Sunday, March 30

Tim Burton's House

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Wasn't sure. First I thought this was an under-the-opening-credits scene for an Oliver Stone or Michael Moore flick. You know, their vision of America on a good day?

But of course this place up the coast from William Randolph Hearst's mansion... It is exactly how San Simeon would have come about if conceived by Tim Burton.


And here's the original of this WW II bunker sitting atop a hill along the coastal highway early this month.

Saturday, March 29

Grainy Romance

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J'ver notice how memories get grainy, contrasty, and misty all at the same time?

Tah-Dah:The original local couple along Sausalito bay looking West to Oz.

Tuesday, March 25

Once And Again

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It was about 35 years ago. Rita and I were married, say, five years. It was our second visit to San Francisco, the first to Big Sur. This guy sits some distance above that wonderfull place in the middle of a 17 mile ring around Pebble Beach.

A couple of weeks ago we went back there again. It's like a friend now, but strangely while I've aged, the lone tree hasn't. Which maybe makes both of us feel decades younger.

Ever hear of The Picture of Dorian Gray? Oscar Wilde imagined a magical portrait in which the drawing matured so that the subject didn't. Right: The painting got old and Dorian stayed young.

For a little while we felt some magic... Dorian could like this place...

You might as well.

Sunday, March 23


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Tucked away on the corner of Ghirardelli Square, perhaps one of San Francisco's best known facades. Um, well, maybe not. As you can see this place is hard to miss, but there's so much going on atop the square that maybe Lori's Diner's overlooked. Maybe you never even noticed?

Strange how life works like that. Someone squealing, "Look at me! Look... Look... Look!" And we don't.

Why is that? Huh?
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BTW: For those who email for details on what the original looked like... Here y'go. Wuddaya think?

Sunday, March 16

• An Essay

What Do We Do After We Go “Wow”? • An Essay
The purpose of beauty in art photography
By Ted Byrne

I suspect that somewhere deep down in our reptilian brains – beauty has a utility. Someone once wrote that we use pornography up. If we didn’t, he asserted, there’d be no reason to publish more than one issue of Playboy.

Pornography apparently is linked to a primal drive to procreate.

Artists have been on an ageless quest to distill out the essential beauty in the human form – male and female. The girls do get prettier at closing time. Lady ‘cougars’ are on the prowl for stud-hunks.

And yet, that beauty that teases, entrances, seduces… loses its magic in the post-coital hangover. Regardless, all of us hunt for that initial burst of beauty which will cause us to tumble into the bubbling stew of love.

I wonder about this tendency to use beauty up. To seize it, then dispose of it. We seem drawn to to perpetuate the species…What Captain Picard called, “The Prime Directive’.

Art Historian and art photographer Jeff Curto in a compelling podcast questioned the artistic appeal of Alec Soth and Derek Henderson. And Curto wondered how it is that we are attracted to images that are not beautiful and which have even pushed beautiful images out of fashion.

Beauty snares us into deeper things. Marketers know that so they have surgically separated beauty from its evolutionary purposes in order to push washing machines or flat screen TVs. They tease in order to sell… but there’s a disconnect between packaging and product that we sense and which eventually leads us to distrust the tease: Distrust the beauty. To become at best skeptical about anything that is ‘merely’ beautiful. Anything that is no longer connected to the function we are hard wired to expect it to deliver.

And as people wear y of the way beauty’s triggers are exploited I wonder:

- Will we grow increasingly frustrated as stimuli arouse us but fail to lead to consummation of any sort?
- If beauty is a foreplay for some other matters, will we begin to reject it unless it is offered up in ever escalating doses?
- Will we increasingly yearn for a functional beauty which allows us to enter into a world of ideas, thoughts, or answers as their payoff.

Simply put: Is beauty enough? What do we do after we go, “Wow”?

Beauty, along with shock, humor, farce, pathos, drama, surrealism, awe, romance, narration, satire, and others are tools found in the photographic artist’s tool kit. They’re devices that inform a body of work… a life view. The danger comes when we confuse the tools for art. Their mastery in isolation is at best craft.

