Monthly Archives: May 2006

I love my new Mac

Macs are flakey. Macs are slow. Macs crash. Macs are toys. Macs are for (um) wimps. Blah blah blah . . .

Not so, my friends. I’ve had a shiny new Mac laptop for just over twenty-four hours, and it’s already convinced me.

It’s just so beautiful. The screen is big and sharp and colorful, and the text looks great. (I’ll still be using the PC for color-sensitive work and printing until Adobe comes up with a version of Photoshop that runs natively on Macs with Intel inside, which should be soon.) The windows look amazing; there’s no better way to describe it. (Well, okay, there is, but it uses boring words like alpha blending and transparency and hardware accelaration on the GPU and . . . you see.) When the wee little beastie is sleeping, it has a nifty LED that pulses gently, reminding me to wake it up later. Oh, and it’s brushed silver, like my first mountain bike, which ultimately got scuffed up a bit from those times I tried to scrape my face off. Now if only my palms didn’t sweat so much and leave little palm prints near the keyboard.

I plugged in the ethernet cable from the DSL, and it connected without even pushing a button or installing software or letting me choose the wrong option or making me call Verizon tech support. The WiFi AirPort even mooched a bit off my neighbor yesterday before that sadly went away. When we get a wireless router after our vacation, my plans to surf the web update my blog while watching TV will finally come to fruition. I think it might even be faster transfering data, too.

It even gets Hindi right (even if I don’t). नमस्ते जी. Okay, so I want to find a better input method than “Devanagari – QWERTY.” You know something nice like that add-in I downloaded for Windows. But everything worked right out of the box, and the nicer of the two that comes with the Mac isn’t bad; it does put syllables more or less with their corresponding English sounds. Still nothing quite compares to typing something in the Roman alphabet and watching it transliterate itself into Hindi.

Images look great. Music sounds great. DVDs look great.

Damn you, Steve Jobs, for letting early Macs be so . . . er . . . bad in the Grinnell computer labs that I had to wait ten long years to realize how nice they really could be.

Now, if only I could find a real “delete” key. You know something that removes the next character not the previous. Yeah, then I’ll be set.

Posted in Computing | 3 Comments

Comments are offline

Until, I make it harder for the spammers, you won’t be able to post new comments. I know it breaks your heart. Mine too.

Posted in General | 8 Comments

Putting labels on my work

Ever since my contemporary art presentation, I’ve received a surprising amount of positive feedback and probing questions. And I feel better about showing my work, knowing that I have prepared my audience. All of which has had the effect of improving my outlook on the camera club.

One consistently thoughtful club member took a look over these pages and posed the following query:

I’m interested in your series of signs of nature and have a question: you mention the work by Charlotte Cotton and her way of categorizing, and I wonder into which category (ies?) you would put your projects, both Commonwealth and the Signs one. Is it deadpan? Does it emphasize “thingness”?

Here is a bit of my response.

While I have considered similar questions a bit when writing artist’s statements and such, I increasingly find myself asking the following questions when I photograph: “What am I doing today? Is it consistent with what I’ve done earlier?” Having this rubric helps focus me a little, but I’ve only recently started thinking about what I want my photographs to say when I make them. Having better answers will help me make better images.

I suspect I used to treat my photographs as inkblots of my subconscious mind: “What does this place mean to me? What do I see?” I guess I’m still doing that, but now I try to integrate both the answers and the questions into my photographs instead of waiting to divine the answers on the lightbox. In a year or two, the questions and answers may be completely different. We’ll see.

Anyway. I haven’t made claims to objectivity in several years, so I don’t share that with the deadpan folks. Photographs frame “truth” and can at best only suggest something (perhaps purposefully false) to the viewer. Lately, while working on the “Commonwealth” series, the ethical and subjective component of this mode of photography — what I’ve been calling pseudo-documentary — has taken a primary place in my thinking, as I aim to ensure that I don’t misrepresent the people and places I photograph and as I think about my own relationship with the subjects of my work.

Still, in terms of aesthetics, I guess my work fits somewhere in the broad intersection of deadpan, still life (“thing-ness”), and
documentary or “aftermath” imagery. More and more of my images seem to rely on each other for their artistic and conceptual content and require the idea behind the series to pull its weight. “Signs of Nature” (hopefully) shows the pervasiveness of human interactions with nature and the top-down control of acceptable leisure pursuits; the nature-human nexus in Massachusetts is very tightly coupled, and the signs suggest we share a lot with our “blue law” ancestors who
mistrusted working class fun. I suspect these images lose much of their force when they’re viewed individually.

