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Book Review Pictures from the Outside By Chantal Zakari and 13 incarcerated men Reviewed by Meggan Gould "I have a folder, somewhere on my hard drive, of screenshots that I collected in a short-lived mad frenzy to wander Google Earth and find every house or apartment in which I had lived..."

By Chantal Zakari and 13 incarcerated men.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK447
Pictures from the Outside
By Chantal Zakari and 13 incarcerated men

Eighteen Publications, 2023. 136 pp., 5¾x8¼".

I have a folder, somewhere on my hard drive, of screenshots that I collected in a short-lived mad frenzy to wander Google Earth and find every house or apartment in which I had lived. I moved a lot in my twenties — multiple cities on two continents — in short, a horrifying number of lease agreements. In Providence alone I count five apartments within a 2-mile radius. A few years back, yearning for more peripatetic days and armed with the easy familiarity of the shift-command-4 gesture, I traveled the world and captured each address, as frontally as possible (the joy of the selective screenshot capture: in-camera framing and cropping of screen landscape). Somewhere in my studio there is a small box with the tiny test cyanotypes I made of these screenshots. They are equal parts poignant (to me) and unremarkable.

It is worth noting that I had the privilege of access to this imagery when this flight of fancy overcame me. The privilege to sit at a computer and revisit sites of memory, to attempt to clutch them through an act of collection (followed, in my case, by a peculiar penchant for a chemical translation). Many (too many) do not share this privilege, this freedom of virtual or physical movement to explore the reliability — or friability — of memory. In Pictures from the Outside, Chantal Zakari engages in a collaborative photo-making process with a group of incarcerated men, acting as a visual conduit to memories of specific architecture that molded their pasts. The architecture in which they are currently housed is hinted at in the structure of the book itself: exposed board covers shelter the book in a heavy casing, and the open-spine binding is reminiscent, dare I say, of barred windows.


Zakari allowed the men a visual reprieve from the prison walls, in the form of external image-making on their behalf. She established parameters: no photographs of people, and within a driving radius of two to three hours. Reminiscent of a scavenger hunt, Zakari was asked to visit specific childhood houses, a bodega, multiple schools, a flight of stairs, a portentous courthouse door. She asked the men to tell her how to take the envisioned picture. What corner should she stand on, what direction should she aim her camera? Often they sketched the framing; one reproduced sketch asks the artist to stand at the starred intersection of Mead and Russle Streets, with a note to “please take photo approximately where star is. I trust your judgment.”

Judgment is a recurring theme throughout. That of the law, of course, but also one’s own judgments and their consequences. Multiple levels of text intersect with Zakari’s photographs: the initial prompts, the men’s jotted observations upon receiving the photographs, and longer reflection pieces that use the architectural structures visualized as launching points for broader narratives about childhood, education, love, parks, abuse, prayer, violence, and play. Zakari includes her own notes and observations as she looked to faithfully execute each requested image; the layered voices intermingle and form a rich tapestry of personal experiences of place, often spanning decades.


I am struck that the collaborative aspect of this project is as interesting, if not more so, than the resultant photographs. To be a stand-in for someone else’s vision, possibly warped with the weight of time and emotional baggage, and to channel vision through multiple lenses — optical and conceptual — is an extraordinary exercise in communication and trust. A banal street corner, ostensibly unremarkable, is rendered poignant through the way in which photography accesses it, holds it, and delivers it back to the eyes yearning to see it. Or, it is an extraordinary privilege to visit our past, and photography can be an exquisite gift.

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Meggan Gould is an artist living and working outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of New Mexico. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,, the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies, and Speos (Paris Photographic Institute), where she finally began her studies in photography. She received an MFA in photography from the University of Massachusetts — Dartmouth. She recently wrote a book, Sorry, No Pictures, about her own relationship to photography.
photo-eye Gallery DM Witman Index Interview Anne Kelly and DM Witman We are thrilled to introduce DM Witman and her project "Index", a series of gum bichromate photograms, to the Photographers Showcase. To provide some insight into Witman and her work, we are pleased to introduce this new work along with an interview with the artist.


#00141 Verbena hastata, 2018, Unique photogram, Rives BFK, gouache, gum arabic, kitakata, ink, 23k gold leaf, 29x23 in. framed, $1250


We are thrilled to introduce DM Witman and her project Index, a series of gum bichromate photograms, to the Photographers Showcase. To provide some insight into Witman and her work, we are pleased to introduce this new work along with an interview with the artist. In this interview, artist DM Witman and Gallery Director Anne Kelly delve into the connection between art and science, Witman's creative process, grants — and more.



