31 December 2007
So here it finally is, the DarkTopo JPG extravaganza. Go vote!!
I’m very protective of those photos, and it’s kind of weird to see them with the bright white JPG background and banner advertisements flashing. Oh well, like I said, I’m heavily investing in this new avenue, with more projects to come.
Next up: Ozzfest ’05! Not for the faint of heart. I’ll keep you posted.
Based in Asheville, NC.
» Bachelor of Arts, Concentration in Photography. The University of North Carolina at Asheville, 2006.
» Adjunct Instructor of Photography, Southwestern Community College, Fall 2009
» Adjunct Instructor of Photography, Haywood Community College, 2007-2008
Selected Honors and Awards
» Honorable Mention, Carolina Clinchfield Historical Railroad Photo Contest, 2009
» BlogAsheville Award for Best Writing, on the photoblog “Dark Topography,” 2009
» Merit Award, Black & White Magazine, 2008
» Ryan Patrick Jones Excellence in Photography Award, 2005, UNCA
» Best in Show: Fourth annual juried Hendersonville Student Arts Competition
» Best in Show: 1999 Yancey County Celebration of the Arts
» Black & White Magazine, 2008
» Everywhere Magazine, 2008
» F-Stop Magazine, January 2008
» FILE Magazine, December 2007
» Asheville Citizen-Times, November, 2007
» Citizen-Times.com, March, July, August, 2007
» Marshall News-Record & Sentinel, March, 2007
» Headwaters Creative Arts Magazine, 2006
» Yancey Common Times-Journal, 2000
» ”To See A Darkness,” Group Exhibit, Asheville Area Arts Council’s Front Gallery, 2009
» AshevilleHDR, Pool Gallery, 2009
» AshevilleHDR, Asheville Regional Airport Gallery, 2009
» ”The District,” Solo Exhibit, Pump Gallery, 2008
» Castings, Flood Fine Art Center, 2008
» Collecting Contemporary, Flood Fine Art Center, 2007
» “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Solo Exhibit, Wedge Gallery, 2006
» Selected Student Artwork, Highsmith University Union Gallery, 2006
» Thirty-ninth Annual UNCA Juried Student Exhibition, 2006
» UNCA Arts Exhibit, Black Mountain Center for the Arts, 2006
» UNCA Student Photography Exhibition, Every-Day Gourmet, 2005
» Thirty-eight Annual UNCA Juried Student Exhibition, 2005
Works in Selected Collections
» Jolene Mechanic, Curator, Flood Fine Arts Center
» Anne Ponder, Chancellor, University of North Carolina at Asheville
26 December 2007
24 December 2007
"Nighttime photographs by Max Cooper make not-so-subtle political statements. There is a double image frame holding one photo of flags and another depicting a lighted cross behind a cluster of gravestones. His “II Chronicles” shows the lights of a quiet highway illuminating the back of a parked tractor-trailer labeled Ralph Sexton Ministries. In “The District,” car lights pass by a smokestack on Riverside Drive at twilight, and the background is filled with the lights from the Smoky Park Bridge and Westgate Shopping Center."
First, very sincere thanks to the Xpress for mentioning the show, and my work in particular.
For the record, I feel it's pretty important for me to say that my work is a-political. Clearly, it's up to the viewer to interpret it, but my intention is not to push any agenda, and it has always bothered me that people see crosses shrouded in darkness and immediately jump to the anti-Christian conclusion. I'm also wondering what "not-so-subtle" statements the Xpress found in "The District," which I hung simply because it's a good photo of a building next door to the gallery.
In any event, it's very gracious of the Xpress to cover the show, my work, and the District in general.
19 December 2007
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Film will not die until a bureaucrat convinces the media that it's bad for the environment. Then we'll see swift legislation to "phase in" digital cameras.
18 December 2007
11 December 2007
07 December 2007
There's also other art from all over, and I'm told the pricing ranges from $20-up, so bring your xmas dollars.
06 December 2007
"Photography is finally escaping any dependence on what is in front of a lens, but it comes at the price of its special claim on a viewer's attention as "evidence" rooted in reality. As gallery material, photographs are now essentially no different from paintings concocted entirely from an artist's imagination, except that they lack painting's manual touch and surface variation. As the great modern photographer Lisette Model once said, "Photography is the easiest art, which perhaps makes it the hardest." She had no idea how easy exotic effects would get, and just how hard that would make it to capture beauty and truth in the same photograph. The next great photographers—if there are to be any—will have to find a way to reclaim photography's special link to reality. And they'll have to do it in a brand-new way."
It's exactly what many of us have been saying for awhile now. Photography's strength is in its honesty. Without it, we might as well be painting.
And some do. Look at http://www.raph.com/3dartists/. There is some amazing work there, that rivals anything the photo.net neo-pictorialists can produce. This is the wave of the future. Why spend all that money on glass and tripods when you can just create it with software? I'm dead serious.
If you're not telling the truth, you're nothing.
03 December 2007
Anyway, I'm pulling into a parking lot to take a picture of the mill, and this black Benz pulls in behind me, blocking me in. Guy gets out, comes up to my window. Great.
"Can you explain why you took a picture of me?"
"Um, sir, I didn't take a picture of you."
"Don't give me that, I saw you hold up your little camera and take a picture of me."
