Archive for the REVIEWS Category

Paul Strand – he pushed photography into a new realm

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Other, REVIEWS on January 5, 2015 by voxphotographs

I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be in Philadelphia over Christmas and catch up with the 250-image exhibition Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which ended January 4. Sometimes you win.

Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography - at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through January 4, 1915. I'm at the exhibit and viewing one of Strand's most iconic images, Wall Street, New York, 1915.  This is a vintage 1915 platinum print and worth the trip in itself.

Paul Strand: Master of Modern Photography – at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, ended January 4, 1915. I’m viewing one of Strand’s most iconic images, Wall Street, New York, 1915. This is a vintage 1915 platinum print and worth the trip in itself.

Strand studied photography first with Lewis Hine. Then, after a visit with Alfred Stieglitz at Stieglitz’ NYC gallery, Strand became impassioned about his own voice through photography. But most importantly for every contemporary photographer, Paul Strand took the pictures that make you what you are today.

Again, this is why every serious contemporary photographer should be a student of photo history. Paul Strand was the first to take photographs that had nothing to do with the aesthetics of painting. He was the one who first photographed a picket fence, a still life of pottery and fruit, a street person. It’s difficult for us to imagine these “firsts” in photography – the first image taken from above (Alvin Langdon Coburn), the first radically-angled photograph of a building (Rodchenko). When Stieglitz featured Strand’s work in an issue of Camerawork, the world of soft-focus “art” photography imploded. Strand’s images focused on the relevance of everyday life, the humanity he viewed through the lens, not the pictoral.

White Fence©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.

White Fence©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.

Back to the exhibit – comprised of 250 images selected from the Museum’s archive of approximately 4,000 prints. It was a terrific overview and a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit for the viewer. But it did confirm that his early works are the game-changers for me, while later series of work, based on his travels to different countries and villages, as well as many long-exposure images of the natural world, are less important to the story of photography.

Strand’s extraordinary portraits could easily be a complete exhibit in themselves, and the exhibit includes many made with his 8×10 view camera, also on view. His early portraits of his wife, Rebecca, remind us of Stieglitz’ portraits of O’Keeffe, and that’s not surprising seeing as the photographers spent a lot of time together.

Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France, 1951©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.

Young Boy, Gondeville, Charente, France, 1951©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.

An image that really struck me was the tiny Workers’ Bicycles below. It is perfect. But when I saw it enlarged (maybe 16×20?) as a print in the gift shop, it had lost everything important. The intimate size of the image in the exhibit transformed the content into a magical viewing experience that the enlargement completely negated. It was an interesting lesson to see once again: sizing images for presentation plays a major role in the image’s success.

Workers' Bicycles, The Po, Luzzara©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.

Workers’ Bicycles, The Po, Luzzara©Paul Strand. All Rights Reserved.



This is the size of the original Workers’ Bicycles in the exhibit.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art Strand exhibit taught me much and for photographers, studying Strand’s work should be an ongoing education. Knowing the works of the pioneers of the medium is the first step to any artist finding his/her own unique vision. It prevents the artist from thinking they have invented the wheel, so to speak.

Strand's 8x10 view camera, on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through January 4, 2015.

Strand’s 8×10 view camera, on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, through January 4, 2015.

There’s an extensive catalog for the exhibit. If you didn’t get there in person and you want to see what the life work of a master looks like, make the investment for sure.


Living and Sustaining a Creative Life

Posted in Photography Books, READ THIS!, REVIEWS on May 19, 2014 by voxphotographs

I requested Living and Sustaining a Creative Life – Essays from 40 Working Artists, edited by Sharon Louden, from Maine’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) program and was pleased to find it available – only one copy at this point – but I was encouraged that at least MECA had it in its stacks and was willing to share it. Of any place this book should be, it’s MECA.


Even though it’s around $35, I would suggest any artist making, or planning to make his/her living as an artist, invest in a copy as soon as possible. Reading it could save you from falling into the black hole of idealism, or provide a ladder for you to climb out of a hole you’ve found yourself in while trying to make “it” happen.

The 40 essays really are well-edited and surprisingly readable. Once in a while you get the sense an artist enjoys a little too much the experience of writing about ME ME ME, but the overall and engaging frankness of the essays makes this book a powerful resource for other artists, yes, but also gallerists and curators. (And, I should add, the family members sharing the journey with those who have made the huge commitment to making a career as an artist. I have been married to a painter for over 40 years, and have been a gallerist for 7. I found it extremely valuable reading from both of those vantage points.)

