The rich have their own photographers

Via wood s lot comes news of the passing last week of Milton Rogovin, social documentary photographer based in Buffalo, N.Y. Claire O’Neill has assembled a slideshow of some of Rogovin’s images of “the forgotten ones,” and links to a 2003 interview with Scott Simon. Once blacklisted as the “top Communist in Buffalo,” Rogovin’s archives are now with the Library of Congress.


There’s an eye-opening show downtown at the Sackler Gallery through January 25: the monochromatic seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto are matched with pastels of the Maine coast by Dwight Tryon, an American tonalist and follower of James McNeill Whistler. One is tempted to write off Tryon as a fussy, anti-impressionist relic of the nineteenth century, but look again: the sparse linearity of his works, nothing but horizontal bands of color washes, makes a connection with twentieth century artists like Mark Rothko. There are some more Tryons on display with Whistlers next door at the Freer.

Found art

One of the things that annoys me about Tina Howe’s Museum is that it calls for any number of unrealistic behaviors on the part of the museum-goers and guards, specifically (at least in the production I saw recently) for a couple of the viewers to become entranced by the view out the museum’s window. And yet, and yet…

I took a visual break from this year’s Artomatic, held this year on two floors of a Crystal City office building, lately the precincts of the Patent and Trademark Office. (I was particularly taken by Jennifer Foley’s photographs of decaying New England mills.) I looked out the eighth-floor window to the east, onto a parking structure by the airport, bracketed by hardwoods lining the parkway in the foreground and the river and some of the grimier bits of the District in the background. There was something about the sweep of the scene and the flat light of this overcast Saturday. I looked out on the top level of the parking structure, nearly full of cars blue-white-black with a occassional dot of red, none of them moving, the scene a frozen bit of hustle-bustle. The scene had the timeless grandeur of an image by Jeff Wall.

Kubrick with a large-format camera

Arthur Lubow submits an instructive profile of aptly-named photographer Jeff Wall, whose lightbox-mounted transparencies are measured in feet, not inches.

Men Waiting, with its cast of 20, its two-week shoot and its on-the-street location, is a small-scale Wall production. Not long before, the artist devoted a full year to In front of a nightclub — a picture of young people standing outside a Vancouver club at night. The shoot took so long because the club Wall found, on a heavily trafficked thoroughfare, could not be photographed as he wished. There was no place for him to stand with his tripod and large-format camera. So he had the club exterior — the columns and grille-work of the facade, the gum-spotted sidewalk, the concrete curb — reconstructed in a studio. One assistant worked for six months dressing the set. “Of course, you can’t see everything he did, but that doesn’t matter,” Wall says. “There is dirt and moss growing in the cracks where the bottom of the building is crumbling, but you can’t see it. The discoloration of the sidewalk is extremely accurate, and it took many layers of application. My son and his friends came and chewed gum. That was their job for two weeks.” He placed his strobes in the precise locations occupied by the street lamps and other lights that shine opposite the real nightclub. Concealed in a van with blacked-out windows, he and his assistants parked outside the actual club on several nights and, using a telephoto lens, took 300 or 400 snapshots of the kids gathered there. Wall scrutinized the photos for characters and clusterings he liked, then he hired 40 extras from a casting agency. Dividing them into two groups and giving them general directions, he photographed them over the course of a month on alternate nights. (“People’s metabolism is different at night, their coloring is different,” he explains.) For each group he finished with only one frame that satisfied him. “You only need one,” he points out. Using digital technology, he combined the two photos of the crowd with a third one of the building into his final picture.

Digital Holga

My mother bought me one of these toy digital cameras for Christmas. The packaging disingenuously suggests a retail price of $39.95, but I hope she didn’t pay more than the $10 that seems to be the going rate at Walgreen’s. I’m reluctant to install software drivers from such a flimsy-looking product on my already delicate Windows laptop, so the thing will probably remain in its blister pack until I can do a junk purge.

To Mom’s credit, she found one nice gift: a reprint-house collection of Superman comics from the WWII era.

(Link via robot wisdom.)