I was shooting my F100. It's not a little camera. And this guy is not little either. Older, but quite big.
"Sir, I'm a photography professor, and I'm out here testing a new film, taking pictures of shadows and steam." This was right in front of the mill, with the clouds of steam billowing over us in the wind.
"Oh. Well, I apologize. I'm sorry to bother you."
That's a first. First time anyone has every apologized for yelling at me for shooting pictures. Also, it's the first time I've ever been yelled at while shooting a freakin film speed test.
I developed the roll tonight. Nothing but shadows and steam.
01 December 2007
New blogspot blog: ease of posting, better networking, better feedback, better photo handling.
Old html blog: Cool picture of SMAN and Chaingun in the background.
So here we are. The new blog is unveiled. All the old stuff is still there, a few posts down, and actually archived on the DarkTopo (you'll find a link in the old post). If you really hate the new format, or you're really glad I finally caught up with everyone, let me know with the nifty poll over to your right.
I had some crazy notion to get a bunch of prints matted and framed by this morning.
Didn’t happen. Because as soon as I drag out all those prints, I get all caught up in the bygone era that was my time in a real wet darkroom, and get misty-eyed over this digital holocaust.
But this time, things were a little different. Sure, there were the inky blacks and angelic whites, and all that gorgeous Ilford tonality. But there were also a whole lot of photos that just weren’t that good. A cabinet full, in fact.
The paradox of the darkroom is that it’s so much work, you only want to print what’s worth printing. But then, you have to make the print to see if it’s worth it. Even if you only make work prints, you’re still making prints. And what happens to all those prints, all those moments you stayed? They collect dust in a cabinet under the toaster.
With digital, you’re not wasting all that effort. And yeah, that sounds like the typical post-Gen-X convenience argument, to which the rebuttal is: “Effort? What effort? Back in my day, I shot 400 frames a week with a 4x5 view cam with landmines exploding and Marilyn Monroe blushing and then I’d make contact prints with candlelight and D76 and get them to the Times by dawn.”
But what about those prints collecting dust? Don’t they pollute the photography well, just by being there? We, photographers, practice an alchemy that the rest of the art world disdains. Isn’t it in our best interest to make sure that our images aren’t hurting our image? If an art critic ever looked in my print cabinet, some of those photos would tarnish my rep as sure as Volkswagen gives cars a bad name.
Not so with this digital holocaust. Even considering all its draw-backs, its plasticy cameras and its wistful ether, I shoot a lot more. And I only print what’s damn good. So many more moments stayed, and such a smaller percentage of those seeing the light of day.
But I’m still not convinced.
Anyway, I was listening to the new album while driving a borrowed car to Presto Framing Supplies in Hendersonville, where I bought my first mat cutter. It’s like a new member of the family. And speaking of family: guess what everyone’s getting for Christmas?! Mats!
Abell says that photography responds to the human need for “a moment—this very moment” to stay. Maybe. Sometimes I wish I could get rid of particular moments. Like any moment in Presto. Great service, awesome prices—but every time I’m there, I’m in some horrible deadline crunch and have to get 40 prints matted and framed by the next morning and I’m so broke it’s mat board or food, and we all know how that turns out. Mat board soup.
Last time I was in Presto was a month before the Wedge exhibition, and I was listening to a lot of Springsteen then as well. You know, Darkness on the Edge of Town and all. Now I’m not listening to much, because the CD player in my car is, well, in my car.
I keep doing this same thing, this trip to Presto, over and over, the way some people shoot the same things over and over. How many pictures of the Empire State Building must there be out there in the world? It’s been photographed a million times, but we still raise the camera every time we’re there.
And so I only shot one picture on the way:
BE ADVISED: This is the original text and imagery from the old DarkTopo blog. Links may not work. Formatting may not work. Ideology and logic may not work.
12 November, 2007
Coop’s Truisms for photographing the River District
1. Act like you know what you’re doing. The bums can smell fear. So can the artists.
2. Twelve Bones is never open. If they are open, you can’t get there because of the train.
3. Tolstoy was reincarnated as a graffiti artist, and the District is War and Peace.
4. You’ll reach a point where you think you can’t get any more post-modern. Then you find a horse grazing in the middle of the rubble on the West side of the river next to a gigantic, abandoned crucifix.
5. Railroad bulls hate photographers.
16 September - 4 Nov, 2007
I met a young couple on the street a few weekends ago, and photographed them. It had been a long night of the typical Asheville street fare: bums, tourists, architecture. All of which are valid subjects, none of which are particularly interesting to me.
I’m struggling to come to terms with digital photography. I spent years learning to see in black and white, with the dynamic range of silver-based film. Specifically HP5, which I always shot because of its latitude and mid-tone response. Since going digital, I’ve gotten some great looking images, but nothing that looks like HP5.
Frankly, this drives me insane. Intellectually, I know that digital is indeed “real” photography, and arguably offers greater control and quality than film. But, emotionally, when I can’t find the aesthetic I spent years achieving, I’m a basket case, and I want to conclude that digital will never be as real as real photography.
My students make fun of my dark website. And yeah, I know it’s melodramatic. The only good art is self-aware art, and drama is part of this site, no doubt. But there is also the dry logic: Darkness is the default state of silver photography. If you run film through your camera without opening the shutter, you get clear negatives.
