Archive for the Exhibits/Shows 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.


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.)

Culture vs Art – heading off the stage at the Portland Museum of Art

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Maine, REVIEWS on March 22, 2009 by voxphotographs

I know it’s the last day for BACKSTAGE PASS, Rock & Roll Photography exhibit to be viewed at the Portland Museum of Art. I had trouble getting over to see it the first time, and even more trouble the second. Some of that trouble was lack of time, being away, etc… but some of it was reluctance. Popular culture and “stars”  just bore me silly.

web-3Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall, 1966 © Barry Feinstein

(This Feinstein shot is my favorite portrait in the exhibit. Elsewhere online it’s called Soundcheck, Albert Hall.)

I think the staff and Curators at the Museum won’t be forgetting this exhibit any time soon, though. Public response to it has been phenomenal. February was the most attended and most successful February the Museum has ever seen. For that I am thrilled. The reviews don’t focus much on the photography or photographers, but on the culture, the groups, the stars and why shouldn’t that be the focus? That’s what the exhibit is about. Some reviewers seem to be  making the discovery for the first time that history for the last 150 years IS photographs, IS the visual recording of events and for that I’m grateful they are finally enlightened.

But the second time I went back – late last week – I wanted to know if there was any real art in the exhibit. In amongst the crotch-grabbing excess and self-absorbed exhibitionism, there were about 15 gems and I won’t forget them anytime soon. To say this is an exhibit of candid shots and private moments is wishful thinking for the most part. Most of the photographs in the exhibit, even though they didn’t capture ON stage presence, were definitely  unabashed publicity stunts and poses for these stars.


Chuck Berry, Atlanta, 1964 © Jean-Marie Périer

Half of the finest images as far as memorable and brilliant portraiture was concerned, were in color. Very little of this exhibit is in color, so I double-checked my notes before I left; yes, 8 out of the 16 truly brilliant shots in the exhibit were color. Almost all of the 16 portraits I noted were posed, careful photographic studies of people. If you didn’t know who these stars were, it wouldn’t have mattered. The images were beyond gorgeous. This is what I went back to hunt down in that jungle of hedonism.

Take Jean-Marie Périer’s images for example. Here is a guy who knew how to shoot, how to capture character. His image of Chuck Berry, Atlanta, 1964, (above) was something that made me go very still, regardless of the swirling crowds. I went back to study it four times during last week’s visit. Two more of his memorable images in this exhibit are below.


François Hardy, Paris, Nov.1962 © Jean-Marie Périer


John Lennon, Paris, 1965 © Jean-Marie Périer


Janis Joplin, 1968 © Art Kane

Art Kane’s bold, arresting image of Janis Joplin was color, and here’s another of Kane’s remarkable images – this one of Louis Armstrong – this latter image was not included in the Portland Museum of Art Backstage Pass exhibit…but it’s so perfect I included it anyway.


Louis Armstrong, 1959 Esquire Magazine © Art Kane

Baron Wolman’s great color photograph of Joni Mitchell in 1968 – comfortable and at ease at home in Laurel Canyon – says it all:

bwp0017-fpJoni Mitchell, 1968 © Baron Wolman

Linden tells me Joni Mitchell started smoking at age 9, and became a musician to get cash to buy cigarettes! And here’s Wolman’s famous image of Johnny Cash at the Circle Star Theatre in 1967. Read about it here.

bwp0009-fpcashcigJohnny Cash Backstage at the Circle Star Theatre, Redwood City, CA, 1967 © Baron Wolman

Philip Townsend’s iconic image of the early Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham holding up a photo of the original five musicans (in suits!) is on the cover of the exhibition catalog and one of my favorites in the exhibit…the composition is great, Oldham has just the right stance to make this memorable.


Andrew Loog Oldham, 1963 © Philip Townsend

An antidote to all the “love me, look at me” stuff is the great image by Ian Tilton of Kurt Cobain – “Kurt Crying, Seattle, 1990” (click here to read about this shot – it’s interesting):


Kurt Crying, Seattle, 1990 © Ian Tilton

A simply beautiful portrait is William Claxton’s image of Tony Bennett in 1958. This is straightforward presentation, but from a master of the lens. Google Claxton to see more of his work – he deserves your time.


