D Nâ€™T TAKE PICTURES Agnieszka Sosnowska Christopher Payne Jordanna Kalman Joanna Vestey Catie Soldan Erik Hagen
Issue 7 Fall 2016
Don't Take Pictures Issue 7 – Fall 2016
Stories of the Land Agnieszka Sosnowska In Their Charge: The Institutions of Oxford Joanna Vestey Book Review: Shipbreak Claudio Cambon 10
She Is Invisible The Photographs of Jordanna Kalman Behind the Wheel Erik Hagen The Rise, Fall, and Reemergence of the Photo Club
Memory, Machine, and the Illuminated Present Christopher Payne’s Textiles 22
Desert to Sea Catie Soldan In Context The New Frontier
Founder/Editor-in-Chief Senior Editor Staff Editor Designer
Publisher: Don’t Take Pictures 129 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
2 Debbie Hagan 10 Evan Laudenslager 18 Joe Brennan 22 Jen Kiaba 28 Kat Kiernan 34 Lisa Volpe 38 Roger Thompson 46 Diana H. Bloomfield 59 Christopher Farnsworth
Kat Kiernan Roger Thompson W.G. Beecher Union Jack Creative
Every so often we hear about a valuable work of art purchased by an unsuspecting buyer at a yard sale or flea market. We love these headlines because they appeal to our sense of discovery as well as the belief that chance could favor us. These stories are reminders that there is treasure to be found everywhere, regardless of one’s knowledge of visual arts. Artworks are placed in junk bins and sidewalk sales for any number of reasons, but the reason for their rescue is always the same: the new owner “just liked it” without any knowledge of its maker or provenance.
Untitled Jordanna Kalman, 2015
It is easy to get wrapped up in the styles and iconic images of photography’s legends—their work is ingrained in our minds—but with the right person behind the camera, great imagery can be made anywhere. In this issue it can be found in the front seat of a taxicab, a New England textile mill, and a university library. Each photographer within these pages is a discovery that we “just like” and are excited to share with you. —Kat Kiernan
s e i r Sto of the d n a L agan
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t’s Saturday afternoon and Agnieszka Sosnowska (Ag-niesh-ka Sos-nowska) is in the barn on her farm in east Iceland, washing a new photograph. As with many of her images, this one tells a story of a wild, rural place, where survival depends on hard work, resourcefulness, and synchronicity with the rhythms of nature. This latest photograph tells of a mink that snuck into the coop and killed Sosnowska’s chickens. For several decades, this photographer’s evocative self-portraits have garnered international attention. Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Sosnowska moved a decade ago to Kleppjárnsstaðir, the farm
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she shares with her husband and the place where many of her stories originate. Across the road from her house, a river spills into a waterfall. Hundreds of geese migrate and live on the nearby lakes. Night turns to pitch black and becomes rather lonely. One small earthly light shines on the horizon, coming from a church nine miles away. It reminds Sosnowska and her husband, they are not alone. “Fishing, hunting, planting, and gathering are considered pastimes for many people in the developed world,” Sosnowska wrote about her series that won LensCulture’s Visual Storytelling Awards in 2015. “Farming to me, can be seen as a physical manifestation of a hu-
man’s determination. A farmer’s efforts are uncertain; such a life choice seems noble.” Maturity has helped Sosnowska realize and appreciate this. Back when she was an undergraduate at Massachusetts College Art and Design, and later a graduate student at Boston University, she avoided harsh weather. Now living on the farm, she can’t. “It’s tough just getting out in snow. The wind can be very strong,” Sosnowska says. “It changes a person living this way. If you can get through it, it’s only for the better. It’s only made me stronger.” When Sosnowska was 18 years old, she began photographing herself in various natural
Balancing Act, Norwell, Massachusetts 1993 Opposite
The Swan, Kleppjárnsstaðir, Iceland 2015 Above
Beached Humpback Whale, Unaós, Iceland 2011
settings using her Graflex 4 x 5 camera—the same camera she uses today. There’s a fairy tale quality to these early images: beautiful innocence dancing on the edge of darkness. In a 1993 self-portrait, made in Norwell, Massachusetts, Sosnowska stood on the limb of a big tree with her feet turned out, her skirt playfully lifting at the hem. The viewer sees only her lower torso—no head. Thus, at quick glance, the figure appears to be hanging. As a young photographer, Sosnowska was camera shy, and avoided showing her face in her self-portraits. That’s changed. Now 45, Sosnowska turns her fresh, freckled face into the camera—at times sharing with it her
nude or partially clothed body. She credits this boldness, at least in part, to meeting strong Icelandic women. “I’m always taken aback about how women support each other here,” she says. Her new confidence can be seen in “My Belt, Héraðsandur, Iceland.” Sosnowska poses in a thin cotton dress with a rifle slung across her shoulders. Four geese hang from a rope tied around her waist. Her delicate frame contrasts with the sag of the heavy dead geese. Stretching behind her is a remote and rugged black sand beach that almost resembles a moonscape. The photograph is part homage to her husband, Rúnar Ingi Hjartarson, who hunts geese.
“The Haircut, Kleppjárnsstaðir, Iceland,” is a more lyrical, symbolistic photograph inspired by sheep shearing. “Farmers will shear hundreds of sheep a day,” Sosnowska says. “It’s hard physical work. The end product of this are huge bags of wool that are overflowing.” Props play a significant role in Sosnowska’s staging and re-enactment. For instance, she and her husband tried to trap the mink that killed the chickens, but couldn’t. So when Hjartarson accidentally hit a mink on the road, Sosnowska took
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the animal’s carcass and used it in the photograph that’s now drying in the barn. For “Haircut,” Sosnowka tried various poses, both nude and partially clothed. Then she concentrated more on the story. “I had this old knife that I’d bought at the Salvation Army,” she says. “It’s very literal, but I wondered what it would be like if I started shaving myself, the hair from my own body?” Thus, she sat in a bag of wool and posed with the knife. It was her last shot. “I was lucky.” Though Sosnowska is rather candid in
discussing her work, she hesitates when asked about a 2013 photograph in which she’s posed on a rock over a rushing river, raising the body of a dead swan over her head. “It was grief,” she says. “A lot of grief.” Her friend Kalli, who lived up the road on a simple turf farm, had just moved into town for the winter. He was murdered in his apartment. While still in shock, the next day Sosnowska saw a swan fly into a power line. Two deaths in 24 hours— so unusual in this quiet place. It left the
My Belt, Héraðsandur, Iceland 2011 Above
photographer stricken and searching for meaning. To cope, she used the swan’s body as a prop in a series of personal portraits.
special place where it all begins to make some sense.
