Dug deep into the photo archives for images for the monthly newsletter published today. In this edition, I took a look at beauty in photography and the benefits those images can have on our lives. You can read more here. You can also subscribe to the monthly newsletter, if you want (upper left corner). Click the images to enjoy larger
“Fine art prints created by the artist, or the artist’s collaborator, are important because they best represent the artist’s vision” – Mac Holbert
Defining an original painting is pretty straight forward. The artist painted it and it is one of a kind – the strokes of oil and the color mixtures are obvious and there is only one — it can’t be duplicated. There might be prints of the painting, but the original is an original.
Limited Edition Photographs as Originals: But what is an original photograph when a photograph can be printed numerous times? That’s why many photographers limit the number of prints they make and create what is known as a “Limited Edition.” Limited edition prints are the most valued type of fine art photography by virtue of the limited supply of the prints, and their direct “connection” to the photographer who made the image and oversaw or made the prints themselves. With each limited edition there are usually a couple of “artist’s proofs.”
The Story of Ansel Adams’ Moonrise Image: Of course, for every rule there are aberrations, and because of the evolution of photography in the art market, some early situations don’t quite live up to the general rules noted above. For example, let’s look at Ansel Adams’ image Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. It is perhaps the best known and most sought after photographic print in the field of fine-art photography. On October 6, Christie’s photographs auction saw a landmark result for Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, which exceeded its high estimate of $700,000 to sell for $930,000, the highest price ever seen at auction for this iconic image.
The story of its making is legendary including how Adams had a difficult and challenging day photographing in the Chama Valley, north of Santa Fe, and had not achieved any images he was satisfied with. Driving back to Santa Fe, he saw this town where the low sun was trailing the edge of the clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses. Struggling to load up his equipment, unable to find his light meter, Adams made a calculation in his head and hoped for the best, with a plan to take a second shot at a different exposure. The sun set and the second shot could not be made. You can read more about the chaos and chances taken at the Ansel Adams gallery website or check out this video. There is also a good story here.
What is interesting about the Moonrise print is that our understanding about “the original” and the understanding of limited editions falls apart. First, while Adams had a weak negative to work with, he knew he had a great image. He just could not quite get the prints where he wanted them to be. Over the next forty years, Adams continued to tinker with the prints in the darkroom, including experimenting with different chemicals and papers as darkroom technology advanced.
As you can see, different eras of the print look very different. Adams noted that it was not until the 1970s that he achieved the print equal to his original visualization of the scene. This begs a question – what is the original? The earliest prints or the later versions of the print that Adam’s was more satisfied with? The Ansel Adams Gallery defines original as “Each original photograph we sell has a Certificate of Authenticity that states it has been authenticated by the Adams family as composed, exposed and printed by the artist himself. “
Secondly, Moonrise breaks the rules on “Limited Editions.” All versions printed by him can be authenticated. However, between the 1940s and the 1970s he produced prints whenever an order for a copy of the image came in. The most common size was 16’’ x20’’. There is a rarer group of prints at the mural size (30’’ x 40”). Adams kept no records, so no one really knows how many copies of this image were made. It is estimated that are anywhere between 900 and 1,300 prints made over 40 years – perhaps worth a cumulative $25 million. Ansel Adams said, with all that tinkering and various alterations, “it is safe to say that no two prints are precisely the same.”
In that respect, perhaps they are all originals.
To convey in the print the feeling you experienced when you exposed your film – to walk out of the darkroom and say: ‘This is it, the equivalent of what I saw and felt!’. That’s what it’s all about – John Sexton
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“Across the USA I have photographed with these ideas in mind: to portray Americans as they live at present. Their every day and their Sunday, their realism and their dream. The look of their cities, towns and highways” — Robert Frank, application for renewal of Guggenheim Fellowship, 1956
The modern American road trip began to take shape in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, ushering in an era of a nation on the move. After 1945, postwar prosperity, mass consumption, paid vacation leaves, the development of new highways, followed by the interstate highway system, combined with the rapid growth of automobile ownership resulted in a growing number of family vacations on the road. Families traveled across the country, or at least out of state, to vacation, visit relatives or old friends in an increasingly mobile society. Road trips became a chance for children to learn about America – its’ big and diverse landscape, its’ history, national parks and monuments. Travel by car also created businesses to cater to Americans on the road, such as: gas stations; motels; campgrounds; diners; amusement parks and gift shops. The “road trip” was something uniquely American.
