Saturday, May 29, 2010

Now It's Dark: Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010

Artist, actor, and great American Dennis Hopper

What can I say?  Two of my greatest idols and inspirations, Ronnie James Dio, and now, Dennis Hopper, have succumbed to cancer.  I'm devastated.

From the introduction to my forthcoming book, Garish: Roadside Color Polaroids
During my technical school duty training in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1984, I became enamored with the Alfred Hitchcock’s “lost” classics Vertigo, The Trouble With Harry, and Rear Window, just then enjoying an acclaimed re-issue. Watching not only the amazing suspense plots, but also the lush and sophisticated Technicolor projections onscreen was the first experience I had with the truly sublime. Yet, at that time I made no connection with my photography.

That came two years later, while stationed in West Germany.

“Candy colored clown they call the sandman,” Dennis Hopper intones hurtfully as Dean Stockwell—clad in smoking jacket and wielding a cigarette holder—lip-syncs Roy Orbison’s immortal song “In Dreams” into a auto shop drop light. David Lynch’s 1986 classic Blue Velvet was an artistic revelation to me, a dark yet vibrant Salvador Dalí surrealist  painting sprang to life. Witnessing Lynch’s juxtapositions of blood-red roses before a white picket fence and a deep blue sky made me acutely aware of the color that’s all around us, but taken for granted.
Later, when I was first exposed to Hopper's graphic documentary photography, I was floored by the total genius of this Renaissance man.  

Dennis Hopper is definitely one of the top ten artists in my pantheon, and I can't believe he's no longer among us.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rediscovered Negatives: Im Augenblick

U.S. Routes 84 & 285, Hernandez, New Mexico, July 2007

This lonely bodega is much more interesting than a certain church that gets all the attention in this New Mexican hamlet, right about the time the moon climbs high in the night sky.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Artist Chris O'Hoski

"Thirty Two," 2009

As far as my artistic tastes go, I prefer photographers who think like painters, and painters who think like photographers.  Canadian artist Chris O'Hoski falls into the latter category, although to me, it doesn't appear he's really trying to do anything revolutionary with his unique style.  His work is revolutionary because he isn't really trying to be.

This is what is so refreshing about O'Hoski's straightforward, stripped-down portraits:  O'Hoski, who's still quite young in years, already has built up a visual repertoire brimming over with the self-assuredness of an artist whose eyes have seen many more decades than his.  

Nobody's Home, 2010

While I'm no art critic, and refuse to write in the ubiquitous language known to heretics as "Artspeak," O'Hoski's works meet my crucial test for excellence, better known as "I know what I like."  Ultimately, this is an artist's highest accomplishment, because once you take away his artist's statement, gallery contacts, and resume, if his work fails to instill any sort of genuine emotion in the viewer, then what is the point anyway?

O'Hoski's ongoing series, Hypnagogia, takes place in that hallucinatory state between waking hours and sleep.  O'Hoski cites fascination of this inspiration for his paintings beginning in his early teenaged years.  Based upon his works, he must be one of those people who dream in black-and-white, perhaps sepia-toned.  By limiting his use of color in his works, his stress on light and shadow comes to the fore, although his subtle use of shadows hearkens more to the German Expressionist cinema of Murnau and Lang than  still photography.

Seventies movies seem to be another inspiration, even if subconsciously. One portrait, in particularly, Thirty two, seems like an homage to Martin Scorsese's anti-hero Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, or Charles Bronson's iconic vigilante, Paul Kearsey, in Death Wish.  Yet, even these stark visuals are communicated forthrightly, without relying on "campy" "referencing" all too common in today's art scene.  

Tarnished, 2010

O'Hoski has exhibited throughout his native Ontario, and New York.  I discovered his work through a friend who subscribes to his feed on Facebook.  She being a follower of today's Gothic artists, I readily saw such an influence in O'Hoski's work, although it's subtle.  He seems more influenced by Albrecht Duerer than Marilyn Manson. 

Untitled, number eight, 2010

And yet, an artist cannot merely be reduced to whatever his influences may be, or inferred by others as being.  In Untitled, number eight, as an art lover, I can readily infer a touch of Picasso's portrait of his sister.  But, I don't see Picasso; I see Chris O'Hoski.  His particular style may be an admixture of many different visual, cultural, and emotional elements, but what makes that style powerful and unique is that those elements are  subordinated to the integrity of his overall vision, which grabs the viewer and holds his interest through its striking, monochromatic, look into the artist's passions and penchants.  Quite akin to music, O'Hoski's paintings have the ability to communicate directly with the viewer's emotions, without need of being translated intellectually.  In this day and age, that's a rare and welcome talent.

Habituation, 2009

All images reproduced courtesy of artist Chris O'Hoski.  They remain the sole property and are solely copyrighted by Chris O'Hoski.  They may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Camera Phone Heresies

Betty's Pies
State Highway 61, Two Harbors, Minnesota, April 2010

What's not to love about a blue checkerboard parquet floor?  You don't see them around much anymore.  This nicely-polished one can be found at Betty's Pies, which is on the way to Ontario along Lake Superior's North Shore.

Even better, you can also find the best banana creme and blueberry pies you've had in a long time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Garish: The Cutting Room Floor

Somewhere in Coahuila, 2002

This closeup of a most friendly horse on a ranch somewhere in Coahuila was one of my Polaroids which made it only past the first cut, but not any subsequently.  At this point, my editor and I decided to go minimalist and focus solely on roadside distractions, as I sarcastically call them.  

Nevertheless, I am very fond of this close-range equestrian portrait, which I was able to get by bribing the subject with a couple apples.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Touch of Silver

Piedras Negras, Coahuila, February 2001

I never have released this photograph before.  This is not unusual for photographers who have a hundred rolls still in the freezer, and thousands of negatives that have yet to be scanned.

