Monthly Archives: August 2009
André Kertész | His Inspiring and Lasting Influence

André Kértész remains my largest influence when I am behind the camera. It may have been chance that a professor lent me one of his books when I was eighteen but that chance gift was my introduction into the world of photography. Kértész was the first master whose images I studied and I pored over that book for hours. I could have easily been handed a monograph by Arbus or Avedon or Adams. Perhaps my professor knew what she was doing.

I have been following that initial insight and inspiration ever since. Many times I find myself unintentionally copying Kértész on the street.

There is a gentle humanistic quietness, an easy poetry to his images and a seeming raw, amateurish quality that makes his images readily accessible. The incredible perfection of Cartier-Bresson or Salgado can sometimes create a personal distance between the image and the viewer because the flawless, stunning compositions and technique can render an image almost to the level of a graphic, it being so pure of form and idea. The converse is Kértész’s work with its easy homeyness that is flawed and familiar, inviting and intimate, and in the end, deeply personal. The series of images he made of the glass sculpture that reminded him of his departed wife is a subject of heartbreaking vulnerability, a view that few of the masters have ever let us see.

He is considered the grandfather of street photography. The Getty Museum’s Photography Curator, Weston Naef described Kértész as

a little like Christopher Columbus, who discovered a new world that, in the end, was named for someone else.

Cartier-Bresson also said once said of himself, Robert Capa, and Brassaï, that

Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.

He is also credited by Brassaï as being his mentor and the one who encouraged him to document the nights of Paris.

Except for his celebrated period in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s, he has always been tragically under appreciated and oddly looked over especially after his relocation to the United States. Because of this, he is something of a photographer’s photographer, cherished by those who shoot and those who study those who have shot.

I still find myself looking at a proof sheet, wondering about the familiarity of an image I’ve created until I realize that it is my version of a Kértész.

I am an amateur, and I intend to remain an amateur for the rest of my life. The photograph gets its beauty from the very truth with which it is stamped. This is why I guard myself against any kind of professional trickery or virtuosity.

I attribute to photography the task of recording the real nature of things, their interior life. The photographer’s art is a continuous discovery which requires patience and time. A photograph draws its beauty from the truth with which it is marked.

André Kértész, 1930.

We all owe him a great deal.

Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Chez Mondrian

André Kértész, Chez Mondrian, 1926

The Fork

André Kértész, The Fork, 1928

Rainy Day Tokyo

André Kértész, Rainy Day Tokyo, 1968

Café du Dome, 1928

André Kértész, Café du Dome, 1928

martinique

André Kértész, Martinique, 1972

Andre Kertesz Meudon, Paris 1928

André Kértész, Meudon, 1928

Ballet, 1938

André Kértész, Ballet, 1938


Mad Men | Penn Station

This past Sunday, “Mad Men” (Season 3 Episode 2) referenced the venerable architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable when Paul Kinsey and Pete Campbell were meeting with the developers of Madison Square Garden, discussing plans to knock down Penn Station.

It quotes Ms. Huxtable’s article in the New York Times from 1963 about Penn Station, called “How to Kill a City”. The New York Times has offered the full article in PDF to download and read here.

A eulogy in October of ’63 ran in the editorial section:

Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.

– “Farewell to Penn Station,” New York Times, Oct 30, 1963

Comparing the old to the new, Vincent Scully of Yale University remarked,

One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.

The original Penn Station was a steel and glass shrine to transportation, an elegant Beaux-Arts temple with its 150 foot high ceilings and a waiting room modeled after the Roman Baths of Caracalla.

Now it is an underground Habitrail™, lit by yellowed fluorescents and flavored by the odors of Roy Rogers™ and Cinnabon™ stinking down the corridors. Excepting the mad scurry for Amtrak platforms after the track number has finally been revealed on the big board, it is an oppressive space completely without joy.

photographer unknown

photographer unknown

Couple in Penn Station Sharing Farewell Kiss Before He Ships Off to War During WWII by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Couple in Penn Station Sharing Farewell Kiss Before He Ships Off to War During WWII by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Life Magazine has posted an entire series by Eisenstaedt of WWII soldiers’ farewells at Penn Station here.

