Thursday, September 28, 2017

Puerto Rico Gets Trumped (Again)

Trump has not only not activated the military in bringing relief to Puerto Rico but he has actually impeded the possibility of other, private relief efforts arriving there. But what can one expect of this America First blowhard who imported Polish workers to demolish Bonwit Teller (so he wouldn't have to hire American workers at a living wage) to make room for his towering monstrosity on Fifth Ave? Puerto Rico has always been a convenient backyard for whatever The United States wanted to do with its: land (much of its most arable land was commandeered by the military), its labor and resources (corporations based there traditionally sent their profits directly to the mainland for decades- after first getting ridiculous tax incentives), or its people

Now, after recently being made to look like their financial predicament was totally and completely their own undoing, they are left to beg like animals on a deserted island, instead of citizens of the most powerful country on earth... My 90yr old mother is one of those awaiting his munificence.

Addendum: It only took a week of misery and suffering!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Richard Misrach- The Writing On The Wall

Somehow, someway, this show at The Fraenkel Gallery managed to escape my attention here in San Francisco. But (take it from the mouth and lens of the master) Misrach manages to encapsulate much of what I find so captivating about the desert and in particular, that of The American Southwest. The confluence and disparity between man and nature is somehow both intensified and neutralized- intensified in that man makes a point to actually bring out and display some of his most petty of grievances and acclamations, and neutralized by effectively displaying how petty they are in the vast arena of nature...
Apparently these photos were taken with an iPhone- (all due respect, he coulda done a lot better with a GR).

Photo: © Richard Misrach

Photo: © Richard Misrach

Photo: © Richard Misrach

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dear Lens Culture...

Some of you, many of you, whatever portion of you will take this as sour grapes, and hey... whatever. I'm putting this out there because I think I'm probably not the only one, and some may have had even worse experiences. Most of my years are now behind me, and I still find myself struggling for those fifteen, ten, I'll settle for five minutes worth of sic transit gloria mundi...

I am not a professional photographer, so I don't have the contacts one would make in that world, neither have I been able to afford going to all the exclusive photo reviews, festivals and seminars where one gets to hobnob with the elite gatekeepers of the photo art gallery and publishing scene. Those are just facts- not pleas for sympathy. And those of us in the same dire boat also do other things in addition to, or instead of... we: self publish books and zines, blog, create online portfolios, Instragram, etc, etc. 

Some of us (like myself) also enter the occasional competition. And I wish to highlight occasional, since it's important that one enters those that respect your copyright (read the fine print), as well as your aspirations. People will ask, "Why do you even bother?" And again, I always reply that it's a relatively cheap alternative to getting your work seen by people "in the biz," as well as an "opportunity" to edit, review and maybe even rethink your work. That said, yeah- it's still a major crap shoot writ large!

While I have garnered the rare entry into an online or gallery group show, I've yet to win anything I'd consider tres formidable (eg- prize status, feature showing, etc). And for the competition at hand- all I was striving for was finalist status. Most of the time when I fail to win anything, I have a pretty damn good notion as to why I, in fact, failed. A lot of times I've grouped together loosely knit photos into a a single theme- and kinda hoped I'd get lucky that nobody notices they're just a bunch of singles that I... kinda loosely grouped together into one of their chosen themes. Hey, I'm no pro- don't usually do themes, I'm a singles kinda guy. Other times, when I do have a strong connection going, I might only submit 4 out of a possible 6, or 8 out of a possible 10, cause that's all I got on that particular theme- and again, hope I get lucky. Well, realistically, with all the legions of competition out there- luck ain't gonna save your ass when ya haven't fulfilled the full potential, while others have. Granted. Other times, I suspect judges are looking for a very particular style, or styles- this happened on another competition I recently entered. The winners confirmed I was right.

But I was ready for this one- 10 outta 10 rock solid entries, all on topic ("Street Photography"), all dynamic compositions... I've taken my lumps, I've weathered the storm- no excuses this time 'round, luck wasn't entering into the equation... my time to shine!

And I get the usual form rejection email...

My first reaction was to email back, "100% Complete Fucking BULLSHIT!" Whether that actually got back to be seen by anyone- I don't know.

A day later I officially wrote back to Lens Culture Support: 

I have no delusions of grandeur concerning myself, or my work. I submitted 10 strong, dynamic photos to your Street Photo Competition. Each one could stand individually on its own, each one contributed to and reverberated with the subject at hand- not a weak link in the entire group.

If my series could not be judged fairly on its own merit because of its explicit sexual nature (consciously or unconsciously) then I should have been notified from the get go, and my money refunded.

Stan B.