One was made across the road from the farm, at the falls, where Sosnowska used a very slow shutter speed to turn the rushing water into a heavenly cloud. She holds the swan overhead so the pattern of the bird’s feathers resembles the pattern in the falls. While life may be full of unfathomable mysteries, Sosnowska looks to her farm, to nature, to this
Debbie Hagan is book reviews editor for Brevity literary magazine and is former editor-in-chief of Art New England. She is author of the creative nonfiction book Against the Tide, and her essays and prose have appeared in Hyperallergic, Brain, Child, Boston Globe Magazine, and various anthologies. She teaches at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Nude, Lansendi, Iceland 2012
The Storm, Landsendi, Iceland 2015
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The Haircut, Surtsstaรฐir, Iceland 2014
In Their Charge The Institutions of Oxford Evan Laudenslager
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he public is regularly invited to enter the great institutions of mankind—museums, universities, libraries, cathedrals—but rarely allowed a glimpse into their inner workings. The efforts of their guardians, curators and custodians are always in plain sight, in the careful assembly of fossils or the flawless polish of wood, all so often taken for granted or looked over completely. Joanna Vestey’s series Custodians lifts the veil of privacy, allowing us to perceive the synergetic relationships that shape these establishments. Vestey, who lives and works in Oxford, England, was fascinated with the potential for photographs of storied locations to, “make a linear journey through time to consider the history and long-term importance of the spaces.” With the support of the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford, she allowed the many institutions that the she visited to choose her subjects, or “custodians,” for this series, from head curators to grounds managers. She spent time biking and walking around her city, leaning on the generosity of strangers to access behind-closed-doors areas, and spent over a year researching and visiting sites to distill her final selection of locations. While the titles, salaries, visibility and attributed value of the subjects’ roles vary greatly; Vestey’s photographs are a great equalizer. Similar to how August Sander’s portraits of the German populace in mid-20th century Germany depicted barons and butchers as equally imperative and honorable to society, Vestey’s work places those in the basement and the corner office on equal pedestals. Not only that, but the importance of the institution and caretaker are placed in perspective—with the institution’s expansive space dwarfing the individual. From the soft-lit stacks of Oxford’s most celebrated library, to the inner halls of specimen-lined museums, Vestey purposefully illuminates her subjects in available natural
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light—sometimes glistening and luminous, other times shrouded and evasive. This masterful use of light is painterly, illuminated by single windows reminiscent of Vermeer masterpieces. The spaces seem unaltered and austere, presented to the viewer exactly as they are and without embellishment. This allows the spaces’ intrinsic wonder and depth to unravel with each new photograph, like peeling back layers of time and tradition. Sister Ann Verena CJGS at Bishop Edward King Chapel at Ripon College, for example, stands erect towards the right edge of the frame. Her figure, weathered but proud, at once occupies the space and is absorbed into the surrounding sand-white pillars of the chapel walls. Her presence is keenly felt, the reserved but vigilant eye that keeps order, just one caretaker in a long line who have performed this duty. While others came before her and others will follow, the importance of her role in this chain is not diluted. She maintains the Chapel, just as it sustains her. Grandiose architecture aside, she is worthy of the same recognition. Vestey presents her subjects at a significant distance from the camera, which highlights the smallness of humans in contrast to the majestic and awe-inspiring spaces that they oversee. The scale of the rooms seem to engulf her subjects. Especially in Oxford, a place steeped in tradition and built on education, these compositions are an appropriate reminder that such spaces serve a purpose greater than that of any one person. This is particularly evident in Vestey’s photograph of Su Lockley, Librarian-in-Charge of the Oxford Union Library. It takes a moment to even find Lockley in the tapestry of bulging stacks, thousands upon thousands of volumes in muted greens, reds, and blues beneath an arching maroon roof dotted with symmetrical windows. Lockley gazes down upon the stacks, empty tables covering the carpeted floor, her scale making her one with the books packed into each carefully ordered
The scale of the rooms seem to engulf her subjects. Especially in Oxford, a place steeped in tradition and built on education ...
Su Lockley, Oxford Union Library 2013 Above
Michael Oâ€™Hanlon, Pitt Rivers Museum 2013
shelf. The image is filled with reminders of time and yet also seems apart from it—preserved from the past for the students of the present and the great minds of the future. In her portrait of Michael O’Hanlon, Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum, he is surrounded by glass vitrines holding ancient pottery from around the world. His enduring posture is indomitable, as though he too was surrounded by glass. Dr. Jon Whiteley, Curator of the Randolph Sculpture Gallery at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, sits steadfast between two rows of polished marble figures, himself assuming the grace
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and dignity of the figures he curates. In one of the more self-aware portraits, Professor Emeritus John Morris of the School of Anatomy at Oxford is clad in the same hospital blue that covers what might be cadavers on the gurneys surrounding him. Anatomical skeleton models dot the sterile space as he stares ahead, seeming to confront the fate that inevitably awaits him. Despite this, the image is less morbid and more elevated, a recognition that with education comes empowerment. The relationship between caretaker and cared-for is multifaceted, but one recurrent
Dr. Jon Whiteley, Randolph Sculpture Gallery, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology 2013 Above
Sister Ann Verena CJGS, Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College 2013
theme is that of the fragility of mankind in the face of inevitability. The institutions are storied and permanent (or at least intended to be) but the lives of the people who tend to them are comparatively brief. As humans, we are here for a short while, and must make the most of our time before we pass the torch to our heirs, as our predecessors did unto us. This notion is humbling but never trivializing. Many of the subjects of Vestey’s photographs have been appointed to their caretaker roles for life, meaning great devotion and selflessness are required, something Vestey describes as “slightly monastic.”
