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A place to remember and to share articles, videos, and information about art and culture. My primary audience is students of the arts, with the purpose of expanding the discussion and encouraging research.

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Focus on Bokeh

We are studying the history of photography this spring at AC, I love going back through the modules each year and thinking about all of the characters that contributed to the discovery of this new medium. One thing that always fascinates me is how the ideas, processes, and genres have all been around since the inception. Sure, our methods are more sophisticated, and our ideas more complex (or at the very least different). The Bidwell Collection of contemporary photography on display at the AMoA, has allowed me an opportunity to look at old and new simultaneously, and for the class to have a conversation that includes this collection of images while talking about their historical antecedents. One example is this pairing of images, by Julia Margaret Cameron and Lydia Anne McCarthy.

Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, Albumen print, 1867

At first glance, Cameron's work may seem like an accident, or a lack of skill, but they are actually deliberate. In a letter, she wrote to Sir John Herschel, December 31, 1864, Cameron states. What is focus  - and who has a right to say what focus is the legitimate focus - My aspirations are to ennoble Photography and to secure for it the character and uses of High Art by combining the real and ideal and sacrificing nothing of the Truth by all possible devotion to Poetry and Beauty. Back then, everyone was trying to elevate photography to fine art and there were tons of ideas about how to go about it. Cameron's approach was unique.

The out of focus image is back in vogue and comes complete with a new term, bokeh, which comes from the Japanese word boke. The word means a blurred quality. On the Internet, this phrase can refer to a wide number of photographic images including everything from shallow depth of field to images entirely out of focus. One of the contemporary practitioners of this style is Lydia Anne McCarthy.

Lydia Anne  McCarthy, Ginny, ink jet print, 2010

McCarthy's, Refraction Series, was created while she was in graduate school. The images are not simply out of focus; she is actually using a handmade camera with a magnifying sheet as a lens. She says of the work, " at the time, I was reading a lot of Merleau-Ponty, Aldous Huxley, and William James, and was obsessed with the idea that it was possible to access alternate realities or modes of perception.” The images are bold, lush, color and seem like memories or daydreams.

What I find most fascinating about these two women and their photographs, is the motivation behind their creation. While there is almost 150 years between images and during that time span radio, TV, the Internet, electricity, phones, and even space travel have radically changed our lifestyles; listen to what these women say about making their images.

When I have had such men before my camera, my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer. - Cameron

For my subjects I choose people who I desire but do not know; people I believe to have characteristics I want to possess. I am not interested in who they really are, but in who I perceive them to be. - McCarthy

Both are interested in capturing an essence, an inner quality, something they perceive.

Another contemporary artist using out of focus images is Uta Barth. Barth was a recipient of the prestigious, MacArthur Foundation Award in 2012.



rePresentation Article

Rene' West, Farmer's Daughter, 2013

Mathew Shaw a reporter for Tarrant County College student newspaper, The Collegian, has written a nice article about my exhibition currently on display. The last time they wrote about my work, I was an undergraduate student studying photography on the NE campus.

West said there is a strong sense of history in these images.

“As I work with images, concepts are revealed, and this drives the narrative,” she said.

One image West used was a photograph of a young girl with braided hair working in a factory, which was originally taken by Lewis Hine, an early 20th century photographer who West said used his photographs to address issues of immigration and child labor laws.

“As I looked at this strong girl child, I thought of how the Industrial Revolution encouraged people, including children, to leave the farmlands in search of opportunity in the cities and factories,” she said.

To complement this concept, West added a city in the backdrop behind the girl.

Don't forget the reception is Thursday, March 6 from 5-7pm.


rePresentation Exhibition Notes

My work is currently on display at the Art Corridor II Gallery on the SE Campus of Tarrant County College in Arlington, TX. The show is a mini-retrospective of the last several years, and selecting work for the exhibition was an interesting journey. As a artist, I am always making something new, and rarely take the time to look back at my work and reflect on recurring themes, connections, use of process, techniques. So I am grateful for this opportunity to research and exhibit my work in this way.

BTW Due to a snow storm, the reception was rescheduled for Thursday, March 6, from 5-7pm, which is also the last night of the show.

Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I have uploaded a few pics of the install to entice people to come look at the show, and will include the curatoral statement by Christopher Blay.