Penn Station, circa 1910, Detroit Publishing Company

Circa 1910, Detroit Publishing Company; click to view the full size image

photographer unknown

Berenice Abbott, printed ca. 1935

AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman

AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman

photograph by Peter Moore

Peter Moore; click to view full size

Peter Moore and his wife Barbara documented the death of Penn Station and published their work, The Destruction Of Penn Station.

photographer unknown

today

The only consolation is that Penn Station’s demolition was a large factor in the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965.


Leica Sighting | Coraline

Leica camera owners are the worst of the gear fetishists in the photography world. I count myself among them…to a certain extent. Obsessing over serial numbers, special alligator skin models and collapsible lens hoods is small talk for us.

The use of Leicas in movies is something I count as a geeky guilty pleasure, though nothing will take me out of a movie quicker than when I spot an M8 or a screw mount lens.

What has to be the coolest movie sighting of a Leica so far is the appearance of one in the stop-motion animated film of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Only a camera fetishist would go to the lengths required to construct a miniature M3. And a true Leica fetishist would make sure that when Coraline looks through the viewfinder, the POV through the viewfinder had the single M3 50mm frame line exactly where it should be.

I cannot take credit for the identification of the model nor of the frame lines’ accuracy. That came from the Leica Users Group.

Picture 9

Coraline 2009

Picture 10

The camera strap and the specific way it folds under above the rings is dead on. Coraline 2009

the frame lines for the 50mm in the M3

the frame lines for the 50mm in the M3

See, rent or buy Coraline now. It is a wonderful film and is so far the closest Neil Gaiman has come to having a film successfully convey his singular magic and imagination.


Helen Levitt, 1913 – 2009

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this little alcove in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was dedicated to the photographs of Helen Levitt, a small tribute to her work in light of her death in March 2009. I had been familiar with her work in passing but I had never seen any of her photos in person. These small dark prints had such delight and spoke so honestly of the street and in the capacity for the squalor of pre-war New York to be playful and whimsical.

Helen shot on the streets of New York most of her life (excepting a series in Mexico City) and documented the neighborhoods and sidewalk dwellers with an eye towards the lighthearted frolic of daily life that contrasted with the harsh urban streets, giving her images a surrealist quality. She had abandoned her large format camera after seeing an exhibit by Cartier-Bresson and began to use the 35mm Leica, occasionally with a prism to disguise the fact that she was photographing a subject.

She was a film editor and director and worked for Buñuel, works which I have not yet seen. In later years she used color, but for my own tastes, her images from the thirties and forties remain evocative and stirring.

Powerhouse Books has published several books of hers, some of which I will be buying shortly.

From the New York Times obituary.

Changes in neighborhood life also affected her work. “I go where there’s a lot of activity,” she said. “Children used to be outside. Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something.”

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Helen Levitt, Los Angeles Times, 1963

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1939

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York City, 1942

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Helen Levitt, New York City, 1940

helen-levitt

Helen Levitt, New York City, 1939

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Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1945

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

levitt_street_drawing

Helen Levitt, Street Drawing, New York, 1940

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Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

levitt_sbs19

Helen Levitt, New York City, c 1940

levitt_ny1942

Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

levitt_new_york

Helen Levitt, New York c. 1945

levitt_concerned

Helen Levitt, New York c. 1942

levitt_4boys

Helen Levitt, New York c. 1940


Peter Belanger | MacWorld Magazine Cover Shoot

Peter Belanger has created an entertaining and informative time lapse video of his creation of a MacWorld magazine cover. The video follows the entire process from shooting in the studio to post production to design. It is a great insight into the world of studio and product photography all the way to the end result.