Anne Kelly: Does wonder play a role in the making of your work

DM Witman: Wonder does play a part in my creative practice, in both the active and passive sense. I am someone who has a deep sense of curiosity and am constantly asking questions to help me understand the world around me. For me, the natural world abounds in wonder.

Generally, when I work, due to the nature of the materials and processes, the outcomes are not guaranteed. There is always a sense of “waiting to see what happens”. Now, that does not mean that the work is all due to magic, but there is a great deal of experimentation and being open to the results.

AK: You have degrees in both art and science. Do you feel that art and science have connective tissue?

DW: Art and science are deeply connected. Prior to the 20th century there was not as big as a distinction among interests — individuals attended the same salons to learn about new concepts, and new inventions, such as in painting, psychology, or about the human body. That has since changed and disciplinary boundaries abound. What was common then, is still common today — a sense of curiosity. Both art and science can be characterized by exploration, experimentation and discovery.  
  

#00106-2 Dryopteris spp. 2018, Unique photogram, Rives BFK, gouache, gum arabic, kitakata, ink, 23k gold leaf, 29x23 in. framed, $1250


AK: Index is a series of photograms. Can you please explain to our readers what a photogram is - and dive a bit into the chemical process and materials you have chosen to work with to create this series?

DM: A photogram is made when an object, or objects, are placed on the surface of light-sensitive materials, such as a piece of paper, or a piece of glass. Photograms can be made with many photographic processes, such as silver gelatin paper, cyanotypes, and as I have done with this series, with gum-bichromate.

With Index, I have coated large sheets of fine printmaking paper with a slurry of watercolor pigment and gum arabic mixed together with a light sensitizer. I repeated this step until the desired color and density is achieved for each sheet. Once, dried, the individual plants I collected were placed on top of the sensitized paper within a very large contact printing which would be set in the sun to expose the sensitized paper with the shape and details of the plants. Most days, I could make one to two pieces.

AK: Art often starts with a question. What question are you asking in this series?

DW: This work was born from my deeply personal experience with loss and grief. It was my attempt to grapple with a discovery about myself, that I had been experiencing grief due to ecological changes and loss, for many many months, unable to “make work. I was stuck. Collecting plants from the inter-tidal marsh along the river which I called home and have a deep connection and reverence with, was a bit of a reckoning that this place would change. And that many of the species would not tolerate the changes ahead — consistently higher water lines and higher tides, a greater salt content from Penobscot Bay, which is a few miles away. The reckoning was as much about a concern for the various plant species as it was an acknowledgment of how my actions, and those of humanity have induced these changes, for which for me, was a terrible amount of guilt. Perhaps the ultimate question for me involved an attempt to understand and process these feelings. I came to understand that I could move forward in the world, and in my life and my work, if I could make meaningful action(s). What could I do? Part of those actions meant holding space for these plants, which are often overlooked regarding conversations about the climate predicament.


#00105 Pontederia cordata. 2018, Unique photogram, Rives BFK, gouache, gum arabic, kitakata, ink, 23k gold leaf, 29x23 in. framed, $1250

AK: In your series Index, you are collecting and identifying plants that are not formally on the "endangered" list, but may be in the future. Do you see this work as a "call to action?"

DM: I certainly can see that. But for me at the time of making these objects, it was a way to both collect data and an act of memorializing the plants which are part of the way that I understand and connect to the natural world. The process allowed me to move forward to process what I was experiencing. And ultimately, a way for me to understand that I can continue in life by making meaningful actions to help the human and non-human species, no matter how small that action might seem in the scheme of it all.

AK: Do you feel that this series is in conversation with Anna Atkins' British Algee series?

DW: Anna Atkins has certainly been an influence on me as an artist. Her sensibilities and interest in botanical science, the naming of things, and sharing that with others. I’m sure she was interested in contributing to science and sharing this with others, which is I believe an intersection of the two bodies of work. However, I can only wonder if she considered that species might disappear due to human influence and impact back in the late 19th century. The works from Index are heavy, and there is a dimension to them, which is purposeful. They are objects, memorials, and of data — a baseline of a particular moment in the history of that place, along that river, at that time. And I find them beautiful.


#00105 Pontederia cordata. 2018, Unique photogram, Rives BFK, gouache, gum arabic, kitakata, ink, 23k gold leaf, 29x23 in. framed, $1250


AK: You describe yourself as a transdisciplinary artist working with photographic media, video, and installation. Do you feel your practice in each medium/media bleeds into each other — in the sense that perhaps you are working on a still photograph and it gives you an idea for a video?

