Alex became a regular visitor of Lyle, Dusti and myself when he was director of the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS. At once my father's generous character and "Jewish Mother's" nature led to Alex being well fed at either Dusti's or Lyle's table on numerous occasions and to be regaled by Lyle's stories and a shared love of discussion and "Southern Trash Talkin'" as Col. Jonathan Williams oft referred to it.
I became well acquainted with Alex during that time, though my visits home from abroad made them less frequent but no less enjoyable. Over the years our communication has met with that same infrequency. Something Lyle often referred to as one's inability to remain written to. Meaning in the parlance of the correspondent, a recipient's tendency to fail to co-respond in kind or in a timely manner. That is something of an affliction of mine and is no fault of Alex's.
To the point of this posting. I have visited today Alex's photography site and I have thoroughly enjoyed his images. They are well crafted, well seen and stand as sure testimonial of his skill as an image maker and I wholeheartedly encourage all who read this post to visit his site and see for yourselves.
I am pleased and honored to announce that several of my photographs in a series titled "A Journey West" which were taken in New Mexico from the window of my cabin on the train, have been chosen by a prominent collector of Southern artists. The Jackson Mississippi Law firm of Butler Snow has a distinguished history of collecting regional artists as well as others, and I now join Dusti in their collection.
The photographs are going to their New Mexico offices appropriately enough.
This series along with "North by Train" the nascent series of iPhone photos, and subsequently the series "Acela Express" (northbound from New York City to Providence in a full blizzard) represent an entirely accidental experiment of mine.
In the mid state Illinois farmland in January of 2013 I idly gazed out the window of my cabin, enchanted by the stark beauty of the lacy lignum of barren trees and the brittle dry grasses along the tracks as we sped along at 70 miles an hour. As a casual fascination grew in importance I decided I'd like a document to remember these fleeting, blurry, and stark vistas I was passing and forever loosing behind me. My initial approach was to use my iPhone and angle it looking ahead along the train. This provided less than interesting results. Soon I was holding the phone directly against the glass, finger poised to make the exposure while I previewed upcoming views by looking ahead.
The combination of the photographer's eye seeking interesting things ahead, and the instantaneous and almost accidental event of the exposure taking place at 70mph began to show promising results. The images though greatly accidental in quality, do have some of the photographer's judgment as to what to shoot, and the accidental gives the images a naïve, primitive and almost folkloric quality. Of course working this way also produces scores of less than interesting images, however with practice I found I attained some measure of control as my forward looking eye combined with greater nimbleness of finger allowed me to capture what I previewed as it passed quickly through the camera's field of view.
You will all judge whether these images speak to you or not.
In 1995 two years after Dusti's death my father and I established the Dusti Bongé Art Foundation or DBAF in order to preserve, conserve and make available to a wider public the contribution to abstract expressionism and modern art which Dusti spent her life creating.
Now in it's 20th year and making great strides to fulfill those lofty goals, the DBAF continues to reach out to new and old avenues in order to introduce more people to her extraordinary work. The DBAF has welcomed a new group of board members, each contributing their individual and communal expertise to honor Dusti Bongé's legacy.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank one and all, present and past, members of the board and I remain firmly behind your continued efforts on behalf of my grandmother's legacy. I am always here as a resource, perhaps not as widely utilized as I'm willing to be. So don't be shy, ask.
Here is a link to the website if anyone is interested: http://www.dustibonge.org
I have recently acquired a magnificent retrospective book of photographs by Vanessa Winship and I urge everyone to give her a good long look. The book published by Fundacion MAPFRE, was coincidental with a retrospective exhibition of her work organized by MAPFRE and taking place in Spain over six months and two venues in 2014.
Her range is wide, at times humorous and playful and wistful, sometimes dark, brooding, rich in pathos and intentionally challenging us to let go and enter the world she's showing us. Her subject matter moves comfortably from intimate portraits, to frames populated by a variety of characters, then to stark empty frames that could at once be landscapes but stretch to a subtly provocative abstraction that's at once recognizable but as the eyes linger there, we are drawn into another reality slightly askew to our own.
I'm at once thrilled, excited to chew and gnaw and swallow images of richly textured, patterned, and graffitied walls, sometimes Siskind-esque in their boldness yet there's a sensitivity that imbues her seeing as well. From the memorial well come gruff ejaculations of wonder and affirmation of the beauty and simplicity of her work, in the voice of my father Lyle. I imagine how much fun it would be to share this with him.
Give Ms. Winship a good hard looking at. It's well worth your time.
Another photographer only recently introduced to us all, her images trapped mostly in negative form and only just rediscovered in an estate sale some few years past, is Vivian Maier. She was from all accounts, at once eccentric, socially awkward, intensely private and shy yet she worked her whole life as a nanny for a multitude of families in the Chicago area. Discover her story for yourself: A good documentary was recently completed, "Finding Vivian Maier" and I believe it airs on pay cable at the present.
In one fell swoop this lost treasure sweeps you up in the richness and intuitive seeing of Ms. Maier. There's a shyness in the way her lens explored her urban vistas born from her own guarded approach to the world and people around her, yet at the same time a powerful unflinching hard look at that world and those people. She engaged with her subjects though I imagine remaining disengaged herself.
