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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sheri Lynn Behr-NoSafeDistance

Sheri Lynn Behr's work is eclectic, a career that has evolved over the years. Her most recent project, NoSafeDistance challenges our ideas of private and public existence. There are important questions being asked here, and the work forces us into realizing that we are all on show no matter where we are.

As Sheri says, "Today we live in a post-privacy world, an image-obsessed society where cameras are everywhere. With or without our knowledge, we are being photographed several times a day."

This invasion of our privacy has taken place without our implicit permission, and yet I know I still cling to a desire to stay private, even when I'm outside. By facing this dichotomy straight on, Behr's photos force us to acknowledge that we have no control of how we are viewed anymore.

"By cropping and enlarging the faces, which are often distorted by the window's reflections, and by removing the context, there is a certain ambiguity created. The images can reference mug shots, identity cards, missing persons, even paparazzi celebrity captures. More closely they resemble surveillance photos, which is what they really are. They are meant to challenge our expectations of anonymity and privacy."

Tell me about No Safe Distance. How did it come about? How do people react to you?
started in Chinatown. When I’d photograph into a store window, some people would turn away and hide, and others would smile and pose. And of course, the issues of immigration, terrorism, surveillance and privacy have really become important. What are the expectations of privacy when you are in a space with a large glass window to the street, and everyone seems to have a camera? How do you react when a stranger’s camera is pointed at you?

I’ve been shooting this project in big cities like NY and LA, and in small towns in New Jersey. I’d like to shoot more in other places, hopefully soon, both single images, and series of photos that track the subject’s reaction to the camera.

And no, no one has come out after me.

You seems to have a fascination with Chinatown communities—your book Lucky Cats speaks to that. How did that come about?
In 2004 I started a day job in a school in Chinatown that was supposed to last 2 months. I’m still picking up the occasional part time job there, in part because I’m still shooting there. As I said earlier, I have a need to take pictures when I’m somewhere new, and I photograph a place until I come to terms with it. I’ve created a number of Chinatown portfolios, but I’m still not finished there. It continues to surprise me.

The Lucky Cats project started in Chinatown, but it has moved beyond it to other places and taken on a life of its own. Part of the fascination for me in the beginning was that despite being in shop windows all over Chinatown, Lucky Cats are actually Japanese. In a way, they became a metaphor for the kind of photography I do.

Tell us how you came to photography
I come from a family that took a lot of snapshots and home movies. My mom had a lot of photo albums. I think the earliest pictures I took myself are from when I went off to camp at 14. They were the start of my need to take pictures when I was somewhere other than home. Later on, when I started taking photography classes after college, I realized how much I just wanted to be taking pictures, looking at pictures. All the time. So I do.

Who influenced you? Whose work do you admire?
The list is endless. It probably starts with Edward Weston’s peppers. How such a mundane object can look so beautiful. I just saw one at AIPAD that I had never seen before and found I could still be amazed by them.

These days, I’m really very eclectic in my tastes, and I appreciate so much of what I see, old and new. Eggleston, who I didn’t like much at the beginning, but whose work I’ve grown to love. Lucas Samaras’ manipulated Polaroids. Lately, I’ve been really loving the work of Michael Wolf, Jeff Brouws and Phil Toledano.

You spent many years photographing music. How did that come about? When I was taking classes I wanted to keep photographing for myself and not just for class. I didn’t want to do street photography, so I started shooting concerts. It was much, much easier back then.

One day I tried to get into a sold-out concert in Central Park with my camera around my neck, and ended up meeting the record company’s publicist. He let us in, but also asked if I had a portfolio, which I had been putting together. He gave me my first official photo pass to see the Jefferson Starship in Central Park. Shooting backstage, on stage and at the party afterward was just amazing. I definitely wanted to do more.

