Wednesday, September 11, 2019

RIP- Robert Frank

Robert Frank, via Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

One of the things that helps keep Robert Frank's images so fresh to this very day (even while viewed through the lens of nostalgia), is the fact that they aren't so... sharp and crispily detailed! That blurred sense of non reality serves to intensify their dreamlike strength and staying power; something many a modern day photographer has yet to fully realize and appreciate...  
More pixels anyone?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Somewhere Along The Line

Of course, I'm a sucker for essays like this- good ones, that is. And this counts as one of the best. The Great American Road Trip, The Open Road- Frank, Shore, Sternfeld... you get the picture. Somewhere Along The Line by Joshua Dudley Greer does not disappoint- I couldn't find a photo I didn't fawn over for the first two thirds of the book. 

And this book does two things: it brings the geographic and economic expanse of modern day, early 21st century America into view in its captivating compositions, and it doesn't hold back- this is a country that is hurting, and this is a book that doesn't shy from showing it "from sea to shiny sea." Accidents, sinkholes, homeless encampments... a homemade billboard in the midst of a field bears a phone number with the words, "I need a kidney."

This is also the first road essay that actually makes the road a main focus of the photo essay itself; America's highways and byways are the main character here, not just a mere cameo presence as in most of this genre. This is not a tourist itinerary of America by a long shot, it's more hardscrabble America on the go, still proud and industrious, but in search of its bootstraps nonetheless...

It makes us rethink and reenvision the America we've known, and the America we think we know. One of the last photos is of a junk yard in a vast expanse where yellow school buses surround the junked cars held within- we're still circling the wagons...

Photo: Joshua Dudley Greer

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The 1619 Project

Photo: © Stan Banos

The very fact that Newt Gingrich went ABSOLUTELY BALLISTIC over this would be more than ample reason alone for celebration of its existence. And it would no doubt be interesting to see a complete and thorough listing of all the purported "lies" that Ol' Newt is complaining about! The truth is, there's just so much here that needs to be read, absorbed and disseminated, so much that dispels the lies and myths, the outright and often deliberate ignorance.

I'm, of course, talking about the 1619 Project courtesy of The New York Times. Wish I had had this in my middle and high school years when the long and short of our Catholic recounting of slavery consisted of an approximately ten minute rendition of- "it wasn't as bad as some make it out to be!" Which is certainly a relief, at least for some- I kinda get the idea that Newt pretty much got the same down home, comfort version. 

Now, no one enjoys getting a festering wound poked with a stick, and unfortunately, that's how many a White US citizen not unlike Newt will no doubt greet this. Here we go again: heads a shakin', and eyes a rollin'... When will it ever stop!?

Well, glad you asked. That ol' wound has long been a festering, cause no one's ever dealt with it all that proper! Of course, there wouldn't have been a wound to begin with had we started this here country all free and righteous without its original sin. But those pretty words about freedom, dignity and human rights only applied to one portion of one people. And when we could've helped right the situation during Reconstruction with a "forty acres and a mule" kick start- we still weren't having it. So we kept kicking the can down the road, complaining all down the line, hoping it would somehow disappear...

South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it at least, finally, publicly, put out and acknowledged the evil reality of racism where the light could shine, healing begin, and life continue anew without the prolonged cancer of denial. We in the US however fear to tread that road of honesty, acceptance and accountability. "I never owned no slaves- why should I be held responsible?" No one is saying you did. What we do need to acknowledge and accept in this country however, is our own factual history. A history first based on systematic genocide, followed by the institutionalization of slavery as the financial juggernaut, the economic backbone of our entire nation- North and South...

No... this was not your Bible's slavery, or Rome's slavery, or most any other slavery system throughout history where one's defeated foes would be periodically enslaved- this was a system of beliefs that held one particular race inhuman, a system of laws that established an entire economic system based on the permanent enslavement of one specific group of people, an economy so dependent and intertwined that even Northern Ivy League Institutions of higher learning were profiting from investments provided directly from slavery!

Curiously, people in this country who even desire a rational, adult conversation concerning race or racism are now called "Racist" for just considering it- a laughable situation, if only it wasn't so sadly, deplorably... insane! No, you are not responsible for the sins of your fathers- and no one is suggesting that. But if you choose to ignore and deny factual history, choosing instead to substitute whatever convenient myth(s) to your liking- don't expect reality based humans not to roll their eyes and shake their heads as you continue to kick that ever lovin' can...