DW: Absolutely. My work is driven first by concept. However, the process of making is also very important to me. I try to be open to how these explorations and expressions might manifest. These three realms of working can intertwine to create experiences for others, that are at times unexpected, and that I welcome.

AK: You have received a few grants. Do you have advice for other creatives as to how to go about getting a grant?

DW: Grants — yes! Write, apply, apply, refine by writing more, and apply again. While grants are competitive, I believe there is some element of timing. Attempt to understand what granting agencies are looking for — for example, does your particular idea or project align with the granting organization’s mission? Are they interested in funding work that has yet to begin, or projects which are deeply underway, or projects that are completed? The more you write, the better solidified and succinct your ideas become on the page. And know that for every successful grant I have received, there might be ten, twenty, or more rejections. The key is to not give up.


DM Witman is a transdisciplinary artist working at the intersection of environmental disruption and the human relationship to place in the Age of the Anthropocene.Her creative practice is deeply rooted within the effects of the climate predicament to humans and more-than-human species on this planet, employing photographic materials, video, and installation. Interviews and publications include The Guardian, BBC Culture, WIRED, Boston Globe, and Art New England. She actively exhibits her work and has been recognized with grants from the Maine Arts Commission, The Kindling Fund (a regrantor for the Warhol Foundation), The John Anson Kittredge Fund, and the Puffin Foundation. Her work has been collected by institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and is placed within many private collections. She splits her time between the Borderlands of South Texas and Midcoast Maine.
 
DM Witman @Brenton Hamilton

                                                    

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Book Review Los Angeles Spring Photographs by Robert Adams Reviewed by Blake Andrews “The first thing to know about Los Angeles Spring is that it contains no actual photographs of Los Angeles. Instead, its pictures explore the city’s far eastern outskirts along Interstate 10, the freeway to Palm Springs..."

Los Angeles Spring. By Robert Adams.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=DT809
Los Angeles Spring
Photographs by Robert Adams
Steidl, Gottingen, Germany, 2023. 120 pp., 56 illustrations, 13½x15½".

The first thing to know about Los Angeles Spring is that it contains no actual photographs of Los Angeles. Instead, its pictures explore the city’s far eastern outskirts along Interstate 10, the freeway to Palm Springs. It’s a relatively season-less place, and a more accurate name for the book might be "I-10 Springs." A few highway onramps appear in the book, but there is no city of angels, nor much of anything else heavenly.

It was here, in the vast territory between the San Bernardino Mountains and Orange County, that Robert Adams found his muse. Readers might want to keep a map handy while browsing the various photo sites, to help track his wanderings. Captions identify locations like Pomona, Redlands, Fontana, Colton, Rancho Cucamonga, and Loma Linda. They may have unique names, but the town borders are indistinct. One community bleeds into the next, sprawling collectively into a morass of farmland, roads, orchards, and exurbs. When Adams shot there in the early 1980s, the area was already showing the stress of suburban expansion, with farmlands giving way to subdivisions. Housing developments have only encroached further in the interim.


Adams takes a dismal view of such trends, and of Manifest Destiny in general. We’ve mucked up nature’s bequest, as far as he’s concerned. “All that is clear is the perfection of what we have been given,” he writes in the preface, “the unworthiness of our response, and the certainty, in view of our current deprivation, that we are judged.” In this case, the judge is Adams himself. Photography’s favorite misanthrope has built a long career highlighting the perils of wanton development, from the New Topographics through monographs like The New West, On Lookout Mountain, and Turning Back. Lest the message of those books be somehow misinterpreted, there’s even a title called Eden.


Los Angeles Spring
opens innocently enough, with photographs of rural roads infringing gently upon hillsides. We pick up the pace through agricultural fields, byways, and eucalyptus groves, before a defoliated orchard signals choppy waters ahead. The pictures become more blunt from this point, as their critique of civilization is flushed into the open. There’s a telephone pole overlooking crushed cactus, an old tire near an abandoned windbreak, power lines adorning a rock cliff, a scrappy freeway berm, a tracked up mud puddle, and so on. Litter and human detritus are a continual nuisance. The air hangs thick, possibly with smog or humidity? If Spring is a metaphor for optimism, these photos don’t feel very seasonal. Eventually, after many such documents, Adams finishes up with a small photo flurry in, of all places, Long Beach. This is a port city far removed from the I-10 corridor, and it shows. No sign of farmers here. The neighborhoods are dense with streets and housing. It may not be Los Angeles, but it’s a step in that direction.

