The flow of talented young British female singers continues unabated with 20 year old newcomer Adele (born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins). A neo soul/jazz singer, Adele was the first recipient of the Brit Awards Critics' Choice, given to an artist who yet to release an album. A few months later, Adele released her debut album 19, which went straight to #1 in the UK charts and was certified platinum within a month of its release.
This weekend’s video shows Adele performing her hit single "Chasing Pavements" live on BBC 1's "Friday Night With Jonathan Ross"
Thursday, May 29, 2008
This photograph (top) has been somewhat incongruously making its way around the internet recently. However, I guess this should not be altogether surprising as it’s a powerful and seductive picture. It appears heroic in a Che Guevara kind of way, and it’s very chic! However, it is in reality 143 years old and a precursor to the mugshot, being a prison portrait of Lewis Paine (who attempted unsuccessfully to murder Secretary of State William Seward as part of the conspiracy in which John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln).
The photograph was taken in 1865 by Alexander Gardner, the famous civil war photographer also known for his definitive portraits of Lincoln. He photographed Paine and his co-conspirators on board the prison ship on the Potomac where they were incarcerated. Three months later they were hanged.
What is so haunting about the picture is the confidence and poise with which Paine looks at the camera and the modernity of his whole look. As you scroll down, you can see in the picture where the guard is standing beside him that he was enormously tall and if you study the photographs closely, there is certainly a kind of jock arrogance about the man. He’s a fanatic and a fashionista at the same time.
But as we all know pictures can be deceiving. While Paine failed in his task of killing Seward, he brutally stabbed him as well as injuring his two sons Fredrick and Augustus. And while Booth was the only assassin who succeeded in his task, the conspiracy not only robbed America of one of its greatest presidents but set a path of violence that continues to haunt America.
Bodies of the four condemned prisoners at Fort McNair, Washington, following their execution on July 7, 1865. From left, Mary Surratt, Lewis Paine, David Herold and George Atzerodt. Photo by Alexander Gardner.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I’ve been lucky to have many great assistants and last night Samantha Contis, my first assistant when I opened Danziger Projects, and Julia Baum, my current assistant, presented an irresistible photo-op. The occasion was the opening of the Yale MFA Photography 2008 exhibition at Danziger Projects. If you want to see what the nine graduates of what is generally considered the top photography MFA program in the country are up to, the show runs through this Saturday.
The other thing that Samantha and Julia have in common is that both have extremely good websites. Samantha’s features a range of her work which is both pastoral and cinematic. She’s terrific at landscape and with skin and given any opportunity to combine the two she’s off to the races!
Julia’s website features an ever growing body of work on redheads, shot in a luminous outdoor studio she has found for the project. Any genuine redheads living in or passing through New York and wanting to be photographed for the project should contact her via the site.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
At the beginning of this month, the Chaiten volcano in southern Chile, which had been dormant for many thousands of years, began to erupt. Fortunately, there was time to evacuate the town although the ash has now begun to spread its way south across the entire country.
Photographer Carlos Gutierrez of UPI took these dramatic photographs. If you’re a fan of these “hand of god” kind of pictures, which I most certainly am, there’s an apocalyptic element to these images that’s literally incredible. In reality, however, the drama has been caused by the erupting ash and smoke colliding with a lightning storm.
Nevertheless, these kind of images have always had a place in the history of art. The eruption of a volcano was in fact so compelling that it spawned an entire subgenre of landscapes - Vesuvius paintings. Sir William Hamilton, English ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (as Naples and Sicily were known) from 1764 to 1800, was the great patron of this school. In addition to guiding an entire generation of wealthy and artistically inclined young Englishmen up the slopes of the volcano, he commissioned the artist Pietro Fabris to do paintings of the mount in all its moods. Fifty-four of the resulting works were gathered together with Hamilton's own notes and published as Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanoes of the Two Sicilies. This became a highly sought-after collector’s item as soon as it appeared in 1776. At the same time, Joseph Wright of Derby (one of the greatest British painters of the time) journeyed to Italy to paint Vesuvius and his painting “Vesuvius from Portici” is generally considered the masterpiece of the genre.
Remember that in pre-photographic society an event like this could only be experienced directly – no National Geographic, no evening news. The burning desire to see and record was the force that drove artists to cross oceans, trek the desert, and hack their way through jungles in search of the sublime, the mysterious, the unstoppable force of nature. While today we can travel further, know more, see more second-hand, our opportunity to experience this kind of wonder has changed and become more rare. So when photographs like Gutierrez’s come along, un-photoshopped, unconstructed, and looking the cover of a Meatloaf album, they are a reminder and a warning of the turbulent times we live in and the deceptive sense of connectedness we feel to the planet.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
In this week of all things Indiana Jones, I’m featuring a 2006 clip from when its director Steven Spielberg was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor.
The awards, now in their 31st year, are broadcast every Christmas, and for anyone who hasn’t seen them I would highly recommend them. The premise is simple. Five individuals in the arts are selected each year based on a lifetime of contributions to American culture through the performing arts. Each honoree is introduced by a colleague, followed a short but always fascinating filmed biography. The tribute is then capped off by some sort of surprise performance.
In Spielberg’s case the performance was of the finale from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, “Make Our Garden Grow”, sung by Gregory Turay and Harolyn Blackwell. Other than being conducted by Spielberg’s longtime composer John Williams, I’m not sure exactly what the connection was but the piece was so powerfully sung I promptly downloaded three different versions!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Just a few days after my post on pyjamas as outdoor wear, I got an
e-mail from the photographer Justin Guariglia announcing a book signing at ICP this coming Friday for his new book “Planet Shanghai”. The book, which is essentially about the look and style of Shanghai, features dozens and dozens of pictures of people wearing pyjamas outdoors, as well as close-ups of Chinese footwear, Shanghai shoppers, and futuristic looking motorcycle riders.
Taken mostly in 2005, the rapid development in Shanghai is already changing how the city looks and feels and so the book is as much about a moment in time as current Shanghai style, but the images are nonetheless mesmerizing.
The prevalence of pyjamas, Guariglia explained to me, was due to both the extreme summer heat and the lack of plumbing. Most Shanghaians share outdoor communal toilets and thus the boundaries of what was considered one’s home have expanded past people’s houses to the public bathrooms. Once that relaxation of the dress code became acceptable (starting around the 1980s) the perimeter for p.j.-wear just kept expanding until many people were wearing them day in day out.
In addition to the inherent quality of Guaraglia’s pictures, one of the things many readers of this blog will naturally notice is their similarity to The Sartorialist’s photographs. What is equally interesting is the ways in which they differ. While superficially almost identical, in spirit and intent the two photographers are worlds apart. Guariglia is observing, Sart is editing. Guariglia is a photojournalist, Sart is a fashion photographer. In John Szarkowki’s parlance Guariglia is a window, Sart is a mirror.
What never ceases to be a source of wonder is how a mechanical instrument like the camera can produce images that in the hands of different photographers are so distinctly and personally expressive. It’s a miracle! And it’s why people like me have been involved and committed to photography for such a long time.