Needless to say, I'm still awaiting a response. And while I'm waiting, it also occurs to me that even though I've submitted work to Lens Culture at least a half dozen times- not once have they even featured one of my "non-leather" photos on their online promos during any of their competitions. Really, Lens Culture- not one of my photos, not a one is worthy of your site under any circumstances... Really!?!? Amazingly, a couple of competitions ago they sent me a routine email about their latest contest, and I replied, "Why should I bother since I never win?" Someone actually responded that "you never know" and that... I "consistently registered in the top 15% of their entries." Uh-huh.

These photographs are documentary in nature, and as noted in my Artist's Statement- that very documentation is currently in jeopardy due to an "Ask First" movement that raised its very dubious head last year and which may very well curtail candid photography at the event should it somehow become the norm in this celebration of personal freedoms. If these photographs are somehow deemed lewd or pornographic (certainly not their intent), then the proper action would have been for Lens Culture to both reject and refund with explanation- not that I'm holding my breath... even if I am "in the top 15%."

So on to the photographs... five in B&W/five in color- best of both worlds!

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Check out the utterly smooth transition from B&W to Color... bound and nekid guy in front of a chain link fence on one side/bound and nekid guy in front of a chain link fence on the other- smooth as butter, I tell ya!

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Photo: © S. Banos

Monday, September 18, 2017

Notes Post Road...

All Photos: © S. Banos

I'd been jonesing for a real vacation for years, and an honest to god road trip with the eternal promise of freedom and adventure at every twist and turn was exactly what was called for. And the great American desert, with all its grandeur and banality, its natural beauty and all too human unpredictability would more than meet the urge. This would be The Official Grand Farewell To The Great American Southwest Tour, featuring as many of The Greatest Hits that could conveniently be served in twelve days... and since it had all been done before, there was no great urgency to actually do each and every one. Allowing for the law of diminishing returns, I didn't expect to get many photos (I didn't), even if I was focusing on this new medium of color. This would be more for the in the moment, joy de vivre- all else, simply icing...

What else can a girl do (but text) when surrounded by nature in all its beauty and majesty?

Getting photos that go beyond the picture perfect postcard in majestic natural settings is not the easiest of endeavors, particularly when you have no particular control of the light, time of arrival, or length of stay. And by that I mean, you arrive at an undetermined time- and make the best of it, before moving on to the next subject at hand, which in the case of the American Southwest is usually measured in terms of hundreds of miles... And to get something, anything that goes beyond the pretty (petty) landscape shot, my solution is to include people in the foreground of those majestic scenics, voluntarily adding their very real, all too unique, and often disparate sense of humanity. One can do an entire essay solely of tourists reacting to the wonder and grandeur of "Park Avenue" in Arches National Park, or the moments of sunset at Monument Valley, or... provided the necessary time! As it is, one deals with the light, people and situation presented at any given time and area; and when the temp is over 100F degrees- your visit is limited, like it or not! As often said- it's a crap shoot.

There didn't seem to be the usual amount of roadside craziness this time 'round- even the desert has gentrified!

So on to highlights and also-rans... There were two places I hoped to hit which were closed previously, both naturally situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere. One was the Kiva Koffeehouse which is located overlooking what pretty much, for all practical purposes (I swear) appeared to be The Garden of Eden nestled betwixt the Tigris and Euphrates river valley where civilization first arose. I kid you not- this round edifice built into a cliff hovers over this incredibly lush, painted to perfection valley that knocks your socks off- the coffee ain't bad either (and they have two great little cottages as well- maybe next time). The other was the so called "Alien Research Center" situated on one end of The Extraterrestrial Highway. Now let's get this straight- I did not expect anything near what the name implies, neither did I expect nothing but the worst collection of second rate souvenirs (some of which had nothing to do with aliens). What I did expect was some sort of hokey alien exhibits created with the help of local artisans that would make for an enjoyable experience (as they've learned to do at Roswell, NM). It looks great from the outside (a giant quonset hut with a towering metal alien standing beside), but that's where it ends. I took a pretty good shot of a promotional sign with a dramatic cloudy sky, but my photoshop skills are presently lacking in producing it (at least for the moment). Anyway, stick to The Little A'Le'Inn.

One thing that is immediately apparent upon hitting the road is not just the sheer size of The Southwest, but the sheer size of the Americans that inhabit it! They're Uuge!!! Seriously! I mean what can one say!? Where is this America where children appear on talk show programs complaining about being made fun of for being... fat- certainly not this one! 

Ode to Stephen Shore, Las Vegas

Also, amazing how fairly small municipalities like a Moab or Havasu City have expanded in recent years, the former is the mountain biking capital of the world, the latter is the current site for The London Bridge- I bet no one's making fun of the guy who came up with that idea now. People gotta go somewhere, so it's no surprise they're now arriving en masse in deserts where 100F is as cool as summer gets- between power walks from your AC home, to your AC office, to your AC car or store...