Published as a book in late 2015, Vestey approached Custodians with the same devotion and appreciation for those forces larger as her subjects approach their work. To follow the photographs is in itself a monastic journey, forcing the viewer to take a moment to understand the ways in which we shape— and are shaped—by the institutions that we so often take for granted.
Evan Laudenslager is a photography-focused writer and artist based in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of the Visual Studies program at Tyler School of Art, Temple University.
Prof. John Morris, School of Anatomy at Oxford 2013
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Claudio Cambon Edition Patrick Frey, 176pp., €52
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ollowing the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, new government regulations rendered ships with single hull construction obsolete. Claudio Cambon’s monograph Shipbreak chronicles the final voyage of the single hull American oil tanker SS Minole, culminating in its dismantling and recycling in Bangladesh. Beginning with the ship’s glorious heyday as a tanker for Mobil, the book traces the ship’s final journey: carrying grain for the U.S. Government’s Food for Peace program before arriving in Bangladesh for shipbreaking, the dismantling and salvaging of a ship’s materials at the hands of hundreds of impoverished Bangladeshi laborers. Cambon lived on the SS Minole throughout her final journey, documenting the entire process of deconstruction. His black-andwhite photographs are ageless, gritty, and accompanied by passionate writing. Cambon describes a dreamlike journey with the ship and her crew, “[S]oon we wonder whether we are moving through space and time, or standing still… All memories blend into one landscape of sea and sky, disappearing from one’s mind like the wake of our ship in the midst of this vast and forget-
ful ocean.” In addition to photographing the journey itself, Cambon’s striking portraits of the crew show the sea-hardened and weathered faces of men and women who have spent their lives on the ocean. “She [the SS Minole] felt solid and luxurious … One has the impression that no expense was spared to build her well and beautifully,” Cambon explains. The ship’s final days are spent beached on the Bangladeshi coast where the shipbreaking takes place. As laborers begin dismantling every piece of the massive tanker, Cambon captures the onceglorious ship’s decomposition. Like a carcass melting away into the earth, the ship’s hull falls away, exposing its sturdy steel skeleton. Laborers strip the vessel of its brass, copper, steel and iron—anything that can be refashioned or reworked into “objects sacred and profane” including axe blades, rebar anchors, building materials, and religious statues. Clouds of black smoke obscure the view as hundreds of hands pull, grind, and cut through the tanker’s steel body, leaving nothing to waste. While Cambon documents the slow death of the SS Minole, he also illustrates the brutal
existence of the workers who toil together in shipbreaking. An image titled “One-ton I-beam” shows workers carrying the impossibly heavy beam on their shoulders, while “Loaders: frieze” shows workers struggling in side-by-side lines to lift a massive steel plate onto their shoulders. The refined features of the ship contrast harshly with the human labor that shipbreaking requires. Shipbreak’s large black-and-white images and pull-outs allow the viewer to see the smoke, heat, and massive scale of the shipbreaking unfold. Cambon’s photos allows the reader to engage in each part of the ship’s journey. Images transport the viewer alongside the American crew over lonely oceanscapes and into the melee of the shipbreaking process. Moving through the book, we accompany an obsolete ship to its end, but the sequence and clarity of Cambon’s images reveal the ship’s soul, and elevate it far above its origins.
Joe Brennan is an artist, collector, and dealer in fine art and antiquities. He is represented by 17 Frost Gallery in Brooklyn, NY and is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
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She Is Invisible The Photographs of Jordanna Kalman Jen Kiaba
he woman in the picture is not really there. A hazy outline of her form is the only hint that she ever occupied the space at all. Though you cannot truly see her, you cannot see through her either. Like a memory, she leaves only an imperfect impression. This is one of the overarching themes in Jordanna Kalman’s series Invisible. Originally shot on Polaroid film, these altered photographs are a poignant revisiting and reworking of prior images, many of which were made as a part of Kalman’s MFA thesis work at the University of the Arts London.
Kalman’s work causes us to examine the relationship between permanence and impermanence, and where they coexist.
The series was born out of the tragedies of death and loss. Nearly a year ago, Kalman unexpectedly lost her mother. Kalman had been working on another series, Sometimes (memory version), in which she removed the figures from the background of her older images, seeking to investigate concepts of fading memories and presence. But after the death of her mother, Kalman’s work shifted and plunged deeper into exploring the relationship between memory and absence. Invisible explores absence in the context of memory, the past as it impacts the present, as well as the beauty of life and the knowledge of death. Though Kalman works primarily with instant film, the creation of her imagery takes time to gestate. She describes her work as pseudo-diaristic with strong elements of fiction. The revisiting of older work, which was initially created in a similar vein, has plaintive
connotations about how sorrow impacts both our remembered experiences as well as our experiences going forward. All of Kalman’s work deals with independence, individuality, loneliness, and femininity. Yet within Invisible, these themes intersect with themes of grief and loss, asking the viewer to consider how we, and our memories, are defined by what is absent. The series consists almost entirely of female figures that have nearly faded into the background or are portrayed without heads. In each photograph, an eerie sense of oppositions exists: the subjects are at once clearly outlined, yet are surreally absent at the same time. Unmistakably feminine, they lack a definitive identity. At their core, each photograph causes us to consider who we are when stripped of our identity, and to question the origin of those concepts. Often that sense of self is tied to our family, and in both the process of forging our own families or accepting death and loss, we are forced to reconsider those parameters and definitions. With children of her own, Kalman found herself grappling with her role as a mother while grieving for the one she had lost. It was in her struggle to be present and the desire to retreat into a cocoon of grief that Kalman first began to feel invisible in her own life. Grief, especially in the context of death, takes us out of the daily flow of life. Like the figures in Kalman’s photographs, we can melt away into the background even as we try to pick up the pieces and
carry on. But there is no comfortable place for grief in our society—we cannot sit shiva until we feel the strength to stand up again. Life demands that we continue on. And so we do, perhaps feeling faded or without our wits about us. We are in the world, but not fully of it. We are, in fact, somewhat invisible. In grief, our memories tease us. Loved ones are still alive in our memories; we drive past their former homes, near-convinced that they would answer if we were to knock on the door. There are times that we can still smell their perfume, or remember the feel of their hand in ours. But even those memories, ones that we rely on to keep alive that which we have lost, ultimately fade. In this sense, Kalman’s work causes us to examine the relationship between permanence and impermanence, and where they coexist. By stripping her
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figures of nearly all of their features, Kalman confronts the stark reality of our mortality, and asks us to question what we leave behind. Do we continue to live on in the memories of those we love; do we fade with those memories? It is perhaps fitting then, that Kalman’s photographs are made with Polaroid film—an immediate and permanent record. For analogue photographers, Kalman included, the medium is important because of its physicality. Working with film engages all of the senses, making it a participatory and anchoring experience. Kalman’s use of instant film creates an expectation of an accurate record of reality despite her digital manipulation of the Polaroids. Just as we assume that our brains record our memories as fact, they too are manipulated. Whether by perception, time, or loss, an erosion of our minds can forever alter that which we
All images are Untitled, 2015.
