Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Perfect Fit

Lest anyone think the most important equipment debate is between a shirt-pocket compact cam and a sling-over-the-shoulder entry level DSLR, here's Carl Weese's new Honda Fit packed up for a two-day photography jaunt through Massachusetts and New York State. Carl tells me that the small brown bag on the far right, besides a laptop and two hard drives, contained a change of clothes and some toiletries. All the rest is photo equipment. Also, there's another case under the tripod that you can't see; it held extra 8x10 film holders and two big lenses for the 7x17" view camera.

Incidentally, Carl noted with some amazement that over the course of one 366-mile leg of the 874-mile trip, the Fit's mileage was 10% better than the EPA Highway MPG estimate, even though he ran the A/C part of the way! It outperformed its EPA estimate for the trip as a whole, too. Not too shabby for hauling all this gear.

It has to hold Carl, too. Although he's not wide, lucky sod, he's quite a bit taller than the average Joe.

Carl Weese, Ballfield, Keeseville, New York

And here's an example, if you can call it that, of why Carl goes out. The web image was scanned from a 7x17" contact platinum/palladium print
made on Masa paper, a Japanese tissue with a rough surface that Carl says works surprisingly well for contact prints. The original is of course exquisitely detailed, and vivid and luminous despite its gentle contrast. The web image is only the merest approximation of the print.

Here's the 7x17 set up at the Transit Drive-in Theater, Lockport, New York, 5/22/07.


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Getting up to Date on Stacy Kranitz and CNN and the Portrayal of Appalachia

The question of CNN's edit of Stacy Kranitz's images of Appalachia continues to engage lots of us.

Here's a trail of some of the discussion.

Colin Pantall discusses the controversy under the heading Pain, Dentistry, and Appalachia on his blog, here.  

Joerg Colberg has responded on his blog Conscientious in his usual thoughtful way, here,  under the general heading Photography and Place.

Roger May places this conversation into the context of the history of representation of Appalachia on his blog Walk Your Camera, under the heading Perpetuating the Visual Myth of Appalachia, Part Three.    

We have discussed some of these issues before on this blog, in conversation about the work of Shelby Lee Adams, under the heading Is Shelby Lee Adams a Realist or a Pornographer?

I personally think photography's power comes often in its capacity to challenge the viewer to examine the perspective on an image that the viewer brings to the image when the viewer looks at it.

Myra Greene's work -- which I offered for consideration earlier today -- is, to her, at least in part about asking people who look like the people in her Best Friends portfolio to consider themselves as part of a group.

Shawn Michelle Smith's comments on Greene's work may also apply to our images of other categories of people or places, like Appalachia: 

Smith says, in Myra Greene's work, "Images initially read as benign portraits of a cross section of white American life, yet the impetus for their creation lies in an undercurrent of racial description.   

"By photographing friends, peers, and mentors, Greene visually ponders if photography can capture and describe the nuances of whiteness.  

"Do gesture and environment allude to a lived truth, a performance by the sitter, or stereotype implored by the photographer herself? 

"These photographs offer descriptions instead of resolutions.  Readers charged with dissecting coded information, are confronted with their own notions of race."

In the meantime, in the context of this discussion, Florida-based photographer Christian Harkness has brought to my attention a story in a recent T/Style supplement to the New York Times about the cultural context and the audience for the performance of African American music in the Mississippi Delta. 

You can find it here.

The photographs for this story (see example, above) are by Mark Borthwick, a New York-based photographer whose work here is another case study in seeing ourselves as others see us.  

Maybe the blown-out compositions he uses here capture some of the experience of the Southern sun?

Myra Greene is an Honorary Southern Photographer

Myra Greene is not, technically, a Southerner. She was born in New York City and now lives and works in Chicago. She was formed as a photographer in St Louis and New Mexico.

Her concerns as a photographer are, however, among the perennial concerns of Southern artists -- the body, memory, race, and the absorption and transmission of culture.

These concerns are fully present in a remarkable portfolio Some of Her Best Friends are White, featured today in the LENS blog of the New York Times.

Greene also has a Kickstarter Project going on, here, to support publication of this portfolio. I've signed on and encourage you to do so as well.

The images in Her Best Friends are companion pieces to images in another portfolio of Greene's work, Character Recognition, a series of self portraits that raise questions about what it is that we make of what we see when we see another person, in our culture, and in the context of our history.

I think these are remarkably composed, haunting images that have special relevance for us in the South.

I think Myra Greene should be regarded as an Honorary Southern Photographer.

SXSE on La Lettre de la Photographie

Congratulations to Nancy McCrary and all the good folks at South by Southeast (SXSE) who are featured today on the photography blog La Lettre de la Photographie.

Go here.

The piece features a great interview with Nancy, full of background on this publication, as well as hints about what's to come in future issues.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Dustin Lance Black is Angry about Being a Southerner

We'll get back to photography in the South soon, but in light of our recent conversations about stereotypical views of Appalachia, I want to reflect for a bit about my response to an article in this week's New Yorker.

The New Yorker article is about a movie, and movies are a kind of photography, so I don't think I'm too far outside my usual focus in doing this piece. This is a new movie, just coming out, set in the South, named Virginia, named for the central character, not the location, of the movie.

Although the nominal setting of the movie IS Virginia Beach, VA, even though it was actually filmed in Michigan.

