Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Dialects of Photography

Calculus was, more or less famously, invented twice. Both Newton and Leibniz invented something we can readily recognize as modern calculus, at more or less the same time. At the time, there was some discussion about whether someone had stolen the idea from someone else, but in hindsight it seems that this was simply an idea that was ready to be had. The relevant intellectual spadework had been done, appropriate questions were in play, and all that was needed was one or more people with the right sort of minds to have the right perceptions.

Calculus is, according to this interpretation, simply a natural product of the intellectual mixture that was going on in Europe at that time. It could not happen without a few hundred years of fairly specific spadework, but when that was done its discovery was more or less inevitable.

Painting, on the other hand, seems to require no such underlying spadework. What is necessary is something that is colorful and sticky. Drawing requires only something that will make a mark on something else. Dance and song require only a more or less functional body. Poetry requires a spoken language, but once you have that you'are pretty much off to the races. Sculpture is only slightly more complicated.

For this reason, all these artistic disciplines have arisen, over and over, for millennia. When a people is smashed down to the bare basics of survival, they may lose their art, perhaps completely, perhaps only in part. But, having migrated to a more congenial location, they re-invent it all over again, because the human urge to create remains, and goo which is both colorful and sticky is pretty easy to come up with.

This, together with the simple passage of those millennia, has led to endless iterations of regional art, of ethnic art, of religious art. Many peoples paint, or sculpt, or dance. All different, all distinctive.

Photography occupies a perhaps unique territory between calculus and painting.

One cannot simply invent photography out of nothing, or nearly nothing, the way one can re-invent painting. Photography cannot come into existence without a functioning chemical industry. One might be able to continue photography performing all the chemical synthesis in your basement, but one cannot invent it from scratch without access to a lot of different things to try out, which means that you've got to be able to order sodium thiosulfate in reasonably pure form by the bottle. Or at any rate some chemical precursors to it.

To create a functioning chemical industry, you need a lot of intellectual spade work, and a particular shape to your society. When all that is in place, like calculus, photography simply arises, and is invented several times by several people all, notably, in essentially the same area of the world. Talbot and Daguerre and all their friends existed in essentially the same social circles, in the same society, with access to the same materials and ideas, at least if you squint a bit. The world was ready, the questions were in play, and in due course suitably inspired and lucky minds were produced to do their thing.

As a consequence of this, photography as a process, and as a cultural phenomenon, grows from a single root. Unlike painting, unlike dance, unlike song, drawing, poetry, and so on.

While there is a lot of art that is distinctly Chinese, African, Indian, there is no ethnic Calculus. There is only Calculus. I suppose one might suggest that there is a Malian or Ethiopian Calculus, and in the woolly wilds of the academy, someone probably has. But, it's not true. There is calculus as performed by Malians, to be certain, and they may have introduced some notations or terminology that makes it more accessible, but it is still calculus. Calculus comes from a single root.

This is, by the way, not to suggest that Chinese (etcetera) culture is inferior, it simply wasn't the right mixture to produce Photography, or Calculus. I am given to understand that they produced a lot of things, presumably many things which were the inevitable results of the cultural, intellectual, scientific mixture that was in operation there, waiting only for the birth and education of one or more Chinese people with the right kinds of minds, people who were duly produced to do their thing.

A consequence of this is that there is no such thing as Sri Lankan photography, at least not in the sense that there is Sri Lankan dance, or poetry. There cannot reasonably be a Sri Lankan photography. Photographers in Sri Lanka learned their craft from, ultimately, someone outside of Sri Lanka, who learned from someone else, in an unbroken chain back to the single root from which springs photography less than 200 years ago.

All of us who photograph, have a more or less unbroken chain of reference, influence, knowledge, back to a small group of essentially interchangeble dudes living in the Anglo-French region in about 1840. We all spring from a single root, we are leaves of a single branching vine that is something like 180 years old.

Another consideration is the globalization of media, a phenomenon in which photography plays a major role. Indeed, the photograph, easily reproduced and distributed, was arguably in the van here. To a large extent, we all see the same photographs, we all have the same influences. Not, of course, entirely, but to a meaningful degree.

There are white grizzly bears (a species that is normally brown), which are not albino. There are some facts about genetics that can be rolled out, but you can look those up. What matters is that there are some isolated islands in which these bears are more or less common. By walling off a species into an isolated habitat, you bring out recessive genes. If memory serves, this has been suggested as a core mechanism behind speciation, the creation of new species of life: split the population, and prevent cross-fertilization for a long long time.

In the fine arts this same thing obviously occurs. It is not necessary, really, to re-create painting from scratch. It is only necessary that a tribe be divided, separated, and prevented from communicating for some period of time. If both sides paint, divergent and regionally distinctive painting styles will emerge.

Modern globalized media specifically prevents this from happening.

Not only is photography derived from a single root, but by its own nature and action it has helped bring into existence a culture in which regional, ethnic, religious influences can not, will not, generate distinctive dialects. There is simply too much cross-fertilization.

There will be for the forseeable future, no "natural" divergence, no "natural" arising of differing photographic languages. There is no Malaysian photography, and there never will be. The mechanisms are simply not present for such a thing to occur.

None of this means, of course, that there are no dialects. Far from it.

What it means is that dialect forming is voluntary. Rather than having our influences, our antecedents, limited by circumstance and fate, they are limited almost entirely by our own choices. We choose what pictures to look at, we choose which pundits and critics to attend to, we choose what to admire and what to spurn. Dialect-forming is now as much social as it it anything else. We make pictures that look like pictures made by people we agree with, that we hang out with, that we like.

We might select our photographic group, and thus our dialect, based on social preferences, professional preferences, or perhaps simply on some indefinable "I like those pictures" criterion. Surely our equipment and tendencies will dictate to a degree, if we lack either funds or a fondness for fiddling with mechanical bits, we're unlikely to align ourselves with the macro photography crowd -- unless our best friend is a member, or we really really like bugs.

Regardless of mechanism, it is manifest that affinity groups do arise, and they do produce collective bodies of work that look kind of similar. Because the associations are voluntary, usually more or less conscious, nobody is actually walled off from other dialects. Cross-fertilization will necessarily occur, and often will be fought against viciously, leading to schisms and so on. The usual social detritus of more or less voluntary social organizations occurs. It would not have occurred to an 18th century Central African sculptor to rail against the Chinese ideas, because those ideas simply were not in play. China's sculptors and the sculptors of Central Africa were more or less completely isolated from one another at that time. While the African might have railed against that young man down the road who was doing that weird thing with noses, both artists were working firmly within an established regional (involuntary) dialect of sculpture.

Therefore, in this modern age we do still have dialects of photography, but they are voluntary, not an inevitable product of circumstance. They are not based in region, ethnicity, or religion particularly. It is important, I think, to keep this in mind when discussing them.

A dialect of photography is fundamentally different from a dialect of, say, traditional dance, and should not be treated the same way.

What is not immediately clear to me is what the consequences of this, if any, are. What differences does it make, whether a "language" of art be derived from tradition, from the inevitable vagaries of circumstance, rather than a voluntarily constructed set of ideas, consciously designed to represent something?

I have, I think, more to say on this but have rambled on long enough here.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kleinstadt

My ideas about this book from the Mahlers are somewhat up in the air, see the comments on the previous thread for a lively, if not terribly conclusive, discussion!

It comes does to this. I cannot shake the impression that the young women in this photograph


Photo by Ute & Werner Mahler


have been made to look like provincial rubes, on purpose.

From that starting point I am now unsure where to go, and what to make of it. But that starting point remains, for me, unshakeable.

ETA: I continue to struggle to make sense of what I see, in the light of comments! Thank you all!

