One Side to the Other

Images made within moments of one another. Wandering amid the masses of beach dwellers. Just shaking the dust off. A snap here, a snap there. Looking more than shooting. The distance is what is troubling at first, after so long in front of the screen, protected. Not here. Everything is open to the elements, including my eyes which dry and then water like a newborn. My depth is not quite right, but I know it and take visual precaution. My fingers tremble over the dials, a routine that comes back quickly no matter how long I’ve been away, and now, when I look down, the numbers are fuzzy. Yes, I’m that guy now. The one who lifts the spectacles to see what is so clearly right in front of him. Age destroys ego in most, and I can see myself leveling off in regard. “Know your limits,” someone wiser once said. Mine are clearly, or not so clearly, defined. I need no map to see the edges of the flat Earth. One boot hangs on the edge, but the other is dug in, braced and defiant.
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The camera allows me to become invisible. I know, I know, that’s impossible, but I beg to differ. A physical meditation if you pursue it long enough. I swear. You are there, and then you blend into the swatch kit of color that life provides. I turn one way and slow the shutter, pan through the railing. People running. A rangefinder so I need to compensate for not seeing clearly the frame I need to see. Who knows? And then a slow path to the other side where a woman in white strikes a pose for me, only not for me, but for someone I can’t see. Thank you.
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Spacing. It’s all about the spacing. I know this isn’t something that will live on paper, or even in my mind for any length of time, but this image deserves respect only for the spacing. The elements are there, in harmony with the environment. Open, sandy, spacious, limitless, broad, minimal. Ya, that’s it, broad but minimal. We all have a wheelhouse and this is mine. I like to dissect. Need to actually and when I do I’m so happy it feels guilty. A secret I tell to only myself. You want to know this feeling? Just go. Just go and press the button. Again and again.
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Audacity of Beauty: Maggie Steber

I just came across this after searching “Maggie Steber.” When I first got accepted at PJ school Maggie was a visiting instructor. Because I was a transfer student they said “You can’t take the class.” I had already been published and had worked for papers, but the school politics were powerful as well as confusing. “Why?” I asked. They literally had no answer other than a repeated “no,” but my roommate did take Maggie’s class and I was able to live a little vicariously through him.

Audacity of Beauty from Maggie Steber on Vimeo.

You can tell Maggie is cool less than five seconds into this film simply by her smile and body language. And having run into her many times over the years I can say that she is always that way. Not to get too Santa Fe on you, but she has great energy.

I have to say, I wish all of you could see the book of this material because I really think these particular images, and the way she shot them, look SO GOOD on paper, better than they do on screen, and at a far larger size. There is a texture to these photographs, a texture that FEELS earthy, human, bloody but in some odd sense, joyful, and there were some heavy things going down during Maggie’s time in Haiti.
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This is classic photojournalism and classic documentary photography rolled into one. There is something else here that I want to speak to without getting lanced. These images are dated. Sorry Maggie, but here is the thing. These are dated in a GOOD way. The word that comes to mind when I see these is “purity.” These were made before the computer was a reality and subsequently the images were left alone. She allows for her light and timing and composition to speak as opposed to INSANE sharpness, color and beyond specific, pixel by pixel image manipulation. I’m sure what we are doing today will also become dated, as do most styles, so I find perhaps a nostalgia here that I really feel for.

I also just noticed that the introduction was written by Amy Wilentz. Guess what book I had next to Maggie’s? Yes, I have every book ever published. Now I just ruined my own evening because these two books are staring at me saying “Hey loser, where have you been.”
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“Beyond” a film by Charlene Winfred

Okay Smogranch slackers, it’s film time. The players in this little skit will be all too familiar if you have spent any amount of time on this site. Flemming Bo Jensen is a friend, fellow photographer and Danish Star Wars expert. He is also prone to walking shoeless around deadly spiders and sleeping at global monuments most people spend their lives attempting to reach and explore. He would sell his family for a lone bottle of frosty Coke Zero. Flemming and I did a short film together. Well, he did the film. I walked around and made pictures, drove a lot and fed him a constant stream of Blake’s Lotaburger to keep his creativity churning.

Beyond from Charlene Winfred on Vimeo.

Flemming, although the subject of this film, takes a back seat to the filmmaker Charlene Winfred. Charlene is also a friend, but I don’t know her well enough to know her secrets. She does however snap a limb,tendon or vertebra at least once a week. I’ve never seen her NOT on crutches. How she managed to navigate the world long enough to make this film I will never know. This is her first time around the filmmaking block and I think you will agree she did a bang up job…get it…”bang up job.” I’m giving comedy lessons later if anyone is interested.