Photographs of the vacations filled family photo albums. Photography also gave us postcards to share these family adventures. The American road trip was the subject and incubator for literature, music, film and photography. It came to represent a sense of possibility and freedom, discovery and escape – a place to get lost and a way to find yourself. For the arts, road trips represented both a way to discover the nation and to illuminate who and what we are. The American Road trip became a staple of American photography as photographers sought to portray and/or better understand the vast land and the people in it – photographs were a way to look at, capture and show America’s character.
There are famous prints and photography books of personal travel, landscapes and landmarks. Robert Frank’s The Americans examined and critiqued America through images that challenged and found beauty in simple and often overlooked corners of the country. Walker Evan’s documented and distilled America to its essence using cultural artifacts and Americans in their social context in his book American photographs. Stephen Shore found beauty in the mundane and explored the changing culture of America. He documented everything from fast food meals to Cadillac cars, diners to dive bars, billboards to dashboards. He and William Eggleston created a visual encyclopedia in color of what we consider modern America. Danny Lyon’s body of work on the Bikeriders speaks to the freedom of the open road while also documenting groups on the fringe of society.
Photographers have pursued that great American road trip with purpose of nostalgia, social commentary and to explore the perspectives about the truth of the nation — its values and the lives lived in the context of the “American Dream.” The road trips by photographers, as David Campany notes, force us to “confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there in order to bring a new perspective to both the past and present.”
“What should happen at the end of a road trip? A return to the status quo? A revolutionary new beginning? A few minor adjustments to one’s outlook? Obviously, it is not enough to drive West and arrive in the Promised Land” —David Campany, “A Short History of the Long Road”
Fueling American road trips
Usually, at this time of the year I am on the road and off to visit Santa Fe. The pandemic has screwed that up for me this year. On the other hand, there is speculation that as we emerge from the pandemic, road trips may, at least for a while, be the kind of vacations Americans seek out again. As I looked at some road trip images, it occurred to me you can’t do a road trip without gasoline. We often take gas stations for granted. They are like a utility; we don’t think about them. In fact, gas stations represent and underpin America’s mobility and car culture. As part of exploring the roots of political, economic and social histories, I learned that gas stations speak to elements of architectural design through the years, pop culture, corporate standardization/branding, changes in the economy and business. They also are representative of changes in service for customers – from staff to fill the tank and clean your windshield to self-service; the addition of full-service garages to becoming convenience stores; offering branded maps and bathrooms to the addition of diners.
A Simple Spot, Phillips 66 in Adrian TX: The 1920s Phillips station (pictured above), originally called Knox’s was located in Vega,Texas on Route 66. It was moved to the town of Adrian,Texas, known as the midpoint of Route 66. It apparently awaits its turn at restoration. The owners, who also own the Bent Door Cafe next door, are rumored to be thinking about turning it into a souvenir shop.
From the First Gas Station Onwards: In early 1900, gasoline was sold in open containers at pharmacies, blacksmith shops, hardware stores and other retailers looking to make a few extra dollars of profit. The locale of the world’s first purpose-built gas station is debated. Some suggest it was constructed in 1905 in St. Louis, Missouri. Others point to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1913 when an architect designed a pagoda-style brick facility that was a complete drive in operation. Unlike earlier simple curbside gasoline filling stations, this station in Pittsburgh not only served to fill cars with gasoline, it also offered free air, water, crankcase service and tire and tube installation.
For the past 100 years gas stations have occupied prime locations along main streets, suburban corners, on small town roads and highways. They are one of America’s most commercial building types and over the years have gone through various architectural design iterations.