Here are 40 stories by artists about the ups and downs they have experienced trying to make a living. The sheer number of essays really gives this book credibility for me. You just can’t have an agenda with 40 people telling their stories. What struck me as I worked my way through the book over a week’s time is the similarities that start to take shape in these stories. Many artists pay their way by teaching, others by working jobs in art galleries and museums, still others by obtaining public art commissions and grants. And one of the most important points made by almost every artist is that there are people in their lives without whom they could not have made it happen.

Another comment about how important associations are is the one that really sticks with me as I finish up this important and long overdue publication: Artist Brian Tolle writes: “Ultimately, the key to running my studio relatively successfully has been my ability to interweave all these realms of art; to be nimble, to recognize the strengths and talents of the people working with and for me, and never associate myself with those who say that something cannot be done.”

I agree completely. If you don’t have that kind of spine, choose another way of life. Being an artist is not for the fainthearted.


COLOR: American Photography Transformed

Posted in Photography Books, READ THIS!, REVIEWS on January 23, 2014 by voxphotographs

51jhHRSDmoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_My favorite subject is the history of photography and I’m coming off of a high after spending two weeks over the holidays studying my way through COLOR: American Photography Transformed. It’s the “catalog” supporting the exhibit that just closed at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, TX. It’s a big hardcover wonder as far as I’m concerned, so “catalog” is a little bit of an understatement.

The inter-library loan system in Maine has one copy available – from Colby College’s library – and I’m grateful as always to the library system’s far-reaching use of my tax dollars. COLOR is a very, very thorough history of color photography and even though the exhibit itself had only 75 images on view, the book must have at least twice that. The exhibit received rave reviews, with one reviewer stating “the only downside to this exhibit is that there aren’t more photographs!” Well, the book/catalog fixes that.

The history of color photography is far from just facts and figures and processes. It’s more cultural than anything, and one of the most fascinating things to read about in this book is how photographers and curators and reviewers s-l-o-w-l-y, oh so slowly, came to accept that color photographs have value. That sentence kind of simplifies the whole topic a tad, but I was struck with the endless pushing and pulling it took to get there, and the battles that persisted in the 1970-1990 decades are something we need to be reminded of. As one reviewer said of the book, “There is even a degree of suspense as the history unfolds.”

The book is divided into four chapters, each representing a different era.  The essays, written by John Rohrbach, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, are terrific, making the whole story accessible and lively, and the pages are loaded with images.

I decided to read the last essay first – it’s titled “From Potatoes to Pixels: A Short Technical History of Color Photography” by Sylvie Pénichon, and I’m glad I started there. It got me used to terms and process names I might not be familiar with, and gave me a head start for what the rest of the book refers to.

Quite simply, this book and exhibit are a great gift to all of us involved in the fine art photographs community, and to those of us who love the story of how we all got here, COLOR: American Photography Transformed, is a vital and extraordinary experience. And you know what? It’s the gift that keeps on giving: the bibliography is 14 pages long and I feel like I’ve struck gold. See you in a decade or so!

David Brooks Stess – what 23 years looks like

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Maine, OUT THERE - PHOTOGRAPHER SPOTLIGHT, REVIEWS on April 13, 2013 by voxphotographs

If you want to know what 23 years looks like, visit the Portland Museum of Art before 5/19/13 to see the exhibit “Blueberry Rakers: Photographs by David Brooks Stess”.

If you want to see and understand what real, worthwhile lyric documentary photography is, see this exhibit.  About 60 images are on view, and yes, Stess has taken 1000’s over the decades. But Susan Danly did such an insightful job curating the work, I can assure you it’s all there. The respect, the trust, the knowledge. Not “insight”. Knowledge. That’s what working from the inside out is. Observers observe. Experts have insight. Stess knows.

Ryan©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

Ryan©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

In 1989, David Stess was driving around in downeast Maine taking photographs when someone told him he should check out the blueberry rakers, and gave him directions to a local barrens. As he tells it, after what seemed like days on a rocky track, eery figures emerged from the fog.

And in that instant… he knew.

