Some great stuff I've come across recently here and there on the web:

Bob Schwalberg, New York City Traffic Jam, 1953

I know, I just used this one the other day, but hey, it doesn't hurt to take another look. This pushes a lot of my buttons. I'm kind of a mid-Century nostalgist, I love vivid B&W, and I have a long, festering history as a car nut...unindulged, but then that's what I mean by "festering." Plus, I got to have lunch with Bob at the end of his life. (For those of you who might not know, Bob toiled in the photo magazine business for much of his career, and wrote a great many articles about technique and equipment over the years.) I ran into him by chance at Photo East in NYC. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to him, but I remembered specific articles he'd written decades earlier, which he loved. We had a spirited and enjoyable conversation that could have continued more or less indefinitely if we'd lived near each other (and if he'd lived—when I met him it was either the last or next-to-last year of his life). I can't say I know much of his work at all, although Steichen included him in the Family of Man exhibition. But I know if I could take thirty or forty pictures as good as this one—enough to fill a modest book—I'd be happy calling it a career.

And it's for sale, too. If it weren't so expensive, I'd be tempted. I wonder if the proceeds go to help Bob's widow or something like that? For that matter, I wonder what it might take to get the rights to do a limited reproduction? Y'all should sic yr. hmbl. reporter on that.

Herman Krieger, Between Jobs

'Kay, this citation here isn't for just one picture, but a whole set; and Herman Krieger has a really good knack for really bad puns, a gift for which we might—or might not—choose to forgive him; and these JPEGs just barely have adequate resolution. But for all that, I think he's done a pretty darn good job in this set of documenting the look and feel of a very typical Murkin experience—the mall visit.

I often wonder why photographers don't care more about documentary projects, and I often wonder why documentary photographers don't care more about the ordinary lives of ordinary people. How many great pictures can you name that were taken in a grocery store? (I keep trying.) It's ironic that most of our experience of life, such as it is, never makes it onto film or into pixels, while at the same time, let a man with an SLR in his hands see a cat or a flower or a tree with its leaves turning colors, and, dear God, save me.... Granted, photography is forbidden in a lot of commercial spaces, and, er, discouraged in many others (hint: wherever people are doing something illegal—or could be construed to be doing something illegal, if you were to snap the shutter at the wrong instant, or with the camera pointed in the wrong direction—your presence there, doing your thing, is not going to be, um, artistically appreciated).

I do wish these were higher res, and I wish Mr. K. would let the gentle humor of the pictures speak for themselves more. (How cool is it to find a mall sign flashing "AUTHENTIC DELIGHTS"? It renders the pun "Mall-aise" completely superfluous, if not actively detrimental to our apppreciation.) But hey, even a couple of the puns are pretty good—"Mall Nourishment," for example. Clever. Well, sort of.

This was taken by a guy named Gabriel M.A., and if there's a way to find out more of his name or more about him, I haven't figured that out yet. I admit I never feel quite at home on flickr. That's where I ran across this—on his flickr page, which I've been meaning to explore further but haven't gotten around to yet. Whatever—I'd trade about forty gross of the unusual oversaturated scenic sh*t on the internet—sharp pictures of fuzzy concepts—for this (in fact, I do, given the ratio of noise to signal out there). Just an absolutely perfect shot, in every respect. The lovely Summarit bokeh, the tonally split frame, that one exquisite clean line of light limning her neck that centers everything and holds the whole picture together, the chaste breast, all of it effortlessly reinforcing the wistful, faraway, indirected mood. Gorgeous. This is grace, made visible. The occasional picture like this is why we all keep going, if you ask me.

If you know who Gabriel is, let me know and I'll post his actual whole name. (Well, unless he insists that I take this picture down or something.)

Clifford Ross, Hurricane VI

Clifford Ross works with repetition and variation, nowhere more successfully than in his magnificent suite of pictures of hurricane surf, which modulates from picture to picture like an especially intense sort of music. "I have been photographing waves for five or six years along a stretch of beach in Long Island, from Wainscott to Amagansett," he writes (that's him, wading into the surf with his Mamiya 7). "In 1998, in a little under two hours, I photographed the waves generated by the proximity of Hurricane Bonnie to Georgica Beach in East Hampton. In water up to my waist, I managed to take 250 photographs of the unending metamorphosis in front of me. The sky went from white to black, and finally to a strange blue. The waves varied from about two to twelve feet in height, and the surf’s aspect shifted back and forth from foam to liquid granite. It was a spectacular display, and I was an ecstatic, but soggy, photographic witness.