In the 1920s many gas stations were being built in prominent locations. Due to local complaints, the gas station took on the look of cottages/houses, as opposed to an earlier shack look. Tudor and English cottage designs with arched doorways and steeply pitched roofs became a common look. The design also became a sign of growing competition. Pure Oil favored English Cottage stations, while Standard Oil went for the Colonial revival design. Gas stations were designed to attract attention and lure customers – all part of the corporate branding. Over the years, the design characteristic of gas stations would change from cottages to a stylized box designs, often blending Art Moderne and international style motifs. Many of these featured glossy white exteriors and scientifically designed lighting schemes to attract attention. The box style stations also featured additional space for automobile service and repairs and expanded areas to sell batteries and other auto accessories. These would eventually morph into full-fledged “convenience” stores.
The Business of Gas Stations: The advent of the Interstate highway network routed traffic away from the once-thriving, often family owned, gas stations, that sprinkled the countryside. Today, many of these family owned businesses are located on secondary roads and falling into disrepair. In 1969, there were 236,000 gas stations. By 2016, there were 111,000 retail gas stations locations in the U.S. The number of gas stations has been declining due, in part, to increased competition, stricter environmental regulations, and shrinking gasoline profit margins
Explore Roadside America with me
More than gas stations, exploring roadside America can lead you to family owned motels, unique signs, communities, businesses and economies that have been lost to time and the changes to the world we live in. If you want a visual trip through different parts of America, beyond the curated selection in the Website galleries, feel free to gander though some of the material I work with at the links below. These images are the first-edits of the raw material. You can check them out, based on locations, at these links:
You can also find my most current Roadside images, with their detailed stories, in the Roadside America Photo series on Instagram. Click the image for the complete story line.
This post is from a recent email newsletter, if you want to sign up for future newsletters, here is the link. Of course, if there is something that catches your eye, I can always print it and make it a small batch limited edition. All you have to do is use the contact page information and I’ll work with you to find and print the image you love.
“Observe the life moving like a river around you…and realize that the images you make may become part of the collective history of the time that you are living in.” Eli Reed, the first black photographer to be employed by the famed Magnum Agency
Last month in my email newsletter I wrote about images of a viral pandemic — something we do not control and that has forced us into self-isolation. A month later, the dominant images are of demonstrations about systemic racism — issues we do control and that reach beyond individual isolation to the life of our communities and society.
The iconic photographs of the 1960s Civil Rights movement are part of our collective history. The leaders of that movement counted on the power of photographs to force Americans to take notice of racial inequality, expecting that the images would persuade, engage and motivate change. Beginning in 1955, Mamie Till showed the world photographs of what the torture and murder of her 14 year old son, Emmett, looked like. The photograph above is the court room where two of the murderers were tried and acquitted. Photographs of the Civil Rights movement brought to life both the protests themselves, as well as the underlying causes – images that documented and exposed the public and private acts of racial segregation and discrimination. As early as 1956, photographic essays exposed the issues of inequality (See this 1956 Life Magazine story, The Restraints: Open and Hidden, page 98). Segregation was blatant and obvious. In that respect, segregation was “easy” to photograph.
When we look at the photographs over the last few weeks, from across the country, they show the demonstrations and the confrontations with police that have ignited calls to deal with race. They are images of peaceful protests, and some of conflict and unrest. Theses protests are forcing institutions and individuals to confront enduring forms of racial discrimination.
However, the photographs that explore, expose and bring to our attention the root causes of the demonstrations – systemic racism in justice, economics, housing, education and communities – are not being seen in the news of the day. The ubiquitous and insidious nature of systemic racism today makes the photographic story telling complex and sometimes less blatant, than the overt discrimination of the Jim Crow era. However, to give you a start at looking beyond the demonstrations and at some of the root causes, I thought I would share with you some web links to images that look beyond the demonstrations (see the links in the section below).
Also, when looking at the demonstrations or additional images in the links below, it is important to remember that photographing people in social conflict can have consequences. The family in the Life magazine story (mentioned above and seen in the famous Gordon Parks’ photograph “Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama” which shows two Black children looking through a fence at a segregated playground) were forced to leave their jobs and home after harassment from the white community. The mayor of the town said that that if the photographer, Gordon Parks, ever showed up in that community again he would have been “tarred and feathered and set on fire.”