Put those in an enlarger, and you find pure black. Darkness, in this sense, is not a moral reference. It’s simply the starting point for every single photograph taken before 1980 or so. Therefore, even the pictures I took in the light of day were, natively, dark.
But then, there’s digital. What is the default value of digital photography? Is it still darkness? If you develop an un-exposed digital sensor, all you have is wasted money. In digital, even the darkroom isn’t really dark at all. So does that leave a Dark Topography hanging by the thread of my imagination?
Maybe. And maybe that’s enough. Greater work has been done with less.
I always shot black and white for three reasons: Control, archival properties, and aesthetics. Black and white film offers the photographer more reach over his image than anything except, well, digital. And processed correctly, silver negatives will outlive anyone reading this blog.
With those things in mind, black and white was hardly an aesthetic choice, but if color film could offer the same control and archivability, I’d still have shot HP5. Hue is not just icing on the cake, it is the cake. Value is the square meal.
The aesthetic went deeper, became fundamental. Color was a crutch. If a photograph required color to make it interesting, I wasn’t interested. What good is something so subjective? Why complicate what is already complex enough?
The Bard says my work is part of the sub-culture, and I should market it as such. And by sub-culture, he means counter-culture. I feel like I work in a long-standing tradition and I’m heavily influenced by the same photographers that influenced everyone else. But most people walk through life without ever making or buying a photograph for its own sake, and so, in that respect, we’re all counter-culture here in the darkroom.
Wait, what darkroom? The closet, where my Leitz enlarger sits next to my 8-track duplicator and my table lighter and my tie pin and my carburetor? Feeling bitter, Cpt. Monochrome?
But there’s this couple on the street, here they are:
I could not have taken this shot on HP5. Midtone response scmidtone response. Those socks are not black and white. And neither is she.
“You’re driving my dogs crazy.”
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a picture of this mailbox.”
“That’s my mailbox.”
“Would you like it of some asshole came and took a picture of your mailbox?”
“No, ma’am, I guess I wouldn’t.”
So I ran into the couple again, in the mall, when my then-fiancé and I were buying wedding rings. Oh yeah, I got married. No, I won’t post the wedding pictures. Quit asking. Back to counter-culture.
Ran into the couple again and gave them a business card. It’s taken me this long to post the photo, because the voices in my head tell me conflicting stories about what this website is all about. Besides, will a couple their age be interested in a site this lacking in pomp and circumstance?
My readership has dwindled a bit. Might be because I haven’t updated in months. More likely because I’m not plugged into the blogosphere because I’d rather be shooting and boring my students talking about focal length and chromatic aberration. I’m old school. I meet people for lunch.
All that has to change, say the voices.
Submitting to magazines should be what happens to the damned in the seventh circle of hell.
Seems my work isn’t fine art enough for the fine artists, and a little too fine art for the avant-guardians. Doesn’t matter. Avant-garde is a French term anyway, and look how Cartier-Bresson turned out.
Anyway, The Bard says LensWork and B&W are not the publications for DarkTopo. I’m beginning to agree, and so are most of the voices. The voices point out that I did have my first solo exhibition in an abandoned warehouse on the railroad tracks, after all. The voices say I should find an audience that appreciates not just the avant-gardeness of my fine art work, but the fact that I stand there shooting a mailbox for five long, long minutes while Chopper wants to eat me:
So this is the changing nature of photography. Half the magazines I submit to want silver gelatin prints to calibrate their quadtone reproductions. The other half just want a link to my Flickr account. I don’t have either.
What I do have is a bunch of old pictures of SMAN setting himself on fire in the middle of the woods, and a couple on the street, and these chairs in someone’s yard:
In the end, you take pictures of who you are, and if your subjects can’t also be your audience, you might as well be painting. This doesn’t mean you can say I sold out when I get into MoMA. It means that I don’t want to get into MoMA until the Art World sincerely appreciates the bone-chilling rattle of a freight train ten inches from the viewfinder.
What it also means is that there’s that couple out there, and I don’t think they care that my photos are matted with acid-free linen tape. And the more I care about that, the less I can relate to them.
As far as digital vs. the state of the art, JPG magazine calls this the era of brave new photography. I’ve wanted to shoot that kind of photography for years, but it never occurred to me that I’d have to be a pioneer of media as well as subject and vision. And, even now, I’m still not convinced.
1 Aug, 07
Midnight thirty again. A quick update before I close out this month’s folder on my harddrive.
A comment on the NYC situation from a friend in Cali: “one other point i thought of while reading your blog about NY: if those laws had been in place during 9/11, we probably wouldn't have footage of the planes hitting the towers. nothing to plaster all over the news, but nothing so visceral as a visual of the actual event. make of that what you will.”
A good point, folks. Get those letters in. The deadline is August 3. Close of business Friday.
The Cornerstone Baptist sign: I shot that picture last weekend, and it was demolished the next time I drove by. Never fails. That’s why every shot counts.
And, frankly, that’s why I’m glad I have 6x6 film shots of that same church sign. What a straightforward statement of belief and culture, gone. Will my camera RAW files be readable in a decade? Who knows? But I can make prints of that sign for the next sixty years before I even think about retiring the negative.
