November 14th, 2014

New Book Explores the Rich and Wacky History of Toy and Novelty Cameras

 

The Charlie Tuna camera,  manufactured in 1971.

The Charlie Tuna camera, manufactured in 1971, could be had for three StarKist tuna labels and $4.95. Photo by J.K. Putnam.

Early in his career, renowned fine-art photographer Stephen Shore made a project using a Mick-a-Matic, a snapshot camera shaped like the head of Mickey Mouse. True story.

It’s funny to imagine one of America’s foremost photographers out in the world making art with a Mickey Mouse head hanging from his neck. But many artists have used toy and novelty cameras. For Shore, the Mick-a-Matic allowed him to explore snapshot photography as a concept and phenomenon at a time when photography as an art form was formal and almost exclusively shot in black-and-white.

Other artists are drawn to the unpredictability of toy and plastic cameras. Photographers “love these toys, they love the authenticity of the unexpected,” says Buzz Poole, co-author of Camera Crazy, a new book that recalls the history of mass-market cameras, from the Eastman Kodak Brownie Camera, released in 1900, up through present day toy cameras. The book is a delightful look at the fascinating and, at times, ridiculous forms cameras have taken. In addition to popular and well-known cameras from Diana, Holga and Lomography, there is a Fred Flintstone camera, soda and beer can cameras, a Charlie the Tuna camera, a Looney Tunes camera that talks, and a spy camera shaped like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups package. “That is just a weird product,” Poole laughs. “[The manual] tells you how to trick people into stopping so you can get a clear picture of them without them knowing.” (more…)

January 16th, 2014

Sundance Film Festival New Frontier Program Highlights Photography

Film still from Michel Comte's "The Girl From Nagasaki."

Film still from Michel Comte’s “The Girl From Nagasaki.”

Photography’s influence on contemporary art and society, and its use in multimedia storytelling, are on display this year at the Sundance Film Festival in the New Frontier program, which emphasizes “transmedia” storytelling.

The film festival founded by Robert Redford, which opens today in Park City, Utah, and runs through January 26, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2014.

“New Frontier champions films that expand, experiment with, and explode traditional storytelling,” said a statement from the organizers. Participating filmmakers have created interactive photography installations that accompany their films, and have produced documentaries on photographic history and the significance of the medium. One photographer, Michel Comte, is making his directorial debut with a 3-D feature film adaptation of the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly.”

In his film “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People,” director Thomas Allen Harris considers the history of African-American photography and its role in African American life and identity.

In addition to the film, Allen Harris is presenting a companion installation, “Digital Diaspora Family Reunion,” “a traveling roadshow that engages local communities to bring forth their family photographs and share them with others, and upload them into a database that re-imagines the social network through family photography and family heirloom photographs,” says Shari Frilot, Sundance Film Festival Senior Programmer and curator of the New Frontier exhibition. Images from the project are showing in a New Frontier exhibition.

Another photo-based art installation, “My 52 Tuesdays,” by Artists Sophie Hyde, Sam Haren and Dan Koerner, is a companion piece to the film “52 Tuesdays,” which is in the World Dramatic program at the festival, follows a year in the life of teenage girl and her mother as the latter goes through a gender transition to become a man. The installation is a photo booth, where participants can go in and sign up to create their own yearlong personal documentary through photography. “Every Tuesday you will be sent a question that creates space to reflect on how you make choices, how you’re living your life, and you take a photograph of yourself,” Frilot explains. At the end of the year, participants will have an album of their year.

Photographer Michel Comte’s directorial debut, “The Girl from Nagasaki,” is a feature film adaptation of “Madame Butterfly” set in Nagasaki, Japan. during World War II and its aftermath. The 3-D film follows its main character as she emerges from the ashes of the atomic bomb dropped on the city. “He definitely brings a photographic sensibility [to the film],” Frilot says. “It’s a visually stunning work.”

Another artwork, Doug Aitken’s video installation, The Source, an evolving series of conversations about artmaking in the 21st century, includes photographers Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.

Finally, photographers are likely to be fascinated by artist James Nares’ work “Street.” Using a Phantom Flex HD camera, Nares slows down the frantic pace of a New York City streets to create a video installation that is “very simple and elegant and absolutely mesmerizing,” Frilot says. “You feel like you are watching a photograph of the streets in motion.”

October 25th, 2012

PPE 2012: Stephen Shore on Challenging Photography’s Conventions

In the 1970s, Stephen Shore, then a young photographer with one museum show to his credit, had dinner with Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer. In the course of their conversation, Shore realized that he had no interest in taking beautiful pictures,  but only in “exploring the medium of photography.” During his keynote speech on the first day of PhotoPlus Expo, Shore shared roughly four decades of work exploring what a photo is, how a photographer creates a photographic image, and how the two dimensional picture plane conveys so much, including an illusion of three dimensional space, a reference to a place and a time, a wealth of cultural and historical references, and more.

One of Shore’s earliest encounters with photography came when he was eight years old and an uncle, seeing how much Shore enjoyed his darkroom kit, gave him a copy of Walker Evans’ American Photographs. “To say I was influenced by Walker Evans misses the point,” Shore said. “I feel a spiritual kinship with him.” Many of Evans’ interests, including his documentation of American culture and architecture, and his fascination with vernacular imagery, have also preoccupied Shore throughout his career. Shore noted that Evans’ work is a “paradigm” in the original, scientific sense of the word: unprecedented, but also open ended, allowing others to follow and continue the path the originator of the paradigm has forged.

The images Shore exhibited in his first show in 1971, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were highly conceptual, and inspired by the work of Ed Ruscha. At the same time, however, Shore was fascinated by vernacular images, and with two friends, he mounted an exhibit made up of police photos, press photos, pornography confiscated by a police officer in Amarillo, Texas, and postcards.

(more…)

July 23rd, 2010

Copyright Infringement? There’s an App for That

A photographer recently tipped us off about a Chinese Web site that is publishing the work of photographers without their knowledge or permission. The site is branded as if it were produced by Leica, but according to a Leica representative they have nothing to do with it. “Leica Camera always respects the rights of artists and does not support the unapproved publication of artwork,” a Leica spokesperson told PDN via email.

Leica did not, however, comment on whether they would pursue legal action to have the site taken down.

An Austrian store that apparently sells Leica cameras and photographic prints is the site’s only sponsor.

A few of the photographers whose work is used on the site are: Phillip Toledano, Steve McCurry, Marcus Bleasdale, Annie Marie Musselman, Robbie Cooper, Kosuke Okahara, Dominic Nahr and Michal Chelbin.

The site is also marketing an app, downloadable for free through the Apple iTunes App Store. When you open the app a grid of famous photographs, including Annie Leibovitz’s image of Yoko Ono and a naked John Lennon, appear on the screen.

Work by Stephen Shore, Lynn Goldsmith, Jonas Bendiksen, Erika Larsen, Sebastião Salgado and others appear in the “A Pic a Day” section of the app. In the app’s “Magazine” section, entire photo essays appear, many of them current. For instance, Sebastian Liste’s 2010 Ian Parry Scholarship-winning essay on homeless families inhabiting an abandoned chocolate factory in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, appears.

Photographers we’ve spoken with had no idea this Web site existed and was using their work, nor were they aware of the app, and we’re assuming that none of the photographers whose work is being used gave permission.

Does your work appear on the site?