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Focus on The Arts...

Suffice to say, we have undeniably and unforgivably strayed in our attention to the literary arts here at the ol' blog. Knowing the importance the arts play in our country's priorities, and in particular, the role our First Family has played in fostering them, we now attempt to rectify said situation by proudly featuring our first much lauded, much revered poet at large.

Tiffany Trump- AFP

“Study me as much as you like, you will never know me. For I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be. Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself. Because I have chosen to dwell in a place you cannot see.” -TT

Certainly, more than enough for any of us to ponder, fathom and reflect upon as we stumble about dwelling in our woefully hidden and unseeing lives...

Monday, September 2, 2019

Can't STOP Looking II

Photo: Martino Marangoni

Well, didn't expect this to happen (quite so soon)- but there you have it. No sooner did I just start to get over one photo, when... Boom!

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Nightingale

A coupla weeks ago I saw a movie that was over two hours long- and I couldn't for the life of me tell ya what the hell it was about if I tried. Last week I saw one of equal length, and it's one I won't soon forget...

Frankly, The Nightingale is one brutal, savage movie- full of all the brutality and savagery that man has repeatedly proven more than capable of throughout time and history, be it in the wilds and majesty of nature, or the fabricated subterfuge of civilization. We saw a similar tale but a year earlier in Hostiles, a brute force of a movie in it's own right, but one that offered that longing ray of hope once the vengeance and savagery was released. 

This film doesn't offer any neat karmic resolutions, at least not in such formulaic progression- revenge doesn't even the score, justice does not provide closure, ignorance and barbarity still abound. And in the midst of the blood letting, the camera occasionally wanders about to reveal the details of beauty in the wild landscape that surround man's sordid inhumanity; as if nature, violent and unforgiving as it is, seemed to well separate itself from the evil and insanity it once, accidentally unleashed upon itself...

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Out Of His Ever Lovin' Mind

Which, in truth, is not unlike Kim Kardashian's- without the sex appeal.
It - Is - NOT! 

 Years ago, a certain faction of this country voted for a common, everyday idiot-
and that's almost (almost) understandable. 

Now we are in the hands of a... MADMAN
(or at the very least, a sorrowfully dumb, demented and dangerous one). 

This is a man who has told over 10,000 lies since gaining office alone, a man who has had Russian mob ties for well over Thirty years, a man with Five (5) Deferments who belittles POW's while dry humping the American flag... 

And yet, nothing scares me more than this...
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's like incredible." -Donald J. Trump

Not only incredible- but... 100% TRUE. And that is what is truly Scary

Monday, August 26, 2019

All About The Green...

I grew up on Soul and Rock 'n Roll, I can appreciate Hip Hop just like I can appreciate most other music- but I dislike most of it, just like I dislike most Rock, current or otherwise.

I also hate football, not because it's violent, and damn dangerous to your head and general well being; shit, I grew up a rabid boxing fanboy. And I grew up loving it because of the man who transcended it. Ali was a hero, in the ring- outside of it. He was a hero not because of all the times he would so dramatically dig into that well of resilience to overcome whatever foe placed before him, but because of the challenges he himself raised and defeated outside the squared circle, challenges that ultimately robbed him of a good portion of his life and livelihood. And still he stood steadfast- even when, and especially when, the easier option was offered. 

Jay Z talks the talk, but walks it only when the road leads back to him. He doesn't serve a higher goal, though he's not afraid to play it...

Friday, August 23, 2019

JR: The Chronicles of San Francisco

Well, it sure is damn nice to be able to say something positive about San Francisco of late (not to mention SFMOMA). And all thanks to none other than JR, who has once again managed to take the everyday and transform it into something wondrously alive, joyful and downright miraculous! And that pretty much describes The Chronicles of San Francisco- a giant, interactive panoramic display featuring a wide variety of San Franciscans assembled into an atrium sized collage where everyone pictured is not only seen, but celebrated and given voice; one humongous testimonial, one ginormous moving mural where each individual can instantly come to life and speak their peace at the press of a button. 