Similarly, the emerging theme of the “Commonwealth” series — what our built environment in this narrow sliver of America looks like and how we relate to our natural spaces and to each other — definitely has the largest set of influences: both recent deadpan folks (Thomas Struth and Stephen Shore), photographers who try to elevate the ordinary or distill its essence (the Bechers and Jeff Bruows), and the earlier photographers we all know (Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, etc.). It’s nice to be in a place where I’m refining my style instead of my technique; but when I think about the 351 images that will eventually make up this series, I still don’t know how I want them to look or feel.

Posted in Commonwealth Project, Photography | Leave a comment

Where I grew up


A very good friend had this great idea to show maps of where we grew up. My mom is probably going to pitch a fit after I post this map of where I lived the first ten years of my life. Our trailer was on the second row from the east about halfway up. (Link to Google map).

I had actually planned on breaking the news that I lived in a mobile home to you, my faithful readers, whilst describing my trip this summer, but this seems like a perfect opportunity. There is plenty that I have left to say, but for now, let’s just describe what has changed.

The biggest change is the amount of development. The neighborhood is still an island in the middle of cornfields, but all of those subdivisions — which continue west into Saylor Township and south to Des Moines — are new. The county was building the highway to the north when we moved, but it only became a multilane highway much more recently. Beyond it, the state research farm still appears active. It was a munitions factory during WWII, and if you look closely, you can make out roughly twenty mounds that were bunkers for the weapons. My father used to clean the building when he was a student at the Faith Baptist Bible College a mile or so further north, just beyond the John Deere assembly plant; which is not the same factory where my grandfather built tractors in Waterloo, Iowa. My mother, several years later went to the community college just down the road to the east as one part of her multiyear, multistate endeavor to get a B.A. in accounting and raise a family (mostly on her own). God bless community colleges and affordable housing. But I digress.

The old neighborhood itself (i.e., the “park”) doesn’t seem to have changed much except for the addition of about ten houses in the northwest corner, which (if my memory serves me well) used to be the site of the sewage lagoon. Apparently, everyone got county services. How Iowan of me: giving directions to something based on a place or thing that no longer exists . . . .

Posted in This is who we are | Leave a comment

Daljit Dhaliwal

So yesterday I was watching Charlie Rose on the TiVo. Sadly he’s still out recuperating from heart surgery. (Get well soon, Charlie!) The dozens of guest hosts have surprised me with their capacity to maintain engaging dialogue on a wide range of subjects mostly with the same level of objectivity, professionalism, and enthusiasm as Mr. Rose. Which, of course, underscores his deep well of talent and empathy.

In the episode, Daljit Dhaliwal interviewed Michael Mandelbaum, the right-leaning apologist for American power and author of The Case For Goliath: How America Acts As The World’s Government in the Twenty-first Century. Another fine interview, although I kept getting distracted by Ms. Dhaliwal. I knew I had seen her before, but where? Oh, and she’s rather good looking.

Google confirmed my suspicions that she read for BBC World News and PBS’s late ITN news broadcast. Now she’s on CNN, which I never watch (but may have to consider). Apparently, she’s ascended to starlet status, too. There’s the The Unofficial Daljit Dhaliwal Appreciation Page complete with “Dhaliwallpaper,” an image download gallery.

But Fareed Zakaria, who has a good international current events show of his own, is still not sexy.

Can you imagine such a following for an American newscaster? “Where are you Connie Chung, you minx?” Um . . . no.

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Robert Adams

I remember my first experience with Robert Adams’ photographs: I thought they were mistakes. The book — maybe it was What We Bought: The New World : Scenes from the Denver Metropolitan Area 1970-1974 or Perfect Times, Perfect Places — was like nothing I had ever seen before. In the black and white images, the skies were burned out, everything was excessively contrasty, and there often was no center of interest. They were chaotic, messy, unattractive.

But this work was just one strand of Robert Adams’ oeuvre. I looked longer at these and other photographs and began to see the value in them. Adams’ act of rule-breaking subversively encouraged me to question the value of the picturesque tradition of “straight photography” in the American West. Did those beautiful images show me anything new? Were they accurate? Do the older images still resonate with the West that I know? Do they encourage a nostalgic yearning for a Western utopia that can’t (and shouldn’t) exist?

And many of Adams’ photographs are fantastic and intriguing. Like Bill Owens’ Suburbia, they show us who we were when I was very young, and they can be (in various amounts) beautiful and ugly and compelling and easily dismissed. Even now, they speak passionately for Western lands without being trite. The difficulty in viewing these images owes as much to our American desire to like what we see as to the abrogation of the Western art tradition.

So take a few minutes and look at Tyler Green’s review of Robert Adams @ the Getty. And while you’re at, check out these links:

Posted in OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

High Tension

Images from the High Tension series.


Littleton, Mass.


Holliston, Mass.


Holliston, Mass.


Tewksbury, Mass.


Erving, Mass.


