. Called the Minneapolis Portfolio, it contains eleven gelatin silver prints, a colophon and a cover page, all 24 x 20 inches, in an edition of 35. The images--all printed in the 1960s incidentally--included some of the above portraits:

Buster Keaton, 1952
Charlie Chaplin, 1952
Humphrey Bogart, 1953
Jimmy Durante, 1956
Marilyn Monroe, 1957
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, 1957
Isak Dinesen, 1958
René Clair, 1958
Marianne Moore, 1958
Ezra Pound, 1958
Dwight David Eisenhower, 1964

I don't have a copy so I can't actually mount images of it. Use your imagination.