This one always gnawed on my consience, however, because its composition always satisfied me, yet I never approved its inclusion in my photographic study, Los Colores de Coahuila.

For me, for a photograph to be in color, it must be about the color.  The original photograph was simply a coalescence of black, white and grey, with a little red thrown in for good measure.  It was meant to be viewed as a black-and-white photograph.

Then, last month, I was watching Orson Welles's greatest motion picture, Touch of Evil.  Suddenly, I recalled this photograph.  Take a close look at this wonderfully seedy scene -- at any moment, you can imagine Janet Leigh running out onto the balcony, wailing in hallucinatory horror as drunken sailors and dizzy dames on the pavement jeer and whistle.  The surreal potential of this scene is palpable.

I committed the original negative -- made on Fuji Reala color negative film -- to a couple sheets of what's left of my stockpile of Kodak's gorgeous Panalure paper.

The resultant flatbed scan is thus a genuine silver gelatin print.  If only I had Russell Metty and a camera crane, imagine what else I would have gotten on that shoot!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Los Colores de Coahuila

Piedras Negras, Coahuila, March 2001

On one of my first trips to the lovely city of Piedras Negras, I took a half dozen rolls of Walgreen's Studio 35 film in 200 ASA, which is in reality repackaged Agfa HDC-200.  As it was a nice, breezy March day, and people were out and about in the city center, I was able to get a lot of surreptitious shots such as this one, glimpses into people's everyday private lives in public.

If you really think about it, the most important information takes place in less than one-eighth of the image area, in a small sliver that nonetheless tells the whole story.

But, we're in Mexico here, where people adorn their places of business in bright, festive colors.  As a result, the crux of the image is wrapped in slashing diagonal lines of the barber's pole in red, white, and blue. The plate glass window's reflection gives context of the barber shop's city locale.

When I first printed this photograph, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of visual information which all converged towards its center -- whose simple composition of a barber's hand steadying a boy's head, as he gives him a haircut -- is yet undisturbed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010

Heavy Metal legend Ronnie James Dio

Though he was not, to my knowledge, a photographer, singer Ronnie James Dio was a stellar artist.  The greatest vocalist to ever grace Heavy Metal, Dio brought an operatic range, melodic phrasing, and poetic lyrics to his passionate and high-intensity work with Black Sabbath, Elf, Rainbow, and -- of course -- Dio.

Although this has nothing to do with photography, then again, it does.  Many of the images on my website, this blog, and in numerous publications were inspired by Dio.  As "I Speed at Night," I rock out to his legendary tunes, such as "Sign of the Southern Cross," "Shame On the Night," "I," "Shadow of the Wind," and "Follow the Tears."

Dio was also an inspiration in how he lived his life:  Ronnie James Dio was the Wayne Newton of Heavy Metal.  He was gracious and grateful for his fans, and was always a gentleman and a real mensch with them.  He earned the reputation amongst metalheads for always staying after shows to sign memorabilia, and he often would converse at length with his admirers.  

I was looking forward to attending one of Dio's concerts this summer with Heaven and Hell -- and to photograph the sights along the way.  Now, where there was anticipation and excitement, there's a void that will be hard to fill.

You will be missed, Ronnie.  Rest in peace, brave knight!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Breadman Cometh

Butter Krust delivery man, U.S. Route 181, Smiley, Texas, 2000

I lost whatever notebook I wrote this delivery man's name in.  However, he was kind enough to pose for me ten years ago in the sleepy hamlet of Smiley, Texas.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Concrete Cathedrals

Corpus Christi, Texas, May 2000

My first big break as a photographer was having my portfolio, Concrete Cathedrals, accepted for publication by Black & White Magazine (U.S.A.).  I got the acceptance letter in December 2002, which took over a month to reach me, as I'd just moved from San Antonio to Philadelphia.  Coming as it did after seven rejection letters from lesser publications, I was more than elated.

A monochromatic paean to the austere and imposing grain elevators which dot the landscape of the Great Plains, Concrete Cathedrals is a work in progress.  As literally thousands of these monolithic edifices are found across North America, I am certain to pass into the hereafter decades from now no closer to finishing than Franz Schubert was his Eighth Symphony.

A special dedicatory goes to fans in London, who like the SciFi feel of some of my black-and-white compositions.  I hope you enjoy this!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rediscovered Negatives: Los Colores de Coahuila

Piedras Negras, Coahuila, March 2000

Two things that are the mark of a real man, whether in Mexico or Texas, are cowboy boots and hats.  I chanced upon this shop in Piedras Negras a decade ago, but was unsatisfied with the snapshot I got back from the drugstore.

As it turned out, they didn't know how to print from Kodak's Vericolor III film.  I finally scanned the negative recently, and found the images turned out quite beautiful.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Film From the Freezer

U.S. Route 285, Española, New Mexico, June 2006

This portrait was taken on a roll of Adox KB-14, which is pre-Yugoslavian, pre-Efke.  Yep, you read that right:  This particular roll expired in October 1969, and rated at ASA 20, it hasn't lost a bit of its lustre.  This is Frankfurt, West Germany Adox, made 23 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and exposed 17 years after!

In fact, I have never seen tighter grain on any slow-speed film I've used in 35mm.  Not Agfapan 25, not Panatomic-X 32 ASA.  In fact, I was already well aware of Adox's legendary sharp accutance and smooth rendition of the full tonal range that I centered all my subjects on that particular roll, so that I could print them square, by chopping the sides.

This portrait of one young punker was taken with my Nikkor prime lens, 50mm/f1.4.  It is technically -- and artistically -- worthy of my Rolleiflex SL-66.

I'm so blessed that I still have twenty bulk reels of the stuff in the Frigidaire!