Posted in Commonwealth Project, High Tension, Photography | 2 Comments

Boston area exhibits

There are a number of photographic exhibits going on in Mass Bay and nearby that sound fantastic. I’m happy to say that I know some of the artists in these shows. (I shortened some titles during transcription.)

  • 2006 Members’ Exhibition — Photographic Resource Center (Boston University) — May 26 – July 2, 2006
  • Harold Edgerton — Robert Klein Gallery (38 Newbury, Back Bay) — May 4 – June 10, 2006
  • Laura McPhee — Bernard Toale Gallery (450 Harrison, South End) — May 1 – July 1, 2006
  • Laura McPhee — Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) — May 9 – September 17, 2006
  • Harold Edgerton — Gallery Kayafas (450 Harrison, South End) — May 3 – June 10, 2006
  • 75 Years of Collecting — Addison Gallery (180 Main Street, Andover) — April 29 – July 21, 2006
  • Annual Juried Exhibit — Griffin Museum (Shore Road, Winchester) — May 11 – August 13, 2006
  • The Elements — Panopticon Gallery (Hotel Commonwealth, Kenmore Square) — May 4 – July 8, 2006
  • Stephen Shore — Worcester Art Museum (55 Salisbury) — through June 25, 2006
  • 2006 Annual Exhibition — DeCordova Museum (Lincoln) — through August 20, 2006
  • Jay Maisel — Hallmark Museum of Photography (Turners Falls, MA) — through June 18, 2006
  • Looking at Landscape — Harvard Museum of Natural History (26 Oxford, Cambridge) — April 29 –
  • Four Indias — Newport (RI) Art Museum (76 Bellevue) — through June 18, 2006
  • Magnum Photos — Portland (ME) Art Musuem — April 6 – June 11, 2006
  • Nineteenth Century Landscape — Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford, CT) — May 20 – August 13, 2006
Posted in OPP, Photography | Leave a comment

Perks of Infidelity

We stayed at a few Taj hotels last year in India, and they were all very nice. The one in Delhi is especially good. (Okay, so the website got a computer virus from their business centre, but the rooms were nice and the food was really good.)

Imagine my surprise upon finding this message from TajHotels.com in my inbox this morning:

Dear Guest,

This season, the Taj Palace offers you the perks of infidelity

The master chefs at work have engineered four spanking new menus, digging into culinary archives, throwing in a fistful of magic and plenty of oomph

Presenting you with a seductive range of culinary collectibles – each bearing the mark of the masters.

“Perks of infidelity” . . . okay . . . Only after you open the attached Powerpoint presentation do you see they left out a critical line:

For your palate to stray

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It’s hard not to be an Iowan


At my presentation last week, which went very well thankyouverymuch, I started with some images by Alec Soth.

I really like Soth’s images, but when I look at his work I sense an ambiguous relationship between him and his subjects, as though he doesn’t truly respect the people he photographs. Or perhaps, like Diane Arbus, he identifies with them but doesn’t like himself. In his photographs, the American poor and working class — whether along the Mississippi, at Niagara Falls, or in their Bible study groups — come across as the “other.” Perhaps they retain a sense of mousey dignity, but there’s implicit judgment.

Soth likes to stare, so we could give him the benefit of the doubt; he could just be showing us (like Jacob Riis or Weegee) something we ourselves voyeuristically want to stare at.

Do I do the same thing? Does my sense of Midwestern propriety — although attenuated a lot over the last decade — create negative value judgments in my own work?

These questions occurred to me yesterday. My newest set of images (just back from the lab) pick at some of the common threads of my Commonwealth project: signage, post-industrial landscapes, suburban development, powerlines, and clutter. Often (but certainly not always) something is amiss, unexpected, or absurd. I think — I hope! — that my images are playful without being snobbish, that the judgments are gentle in the pseudo-documentary mode I occasionally employ.


Update 29 May 2009: Or perhaps my reactions to Soth say more about my own bourgeois feelings than his. . . .

Posted in Commonwealth Project, Photography | Leave a comment

My Current Top 10

It’s been a while since I put a travel post here. Voilà, my top-10 list of trips to take and places to visit (in no particular order).

1. The Silk Route (from the Middle East through Central Asia to China)

2. Iran

3. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan

4. Italy

5. France

6. China

7. Japan

8. Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam

9. The Andes

10. Alaska via the Canadian Rockies and the Al-Can highway

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Trouble from The Man

An interesting conversation at work today about rights, combined with three years of “Mission Accomplished” and an article or two about photographers who have been detained, reminded me of an incident I experienced in late March 2003. (Both articles via PhotoshopNews.)

There were a number of protests in Boston in the months leading up to the war in Iraq in 2003, and I actually attended one to see what the spectacle was all about. But that’s a story for another day. So picture it: Boston, 23 March 2003. Earlier in the week the U.S. began the assault on Iraq, and (under an “Orange alert”) I set out for my Big Dig tour. My detailed map from the official Central Artery / Tunnel Project web site promised to take me from South Station to South Boston and along the Waterfront.

