New Pictures From the Distant Past

jeremiah burbank for the NRA

It was his birthday and my sister Rosie took us to the Gun Club in downtown Los Angeles

Fish for Sale

Fish for Sale

Vito GesualdiOn his never ending quest for a head shot Vito Gesualdi and I made some weird unflattering portraits

samule d quinn the crippleSamuel D Quinn http://www.samuelquinn.com/

rosie and jairs buttsMy sister Rosie Pula and Jeremiah Burbank at the Hollywood Reservoir

All pictures taken in Los Angeles in 2011 with a Canon 5d

a video I helped make about a different type of family

I have an old old friend named Vito Gesualdi, he taught me how to joke and how to learn to smoke. He loved video games, every name of every system tattoed on his brain. From Game and Watch to Sega Dreamcast to Virtual boy to Gensis CD… I wondered about him for a long time, wondered what he saw when he hit the buttons and watched jump man jump…

Then he asked me to help film this video about a Japanese Style Arcade, it was dark and strange in Arcade Infinty and I didn’t understand what I saw there. Then I came back to film the closing ceremonies (you see they were going out of business) and we interviewed dozens of men just like us, men who were lost and found not at the pound but at the base of a DDR machine, or Street Fighting cabinet. Listening to their stories was profoundly humbling to me. I don’t question Vito Gesualdi anymore, cause when some one shows you their scars and then their muscle you don’t put them down, you hug them close and say, I’m glad you finally got through that kill screen you were stuck in, now sit down, have a Sapporo and tell me all about it.

romney’s america

romneys america by Eddy Pula
romneys america, a photo by Eddy Pula on Flickr.

“6 months after Romney is elected the Yankee nuclear facility will melt down and giant mutants will try and hit on normal sized chicks all the way from Maine to Greenwich Connecticut, I have the pictures I can PROVE IT”
Statement from [REDACTED] a Mental Patient in the care of Dr. Ticlea, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, 6/17/2012

A Complimentary Life

Image

Oh man.. There is only so much I can say (literally I lost my voice from talking all night like a amphetamine freak and smoking rolled cigarettes) but my work is really starting to come together, and people are starting to notice. I’m not just getting death threats any more, I’m getting the opposite, life compliments? I’m thinking about how my work is changing because the subjects are starting to see them and we are having a dialog, some times good sometimes bad. Its very interesting. Here’s an email I received from one mother

“You took some pictures of my kids the other day at Puffers Pond. I would be interested in seeing how they came out. Also I’d appreciate seeing any images before you use them on your blog/site.
I like your black and white work. – the photos of the people waiting for the parade are great.”

This is exactly what I wanted to happen with my ‘Threat Level Zero’ post. She totally understands and I feel great about it. Maybe this is what my procedure should be with kids shots, the only problem is that only 1 in a 100 people ever email me after I take their picture. Hmm, its something I can work on. On a side note the pictures of her kids are photographically rubbish (all my fault) and I have no intention of putting them on the internet. So it worked out great for her, they are pictures ‘only a mother could love’.

Image

Picture by Sam Quinn

I was working my (and Jairs) ass off last weekend, after loading up on Friedlander’s big yellow book and 20 rolls of tri-x I stayed out all night Thursday taking pictures

Image

Image

On a technical note the slow speeds on the Mamiya camera I’m working with are VERY SLOW, that’s why I’m getting all these ‘spirit photographs’ but for these ones I kind of like it. We got up early on Friday to hang at the Otherside Cafe and because my hands are useless for anything but changing f-stops, Jair hung the show in record time.

Image

Image

After that I went to park street. Its been far too long since I’ve haunted downtown crossing, I used to prowl it a couple times a week and I get nostalgic. Oh man I’m getting old, but not this old.

Image

I met a bunch of ‘The street photographers’ there, the same ones who were hunting preteen girls in packs with their fancy vaguely Aryan equipment. Click between the (((()))) to watch the video, I can’t make links work right DAMN YOU WORDPRESS

((((http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/04/15/downtown-crossing-street-photographers-crossing-the-line/)))))

It was funny, I never was really part of their club, but I miss those guys… I’m glad some one is down there ‘harassing’ the people of Boston. I hope ‘King Leica’ sees his portrait, I think he would like it, its funny, I’ve photographed him before and he was always scowling. Maybe he was happy to see me.

Image

The Otherside was great, good friends, decent nachos and great photography. I had to duck out too soon and drive back to western mass and SLEEP, but I’ll be back Other Side. I need to have a pretty girl notice that I’m the man from the picture and buy me a beer.

If you read ‘the world is wonderous’ you know I got permission to shoot in a bar called  Hugo’s, I almost didn’t go I was so tired, but I’m happy I did. Drunk people are great material and this leads me to another ethical quandary. Arbus shot developmentally disabled people acting like retards and made haunting work. Pula shot college kids after too many pabsts and made funny ass pictures. I don’t know if it all adds up. Take a look at this pair of pictures. (You really got to click on them to view the large)

Image

The girl in the center changes from deranged to cutesy in 10 seconds flat, both are a honest depiction of events and neither of them is what she really looks like. I hope she would understand why the first one is the better photograph, its the look of shock on the blonde to the rights face to whatever conversation she and black hair are having that frames the seizure like expression of the center girl. I’ll have a long post about the interviews I’ve been doing with all sorts of portrait photographers about how they sleep at night, but for now lets all sit back and laugh at the drunken antics.