Tony Bennett, Hollywood, 1958 © William Claxton

Claxton’s unforgettable image of John Coltrane at the Guggenheim:

42870950John Coltrane at the Guggenheim, NYC, 1960 © William Claxton

I wanted to go around the exhibit and pull all the brilliant portraits and re-hang them separately from all the other stuff. I longed to do it. I pictured myself doing it. And also pictured taking a very immediate, escorted trip to the Curator’s office to be expelled from the Museum permanently.

sinnead-oconnor_levine-1Sinéad O’Connor, NYC, 1988 © Laura Levine

But here they all are in this blog posting, so I’ve been able to make a mini-exhibit of my own. Feinstein, Périer, Wolman, Kane, Townsend, Tilton, Claxton and Levine. Worth exploring, every one of them. And I hope you will agree, just from looking here, that an exhibit of these images would have been art. More, please.

Get thee to Bowdoin…

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Maine, REVIEWS on February 16, 2009 by voxphotographs

The perfect exhibit for photograph nuts is hanging at Bowdoin College Museum of Art until April 5, 2009, so there’s no excuse for ANYONE not to get there. The Museum is open every day except Monday, and open Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons as well.

“The Image Wrought – Historical Photographic Approaches in the Digital Age” is a cool marriage of then and now. As photography hurtles headlong into the digital age, and a new way of using digital photography seems to be discovered daily, it’s important to underscore that in the decades since 1839 there have been tons of different processes used to take a photograph. Gelatin silver has been around so long that many people think we should have stopped with it, but the processes have been evolving since the beginning.

images Beatrice and Ethel Hatch by Charles Dodgson

(Lewis Carroll) This is an albumen silver print from a wet collodion negative.


(Above is an example of Anna Atkins’ cyanotypes. She was the first woman photographer AND the first photographer to publish a book (“British Algae”, 1843))

Here are some for you: daguerreotype, cyanotype, ambrotype, palladium, gum bichromate, wet plate collodian, carbon print, chrysotype, argentotype and… gelatin silver! I’ll bet there are many, many more and you can find them all in in a couple of great books featured in the glass cases throughout the exhibit. Here are two: “Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes” by Lyle Rexler (Abrams, 2002) and “The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes” Second Edition, Christopher James (Delmar).

But the exhibit at Bowdoin includes some pretty bigtime practitioners – from William Henry Fox Talbot to Mark Osterman. I have never seen an original Talbot, Hill & Adamson (salted paper print) or Anna Atkins (cyanotype) before, let alone a Carleton Watkins mammoth plate landscape, so this exhibit is an opportunity I’m very grateful for.

imageserverAbove: Talbot’s salted paper print from calotype negative “The Ancient Vestry”, 1845.

If you are a photographer and are not a student of the History of Photography you are missing most of the iceberg. This is a great exhibit to whet your appetite to understand how photography has evolved into what you spend so much time doing!

If you ARE a student of  the history of photography you’ll just revel in the examples before you, hold your breath while you roll up the velvet covers on some of the most fragile images, and get that much further along in the “science” of each process. Don’t expect to have it all memorized any time soon, but each book I study or exhibit I work through I pick up some major breakthroughs in the understanding of it all.

The contemporary practitioners are definitely holding their own in this exhibit. Two of the top images presented are by France Scully Osterman and Mark Osterman, the couple who singlehandedly revived many of the historic processes in the 1980’s. Mark’s image “Blowing Smoke” (ambrotype on ruby glass, with pigment rubbed into the silver deposits) alone will bring me back to the exhibit several more times before April 5.


Blowing Smoke © Mark Osterman

France’s warm and radiant image “Laszlo and Carole, 2002” (waxed salted paper print from wet collodion negative) is so intensely beautiful, it’s hard to pull away from it.


Laszlo and Carole, 2002 © France Scully Osterman

The Ostermans’ website will provide you with another afternoon’s worth of study and delight, so don’t miss it.