As only Dave Stess can do, he jumped right in – and stayed in – with everything he’s got. Frankly, the project still isn’t quite over, but it’s very close. For the rest of us in the photography community, the portraits he made of the rakers over the last two plus decades say it all: here’s a person who understands what it takes to create something of importance. Ingredients: intimate knowledge, love, respect and trust.

Raking Close Up©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

Raking Close Up©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

For Dave learned how to rake blueberries. He raked and raked and raked and photographed. He became known as “Super Dave” for his amazing speed. He not only raked next to them, he went home with the rakers after the long, backbreaking, sweaty days to share their food, their living quarters, their games, their talk.

Think Josef Koudelka (Gypsies) and Danny Lyon (The Bikeriders), both early inspirations for Dave. Think Richard Russo (Mohawk, Nobody’s Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls and most recently the autobiography Elsewhere) who wrote the catalog essay introducing David’s exhibit to the public. Russo knows firsthand: he kicked off his rise to literary stardom writing about the upstate NY towns and culture he grew up in. Russo gets it right – and the reading public knows it.

Suzette©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

Suzette©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

David Stess earned the trust of his subjects by entering their world without reservations. He “got it” – what they do and why they do it. How hardscrabble and uncertain such a life is. Weather, bosses, machines, bad crop – you are a pawn in the very tough and unforgiving world of harvesting.

It’s okay to take photographs of others who live differently, but more often than not, taking photographs as an outsider is closer to invasive voyeurism on the part of the photographer and the viewers. When young writers are told “Write what you know.” this is no rhetoric. Photographers need to make an investment of time and psyche to their subjects to earn their trust, but just as important, so they take photographs from the inside out, from what they know, not just what they see. There’s a difference and it’s a big one.

I honor David Brooks Stess. We are very different people, he and I. But I know the real thing when I see it.

Quinn©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

Quinn©David Brooks Stess. All Rights Reserved

(David’s photographs are in the collections of the Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum and many private and corporate collections. He was the first artist I took on to represent work when I started VoxPhotographs in 2007. He is still represented by VoxPhotographs.)


Posted in OUT THERE - PHOTOGRAPHER SPOTLIGHT, REVIEWS on May 20, 2012 by voxphotographs

I’ve found the fine art photographers I’ve met here in Maine to be a singularly committed group. They have to be. With few outlets for their work in their home state, and even fewer serious collectors of fine art photography here, they have to be fueled by passion. I respect their drive to produce new bodies of work and their willingness to commit dollars to exhibiting it when they know the chance of recouping such an investment is slight.

Railroad Spike©John Roy. All Rights Reserved

On May 12, I met three more such passionate artists. For three years now I’ve traveled down to Boston to review portfolios during the two day New England Portfolio Reviews event organized by the Griffin Museum of Photography and PRC (Photographic Resource Center). Last Saturday, I spent 25 minutes each with John Roy, Phillip Jones, and David Torcoletti. I met with John Roy last year and he wanted to update me. I don’t know how I got on the lists of Phillip and David, but I’m glad I did. I was also pleased to see two of the artists whose work is represented by VoxPhotographs invest in this opportunity – Sharon Arnold and Dave Wade.

When I met with John Roy last year, I saw promise, but no focus. Several images were terrific. But a mature artist needs to be able to realize a vision and see the creation of a body of work through – and I told John that. There’s nothing the matter with shooting a variety of subjects and styles, but… a formal portfolio review should include one or more edited bodies of work. John was clearly eager this year to tell me he had taken my advice seriously, but what he showed me this time around told me that loud and clear without words. He created a series that explored abandoned railways. He had a vision and showed me he could communicate that vision clearly to others, with an exciting and often challenging group of about 15 photographs he had edited down from close to 100. It wasn’t a perfect group, but once I weeded out a couple images that didn’t bring much to the table, I can easily state that an exhibit of the dozen remaining images would be of great satisfaction to anyone viewing it. I loved the portrait of the “Railroad Spike” so much, I asked him to send it on to me to include in my revolving desktop images.