The thing about Robert Adams is, even as he looks down his nose at us silly humans ravaging nature, his photos marvel at the consequences. His landscapes are infused with prosaic wonder, and an affinity for locale. He just can’t help it. Thus his picture of a lonely windbreak of trees in Redlands seems more defiant than gloomy. An arid landscape bulldozed for a cemetery in Colton becomes a garden of possibilities before Adams’ camera. A dry wash near Norton Air Base shows nature working diligently under a distant flight path. Wherever he directs his gaze, some attention falls upon the horizon. It’s as if a brighter future awaits. Hope springs eternal. Or at least Los Angeles springs. How should we understand such visions? Is the sky in fact falling on Babylon? Or is nature’s triumph finally at hand?


While we await judgement day, Steidl’s production weighs in on the side of beauty. It expands and improves on the 1986 Aperture original in every facet. The tome is huge, slipcased, and linen-bound, with additional photographs added. The cover image is held over, couched in a new design. Throughout the main body, quadratone reproductions are exquisite. They’re printed at large scale on heavy stock paper. There’s a good reason Los Angeles Spring is priced at a premium, because it’s about as close as a book might come to approximating a physical exhibition. Its photographs may reflect a dour take on SoCal hubris. Nevertheless the book is a triumph. It just can’t help itself.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.
Book Store Interview Strange Hours Writings by Rebecca Bengal Interview by Brian Arnold “I wasn’t far into Strange Hours before I had the idea that the right way to respond to the book would be with an interview with her. Bengal originally reached out to me after my review of Dark Waters and I used that as entry point for a new connection. What started as a simple and unrelated email exchange resulted in this interview..."

Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal. 
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=AP730
Strange Hours
Photography, Memory, and the Lives of Artists
Writings by Rebecca Bengal
Interview by Brian Arnold

Aperture, New York, 2023. 216 pp..

In his second collection of essays, Why People Photograph?, Robert Adams addresses the difficulty in finding good writing about photography. Too many writers, he says, get bogged down in critical jargon and unnecessarily complex rhetoric, a sort of writing he defines as “social-scientific balloon bread.” I’m inclined to agree that there isn’t much great writing about photography, but when a good writer comes around it’s easy for me to get excited about reading their work.

I’ve been familiar with Rebecca Bengal’s writing from her contributions to many great photobooks published in recent years — Dark Waters, Girl Pictures, and Juggling is Easy, to name a few — and thus found myself eager to dig into her new collection of essays published by Aperture, Strange Hours. There is a lot I could say about this book, but to keep it simple, it is clear, concise, and insightful writing about an incredibly interesting and diverse collection of photographers, lacking any of the jargon or unnecessary rhetoric Adams dismisses. Some of my favorites are the essays about Judith Joy Ross and Ming Smith, the short story written for Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures, and an interview with Henry Horenstein about his Nashville work. It quickly became clear to me that interviews are a major part of Bengal’s practice as a writer. There are two reproduced in the book — the one with Horenstein and another with Nan Goldin — but in many of the essays Bengal references interviews she conducted with the artists either in person or by phone. With that in mind, I wasn’t far into Strange Hours before I had the idea that the right way to respond to the book would be with an interview with her. Bengal originally reached out to me after my review of Dark Waters and I used that as entry point for a new connection. What started as a simple and unrelated email exchange resulted in this interview, developed between November and December 2023.



When/how did you first get interested in photography? Do you make pictures or just write about them?

Hard to say, but well before I was aware of it, I think. Turns out quite a few of the photographers I’d eventually come to admire actually were making pictures in and around where I grew up, pre-internet rural western North Carolina, a place that as a kid I assumed was invisible to the rest of the world. Now, looking back, Mary Ellen Mark’s pictures of girls smoking in a kiddie pool, Duane Michals’ portrait of my hometown witch, Joel Sternfeld’s Nags Head photographs, are all cryptically fused with my own memories. I wrote about this unconscious, belated influence in “Self Portrait in Other People’s Pictures” (a piece which is not in Strange Hours).