A good friend of mine believes that, because we are analog creatures, we will one day suffer some unspeakable damage from living in a digital world. I counter with this:
Digital is just the next evolution of human language. Compressing color and luminosity into ones and zeros is nothing compared to compressing experience into words. And then he counters: But ones and zeros can be manipulated in ways analog information cannot. It’s Orwellian. Any powerful communication tool inevitably draws the attention of the powers that be.
Consider NYC. It’s very hard to ban cameras, but not so hard to ban software. What would happen if someone decides you need a permit to use jpeg compression software? Because jpegs can communicate so much so easily, maybe we need to know who’s creating them. I bet jpeg is the format of choice for terrorists and pornography rings. Time to regulate it.
If you think it’s never going to happen, ask our friends from the UK about getting a license to watch TV.
27 July, 07
This morning I got the email forward about Bloomberg’s proposed regulations on photography in New York City. I have called the NY Film Commission (who were unable to answer my questions) and I’ve read the proposed law.
Photographers and videographers are limited to shooting for 30 minutes hand-held, or 10 minutes on a tripod, alone, within a single location. Should they want to work longer, or with an assistant, they can get a “free” permit. A requirement for the permit is a $1,000,000 insurance policy, and a “free” police escort.
1. First Amendment. Too many good people have died to protect free speech for New York City to enact such laws.
2. I have heard the tired arguments about safety. Tripods are no more hazardous than strollers, uneven sidewalks, construction crews, sleeping bums, and New York City itself. And they serve a higher function (see #1).
3. Half an hour in a single location? Will the government turn off its street-corner surveillance cameras after half an hour? What about cameras in ATMs? If .gov and .biz can run their cameras, why can’t I?
4. Let’s be honest: This is the city where cops shoot unarmed men 41 times and go undisciplined. Of course they want restrictions on cameras.
5. As you’ve no doubt gathered from the “On Target” prose, I am a rights-obsessed person. New Yorkers may not own weapons or record their surroundings for more than 30 minutes . . . does this qualify as rights-infringement? If not, when will it? When they take cameras away entirely, as they have handguns? When photographing law enforcement is illegal? When the press can no longer carry cameras?
The Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting has a http://www.nyc.gov/html/film/html/home/contact_moftb.shtml>comments submission form on its website. Here is a sample letter. If you disagree with this kind of thing, make yourself heard.
The last post was about finding a new Hitler in the streets of Asheville. I've thought a lot about the lengths to which a free man must go to remain free. Photography is one of those lengths. And so, because I can, the South entrance of Asheville's Federal Building:
22 July, 07
Being a street photographer is like being an artist without an art. In a sense, you’re a pariah, and in another sense, a parasite. You don’t create art so much as stumble on it, and, if you’re lucky, catch it unaware.
This is not to say that I’m a street photographer. With HCB and Walker Evans as role-models, calling myself a street shooter feels like an Eagle Scout calling himself the president. Still, I shoot on the street when I can’t think of anything else, and take the same tired abstractions.
A few months ago I was in the student center at UNCA, looking at the big photos of Asheville in the early part of the last century. You’re supposed to look at them and think how cool it is to see your city as it was 80 years ago, when those old buildings were new, and the man on the street felt so achingly modern. Obviously, he didn't know that it’s impossible to be modern without cellphones.
That’s what you’re supposed to think. I think: Who the hell takes these photos? What total pedantic is going to stand there and shoot a straight-forward shot of Pack Square, just for posterity. There’s not even any edgy social commentary or underexposed nude women. This isn’t Art.
The sobering realization is that it’s me. I’m the guy that takes these photos. With all this talk about documentary photography being superior to art as a form of human expression, I really ought to bite the bullet and take some Pack Square photos.
I’m used to sacrificing aesthetics to get the shot. Hell, 50% of my published photos this year have been taken with a cellphone. But I never thought I’d have to sacrifice . . . coolness.
But the ambition of photography is permanence. Think how cool those old photos of Asheville are, seeped in all that anachronism and dramatic irony. Well, it’s only ironic because it’s 80 years later, and that man in the fedora who thinks he’s so modern is me. Maybe when I’m dead and gone they’ll blow my photos up to mural-size and put them in a student center somewhere.
I’m reading John Toland’s biography of Adolph Hitler. It’s horrifying, obviously. The biggest illumination so far is that Hitler was an artist first, and politico second. In many ways, politics were his curse, a habit like drugs, that pulled him away from his art.
There is also the John Cusack movie, disturbingly titled “Max,” in which Hitler finally turns away from painting to become the leader of the Reich.
A few years ago, Larry White exhibited his prints of negatives found in an attic somewhere, taken by two men traveling through Europe in the 1930’s. I distinctly remember a street shot in Germany, taken of a modest parade of military vehicles, and onlookers who seemed to have no idea what the next decade would bring. I always associate the memory of that photograph with Hitler’s character in “Max,” hissing that “politics is the new art.”
The paradox of documentary photography can be summed up like this: I would give my right arm to be able to photograph a homeless Hitler painting in the streets, but it will take decades to discover which homeless painter that is. And by that time, documentary photographers might be, as the Germans say, verboten.
Asheville has more artists that she can handle. They live in studios downtown or by the river. Or sometimes on the street. And we have more than our fair share of onlookers with no idea what the next decade will bring. I can tell you with certainty that it will be full of dramatic irony. So here’s Pack Square as of 0800, 22 July 2007:
21 July 07
I’m very uncomfortable with the rainbow picture in Recent Images. This is, after all, a Dark Topography. Isn’t a pretty mural and rainbow image out of place in a website devoted to a dimmer, more haunting outlook? How am I supposed to take myself too seriously with all those colors shining all over the place?