What I see is beautiful but awkward young women, painfully, self-consciously, aware of both. They're putting out quite a lot of effort to look, well, like something. The makeup and hair are thoroughly finished, as are the outfits, but the overall effect is cheap and ill-done. They look like they are trying to be fashionable, but are not. The clutch purses strike me, somehow, as a desperate and therefore pathetic attempt at sophistication. I don't know if everyone follows me this far, but I feel like it's not much of a stretch?

Is there something of "stupid small town girls" in here? Or is this really just the archetype of the 19 year old woman everywhere that western culture touches?

This is where I part ways, I think. I feel that a Berliner or a New Yorker or even a Chicago girl might miss the mark, but somehow differently. They might make more sophisticated clothing choices, but I feel like whatever they did they would wear it with more... bravado, maybe.

And then, of course, I feel like this difference -- which perhaps I am imagining entirely -- is the point of the picture, the deliberate slight offered to these two kids.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Consider The Nazi

Indeed, consider him. It's usually a him. No, not the efficient cog in the late 1930s horror machine based in Germany, I mean the essentially powerless portly fellow with the swastika tattoo and the bizarre opinions about Jews.

He holds some odious opinions. Opinions which, even in this post-God postmodern era without those firm nails of divine judgement and moral certainty upon which to hang my rhetoric, I could argue cogently are evil, wrong, opinions. Let us anyways stipulate that Nazi-ism is not merely stupid but objectively wrong.

Still, the Nazi is a human being and as such agrees with me on many points. Do we want a warm place to sleep tonight? Yes. Enough to eat? Assuredly. Do we want the same for our friends and loved ones? Of course. Do we like fried foods? Probably. Beer? Likely. And on and on. The Nazi is a fully three-dimensional human, and in the same way we share DNA with our hairy cousins the apes, he and I (and by implication, he and you) share an immense amount of stuff. Banal, human, stuff.

Being human, the Nazi has within him the capacity for change and could, at least hypothetically, alter his (again, thoroughly odious) opinion on Jews some day.

I do not intend to apologize for his odious beliefs, nor to rationalize them. They are odious. But he, he is human.

Let us now examine Jörg Colberg's most recent review. I don't have the book, I don't know what the book really says, I have no opinion. I have perused the publisher's advert, which you can as well. So, what I know, is Jörg's position on the book, and also the way the publisher is pitching the book.

Now, Colberg's discussion is something to behold. While there's a little more to it, he casts this book as a Lovecraftian story about Small Town Germany, referring more than once to a sort of hidden underlying horror and dread that characterizes, if not actual small towns, at any rate the Mahler's vision of small towns. Small towns which, according to the thumbnail bio Colberg offers us in this piece, he appears to have precisely no experience with.

Having lived in some small towns in America, I can report that I at any rate never actually was aware of any such lurking horrors. But perhaps Germany has a Cthulu or a Shub-Niggurath slumbering under every town with a population in the range of 5,000 to 20,000 souls. I confess myself doubtful.

The publisher's pitch provides us with an unrelentingly depressing series of pictures which, to my eye, do not support Colberg's hidden horrors, but do support the idea of the young people as a kind of freak show. I do not see how to read the picture of the two girls with their clutches as anything other than pathetic, as rubes out of place in their home, but equally doomed to be out of place anywhere their cute clutch purses would fit in.

Not that anyone who's in these pictures is likely to read Colberg's review, or to flip through the publisher's slide show. A few might see the book, which might itself support or not the ideas that appear on the web. It's possible that they would be distracted by the pictures of themselves enough to not notice, even if the book does indeed expound these self-same themes.

I do not see any way to understand Colberg's remarks, or the publisher's position of this book, in a way that is particularly flattering to the people in the book. There is, probably, some truth in the book. But it is not a full truth. There are almost no circumstances in which people do not, from time to time, laugh. Surely small town Germany has more hope and more joy in it than we are led to believe? Surely these small town rubes are fully three dimensional human beings, rather more like us than different from us?