"I don’t know if the story about Turner strapping himself to the mast of a ship during a storm is apocryphal, but if it is true, I can understand why he did it. Nothing is more vivid or real than the collision of a storm with the sea. Photographing hurricanes could very well be the least abstract experience of my life."

Colin Jago, Borders. October 2006, Inverness (image #124)

I think Colin Jago, who took this one and has a whole blog many pictures deep, reads T.O.P.—at least once in a while. Can't say I'm positive. Most people have a "handle" on the internet, and I know so many people online whose faces I've never seen that I have a hard enough time remembering real names, much less associating real names and "handles," much less associating those two often disparate tags with pictures I've seen and e-mail exchanges I've had and keeping it all straight enough in my mind to remember. Nevertheless, I'm sure I've encountered at least two of Colin's pictures before—ironically, two that are among his least assured.

Whatever; the guy is one of the best amateurs on the Internet. He makes no pretense of producing commercialized work, but that's okay in his case because his explorations are so worthwhile—although I do have to admit that how well I "get" the work on any given day seems highly variable, dependent on ineffable factors like whether I've been fed or not and what music I've been listening to. It does strike me as being empty and random at certain times. But that's my fault. Other times, I get it. And I love it when that happens. And it's the same pictures in both cases. Who said this was easy?

If you don't get it, don't struggle—go back another time, when you're in a different frame of mind. Remain patient. It's worth keeping after.

Cranford, Brendan

I admit to having a weakness for pictures of kids. I like kids (and being a dad—I always say I'd have more kids if only I had the technology*). Having made a good portion of my living for a number of years photographing kids of every age, from wee bairns barely hatched to misty seniors bellying up to tree bark, I take a certain professional interest in kid pix, know, the way landscape photographers might go apeshit over a good, I dunno, boulder.

The above was taken by a pbase user known to the pbase-viewing world only as Cranford. (Like "Kramer," maybe?) Apart from the arresting near-asymmetry of that face and the pearly shimmer of the reflector the little guy is sitting in, this struck me as both a successful color picture and also a portrait a parent would love—not always the easiest tightrope-wire to walk, as any child portraitist will ruefully attest. (Note that hand in motion, too, as if to signify the danger that is always present when trying to take a picture of a kid that age. Namely—perpetual motion.) It was taken with a Pentax 67; I know nothing more. Great shot.

*I'm single. Rimshot, please.

Mark Laita, Polygamist with Wives / Pimp with Prostitutes, 2004 / 2003

A lot of commercial photography is meant to be stylish and cool and at the same time not at all difficult ("getting it" in a flash being a requirement of advertising), which means that a lot of that kind of work ends up being...well, vapid. So how exactly Mark Laita got from his commercial work (which is—how to say this nicely—very commercial, in the context of the foregoing) to his "diptych" series, in which he pairs portraits of opposing types of people, is maybe a bit of a puzzle. And some of the pairings (cowboy and indian; ballerina and boxer; bikers and altar boys; pageant contestant and stripper) might sound a bit excruciatingly obvious. But that's just as ideas; the pictures are great. Laita makes the ideas work by finding the right subjects and being sensitive to what you might call visual thinking, meaning, his ability to relate shapes, forms, aspects, poses, masses, between each of the subjects or groupings and its pairing.

However he came upon this idea, it's a great one, at least in his hands. It's rich territority, too, again the way he'd done it: he's managed to sustain his interest—and he sustains ours—over a large reach of work. The results are lots more interesting than any number of extended portrait series I've seen over the years by a variety of August Sander wannabees. Great stuff. Check it out when you get a chance.

Hope you have a good Monday!


UPDATE: I heard from a couple of the photographers mentioned in this post. Turns out that Cranford, whose first name is, it's Stephen (just kidding, Stephen), is a reader of this blog, and was so pleased to encounter his early portrait attempt here that, after he "nearly fell off his chair," he was inspired to load up a Rolleiflex with Tri-X and go out and shoot. Can't say that's a bad result. And Gabriel M. A. is Gabriel Martinez Aguirre, originally from Mexico, now living in Minnesota, whose home page is here.

Featured Comment by bobsyouruncle: It's nice to see that someone remembers my uncle, Bob Schwalberg. I had seen that photo listed for sale and had the same question you did; he had no widow and no will, and his next of kin is my father, whom he couldn't stand, so I don't imagine that we'll see any proceeds, which is fine with me.

Bob didn't have any kids but he loved them (he and I were very close in my childhood) and enjoyed photographing them (I was in Pop Photo when I was about 10). I'm sorry he didn't live to meet and photograph my kids, but on the other hand, the fact that he didn't live to see the advent of digital photography is rather a relief.


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