Two things temper the irony: One, the picture right after it, from a recent trip to the dentist. And two, my friend The Bard, who says “I agree with that mural. The only good hippy is a headless hippy.”
1 July, 07
On the way home from the most recent wedding, my car’s air conditioner literally fell out on the pavement. No problem, I live in the mountains, right? How hot could it ever possibly get?
Bridal shoot this weekend in Charlotte. I feel like a lobster, and my driver’s side arm looks like one. Didn’t see a single bear on the way home, either.
28 June, 2007
“Frail and bedazzled from all the glare.”
Asheville has gone Pumpkins crazy. Everybody’s running around trying to catch a glimpse of Billy Corgan and gush about how they are his biggest fan. This is clearly folly, because I am his biggest fan. In fact, I even have a portrait of him that I shot back in 2000 at Manifest Music in Charlotte, where I established my place as fan 1 by waiting in line at four in the morning to meet Corgan and James Iha.
In a rare break in my type-A photographic compulsion, I’ve decided not to put a lot of effort in to photographing the band. The Orange Peel and Pumpkins management is allowing cameras, but really, what shots can I get that their staff photogs can’t?
So I’m using my phone. I’d like to pretend it’s on account of artistic integrity, but really it’s just hard to enjoy a show with 10 pounds of gear around your neck. I took maybe five shots during the show, and none of the band when I and the rest of the die hard fans met them out back at 0200.
Do I feel like a slacker for missing Asheville’s brush with superstardom? Only until the house lights go down.
26 June, 2007
I’ve gotten a lot of sympathy mail about my maglite. Thanks. For what it’s worth, I’ve replaced it with a brand new 4D and the LED conversion. Brightness in a can.
One wedding down, three to go.
With that in mind, if anybody out there is interested in having their wedding shot exclusively with a cellphone, I’ll do it for free. I’ll also extend the same offer for my Zenitar fisheye, my Holga, or my Voigtlander Perkeo, if you buy the film. And I’m dead serious.
FM2n + Zenitar 16mm + cellphone =
17 June, 2007
“Siobhan, oh Siobhan”
Got my pocket picked watching The Tossers last night. This was a fitting end to a long day. A good bridal shoot in the morning, but no pictures of the bear I saw on the way home or the Tossers themselves. Sometimes you can’t get them all.
8 June, 2007
Some photographers obsess over their gear. I obsess over my maglite. It finally died. Actually, I’m sure it still works, but the batteries exploded and stuck inside the barrel. The last time I turned it on was Easter night on Phillips Knob, shooting photos of the giant fluorescent cross.
That mag has been with me more than any other single piece of gear I own, including my K1000. It may not seem like a crucial piece of photo equipment, but I can say from experience that it’s very hard to work a manual camera in total darkness. More importantly, a 4D maglite gives you a certain amount of comfort when you’re in the River District alone at night.
And, in an age where everything is smaller and lighter, sometimes it’s nice to have something that is by nature and necessity big and heavy. Like a Mamiya, but not.
So there’s a cellphone picture in the Recent Images. This is sinking even lower than the Mavica shot in the last update. I saw this ghetto sled coming from a block away. There was no way to get to my Nikon in the trunk, or my ME carabineer-ed to the headrest in my car. But I got the shot. And anybody that doesn’t like it can buy me a Bessa.
Also, the raccoon in Recent Images was rabies-positive. And those traffic lights never stop blinking.
And the text in the fogged window: "We have had a gutful of fast art / and fast food. What need need more / of is slow art that [obscured]"
16 May, 2007
So. I have a cellphone (contact page updated). Not only that, but I have a cellphone with a camera on it. How postmodern.
What the hell. One day you wake up and realize your medium is an alternative process, like cyanotype or palladium printing. Silver-based photographers, I’m sure, are now outnumbered by cellphone photographers. The only difference between my Samsung cameraphone today and the Kodak Retina of yesterday is about four pounds and a lot of convenience. In either case, purists of an older format bemoan the death of photography.
Ironically, my digital photography descends into art more readily than my film work. This is because it can, because I’m not limited by per-exposure costs that force me to take only pictures with a higher purpose than art. When there’s no risk involved, I’m much more likely to make a photograph that exists only for itself, rather than as a document of something else:
What kind of place is this modern world, where we use the same color paint on our economy cars and in our graffiti? Does this mean that outlaw artists are equipped only with the hues allowed to them by the industrial machine? And does the graffitist have the last laugh by using the system’s colors against itself, or is he unknowingly painting into the wind? And don’t both of those ideas pale in comparison to the truly vibrant color of the flowers in the upper right?
Of course they do. I de-saturated them in Photoshop. That’s art for you.
29 April, 2007
Anyone within driving distance of Asheville should go see Courtney Robbins’ show in the BA gallery at UNCA. It is good to see a documentary photographer with such empathy and respect for her subjects.
New photos in Commercial Images from my tenure at Musician’s Workshop.