I do make pictures too, but my conscious interest in photography came sideways, and later. In undergrad in Greensboro, North Carolina, I was primarily involved with the creative writing program, writing and reading fiction, and film, and art — and also music, because music was what my friends’ social lives centered around. I would find my way to different photographers through magazines — art and music and fashion magazines, skate magazines — and old books and through photographer friends. The first major photographer I remember meeting was Sally Mann, when she came to give a lecture at our school. I think she was working on what would become her book What Remains, and she was hauling around this giant bucket of decomposing liquid and photographing it in different stages of decay.

I took my first darkroom class around that time; we worked out of the same darkroom the police department still used then (this was the late 90s). I was experimenting, learning, having fun. Photography sometimes showed up in my short fiction, but I didn’t really write about it for years.

Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal

You grew up with a deaf parent? Does that have anything to do with your interest in photography? 

My father has been profoundly Deaf from birth, as is his brother, as was their father, as was many of his siblings and his father — Deafness and different forms of sign language have been part of my father’s family for six or so generations. My mother is hearing, we all sign. My sister Joanna Welborn, who is also hearing, is a photographer — her work is incredible. Maybe for my sister and I, in our separate ways, gravitating to photography has to do with being aware of the visual in a different, heightened way. My father is definitely inclined that way — I love the films he used to make and the pictures he makes now.

But photography, for me, is about language too. Beyond growing up bilingual in English and sign, I also absorbed different accents, writing, music, and in that way photography is another language too. In “Slowly and with Much Expression,” an essay in Strange Hours about the relationship between words and images, I write about growing up with closed captioning in a time when it wasn’t common for anyone to use it unless you were Deaf.

DoubleTake magazine is mentioned several times in Strange Hours. Can you tell us a bit about your time with DoubleTake? How did you come to work at the magazine? What was the nature of your work? How has the vision of Double Take influenced your work and career?

The mainstay of my many revolving odd jobs in undergrad was at a small independent bookstore and newsstand in a shopping center in Greensboro, North Carolina. We had a giant wall of magazines and while the gambling tip sheets and car manuals were most popular with our clientele, tucked in among those I found this beautiful literary and photography quarterly magazine DoubleTake. When I found out it was published at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, less than an hour away, I wrote them a letter and asked if they were looking for interns. The internship paid a little more than minimum wage, but it did pay, and I primarily worked for the fiction editor, reading manuscripts and suggesting edits. I just really soaked up whatever I could, helping the nonfiction editor too, sitting in with the photo editors, proofing books, helping out with other programs at the Center.

Nan Goldin, C.Z. and Max on the Beach, Truro, Massachusetts, 1976

Things were changing rapidly at DoubleTake then and I became an editorial assistant. And just a few more months and the magazine was effectively shuttered. A skeleton staff moved up to Cambridge, where one of the founders, Robert Coles, was based, but none of our jobs were guaranteed, and I had no desire then to move to Boston, where I knew no one. I think they continued for a year or two like that before it was shuttered again. Others have tried to revive it and duplicate it since then and it never works out. DoubleTake was strange and radical and earnest and exciting and also very expensive to make, and it was the work of an immensely talented group of people, several of whom I’ve worked with and/or remained connected to since  and its influence has long outlasted its several years of existence. 

For me, so young then, working at DoubleTake and CDS was an introduction to a lot of artists and writers — William Gedney, for instance — both within and outside of documentary work. It was an introduction to the community work and films and books that CDS was involved in. It was an introduction to the ethical questions around documentary. And for me, it was liberating in the sense that the magazine treated photography and writing as equals, not something that was required to literally illustrate the other.

In recent years, you’ve contributed writing to some really interesting photobooks by Danny Lyon, Kristine Potter, Justine Kurland, and Peggy Nolan, among others. How are these writings composed? Are they developed collaboratively with the photographers? Or based solely on looking at the pictures? Do you have relationships with these artists that help develop your writing?

They are all so different, everyone. Kristine Potter knew some of my connections to music and to the places of her pictures in Dark Waters, which has an undercurrent of murder ballads in the American South, especially Tennessee, where she lives, and North Carolina. We talked — but we didn’t even discover exactly how much we have in common until well after the book was published. I tried to sort of absorb the pictures the way I knew the songs, and then I went away and wrote a story, I didn’t want to pin it too specifically to any of the pictures: They are absolutely stunning on their own. The story I wrote (at the invitation of Kristine and editor Lesley A. Martin, who both were open to let me do whatever I wanted) came from two characters I already had in mind, and from my memory of the pictures or, even more accurately, the feeling I had looking at them. I’m really proud to have been a part of this book.

Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal

That’s similar to the way I went about writing another short story, “The Jeremys,” for Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures. I first met Justine years ago when she came to Austin, Texas, and parked her van in my best friends’ backyard while she was still making some of her narrative photographs of feral, runaway girls, pictures in which I saw my past, present, future, and fictional selves in. Justine has made so many brilliant bodies of work since, and I’ve written about many of them, but she and editor Denise Wolff gave me the freedom to write a story that is from the point of view of imagined girls in the pictures.

I love that lots of people read Carolyn Drake’s Knit Club and thought I was right there in Water Valley, Mississippi, when Carolyn Drake was making the pictures. I wasn’t — I was brought in much later, but that book was particularly collaborative in terms of many conversations with Carolyn and Paul Schiek at TBW. Because of the way the photographs work, none of us thought it should be too directly representational, but something a bit more nebulous, and so I ended up interviewing several of the women in the pictures and piecing together a semi-fictional story in their words. Carolyn sought my feedback on the sequencing and design she was working on with Paul, and it was fascinating to see it evolve. A beautiful and perfect design.

Speaking of Paul and TBW, who are one of my favorite photobook publishers around, I didn’t know Peggy Nolan at all prior to working on Juggling Is Easy, but Paul had a feeling I’d love her photographs of her teenage kids and their friends in 1980s Florida, and he was sure right. Peggy is a live wire, tremendously talented and such a force, and in her case I wanted to tell her story as much as the stories of the photographs.

I first wrote about Danny Lyon’s The Bikeriders several years ago but we didn’t meet until 2020, when I happened to be in the Southwest, and we did this interview. Last year he invited me to write an essay for a catalogue for his solo exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum of Art. I wrote about his films, which I love. Danny surprised me by including a photograph he made of me on the day of our interview in the exhibition: it was the day after Election Day 2020, and I’m all masked up.

Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal

Can you say something about how
Strange Hours was put together? Is it a “greatest hits” selection of your writings? Or was there a more directed selection process?

The initial invitation to publish Strange Hours came courtesy of one of my wonderful editors at Aperture. Brendan Embser saw the possibility of a book in the stories and essays I’d been doing for their books, the magazine, the blog, and PhotoBook Review over the past several years.

Brendan and assistant editor Varun Nayar and I looked at a ton of my writing to decide what to include. Much of the book would come from my work with Aperture, and many of those pieces have a strong narrative element (Diana Markosian, Judith Joy Ross, Chauncey Hare, for instance), and of course the short story I wrote for Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures. So that established a core. From there we each made a list of pieces we hoped to include. The book is part of the Aperture Ideas book series, which all adhere to a set length, so that left us with a certain amount of space to work with. Also, since the Ideas series is text-focused, it’s designed for just one image per piece, plus a well of color photographs. For me, that eliminated a few pieces that I felt would be better served by multiple pictures — for instance, the semifictional story I wrote for Knit Club. But I had to eliminate many other favorites, and favorite artists.

We also didn’t want to worry too much about an overall theme. While story is the heart of the book, even if it’s just the story of an encounter with an artist and their pictures, I also wanted to include some different kinds of writing, essays, short fiction, interviews, and to create plenty of ways for anyone to enter in — whether or not they know anything about photography. “In the Place Where Prince Lived” might not seem to be about photography, for example, but it is about my and Alec Soth’s attempt to find something of Prince through the act of photographing the people who live in the places where he once did. It’s layered in with Alec also being a photographer who shares a hometown with Prince — and, for a few years, practically shared a backyard. And it’s layered in with our discovery along the way that Prince himself was retracing his own steps photographically in the months before his death.

Almost all of the pieces had been published before, but I knew I wanted to heavily revise many of them. I was able to add back in a significant and previously unpublished portion of an Eggleston interview I did years ago, in which he talks about photographing inside Graceland. This is where the book’s title (which my editor suggested) comes from: At one point, Eggleston reckons that, like Elvis, he keeps “strange hours.” And when we were choosing the cover, it wound up being a lesser-known photograph by Eggleston, too, and that gave us the purple of the cover (thanks also to the excellent designers at Pacifica). But I revised almost every piece to some extent, working with Brendan and editor Susan Ciccotti. I’ve also published pieces since our print deadline that I wish could be in Strange Hours, but we were able to include just one entirely new piece that I wrote specifically for the book: I wanted to add something that spoke more to ambiguity and perceived truth, and to a literary sense of photography, and that ended up being Yevgenia Belorusets’ stories and photographs from Ukraine. And then, I want to mention, I am deeply grateful to the flat-out brilliant Joy Williams, my teacher and friend, one of our greatest writers, who wrote the foreword essay.