Image

Image

Threat Level Zero: An Artistic Dilemma

“That picture is not for publication and you need to remove it from your web site or else you HAVE just comitted your suicide !!!! Ever hear of the Diablos !!!!!! Remove that picture and I suggest you discard any negatives NOW”

I received this email the other day from one of the people I photographed at the Holyoke St Patrick’s Day parade, from what I remember they agreed to have their picture taken, it was a pleasant exchange and ended in me giving them my business card. This begs several questions. What went wrong? Who are the Diablos? What the hell should I do?

Image

I forwarded this email to a bunch of people, first as a lark, then more seriously as the fears set in. As usually happens, my initial anger was softened when I started to piece everything together.

It was a picture in conjunction with some pretty terrible writing that made this person angry, I realized that the picture on its own might come off weird, but it was my over enthusiastic hyperbolic caption that brought the Diablos (a biker gang out of Westfield whose members have been arrested for drug trafficking) into the discussion. Let me quote the most offensive line of my prose

“Her disaffected stare repeating the dead plastic smile of her stuffed animal, the decapitated parents reinforcing her alienation from the nuclear family”

I talked to a couple parents who were sympathetic to my cause, but they all said that the idea of you’re child being taken from you (metaphorically through photography) and then injured (ditto) through words could make anybody murderously angry. When I reread my comment through their eyes I realized I sounded like a raving lunatic, some one who just might deserves a visit from the Diablos. So I took down the comment. Looking at it with fresh eyes changes the whole meaning of the photograph.

What was I trying to say with my super pompous, dark reading of the picture, was that a photograph shares only a tangential connection with the reality ‘recorded’ in front of the camera. I was showing off how I could take something as wholesome as a family on a Sunday stroll and make it weird and dark. I then took this somewhat unsettling image and jumped off the deep end with my words, in a way that frightened my once willing subject into anger. I want to say for the record that I apologize for that, it was bone headed and wrong of me, and my sister/editor wants to point out that I didn’t run it past her and that she would have nipped it in the bud (so really it should be her you’re angry with)

Now I’m a guy who sees the humor in everything, and whats really funny is both my accuser and I are guilty of the same thing, being too hyperbolic, bursting through the line between legitimate discourse and outright nastiness. I stand by the picture 100%, but I actually have to thank this person for opening my eyes to an important conundrum.Image

The material for my art is living breathing human beings with feelings. I believe that as an artist I have the right to use them for whatever purpose I’m after. The sculptor doesn’t care what the clay thinks when he is transforming it into an expression of his psyche. Unfortunately my material has turned around to bite me in the ass. So what should I do? If I try and censure myself into only finding positive things to say with my art, I worry it might lose whatever power it has and die. However I can never lose sight of the fact that these are people so decent and trusting that they let a fat sweaty bald stranger into their lives, if only for a moment, to make his art that they will never profit from. Maybe I’ve gotten so comfortable in the street that I forgot that the little image in my camera is a person just like me.

The only reason any of this happened is that I’m trying to promote myself, for years the images lived on a semi private photo stream, where I could be sure that the subjects would never find themselves and only other photographers, who would understand the stupid jokes, would see them. Of course as I discussed in the previous post (You Down with OPC) this was never really the case, but once I started handing out business cards that linked to this blog, I was opening up a can of worms that I am still struggling with.

Image

I took part in the first ever All Visual Boston slide show event, which was headlined by the Great (if underrated) Bill Burke. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him right before he went on, and I asked him a bunch of dorky pointless questions about how awesome it must have been to be shooting free Polaroid neg/pos film. What I really should have asked, in retrospect, is what are his feelings about portrait ethics. The big E word makes me uncomfortable, I feel that real photographers just go for the picture, while smart aleck pusses sit around on the sidelines clucking amongst themselves. Bill Burke’s portraits can be brutal, and he doesn’t shy away from a little editorializing in the captions either.

Image

Intellectual property stolen from Bill Burke

What would make his opinion on ‘ethics’ so interesting is that he was using Pos/Neg instant film, so his subject knew exactly how they were being portrayed (admittedly after the deed was done) how did this change his interaction with his subjects and his photography. Hopefully I’ll run into him someday and be able to get some answers. In the meantime I’ll have to figure it out on my own.

Image

This blog is for you (you being friends, strangers, and my subjects) but more importantly its a place for me to try and solidify my ideas about art making by writing down all the dumb ideas I have running through my brain, so I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll agree to look both ways before crossing the street from now on, if you agree to think twice before getting the Diablos involved. Deal?