Speaking of commercial images: With so many potential clients looking at this site, am I brave enough to post a photo taken with a Sony Mavica? I think I am. Recent images.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as gear oriented as the next photo.net member. I’ve got my Nikkors and slow film. But this is a truthful medium, and what’s important is capture. Aesthetics are for artists; honesty is the photographer’s business. So there’s a Mavica shot, because it was what I had at the time.
That, and the kindness of strangers:
Taking a break from an all-day printing binge. We'll see if my back and brain can handle another four hours. I'm not getting the sharpness I need and I can't tell where the problem is. Once, when I was tired and hungry, I ran through about a dozen work prints with the lens board out of alignment. Paper is too precious to repeat such mistakes.
Like anything worth doing, photography is a resource war. Money for the materials, time to exercise the skill, food and sleep to keep going. At some point you have to draw the line.
But not yet.
14 April 2007
This website has been up for 11 days. In that time it has received twenty thousand hits. Not bad for a pile of HTML with some flash freeware thrown in.
Kyle Cassidy of armedamerica.org has been a big help. It’s an honor to have my site plugged by someone with such a comprehensive and well-rendered body of work. So everybody visit his site and buy his book that comes out this summer.
It has been a year since my last exhibition. My progress has been modest, which is one reason I’m pushing myself so hard now. But progress seems to be a nebulous thing in photography. Sometimes it’s hanging, publishing, getting contracts signed. Sometimes it’s standing on top of a mountain in the freezing cold, exposing a negative that trumps everything in last year’s binder.
But, hey . . . 20,000. With those numbers, maybe I can sell advertising for Ilford and Ingles-brand lighter fluid.
27 March, 2007
I am still not back to 10 rolls per week. Sometimes I wonder if I ever actually shot that much film, but I have the bulging binders full of negatives to prove it. I can’t help comparing my 2007 contact sheets with those from other years: I shot more film at the Baker’s Creek dam in one day than I shoot now in two weeks.
Last night I developed seven rolls and shot two more, so that's nine. And I’m shooting tighter now, sometimes in color, sometimes on slower film. I miss a backpack full of HP5 and a clear objective, but there is benefit to this attrition.
There have also been other benefits. I have indeed put my life back together. I can run a 5k and bench my own body weight (almost). I generally get more than five hours of sleep every night, and I eat three meals a day. I am engaged, and the majority of my photographs are of my fiancé, who puts up with it. I see my friends and family on a regular basis. I don’t smell like chemicals.
But yesterday I ordered some empty canisters and dug out the bulk loaders. One for HP5, one for Delta 100. My F100 is repaired and supplemented with a full-manual backup. Tonight I am working on this website with a gut full of caffeine.
So there are echoes. And the original noises are present here in these notes.
March 18, 2007
January 19, 2007
Edit 18Mar07: "Launching website" is a phrase that has mocked me for the past two months. I just got a response from my second editor
yesterday at 0800, and I haven't begun to make changes.
The hard truth is that something is better than nothing. I can obsess over this site for another 60 days and it still won't be perfect.
No matter how hard I try, Internet Explorer still won't render both spaces after periods and colons. This, and the recent photos in the papers have taught me
that perfection and accomplishment are not the same thing.
So, a paradigm shift, with websites as with photography:[spacespace]
F8 and be there.
May 06 - Jan 07: The Photographic Life
The gap in my notes stems from the gap in my photography. It takes six months to put a life back together after spending two years in the dark. I quit ordering film, quit printing, mostly due to money, but also because I needed to feel normal.
I was still shooting, but down to a roll every couple of weeks, instead of ten rolls a week. My projects ground to a halt as I failed to financially justify such extensive work. In September, I was shooting a baptism in the middle of the Cane River when my F100 developed problems. Nikon wouldn’t touch it for less than $100, and that was a tall order. So the attrition continued.
At some point I was standing in the living room and took this picture. “Tractor,” a photograph that had given me new direction and started the “Darkness” project. I remember taking this photograph, matting it, framing it. I showed it at a critique in September of 2004, and at the time I thought it was the best photograph I had ever taken. And now it was sitting askew on top of the clutter in my house, useless.
Things changed after that.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Darkroom ghouls drank all the developer. Home today to shoot more pictures. Back for a big photo party.
The world turns on bagels, Delta 100, gasoline, and 7.62x39mm rifle rounds.
April 18, 2006
Last night I dreamed about darkness. And I know darkness: I know how to work in it, I know how to achieve it, and I know what it is. This darkness was total and absolute, no detail, no film grain, no fiber-based semi-glossy sheen. I wasn't looking into it, I was in it. The darkness began where my eye ended.
There was one image: crossing the Toe River in the dead of night over a 100-year flood. I was on the bridge at Relief, and the water was raging. But even the white foam was barely above black.
Friday, April 14, 2006
Looking back through my notes, I found this:
"People talk about low points in their lives. Well, let me tell you, waking up on the floor of the mat-cutting room was scraping pretty low. Especially because I had only been asleep for an hour and had only had a rice krispie treat to eat for the last twelve.
"But it's done, and I got an A.
"At some point, I'll probably post these images. But right now they are mine, they are archivally processed and matted on acid-free board with linen tape. Fiber based, well fixed, over washed, and dry-pressed. No one else is allowed near them. Especially not all you internet ghouls.
"My house is a wreck, my car is a wreck. Basically, my life is a wreck, and I have a short amount of time to put it back together before next semester starts and I wreck it all over again. And the semester after that, of course, I have my show. Already making me queasy.