Curatorial Statement

The process of collage has interesting parallels and insights into the way artists think and create. Making a work of art involves drawing upon images and experiences, processes and media, and layering everything to resolve complex ideas and themes in one's work. In rePresentation, artist Rene' West delivers a journey spanning 13 years and over 60 images.

Along the way, she explores themes of war, gender, and a history of the representation of female form in art and media. As a master printer, West's images reflect a strong command of technique and composition, and informs "a meta-language of reinvented images." The idea of appropriation is present throughout the history of art and has been employed by pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and more contemporary artists like Richard Prince. This body of work, however connected to these themes, does not simply recreate or mimic them.

As a female artist, Rene's work is informed by the politics of gender, not only as a matter of self-identity, but also as a subject of familiarity through personal experience. The world has changed significantly over the time span of these works, and what is strongly reflected here is an artist whose work has a contemplative and reflective response to change.

-Christopher Blay


Achievements in Art: The Bidwell Collection on Display

AC Students in front of Ueli Alder, Detonation series, AMoA

Every year, the Amarillo Museum of Art (AMoA) has an exhibition in January that celebrates collectors of art, by having an exhibition of their collection. Last Saturday night I had the honor of attending the Gala and meeting Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell, this year's honored collectors. On Sunday, the Achievement in Art Exhibition: Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell's Collection of Photography opened to the public.

Having photographs from their astounding collection on display in the High Plains is an incredible opportunity to talk about contemporary photography. Yesterday was the first day of class, and I took the History of Photography students over to view the show. They stood in awe in front of these photographs, and for some it was the first time they had ever seen such a display. We spent about an hour and a half looking and discussing the photographs.

Vaughn Wascovich's giant pinhole print, Detroit, Superior Bridge (Veteran's Memorial Bridge), 2012, fascinated them, and during the conversation they considered technique and how this added to the visual language. When I finally explained the process, I could tell developer was going to be splashed around the darkroom this spring.  They also spent time discussing Ueli Alder's, Detonation series, and Hendrik Kerstens photographs of his daughter, Paula. Also of interest, was one of Abelardo Morrell's photographs of a camera obscura image. While standing in front of his photograph, we spent time discussing their first group project, which is to build a camera obscura. I was so impressed with their observations as they worked together to analyze images and reach conclusions about how and what the images communicated. I can tell this is going to be a great class.

The Bidwell's collection is unique in that it consists primarily of works by emerging photographic artists. Methods of making images vary greatly and include analog and digital prints, but to me the techniques employed are always in service to the expression of ideas, and the exploration of concepts in this photo-based collection.

For the duration of the exhibition, I plan to write more about the artists, and their projects on display, in this fantastic exhibition. I highly recommend getting to this show early, because you will want to go often.

The show runs through March 23

AMoA website for more info


Hard Drive Reliability Data

Interesting data from Backblaze on how various manufacturers hard drives are performing over time. Their data confirms my irrational fondness for Western Digital, but I need more storage and may go with Hitachi, this also makes me leary of the one Seagate in my collection.



I have been meaning to post these for a while now. Here are two of my favorite cinemagraphs from the Digital Imaging II class last semester. This was such a fun project, and it concluded with a QR Code exhibition on campus that was viewable on smart phones when people scanned the codes.

Dylan Holman


Elizabeth Beckham

DIY info on how to make a cinemagraph in Photoshop


Stories Found in Old Photographs

I love finding old photographs in flea markets, the photo above is from the day I found a well-loved scrapbook kept from 1925-29, it was filled with photos, tickets stubs, ribbons, and even locks of hair. The vendor wanted more for it than I could afford, so I kept going back and looking through the pages, throughout the afternoon. He would come down a little, but never enough. As I was walking out that day, he ran up behind me and said "How about 30 bucks?" and I replied, "sold." Even then, I knew it was a steal, but nowadays the quality of this book would bring over $750 on eBay, I know, I price them all the time.

As an instructor and lover of all things photography, I wanted the scrapbook, but my artist wanted it even more. As I was leaving, the guy told me that he knew the book belonged with me, I'm so glad he knew. Because it evolved into a series of digital composites called "1929," and when people see those images, they always tell me stories about their ancestors, or give me old photographs that they do not want. Jim Jordan, a friend in Amarillo, even loaned me his great aunt's photo albums from the 1940's and inspired a new series. 