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once believed was accurate. In the photographs, Kalmanâ€™s hand acts as that altering force. But like our more haunting memories, or the residue of dreams, we see clues of what once was. Perhaps it is a hint that, even once gone, something still remains. Kalmanâ€™s work serves to reminds us that there is an impermanence to everything: the very film she works with that is increasingly difficult to find, the memories that define us, and our very lives. Though we leave footprints wherever we go, especially in our increasingly digital world, it is sobering to consider that our
imprint on this world could be removed just as easily as Kalman removes her subjects from the imagery that comprises Invisible. This forces us to wonder: where does our identity truly reside, and who are we when stripped of it? With these lingering and unanswerable questions, Kalmanâ€™s series serves as a subtle but effective memento mori.
Jen Kiaba is a photographer and writer based in the Hudson Valley, NY.
erik hage n behind the Wheel Kat Kiernan
Diana H. Bloomfield
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n the typical Hollywood story, a young artist with a dream moves to a new city. Without any prospects or money, the artist “pays their dues” in a few low-level jobs before landing their big break. At least, that’s how it plays out in the movies. And what better place to pursue this movie-scripted road to success than Los Angeles, the city where films—and dreams—are made. In the movie of Erik Hagen’s life, he is seated behind the wheel of a taxicab with his camera in hand. New to Los Angeles, the young photographer takes a job as a cab driver to pay the bills. Between rides, he photographs his new surroundings from the driver’s seat, exploring the city both on wheels and on film. If his life were a movie, this is where Hagen, having driven
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a cab for a few short months, leaves his keys behind and becomes a famous photographer. Instead, Hagen spent the next five-anda-half years photographing his series Los Angeles from behind a steering wheel. Hagen’s art-making had been on hiatus in the years after he received his photography degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. To keep his eye sharp in this new city, Hagen shot a few rolls of film during the monotonous working hours. He realized when the film came back from the lab that what had started as a simple artistic exercise had the potential to be an exciting new project. With his camera riding shotgun, Hagen explored the city the way that most Angelenos do—by car—stop-
ping to make pictures whenever a scene caught his attention. Sometimes photographing out of the taxi’s windows and sometimes returning to a location after dropping off a passenger, Hagen drove 60 hours each week, trading off day and night shifts, making photographs all the while. Visitors often think of LA as a glamorous place where people with big dreams, big personalities, and big money live fabulous lives. Hagen’s photographs show a less glitzy and more somber side to the city. The black-and-white images contain the usual suspects—palm trees, billboards, and bright lights cutting through the night sky—but his decidedly un-slick aesthetic exchanges sparkle for grain, and blue skies for grey horizons. The crisp, high-contrast
images lack the expected motion blur that comes from shooting from low vantage points while driving. There is no chronology or narrative, and eventually the perfect weather becomes tiresome, the bright lights less striking, the landscape less impressive. “In Los Angeles I saw neither beauty nor glamour, but rather an endless sprawl of concrete and an unending battle with nature. Life there seemed lonely, desperate, a struggle. I was in purgatory behind the wheel.” Driving a taxi created a physical and psychological distance between Hagen and the rest of the city’s population. That distance is accentuated in his photographs by the visual barriers he includes in many of his compositions. In one image, a half
open window creates an atmospheric dome over the city skyline, segregating its residents from outsiders while alluding to its artificiality. The photographs made outside the confines of the car also have that distant feeling, though the visuals are subtler. In these, Hagen employs dramatic shadows and avoids defining characteristics such as faces or landmarks. Looking only at anonymous stretches of highway, or the backs of heads, we are never close enough to the subject to make a connection. Slivers of the photographer are present throughout the series—his hand on the steering wheel, his face obscured in the rearview mirror—but we cannot defini-
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tively conclude anything about him. Hagen offers his audience just enough information to let us know that we are looking through his eyes, while retaining a kind of anonymity. In “Afternoon,” Hagen looks at his shadow against a brick wall, the top of the car’s passenger side window further obscuring his silhouette. It’s a strange selfportrait; he becomes an unknown—the cab driver you might have hired once but would never remember. Looking with the photographer, rather than at him, his view of alienation and isolation becomes our own. While clearly photographs about LA, the immediacy of Hagen’s viewpoint and glimpses of the photographer indicate
that Los Angeles is also about his relationship to the city. Despite the inescapable car culture associated with the LA, other vehicles rarely make an appearance in Hagen’s photographs. Though he is likely often sitting in four lanes of traffic, his audience is presented with views of a nearly empty road. “When you drive a taxi, at least in Los Angeles, there is a great deal of down time spent alone with your own thoughts,” says Hagen. The photographs reflect these feelings of isolation, visually skewing the sprawling city to reflect his personal feelings. If sent home as postcards, these un-idealized depictions of the long stretches of highway, signs for strip clubs, and lonely sidewalks in the wee hours of the morning could state “Wish
you were here” in an ironic manner suggesting that Hagen wishes he wasn’t. In the movie of Erik Hagen’s life, his move west and the years that followed serve as an impetus for revitalizing his art-making. With Los Angeles in his rearview mirror, Hagen has returned to the East Coast, photographing his new surroundings with a closer relationship to his subjects. While he is not nostalgic for the City of Angels, he views his time as cabbie there as a great learning experience, leaving him with a less glamorous and more honest point of view. Kat Kiernan the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures. She rides in taxis in New York City.