"But for now I can just sit here and try to quell the shakes that come from all that productivity."
I have still not hit that low point again. As bad as this semester has been, I have woken up in my bed every morning. No more rice krispie treats and whiskey for dinner.
But: it is 3:18 a.m. the day of my senior show, and I have just now realized that I lost my artist's statement. I have an exam in eight hours for which I haven't done a lick of studying. And I have to work today.
So I'm close.
Friday, April 07, 2006
Last night I was cutting mats and building frames in the seminar room right beside the darkroom. About 11, some guy from painting comes in and says that his studio is flooding. So I go unlock the darkroom and there's two inches of water on the floor. Some newbie left the print washer running and the sink clogged.
Being the ranking photo student on the scene, I had to call and wake Larry up to tell him that his darkroom, with thousands of dollars worth of moisture-sensitive chemicals and equipment, was under two inches of water.
And the whole time I’m thinking "what if . . . ?" What if I had left my prints on the floor? My negatives? What if the enlargers got completely ruined? How would I finish working for my show that opens in eight days?
Thursday, March 30, 2006
I just found out that the art department not double- but TRIPLE-booked my show date. I am competing with another student, and the student/faculty show. Add to that the fact that it's Good Friday . . . this doesn't sound like fun at all.
A picture from a previous March:
Edit 20Jan07: My K1000. I bought it for $10 and the lens for $89. This is the camera that took most of the images on this site.
This picture was taken with my buddy's digital point and shoot. We were on an island in the middle
of the Toe. We waded across the river in March. At one point I fell, dropping
my camera. I figured it would be DOA after this, but it functioned flawlessly the rest of the day.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Guess who has a one-man show at the prestigious, uber-trendy Wedge gallery.
Friday, February 03, 2006
Back in the day, I could make what I thought was a perfect print in 45 minutes. Most of those night shots were straight up exposures back then. No big deal, stick it in the easel, focus, burn it, done.
Not so these days. Now all I see is room for improvement. That last 3% that will make it absolutely perfect takes an extra two hours. No matter how long I do this, I never get the hang of it. Every image is a start from scratch.
The kick in the kidneys is that this will no longer be a skill in ten years. It will be an eccentricity. Like people that churn their own butter.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Today L wouldn't follow me down to the dam to take pictures. We just rode around and shot from the car. I need to get away from people with no resolve before I become one myself. 'It’s cold,' 'it's raining,' and 'what if I hurt my camera' do not satisfy. There’s work to be done.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Paper finished at 2 a.m. I double spaced it, when it was supposed to be 1.5, and added a quarter inch to the margins.
Walked outside. My car is a block of ice. I turn around to get some warm water for the windshield. Public safety has locked the doors. I find a half full bottle of water in the floorboards. Now instead of 1/64th of an inch of ice, I have at least an eight of an inch. It’s 20 degrees out. I don't have an ice scrapper; I turn on my car and wait.
2:40 a.m. now. Paper’s due at 8.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
A cold, dark, strange night.
I was taking a picture of a runaway truck ramp in Tennessee when, waddaya know, there was a runaway truck. No, just kidding. But, I’m looking down this truck ramp, and there's two . . . things . . . sitting there about a hundred yards up. Larger than rabbits, smaller than deer, definitely not dogs. They just sat there, perfectly still, centered in the truck ramp.
Shot four rolls of film, which is A LOT of night shooting. Normally I’ll shoot one roll when I go out, maybe two if there's something really interesting or if I have to bracket a lot.
I had very close encounters with cops, trains, semis, and a pit bull.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Nine hours in the darkroom so far today. Got four prints still to go.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
"Yes, Mr. Cooper, we really admire your work, and we'd love to see it in the pages of National Geographic. However, before publication, there is one issue that we mustn’t overlook: can you make a vegetable-shaped tea pot out of clay?"
"Uh . . .?"
"Surely you're aware of the importance of ceramics in photographic fieldwork."
"Well, I, uh . . ."
"Mr. Cooper, when a National Geographic photographer finds himself facing a half ton hippo on the banks of the Nile, a ceramic teapot may mean the difference between capturing or losing the moment. You DID enjoy your ceramics class, didn't you?
“ . . ."
"Hippos know, Mr. Cooper. They can size you up in a moment. And if they find your ceramics skills lacking, all the photography experience in the world won't stop a thousand pounds of charging hippoflesh."
"But my resume . . ."
"This interview is over, Mr. Cooper. Come back when you can make a teapot."
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Oh man. Another 4 a.m. Seen a lot of these lately.
"Too much horror business, driving late at night."
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Well, I paid my $5 for parking and my $7 to get in, and I got zero pictures, because the Gun Show security confiscated my camera at the door. So I wandered around for about twenty minutes, looking at all the guns I can't afford, and all the cool mil-surp gear I can't afford, and all the interesting political books I can't afford.
By the time I left, I was in too bad a mood to ask why they don't allow cameras. I couldn't tell if it was a civic center thing or a gun show thing. I may go back and sneak a camera in, but I have a feeling the members of the NC Militia wouldn't be too happy about being photographed without their permission.
I never thought a gun show would be a place where I’d feel helpless. But when they confiscated my camera and put a cable tie through the barrel of my Glock, I felt pretty naked.
