This is part of a series I’ve been working on – photographing ordinary objects we pass by on the street every day but take for granted. They are things we see but don’t see, and they may well vanish, like pay phones, mailboxes, and newspaper vending machines, before we realize they’re gone. Pay phones are all but replaced by the cellphone. Newspapers as a physical object may cease to exist thanks to the internet, and along with them the newspaper box. Email has just about killed the personal letter – the only thing keeping the postal services alive these days are mass marketers with their junk mail, Ebay and Amazon with package deliveries. Not everything in the series is vanishing in a literal sense like pay phones, but some of them do vanish from our perception like the fire hydrant, the lamp post, and the traffic cone. We know they’re there because we don’t trip over them when walking on the streets, but they exist at the periphery. They each have their own beauty and form, however, and within their function there are a remarkable variety of forms – the hydrant in Chalon-sur-Saone, while as recognizable as a fire hydrant as the hydrant from Washington DC, has a very different form, as does the Siamese spigot.
While I was in Paris, I went to see a major exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay, Masculin/Masculin, a retrospective of the male nude in art from 1800 to the present. It was beautifully presented, almost overwhelming in size and scope, and extremely memorable. At the time, I thought about buying the catalog because it had outstanding reproductions of the work in the exhibit, including many works and artists I was unfamiliar with. I decided not to because of the size and weight of the catalog, especially considering that it was only available hardcover and my bags were already close to the weight limit. After I got home, I was kicking myself for not buying it after all. I got a second chance, however, when a friend who lives in New York told me he would be going in early December, and he offered to bring me back a copy. It arrived today, just in time to be a Christmas present to myself.
This got me thinking about museum exhibition catalogs. I generally try to buy them for exhibits I’ve enjoyed when I have the chance, because it serves as a reminder of the work exhibited, and it goes a long way to helping support the museum mounting the exhibit, especially when the museum (like all the galleries of the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art) does not charge admission. As a result, I thought I’d list the exhibitions I’ve collected catalogs from.
In rough chronological order, descending, they are:
- Charles Marville, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 2013
- Masculin/Masculin, Musee D’Orsay, Paris, France 2013
- Photography and the American Civil War, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013
- Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 2013
- 40 under 40: Craft Futures, Renwick Gallery, Washington DC, 2012
- Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010
- Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, 2010
- Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, 2010
- Truth/Beauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art – 1845-1945, Phillips Gallery, Washington DC, 2009
- Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, 2009
- Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston, 2009
- Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 2008
- All the Mighty World: Photographs of Roger Fenton, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004
- Segnali di Fumo: L’avventura del West nella Fotograffia, Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy 1994
- Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Columbus, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1992
- Treasure Houses of Britain, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 1985
- Tutankhamen, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 1977
- The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955*
*obviously I did NOT attend the Family of Man exhibit, as I wasn’t even a fantasy in my grandparents’ minds in 1955. But I do have the exhibition book.
Also note that I’ve listed where I saw the exhibit, not necessarily who published the catalog.
Perhaps the oddest is the Segnali di Fumo catalog, purely on account of the incongruity of going all the way to Milan, Italy to see photographs of the American West (well, I didn’t GO to Milan to see the exhibit, but happened upon it as I was leaving the Castello Sforzesco), with a significant body from the Amon Carter museum in Texas. Which I haven’t been to yet, but really ought to. It would also help close the loop on my France trip, for it is there that the first known photograph ever is held – Niepce’s first known heliograph of the view out his studio window at his estate near Chalon-sur-Saone (that I couldn’t visit because it was closed for the season). I’m sure I’m missing one or two from my collection, and my collection of catalogs is a pale shadow of the total number of exhibits I’ve been to either because no catalog was produced (producing an exhibition catalog is a major undertaking and not done casually or cheaply) or because I couldn’t afford it at the time.
Another day I’ll put together a catalog of my photography monographs, as I know this is of interest to some. It’s not a huge collection, especially in light of my overall library size, but it is a work in progress.
After a LOONG weekend of playing with my printer to get it to cooperate (running out of four different inks @ $60/cartridge, figuring out how to solve problems with head strikes on my prints, running out of paper at $115/box thanks to the aforementioned ink shortages and head strikes), I now have my show completely printed. Eight prints are already framed and ready to go, the remaining 12 are going to be framed tomorrow, and the show hung on Tuesday after work. I’ve done shows before, and of course it’s always hard work, but this is the biggest show I’ve done in terms of volume. Even my biggest past Artomatic was probably 12 prints. I’m very psyched about the show. Here’s a recap for those who can’t make it to the opening (REMINDER: August 2, 7-10 PM, Mad Momos Restaurant, 3605 14th Street NW, Washington DC). This exhibit pays tribute to the parts of Washington I pass through on a regular if not daily basis. I want to show what this town looks like to a resident, as well as showing it in an unfamiliar way even to those folks who do see these things all the time. As I mentioned in my blurb about the reception, I love the way color distorts and transforms at night because we no longer have a single, unidirectional light source of uniform color and quality. I’ve started these photos with late evening/sunset/twilight and progress into deep night to capture the feeling of that time of day. I hope these photos express that sense of drawn out time and transformed space, be it through blurred motion or the interplay of lights.