“I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did… most of whom were murdered or put in prison… but I chose not to go that way. I felt that I could somehow subdue these evils by doing something beautiful that people recognize me by, and thus make a whole different life for myself, which has proved to be so.”- Gordon Parks
Exploring Race in Photography Today
Pictured above is the Lee monument here in Richmond Virginia on the famous Monument Avenue. In the last few days I went exploring photo projects and links online that go beyond the protests to explore photographic stories and projects that relate to “systemic racism,” or at least explore the issues of race and how they are documented in photographs today. While hardly a complete inventory or even a perfect selection, it is an attempt to take a look at the photographic expression of some of the issues underpinning today’s demonstrations. Take your time and over a few days, hope you might find it interesting to visit some of these links.
PBS NewsHour aired this 7-minute Race Matters segment on the camera’s role over the past decades documenting social movements and how images shape and shift public perception. Here is a look at 100 years of protests and how images helped define civil rights and the current Black Lives Matter protests. John Edwin Mason writes about how photos can show protests’ complexity—or they can perpetuate old lies. He notes, “Racism persists, protest endures, and photography continues to play an important role. It can’t solve our problems, but it can keep them in our line of sight and encourage us to act.” He also has an essay about photographs today and how they are in keeping with Gordon Parks tradition.
Adrian Whites images grapple with, and document, the African diaspora in an effort to connect with ancestors. As he notes: “It is in the remembering that I believe that we can begin to heal. As evidence of how, when and where black bodies existed is erased. The remnants persist. My visibility is my weapon.”
Alanna Airitam’s photo project “The Golden Age” is about finding a sense of hope. She was working in a depressing corporate creative department where she had been hired as a senior designer and was given entry-level work. She would come home to news of unarmed black people being murdered or abused by the police. She wanted to see positive and strong images of people like her, represented in fine art, where they are often missing. She made them.
Daniel Edwards tells the stories of black police officers in the Atlanta Police Department who deal with the duality of life in their skin and life in their uniform.
The Washington Post ran a photo essay on “Visualizing Racism” in 2019. It features nine photographers taking on the challenge of depicting bigotry.
I have been working on a series that explores the roots of economic, political and cultural histories….its working title is “Scarred Places.” You can see some of this work in progress with related narratives on Instagram
I took the photograph above. It is Kehinde Wiley’s new statue at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. As Wiley notes, “In these toxic times art can help us transform and give us a sense of purpose. This story begins with my seeing the Confederate monuments. What does it feel like if you are black and walking beneath this? We come from a beautiful, fractured situation. Let’s take these fractured pieces and put them back together.”
Photojournalist Abdul Aziz places himself in the middle of white nationalist demonstrations and captures evidence of the manufactured chaos and violence, giving the viewer a more in-depth and honest understanding of who they are and what their stated objectives are.
Marcus Franklin’s photo project “A New Image of Black Fatherhood” challenges the notion that black families face a crisis of fatherhood. The installment includes a dispatch in which four dads challenge the assumption that all children of unwed mothers have absent fathers.
Aura Bogado’s photo project “A Day in the Shop” chronicles the efforts of one group of young men to hurdle the racial gap in skilled labor. New research shows just how profound that racial barrier remains for recent high school graduates, who are entering the worst job market since the Great Depression. It helps explain the dramatic unemployment numbers seen among black men and the spiraling poverty in black families.
Ted Goldman photographs the different emotions expressed by African Americans about what it’s like when they experience racism.
Nick Gregory’s “Split” photo essay reveals racial barriers still haunting Detroit. The idea for “Split” was born after meeting Detroiters who live behind the Wailing Wall, built in the 1940’s to separate white and black neighborhoods.
Derrick Beasley’s photo essay on Black (W)holes is an exploration of black holes as a way to understand the long-standing absence of holistic depictions of Black folks (Black Wholes), particularly in the South.
Kiyun’s project looks at everyday micro-aggressions using a series of images of her Fordham University classmates holding up placards with micro-aggressions that they’ve experienced.
Kay Rufai’s images of smiling 13-year-olds are about confronting damaging stereotypes of black boys and men.
