Photography

Face of the Day

Mug shot - Alice Cooke

Alice Adeline Cooke, criminal record number 565LB, 30 December 1922. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, New South Wales…. Convicted of bigamy and theft. By the age of 24 Alice Cooke had amassed an impressive number of aliases and at least two husbands. Described by police as ‘rather good looking,’ Cooke was a habitual thief and a convicted bigamist. Aged 24. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.” Source: Mug Shots of Australian Criminals (via).

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Photo of the Day

Penitent

“A penitent from ‘La Sed’ brotherhood walks to the church to take part in a procession in Seville, Southern Spain, Wednesday, March 31, 2010. Hundreds of processions take place throughout Spain during the Easter Holy Week. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)” (Via)

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Photo of the Day #2

Bird mired in oil

“A bird is mired in oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast on Thursday, June 3, 2010. Crude oil flowed from a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for three months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank on April 20th, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)” (Via)

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Cologne, 1945 cont’d

Sander - Cologne in ruins

August Sander – Cologne, north side of Neumarkt, in the background is the Church of the Apostles (1945-46)  (via)

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Cologne, 1945

Sander - Church of St. Ursula

August Sander – Church of St. Ursula, Cologne, 1945-46 (via)

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Bricklayer’s Mate

August Sander - Bricklayer's Mate (1928)

August Sander, Bricklayer’s Mate (Germany, 1928). (via)

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Fly

Dolichopodid sp. (fly) eyes

Magnified 10 times, a view of Dolichopodid sp. (fly) eyes made by Laurie Knight of Tonbridge, Kent, UK.

“The Nikon International Small World Photomicrography Competition recently announced its list of winners for 2010. The competition began in 1974 as a means to recognize and applaud the efforts of those involved with photography through the light microscope.” (via)

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Off to NYC

New-Rock-City

Heading down to New York today for lunch with my U.S. and U.K. editors. Which seems like a good enough excuse to post one of Joseph Holmes’ wonderful images of New York and recommend you stop by his photo blog, Joe’s NYC, a portfolio of amazing street photography. (A few of my favorites are here, here and here. The image above lives here.)

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Henry James, age 57

Henry James, ca 1900

Henry James, ca. 1900, age 57. From the collection of the George Eastman House on Flickr.

Not many photos of James exist, and none are as revealing as this. The most recognized image we have of “the master” is the iconic John Singer Sargent portrait of 1913, which shows James as the Great Man. And that is how I always pictured him — aloof, fusty, royal — until I stumbled across this amazing picture. Here James looks haunted and weary, as I imagine he must have been. A great man, of course, but still an artist who struggled, like the rest of us.

Categories: Photography · Writers    Tags: ·

Portrait: Philip Roth

Philip-Roth-2004

Philip Roth at his home in rural Connecticut, 2004. (Via.) Photo by James Nachtwey. More about Roth’s work habits here.

Flickr Find of the Day

Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Library of Congress Flickr photo stream. The photo apparently dates from 1913 or thereabouts. I always imagined Conan Doyle as a less modern, more Victorian character than this — more like Holmes.

Flickr has lots of wonderful vintage images like this one, not all book-related obviously. I recommend the streams of the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and the George Eastman House for starters, but there are lots more. If you find any needles buried in those haystacks, do let me know.

Life Magazine Photos of Boston’s Strangler Days

Rickerby - Boston Stranglings

A trove of remarkable photographs of Boston during the Strangler siege. The photos, which are eerie and beautiful, were taken by Arthur Rickerby for Life Magazine. View the whole collection here. Above: A woman wears a hatpin in her sleeve to defend herself against the Strangler, 1963. (Another here.)

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Photographs of the Combat Zone

John Goodman, "The Schlitz Boys," 1978

I stopped by the new exhibit today at the Howard Yezerski Gallery on Harrison Avenue, “Boston Combat Zone: 1969-1978.” The gallery and the show both are small but well worth a visit, even on a raw, rainy day like today.

The exhibit gathers together black-and-white photographs by Roswell Angier, Jerry Berndt, and John Goodman. The photographs all show the people of the Combat Zone — hookers, strippers, pimps, lonelyhearts. Some are posed portraits, some are candid, journalistic shots. There are no empty compositions, no unpeopled streets. It is all real faces, real bodies. The subject is what in the Zone was called The Life.

I have been fascinated by the Combat Zone for a long time and always wanted to write about it. (I did write a short story about it once. More info here.) When my third book is finished — I hope to send the manuscript off to my publisher next week — I intend to pitch my editor on a novel set in the Combat Zone for book four. Maybe this exhibit is a good omen.

In the meantime, if you’re in the area I recommend the show. I have done quite a bit of research on life in the Combat Zone and I have never seen so many images, especially such evocative and beautiful ones, in one place.

Photo: John Goodman, “The Schlitz Boys,” 1978 (gelatin silver print, 16″ x 20″). Click image to view larger.

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The Street Photography of Jules Aarons

Wrestling, West End, Boston

There is a new exhibition at the Boston Public Library of the street photographs of Jules Aarons. The exhibition is located in the Wiggin Gallery in the old McKim Building, just one flight up from the main reading room where where I have been writing every day. The gallery is secluded, and you won’t find much signage or advertising for the exhibit, even in the library itself. The guardians of the BPL apparently have decided to keep this one a secret. That is a shame but not exactly a surprise. Aarons’s work has been underappreciated for a long time now. He is one of the best photographers you’ve never heard of.