Bombay Beach, The Salton Sea

Speaking of places disparate and afar, in Southeastern CA, there are two communities that are, in fact, relatively quite close to each other- and a whole 'nother world apart. One consists of tiny communities sequestered around the Salton Sea; despite the rather romantic ring to the name... this is a place no one would volunteer to live in. The stench alone from the rotting fish in what has been essentially a dying body of fetid water is enough to keep most people from even visiting. And yet, those who can't afford to move live in what is essentially a no man's land of intolerable heat, stench and virtually no facilities or infrastructure that would make a normal, daily life somewhat tolerable. Ironically, sharing that very same heat (very much minus the smell of dead fish and poverty), and just a hop, skip, and jump away is the town of Palm Springs- where every social amenity, and then some, available to mankind is front, right and center! American disparity and inequity at its complete and utter extreme.
If America had a halfway adequate railroad system (Oh, the technology!)- it wouldn't need so many dangerous, polluting 18 wheelers clogging up our highways nationwide...

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was Monument Valley- not that we hadn't been before to experience its beauty and majesty, but because this time we actually got to have it as our very own backyard! The Navajo Nation has built the most splendid of hotels (appropriately named: The View) directly adjacent, blending in remarkably well to its remarkable environment and surroundings. It wasn't there the last time we went and I walked into the lobby as a lark, never expecting to afford a room even if one were actually available... and one was (the very last), and at $200US! To wake up and slide open a glass door that reveals The Mittens at sunrise is truly an event to treasure throughout life. Fantasy in the flesh! Photographically, it's not anywhere as magical as sunset- but experientially...

Monument Valley, Sunset

And speaking of sunset at Monument Valley, the dance and celebration of humanity displayed there most early evenings can be quite the sight to behold. The day I was there was overcast, and when all seeming hope of the sun's appearance had departed, the wife and I set out to eat. Sitting down and picking up the menu, I noticed The Mittens from the corner of my eye, now bathed in a glow of bright incandescent red. I grabbed the camera, ran out the restaurant and squeezed off a few odd exposures. I wonder if one can get a Guggenheim for taking sunset photos, every day, in one spot, for one year? 

I was psyched to experience the transparent "Skywalk" at the Grand Canyon, and was more than a tad miffed to read that it costs over $75 dollars a shot; and (get this)... you are not allowed to photograph- WTF!!! All cameras are checked into lockers upon arrival.  No thanks- and the Grand Canyon still looked damn magnificent from its usual vantage points...

Try as I might, I've never been able to get a good shot of a Saguaro- this'll just have to do...

This year we got wise and decided to leave the rental in Las Vegas instead of driving it all the way back home, a stress inducing denouement one can well do without. The flight home was cheap and just an hour and a half- No flight should last longer than an hour and a half! We stayed an evening at The Golden Nugget on Fremont Street which is without doubt- the cheaper, louder, crazier part of Vegas! How and why Gilden hasn't documented the people here is beyond me. We usually stayed at La Concha, a large motel on Las Vegas Blvd. which no longer exists, but instead has magically relocated and transformed into The Neon Museum. The tour of the town's glittering neon tinsel revolves around it's very history, and is well worth the price.

Vegas, particularly Fremont St with its blocks long video canopy and people flying by wire overhead (and they ain't half as wild as the people below), was one overpowering sensory overload of stimuli and overindulgence, even for this New York City boy. But beyond the glitter, glitz and festivity, there is a very visible, very sizable contingent of homeless people slowly shuffling about zombie like throughout the adjacent streets looking for whatever sliver of shade they can possibly find. Being homeless is bad enough, being homeless in unrelenting triple digit heat is unbearable to even think about. And yet, there they were- and there they still are...

Six Palm Trees at a mortuary parking lot, Las Vegas.

Vast, distinctive and yet part of the overall prize and puzzle, the Southwest will hopefully always maintain its unique allure- and maybe even one day help point towards a solution...

Sunday, September 3, 2017

That's The Signpost Up Ahead, Your Next Stop...

Photo: © S. Banos

Will be off in the wilds of the great American Southwest the next coupla weeks. Some people love the beach, others lakes or forests, and those are all well and fine, but we're somewhat partial to the high desert- barren, unsettling, yet strangely serene nonetheless. And a helluva welcome change of pace- The Great American Road Trip; and in The Age of Trump, very much the grateful get away...

PS- Hopefully, upon return: The Great Orange Wonder hasn't already started his very own Tremendous War- honestly think he doesn't want to start his very own (with his very own... brand)? And has actually paid his promised $1 million to Texas flood victims...