William Eggleston, Untitled, ca. 1983-86

Is there a photographer you’ve never connected with or written about but would like to?


Oh, there are so many photographers whose work I love but haven’t had the chance to write with/about at the right time — far too many to mention.

Lately, mostly I’m interested in writing with or in response to, rather than about. To either collaborate in the way I’ve done on some photobooks, whether it’s for a book or some other form, in all the ways I just described to you. And/or to collaborate in the sense of working on a story together. Where you’re doing some true fieldwork collectively, as I’ve gotten to do with Joel Sternfeld on the youth climate movement, and at Standing Rock first with Alessandra Sanguinetti, with Justine Kurland after the fires near Paradise, for example. Or and especially something a little bit looser, like the stories I’ve done with Alec Soth.

Mostly, I think about all the writers and artists and filmmakers and musicians I wish I could have met or studied with. I’ll limit myself to just two photographers here who are no longer with us. First, Corita Kent, who had a wholly uncanny, playful, and experimental way of teaching and seeing the world; Ordinary Things Will Be Signs For Us, a collection of her work, was recently published by J&L Books. The other is Larry Sultan. While working on this piece about him with Alec, and especially after I wrote it, talking with Larry Sultan’s colleagues and close friends, particularly Jim Goldberg, and Larry’s wife, Kelly, I was magnetized, all over again, by Larry’s ideas and intellect and, very important, his sensibility and sense of humor. Mack is doing lovely reissues of his books; the most recent is Swimmers. As Kelly Sultan, a wonderful writer herself, once wrote: “Asking big questions by examining the mysteries of daily life was how Larry tended to approach picture making; he was always hoping to capture something just off stage, a ‘strange creature’ that would be revealed only after the picture was printed.”

One of my favorite essays in Strange Hours is the one about Prince, the project you did with Alec Soth. With that in mind, what’s your favorite Prince song or record?

Prince left the world too soon, but he left us here with so much. No way to nail down a favorite, though I love having my socks knocked off by hearing a song I haven’t heard in a while (like “Black Sweat,” one of his later ones, at a dance party recently). And when Alec and I were visiting Prince’s houses in and around Minneapolis, and leaving the story itself up to discovery, Paisley Park was just beginning to dig into the famous vaults he left behind. Some of the reissues and compilations of rare and previously unreleased work that have come out since are truly excellent — check out the albums Originals, Welcome 2 America, and Piano and a Microphone 1983.

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Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal
Strange Hours by Rebecca Bengal

Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.

 

Rebecca Bengal is the author of Strange Hours: Photography, Memory, and the Lives of Artists (Aperture, 2023). Her writing about art, literature, film, music, and the environment has been published by the Paris Review, Vogue, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Oxford American, Southwest Review, the Believer, the Guardian, and the Criterion Collection, among many others. She has contributed short fiction and essays to books by Kristine Potter, Carolyn Drake, Justine Kurland, Paul Graham, Danny Lyon, Peggy Levison Nolan, and Charles Portis. A MacDowell fellow in literature and a former editor at American Short Fiction, DoubleTake, and Vogue, she holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers in Austin. Originally from western North Carolina, Bengal lives in Brooklyn.
photo-eye Gallery photo-eye Conversations with David Emitt Adams and Jamey Stillings photo-eye Gallery In honor of the closing of Reshaping the Earth: Energy and the Environment, an exhibition featuring photographs by Jamey Stillings and David Emitt Adams, we are pleased to share a recent segment of photo-eye Conversations LIVE with David and Jamey.



In honor of the closing of Reshaping the Earth: Energy and the Environment, an exhibition featuring photographs by Jamey Stillings and David Emitt Adams, we are pleased to share a recent segment of photo-eye Conversations LIVE with David and Jamey.  Below the video, are a few installation shots if you haven't visited the gallery yet.




In this segment of photo-eye Conversations, Adams and Stillings engage in a conversation about their work, including in Reshaping the Earth: Energy and the Environment. If you're short on time, or would just like a taste, we also made two 5-minute videos you can watch: David Emitt Adams discussing his work (here)  and Jamey Stillings talking about his work and his new book (here).  
Enjoy!




Jamey Stillings' aerial photos document renewable energy projects and mining in Chile's Atacama desert, a region rich in natural resources like lithium, copper, gold, and iron ore.




