Paris Photo LA

A few weeks ago I went to LA to check out Paris Photo. It was an opportunity to see a diverse range of contemporary photography in one location. They did an amazing job of creating a unique presentation — a show with a French perspective, presented in LA, but staged on the Paramount Studios NYC Backlot.

A few sound stages were built out with individual spaces for an international selection of galleries, representing the upper parts of the current fine art photography scene. There was an impressive August Sander Collection, which was very cool to see, a killer edit of musicians by Lee Friedlander at the Fraenkel Gallery, as well as the other usual suspects — Eggleston, Misrach, Burtynsky, etc.

The first thing I noticed was that many photos were just way too big. This trend of trying to make a photo better by making it bigger won’t seem to go away. Some photos are just better small. They want to be small.  Other images shouldn’t be printed in the first place, let alone at 10 feet wide -- it just magnifies their weakness.

The best work at Paris Photo was not created with the intention of being art, but curated from an existing collection. Julien Frydman, director of the fair, and some people from Fototeka, somehow got access to the over 1 million images in the LAPD photo archives and mined some photographic gold.  The result was celebration of photography in an intensely pure form, where the images had a rawness that came from their utilitarian perspective. 

Some images were shockingly graphic or downright gory while others were quieter, but charged with a silent intensity. Many had beautiful lighting and / or compositions, which was probably coincidental. Few, if any photos had credits attached to them:

The photographers that created these images weren’t thinking primarily about lighting or composition, and they certainly weren’t thinking about selling their work in a gallery. These images were made primarily to document bad decisions by bad people. Their cameras were tools used to record, rather than express.

However, through curation, their common aesthetic thread is revealed and speaks directly to us. It’s photography in a pure form, where perception is unbiased by the reputation of a gallery, the personality of a photographer, and entirely untainted by the the influence of commerce. The LAPD exhibit was a perfect complement to the "sceney" gallery scene, and a reminder of the simple pleasure provided by a good photograph.

The Joy of Shooting

I worked on a job recently with Robert Kastigar, a creative director at Eleven. Over dinner at a Thai restaurant somewhere in Arizona, we talked about photography, advertising, and life as creative professionals. Robert is trained as a designer and has worked on big projects at several top level agencies over his career. Not surprisingly, he loves photography, and has a deep understanding of the medium.

I know lots of AD's and CD's that keep cameras with them, that are solid photographers themselves. But I don’t know any that have done what Robert did — which is to take a one month sabbatical, go to New York, and spend every day walking the streets with a Hasselblad.  A month in New York, with nothing to do but walk around and shoot? Sounds pretty nice.

Robert’s images feel different. Probably because he’s not shooting pictures for his next print promo, for a client, or a contest. They feel like images that were made purely for the joy of making images, which gives them a freshness and freedom that I don't see much from full-time photographers. But what sets these apart from amateur snapshots is that they're also made with an understanding of what makes an image work from a lifetime of crafting visuals in many media.

Most of us working pros, when we're not shooting jobs, are shooting personal projects that we eventually need to show in order to get more jobs. The work we do usually needs to serve some secondary purpose, which changes how we make it, and how it's shared.

Between his images of New York and San Francisco, there is a wide range of work. Above is an edit of my favorites from both projects. Robert is currently represented by the 4x5 Gallery in San Francisco.

Style Wars: Kase 2 & the Need to Create

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I’m not sure why I didn’t watch Style Wars sooner.  It’s it a beautiful time capsule of urban imagery, culture, and style. It also illustrates an underlying truth among creative culture that goes back to the beginning of time: Humans like to make stuff. Humans need to make stuff.

Some humans like to make stuff more than other humans like to make stuff, and they are usually the ones that create and influence style. Over time, media change, styles change, and our values around art change. But ultimately we stay the same -- at our core, we are creative beings, and we keep on creating. And I love that.

Of all the great characters in this film, I was immediately drawn to Kase 2. Not just because he and I are left handed (he lost his right arm when he was a kid), but because of the way he talked about art and style. There was something so raw and true in his words that struck a deep chord with me.

“Colors, designs, style, technical advances…cartoons, everything. And when they see you got a vicious style, they be wanting to get loose about it, you know, and that’s what keeps it going.”

Kase 2 is credited with creating the Computer Rock style. He died in 2011, leaving behind a ton of creative work, many imitators, and more than one baffling, yet awesome description of exactly what style is: