Archive for category: Artistic Tendencies

Flickr: Anatomy of a Long Photograph

21 Apr 2008
April 21, 2008

A series of “still” images from Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (Quicktime, 26 MB). Click to play.

Earlier this month flickr announced that short video clips could now be uploaded to the popular photo site. Some photo purists were skeptical, even spawning a huge “No Video on Flickr” group. After all, the sanctity of the best still images, rich in implied meaning, could be diluted by zillions 90 second video clips of someone’s keg party (and we already have other sites, like YouTube for that). Flickr said the ninety-second limit was to encourage “long photos.” There are contemporary videographers and filmmakers who have used video or film to create sublime still images: the best long photos. And one of my favorites is Godfrey Reggio.

I will never forget the first time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Reggio’s 1983 film about contemporary “life out of balance.” I was mesmerized by his long drawn out shots. It gave me time to study the scene and, in part, that was the point: to stop moving and consider the consequences of going through life at an increasing interstellar speed. Sometimes there was lots of activity in the frame. But there were times when he pointed his camera at a scene that, on first glance, appeared to be a photograph. It was a still image with all the implications connected with still photography: observations of a slice of frozen time and a consideration of the photographer’s framing and associations within that frame.

Yet given the chance to observe closely there was movement. The characters in this “still” were breathing and blicking and moving. When I saw his scene of Las Vegas waitresses standing still but not still, I was blown away (the vernacular I used in the early 80s when I first saw the film). To this day it is my most favorite scene of any movie I have ever watched. I literally held my breath for its entire duration wondering how long it would go on. The intensity of that shot was immense. It forced me to really look. And that has always been my goal as a photographer: to make people observe what’s going on inside my images for as long as I can. That is the mark of a successful photograph. Not so easy in a culture heavy with daily sound and sight bites always vying for our attention and beckoning us to move quickly from one to another.

Life precariously balanced on a fulcrum. Las Vegas Waitresses is the best long photograph I have ever seen. I could watch those women stand still forever.

Scrolling Through My Photos the iTunes Way

06 Apr 2008
April 6, 2008
Slide Show from In Our Path

Jukebox Photo Gallery Slide Show at In Our Path

If you are familiar with iTunes’ Jukebox Cover Flow (the ability to scroll through your playlist album covers) you might get a kick out of the “cover flow” slide show I’ve just created with my In Our Path photographs. You can use the scrollbar or your cursor to flip through the entire portfolio. And if you double-click on an image it takes you to the photo’s object page with a larger image and accompanying text. It’s a nice way of presenting the work as a whole and it’s techno-kewl!

In Our Path, a Photo Documentary

23 Mar 2008
March 23, 2008
In Our Path screenshot

The new and improved In Our Path

In the 1980s and 1990s I photographed a swath of Southern California real estate that was to become the Century Freeway, or as it’s more commonly called by commuters, I-105. Running east from LAX, this was to be “the last freeway” to be built as part of the state’s master plan for the region (although there were many additional freeways proposed and many where completion was still in limbo).

In Our Path marked a big change in the type of photographs I made and how I approached the intersection of art and culture. Up until this time my images had focused on an internal exploration of myself. But from this point forward my work would always be linked more directly with social issues. And since that time I have tried to find a balance between the social, the personal, and the aesthetic.

After the completion of this work I created a Web site for this documentary. But, designed in the “Jurassic Web Design Period” of the mid 1990s, it was starting to show its age. And with The Huntington Library’s recent acquisition of the series, along with an exhibition that this work will be a part of this coming June, This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in L.A. Photographs, I thought it was time for a site facelift.

You can read about the complexity of this large public project (a court injunction filed by homeowners, the NAACP, and the Sierra Club stopped construction for seven years) and the genesis of my images starting on the site’s Introduction page. But most of all, I hope you enjoy the photographs.

Ready for a Change

16 Mar 2008
March 16, 2008
Scene of a snow covered car with text: When I turned 35 I could say two things: I hate late winter and I hate late Abstract Expressionism.

Jeff Gates, From a Series of One Acts… #7, 1987. Click on image for larger view.

I’ve been digitizing many of my film-based photographs from the last century. And using Photoshop to place text on an image is soooo much easier than doing it the old fashioned way, entirely in the darkroom.

Looking at this older work I pause to reflect on my younger days. When I was thirty-five I was impetuous. I don’t hate late Abstract Expressionism. But with the world as it is now, the power of the image is too important and powerful not use it to for social and political change.

