Saturday, 15 December 2012

Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

A Photo Exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
20 September to 19 December 2012

Dennis Hopper was a photographer for several years before his creative trajectory was forever altered by the roaring cult film engines of Easy Rider.  In one quote on the wall of the Martin-Gropius-Bau gallery, Hopper explained that he ‘took photographs to fill the void inside of him’ during his formative years.  After that he ‘never picked up a camera again.’

Crates of Hopper’s photographic prints were discovered after his death. He was either preparing for a retrospective exhibition on the 60s—when all of his photos were taken—or someone saw a chance to make some posthumous pennies.  All of the photographs on view were a very small 7x10” (as if carried around with him in a portfolio) and yellowed and browned with age.  The effect is meant to give the photos a museum quality, but I found the size and discoloration distracting for the most part.  Unless he had printed them all himself by hand, there is no reason why some assistant couldn’t have provided us larger, sharper prints to view.

The man and the era were the stars of the show.  With the exception of a few strong images of iconic figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. (pushed to the right of the frame by a sea of microphones, perhaps suggesting The Black Voice being heard for the first time) and some portraits of Andy Warhol (without his usual blond fright wig) and The Factory artists and some great shots of Hell’s Angels, the collection struck me as largely a student’s portfolio. Regardless of the time needed to master the technical aspects of black and white photography, many additional years are required to even begin to master what Henri Cartier-Bresson called ‘the decisive moment.’  Hopper’s portraits have the boon of the 60s zeitgeist and the man’s cult status behind them.  However, many of the shots wouldn’t stand on their own as works of art.

The lost crates were stuffed with images of several unrelated themes:  the 60s in New York and Los Angeles, Mexico and various abstract shots of objects.  Among these, only a few dozen struck my eye as having any great artistic merit other than being unrelated photo studies made by someone famous.  Walls filled with shots of old peeling posters, paint and rusty metal only reminds me of what most photographers shoot in their first five years.  You want to show EVERYTHING and damn the consequences.  But the true art of photography is in synchronizing the tool, the psychology of the moving human subject and the vision inside of the photographer.  This often requires a lifetime of study, dedication, observation and patience.

I don’t want to minimize the importance of the 60s as a society-shaping era, nor do I want to criticize the images solely on technique or execution.  Dennis Hopper was both a product of, a participant in and a partial documentarian of the turbulent 60s.  Simply by being Dennis Hopper, he had access to artists, celebrities, outlaws and counter culture iconoclasts which very few others could have managed to photograph.  His portraits of artists and celebrities are the most successful due to this relaxed familiarity.  It enabled Hopper to capture legends in repose.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Kunsthaus Tacheles: A Requiem

A Berlin Icon swept under
carpet bombing banks;
gentrifying Gestapo
stuck the jack boot in.

Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art house Tacheles) was on the tourist map and guides once took merry tourists through the hallowed halls of art and piss-reeking stairwells to catch a glimpse of the Real Berlin.  The building survived Nazis, commies and squatters.  Now it is gone.

It has been months since the police pushed the last artists out of the former-art-squat-turned- artist-residence and the last angry shouts of protest fell on the deaf ears of press and passersby.  Tacheles died a slow death, fighting tooth and nail, as most alternative spaces do, until the very banks and investors who let them stay for a song ripped the rug out from under the very people who made the neighborhood as prosperous as it is today.  Looking up and down the restaurant and bar-lined street, there is no question that this is a bustling area.

Unchecked and unregulated, the uber-Capitalist machine runs roughshod over the very people who build communities and make neighborhoods worth living in.  But no, we must let laissez faire markets kick lazy fairy artists out into the street.  Because that’s what we do in the free world. 
I watched police moving the artists out.  I spoke to the artists and the police.  I took some photos as well.  These are just a few of the photos I took in what may later become a long term documentary of the effects of gentrification on city and citizen alike.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Diane Arbus Exhibition in Berlin

Life is a checklist for some; mine contains a list of famous photographers who have greatly influenced my decision to become a photographer.  My list of heroes in this case is mostly heroines, as it were:  Diane Arbus, Annie Liebovitz, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, etc.  The latter two ladies literally invented social documentary photography.  Diane Arbus and Annie Liebovitz concentrated on individual portraits.  Liebovitz is famous for her iconic images of celebrities:  John and Yoko in NYC (taken just hours before Lennon was killed) and Whoopie Goldberg's smiling face emerging from a tub full of milk (to name just a couple of obvious ones).  Diane Arbus' images of ordinary and not-so-ordinary individuals--transvestites, dwarfs, twins, rich and poor elderly folks, young couples in Central Park--speak as much about humanity as a collective as they speak about the individuals.  One of her enthusiastic quotes, printed large on the gallery wall of Martin-Opius-Bau in Berlin:  "I want to photograph EVERYBODY."

Part of what draws me to portrait photography and social documentary is the open quality of the subjects.  They have no mask (though many masked figures appear in Arbus' work), no facade, no pretense.  I believe that is the true art of the portrait,  the ability to get the subject to let their guard down.  My theory might sound a bit sexist at first, but I believe female photographers are much better at this task than men.  A woman is less threatening, less invasive (perhaps) and possibly more trustworthy than her male counterpart.