The Rise, Fall, and Reemergence of the Photo Club Lisa Volpe
Clockwise from left
Frank Eugene, Portrait of Alfred Stieglitz, Photogravure 1901
Priya Kambli, Meena Atya and Me 2012
Kodak Advertisement in National Sportsman Magazine 1908
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hose who read enough photo history may be tempted to believe two things: first, that the invention of the Kodak in 1888 was the most influential thing to ever happen in the medium; and second, if the Kodak isn’t the catalyst for a particular aesthetic or conceptual change in the field, Alfred Stieglitz is. Though I recognize their importance in the history of photography, I’ve always been skeptical about this absolute confidence in both the machine and the man. So in researching the rise (and fall) of photography groups—like the 19th century’s Linked Ring, the 20th century’s Photo-Secession, and Group f/64 in the 1930s—I was suspicious when the appearance of the Kodak and the genius of Stieglitz were identified in the literature as the only stimuli for this activity.
Though some organizations date to before the late 19th century or after the mid 20th century, the heyday of the photography club/group was from the 1890s to the 1940s. In his foreword to Photo-Secession: Photography as a Fine Art, famed photo historian Beaumont Newhall states, “From the beginning, photography’s position in the art world has been a challenge.”1 Newhall quickly lays the foundation from which all photography groups were built: promoting the medium’s position as a fine art. Yet, if Newhall’s statement is true, why were these groups concentrated in a 50-year span? Why didn’t they appear earlier and last longer? The answer is found, not only in the importance of Kodak and Stieglitz, but in the complex presentation and use of photography in those years, a social framework that echoes through our own digital age. The mid- to late-nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in practicing photographers as a rising leisure class explored options for filling their non-working hours. Theaters, dances, and other entertainments grew in number and frequency as did book clubs, outing clubs, and bicycle clubs. Along with leisure time, theories emerged on how
it should be spent. Ideas about “self-culture” were plentiful. Like today’s self-improvement philosophies, self-culture advocated for personal development and rejuvenation through healthy or useful hobbies. Enjoying a popular resurgence, Benjamin Franklin’s concept of “useful knowledge” advocated for practicality and direct experience. Within this framework, leisure was meant to be both relaxing and productive. The practice of photography fit easily into this concept of beneficial leisure activities. In fact, the Kodak reinforced it. George Eastman’s No. 1 Kodak was released in late July 1888. Elizabeth Brayer’s oft-cited text, the first biography of Eastman, perhaps says it best: the Kodak, “set the world to snapping pictures.”2 What was most notable about the Kodak was that it removed both the burden of chemistry for the production of prints and negatives and the mathematics required to calculate the relationship between time, distance, and light. In short, it eliminated labor from the practice of photography, making it a leisure activity. Moreover, to appeal to the cult of self-culture, the company’s advertisements emphasized the benefits of photography as a pastime. It is no surprise then, that the art photography movement, known as pictorialism, is generally believed to have begun in 1888, the same year as Kodak’s release. Formed in that year, the Photo-Club de Paris—with members including Robert Demachy and Émile Constant Puyo—was dedicated to creating photographs explicitly artistic in intention.3 The movement toward this type of photography was truly international, with clubs appearing in most major cities over the next 15 years. Though the Kodak may have spurred the birth of these groups, they remained inchoate until 1893. That year saw the rise of specialized exhibitions, also called salons, signaling the full maturation of the movement. The photographic salon was the most significant aspect of the pictorial movement.4 Alfred
Maskell, who founded the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring in 1892, emphasized, “the matter of exhibitions,” as the most important activity of the club. Exhibitions legitimized photography, launching the medium into the realm of the fine arts. Not surprisingly, an immense exhibition— the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, known as the White City—spurred the rise of the photography club exhibition. Though photos were perhaps the most visible objects at the fair (one visitor described the White City as “almost a photographic exhibition”5), photography was not treated as an art form. The medium was excluded from exhibition in the Fine Arts building, and was instead presented with “Instruments of precision, experiment, research.” Additionally, within that exhibit, the chief of the Bureau of Liberal Arts, Selim H. Peabody, called for, “No attempt at classification, separating portraits, landscapes, etc., … No prizes, in the usual sense,”6 thus eliminating the possibility for genre divisions and connoisseurship, two pillars of fine art. Outside of the White City, the growing community of art photographers reacted against this dismissive treatment. Exposition juror Catherine Weed Ward lamented, “There is so much poor work done, technically and artistically … that the general judgment as to the work of all is greatly affected, and photography … is often forced into a lower place than is its just due.”7 While prior to 1893 only one exhibition devoted solely to art photography was held, following the World’s Fair’s disastrous presentation, photography exhibitions began in earnest. Only months after the fair, the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring curated a photography salon (mimicking painting salons) with a juried selection, careful hanging, and work separated by genre. A contemporary report praised the effort: “We must admit that the promoters have done remarkably well … getting together what is, on the whole, an undoubtedly fine collection of pictures.”8 The Hamburg International Exhibition of Photography was even more
successful. Featuring over 6,000 photographs from photographers throughout the world, the exhibition was enormously popular and was seen by more than 13,000 visitors in 51 days in late 1893. Soon afterward, salons appeared in Berlin, Munich, Glasgow, and Turin. In America in 1896, the Camera Club of the Capital Bicycle Club of Washington held its own successful photographic exhibition. The Director of the United States National Museum (now known as the National Museum of Natural History) was so impressed by the photography displayed that he purchased 50 prints for $300 for the national collection. It is the first known museum purchase of art photographs in the United States. Oddly, it is this success—the institutionalization of art photography—that led to the decline of photography clubs. The proclamation of photography as an art was eventually proved by its presence in institutions. As photography moved into universities and museums, new advocates for the medium emerged; academics and curators took up the cause of promotion. Club members were free to create their art without having to justify it as such. Instead, they could turn their efforts to expanding the aesthetic scope of art photography. Group f/64—which included Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Brett Weston, Edward Weston, among others—did not claim that the pictorialist photos that came before them were not art. Rather the group advocated that the manipulation of negatives and prints and the construction of a subjective