After walking along Atlantic Avenue to Kneeland Street and backtracking to Atlantic and Summer, I innocently stopped to photograph the American flag waving in the breeze atop a fabulously lit building between me and the Bank Boston Building.

As I packed up my big 200mm lens and Nikon F3HP, I heard a voice over my shoulder.

“Excuse me! What are you doing?” The voice had an air of official urgency to it. Jay of Spectra Security seemed displeased by my answer.

“Photographing the building over there.” A few seconds later I offered, “I’m a photographer . . . an art photographer.”

Jay, a late middle-aged security supervisor (“the head of security for South Station”) informed me that he had called the MBTA transit police about me and thought that I should stick around until they arrived. I wasn’t sure if a rent-a-cop could officially arrest me — and I was technically under arrest — but I decided to comply and have my discussion with the T police, who would no doubt tell me to behave. Despite knowing my rights, I decided to stay pleasant and quiet until the real police showed up.

“Photographing a building with a war on.” Jay mumbled loud enough for me to hear. “Maybe you should get a new hobby.”

“Yeah, we terrorists carry around $4,000 worth of equipment, use tripods to gain the maximum amount of attention, fastidiously clean dust off the front elements of our lenses, and wait for the light to change just so before we trip the shutter using a cable release. We also use film so that we can have the slowest workflow ever.” But I kept these thoughts to myself.

As time went by and it became clear that the police were in no rush to arrive (if they were coming at all), Jay started to make small talk.

“I have this girlfriend, and she’s good, I guess. But sometimes she says funny things. . . .” A sizable pause as I exercised my rights to remain quiet and not to suffer fools. “For example, what would you say if I said, ‘Christ is the creator and ruler of the universe?’”

“Oh lord!” I thought, but perhaps a safer answer was in store. “It sounds like something I hear a lot from my family.” About five more minutes of badgering later and I thought, “I am so outta here.”

Though I’d been told to stick around, I said, “Well, I think I’ll try to stay out of trouble and just be moving along.”

A moment later I left following “I can see that you are a decent man, brother. And, Jeff, I love you.” I just couldn’t bring myself to reciprocate; after all, he’d tried to arrest me for photographing a building from a public sidewalk and then badgered me about Jesus, telling me that he knew where I was going if I didn’t believe his God had created the universe and could save souls.

Minutes later I crossed the Fort Point Channel hoping to sneak a peek and a photograph or two of the world’s largest civil engineering project. I remembered the joke my coworkers used to tell: “Mechanical engineers build bombs; civil engineers build targets.” And people are worried about the photographer.

Posted in Photography | 1 Comment

Workers of the world, Unite!

Well . . . undocumented workers of the U.S., unite!

We didn’t notice anything different today here in the Great White North. The fact is, I don’t know the legal status of any of the immigrants who work around but not directly in the employ of my company. I don’t know if they’re unionized or whether they get a living wage or where all of them were born or when they came to New England. But I do see the same faces everyday — including today. The café staff, the cleaners, the landscapers, the guys pulling network cable, the construction workers: Everybody was there.

Personally, I suspect that the issue of immigration will be resolved in a way that’s most favorable to the immigrant workers: a path to legalization and better pay and working conditions. I also suspect that there will be more border security — possibly even a fence — though it won’t do anything but shift people around and make us look foolish.

I’ve never lived in a border state (though I’ve visited a few) so my arguments about immigration are not complete. In fact, I’m not opposed to people coming to America to work and raise families and live the (somewhat) good life. I don’t know if it depresses other low- or semi-skilled laborers’ wages. But it definitely does keep employers’ expenses — insurance, benefits, taxes — down. Nor do I know if immigrants do jobs Americans won’t do or if they deprive Americans of jobs. But I can say that I saw loads of white folks cooking, cleaning, mowing, painting, and building in Iowa, a place where my relatives stock supermarket shelves, drive big trucks, and service cars. I’ve seen people of all ethnicities and ages working alongside each other in fast food (along with me).

What continues to bother me is that, while the workforce I see near my office and home looks a bit like the local communities of Framingham and Milford on the low end of the wage scale and like the wealthy suburbs of Weston, Wayland, Westwood, and Wellesley on my end, it doesn’t look a lot like the broader Mass Bay community. The Cape Verdeans, Vietnamese, Irish, and Portuguese are rarely seen outside the city. Much worse is that I very, very rarely encounter the city’s significant native-born African American population except when I go into Boston proper.

Boston has a long and conflicted history with its black residents, proclaiming freedom and tolerance while allowing segregation and racism. It doesn’t appear to be changing, even as we grow more comfortable with diverse suburbs and immigrant labor at the office.

What to do?

Posted in This is who we are | 3 Comments