CRIT 2

In Crit 1 we dug into a photograph a little and looked at its structure as well as asked questions about intention versus outcome.

In Crit 2 we're going to contextualize an image, referencing other works as precedent as well as see if we can make sense of an image beyond its surface.

But first, let's use a new image:

This is one of mine from 2018 from San Jose, CA from the series called San Jose Squares, and written about here. While critiquing your own image may be a little risky, it is, after all, something we should be doing all the time anyway. Let's see how it goes.

Again, as a start, stating the obvious means we have covered it, announces that we are paying attention and perhaps points out some things we may have missed.

The photograph is in black and white and relatively flat with no distinct shadows or highlights. It looks as though it has rained recently, as parts of the pavement and sidewalk are wet The image is a study in grays. The depiction on first look is relatively normal. It is slightly deceiving, however,  in that it is shot close up and yet spreads across a wide area. Look how the building in front of us tilts left.  Is that right? That tells you that we are looking at this scene through a very wide-angle lens that distorts. This is a "face" picture in that the two "eyes" on the left combined with the brick "mouth" below form a caricature of a face, with the pole to their right splitting the frame and establishing that this is one of those photographs where there are other photographs contained within it. 

This style of things touching the edge of the frame, the stop sign on the right (forming another eye shape to counter the two on the left) and even the light pole slipping out of the frame on the top is an irritant. It makes me question if the photographer is doing this deliberately (he is). We are on a side street in the city of San Jose at a time where there are no people. You can't help but notice the frontal and two-dimensional rendering of the side of the building facing us contrasted with the incredible speed and dynamic of the right office building facade, all glass and high tech looking.

Last, and importantly, is the car midway down the street. This is a known object for we are familiar with its heft and size and can say that it is about so many feet long and high and yet here, in this frame, it's been reduced to some sort of model car as it seems all wrong, placed there out of context and foreign to our eyes. Again, the acute wide-angle lens is messing with our sense of what is right and wrong, where things reside spatially.

This photograph sits firmly in a long-standing tradition of photography that began most likely in the 1950s with a few notable exceptions. Eugene Atget comes to mind, photographing in Paris on the streets in the early 1900s. One of my teachers, Harry Callahan, could have made this picture and indeed, if it weren't for Harry I probably would not have been aware that there was a photograph to make here.  Lewis Baltz (New Industrial Parks Near Irvine California) rocked my world when I was younger and is clearly a precedent here. As I think about it, some of the wonderful images Walker Evans made in the early 1900s from places like Pennsylvania and Virginia are made a little like this one. Presumptuous company to keep? Just saying. 

The approach in this photograph, the overriding aesthetic, is to present this subject in seemingly relative neutrality, for it to appear conventional or normal and yet in going a little deeper the photographer imposed a good deal of structure and control over his subject, as well as alteration of what was in front of his camera.

Finally, look at the number of pairs of things in the frame. Is that what caught the photographer? Is it the two eyes with two windows above them, the two white windows, the two covers in the sidewalk concrete and even the two headlights in our diminutive car back there, is that the framework for this picture? Maybe.

In a print critique, the teacher might, in concluding, seek to provide a takeaway to a particular photograph or body of work. Some teachers might try to provide an "answer" but I think that makes all this too rigid. And, after all, this isn't like there is a lesson plan or a finite answer to a specific question for this is art here, creativity expressed through the medium of photography of a place in California. Were I critiquing this photograph in a class I would remind the students that photography is its own special thing. That it renders our world through its own filter, that, while it may look like those objects described above, in this rendering it is in no way factual and certainly not accurate. Is this the artist using the tools as his disposal to comment on the medium of photography? You tell me.

In conclusion, while a good print crit will help you become more aware of what goes on in a picture, it can also lend perspective too.  One that is very important is this: photography is its own language and has its own way of showing us our world.  It isn't particularly truthful but it has a way of looking like it is. This photograph is that kind of deception, looking normal but not being normal at all. One of this photograph's basic tenets is that if you can find how things are skewed in it, perhaps you'll look at other photographs with the same critical eye. I hope so. Too many take photography for granted, assuming that it actually looks in realty just like the photographic rendering of it. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 24, 2020

New Book Soon

We are working on a new book. Most likely it will be called Paradise and it will be a monograph of my photographs from the town of Paradise, California made after the 2018 wildfires. 

I made two trips to Paradise in 2019 to photograph.

The design is by the incredible Andrea Greitzer, which, if you've followed the blog for a while, you know is the designer for so many of my books.

I am writing the intro and I am in negotiation with a journalist to write the foreword. She has been writing about the phenomena of wildfires throughout the state of California for the past several years.

The book will be unusual as it is this career artist's photographic response and interpretation to the tragedy of a whole town decimated by fire.  Our world is   changing, shifting and transforming into a different place than we grew up in. Climate change is causing longer lasting and more severe droughts, severe floods and huge winds fanning flames into walls of fire; all these are making parts of California, as well as Australia and other locations, dangerous places to live and a forecaster of more wide spread damage to come. 