Once again, JR has managed to transcend the limitations of still photography, go well beyond it's story telling boundaries, and create something both heartfelt and intimate on a grand scale that captivates the imagination and makes our hearts soar...

Photo: Matthew Millman

PS- Annnnnd... it's absolutely free (and you just know- ol' JR had a BIG say on that)!
PPS- And I live here and knew nothing of it... thanks, James!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Forbidden Portraits

CHARLES    Photo: © Stan Banos

I've been working with adults with disabilities for some time now and a few years ago I proposed to take some portraits of our clients at the non profit where I work. My idea was to take the photos, for which I would pay all costs, and the resulting images could then be used by the organization I work for in any manner they so chose (should they choose to) and at no cost to them. The clients would get a copy, and I would retain ownership of the images. The project was approved in writing.

I'm not a fan of the compressed perspective offered by the usual formula of short teles for portraits, I didn't even like my test shots using the 50mm "normal" perspective for the waist up shots I was contemplating, although I also realized that anything shorter (35mm) would introduce WA distortion. I was stumped, and it wasn't until the required research that I discovered the 40mm Ultron- which I had never tried, never even knew existed, but strongly suspected was exactly what I needed. It took me several months to save up for that lens on my non-profit salary. And when finally purchased, eureka- exactly the look I wanted!

DAVID   Photo: © Stan Banos

I quickly renewed said project and was quite pleased with the early results, I also proceeded to advise my new boss of said project as a simple courtesy. Mistake- Bigly! As I stood there explaining and showing him my written permission on official organization stationery (along with the specifically written photo releases) he quickly informed me that taking photos of clients was strictly against policy (even though client photos are routinely taken on and off the premises- without releases). I stood there dumbfounded, Kafka himself could not have slapped me any harder upside the head. Protest was futile, he never even pretended to explain just what organizational guideline had changed or been violated- it was obviously his command decision.

Years passed, we got a new boss, and when a call went out for a client/staff art show I decided to finally order a few prints of what I had shot back in the day. Ironically, they were placed right outside what would have been the office of our former boss. No current organization official knew the back story, no one objected- compliments were received. Apparently, they no longer "violate policy," as if they ever did.

This is not an "all well that ends well" story- it doesn't.  Instead of a substantial body of work that might have had legs, I ended up with a small handful of portraits. I'm not foolish enough to think I would have produced any new, novel or insightful way to present people with disabilities, but I was reacting to how these individuals were first presented years gone by as objects of sympathy or pity- a viewpoint which has now swung to the far other extreme where they are currently depicted conquering each and every one of life's challenges with a happy go lucky, easy-peasy, what-me-worry grin on their face. Neither is accurate nor truthful in any sense- not that mine are any more so, just minus the commercial agenda. 

Regardless, I am very thankful to those who did participate in a project that was essentially sabotaged for no good reason. Admittedly, the thought has occurred to restart it... although I'm not presently shooting film and more importantly, presently lack the necessary motivation. It may one day come to pass, but more time will yet need to pass...

MELVIN    Photo: © Stan Banos

Friday, August 16, 2019


Recently, I indulged my masochistic side and watched a slew of "Street Photography" videos, which all pretty much follow the same formulaic presentation: a few attempts at humor by the desktop (laptop if traveling) to loosen one up, followed by the promised "live" jaunt through their chosen city's streets touting the same shop worn observations and advice- all in the interest of proudly achieving and presenting... the most spectacularly mediocre images imaginable. Admittedly, I voluntarily descended down that rabbit hole of my own accord, thinking... they all can't be that bad- Alas...

Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

So it was with great delight that I finally caught sight of Jeff Mermelstein's ARENA at The Leica Gallery in SF. First, I must confess I'm not a big fan of the book's cover- it has the super glossy veneer of an over produced coffee table book desperately trying to blind you with Bling because of the paucity of quality to be found within. Already familiar with the quality of Mermelstein's work, I refused to be dissuaded by it's unfortunate manner of dress and was quickly overcome by a long forgotten feeling, a nostalgia, not of images already seen, but of someone allowed to enter the sacred realm of he who sees things in a very special way, and is allowing you the honor of sharing that vision. It was the same feeling I often felt walking into Light Gallery at 724 5th Ave. in the mid seventies, as if wandering about the clouds of photographic heaven.