What made you leave that?
The music business was changing, and some of my favorite places to shoot were closing down. And bands like the Police (who I had photographed a few years earlier at the Hotel Diplomat in Times Square with maybe 50 people in the audience) were suddenly asking for the right to approve all photographs. That’s unfortunately pretty common now, with artists like Lady Gaga trying to own the photographer’s copyright. But it was pretty rare at that time.

Also, I had just started working with a Polaroid SX-70. I liked what I was getting from that camera, and I was really tired of using my tiny bathroom as a darkroom. It was really time to do something new. I love getting new cameras, new technology, it always has an impact on my work.

What are you working on these days?

As usual, I’m juggling several projects. I’ve been scanning and printing the rock and roll, trying to get it out in the world again (a photo of Deborah Harry of Blondie was auctioned off for Housing Works at their yearly benefit in May), I’m writing a blog so I can get the stories written, and eventually, I’d like to do a book and have another exhibition of the work.

The Lucky Cats is at a new gallery space in LA now, and I’ve been showing NoSafeDistance at portfolio reviews and online. And one day, I will get the Chinatown project edited and finished, whatever that means. My motto is not enough hours in the day, not enough days in the week.

In terms of business, I’ve always made sure to always have some kind of day job, because I never wanted to have to depend on photography to support me. When it came close to that, and I had the opportunity to do rock and roll photography full time, I realized I didn’t want to lose the passion in the need for a paycheck.

What is the best/worst thing you’ve seen (heard, thought, etc) recently? Don’t get me started on crowd sourcing.

What else do you want to tell us? Photography can be a journey, not just a job. Explore, experiment and see where it takes you. And enjoy the ride.

If you're in LA, be sure to go to the Artist Reception/Book Signing for "Lucky Cats-To Bring In The Money" on Saturday,June 25 at No Roses Gallery, 13624 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks from 6pm - 9pm.

Check out more of Sheri's work here:
Lucky Cats
NoSafeDistance and the Chinatown projects

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tonight In Photoland

There's lots happening tonight, Thursday, so let me run down some standout events. Time to get your photo strut on!

Jill Greenberg has two bodies of work, "Glass Ceiling" & "Horses" opening at Clampart 521 – 531 West 25th Street, Ground Floor NYC from 6pm - 8pm.

Consider purchasing a ticket here to support NYC Salt, and help raise money to continue this program of helping high school students through photography. There will be fantastic food, music, wine and a chance to buy the student's work. At NEO Studios, 628 Broadway at W. Houston 4th floor from 7pm - 11pm. Tickets are $50 at the door, and tax-deductible.

Exhibition opening and Japan Benefit Print Auction at Calumet 22 W. 22nd Street 5pm - 8pm. Here's a chance to see some wonderful work and contribute money towards Japan's earthquake relief.

The SVA MFA Thesis show opens tonight at their Visual Arts Gallery 601 W. 26th St. 15th fl.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is a Time for Creativity

I’m back home after the Flash Forward festival in Boston, and I thought I’d talk about inspiration and innovation rather than write an account of the final panel on “The Future of Photobooks.” The photobooks panel is on Flak Photo's Vimeo so if you missed it last week you can watch it there. I don't need go in to detail about it.

But I do want to talk about the whole concept of the photo book. It seems that people cannot get over the old paradigm that “book” and “gallery” somehow make you more important, or will validate you as a professional. Can’t you see that isn’t true anymore? What might have been two of the stepping-stones towards professional accolades and esteem is no longer a sure thing.

Photo books were never moneymaking ventures for publishers as few people buy them. But for the creative person, it did elevate you to a level of importance, because why else would a publisher put out your work (if it wasn’t valuable)? But just like the fact that people are expected to work for free, and making a living as an editorial photographer is harder than ever, things have changed. And isn’t that obvious?

We live in an amazing time of opportunity, where a person can take much more control over the direction of their life and their career. So instead of thinking that change is bad, try thinking that change is the best thing that could ever happen to you.