Carlos Javier Ortiz considers contemporary black life in comparison to the ideals of the Great Migration, which took place from 1916 to 1970 when six million African Americans left the South to find new opportunities in the North. Illustrating socioeconomic patterns that pave the way for a cycle of poverty and violence, his two projects, A Thousand Midnights (2016) and We All We Got (2014), document youth and families in Chicago from multiple perspectives over the course of many years.
These Photos show the casual racism of everyday objects
Travis Fox’s “Scars of Racism” documents the lasting physical reminders of racism on the American landscape. The legacy of racism exists throughout our society–in culture, language, and economics. With these photos he attempts to highlight how institutional racism of the past lingers today on the roads we travel, the houses we live in and even where we dump our trash.
Jamel Shabazz in “Now More Than Ever” shows images of Black dignity and resistance because she wants to make photographs that go against the dominant representations of Black people.
Endia Beal’s “Am I What You’re Looking For” focuses on young women of color who are transitioning from the academic world to the corporate setting, capturing their struggles and uncertainties on how to best present themselves in the professional work space. It is an in-depth investigation into the experiences and fears of being a woman of color in corporate America.
Matt Black’s “The Black Oakies” documents a group of black migrant sharecroppers whose forgotten story proves it was not just white people that moved in the depression. These self-described “Black Okies” still live in several remote rural enclaves scattered amid the cotton fields of Central California. Though some 50,000 of them came to the San Joaquin Valley and worked side by side with Steinbeck’s Joads, no books or photographs ever documented their lives. Today, their struggling communities are one of the few surviving remnants of this forgotten chapter of American rural life.
Mary Beth Meehan’s installation in Newnan, Georgia arose out of a Neo-Nazis rally held there against citizens’ wishes. One year later, Mary Beth installed massive yet intimate portraits of community members on the streets of the city’s downtown. The work has resulted in community-wide conversations about such topics as race, religion, ethnicity, inclusiveness, and diversity
“There is one thing the photograph must contain,
the humanity of the moment.” — Robert Frank
Painters, sculptors and many other artists start with a blank canvass and create art – their view of the world. On the other hand, photographers start with the realities of our world and reflect that back to us. The photograph reflects a moment of the world we are a part of and live in – its trials, tribulations, anxieties, as well as those moments of joy, hope, aspiration and beauty.
An article on June 30th, 2017 in Time magazine noted that photography is our eye to the world. Photographers “inform us, they inspire us, they amaze us, they put our world in the broader context of history.” Photographers sort out the chaos of the world into singular images that bring clarity to the free-for-all of life. “They are the witnesses and artists who can distill the mayhem and beauty that surrounds us. They call our attention to the things we miss in our everyday lives… Photographers teach us to look again, look harder. Look through their eyes.”
Recently, The New York Times posted a series of images entitled “Still Life”. This article/photo essay introduces a number of photographers with different perspectives/subject matter in the context of the current coronavirus situation — “in this unnatural state of isolation, photographers show us the things that bind.” In another New York Times article they recently asked readers to submit photos taken before the virus that might have seemed like small moments and now feel weighty and important – some of the “last moments you felt like life was normal.”
Whether we make images ourselves or whether the photographs are ones that we look at and enjoy, the photographs of this time (and other times) help us make sense of our lives. During these days when we all stay home and social distance, nothing feels normal and time vanishes in front of us. However, we all have images of captured moments of time — even as the time moved onward. The images of personal experiences, from the past and present, become important memories. And today, those important times and memories are no further away than the phones that are in our pockets and almost always with us. Other images may be on your desk or maybe they take the form of a beautiful print that you admired and now hangs on your wall.
Whatever the format, the images show us more than just a moment lost to time. They reflect back to us our priorities, values and our engagement with the world. Photographs speak about the way we experience our lives.
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…
It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind
“How do you tell others what you think is worth telling…you see what is really there.”
“All photographs—not only those that are so called ‘documentary’– can be fortified by words.”