I refer to her and her work as previously "lost" to us. Ms. Maier and her work were not forgotten as we were never aware of her. She ascends after death, rapidly gaining a respect and notoriety as an image maker, to dwell among all the greats of her genre of photography as one of its unknown and early progenitors. At once in my opinion surpassing in most ways even Joel Meyerowitz and Gary Winogrand only because now I know someone did it before they did, and in such an unassuming and quiet way.
Admittedly my instant love affair with Ms. Maier's work has resulted in the purchase of several new books of her work, which along with Ms. Winship will long remain un-shelved as I can't seem to get enough.
The title of this blog being lifted from Lyle's thoughts on photography in his book "The Photographs of Lyle Bongé" best describes his explorations into the specular quality of light and concomitant dark. His course in photography and printing at The New School in the early 1980's was titled "Light on Dark Corners" and had as much to do with the quality of light and how the photographer sees it, uses it and bends it to his will through technical manipulation of his equipment and in the alchemy of the darkroom, as it did to the final photograph; which, may be less identified with the more concrete interpretation of light on dark corners.
The "Cosmos Series" which had begun some 20 years prior to this particular photograph, did not earn that moniker until he began to seriously explore eroded street lines in New York City in 1980. His initial problem was that when correctly exposed of course, asphalt is medium gray and often light gray and rarely an absolute black even when fresh. Thus a correctly exposed image would not allow the contrast and clarity seen in the "Cosmos Series" and would come cloudy or muddy, not crystalline and bottomless black. So the basic approach was to underexpose, giving the more assertive light, that of specular reflections, and light objects and fields greater impact on the film, and darker objects less impact. Then developing in a brew of his own that was engineered for contrast, a "Hot" developer was used and even more of the silver was removed from darker regions of the exposure, hence the inky, stygian, cosmic blacks that Lyle obtained.
In the digital age there is more we can do in "post" and adapting, say the Zone System or a technique as simple as Lyle's that bridges both the manipulation of light as it's transformed by the camera through settings by the photographer, and the many possibilities allowed by the professional's editing software. As the greater part of my photographic life has been dominated by a jealous clinging to "traditional" photography as somehow more pure than digital, I came to realize this to be a specious argument and that we inexorably move forward through technological evolution. How many photographers are using glass plates, ferrotype, or daguerreotype processes these days? It is admirable there are a few who do and it's grand there are film photographers still working feverishly but in time all that will also pass into antiquity. My intent was not to champion digital here, this is an intermediary musing of mine.
The single most important thought on photography:
"Magic is in form too and in texture. It is in the tremendous strength of a shape crowded by the picture's edge and strengthened by the play of light on its surface. An Ordinary thing, cleaned of its context, can have strength of form, exquisiteness of texture, and hanging in space, become magical." --Lyle Bongé
One has to pay attention, but when one does, one sees "magic" as it always surrounds us. The photographer "sees" and thereby gives all of us viewers a chance to see magic. We're often criticized for being artists who don't actually "create" anything and are further insulted by being called simple "documentarians" of the world we inhabit. What is lost on the detractors is "seeing" and not theirs but ours.
First, yes we document the world we "see" not particularly the one we inhabit. Once, and when we are lucky enough, we press the shutter release at that one perfect moment and freeze it, we have already altered its inherent reality. This involves our usually considered and thoughtful composition (sometimes meticulous) and is the first instance of altering something's inherent reality. The perfect moment of exposure is bound by that but informed first by the photographer's "seeing" and recognition of magic.
Then either in the way we manipulate our technology (the camera settings/exposure/focal length/aperture) and further the aforementioned darkroom alchemy, we can again alter an inherent reality and in some cases drastically, creating an altogether new reality. There is also when photographing people, a shared moment in both subject and photographer that often subtly alters the reality. So either by the photographer's individual sensitivity, set of preconceptions, desire to create an emotional response, composition, and everything that makes us human, or by the interaction with subjects, the interpretation of what our "seeing" means at the particular moment, and factors not even calculable we are not simply documentarians and I contest the cavalier assumption that we don't "create" anything.
If I were to wrap this up coming back to magic and what the photographer sees when looking for it and often finding it, I would have to say that the thing that separates a wonderful image from a mundane one is more often than not an infinitesimal distance. In a non-objective approach it's all on the photographer to bridge the chasm between the wonderful and mundane, and there are "hits" and "misses" without question. In objective photography, people & portraiture, street photography and all its other forms there's sometimes the happy accident. Inaptly named accident as the photographer is required to be paying absolute attention to capture the right moment, the moment that is the wonderful image.
An example would be say you are photographing a playground of children. One exposure may tell a story of happy and cheerful children playing and I'd ask how many damned pictures of happy children playing do we see and are taken by anyone holding a camera? Paying attention to this mundane scene of cheerful children playing, the photographer may be given something more significant. Say you linger and pay attention and for whatever reason there is one child, standing alone among all that cheerful play of cavorting children, somewhat separated but surrounded by all that mirth, and mouth agape, tears streaming, bawling, their visage a picture of contorted sadness, you press the shutter release after quickly composing within the frame. Bang there you may have the exposure among many that has the quality of a fine image. Then you must choose how to print it, color or black & white, dark, high contrast, low contrast, cropping... ...all the things that strangely seem like "creating" something which the photographer has been accused of NOT doing.