The book will be another print-on-demand book and will be published in an extremely limited first edition, i.e. 100 copies. It won't be large and it won't be expensive as we are using this first run as a dummy to show to publishers for wider distribution.

Want one? Contact us and we will put you on our list. This will be an Insight Arts Management(IAM) book. You can sign up here( IAM Email) to be on our notify list. We plan on publishing by late spring/early summer 2020.


Final Reminder and coming up this weekend:

As always, thank you for reading the blog.

Topics: Books

Permalink | Posted February 20, 2020

There Was a Tree


There was a tree on a one-day shooting trip to southern Vermont in the early spring in 1977. All by itself, chopped down, many of its branches and pieces on the ground scattered around it. 

Since many of you are photographers you might like to know these were made with the single lens Rollei SL66, hand held, shot on Kodak's Plus-X film, processed in D76 1:1 and printed on Agfa's Portriga Rapid paper in 11 x 14 inches, hence the slightly warm color of the prints. You are seeing copies of the prints, not scans from the negatives.

Context? Sure. I was teaching at New England School of Photography (NESOP) which, ironically, is about to close for good next month. I was single as my wife and I had divorced the year before. I was living in Cambridge, MA. I had finished graduate school a few years earlier and my career hadn't really begun in any meaningful way. That would start the next year as I began teaching at Harvard in 1978.

This was a time where my photographing and printing was incessant. I would have a one man show at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA the next year, along with smaller shows at NESOP and at local galleries in the Boston area as well as shows at Martha's Vineyard. In fact, coming up the next summer I would have a two person show with my mom in Vineyard Haven. My mother was a painter.

Why show these now? Well, because I came across them in a box of loose prints from the 70's last week. But more importantly, they always held a place close to my heart. They are "series work" before I knew what that was or that series work would form a foundational basis for my photography throughout my career. And they are evidence of a disaster, much like my pictures of Paradise CA are today. As a metaphor for larger tragedies, these photographs of a felled tree all by itself in a large field in Vermont has stood as a symbol for my relationship to the end of life and death for the past 43 years. 

I am showing you the full set, just six prints. 

I remember the photographs of the bodies strewn around the battlefield by Mathew Brady or one of his crew during the Civil War. The next summer I would travel to Europe to photograph at Dachau outside of Munich and soon I would make my first intentional series work in Nantucket in the summer of 1980.

I don't even have a title for this work. It could be "Tree in a Field". Perhaps you have some ideas for what to call this series of mine before I was making series. 

If you come Sunday I can show you the prints.

Thank you for reading my blog. 

________________________________________________________________Coming up this weekend!

You should come...

Topics: Black and White,Analog,Northeast

Permalink | Posted February 17, 2020

Something to Live For

Something to Live For is the title of the Michael Hintlian show at NESOP (New England School of Photography): a title rich in possible interpretations. The show opened a couple of nights ago and is the last exhibition ever at NESOP as the school will close for good March 30.

Erin Carey, the school's director, chose Michael for NESOPs last show as he is a long-time teacher there and has had a major influence on hundreds of students, teaching with directness and a single minded concern for their becoming better photographers. 

The show is a befitting tribute to Michael's positive impact.

Came in the main entrance from the street, gallery on the left, two white walls at 90 degrees with bright track lighting above, single rows of analog prints on each wall of framed black and white photographs, matted in white metal section frames. 

Clean and minimal presentation.  

One doesn't or shouldn't scan a Michael Hintlian photograph. You don't "breeze by". One "reads" his photographs. The show is hung to support this. There is a rhythm, a pace, but nothing like a formal narrative and ultimately where they were made is not so very important, except to place us in America,  roughly in the present. Indeed, there are no titles, no statement. Clearly the photograph and its clean presentation is everything. A purist approach. Stand in front of a Hintlian photograph and first up you seek to find the point, the reason it is there, hanging on a wall in Waltham, MA in February 2020. That's not hard, there usually is a person or a few people, there is often a glance, a look, an expression, sometimes confronting Michael but then taken so fast before he/she can make a face, look away, avoid contact. Gary Winogrand did this too, so quick, there and gone before his subjects could react. These are fast photographs, no careful framing, no intellect imposing a carefully considered structure. Intuition plays its role here and experience too. Then on a longer look the rest of the photograph often serves as support of the main point, but there can be a whole other scene taking place in the background or over on the edge of the frame. This can form a comparative conversation, from one to the other. Hintlian's photographs can be deceptively easy, and then easy to dismiss, easy to say this one's about that. But a deeper read will provide more. It is clear he intends this, for the photograph to reveal itself under harder scrutiny, like peeling an onion, more to show us the more we look.

It must be said that this is not how people look at photographs today, swiping by in fractions of a second on a "device". Seeing no details, studying nothing.