Bullshit I Hate Semicolon Who the Hell Am I to Judge

I don’t know if you were aware but I like to consider myself a bit of a jokester. Though some might disagree (family, friends) clever little absurdities just come to me. One day several years ago I realized that the New England School of Photography (NESOP) was ripe for skewering, and I knew the perfect target. My friend Samuel Quinn was currently a student of the aforementioned NESOP and one day over a cigarette I said “Hey Sam you know what NESOP is spelled backwards… Posen’ man that’s all you guys are doing” To which Sam replied by spitting in my eye. I have since seen him do it on several occasions, and let me tell you its not the grossness, its the shock that gets people. He’s quick on his draw and deadly accurate and come on, who the hell does that outside of an elementary school or a Johnny Cash song. Its a proclivity he shares with a certain South American beast of burden. Who, when you look in they’re eyes, you understand its not a if but a when.

Anyways where was this going? Posen (Sic) man, that’s the bullshit I hate. Hipstamatic, Instagram, whatever the kids these days are doing to make their stupid photo’s worse. Step 1, spend half a grand on a miracle of modern technology, step 2 take a picture of a palm tree/graffiti/tattoo/etc, step 3 apply canned curve masks to make it look like you shot it with a disposable/flea market camera that has been sitting on the dashboard of your car for most of August with a roll of CVS brand color film that expired before the tragic events of 9/11. Step 4 revel in your creativity.

Is there anything sadder than walking into a Urban Outfitters? Yes going to the camera section and seeing the $20 Holga in a totally bitching box complete with a small book full of cross processed skater photos marked up to $150. Worse still, they’re selling like hot cakes to cute girls with faces filled with piercings. App designers high off of 90’s MTV gimmicks make even lomography obsolete by turning your IPhone into an artistic fashion accessory and flooding the market with misguided photography majors who will never get a job. Hey! That’s me too.

I think what I find most despicable is while fake Polaroid photo frames are flying off the shelves, real instant film which is a unique and powerful tool is dead or dying. People are applying ‘film grain’ to noisy underexposed cell phone shots and I’m hitting up 10 photography stores to get my daily recommended dose of medium format Tri-X (For Christ sake B&H doesn’t have any, that’s fucking scary) Its like all the hipsters came to mock analog in the hospice ward and are sending out facebook invites to the cemetery dance party once its 6 feet under.

Who is the latest innocent to fall victim to this disturbing trend? My old posen friend Sam Quinn. Now what do they say about homophobes and racists? That they usually have virtually no contact with the group they so despise. That if you get to know one gay person and grow to respect them then you’re prejudices will wither and die. So with Sam as my token black friend I engaged in a thought experiment. What if I was doing pretty much the same thing?

Step 1, I use a beautiful camera hand built in Germany before the Cuban missile crisis. Its the greatest custom made etsy necklace never sold. That’s one of the reasons I use it, a rollei or hasselblad, or speed graphic gets me more portraits than any 5d mark 800E ever could. Fuck 4g white I-things with Dr. Dre Headphones, when I don my rollei necklace every bodys my friend.

 Step 2, I take pictures of beautiful women, develop them and carefully scan them to include a funky black border and the proper manufactures markings so you know I’m shooting HP5. As a nerdy side note, do you ever notice how all the faux film borders apps make up emulsions and formats that never really existed? Hah, nothing gets by me. So, while I dump thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into it, on the web (where 99.999% of people will ever see my work) it’s pretty much indistinguishable from a good fake.

Step 3, revel in my creativity. Of course there are other reasons I work the way I do, B&W film has amazing dynamic range that when harnessed through a decent scan and an hour of photoshop gives me outstanding results. But I’d be lying if I said my whole process isn’t just another ‘creative filter’ that I use for a particular effect.

Also spending time with Sam, watching him ditz around with his phone, addictively taking pictures and messing with them I realized that its a form of play. A low stakes game where he can try different things and sketch out ideas that he just might use for something great. What he’s really doing is playing in a fertile ball pit of creativity after getting cranked on the high-fructose corn syrup of a McDonald’s soda fountain. He was already mucking about with collages and found photo’s and alternative cameras in the real world, the iphone just lets him do it on the subway, and since this play helps him make great work I say more power too him.

I was just arguing with Sam about the preceding 2 pictures leading to the next one, he say’s theres no connection, and its his work after all, but I think all these images he is constantly making are swirling around his brain and lead up to his new drip work which I love

 Also its a (taste)free country, those chumps were always going to make horrible pictures and all the simulated tilt shifts in the world will never change that and it shouldn’t bother me. Any camera can take a good picture, I just think that people should use the unique properties of the format.

 For example, the infinite depth of field of small sensors opens up new horizons, adding blur to fake the look of larger formats is akin to the heavy handed soft focus gum bichromate pictorialism that aped painting to legitimize photography as an art in the 19th century. Yes you can get good results, but you are not going to find anything new with your futuristic gear, so whats the point of having it? All arguing aside I just hope I can keep cranking film through my old fuddy duddy camera right alongside all the 3d lytro light field foveon sensor 41 megapixel wunderphones for a few more years.