René West, Four Birds, from the series Marguerite, 2012

So when I read this article about Ransom Riggs being inspired by old photographs, it made me reflect on my own passion for these treasures. Mr Riggs is right, there are narratives within these images, and as I work with my own composites I begin to know the women who create theses scrapbooks, and I love recontextualizing their stories for a new audience. I look forward to reading one of his books, I think I will start with his first novel, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (2011).

Two other lovers of old photographs come to my mind this morning. One would be John Maloof who discovered all of Vivian Maiers' negatives at a garage sale, upon finding this treasure Maloof became obsessed, and basically dedicated his life to archiving, cataloging, and promoting her street photography.

And these beautiful creations Lisa Kokin makes from sewing found photographs together. (image below)

Her work, sewing on images, reminds me of the upcoming exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art featuring works by Christopher Pekoc and Romy Owens. Both artists use photographs and sewing in their works. (more on their work soon)

That is probably enough rambling for one morning about photography, although in parting I just have to mention, Christain Boltanski. The king of using old photographs to create new narratives.

This seems like an appropriate topic for the day we spend looking back and reflecting on our past.




Juxtaposition of Bees

Recently, I led a conversation on contemporary photography at the Amarillo Museum of Art, I divided the talk into trends and then juxtaposed two images for each topic. This post is about one of the pairings, and I am adding a music video that takes a similar device and turns it in a new direction.

The image above is by Richard Avedon from his series In the American West. This was a documentary project funded by the Amon Carter Museum. It was juxtaposed with the image below by Maggie Taylor, entitled, "Girl in a Bee Dress." The purpose of this juxtaposition was to talk about real/surreal, documentary/digital, and the age old notion of photographic truth. I like the added bonus that both images relied on bees as a visual element.

As I mentioned before the Avedon image is from a documentary project, and so there is an embedded veracity. The image by Taylor is clearly constructed, painterly, and a beautiful fantasy. Yet, it still holds some semblance of truth because the main image is a photograph.

However, the Avedon image is as constructed as Taylor's digital composite.

The subject of the Avedon photograph, Ron Fischer of rural Orion, Illinois, got the gig by responding to an ad in a beekeeper magazine looking for a person willing to be photographed with bees by a world-famous photographer. Since the project was a series of portraits from the western United States, the team decided to fly Mr. Fischer out to California for the shoot. This was supposed to make the image more truthful. Here is how they created the photograph.

To get the bees to land on Fischer, a university entomologist he was acquainted with patted queen bee pheromone (an attractant for other bees) onto several spots on Fischer’s head and chest.

Then, about 200 feet away, packages of bees were opened on the ground. The bees detected the pheromone and began to move.

Fischer still remembers watching the swarm of bees heading his way.

“They started forming a cloud over my head,” he says.

He wasn’t exactly scared, but he wasn’t sure what to expect, either, because he’d “never done anything like this before.

 “Then they started landing on my head and chest. What was really something is that each bee has six legs. If you multiply that by thousands of bees, it sort of tickles over your bare skin.”

He was stung twice, but to no ill effect. Fischer posed for an hour-and-a-half the first day and a half-hour a second day.

When Avedon was finished, Fischer gently brushed off the bees, put on a shirt and got into a car.

The description of creating this photograph makes clear it is entirely a fictional construct, and yet it resides, and is one of the most iconic images, in this documentary project.

Maggie Taylor does not ask her viewers to believe the images are real; she creates fantasies, places for the imagination to play. She could create these images without any photographs, but all of her composites contain at least one photograph of a person. For me, this heightens the imaginary space; the photograph adds a veracity that lingers in the images. The photograph makes the viewer want to believe.

By the time Avedon makes his photograph, the battle over whether photography is objective or subjective is dead. Throughout the project he relies on the repetition of the white backdrop, diffused light and large format camera, to lull the viewer into believing all of the photos in the project are equally honest. Digital technology has renewed the debate on photographic truth; because it is so easy to manipulate photographs, we must view them with a skeptic's eye. In reality, photographers have always known how to bend the truth to serve their purpose.

