Outliers: Czeching Out the Women

Miroslav Tichý (1926-2011) with Home-Made Junk Camera

This is one of an occasional series on alternatives to the “giants” of modern art, particularly the abstract expressionists whose work I so dislike. Today I write about Miroslav Tichý of the Czech Republic, who made his own cameras. His subject? The women of Kyjov, the town where he lived. None of the pictures for which he is noted are sharp. He seems to be intent on seeing how fuzzy his pictures can be and still communicate what he wants them to.

Women at Swimming Pool

The above photograph is a good example. It shows three young bikini-clad girls walking around the edge of a swimming pool.  It is framed by surrounding foliage including the trunk of a tree at left and bushes and leaves on three sides.

Nude with Frame

Here we have what, in the hands of a realist painter, would be a classical nude partially obscured on the lower left by an unidentified object. At first, I thought it was her leg; but it couldn’t be.

Looking at his pictures, I cannot deny that they have a certain elegance and beauty. Tichý described his methods tersely in two unconnected sentences:

  • “First of all, you have to have a bad camera”
  • “If you want to be famous, you must do something more badly than anybody in the entire world.”

As American urban slang shows, you can be bad and good at the same time.


The Photographer and the Cañar

St. Anthony Day Parade

St. Anthony Day Parade

In preparation for my trip, I am reading Judy Blankenship’s excellent Cañar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador. Although the text is excellent, what impressed me the most were Judy’s photographic portraits in black and white of the Cañar villagers she and her husband Michael got to know in the time they spent in the indigenous Andean area some two hours north of Cuenca. Unfortunately, these portraits must be well protected, because I was unable to hijack any of them to show you. (I guess you’ll just have to get your hands on the book.)

Below is one of Judy’s pictures in black and white of the Carnaval parade in Curreucu:

Carnaval Parade in Curreucu

Carnaval Parade in Curreucu

Although Judy Blankenship is not a professionally trained ethnologist, she could have fooled me. Her description of marriage, entrada (betrothal), funeral, and other rituals makes for delightful reading—not to mention her photography workshops for indigenous women and even a few nuns. Below is a photograph of the author:

Judy Blankenship

Judy Blankenship

At this point, I have not read anything else by her; but I do believe it would be worth hunting down some of her other work, most especially her photographs.

At the Café of Lost Youth

Paris Café Scene, 1950s

Paris Café Scene, 1950s (Ed van der Elsken)

On the back cover of my New York Review edition of Patrick Modiano’s In the Café of Lost Youth was an intriguing blurb:

In the Café of Lost Youth is vintage Patrick Modiano, an absorbing evocation of a particular Paris of the 1950s, shadowy and shady, a secret world of writers, criminals, drinkers, and drifters. The novel, inspired in part by the circle (depicted in the photographs of Ed van der Elsken) of the notorious and charismatic Guy Debord, centers on the enigmatic, waiflike figure of Louki, who captures everyone’s attention even as she eludes possession or comprehension.

Naturally, I was intrigued and looked up the photos of Ed van der Elsken, of which I present two samples here. The above café scene is strongly suggestive of the Modiano book. The Parisian girls shown below are appealing images from a time long past:

Parisian Girls 1950s (Ed van der Elsken)

Parisian Girls 1950s (Ed van der Elsken)

One of the reasons I am drawn to Modiano’s work is that I am in love with Paris of the 1950s. I love the films (Melville, Chabrol, early Godard), the philosophy (Sartre, Camus), and now, with Modiano, the writers—even though he is writing retrospectively about the period over the last decade.

For more photos by Ed van der Elsken, click here.


Dogs in Cars

An Eerie Collection of Photographs

An Eerie Collection of Photographs

I saw it on the CBS News website. It was a slideshow of photographs of dogs sitting in cars. The photographs are the work of Martin Usborne which were published in a book called The Silence of Dogs in Cars. According to the CBS website, which I recommend you visit:

Fine art photographer Martin Usborne has a unique vision of man’s best friend. His book The Silence of Dogs in Cars is a entrancingly intense emotional study based on his memory of being once once left in a car as a child. “I don’t know when or where or for how long, possibly at the age of four, perhaps outside a supermarket, probably for fifteen minutes only. The details don’t matter. The point is that I wondered if anyone would come back. The fear I felt was strong: in a child’s mind it is possible to be alone forever.”

That deep-seated fear and his affinity for dogs led to his often dark series of images where very often the canines look sad or bereft, gazing forlornly through car windows, but really show a range of emotions … not unlike humans. The cinematic photos reinforce the connection between people and dogs.

The name of the dog in the above photo is Buzz. This is my favorite photo of the lot.

Thierry Legault, Astrophotographer

Indonesian Volcanoes

Indonesian Volcanoes – Thierry Legault www.astrophoto.fr

It was my friend Bill Korn who told me about him. Now Bill is no mean astrophotographer himself, though he has several counts again him by virtue of living in Southern California, where the sky is often milky white with clouds or smog.

Thierry Legault is perhaps one of the great astrophotographers, as can be seen from visiting his website at http://www.astrophoto.fr where a number of his best photographs are on view. I have also taken the liberty of creating a permanent link to his website from here.

Surface of the Moon -

Surface of the Moon – Thierry Legault www.astrophoto.fr

Usually, I end to be fairly lax about seeking permission to reproduce photographs on my website; but I thought I would make an exception in the case of M. Legault because I admire his work so much.

The Milky Way from Australia -

The Milky Way from Australia –  Thierry Legault www.astrophoto.fr

Shown here are just three examples from M. Legault’s website.

Historical Shoe Shine

Paris 1838: Do You See the Man at the Lower Left?

Paris 1838: Do You See the Man at the Lower Left?

This is one of my favorite firsts: In 1838, Louis Daguerre photographed a man getting a shoeshine on the Boulevard du Temple. Is it strange that no one else is around? Actually, the street is crowded with vehicles and pedestrians; but because they’re all in motion, the long exposure time (ten minutes) required for the first daguerrotypes didn’t pick them up. The man at the lower left getting a shoeshine, on the other hand, is standing still. Because the shoe shiner’s arms are in motion, they don’t show up in the image, making him look armless, like a fire hydrant. Neither person has ever been identified.

Below is a close-up of the man getting his shoeshine:

The Red Arrow is Pointing at the First Man Photographed

The Red Arrow is Pointing at the First Human Being Ever To Be Photographed

See PetaPixel, my source for this posting.

The Indigenous Eye

Inca Photographer Martín Chambi Jiménez

Inca Photographer Martín Chambi Jiménez

One of the problems with photography as an art form is that the viewpoint is usually that of a European or North American. It would have been wonderful to have photographs taken by native Navaho or Tibetan or Zulu photographers so that we could see the world from their unique perspective. One rare exception is the work of a native of Cusco, Peru, the indigenous Inca Martín Chambi Jiménez (1891-1973). Through his eyes, we see the locals of Cusco, the ruins of Machu Picchu, the back country natives, and whatever caught his eye. Below, for instance, is portrait of four young Quechuan campesinas:

Peruvian Campesinas

Peruvian Campesinas

And here is an eagle’s eye view of the ruins at Machu Picchu:

Overlooking the Ruins

Overlooking the Ruins

If you would like to see a collection of his photographs, you can find some interesting examples on Google Image.