composition for which the pictorialists were known were not the only characteristics of a fine art photograph. f/64 looked to expand the definition of art photography to include a straight, or direct aesthetic obtained through purely photographic methods. Notably, the group announced their formation via a museum exhibition held in 1932 at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, thus utilizing the institution to reify their point of view. By the 1980s, photography clubs had all but disappeared as the medium found strong footing in institutions. Photo historian Douglas Nickel noted, “the decade witnessed endowed chairs and university courses … increasing numbers of doctoral students gravitating toward study in the area, the widening popularity of photographic activities within museums and the book trade,” and perhaps the most notable aspect of photography’s secure place as an art form, “a voracious new collecting market.”9 Though it seems to be a remnant of photo history, the rise and fall of photography clubs is a lesson for our digital age. While Kodak photography was promoted for leisure, by definition a secondary activity, digital photography has become a primary part of life. Entire industries and careers are based on this new mode of photography, which has simultaneously become a method of communication and instrument of knowledge. Its sheer ubiquity has once again raised questions about the nature of art photography and its uniqueness as a medium. In the mu-
Beaumont Newhall, “Foreword,” in Photo-Secession: Photography as a Fine Art (Rochester, NY: George Eastman House, 1960), 3.
2. Elizabeth Brayer, George Eastman : A Biography, annotated edition (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006), ix. 3. For an excellent summary of the history of ‘art’ photography, see James Borcoman, “Purism Versus Pictorialism: The 135 Years War. Some Notes On Photographic Aesthetics,” ArtsCanada nos. 192–195 (December 1974), 68–82. 4. J.T. Keiley, “The Linked Ring,” Camera Notes, vol. 5 (1901), 111–120. 5. Quoted in Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1982), 230.
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seum, photography departments are being absorbed into general “works on paper” departments, or into “modern” or “contemporary” departments. Photography is slowly losing its place as a singular course of study in the university as less tenure-track positions are filled and general courses are offered in lieu of specialized topics.10 As art institutions absorb the medium into general courses and large museum departments, photographs are no longer recognized for their incredible singularity of both process and product. Photography has gained its place in the fine arts, only to lose some of its uniqueness. Photographers, in turn, seem to recognize this loss of idiosyncrasy. Many have turned to processes or products that are uniquely photographic in nature, creating work that embraces ontological aspects of the medium. Photographers are rehearsing pictorialist attitudes—embracing film or alternate processes, hand-manipulating their photographs, or staging subjective compositions. Others are creating projects that interact with photo history or archival images, emphasizing a legacy within this singular medium. Photography groups are again emerging online, promoting their activities and aesthetics through digital exhibitions. The result of this increased activity remains to be seen. But as a note to future historians, all of this is activity is progressing without a ubiquitous machine like a Kodak, or a prominent man like Stieglitz anywhere in the picture. Lisa Volpe is the Curator of the Wichita Art Museum.
6. The American Amateur Photographer, vol. V, January to December (New York, NY: The Outing Company Limited, 1893), 134. 7. Ibid., 63. 8. Walter Welford, ed., “Functions of the Month,” The Photographic Review of Reviews III, no. 23 (November 15, 1893), 362–363. 9. Douglas R. Nickel, “History of Photography: The State of Research,” The Art Bulletin 83, no. 3 (September 1, 2001), 548. 10. Jordan Weissman, “The Ever-Shrinking Role of Tenured College Professors (in 1 Chart),” The Atlantic, Accessed May 18, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/theever-shrinking-role-of-tenured-college-professors-in-1-chart/274849/.
Clockwise from left
Robert Demachy, Study in Red 1898
Heidi Kirkpatrick, Tree Fern, Cyanotype 2015
Charles Arnold, Court of Honor at the Worldâ€™s Columbian Exposition 1893
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Memory, Machine, and the Illuminated Present in Christopher Payneâ€™s Textiles Roger Thompson
hris Payne understands space. Trained as an architect, he sees into the heart of a place—beyond its architectural features or utilitarian purpose. He is not ruminating on the hum of a mill when he photographs the last textile production houses in the U.S. Instead, he invites us to consider what makes those machines work and who drives their daily operation. While his photographs may remind us that industry and commerce clatter and clang in the background of our daily lives, they do not dwell on the din of production. Instead, these images illustrate a deeper purpose, reminding us of the lives that animate each loom, each room, and each space. Payne graduated from Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, intending to pursue life as an architect. As a young man, he worked in a National Park Service program that sent teams of historians, photographers, and architects to document disappearing industrial sites across America. As a member of one of these teams, he traveled to places as far flung as Alabama, Utah, Ohio, and New York, most notably Buffalo, where his team recorded the decaying architecture of a once-thriving industrial city. He remembers being struck by his colleagues’ photographs that captured the light and life of a place in a way that his architectural renderings, no matter how true or how sincere, could not fully achieve. As he says, “the photographers would transform the banal into something beautiful.” That experience, paired with a lifelong interest in adventure and, as he quips, “going places you’re not supposed to go,” were the seeds of his drift to photography. After the architectural firm where he was working closed, Payne decided to pursue photography full time. His early project, Substations, secured him a reputation as an artist with the ability to transform the lost into the luminous, a trait that he amplifies even further in his recent series, Textiles. The series examines the final hold-outs of the American textile industry, documenting not only build-
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ings and equipment, but the people and their surprising vibrancy. Payne has traveled up and down the east coast locating mills, following rural roads and sometimes secretive leads. Some mill owners are more accommodating than others, but Payne’s passion undoubtedly breaks down most barriers. It’s a sincere passion, one built on an appreciation for the difficult relationship between working-class people and industrial history. Indeed, he calls his work “patriotic” because it makes visible groups of people and their work that linger on the margins of popular history despite being central to the country’s growth. Payne’s photographs illustrate, then, not just the magnificent complexity of industrial factories and machinery, but the impossibly complex relationship between person, place, and machine.