Go figure that one. There is a major motion picture studio in Wilmington, NC, which I'm sure would have been happy to make this movie, if for some reason the State of Virginia had not been available.

They do make movies in Virginia, too, though Black and Friend seem blissfully unaware of it. 

You can see the Preview of the movie here.  And read the New York Times's review of the movie here.

But I direct you to this movie, not for the movie, but for rome comments in this week's New Yorker from the movie's writer and director, Dustin Lance Black, an Academy Award winning script writer and director who grew up in Live Oak, TX.

Black wrote a brilliant script for a powerful movie called Milk, about the gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Black won a richly deserved Academy Award for his work on this movie.

Now Black has written and directed a new movie, Virginia. He decided, in the run-up to the opening of this movie, to sit down for an interview with The New Yorker's Tad Friend.

Black and Friend apparently had a good and jovial conversation, during which, apparently, Black decided to unload on his native region.

All Southerners, Black told Friend, really dream of getting out of the South, and all really dream of moving to Los Angeles. Southerners, in Black's account, "all flock to the Gulf of Mexico on our vacations and pretend, but we know, when we're wiping off the oil with little baby wipes, that this isn't the dream."

Black's brother Marcus died recently, of cancer, and Black wants us to know that "he got out of the South physically . . . but mentally and emotionally I don't think he ever did." As though there is some link between his death from cancer and his inability to get out of the South "mentally and emotionally."

Black himself, however, "got out," he tells Friend, with "an abiding air of gratitude," because his mother married a soldier and moved the family to Fort Ord, California, and Black then moved on to Los Angeles, and presumably to the fulfillment of his dreams. 

Black's comments to Friend about the South left Friend with the impression that a movie like this would NEVER be shown in the South. 

Virginia is opening this weekend, writes Friend, in his New Yorker story, in an art movie theater near you, "as long as you're near an art house pretty far from the actual South."

Such comments might have been understandable  in the New Yorker in 1952, but in 2012, they are simply unacceptable. The New Yorker Editorial Staff ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing such an out-of-date and  condescending piece.

This movie will be shown, and will find an appreciative audience, for sure, in Atlanta and Athens, Ga, and in Raleigh, and Durham, and Chapel Hill, and Charlotte, NC, and in dozens of other towns and cities across the South.

Besides, I've been to Los Angeles, and I thought that Gertrude Stein got it just about right when she said of southern California, "There's no there there." Southern California seems to me to be a place of images and facades and illusion, a place lacking in history and community.

I'm going to give Black a pass on his comments, because -- if one is an artist -- the story one tells about oneself is the story one tells to make possible the creative adult life that one seeks to live. The Story of the Artist who is Born in the South and Feels He Must Go Elsewhere to Thrive as an Artist is an old and familiar Southern story. We know that story well, and we try to forgive those who feel they must use it in their marketing.

After all, one's story is one's own business, I think.Although I strongly suspect Black will find he has a larger audience for this movie in the South than outside of it.

But Friend's role in this is inexcusable. 

Friend clearly needs to get out of New York City more, needs to visit a region where thousands of exceptionally creative and artistic people are making rich and meaningful lives for themselves and making exceptional art out of the complex, and, yes, often difficult and challenging history of the South, and the personal experience of making meaning out of growing up in and living in the South.

After all, so much of the art of the South is the art of America, from blues and jazz to Faulkner and O'Connor and Walker and Angelou.

Friend digs up the old joke Pat Conroy claims his mother told him when he told her he wanted to be a Southern writer. "My mother," Conroy says, "once told me, 'All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.'"

Conroy could tell that story, and make that joke, because it was a self-deprecating joke, a joke that acknowledges the literary legacy of the South made by a young Southern writer who hoped to find his place in that legacy of imaginative struggle with Southern history. 

This story is relevant only to Conroy's own story as an artist and a Southerner. 
Here's the official plot synopsis for Virginia.

"VIRGINIA is a funny, touching drama that looks at the American Dream and what it takes to keep it together.

"VIRGINIA stars Jennifer Connelly in the title role as a beautiful yet unhinged single mother who struggles to raise her son Emmett while dreaming of escaping her small Southern boardwalk town. Her long time affair with the very married, Mormon Sheriff Richard Tipton is thrown into question when he decides to run for public office. 

"Things are further complicated when Emmett begins a romantic relationship with Tipton's daughter. Virginia and the town are full of secrets and everyone knows Virginia can only keep things together for so long. "

The Preview makes the movie look tragic and funny, and the plot summary makes it sound like a charming variation on the genre of the Southern Movie, which is of course the movie about life in small towns populated with colorful and quirky characters who all speak with Southern accents.

We've seen this movie before, of course; some recent versions include Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, and The Help.

You can read the results of this interview on page 23 of The New Yorker's issue for May 21, 2012. I can't link you to this interview because it is behind a pay wall, but you might want to pick up a copy.

I'm firing off a note to the editors of the New Yorker but I wanted to share the gist of my comments with this blog's readers before I do.

Now, back to Southern photography.

When I read about Virginia's Virginia, I thought about the image above, by Marion Post Wolcott, of a country store and juke joint in Melrose, LA, in 1940, one of the small number of images made by federal photographers on Kodachrome during the Depression.

It, and others like it, are on display now in a show called Full Color Depression, at Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, through July 23rd, 2012. Definitely well worth a look, if you happen to be in Durham.