More and more photographers are publishing their own books, reaching out and growing an audience for their work and ideas. Instead of waiting for someone else to do everything, photographers all over the world are making a direct impact. And that’s what real creativity is like. It burns so hot that you have to find an outlet for it. So you do it yourself.

I find myself drawn to those who keep moving forward, blazing new paths for themselves and for the rest of us. Photographers are shaping the world of photography right now. Not magazines, or newspapers or any other old media. Through crowd funding projects, self-publishing, creating new methods of collaboration between corporations and photographers, or NGOs and photographers, the way is being lit for all of us. But you have to want to be a part of that.

Many photographers are floundering, unable to let go of what they once thought to embrace what is. The result is frustration, panic and simply depression. I can understand that. When the earth beneath you shifts, and all you expected and planned for falls away, or changes, it is hard to regroup. But I have found that moving forward is the only answer.

It is no longer necessary to exist in a bubble of your own making. Collaboration seems more possible than ever, and the smartest solution to the situation today. If I don’t know how to do something, I can find someone who does know, and will maybe join with me. If I have an idea I need to flesh out, there are people out there I can talk to. Here’s how you can use social media: put your questions and concerns out before the international world on the Internet, and see what happens.

I have always had to steer my own ship, whether by choice or necessity. But the older I get, the more I realize that choosing my direction and not just doing what’s expected is part of my DNA. And so, rather than bemoaning the way things turned out for myself, I have seized the opportunity to be even more creative in my life.

As a photographer, you choose to work in a creative field. But I wonder if there are some who don’t realize that it is just that creativity that should set them free. You don’t have to go to school, get a job, and settle into your life. You can do and try anything these days, because the boundaries have fallen.

We are all experimenting right now. Or we all should be. The steps that might have led to a comfortable career are fading, and if you’re waiting for the dust to settle, and someone else to determine what’s next, I’m afraid you’ll find it too late for you. I want to be shaping whatever is to come next. That to me is the real creativity.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Currency Is Ideas and Imagination

Stephen Mayes of VII Photo Agency considers himself a dreamer, and an optimist (or as he said, an optimist is really a pessimist who just doesn't have all the facts). I think he is a forward thinker who has a point of view I fully agree with.

Today is changing our relationship with information due in part to the Internet. But photography itself is changing. Because of the technical shift from film to pixel we have shifted from the "fixed" to the fluidity of the image. Pixels are malleable and fundamentally fluid. There is no reality there, it's just your choices. Digital lives online, so the context changes all the time--at no point is it static. And so we have to redefine ourselves and out practices.

"This is a moment of invention rather than dismay," says Mayes. "We have to rethink what we do and how we do it. There is still value in the image, we just haven't figured out how to monetize it."

Mayes spoke about how we are part of a streaming culture now which is different from what what he calls the "unit concept" (essentially the unit is an image printed). But hanging on to old constructs like getting a magazine assignment, or getting into advertising is holding photographers back. Now is not the time to guard your property (your images), but to share.

Now that might seem like heresy to many photographers, but Mayes talks about how VII has partnered with Doctors Without Borders and LG to shoot and promote the idea of malnutrition. By partnering and sharing strengths, the possibilities of what their photographers could do was enhanced. By building on the idea of integrity, which VII photographers and the agency can claim as their brand, there was value for both of those others to partner and create something new.

Mayes spoke about something I believe fervently, that large organizations or companies (in this case examples like Time magazine, The New York Times, etc.) are actually obstacles in that they shape the work done for them, and thus the photographer has to conform. He believes it is better to be small than big because you are more fluid than big media is. You can easily create new ways of promoting your work and ideas and can be more mobile than they can.

Because there is an infinity of distribution opportunities, the currency is ideas and imagination.

The old thinking of how to drive viewers to your website is slow and expensive. By being a publisher (which is what VII is, and what individual photographers are) rather than a supplier (working in the old model of photography) you can attract partners in a much different way. Trying to replace one monolith--advertising based photography--with another monolith won't happen. He advises photographers to think expansively and take risks. "The bigger risk is standing still, locking yourself into the old system," Mayes said.