David Emitt Adams uses historical photographic techniques to explore industrial landscapes from the American oil industry in his Power series. He captures the images using a custom-built camera and prints directly on 55-gallon steel oil drum lids using wet plate collodion chemistry.

 

View more work by David Emitt Adams here 
    

View more work by Jamey Stillings here 

Order Jamey Stillings' new book here 


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Book Review Mirror City Photographs by Harry Culy Reviewed by Blake Andrews “For photographers shooting hometowns, acquaintance is a constant hazard. It can be hard to get a clear-eyed view of a place from within. Sometimes you’re better off putting some distance between yourself and the target..."

Mirror City. By Harry Culy.
https://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/citation.cfm?catalog=ZK451
Mirror City
Photographs by Harry Culy
Bad News Books, 2023. 100 pp., 58 duotone plates, 8x10".

For photographers shooting hometowns, acquaintance is a constant hazard. It can be hard to get a clear-eyed view of a place from within. Sometimes you’re better off putting some distance between yourself and the target. Even if the material is the same, the exterior view is different. Familiar subjects assume a fresh veneer: clean, objective, and unfiltered. At least in theory.

Harry Culy’s debut photobook puts this hypothesis to the test. Mirror City collects Culy’s b/w photographs shot upon his return to Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington), after ten years away. Growing up in the New Zealand capital decades earlier, he had come to know the place quite well. He’d explored the underbelly and skateboarded its sidewalks. He’d formed a sense of what it was to be a resident. He’d even made photographs of the city.

But those were inside views from a previous time. The key that unlocked Mirror City was foreign travel. Upon returning to his old hometown, he saw everything with fresh eyes. “On my return, I encountered an eerie feeling — 'home' felt strangely unfamiliar,” he described the lightbulb moment in a recent interview. “When I came back I realized that New Zealand is actually a pretty strange and amazing place.”


From 2019 through 2022, he photographed in and around the city, working intuitively. “Pretty much all my work comes from places and people I have personal connection to,” he says. “Moving through the city I made pictures of anything that caught my attention.” He photographed local friends, structures, and lyric documentary scenes using a 4 x 5 view camera, later making silver gelatin prints in a darkroom. As if that didn’t keep him busy enough, he also co-founded a publishing company. These disparate life strands come together in Mirror City, a “kind of gothic love letter to my hometown” which is published by Culy’s own Bad News Books.


This isn’t just any type of gothic letter. It’s Antipodean gothic, a version particular to New Zealand and Australia. The south island nations foster a sense of isolation and removal all their own, reflected in films, photo, and visual culture. Day is night. The southern heavens are literally star crossed. Heck, even their seasons are backward. “It’s a feeling of being unsettled,” says Culy, “of uneasiness, anxiety, which is kind of simultaneously pleasurable and not at the same time.” Throw in a global pandemic, and Mirror City takes on a broody edginess. Photographs of spider webs and wrought iron fencing hint at unconscious restrictions while Satanic symbols, spray painted phrases, and graffitied carvings might be Antipodean iconography. Abandoned ephemera and underground symbols seem commonplace in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, a city which feels closer to smallish exurb than metropolis, at least as photographed by Culy.


These visual dust ups are just the leading edge of wider disruptions. Culy is continually drawn to broken forms. He photographs discarded lumber in a heap, smashed windows, barbed wire, twisted antennae, and melting candles, all possessing a certain photographic charms. As the title hints, there are even a few mirrors in the mix. As formal compositions all are well seen. They’re aesthetically pleasing enough. But taken collectively they convey a downcast mood. Perhaps this is the aforementioned Antipodean gothic, or the years-long residue of Culy’s jet lag? Hard to say. In any case, Mirror City’s ugly backdrops form a sharp contrast with its human subjects. All are young and sensual, captured in situ on city streets. Some radiate a pure beauty which is near otherworldly. They might easily be cast in a film or lifestyle magazine. One wonders if Culy sees himself reflected in them, or perhaps his artistic soul is in junkyard glass.


Culy offers clues in the form of text excerpts. These are written in silver on black pages, then interspersed here and there with his monochromes. He shares shopping lists, notes to self, iPhone ramblings, movie titles, board games, and other scattered snippets. If they don’t make much literal sense, that’s not really the point. They operate on the subconscious as dream-like suggestions. These phrases get into the reader’s mind and float in the cranial soup alongside Culy’s pictures. It’s a pleasing enough effect, similar in some ways to the disrupted logic of foreign travel or urbex photography. Ideally these materials might combine into a mirror held up to the self, or to one’s home city.

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Blake Andrews is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.