Colberg's review of the book, and the publisher's pitch on the book, both characterize this book as one which fundamentally declines to offer up its subjects as fully human. I am inclined to suspect that the book does, in fact, offer us up caricatures, a litany of two-dimensional (or less) freaks and rubes. It's certainly the chic thing to do. If you want a book deal, you'd better pin all your pictures to the wall, and throw out all the ones with someone smiling.

While there is more to it than simply this, Colberg and the publisher (and maybe the Mahlers as well) are offering up the rural and small town people of Germany yet another tiny insult, another in an endless barrage of small cuts offered by the self-styled urban sophisticates to those who have not been able to "escape" from the "lurking horror" of not being a cool Berliner in cool Berliner clothing drinking cool Berliner cocktails in a cool Berlin club playing very loud, but cool, Berliner music.

Is it any wonder, really, that when the jovial fellow from Alternative für Deutschland turns up with his brochure full of horrendous ideas, there these people look at the brochure with some interest?

"The Jews, you say? What's exactly is a Jew, anyways?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Off Topic

Jen, who is a friend of ours, and an awesome cool theater nerd married to Brian who told me everything I know about the inner workings of art museums, had a stroke. Which sucks. There are expenses.

So, there's a gofundme campaign.

To be honest, I don't particularly expect any of my tiny band of readers to contribute anything, and that is perfectly OK. But maybe you know someone who has a Thing about strokes, or is wealthy and looking for an opportunity to place a few bucks in the hands of some decent people, or whatever. If you do, it would be lovely if you passed the link on.

That is all!

UPDATE: I am humbled. Thank you to all of you. If you put up with my writing, you have already earned my affection, but I was startled, delighted, and deeply touched that some of you also are willing to give money to some strangers in need. Thank you.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Synergy II

Normally I eschew discussion of technique because, honestly, I am not a brilliant technician. I muddle my way through things.

But, here's an example of some ideas colliding in my brain.

A common thing that happens on the Internet where n00bs appear is that a n00b shows up with a need to take some photographs of products. His girlfriend is making artisanal crack pipes or something, and he has foolishly agreed to do her web site. He's got some setup and he's not happy with the results.

At some point some lighting hero will point him to a book or two, to the strobist web site, and someone will explain that you can't do product photography with continuous lights, you need to use strobes, because you need power to freeze that stationary crack pipe apparently.

Another pretty common problem that arises for n00bs as well as not-so-n00bs is shooting glass or reflective objects because, well, the reflections. This is legit hard, because you have to manage the reflections and not get a picture of your camera and a bunch of lights. You end up encasing everything in black material, and then using strip lighting or whatever to try to get highlights that reveal shape, and then you have to play games so your strip lights or reflectors don't end up reflected obviously, and then there's your camera reflected there too, arrrg.

So, obviously, anyone who isn't an idiot knows you can shoot product with continuous lighting, in fact in damn near total darkness if you have a tripod. Products don't move. You just have to use very long exposures. At this point, it popped into my head that you could use light painting methods to make the problems of shooting glass a lot easier. When you move the light around, it's not going to turn up as a sharp reflection of a light, it's just going to be a highlight; and if the room is basically pitch black to start with there's a lot less stray bullshit getting reflected (like YOU and like YOUR CAMERA).

So I hung up some black horse blankets, wiped down a bud vase, and busted out a flashlight. After a couple minutes of experimenting, and watching what was happening, I bounced the flashlight obliquely off a large chunk of paper to create a vertical strip of light, pointing the flashlight up so the spill would come back down off the ceiling. Then I used a 6 second exposure so I could waggle the paper around, to conceal, in the reflection, the nature of my ghetto "strip light." With a little experimenting you can create pretty much whatever pattern of highlights you want, and there was enough spill to light up the rest of the glass.

While it was not pitch black in there, it was pretty damn dark.