Payne’s photographs illustrate the impossibly complex relationship between person, place, and machine.
Among the most important of the images is “Wool Carding, S&D Spinning Mill, Millbury, MA, 2012.” In this image, the vibrancy of color immediately demands attention. Magenta fibers sing through machinery and collect in tufts on surrounding joints and gating. The power of the color, however, is only the introduction. The depth of field—color extending far back into the machinery in all directions and across rooms, forming chambers of light—illustrates both the volume of work being done and the impressive scale of industry to support it. The color, in other words, invites us into a story about the production, about the lives creating or demanding it, the economy funding it, and its destination. Being struck by the startling magenta here is the same as being struck by the need for such vibrant color in our lives. To make sense of it, we must make sense of our own yearning for that color.
Wool Carding, S&D Spinning Mill, Millbury, MA 2012 Opposite
Junior, S&D Spinning Mill, Millbury, MA 2012
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So it is also with the red heaps on the floor of the dark, crumbling room in “Raw Dyed Wool Before Carding, S&D Spinning Mill, Millbury, MA, 2012.” The contrast between the soft, if dense, clouds of red and the angled, chipped greens of the walls create a strangely inviting scene, where past and present jockey for attention. The glowing light of the windows provide a luminescence, but the pile of production residue holds its power because it suggests vitality in a scene that would otherwise be entirely destitute of life and energy. The old space, framed with deteriorating mortar and crowned with timber, still lives, a
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vibrant heart in an old body.
Fall River Knitting Mills, Fall River, MA Payne’s use of color, however, is only one of many aspects of his work that demonstrates the vibrancy of these mills. In some images, the glistening perfection of machinery takes center stage. Photographs of the sheen of sometimes single fibers strung out from steel and brass suggest the delicacy of an operation that must surely seem, when taken as a whole, monstrous. At other times, Payne turns his camera toward those who work the mills. Among those images is the striking portrait of Junior, whose tattoos and intense stare
Raw Dyed Wool, S&D Spinning Mill, Millbury, MA 2012 Opposite
Leavers Lace, West Greenwich, RI 2015
create an odd tension between the present and the past. The idea of “millworker” likely does not typically conjure images of men like Junior, yet he stands there, right arm resting on a machine that has undoubtedly spun out line and textile since long before he was born. His slender body contrasts with the hulking force of the machine, but he is nothing if not certain of his presence. Payne continues to seek out America’s increasingly rare textile mills. One senses an urgency when he discusses his trips to the mills, even an intense longing. He recognizes
that he is documenting a past that is slipping by, and if anything, we see in his work not so much an attempt to record that past for us, but a desire to breathe life into it.
Roger Thompson is Senior Editor for Don’t Take Pictures. His features have appeared in The Atlantic.com, Quartz, Raw Vision, The Outsider, and many others. He currently resides on Long Island, NY, where he is a professor at Stony Brook University.
Desert to Sea Diana H. Bloomfield
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atie Soldan’s photographic series, Desert to Sea, began unintentionally. In 2015, with no expectations or preconceived ideas, Soldan set out on that classic American adventure—the road trip. Camera in hand, she and her mother traversed southern Utah, hiking through Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks. A few months later, she took off again on yet another road trip adventure, this time to the Pacific Northwest with her sister. Traveling to Oregon for the first time, she made images throughout the Columbia River Gorge, Ecola State Park, and Cannon Beach. The polar opposite to the arid desert landscape of the Southwest, Soldan fell in love with Oregon’s lush green forests and salty coastal air. Having seen and documented these two disparate yet equally magical landscapes, Soldan returned home and began the long process of image editing. Initially, she viewed these photographs as two separate bodies of work from two very separate trips. Yet throughout the editing, parallels emerged. Geological formations, each shaped over millennia, mimicked each other in their sculptural beauty; horizons aligned; both landscapes possessed a similar sense of primordial mystery. Desert landscapes, faced with continual and ever-changing erosion, reveal canyons, mesas, buttes, and hoodoos. Canyons with water flowing through them, long since evaporated and left barren, ultimately present a landscape not so dissimilar to the Oregon coastline, with its sea stacks and natural arches rising from the ocean floor, also formed over millennia, shaped by wind and water. Soldan imagined how these desert canyons might have looked long ago, when water flowed freely and consistently through them. The ancient and complex geological formations of both landscapes merged for her, shapes echoing one another, ultimately seeming as one and the same enigmatic landscape. A native Chicagoan, Soldan spent her undergraduate years at the Savannah College of Art and Design in before moving to Santa Fe, a
place she has called home for the last five years. Even after this length of time, the Southwest, for Soldan, is both familiar, yet still new and exciting—a landscape where she feels discoveries are yet to be made. And so, like a stranger in a strange land, Soldan began to document the vast desert landscape, with its seemingly infinite horizons. Soldan used Polaroid film for her photographs, thoughtfully meshing image with process. Shooting with instant film seems at once oldfashioned and cutting edge. Polaroid film offers a dreamy quality that is hard to duplicate. Its uniqueness lies not only in its one-of-a-kind nature, but also in its old-film aesthetic. HDR clarity and sharply defined crispness are not an option. Imperfections abound—strange artifacts, inconsistent development, and softness are part of the lure for those who do not have access to a traditional darkroom, but who “desperately want to work with film,” as Soldan did. Beautifully and seamlessly, this medium connects with her subject matter, which, through Soldan’s vision, appears timeless. The inconsistent Polaroid development, which sometimes appears as a fading of the image, suggests both a vanishing and a vulnerable landscape. More importantly, perhaps, instant film requires an eye for composition, which is no small feat when photographing something as expansive and filled with as many choices as the immense Western landscape. Soldan composed her images in-camera and, like many photographic artists who print in ‘alternative’ 19th century processes, Soldan’s image-making was not even close to complete at the click of the shutter. She scanned these original Polaroids to make them larger, yet they remain—by contemporary standards—relatively small. No larger than six inches across, Soldan made the choice to move away from the typical mural-like landscape imagery; in so doing, she manages to transform these sweeping limitless landscapes into intimate gem-like objects we hold in our hands. She then chose to print these in the kallitype process, a contact printing technique that uses a specific emulsion that is brushed on watercolor