During the conversation at the museum, a surprising aspect of this pair of images was that some people did not think Maggie Taylor should even be included because "she is not a photographer." It is true, she does not use a camera, and instead uses a flatbed scanner to create her composites. Still she uses the language of photography to make images, so while she may not be a photographer, she is at least a photographic artist. The practice of using photographs dates back to at least Dada and photomontage, which tracks to the proliferation of images in magazine due to the invention of halftone printing. Once the photograph ceases to be a precious object, artists start using it as a found object in their work.

Now add this video by Blind Melon featuring another bee girl. Here the bee suit is used as a metaphor for the awkwardness of adolescence, staying true to the muse, and searching for acceptance. It seems like a fun place to end.

Photo Credits:

Top Image - Richard Avedon, "Ronald Fischer, Beekeeper" 1981

Second Image - Maggie Taylor, "Girl in a Bee Dress" 2004


Reporting Texas: Ozymandias

This semester Oscar Ricardo Silva, photo editor for Reporting Texas, a student reporting project based in the School of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, contacted us about having one of our students make some photographs for them. Elizabeth Beckham was tasked with the project, and I think she had a blast spending time with the legendary local sculptor, Ligntnin' McDuff. She made photographs on location and also at his studio. She was also able to use the photographs for her documentary project in Color Photography. I just love the title of the resulting article: "Ozymandias: A King, a Poem and a Concrete Statue in a Cow Pasture."

Favs from the shoot that were not published.

Outside of McDuff's studio in Amarillo

McDuff Doorbell Voilà


Vanishing Bodies 

For a while now, I have been interested in things that go viral and how they relate to the history of art and/or photography. So this is my first post on the subject.

Russian photographer Alexander Khokhlov has showed up on several social network aggregation services for his collaboration with makeup artist Valeriya Kutsan. They are painting faces into optical illusions, famous paintings, and other pop culture references. The above image is a favorite, and to anyone knowledgeable in art history, it is immediately recognizable as a homage to Roy Lichtenstein's work.

Khokhlov & Kutsan's photographs are all quite remarkable and it is fun to try to connect each one to the source of inspiration. But for me, when I look at this work, there is another collaboration project that immediately comes to mind.

In the 1960's, Veruschka, was one of the highest paid fashion models in the industry. She was on the cover of Vogue 13 times, and photographed by the likes of Avedon and Irving Penn. Her first body painting may have been in 1963, when she posed as a living sculpture for Salvador Dali and he covered her body with shaving cream.

After leaving the fashion industry in the early '70's, she teamed up with Holger Trulzsch a prominent painter and photographer and they began to work on a collaboration called "Transfigurations." At first, they were painting her naked body, as if it were clothed, in campy ways to look like gangsters and Hollywood starlets. But as the project evolves, they begin to paint her body blending into with the walls of decaying factories, or rocks in a field.

Susan Sontag said this about the project:

The desire to be stripped down, to be naked, to be concealed, to disappear, to be only ones skin, to mortify the skin, to petrify the body, to become fixed, to become dematerialized, a ghost, to become matter only, inorganic matter, to stop, to die.

Verushka, perhaps the most photographed girl in the world at that time, takes control of the photograph, she is naked and vulnerable, and she makes herself disappear - a ghost. This has always seemed such a perfect resolution to her career. To be seen, and then no longer seen.

When "Transfigurations" was published Frieze magazine said the images were an “exploration of visibility and disappearance, a near-perfect but uncomfortable analogy for [her] own life.”

Juxtapose the image above from "Transfigurations," with this You Tube clip of her legendary 5 minutes in the 1966 cult film Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni.

On being a model, Verushka said, “Fashion isn’t about being beautiful. It’s about never being forgotten once a photographer has seen you." Her uncanny knowledge of her own physical power in front of the lens results in truly unforgettable images.

I have no idea whether Alexander Khokhlov and Valeriya Kutsan even know about the collaboration between Veruschka and Holger Trulzsch, my purpose in this post is simply to further the discussion about this type of art for people "liking" these images.

Photo Credits:
Top Image - Alexander Khokhlov and Valeriya Kutsan
Second Image - Horst P. Horst, Salvador Dali and Veruschka, 1966
Third Image - Veruschka and Holger Trulzsch, from the series Transfigurations