I did end up with a very slight reflection of the camera (I think?) which I burned down when I cleaned up the glass a little. Start to finish, 30 minutes, including ironing the black fabric under the vase. In addition to minor cleanup cited, +1/3 EV in post, to render the support slightly visible.



Synergy

I have opined once or twice here and there that "female gaze" theory may be tending to place female photographers into a fairly narrow box. While men are expected to do whatever the hell they want, women are to one degree or another find some "female angle" or to roll out some "female" tropes. This is eerily reminiscent of the early 20th century when women could certainly work as photographers, but were expected to take pictures of soap and so on. The revolution then was when women ditched these "female gaze" kinds of things and just shot what they wanted.

Anyways, this, and the rest of the narrow and weird little world of MFA Student Photography is not surprising at all. The academy moves, inexorably, from one fad to another. "What, you're a structuralist? We will have none of that, we only do post-structuralist things!"

Indeed, when I was a graduate student, I was cautioned that point-set topology was a discipline on the decline. Publishing was going to be hard, a career hard. I persisted anyways, and for a variety of reasons failed to make a career of it. As far as I know, nobody publishes papers in point-set topology any more, 25 years later.

But anyways, set that aside. One of the several basic ways to get fruitful results in mathematics is to take from other, sometimes moribund, disciplines. Sure, analytic number theory may be your bag, but sometimes what you need is a little graph theory. This is why mathematicians drink a lot together, and collaborate across disciplines quite a bit. Now, it's a little easier to hide your borrowed Impressionist ideas inside your Expressionist painting, so mathematicians tend to be pretty up-front about borrowings than I suspect artists are.

It is certainly true that simply randomly jamming two separate disciplines together only rarely produces a good result. Sometimes that's all you've got, so you smash them together and see what happens. Maybe you learn something, maybe not. Maybe you get an idea for something better to add into the mix. Sometimes you start with a clue about what another good ingredient might be, and you follow that up. No matter how you slice it, it's a bit his or miss.

I made a series of photographs of flowers, once, which I handled the way one might handle one of those "fine art nude" photos. These things have turned up on this blog now and then, and here's a couple more.




Are they successful? Well, nobody has offered to buy enormous prints of them, nor have I offered such for sale. I have won no awards, nor entered them in competition. Many of the pictures that resulted are very beautiful. This was the project that, in the end, convinced me that I would not find that which I sought in the studio. These pictures are pretty, maybe even witty, but they move me not in the least, they represent nothing I am interested in.

But it was a very interesting experience, and I think that applying these kinds of sensual tropes to flowers is a pretty good idea. I am simply not the man to make any sense of it. (Arguably Mapplethorpe was.) I think it's a good idea because our experience of flowers is essentially sensual, and in western society cut flowers are all caught up in our sexual politics.

Anyways, this has something to do with the Female Gaze tropes and MFA tropes I've been talking about.

These ideas are not terrible in and of themselves, although they are a bit limiting. It's not a terrible idea to go down a rathole for a while and explore the limits of said rathole. But, what is a good idea is to come back out after a while, and see if you can add something to the mix.

What did you learn down the rathole, and what might combine in interesting and fruitful ways with that? What ideas can you borrow or steal, to add to your sea of mopey women with 1000 yard stares, to make better art? Or at rate to make art that suits you better.

When your situation and career places you inside a narrow box, this is a way out.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"Firecrackers" - the MFA Crowd

There's a group, a kind of collective, I guess. It's some kind of organization which supports female photographers through grants, by showcasing their work, and maybe some kind of collective work. Anyways, you can poke around the web site here: Firecracker and try to sort it out yourself if you like.

To be clear, I think this is a fantastic mission, and I support it wholeheartedly.

My job, though, as I see it, it to point out not only what is good, but what is a bit dicey, what is true as I see it, setting my personal support aside. I ran into this outfit through a book, entitled Firecrackers, which is an in-print collection of women photographers. Available at good bookstores everywhere, I suppose? It's been an interesting read, and interesting look.