ARENA displays Mermelstein as a photographer at the peak of his game, seeing details we would normally bypass- details which if we did stop to notice, and photograph, would never render with the insight, clarity and finesse that he delivers. It is a picture of a photographer wielding the ability to make the ordinary surreal, and the surreal a most palpable reality.

Will any of the current crop of newbie street photo wannabes ever reach such heights- I would hope so, though I most probably won't be around to witness it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Vanishing New York

          Photo: © Stan Banos

I left New York at the turn of the century, after 40+ years of being a hard core, native New Yorker. Something had changed, I felt it was part me and part... New York itself, the home I had so loved, respected and championed. Of course, when you live in the midst of something, are surrounded by it, engulfed by it- it's often hard to view things fairly, proportionately or even rationally. All I knew, is that for the first time in my life, New York felt alien to me, something now strangely apart from me, no longer just the natural extension of everything both good and not so good about me and every other of my fellow New Yorkers... I had long ago stopped romanticizing New York, I knew it cared nothing about me, neither as individual nor as the very smallest of its cogs, but even the sense of mutual, sustained respect for having withstood everything it had thrown my way both as child and adult had suddenly begun to wane and tarnish. 

My favorite scene (the only worthwhile scene in my opinion) from Martin Scorsese's abysmal Gangs of New York was the very end, where New York's skyline morphs and transforms throughout the decades, a CGI transformation that embarrassingly almost brought me to tears, particularly since my parents first arrived at its shores in the early fifties having "migrated" from Puerto Rico and settled in a $40 cold water flat on Crosby St. in... SOHO. I sensed that I was getting older, no longer part of the generation that was changing New York on a street or cultural level, but something else was going on, a change that was occurring and metastasizing from what seemed to be outside forces well beyond the farthest reaches of its outer boroughs. And I saw it all around me, the rampant gentrification, the disappearing neighborhood joints and landmarks, the skyrocketing prices of anything and everything imaginable, and the not so tangible but very definite change of... attitude. 

And the latter was the most mystifying to me, I couldn't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it, although the new Domino's Pizza on Third Ave. off St. Marks did offer the most viable of clues- how did such a shit ass, cardboard chain eatery invade and survive New York City, the only place in the US of A where you could actually get good great pizza? Pizza, the NY/NJ poor man's staple that one could eat cheaply, plentifully and deliciously in any of its five boroughs! Couldn't figure it out for the life of me- what semi-sane, self respecting New Yorker would ever patronize such a place? And the answer was... but a block away, at NYU's most recently built dorm. New York was now conforming not to the needs of its working, everyday residents, but to the well monied interests of those moving in and having it conform to them, both on the micro and macro level. Domino's, of course, being the very least of it, as high priced chain boutiques and luxury condos with or without "poor doors" became the norm, just as New York street attitude, whatever one may think of it, was being replaced by the shrill, outright arrogance of its well heeled, elitist new comers. 

And that is what Vanishing New York, How A Great City Lost Its Soul by Jeremiah Moss makes abundantly clear in the most minute and meticulously researched detail. This is not a vanity publication of some curmudgeon's opinions and biased observations, as some would like to allege; Moss backs up his claims with an abundance of facts and historical data. Critics like to point out that New York has always been in flux, constantly changing and morphing- one says flat out, "Someone give Moss a Metrocard," so he can see all the working class diversity in Bay Ridge (my place of birth); this critic, allegedly paid to write and "think," obviously clueless to the fact that he just proved Moss, right- having to go to the outer boroughs to finally reach a diversified working class community! Even The High Line, that most seemingly benign, beneficial and contemplative of new New York's additions, was little more than the stealth juggernaut for destroying that entire neighborhood to pave way for monstrosities such as Vessel, that (if I may quote myself) "monumental monument of monumentous proportions that affords the monied elite living 'round it the grand view of watching the minions below them walk endlessly about within its circle going nowhere."

Despite all the changes and evidence all around me some twenty years ago- I couldn't see the forest for the trees! And that is what this most depressing, yet fascinatingly detailed, chronicle of a book so clearly recounts and outlines- the unmaking of America's most uniquely original city into base camp for the world's filthy rich and boorishly boring... 

