I had no idea that sugar syrup boiled to exactly the right temperature for an Italian meringue could be tested by dipping the end of a slotted measuring spoon into the boiling liquid, then blowing a bubble. Last week I worked with Kay Rentschler, the creative director, writer and recipe developer for Anson Mills. She made extraordinary cream puffs, and I shot the process with a single flash diffused with a Fong.
Sugar syrup at its perfect meringue moment:
Saul Leiter died on Tuesday. He was 89, a remarkable and practically unknown photographer. Leiter is undeniably one of my favorite photographers.
If I hadn’t gone to a gallery opening in Dubai 5 years ago, and if I hadn’t noticed a shelf of monographs at the back of the gallery, I might not have discovered him either. I brought home Saul Leiter: Early Color, feeling as though I had a great treasure in my suitcase.
One rainy night last May I was walking down a boulevard in Vienna. The day before I had seen Leiter’s show at the Museum Hundertwasser. Tomas Leach’s documentary was screened at the show, so I’d had a good lesson about how much Leiter hated the commercial aspect of things. But, there, on a kiosk, soaked with rain, was the poster for Leiter’s show. As the kiosk rotated it revealed an ad for H&M, an irony that I am sure Saul would have loved – the most fame adverse of artists endlessly revolving with the most commercial of enterprises.
In the article reporting his death the New York Times quoted Leiter:
“I am not immersed in self-admiration,” he said. “When I am listening to Vivaldi or Japanese music or making spaghetti at 3 in the morning and realize that I don’t have the proper sauce for it, fame is of no use.”
The opening for the exhibition, Strays, was held November 14. Many of the framed images were purchased at the opening, but I have created a special site for those who have would like to view the images individually and learn more about the editions. Please click HERE to see all of the pictures.
© Oscar Reyes
It’s been there all along – my hankering to capture the fragility of fleeting, almost imperceptible moments. No matter what I’m doing I see things from the corner of my eye that I don’t want to let pass.
Strays is a group of images based on these in-between moments. They are shards of the quotidian that might have gotten lost along the way. Shooting these images forces me to stop, surrender to the moment and focus on a few details I had barely registered.
Often I don’t know what attracted me to these banal objects and common places. Editing the images gives me a chance to unravel the mystery. I work with each photograph and encourage it to become a small phrase upon which reminiscence and memory can be built.
The opening for Strays takes place November 14, 6-8 pm.
When I began photographing couples and families, I launched into all the usual research. I looked at innumerable paintings and photographs for inspiration. I found some great spur of the moment shots, but there was a significant dearth of interesting planned images. It was all clichés and stiff poses of people trying to look their best.
Color and composition are key. Achieving a good balance gets complicated when more than one subject is being photographed. I thought a great deal about where I would shoot, what people should wear and how I might position them in the shot, but that wasn’t enough. I knew I was missing something essential. The only way I could navigate this conceptual maze was to jump in and make some images. Afterwards I would sit with the pictures and analyze why I liked some but not others. This required shooting a lot of pictures that disappointed me, and for a while, I felt enormously frustrated.
Gradually, I began to realize how much I was looking at the space (or lack of space) between people and how important this space was as a psychological component in the photograph.
For example, separation creates tension that can be mitigated by eye contact or intensified by the absence of it. Our viewer’s eye dances around the photograph trying to read the unconscious signals we imagine the people in the picture are giving off.
Playing with light and shadow creates spaces that impact our emotional perception of the relationship between the subjects. Interesting negative spaces become compositional elements in the photograph and add another dimension.
When figures are close or overlapping, the composition feels more familiar, but it’s also full of potential. For example, the overlap can morph the figures into a single unified being.
In the end, there’s still an enormous amount of chance involved. We all know that a single portrait subject can be full of surprises. As soon as two or more subjects are involved, all bets are off! Some days we just get lucky.
“Then there is the fuzzy matter of focus,” Anthony Lane wrote in an article about the Julia Margaret Cameron show at the Met (The New Yorker, 9/2/13). It made me think, not only about the question of pictorial focus, but also about how much pressure the art world places on an artist to make images that conform to its standard of correct focus.
First of all, I have no idea why “tack sharp” became such an important requirement for photography. I have nothing at all against sharpness, nor do I oppose a sober, analytical style of work. I quite like the Dusselfdorf School. The problematic question for me is – Why only that?
One often hears Cameron’s work being dismissed as excessively romantic or irrelevant. The show at the Met, which closes 1/5/14, is beautifully curated and, to my mind, challenges that preconception. Cameron was a strong, endlessly engaged and playful photographer. She struggled within the rigorous confines of the glass plate and wet collodion process, and despite all the limitations of that technique, her portraits have an incontestable immediacy and modernity. When I saw Cameron’s portrait, Cassiopeia, I immediately thought about Rineke Dijkstra’s Tia.
And it’s even more fascinating that both Cameron and Dijkstra showed their images paired with a second shot of the same woman:
The problem people have with Cameron is that she preferred to stop focusing when she arrived at “something which to my eye was very beautiful”. Of course the idea of doing that horrified the more scientific, status quo photographers of her time. To them she replied:
“What is focus — & who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?”