Okay: first we see the man in front and center doing push ups in business attire, sweating presumably on a hot day, stains under his arms. A whole story there and clearly the major player that has us asking questions. But there is a chamber piece, as in Dvorak or a Bach Cantata, taking place in the receding space of the wall, two figures like slalom skiers working their way through the gates with the final end of the sentence being the thin stream of water in shadow flowing into the fountain on the far left, the tables and steps and small walls playing supporting roles to the overall image. 

Contemplation, meditation, acceptance, serendipity and magic can seem like odd words to describe these photographs.  But these are not just light little anecdotes, brief slices in time, incidental respites in a busy world. Good street work, and make no mistake, this is good street work, can appear choreographed or staged, seeming to be orchestrated content that makes incredible connections. Odd that something made so very quickly asks us to slow down and study it over time.  Of course, so many wish for this, for viewers to spend time with our work, form connections, see the metaphors and analogies in our pictures. Michael Hintlian's photographs require it.

Show is up through Much 6

https://www.nesop.edu/events/the-garner-center/something-to-live-for

Topics: Review

Permalink | Posted February 13, 2020

Crit 1

Critiquea detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.

In art school, students will prepare to have their work critiqued. In the photo lab at school you'll hear, "how'd the crit go?"

Put your work up on the wall in class and the teacher will critique it.

While many know this system and the way it works, many do not so I thought that I would critique a photograph in the blog. I spent my teaching career critiquing photographs so feel qualified to write how it works.

This is an image I found online by Johnny Crawford, with thanks. (source Google Images)

Many teachers will state the obvious first. The two paragraphs below are mostly statements of fact, establishing indisputably the foundation for the teacher's interpretation, which comes next.

Since we know nothing about this photograph, where it was made, what the photographer would say about it or who it is, we start from a place that is highly democratic. That can be a good thing as it levels the playing field. Of course, being critiqued one-on-one or in a class can be harder. Also, these days, making a black and white photograph is an artistic statement, removing the subject from reality and counter to the historical precedent of photojournalism in an earlier era before color prevailed.

The photograph is dark, backlit, with deep shadows. It is in black and white and the main subject, the person in the middle ground in the lower center is silhouetted. By pushing the tonalities dark and printing the image high contrast, the photographer has made it more dramatic.

Here comes the evaluation part. It is not unusual for a teacher to appear or to actually be bored with all this. Good ones will remember that the student is in effect putting it all out there, exposed and vulnerable. On the other hand, being able to absorb criticism and become a better photographer is the goal. Finally, what does it say about your work if the person critiquing it is bored by it?

For me, part of the problem lies with where our subject is placed. I find myself thinking, "what if the photographer had moved a little to the right, to isolate the figure differently?"There is something about his head blending into the shadowed background of the beach back there in the dark that bothers me. Tall buildings right on the beach: Miami or perhaps Rio in Brazil? Not sure. It makes me think that climate change will alter that, the relationship of the ocean to the buildings.

Often we present an image, hoping that it will go over well, be liked, that perhaps someone will really love it, even if we don't. That's tentative and can't be a good sign or way to present your work. That's what strikes me about this photograph, that it doesn't present to me as being emphatic or visceral. That it is ambivalent. It is a little passive and then drama's been added by using strong blacks and adding contrast. Inexperienced photographers usually take the picture as they see it, not taking the time to move low, to move left or right, to move in or out. Photography is not a direct translation of something as we see it. It is a tool for us to use to interpret that. Therefore we have to work with it to convey our intent. That takes training, experience and, most often, physical movement. Henri Cartier-Bresson used to talk about how he felt he was a dancer when he made his pictures. You can see that in his work. (Note: good teachers will always reference others' work. Good students will always go and look up the work the teacher mentioned).

Perhaps if the figure was larger in the frame? I am not sure. 

I think the printing is okay, although that is a whole lot of black. I seldom think total black is good, especially in large amounts in a photograph.

Last, I am not clear what the take away for this photograph is. Do I have a clear idea of the photographer's intention? Presumably, it is summer or taken in a warm climate, the boy in a bathing suit, people in the background in the water. This may seem trivial but does the thin white line around the photo help or hurt? And what was the logic behind the black board? Was that a good idea or not? Just a question.

Obviously, there is much more this crit could deal with and this one was pretty short but you get the idea. Crits get more complicated of course, as student's ideas and presentations get more involved. Thesis work, where a student presents a whole body of work, can take hours to get through. 

The student should get a sense that alternative approaches should be tried, that photographs most often fail when the photographer is hunting for meaning. Trying is good but succeeding is far better. If you know what you want going in the outcome will be better. Often crits pose questions and ask the student to work out their own answers. It is seldom as simple as a teacher providing an answer for, after all, life doesn't work that way, why should art?

And last, key to a good crit is others' response to the work. What do your classmates think? This can be applied to the idea of showing your work to others to judge their opinion: family, friends, other photographers, other kinds of artists, the powerful and eminent, neighbors, your dog (hah!): anyone and everyone.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you'd like me to keep going with this as there is much more. Neal's Email

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted February 7, 2020