If, as I do, you make a studious effort to read the front matter, there's a good chance you'll make it through this one without giving up. The remarks are fairly short and not too turgid. A remark that caught my eye was that the editors sought to expand their reach beyond Europe (where Firecracker is centered) and include a more international group of women, without simply "box-ticking" which is a really commendable goal. Later, if one recalls this, one wonders "why on earth do all there pictures look the same?"

Which isn't quite fair, because there is a lot of breadth here. But there is also much sameness.

If you attend to the little introductory remarks for each photographer, one soon realizes why. While it is true that these women are from all over the place they have, for the most part, gotten some sort of BFA, MFA, or other degree in Art Photography from some western school, or they have won some sort of recognition from Magnum, that self-licking ice cream cone of photographic influence. This last makes sense when you realize that the founder of Firecracker worked at Magnum for a while.

At the moment the first artist featured on their web site is Raphaela Rosella, with a photo essay about women in a small town in Australia, where she grew up (if I am reading the text right). This women are First Nations (which I guess we used to call Aborigines?) and they are having a tough time. Racism and poverty is No Fun and shit be awful. You might, naively, think that since the artist grew up there that she is part of this community and photographing, as it were, from the inside. But no, as near as I can tell she's a white girl who went to Art School (BA Photography, Queensland College of Art) and a social worker.

Now, this is not an indictment of the work, far from it. The point, though, is that this artist as far as I can tell literally has more in common with me than with her subjects. Ms. Rosella, whatever her virtues, and despite growing up in a small town in Australia, is not substantively adding to the diversity of voices represented by Firecracker.

This is, in the end, a small and insular group of photographers. They all know each other, or at least know people who know people. They all either went to Art School in the 2000s, or hang around with people who did, or at the very least have been thoroughly vetted by people who did. So of course there is much sameness here.

This doesn't mean that it's bad. It's quite variable, and there are a couple of pieces in the book that I found excellent. Which, as always, means that you, and you, and also you, will probably find a few of the pieces excellent as well, and not necessarily the ones I did.

There are basically two things I want to talk about here, the first is a set of stylistic tics that turn up (and which you can see for yourself on the web site), and the second is the actual work in the actual book. So, at some point in what follows, I will switch gears. Try to pay attention so you don't miss it!

I have argued in the past that perhaps there is no such thing as a "female gaze" but rather only the absence of a "male gaze", and here I am, in a way, proven wrong. In fact the Art Schools of the west have constructed a kind of female gaze, in the form of a couple of tics that women can use to indicate that they are Serious About Women Stuff. Men could roll these things out too, but it would take a certain amount of courage to engage in such poaching, and I dare say the establishment would punish you savagely.

The first tic is: women staring neutrally. They may, and often do, stare at the camera, but optionally they can stare into space. If you lard your portfolio up with a whole bunch of these, then you can say anything you like about women's issues, and it will "read." You can talk about oppression, repression, empowerment, whatever you like. Since the faces are blank, serious, and maybe a little mopey, you can project any and all of these onto them.

I guess you can't say "it's awesome being a woman!" and have it read against a sea of depressed stares, but this is not a grant-winning message anyways. MFA students only make depressing photo essays. Well, the world is a kind of depressing place, I guess.

The key here is that there women are not having a good time, no smiles are allowed. Of the 110-120 odd photographs that include a female figure, maybe a dozen evince some evidence of having a good time. You can intermix these things with pictures of whatever. Maybe local objects and scenes that are related, maybe pictures of nothing, random roads, buildings, hands, a chair.

The second tic is: dress yourself up in costumes and place yourself in contexts that can be read as some sort of comment on feminine stuff. One dresses up in hijab made out of candy, another paints herself in various brightly colored settings, another poses in a honeymoon suite. Again, these can be read as whatever you want to say, as long as you (the model) make sure to maintain a neutral expression and posture, and deploy a good 1000 yard stare.