One way of determining a craftsperson’s worth is in the market. Dollars are numbers on a scorecard. “Wow” sells better than anything. Because in the commercial world we want to trigger viewers to action. It is the tease which makes a frequently unrelated message accessible by pointing it out to the viewer. “Wow” is not something that is bought for its own message – people who buy “Wow” want to exploit it to sell theirs. Commercial markets demand that the craftsperson separate the tease from its meaning.

Many of us confuse market success with art. We define art’s importance with its price tag. In many ways the photographic artist faces the same problem as the poet..

Just like poets those who work in the field of photographic art face much smaller numbers of potential buyers. Here, some of the most successful artists financially are also the best artistically but there’s no natural link in a system where very few artists are involved in the decision concerning who and what sells. Commercially successful art photography must first filter through the tastes of: gallery owners, curators, art historians, academics, agents, marketers, collectors, publishers, critics, and many more. Can anyone imagine Warhol’s ‘artistic’success absent the white wig and a circus of transvestites?

As I’ve said, beauty is one of the photographic artist’s tools. Beauty used exclusively as one note - results in a body of work which can bore. Only a great master, like say Ansel Adams, can continually mate it with awe to cause us to reconsider the significance of our role in the universe. His work deals more with humility than scenics. And that’s the point, an artist pulls you back to confront questions beyond the “Wow”.

We categorize photographers two ways: by genre (wedding, fashion, sports, nature, street, journalism, art… etc) and by dominant tools (beauty, shock, humor… Etc.). But we characterize the artist by depth of message. Tools like beauty can leave both the viewer and the photographer marooned at the “Wow”. Imagine if a playwright, novelist, or poet was limited to all good, or all evil. Imagine one limited to the one note of shock, menace, or beauty. There would never be a story arc, no narrative would occur. Their work might sell for a time, but would quickly languish. Who remembers for example, any of these astonishingly successful formerly household-names as artists: Dean Cornwell, Violette Oakley, Walter Biggs, Réne Bouché, Robert Peak, Lorraine Fox, Heysa McMein, or Dorothy Hood? Yet they made astonishing money for their art that was seem on a regular basis in the first half of the last century by hundreds of millions.

The torrent of beautiful images now available has led me to filter out those which I cannot look through as well as look at. I am searching for the portal to ideas or conclusions. Whether the window artists create leads me to ponder the human condition, the meaning of life, or the way we can alleviate hunger, or simply make happiness grow… Whether the consummation on the other side of an image is playful or fundamental, I value those images which lead me into a place which develops my thoughts or feelings something that Soth and Henderson are doing. I want beauty to bridge to a conclusion. And if the conclusion is veiled by ambiguity, that’s fine as well. Ambiguity engages me, causes me to ponder alternatives, a process which is satisfying by itself. Beauty is one element of accessibility… perhaps the most enthralling.

Too many photographer s of great craft also look to peel the “Wow” from its utility. We are drawn today to trivial image-making where “Wow” is the end rather than the means. Craft is a useful but insufficient condition for art, so is beauty. A work of craft or beauty will satisfy me once. A work of art will nurture me each time I return to ponder, and its power to bring me back is precisely the measure of its importance. Alone, beauty is cerebral/emotional junk food – taste without nutrition.

Because I suspect that somewhere deep down in our reptilian brains – beauty has a utility.