A couple other images to note and then you’ll have to go yourself and let me know what hit your buttons: Adam Lubroth did a great piece called “30 Pasageros” (paused in cars at red light) and it’s a fabulous modern gum bichromate layered with bright primary colored pigments.

A stunning argyrotype by Billie Mercer titled “Maurice”, 1997 is another unforgettable image.


Maurice © Billie Mercer

Another favorite is Dan Burkholder’s “Flatiron in Spring, New York II” – a platinum print made in 2005 from a 1997 negative and sporting digitally applied color – it’s just plain gorgeous.

dan-burkholder-c2abflatiron-in-spring-new-york-iic2bbFlatiron in Spring, New York II” © Dan Burkholder

None of the images reproduced here do them justice, so get thee to Bowdoin early and often to take advantage of this terrific traveling show stopping for a few months in Maine before heading south back over the line forever.

All of Lincoln’s faces…

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Other on January 12, 2009 by voxphotographs

I lucked out getting to Washington DC a couple of weeks ago. I read in today’s paper about the Obama family visiting the Lincoln Memorial last evening and could remember pretty acutely the large emotions I felt standing there myself so recently. How could you not feel such a deep sense of irony and awe? To see President-Elect Obama standing at the feet of Abe Lincoln may have been more than my tear ducts could stand. And I’m a Canadian for heaven’s sake!

The day before I visited the Lincoln Memorial I had spent time at the National Portrait Gallery studying the photographs of Lincoln in their “One Life – The Mask of Lincoln” exhibit. What a privilege to stand and study the Alexander Gardner albumen silver print taken in 1865 – the one from the cracked plate. (Gardner twisted the plate as he removed it from the camera – and it broke into two pieces. He made this one image and threw the plate away.) It is rarely on display and in fact will be replaced by a facsimile on February 17 in order to preserve it. A once-in-a-lifetime viewing for me, I think. I love surprises like that!

1865 – Gardner


The photograph that made me practically jump when I walked up to it is another Gardner, this one taken earlier in 1863. I’m not kidding when I say I thought I was looking into the eyes of the great man himself. Even with this tiny reproduction, you can sense it.

1863 – Gardner02-06_thumb1

The third image that stood out for me was Matthew Brady’s salt paper print taken in 1860. A gorgeous and singular portrait and one I spent a long time looking at.


1860 –  Brady

I didn’t know this exhibition was up until I got to the Gallery. But… the good news for you is that it is up until July 5, 2009. If you are anywhere near Washington, go and see it. I never cease to marvel that all our national museums are free – the best kind of use of my tax dollars.

When you’ve spent time observing these rare and lovely images, take a walk: up the Mall to the feet of the great leader himself.

Meeting Michael Katakis…

Posted in EXHIBITS/SHOWS, Exhibits/Shows, Other, REVIEWS on January 6, 2009 by voxphotographs

On view until 2/1/09 at the fabulous National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC is an exhibit called Women of Our Time: Twentieth Century Photographs. I saw it a couple of weeks en route to a warmer place than Maine!

My favorite portrait was Michael Katakis‘ image of Maya Lin in 1988 – one of the most uncontrived and lovely portraits I’ve seen a long time. It shows the designer of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC (completed in 1982) casually seated in what looks like her studio, and her black cat has reached out to place a paw on her shoulder.

maya_lin© Michael Katakis, National Portrait Museum, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Michael Katakis in memory of his father, George E. Katakis. All rights reserved.

Mr. Katakis photographed the Vietnam War memorial extensively and this one page essay about an encounter he had there gives great insight into the man and is supported by two of the photographs on his website (below).

If you think you’ve seen enough pictures of visitors to the Vietnam War memorial, you haven’t until you viewed a small sampling of Katakis’ images on his site, or buy the book if you can find it, published in 1988 by Crown Publishers and titled The Vietnam War Memorial.

Take some time to get to know Katakis’ work via his website. You can’t go wrong spending a few minutes with an expert photographer who gets right to the soul of his subjects.

JUST RELEASED: Michael Katakis had a new book published this week, Jan. 5, 2009. Traveller – Observations from an American in Exile includes an introduction by Michael Palin.