I can't count how many times I've been threatened with physical violence in my quest for photos.  I don't want to violate people's privacy, steal their intimate/emotional moments, or otherwise portray them in a way which lessens their dignity.  Whenever someone expresses a negative response to my camera these days, I lower it, apologize and walk away.  I would rather have no photo than to take someone's dignity.  I have methods to achieve good portraits under difficult conditions.  I find that I get better shots in countries with a language barrier.  My attempts at mime--pointing to my camera, then the subject, big grin--generally gets a much better result than just snapping.  Also, eyes are important in a good portrait.  If they don't see you, drop their mask, let you in to their world, the portrait fails.

I can now check two off of my list of photo heroines:   Annie Liebovitz (National Gallery, London, 1994) and Diane Arbus (today, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin).  I am thrilled that photography is not a lost art, and that my list is getting shorter.  The same Berlin gallery will be showing Margaret Bourke-White in the near future.  One more and I've got the whole set.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Events, Portraits and Weddings R Us

May and June have turned out to be quite busy in the photo arena:  two events, some portrait shoots and a wedding--with more portrait shoots on the way.  My season tends to start with a flood of work, which then levels off and trickles in through the rest of the year.  It hasn't been easy being a professional photographer competing in a sea of Berlin wannabes with dirt cheap promotions--but it's getting better every year.  I still cover both Berlin and Prague in order to provide my high quality professional photography services to discriminating clients who want top quality photography at reasonable prices.  Recently I had the opportunity to cover the Fifth Luxembourg Forum for Prevention of Nuclear Catastrophe.  This group of dedicated and knowledgeable scholars, scientists and politicos from around the world meet yearly to discuss ways of keeping nuclear proliferation at an absolute minimum, or as I call it, 'keeping the nukes out of the hands of the Real Bastards.'  More photos of this forum below.

I did on site delivery of all photos several times daily during the two day conference. They even put my name on some of them (but forgot to on others, but hey, I'm not too greedy for the limelight). The photos labelled 'LuxForum' are mine:

Please feel free to contact me via my website for a price quote for your event, convention, portrait shoot or wedding in Berlin or Prague.  I look forward to working with you!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tiki bars, Eclectic Music and Tropical Fruit (Bananas)

My favorite tiki bar in my favorite quarter of Berlin has to be Tiki Heart in Kreuzberg.  You can get Elvis Burgers, rockabilly and surf music, and tropical cocktails served in giant, 1-litre Bavarian beer mugs.  I don't believe you need much more in life. On Sundays they have a music program called 'Acous-tiki' with live acoustic music.  I was having a look at the flyer when a name popped out and hit me in the forehead like a banana flung from a tropical islander (more on flying bananas later):  Anton Barbeau was to play live at Tiki Heart.

Twenty years ago I saw Anton Barbeau playing in a now-defunct joint called 'Cafe Montreal' in my hometown of Sacramento, California.  He had wild, curly red hair and big glasses, which suggested a mad genius of sorts.  Two decades later, probably the only two Sacramentans living in Berlin happened to bump into each other at the same watering hole.  Figure the odds.

Now Anton's hair has gone from a shock red to an electric gray; still wild and curly, suggesting a mad scientist of sorts.  Anton's music is a heady brew of folk, classic rock and rampant balladeering.  I'm always up for something a little bit different, so I was pleasantly entertained to be sure.

When photographing live music I prefer not to use flash, leaving the dramatic stage lighting to create my mood for me.  However, since Tiki Heart has no stage lighting, I decided to use what was abundantly available to sculpt my images:  bright colors, tiki masks and electric gray hair.  I rely on slow shutter speeds and bounced fill flash to achieve shots which are full of vibrant color and swirling motion.    Fortunately for me, Anton Barbeau waved his arms frequently, and in one song, coaxed the audience to sing 'BAAA-NAAAA-NAAAS!' along with him.  He later informed me that this particular song has resulted in fans throwing bananas at him on stage from time to time.  Sadly, the Berlin crowd didn't know of this fruity phenomenon--or perhaps the Bananas song.  Shame, that would have been one helluva shot.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

New Year, New Website

Winter is the time I'm normally catching up on my website work.  Traditionally this has been a time to add the hottest new photos of the past year, and remove some of the photos wherein the people are wearing bell bottoms and Elvis sideburns.  This time around, I'm pleased to announce my entirely new website and domain, a two-in-one jobby which combines and into one elegant-yet-simple place:  This time around I am fully designing the site from scratch--no more templates.  I have been learning so much about web design these past years, that I have even designed a site or two as side projects.

I am still based in Berlin and commuting to Prague for winter weddings, portraits and events.  But rather than work on two websites individually, I've decided on one main site where you can see only the best work I've done in Europe over the past few years.  I've put a lot of time and effort into this new site, so if you happen to find this blog, please check out my new site and let me know what you think.  I am adding to it daily now, so it should be out of beta and into alpha (or is it charlie?) in no time.

As usual, I am available for event photography, weddings and portraits anywhere in Europe.  Contact me for a quote for your photography project today.  And happy new year!