Cranes in Motion©Phillip Jones. All Rights Reserved

These reviews demand I stay focused – completely – as every 30 minutes I enter a totally different world and need to get right inside it. Next up was Phillip Jones. Phillip’s work is realized in large square selenium-toned silver gelatin prints and most of the work he presented to me was from his Shooting in the Dark and Industry series – gutsy and often riveting images. He also brought along a few strays from other series (and one of my favorite photographs viewed in a long time is the one at the end of this posting: “El Toro”. Everyone I’ve shown it to loves it. There is the obvious appeal of the image which doesn’t have to be explained to anyone reading this blog, but in the large print itself, if you spend time with it, you get beyond everything else to the tiny evidence of humanity in the bottom right-hand corner. Ah, these are the images that make it worth getting up in the morning!) But here’s a guy who takes no short cuts and the results are extraordinary works that allow the viewer the best experience – to see something in a new way. One long look through this artist’s website and it’s clear he works hard – very hard – and has honed his craft to a very high level.

Untitled, from the series “Soldiers” ©David Torcoletti. All Rights Reserved

I’m constantly amazed at what slices of life artists home in on and bring to light: David Torcoletti brought me an amazing series to review – a former co-worker had been a radio personality in Vietnam and had received thousands of photographs from her American listeners stationed there during the war. She was evacuated (yes, in the helicopters) and settled in the USA, and the only thing she had time to grab was…a small box of some of these photographs the GI’s had sent her. Hundreds were left behind. When she showed them to David 25 years later, many of the photographs had deteriorated, but she thought he might appreciate them, as a photographer. He did and he immortalized them, just as he found them – distressed, peeling and haunting. It’s an incredible group of images and so moving, there is little to verbalize. They are no longer about individuals, but about the loss and destruction of war and “men living in impossible circumstances”. I tend to spend the first 10 minutes of these reviews silently looking at the work  – it sometimes throws off the photographer who is hepped up to talk about it all. But I need to spend time with it visually and dislike having images explained to me most of the time. But with this series? It hugely impacted my understanding of the photographs to hear the story behind them and I honor it by repeating it to you.

Untitled, from the series “Soldiers” ©David Torcoletti. All Rights Reserved

All three photographers took the time to let me know the short time we spent together had been worth while and nothing makes me happier to learn a photographer moved forward in some way after I talked with them about their work. “…awesome photography review” ” … thanks for your time, insight and sense of humor.  You were helpful, and also good company (my grandmother’s highest compliment).” Your analysis of what’s actually going on within a photo is marvelous. Time will tell, but I believe that you demonstrated tools that will help me discern a competent, interesting image from a resonant work of art.”

Remember what I said about what’s worth getting up in the morning for? To have the opportunity to share, if only briefly, in the light that shines from the works of committed, talented photographers…that’s one of the best reasons I know.

El Toro©Phillip Jones. All Rights Reserved

Heading to…Rochester?

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Other, Photography Books, REVIEWS on May 2, 2011 by voxphotographs

  In the unlikely event you are heading to or beyond Rochester, NY before June 13, you will want to stop at the George Eastman House.

Their exhibit “Between the States: Photographs of the American Civil War” is marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War showing rare photographs of the era – faces and places. A review in the current Black and White magazine states: “Of particular interest is the way the exhibition explores how photography was utilized to not only document the war’s campaigns, but to also serve the propaganda agendas of both North and South.”

As well, George Eastman House has just published a new book: Steichen in Color. If you love autochromes, this is for you. I think autochromes are my favorite color process and the review of this book, also in Black and White magazine says “Many of these [autochromes] feature friends and family, and the soft-focus, delicately tonal images are possessed of stunning warmth and intimacy. Steichen himself remarked about them, ‘I have no medium that can give me colour of such wonderful luminosity as the Autochrome plate.'” Sigh. Can’t wait to see this book – will have to ask my obsessive photobook buyer friend to get one and then borrow it. Although at $25, it’s a steal, so I’ll buy it myself and lend it to him!

The power of the camera…Everlasting Moments (the movie)

Posted in REVIEWS, Screen on April 30, 2011 by voxphotographs

If you love gorgeous, beautifully crafted films, watch “Everlasting Moments” (2008) directed by Swedish filmmaker Jan Troell.  I ordered it via Netflix because I read that it is about a woman in the early 1900’s who wins a camera in a contest and this small twist of fate saves her – barely, at times – but, it does.

What a moving, soulful film – as only the Swedes can do. It never goes where you think it will, if you’re used to watching dumbed down American films. Instead, it is life as we all know it to be – inexplicable, meandering and fully human.

I just can’t recommend it highly enough. Like all the best photographs, it embodies  that unique vision I write about – supported by a superlative craftsman, or should I say, craftsmen. Not only is it exquisitely directed, the cinematography is to die for.