paper, and exposed only by UV light. Gold-toning these kallitypes not only made them more archival, but added a cooler hue to the images. From start to finish, Soldan’s choices serve to create a fascinating window into a soft, cinematic landscape that seems both foreign and familiar. She distinguishes the Southwestern and coastal images by their shape and energy. Soldan made the Southwest images square as that environment seemed more masculine to her; in doing so, she suggests that the Western desert, in our dreams and imagination, still resonates as an untamed and unclaimed frontier, at one with the masculine ethos of rugged individualism, autonomy, and freedom. The coastal images Soldan made with round film, because she felt that projected a more feminine energy, which meshes with the life-giving force of water, at one with the feminine aspects of creation. These photographs are mostly devoid of people, and markers of time are non-existent. The Polaroid film, with its faded quality, as well as the antique kallitype process, helps to create this timeless picture where we as viewers become strangers in this strange land, too. The only clue that we might be looking at 21st century landscapes is one image in which a lone girl stands silhouetted on an Oregon beach, cell phone in hand, her shape and shadow echoing that of the rock formations that surround her. In the last image of the series, we see a girl, back to the camera, looking across to the endless sea through coin-operated binoculars. We are again reminded that this otherworldly landscape of unimaginable beauty is of the here and now, yet also part of our past. This image, in particular, makes us want to see what this girl sees. We are reminded that these dynamic landscapes, like people, remain part of our past, our present, and looking ahead, as part of an unknown and unseeable future, with discoveries yet to be made. Diana H. Bloomfield, a native North Carolinian, is a photographer, independent curator, and writer. She currently lives and works in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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Blue Mesa 2015
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The Needles 2015
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Each month we release an exclusive edition run of a photograph by one of the artists featured in this issue. The photographs are printed by the artist, signed, numbered, and priced below $200. We believe in the power of affordable art, and we believe in helping artists sustain their careers. Artists receive the full amount of the purchase price.
Nude, Self-portrait, Landsendi, Iceland, 2012 Agnieszka Sosnowska 7 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 10 Selenium toned silver gelatin print $185 Available in October
Ecola Catie Soldan 6 x 6, signed and numbered edition of 5 Archival pigment print from kalitype original $100 Available in November
For more information, or to purchase a print, visit DontTakePictures.com
Untitled Erik Hagen 6.5 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 5 Archival inkjet print $95 Available in December
Professor Paul Smith, Director, Oxford University Museum of Natural History Joanna Vestey 6 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 5 Archival pigment print $150 Available in January
Bartlettyarns, Harmony, Maine, 2010 Christopher Payne 7 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 5 Archival inkjet print $150 Available in February
Evolution, from the series “Time Let Me Play” - Suzanne Révy
PHOTOGRAPHIC AND PRESENTATION SPECIALISTS B&W Film Processing Archival Silver Gelatin Printing Digital Negative Reproduction Custom Mounting and Framing Art Delivery to New England and NYC
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The Boston Marathon draws runners from around the world every April to make the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton, MA to Boston. The course is legendary – the ladies of Wellesley, the hills of Newton, the gauntlet of BC spectators just over Heartbreak Hill – and the experience is one of a kind. Printed offset on bright white, archival stock, this train roll style poster commemorates each of the towns runners encounter along the route of The Marathon. 15”x24”. $20 shipped. Ships loosely rolled, USPS Priority Mail. Looks equally sharp matted and framed (not included). For more images or to purchase, visit shop.unionjackcreative.com.
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The New Frontier Christopher Farnsworth
There was a whole new world coming, and they would face it together.
They don’t know he is on the stairs, listening. It’s not meant to be cruel.
When they talked about putting cities on the moon and under the seas. When flying cars would roll off the lines in Detroit. When they all had more money and more fun. When they only worried about the Russians, not the whole damned planet falling apart.
Anyway. They weren’t Luckies. They were Kents.
And the music was better then, too. Just like every other old fart says.
“It was a different time,” his daughter says, and turns the page.
They don’t know why he kept it. A camping trip, somewhere that’s probably been turned into a subdivision by now. His foot is in the shot. She wasn’t their mother then. They hadn’t even been invented yet.
You can miss anything, he thinks. He never thought he’d get misty for the days of nuclear war, but there you go.
“A pack of Luckies and a suntan. It’s like she was auditioning for cancer,” his son says to his daughter as they look through the old albums.
They don’t know what it was like. Every day, the news was like a ticket for a seat on some kind of rocket to the future.
For him, this was the high-water mark. He remembers making love with her— corny, yeah, but that’s how it felt—that night. He kept opening his eyes to find her looking back at him, smiling. How much like a miracle that seemed.
He remembers that feeling every time he looks at her laughing in that picture. He’d give almost anything to remember what he said to make her laugh.
Christopher Farnsworth is the author of five novels, including KILLFILE. His work has been translated into nine languages and published in more than a dozen countries, and optioned for film and TV. He lives in Los Angeles with his family.
Photographs lacking context offer numerous possible stories, and few photographs are more mysterious than those without a known author or time period. In Context playfully brings more attention to both photographic narrative as well as the role that context plays in how we interpret images. In each issue, a writer is presented with a found vintage photograph to use as inspiration for a micro-fiction story. In doing so, the photograph is given new meaning, and the truth of the image is subject to interpretation.
IN CONTEXT FALL 2016
Christopher Payne Bartlettyarns, Harmony, Maine 2010