Now, probably only about half of the book consists of this stuff. And, to be fair, these are just tics and sometimes they work just fine.

It is only a matter of time before some male photographer drags out the first of these tics under a female, or gender-neutral, name, wins some stuff, and then is outed to the horror of all. Many will quickly delete a lot of tweets and say they knew all along.

Onwards to the book itself. The bit I liked the best deploys tic #1 in spades, made by Endia Beal (MFA, Yale). This is a series of portraits of young black women who are finishing school and preparing to enter the workforce. Beal has them dress and present themselves as "professional" and the results are both fascinating and disheartening. While a few of the women genuinely look professional, more than half are wearing very tight clothing with skirts that hit above the knee. Every single one of them looks great and at least half of them have no idea what to wear at the office.

It's a powerful commentary that unpacks in a bunch of ways if you're attentive. On the one hand, I am a hell of a lot more like their likely hiring managers than they are, and I would substantially mark down a lot of these young women purely on their clothing choices. Am I right or wrong? Not only does this make me despair for young, educated, black women, it (on the other hand) makes me question myself. What, exactly, is wrong with tight dresses with hems above the knee, eh? So, that's all good! Good work, Ms. Beal!

Another piece, by Katrin Koenning, which I radically did not like in this book, but which I recognized as something I'd talked about before. This illustrates the problem with books like Firecrackers. Koenning's piece has exactly zero chance of working if you don't give us most of the pictures. Nine pictures selected from the project completely loses the flow of light to dark to light to dark, it loses the fucking point. It comes across like a handful of junky snapshots of nothing, which is exactly what it is. If you chop my arm off, it's just meat. I get their desire to include her, because BA, Photography, Queensland College of Art, which appears to be one of the nexii from which Firecracker draws its people.

There's a glorious profile of a Russian weatherman living alone at 69 degrees north, shot I think in summer but with the perfect flavor of the light of northern winters. Just beautiful, emotionally evocative, etc. And none of the "female gaze" tropes whatsoever to muddy things up, just a tender, light, touch, the kind of thing that is, while gender neutral, perhaps more likely to be shot by women. The artist even allows him to look happy. (surely she didn't go to Art School?!! But she DID, ICP, New York. How?!! What?) I will go so far as to suggest that you look up Evgenia Arbugaeva, as her work is at the very least beautiful to look at.

And then there's a handful of tic #2 (the Cindy Sherman trope) which mostly don't work, because Cindy can act and these woman can't do anything except stare vacantly, as they have been trained to do in Art School or by their Art Schooled peers. There's a few other things that look like a bunch of junky snaps of nothing which could, I suppose, but broken fragments of better work like Koenning's, but to be honest the book does not motivate me to go find out. Which is sort of sad.

The "For Birds' Sake" work appears, as noted previously, in this book. I'm honestly not sure if I like it or not, but it's pure gender neuutral MFA material. If you look at the copy online, over here and scroll down a bit, you will find a picture of a dirt road.

This is classic MFA "documentary" style. This road means nothing, it could be anywhere. It's stuffed in there to provide evidence of the Serious Documentary Nature of the work, and perhaps also to provide some sort of visual cue. It could have been shot in North Carolina. It is unexplained. It's supposed to suggest... well, a road (or a hole, or a chair, or whatever) can suggest anything, isolated like this.

What makes this photo interesting is that someone involved in making the book decided to put a copy of it up front, facing the opening essays.

Now, I am prepared to admit that I might be missing something. But from where I sit, my tentatively formed opinion, is that this shot is a bunch of bullshit signifying nothing, and that very mystery is why the editors(?) chose to lead with it.

Duchamp's "Fountain" appeared to be nothing, but was in fact making a bold and powerful statement. This seems, over the last century, to have been converted by the mysterious alchemy of human stupidity and postmodernism, into the notion that anything and everything which appears to be nothing just might be something, and if someone is standing behind it mugging wildly, it probably is something.

Sometimes a road is just a road.