I couldn't agree more.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Flash Forward Day One

Last night's reception was a chance for people to meet before heading to the Group Show exhibition opening. We were welcomed by MaryAnn Camilleri, the festival director. There was great finger food and a chance to meet my fellow panelist Chris Churchill. Also talked to Paula Tognarelli of the Griffin Museum (which I hope to visit on Saturday), and Andy Adams.

Then it was upstairs to see the Eye Buy Art exhibit, where I listened to photographers Georgie Friedman, Robert Watermeyer, and Marc Dimov talk about their work. Most of the prints were selling for $50, which prompted a discussion among Chris, Kristina Feliciano and I about how were photographers going to make a living selling prints if prints were being priced so low all over. Definitely a subject I intend to talk about more. is the sister organization to Flash Forward, selling limited-edition photos created by past and current Flash Forward winners. Saw a print of Gabriela Herman's work--a lovely photo and an unexpected surprise.

Marc Dimov has been photographing fish in silhouette, looking to bring attention to overfishing. He spent several years as the in-house photographer for Wild Edibles, and sees his work as,"making a simple photograph in order to suggest a bigger idea." His formal fish portraits have a classic sense to them, and I like his intent to create images about the effects of our eating habits on the environment.

Robert Watermeyer
, a South African photographer talked about two photographs from his series, "This Land," photographing the American West. He spoke of the "sublime splendor" he found, and said the project, "allows me to contribute something to the dialog of the American West."

Georgie Friedman showed her grid-based "Flight Series," which deals with the concept of time, in the flight progression of high-altitude balloons.

Then it was off to the group show in a large open space. It was well hung and featured interesting work by emerging photographers from the US, Canada and the UK--the raison d'etre of Flash Forward.

The work of Shanghoon Jeong of Canada, Indre Serpytyte and David Plummer of the UK really stood out for me.

Indre Serpytyte's work shows small black & white houses, like doll houses to represent "Former NKVD-MVD-MGB-KGB Buildings" and makes her comment on the political history of the Cold War. In 2007, the British Journal of Photography wrote about Serpytyte's work:

"Rather than representing the buildings themselves, or showing the inhabitants or victims directly, Serpytyte uses commissioned, hand-carved wooden models, based on archival research and site visits to comment on both the physical and humanitarian scale of the conflict and to enunciate the echo of the memory of the events as they have faded over time. The houses seem like cold corpses, sculptures symbolic of the empty spaces where their real selves once thrived, and where memories are slowly dying. They are sealed, containing their stories, and their entity becomes placeless."

The images are stark, small on a large, bland landscape and bloodless, even as they depict places where terribly bloody things occurred.

I loved the still life of a burning flower from Shanghoon Jeong. Turning something as beautiful as a flower into something dangerous and bordering on ugly intrigues me. Instead of the natural death, he incites it's death through fire.

David Plummer's work was a series of portraits of a man suffering from an incurable neurological disease. By photographing the man straight on, we see the slow and sometimes imperceptible paralyzing end. The subject's courage to be photographed is honored in the unsparing and unfussy way Plummer presents him to us.

There is a lot of good work there, and if you're in the area I encourage you to come by and see the work for yourself. I'm looking forward to the rest of the festival, and the panel I'm on tomorrow.

I'm going to keep blogging through Sunday, so come back and read more.

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Flash Forward comes to Boston

If you're in Boston or somewhere nearby, come to the Flash Forward festival today through Sunday. I'm on my way there today, traveling by train with Kristina Feliciano, the blogger of Stockland Martel's fabulous photo blog

We're on a Friday afternoon panel, Cut through the Noise: Smart Marketing Strategies for Photographers moderated by Alison Zavos of Feature Shoot.

I plan to be blogging from there, so stay tuned.

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