Wednesday, April 30, 2008


There’s only one word I would use to describe the whole Annie Leibovitz/Miley Cyrus flap. WEIRD!! Of course it was initially a manufactured controversy on the part of Vanity Fair to sell more copies – that’s why they released the pictures to the media in advance of the issue. Then the story started to feed on itself as television picked it up, mothers were stopped in the street and encouraged to voice their outrage, and the next thing you know people are literally calling out for Miley Cyrus product burning. All because she showed some back!?!

The WEIRDER pictures to me are the ones of Miley and her Dad which are not the way I would want to pose with my nearly 13 year old daughter (who is incidentally a big Miley fan) and who thinks the whole thing is pretty silly. But I guess if you’re a New York City kid and you and your friends religiously watch Gossip Girl, this is pretty tame stuff.

My feeling looking at the picture above is that Billy Ray Cyrus was so engrossed with his moment in the spotlight (not to mention his own hair and make-up) they could have taken Miley out and re-created the complete works of Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe as far as he was concerned.

What about the pictures themselves? As someone who worked with Annie editorially for ten years and represented her as a gallerist for a subsequent ten, I would say she did her job extremely well. The whole point of these kind of pictures is to get attention for the magazine by creating a striking and newsworthy picture - and that’s exactly what she did. Miley Cyrus is 15 years old - a crossroad these now infamous pictures convey well. I’m more put off by the lipstick which looks either a little post-make-out smudged or badly applied, than the sight of a naked 15 year old back.

But who are the Disney and Cyrus family minders kidding about their shock and dismay? The most superficial study of Annie Leibovitz's work reveals four things: one – she likes to get people to take off as many clothes as possible; two - she loves to photograph skin, loves the different textures and colors; three – she loves to show a family bond and loves to show touch; four – she designs her pictures to cause a reaction. Her work is about making contact on every level.

Annie has taken flak for so long she’s used to it, but give her a break! She’s probably done more for the visibility of photography in America over the course of her career than anybody other than Ansel Adams. (About whom more will be posted shortly in the great car picture-taking controversy.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Popel Coumou

A year ago today I had the pleasure of being a judge at the Hyeres Photo Festival. This annual event takes place in the small French town of Hyeres – halfway between Marseilles and Nice - in the inspiring setting of the modernist Villa Noailles, a hangout of Picasso and Man Ray. For three days 10 young photographers and 10 international judges meet and critique before a winner is eventually selected.

All the photographers’ work is exhibited for an entire month, drawing visitors from around the world, and the winner receives a commission to shoot a new series of pictures in Hyeres which are exhibited the following year. Our jury was split equally between an American, Jessica Roberts, and a Dutch photographer, Popel Coumou, so we ended up awarding a joint first prize.

Anyway, I just received an e-mail from Popel with the images from her commission and I was highly impressed. Her work had originally consisted of constructed and re-photographed room sets – not usually my kind of thing. However, for the commission she mixed her constructions and manipulations with pictures of real locations in Hyeres and came up with something that was an organic progression and advance in her work. It's also totally original.

I had not voted for Popel, but I often find that work I need time to come around to ends up having a greater resonance than what I like right away. I could make a whole list of things like this starting with Weegee and 19th Century photography and moving on to the paintings of Joan Mitchell, the music of Cat Power, and Indian cuisine.

(By the way, I'm now talking to Ms. Coumel about exhibiting her work in New York.)

Below - a Popel Coumou set-up prior to photography.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Different but Equal

Two different but equally great pictures from this Sunday's New York Times. The top one (from the travel section) is a 1942 picture of Ansel Adams by Cedric Wright. It has always been one of my favorite portraits of a photographer. Sure, it's a little hokey - the photographer as heroic figure silhouetted against the sky - but it's also three terrific pictures in one: a grand view of Yosemite, a striking portrait of Ansel at work, and a cool picture of a 1941 Cadillac Series 61 station wagon. It may look contrived, but this is really how Adams set up to take many of his best pictures including the famous "Moonrise".

Underneath (from the Book Review) is an out-take from Norman Seef's 1974 cover shoot for Carly Simon's 1975 album, Playing Possum. Seef is a photographer you don't hear a lot about today, but for much of the '70s he ruled the roost, photographing the major recording artists of that era. He did most of his work in his Sunset Boulevard studio coaxing relaxed and extroverted pictures out of his subjects. The Carly Simon pictures look like they could have been taken yesterday - both in terms of clothing (or lack of it) and attitude. Seef is currently finishing a documentary based on film he would shoot while taking his rock star stills.

And the image chosen for the actual album cover. Tough choice...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Weekend Video - Flying Ducks

As I'm sure you understand, I put a lot of time into trying to find interesting videos for the "Weekend Video". I've done music, dance, film, photography - but I've stayed away from cute. Until now .... I
don't know whether it's the spring or just a change of pace, but this seemed fun (if not an apt metaphor for the human condition).

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