If any of you have ever produced a photography exhibit, or any other art exhibit for that matter, you’ll have an understanding of just how complicated an effort this is. I’m lucky in that I am able to do my promotional work online for the most part (this blog, email blasts, internet forums, etc), and I already have promotional postcards printed from the last time I exhibited some of this work. It would not surprise me if I did a truly serious accounting of what it cost to put this show up on the wall and the bill came in somewhere north of $2500. I know the framing bill alone is in the region of $1100-$1200. Postcards? about $200 for good quality printing from Modern Postcard. Paper and ink? $300. And that’s just the obvious, not counting the two years it took to shoot the images, the film and processing, the editing process, the dinner bribe for my friend who helped with the editing, and all the hardware and software (21.5″ iMac, Epson V750 scanner, Epson 3880 printer, Photoshop CS5, SilverFast AI 8, Gretag-Macbeth EyeOne calibration software and hockey-puck). To say nothing of 20 years of accumulated experience required to produce images like these.
Here are a few shots from my visit to the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Folklife Festival is held every year on the National Mall, and it is a celebration of cultures and traditions from around the world. This year’s featured country is Hungary, and the overall theme is “One World, Many Voices”. There are representatives of many indigenous cultures around the world from Hawaiian Islanders to Penobscot Indians to Quechua speakers from Bolivia and Peru to Tuvan people from Siberia. The “many voices” part has to do with showcasing efforts to preserve vanishing languages and cultures. Go to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Official Page to learn more about the events and programs for this year’s festival.
This pavilion is part of the Hungarian exhibit – playing on traditional Hungarian crafts like lace-making and using the forms and styles in a wooden structure.
And here is a sculpture of a Puli shepherd dog, rendered in blackened wood. Pulis are similar to Komondor sheep herding dogs except they are black, not white. They used to get shorn along with the sheep they guarded, but now are left to grow their coats out as a fashion statement, to the impairment of the dog’s mobility.
The door of a Yurt, representing the various nomadic peoples of Siberia who are sharing their culture this year at the Folklife Festival. Yurts are traditional nomadic home structures – they are portable like tents, with canvas or fabric tops and latticework side walls.
Paper flowers in the Mexican pavilion:
Quechua musicians, getting ready to perform a traditional Quechua song, talking about the meaning of their indigenous language and the importance of preserving the language, to pass on the connection to their cultural traditions of respect for the environment.
A Tuvan instrument maker, carving the body of a lute:
A Tuvan stone-carver, demonstrating hand-carving techniques, making a bull out of soapstone:
These last three shots are not specifically of the Folklife Festival, but are representative of the location and the spirit of the day. The weather was quite hot, but at least we had a relatively dry day with periodic breezes (Washington DC, particularly the area of the Mall, was built on a swamp, and big chunks of the Mall area, especially west from the Washington Monument, are actually landfill. Which is why the Washington Monument is sinking very slowly. So summertime in DC can be particularly miserable – almost New Orleans-esque in its heat and humidity).
The sculpture is outside the American History Museum, which caps one end of the Folklife Festival and plays host to the temporary festival gift shop.
It was tough waiting for people to NOT be walking through the shadow of the sculpture on the pavement. I’ll have to come back and shoot this again in the wintertime when it casts a longer shadow and there are fewer people out on the plaza so I can catch it as more of an abstract piece.
All shots were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Kodak Ektar 100 film.
I came across this while walking around my neighborhood. It’s a balcony on a rowhouse converted to condominium apartments. The sun was getting low in the evening sky, casting long shadows. The scene is almost monochromatic, with the exception of the orange chair. Yet the chair is subtle – it doesn’t pop out and smack you in the face. It may have actually been more intense in real life, but I like it as just a touch – too often you see people de-saturating a color image except for one object (usually red), which they then proceed to hyper-saturate in contrast to the scene around it.
Rolleiflex 2.8E, Kodak Ektar 100.
Just a simple photo of a fire hydrant. It’s possible to make portraits of things, not just people.
Taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, Ilford FP4+, developed in Pyrocat HD.