On a serious note, if you can push aside this pair’s filmmaking, the photographs and the other beautiful visuals, there is a more important morsel at the bottom of all this. Flemming, once a well respected member of the Danish working class, the IT world to be exact, decided that the life he was told to lead was in fact not the life he wanted to lead. So he changed. He sold off, kicked out, rebooted and set sail for unknown parts, and in fact is still roaming our little planet some FIVE YEARS later. This world is not for everyone, but it’s for more people than we imagine. There is a downside to nomadic life, both for the nomad (isolation, loneliness, money) and also for those of us who are still cemented to day jobs and mortgages. Remember, Flemming slept on my couch more than once, and hearing Yoda noises in the night will put the fear of God in just about anyone, and I’m still paying off his Lotaburger quota.
I actually know a fair number of people who have chosen life on the road, each have their reasons and their methods for surviving. It shouldn’t be a big deal to do this but it really is, at least in the minds of the mainstream. Nomads have the ability to inspire jealousy and rage, both good things in my mind. Personally, I live in a society which seems bent on little more than material gain, so running into someone whose entire life fits in one bag, a bag I’ve had to lift, move and transport more than once, is refreshing. I know for some there is an almost distrust of those who leave the bounds of tradition, but I will ask you this. How do we know someones real calling until they are set free? I always wonder about why our society forces us to conform. Return from college, “get serious” and then get a job where in some cases people are donating their forty most productive years to something they may or may not love. What if we set them free instead?
On the same note, I do hold people like Flemming and Charlene accountable. They must not conform or surrender, at least not while out in the world. They hold the torch for a lot more than themselves.

PS: Here is Flemming sleeping at some pesky little monument in Peru.
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Blurb Down Under: Oculi + Blurb Opening Sydney

Last night we co-hosted an event in Sydney with the photographers of Oculi, a collective based here in Australia. Over the past few months one of our Blurb members, Garry Trinh, worked with Oculi on a book project as well as setting up last night’s show. Last night’s show was part of the Reportage Festival. Stephen Dupont, festival director, stopped by to unveil the new posters, complete with a cover image by David Burnett. You might be thinking, “Ya, ya, another opening,” but this one had a different twist. Each attendee had an opportunity to make their own book from the work of the Oculi photographers. After walking in, each attendee was given a form containing a book layout. Each person could make their own edit, choose their sequence and submit the form for Blurb to print and ship the book.

As a photographer your edit and sequence are critical and NOT something you would normally put in the hands of the audience, but that was precisely the point with this particular show. Both Oculi and Blurb were looking for something different. Personally I see so many shows and exhibitions and many of them are pretty generic. You have probably heard of the movement to “get the art out of the galleries,” which isn’t my particular view, but I DO feel there needs to be more exploration when it comes to photography. We were attempting to do just this.

There was an excellent turnout on a cold, extremely rainy Sydney night, even with a multitude of photography events all happening at the same time. Oculi is the recording device of an entire nation. Much of their work focuses on Australia which is one of the things that makes them so distinctive. The show prints were SMALL, something else I found refreshing. I was told the designer wanted the attendees to be able to see all the work in a small area as opposed to seeing each image massive and set alone. I applaude both the agency and Garry Trinh for putting it all together.

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Blurb Australia: More Street Photo Shenanigans

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I’m not a good tourist. I feel like I need a reason, a purpose, a focal point or point of contention. Internal unrest, mental not physical, at least for now. Forcing myself forward, step by step, ignoring certain things, certain people and fixating on others until they feel my need and it all goes away. Why would you walk with a lens cap on? After all these years I’m not sure. Like an infantryman carrying his rifle with a pool cue in the barrel. Makes it somewhat difficult to achieve the desired result and yet there these mysterious creatures are.
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Something unfamiliar in my hand, but I’m working on that. Like new shoes I feel the visual blister forming. It demands it’s own dialogue. I can’t speak to it in the same language I normally use. Clarity from the clutter is more difficult with the little beast, so I need to change the way I see, the way I layer and the way I look for light.
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I break things into mental quarters to give myself a helping hand. “In the end..the machines always win.” Yes, true but as humans we all want to fight the good fight. A guy blows $400(Australian) on a slot machine next to me. Like a kiss from a stranger. That love was never really his, wasn’t in his wallet long enough. A few flicks of a finger, a few spinning dials and it’s gone forever. Remember what they say about the machines.
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I like being here because it is a challenge and I actually do feel like I’m doing good. “Please remain calm, we are here to help,” coupled with “Beatings will continue until moral improves.” I make photographs and I make books, a lot of each. I like to share why, how and then revisit the why. Sometimes I don’t want do either but yet there they are, the camera in hand the nonstop mental editing and then the smell of ink on paper. I tell people I jokingly call it a “curse” but I’m not really joking. I watch others moving through life with a different filter and I wonder “why me?”
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Why do I need to report, record and resolve? I wander into a gambling hall and face backwards staring into the souls of the men watching the ponies with a focus that only comes with money on the line. I don’t gamble but I’m fascinated by those who do. Crumpled bits of paper, hands sweeping across sunken eyes and stubble. There is always another race, another day, another bet. The energy in the room is a palpable strain of uncertainty and guilt. “In the end…the machines will always win.”