I wandered up to the Wiggin Gallery this morning before work, happy to postpone writing a difficult scene that I have been struggling to complete. In the gallery, two women were strolling past the pictures and chatting. They soon wandered off, and I had the entire exhibition to myself. The room was quiet, not the usual library sort of quiet — footsteps, sniffles, sneezes, whispers — but dead quiet. It was an odd place to see these pictures, which are so alive you half expect the people in them to turn to you and speak. (“Get back to work,” they might tell me.)

It is a mystery to me why Aarons’s photographs are not better known. I am not enough of a connoisseur to comment on the technical proficiency of the pictures, but to me they seem expertly composed and printed. Certainly they are very beautiful. Aarons’s street photography has been compared to the work of Lisette Model, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, and Aaron Siskind, among others. Again, I am not qualified to comment on the comparisons. But I know what I see in these pictures and why I love them: they are alive, authentic, intimate, humane.

Most of the photos in the exhibition date from about 1947-1960, some later. They show ordinary working-class people, often in the West and North Ends of Boston, doing nothing more than chatting on street corners or flirting or lighting a cigarette. Fifty or sixty years later, of course, these people are all gone or transformed by age, but they are utterly alive and present in Aarons’s pictures. To come face to face with them is like traveling back in time. It makes the hair on your neck stand up.

I first discovered Aarons’s work when I was researching The Strangler. His images were always in my head when I closed my eyes and imagined the city during the Strangler period. I even considered approaching him to license one of his images for the book jacket, he so perfectly catches the period feel I was looking for.

aarons3

Aarons, who died recently at age 87, was never a professional artist. In fact, he was a renowned physicist, an expert in an arcane study that has something to do with radio waves in the atmosphere. Photography was a sort of second career for him. One wonders how a scientific mind could create pictures so soulful.

I suspect that, upon moving to Boston in 1947, Aarons found in the crowded streets of the West and North Ends a subject that reminded him of the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up in the 1920s and ’30s. He was at home in city streets. He seems to have enjoyed the bustle of urban life. His pictures are full of kids playing on sidewalks and women gossiping on tenement stoops and young men leaning on parked cars. I may be biased, but to me he seems especially at home in the streets of this city. His pictures of other places — Aarons traveled and photographed widely — do not have the same vitality and dynamism as the early Boston pictures. His images of Paris and, later, Peru are more abstract, more composed, more consciously artistic. I do not mean that as a criticism. An artist has a right to evolve, to work in a different, cooler style. But I do love the early, raw Boston pictures on display at the BPL.

Aarons’s method was unobtrusive. He used a boxy twin-lens Rolleiflex held at the waist, which gave him an unexpected advantage.

The waist level position allowed me to point my body in one direction and the camera in another. It was important to me not to intrude on the scenes which ranged from card playing in the streets to adults talking to one another.

The effect is like spying on real people, unposed, unself-conscious, unaware of our gaze. It is like visiting a lost Boston — precisely the fantasy I indulged in The Strangler. To see that city here, reanimated in Aarons’s photographs, is an electric experience.

Quote is from Street Portraits 1946-1976: The Photographs of Jules Aarons, Kim Sichel, ed. (Stinehour Press, 2002), p. 10.

Photos: Untitled (West End, Boston), 1947-53 (top). Lounging, North End, 1950s (bottom).

For more info about the exhibition at the Boston Public Library, look here. To see more photos by Jules Aarons, look here and here. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to Aarons here.

Michael Penn’s photographs of Philadelphia

Penn - Storm Over Fishtown

Beautiful images, mostly of Philadelphia, by photographer Michael Penn. Above: “Storm Over Fishtown,” 2008.

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Barbara Mensch’s photographs of Fulton Fish Market

Mensch-Nunzio

A few weeks ago I wrote about photographer Barbara Mensch’s lovely images of New York. Barbara recently wrote to point me to another series of her photographs, this one depicting the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan, which was closed in 2005. The photographs are different from the ones that first caught my eye — grittier, more documentary and personal in style — but they are fascinating. I especially like the portraits of the men who worked in the market, like the one above, “Nunzio an Unloader” (1982).

In an email, Barbara wrote, “I am a storyteller by nature and for years I have tried to weave together visual stories and oral histories.” That sense of story, of the rich experience of this place, really comes through in these pictures. Looking at them, you imagine the whole world of the Manhattan waterfront, all the stink and clatter and damp. It’s all gone now, taking a thousand stories with it. The world is full of lost places like this, of course, which were not so fortunate as to have a Barbara Mensch to document them.

The full story behind these photos is related here. Many of the images and accompanying stories have been compiled into a book called South Street, with an introduction by Philip Lopate. Barbara Mensch’s photographs are available at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York (41 East 57th Street).

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Barbara Mensch’s photographs of New York

Barbara Mensch - New York City

Gorgeous images of New York City by photographer Barbara Mensch. Some background information about Barbara Mensch is here.

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