Click here to read his post about the video and click here for more of Peter’s great slick work.

I have a few friends who love the process of product photography: hours and hours in the studio, tweaking dental mirrors for bounce highlights, a fort of cards built up around the table, weekends spent testing and experimenting. Though there is a lot of money to be made in product shooting, thank God for my friends who love it because I do not get it.

There can be a chasm between those who document and capture, and those who create. It is obvious which school I belong to, but I must say I am completely in awe of the technical prowess of product shooters.


August’s Lament

Yes, it is August in the city. It is time for a million shiny faces on the streets, the Rorschach sweat blots on the backs of those in front of me, the surreality of the hair dryer heat in the Delancey Street station, the strong, sinus clearing smell of stairwell urine. And the noisy glory of sweaty, stinky, surly Chinatown in summer.

Yes, it is August in the city. I clean my desk regularly because my forearms stick to its surface when I type. My pint glasses sweat like afternoon joggers.

At a performance at Summer Stage in the park, the bugs enjoyed our sticky necks and we joined in whack-a-moling the whole night.

At the East River Park’s bandshell, a mid-afternoon dance performance was cut short because the vinyl surface of the stage had melted enough that the performers could not turn en pointe.

The thunderstorms bring a great and awesome distraction with their primal clash and fray and their looming, suspenseful dark build-up. But whatever relief they deliver is small and fleeting.

I have a cluster of trees in the school across my street with just enough cicadas to make a chorus.

Look at your watch. It does not matter what it says, as every moment in August is a good time for a shower.

They have been issuing lengthy heat advisories: drink plenty of fluids, stay out of the sun, wear loose clothing, check on your neighbors. They should just say: Fuck, it is August in the city.

I know now that Best Buy has the greatest air conditioning, based solely on the arctic blasts jetting from its doorways and spilling onto the concrete like wasted champagne.

Yes, it is August in the city. And I love it.

Tonight, I will have dreams of January.

westvillagesnow

West Village, January 2009; Leica M6 TTL, 35mm summicron, Kodak Tri-x © Doug Kim


Helmut Newton | Fuck you money

Helmut Newton said that looking back, he admitted that he had sold his soul “like a whore.” He badly needed and wanted the money for years. It was only until he had enough of what he called “fuck you money” in the bank that he could do what he wanted to on shoots and pursue his own projects.

helmut newton

Helmut Newton

Helmut Newton, Monaco, 98

Helmut Newton, Monaco, 1998


Go into the gaps

Go into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.
Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn and unlock—more
than a maple—a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and
tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You
can’t take it with you.

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Hanoi, Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Agfa APX 400

Hanoi, Nikon F5, 35-70mm, Agfa APX 400 © Doug Kim


Dublin | Valentine Bolger, the Guinness Factory

I was wandering around the Guinness Factory in Dublin, checking out the old side streets and alleys to see if I could catch something. I had been in the factory the week before shooting an event and had made a note to return, because the parts of the compound are still extremely old and charming.

I met this gentleman, Valentine Bolger, in front of the tourists entrance to the factory, charging people to take photos with his old cart horse. His face was a weathered landscape. He had started working for the brewery as a teenager when they still used horses and carts in addition to the river boats to distribute the Guinness. He had been laid off years ago and with Guinness now under foreign ownership and the historic brewery in Dublin probably moving out of the city, he had much to gripe about.

I let him talk, gave him some cigarettes and took some photos of him. He didn’t mind the camera which afforded me a leisurely mini-session with him. His face was unmoving and very stoic, so the challenge became how to compose a shot of him and the amazing lines of his face without it being a straightforward, boring portrait shot, centered, background all bokeh’d out.

The images are below and the one I think is successful is the last which can be clicked on to view it at a higher resolution.

vb1

vb2

vb3

vb4

vb5

vb6

Shot with a Nikon F5, 28-70mm, Kodak Tri-X © Doug Kim