Dorothea Lange is best known for her depression era photography for the Farm Security Administration, most notably her iconic Migrant Mother photograph. Her 40+ year career resulted in many remarkable photographs that included the conditions of interned Japanese- Americans, environmental degradation and African-American field hands, to name just a few. Much of her work was social documentary in nature. She and her husband, agricultural economist Paul Schuster Taylor, collaborated on a book, An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion (1939). This book brought together her images with direct quotes from the people she photographed, detailing the realities of their life. Some examples are included in this video from the Museum of Modern Art. Her interest was in art’s power to deliver public awareness and to connect to intimate narratives about the world.
In the current Museum of Modern Art Exhibit, Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, Lange is quoted as noting,
“Am working on the captions. This is not a simple clerical matter, but a process, for they should carry not only factual information, but also added clues to attitudes, relationships and meanings. They are connective tissue, and in explaining the function of the captions, as I am doing now, I believe we are extending our medium.”
The importance of using words to build an informative narrative around images is sometimes debated in the photography world – some believe that the photograph should stand on its own without commentary while others believe a written and verbal narrative adds important context and perspective. Perhaps it is not an either or answer. However, it is an interesting question. In the case of Dorothea Lange’s outstanding work one can conclude that the photography itself stands on its own. Her photography also benefits from the realities and context that she details with words.
“This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.” – Dorothea Lange
For more on the current exhibit check out the New York Times review or the column at AnOthe. Tyler Green at Modern Arts Notes Podcast has a wonderful discussion with MOMA’s curator of the exhibit, Sarah Meister.
This is an excerpt from my monthly newsletter, where I write about photography and share some news. You can get a feel for the previous newsletters and sign up for the mailing list here.
And here is the video from MOMA.
“Our country is made for long trips”
American photographer Stephen Shore
Road trips are part of the fabric of America. They inform, inspire and invigorate.
The American road trip has long been a signature adventure for families. There must be thousands and thousands of family snapshots from summer vacations. The open road and the vast land have also engaged artists. Road trips are prominent in literature, with writings by Steinbeck and Kerouac for example, as well as in music, movies and photography. The road trip is part of our culture.
Photography captures and shares perspectives of the landscapes, our communities and the roadside signs and symbols of American life. Photographers, including Walker Evans and Edward Weston, immortalized their travels through the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1950s America’s culture was documented in the famous book, The Americans, by Robert Frank (among my personal favorites). In the 1970s Stephen Shore undertook his month long adventure resulting in the famous “American Surfaces” series. In 2014, David Campany’s book and traveling exhibit, The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip explored the photographic road trip as a genre of its own. He notes:
“the road trip confirmed our fascination, our horror,
our sense of possibility, of the sublime and the banal.
And forced us to confront the clichés in our heads and the clichés out there. I think that’s why most photographers go on the road.”
Road trips are what led to my Roadside America project which I continue to fine tune and evolve. These trips have:
- explored the magnificent geography and desolation of West Texas;
- made for peaceful mornings with the light of the sun and the sound of the ocean on the Outer Banks and the Eastern Shore;
- chased the blues and the difficult history of the Mississippi Delta;
- brought to life the awe across the western states, in the Rockies, Yellowstone and the Tetons;
- made me think about the first pioneers (and what we now call “fly over country”) as I travel around the Great Smokies and the Blue Ridge Mountains while listening to Bluegrass music; and,
- my 2018 Americana Road Trip featured “another time” along Route 66, while also following parts of the trail of civil rights, experiencing the gut wrenching Oklahoma memorial and listening to the vibrant roots of country, rock and roll, blues and soul music. You can also find more from the 2019 trip here and here
From a recent trip west, a look at some of the black and white infrared photographs.
A look at some of the black and white infrared images coming out of digital processing. Images are from the recent road trip along Route 66, time in New Mexico and back through Mississippi
My friend Geoff Livingston, who was featured here in a photography showcase, has a podcast (also available as video) called the “Show me podcast” where he chats with folks about iconic photos and why they work (or not).
We caught up to talk about Robert Frank’s book, The Americans. And then we talked about the Roadside America project, Infrared photography and some of the thoughts behind PhotoNexus (at the 27 minute point) which I am organizing in Santa Fe, July 26 & 27.
Hope you can find the time to check out the podcast…and yes, a saxophone walks through it.