Saturday, March 15

Street People

Last December 23rd, just before Christmas I posted what's become a provocative image I made in Europe. Click here to refresh your memory of "If The Fates Allow." At the time it triggered contention, and divided commenters on a couple of important forums. A crunch of email further revealed that North American viewers came away from that image and the comments I made with very different conclusions from viewers living in the rest of the world. One of the points I made here on ImageFiction was:

"2. This picture was not taken in North America. That's important since so much of the rest of the world enjoys thinking that North America is a place that went from barbarism to decadence without every passing through civilization. This is a normal scene on the streets of many cities outside of North America, but not as far as my experience tells me, here"

Last week in San Francisco, my experience broadened. Just before Easter, let me show you this...
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1. They call this guy a "Street Person" in the City By The Bay. There are a lot of them, so many that the city apparently pays street people a monthly stipend. Many wonder if that payment is an effect of their congregating there, or a cause.
2. The image was made late afternoon along Fisherman's Warf, a seven or eight block area that teems with visitors.
3. Last week the San Francisco City Council voted to implant body shaped plaques into the sidewalks at spots where Street People died. The plaques will carry eulogies to those individuals, a sort of tombstone memorialization to perhaps thousands all along the city's streets.
4. Unlike the beggars in the European streets this street person spoke loudly to no one that I could see. People stopped to listen for a time, but his slurred words, while angry and raw, didn't form a coherent message, rather they appeared to be a stream of unrelated clauses. Were it not for the negative overtones of the term, I'd choose to characterize them as hostile babble.

Some years ago a progressive movement resulted in America closing most of those public asylums which supported the mentally challenged. Instead they were moved at first to halfway houses, and later released to the streets. Their "incarceration" was called a hostile act toward people, who if properly medicated, could live productive and meaningful lives in society. It's not known how many of those released routinely take their meds, or what percentage find the discipline of medicating themselves (medication which is fully subsidized) to be too challenging. It is possible that a disproportionate number of the unmedicated have found their way to the gentle climate of California and the supportive municipal governments in the Bay area.

Friday, March 14


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A bursty breeze stuttered across the Sausalito docks last Monday evening. The swirly air shook tiny-light dotted tree limbs and heavy-tilted a piling-tethered flock of metal balloons. Both the lights and balloons were meant to change that place, and how quickly the unexpected Spring wind changed them.
Like in life where our best efforts to alter the future are altered by whatever it contains.
Sometimes the results are lovely... but even then, they can be frantic, eh?

Wednesday, March 12


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We spent last weekend in and around San Fransisco.

Sausalito is a sort of fantasy spot. I'll never live there, which is probably a good thing. I've only visited a dozen or so times and each as a day-tripper over from San Fran there on the other side of the Bay. Which means I have surface knowledge: Know what I mean? It is for me what I want it to be. So it is the place I'd like to live, because that's the way I want it to be, a town that overlooks the glimmer of Oz as the sun fades into the west. It is at the end of the world... or its beginning.

Yeah, it's a fantasy.

Tuesday, March 11


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Monday night in San Francisco I wondered if there were pictures in airports. Yesterday as I wandered about O'Hare in a Chicago lay-over I noticed the tabloid newspapers everywhere blared on about some politician who'd been caught with prostitutes.

So I screwed on my X-Ray filter - the one that cuts through facades to reveal the X-rated characters who lurk underneath. And sure enough I caught this guy. Forget the lens babies, you really ought to get one of these things, they bring a new meaning to the term 'candid photography,' doncha think?

Monday, March 10

San Francisco

Have been on the Left Coast since Thursday, flying back to Lancaster tomorrow. Hope to have something to post here then. The weather's been terrific but the press of business has made picture taking hard when the light's been sweetest.... Darn. I'll see what I got on the plane. Anybody ever gotten decent pix at airports? Maybe there are some at the changeover in Chicago. That could be fun challenge. I'll let you know this week.

I wish I had John Roberts' eye on a trip like this. He'd come back with cards full of Americana that'd make us all see things we never notice. Sigh....

Sunday, March 2


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Sometimes sunlight can lever behind and snigger under things to ignite them. You can imagine on a perfectly still summer day: the outdoor light puffing up the curtains like a breeze: Teasing them out like the skirts on a tiny curtsy-girl. This kind of glow is more painterly than photographic. It's wonderful when light's caught like glimmering golden foam under a curtain's veil. Momentarily you're aware of life's orderly details - and how its parts balance.

With all of reality's significant meaning to be photographed, I wonder why sentimental moments like this seem at least as important. Any guesses?