Photographers and armed citizens have much in common. In addition to the mechanics, the visual acuity and timing, our tools cause controversy. Many of the same places that don't allow weapons also don't allow cameras. And in most places where you really need a weapon, you will find photographers.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The New Art History
Edit 18Mar07: I wrote this for a course called "Art Since 1960." I feel a bitter kinship with
critics and historians because in the eyes of the captial-A Art world, they, like photographers, are just artists that didn't make it.
Grombich views technical progression in art as an evolution from ‘haptic’ to ‘optic’:
from art derived from the sense of touch to art derived from the sense of sight. He refers to
early pictorial cave drawings and how they differ from today’s trompe l'oeil works. Grombich’s
idea that the technical prowess of the artist is independent of the value of the work is valid.
Art is a craft that progresses through time, and while
pre-historic cave painters may not be the craftsman that Michelangelo was, they were no less
artists painting ceilings. Though Grombich uses
camera metaphors and refers to the craftsmanship of Japanese cameras, his ‘haptic’ vs. ‘optic’
discussion only discusses the “slow evolution of naturalistic styles from . . .
pictographic methods to . . . photographic ones,” leaving out actual photographic methods.
It seems that Grombich appreciates photography only for the quality of its replication and does
not consider it worthy of study as an art.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
I’ve been out shooting since that last post. I do my best shooting alone, but it's getting to me. The day stuff I can handle, even when I'm shooting sites way out in the woods. Hell, I waded through the river in March by myself. But the night work gets creepy.
In some ways, shooting in Asheville is more creepy, because you know there are weirdos out there. And you'll probably run into them. But way out in the woods, you know there probably aren't weirdos. You’re probably all alone. That’s what makes it so creepy when you hear footsteps and dragging metal in the carwash that looked so cool from the road.
And you know that if you get attacked by a weirdo in Asheville, he'll probably be some methed-out weasel you can knock over with a maglight and just keep shooting. But if you get jumped in Burnsville, it's gonna be Leatherface. Or some seven foot tall guy wearing Leatherface's face.
Edit 2April07: I live in constant fear that I'll be looking closely at one of my photos and see a figure or a face in the darkness. Working on this website, that fear was realized. At 4000 dpi, a tall figure is barely visible behind a vat in one of the industrial scenes. I stared at it for along time, with my blood running cold, before I realized it was my buddy SMAN, setting up his tripod.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Last night E and I were shooting on Haywood at about midnight. It started raining, so we got back in the car. This guy pulled up in a truck and got out (in the rain) and started walking toward the car while unbuckling his belt.
As beat up as it is, my car can still outrun a pervert with his pants around his ankles.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
4:47 a.m. Done.
Not with drying, pressing, matting, or spotting. Or driving to Hendersonville to pick up the mat board. And then picking up my prints at school. And then getting to work by 12.
Oh, and a new record has been set: 20 hours. So damn if I didn't log another two actual days in the darkroom again this semester.
Art as an Engine for Social Change
Art as an Engine for Social Change
Art Since 1960
Dr. Ginger Spivey
31 March, 2005
So, let me get this straight. Beuys puts a slab of fat on a chair and waves around a crucifix and that sparks social change? He shows how artists can exist in the context of political movements? I don’t buy it.
Can art spark social change? Sure. Can artists be politically active and work to better society? Sure. Does it work? Very rarely.
If Beuys was so shocking and revolutionary, why have I never heard of him before? I’m a decently well-read person. Why didn’t I recognize his work? Why wasn’t my life profoundly changed by the dead hare?
No offense, but: The art world and academia are desperately out of touch with reality. The art I’ve seen in this class is introverted and cryptic and makes no attempt to communicate to someone who isn’t part of the educated elite.
I include myself in that generalization. And I understand most of the art we look at. But I will not agree with the idea that it means anything when it comes to social change and political activism.
Even Lynda Benglis, in all of her masturbatory glory, is pretty ineffectual when it comes to making the world a better place. Fat on a chair? That’s not a statement, that’s cry for attention. The Gates display in Central Park drew all sorts of crowds, but the most sweeping review I’ve heard of it said something like “I’ll never see Central Park the same way again.” Is that social change?
This class and art-academics in general ignore the most powerful engines of social change because they aren’t “Art.” If you want to see visual art that made things happen, you have to look at photos and videos.
Photo/video media pretty much caused the peace movement during the 60s. A nation that had never seen war couldn’t take it in their living rooms. Photographers were dealing with issues of feminism in the 30s. Serra doesn’t have a tenth of the machismo of your average National Geographic photographer. Andy Goldsworthy and his ilk do some interesting things with nature and time . . . that Harold Edgerton did first in the 1920s.
Which spawned more social outcry . . . Beuys’ crucifix antics or the Rodney King video? But was the bystander that took the video an artist? Well, is Richard Long an artist?
I think they are both artists. If I didn’t think Goldsworthy’s work was absolutely the coolest thing since sliced bread, I’d probably be a mass-com major. I love this stuff. The eloquence and skill with which artists deal with their content never ceases to inspire and amaze me.
But let’s get real. Eloquence doesn’t mean much to the masses. To reach them you need cruder, more brutal media. Unless you want to include those media under the title of “Art,” making the argument that art changes anything is an uphill battle.
Edit 29 Mar 06: Thanks for reading this far. Here's a picture of a starfish.