Ok, I’m still a little impetuous, but more realistic and apprehensive about the global state of affairs these days. I can’t wait for spring.

Mary P, His Wife

24 Feb 2008
February 24, 2008
Tombstones with one stating: Mary P, His Wife

Jeff Gates, From a Series of One Acts… #2, 1986. Click on image for larger view.

One of my photographs is part of an exhibition opening this week at the Baltimore Museum of Art entitled Notes on Monumentality. The show “…reconsiders historic and contemporary conceptions of the monument and monumentality…” Through the work curator Mark Alice Durant asks “Can the idea of the monument continue in an era when social consensus no longer exists?”

The photograph above was taken in the national cemetery at Gettysburg. I was walking along the rows of soldiers’ tombstones when I turned and looked the other way to see this inscription on the back of a headstone. I thought it was a telling example of the way women are often conveyed in our society: as an appendage to their husbands. My wife and I were shocked a few years ago when at a reception after a museum talk I gave at another institution she was handed a name tag that said “Susie Krasnican Wife of Jeff Gates.” (The name tag still is pinned to our kitchen bulletin board.)

I didn’t realize my photograph was to be part of the show until I got an email from the museum’s rights and reproduction staff asking me to sign a non-exclusive license to use the image both on the show’s brochure cover as well as represent the exhibit as one of its key images. A key image is one that is used when the media requests a photo to accompany reviews or articles about the show. Working in an art museum myself I participate in meetings to pick key images for each of our exhibitions. So it was an added surprise to have my photograph used in this way.

If you’re in the Baltimore vicinity stop by and see the show. It’s up until May 25, 2008. And bring your husband.

Upgrading the DC Metro’s Identity

13 Jan 2008
January 13, 2008
Metro logo treatment

When DC’s Metro unveiled a new concept car last week this logo identity mysteriously appeared. Local officials first billed DC’s proposed transit system as “America’s” subway when it went to Congress for financial backing.

Last week the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) unveiled designs for new subway cars that could make their appearance as early as 2013. Here in DC we’ve been debating seating designs for years. Should we continue with the traditional 2×2 seats? Or should we use more bench seating like New York City’s system, which would allow for greater passenger capacity? The debate continues. Of greater interest these days is the new higher fares when the on-time service has dramatically deteriorated.

However important these issues are, they paled by comparison when I spied a new Metro logo on the side of the new car rendering in the Washington Post. A leaner and more efficient system is one thing; an ugly logo representing it is quite another. No mention of the new identity appeared in news reports nor on the WMATA site. But even if this display was meant only for sketchy purposes, I’d like to nip this graphic in the bud. Even as a concept it’s ugly. I wince every time I look at it.

Using Metro’s present brown-boxed logo as the “M” within the word “America’s” completely undoes the unity of the text. Your eye just stops at the dark rectangle. I don’t know what font they used for the rest of the word but it’s clear its designer never meant it to be used in all caps. In addition, the font is serif while the logo’s “M” is san-serif. Mixing the two styles should be left to a professional (if at all). This logo treatment looks like a bureaucrat did it. A type treatment for DC’s subway should convey a sense of strength, reliability, and speed. It should also reflect the elegance the system’s architecture conveys. This font is too casual and lackadaisical. And it only reinforces the perception that our subway is falling apart with no clear vision of its future.

I have always been mystified with the system’s identity. The ugly brown color used on all station identity is hard to see on the pylons at street level. It’s present logo, a big and bold san-serif “M” looks uninspiring and, I might add, like the system is standing still. I understand the desire for the “M” to stand out and be seen on the street, but surely there is a font that would convey a sense of style as well. There is no sense of movement implied by this treatment. With its mechanical breakdowns, most of us Metro riders would say this indeed represents the Metro today.

a logo comparison

A quick comparison brings up some initial ideas. Left: Metro’s present logo (this block “M” appeared as the logo on the Adopted Regional Map in March 1968, eight years before the system opened to the public). Middle: A simple change would give the sense of movement, something DC subway’s identity desperately needs. Right: A more radical shift to a more elegant font would imbue the identity with a sense of style as well.

If nothing else, change the present “M” logo to an italic to evoke motion. But consider using a more elegant type treatment to reflect the Metro’s modernist take on the city’s Federal architecture. Bottom line: in upgrading the system’s infrastructure, don’t forget to rethink its identity. Yes, big and bold is visible, but a bit of style would make this designer a bit more proud to ride these rails and feel a lot less like I’m riding in a cattle car.

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