The irony on my part, of course, is that we moved to San Francisco, the only other American city that had long intrigued me as an open, viable city; and although we did catch a few good years, what occurred in New York in thirty years, happened here in ten- thanks to the high tech, geek elite whose only sense of community lies solely within the parameters of their virtual online reality- and the dollars it affords them! Like their ultra rich cohorts in New York, they have successfully devolved a city once abundant in character, and have done so by transforming it into yet another anonymous platform on which to place their laptops and $5 coffees...

Sunday, August 11, 2019

I Can't STOP...

Photo: Marion Post Wolcott

Looking at this photo (and it's been a good week now)! It's one magnificent beast of a photograph- talk about presence personified! Why this isn't in every historical photographic compilation and known the world over is well beyond me. Meticulous composition with subject matter that exude character from their every pore, it's an image that has already withstood and will forever defy the test of time. One certainly doesn't need color to bring this photo "to life." There's enough story line on that one street alone to launch: a novel, movie and a couple of Hollywood careers at the very least. It's every bit as real as real can get, and much as I absolutely love the damn thing- I sure as hell know that ain't no corner that I could ever hang so leisure like...

Friday, August 9, 2019

Truth, Luck And ... Gifts

Photo: Pentti Sammallahti

Everything I've photographed exists regardless of me, my role is only to be receptive. The most important thing is the luck... behind every good image there is the good luck too. Sometimes when you are in a right place in the right moment, you'll feel that the image is a gift and even that it doesn't matter who's behind the camera. -Pentti Sammallahti

Perfectly stated, and having experienced it myself... Ain't it the truth!

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Each And Every Day

Photo: © Stan Banos

One of the nice things about digital is that it's so easy to go back to previous photos and tweak as needed, as this can sometimes make the difference as to whether a borderline photo graduates to "officially allowed to be seen status." This is one such example, and not surprisingly, it's one with many small details and various, competing lighting scenarios. Now that I've properly edited those details throughout, it's literally come alive for me and I've very much fallen in love with it's window into everyday life. Before final tweaking I was hesitant that it fully delivered the goods, now I don't care who does or doesn't like it.

I'm really taken how that big Russian bear of a dad (and I'm assuming on both counts) appears so protective and loving of his family. And, of course, there's the requisite photographer/family member balancing the other end to record said event- and for dessert (ie- The Main Event) we get the little drama (writ stern and red) waltzing through the middle in no uncertain terms; perhaps it would've been better to have a larger sensor/more megapixels to better detail that expressive face, perhaps; point being, it still comes across clear nonetheless. And who can ask for more to wrap this singular moment all up into one nice, big bow than the NYC skyline in progress as backdrop.

Fact is, singular, celebratory moments in life occur in large cities, small towns and rural settings throughout the world- each and every day. And it's up to us to notice, preserve and celebrate them...

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Thoughts And Prayers...

'Cause as the NRA will be quick to remind us- "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." And we all know that this guy (and the other guy later yesterday), just like countless guys before and yet to come... could have killed, and severely wounded, just as many people every bit as quickly as some berserk guy with a rock, or a sharp stick. And, just as importantly, banning guns never solved a damn thing...

Addendum: And thank you, Mr. President for playing such a pivotal role in these events!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Still Life Study #1

Photo: © Stan Banos

Gotta admit, for a while there, I was a tad perplexed as to why no one paid any real attention to my series on leather fairs. And all the while, the answer was so embarrassingly obvious- as if staring me straight in the face... Any serious photo essay just isn't complete without one strong still life; it bespeaks a certain maturity, a dedication to craft, a commitment to subject matter. 

There's a pronounced sense of closure now, a confidence that I can finally kick back, garner the praise and await the inevitable (book) offers!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Who The Fuck Is...

Marianne Williamson- and more importantly, why is she so spot on about so many things that actually matter!?! Much as I love Elizabeth Warren- she'd get eaten alive by Trump, and good ol' Bernie, that charisma gene just seems to be absent, or at least... aged beyond repair. And she even makes Kamala look meek!

Admittedly, I just learned of this woman this Tues eve from online video clips (don't have cable)- but I wish half the Democratic candidates had the fire in the belly that she does... and the truth to go with it!!!

People say our system is broken — it’s not just broken, it’s corrupt to the core. It’s not just that our economy isn’t working for everyone, it’s that our economy has become completely taken over by corporate forces. -Marianne Williamson