My funny Ballen find

This is the Roger Ballen print I’ve just bought, called Culprit. Am I in the income bracket that can afford Roger Ballens? Apparently yes. This print cost me $100, and I bought it from the online gallery 20×200, a project of Jen Bekman Gallery in Manhattan.

It’s a very fine pigment print on artists paper, from a limited edition supervised by the artist. It’s accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and his signature (though not on the print itself).  I’m very happy with it! I’ve seen a lot of Ballen’s museum prints and this equates with their quality.

The galleries name, 20×200, refers to the minimum dollar price for the prints on offer and the number of artists involved. The artists are both emerging and established and include the great N.Y. designer Paula Scher,  (I have her autograph!) and Todd Hido, the San Francisco photographer. There is a lot of interesting work available.

As Lorenz Hart wrote in his  song My Funny Valentine (hence the bad pun in the post’s title):

Your looks are laughable, unphotographable, yet you’re my favourite work of art.


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Death of Fox Talbot

Quinn Jacobson, The Death of Fox Talbot

Here is a curious thing, a photographic joke for insiders. Quinn Jacobson, the Wet Plate exponent (see my Arcana post of November 10 below) was  at Kensal Green cemetery in London for a commemoration of Frederick Scott Archer. Archer was the 19th century photographer who invented the Wet Plate process in 1851, a method of photography so successful that it soon killed the Calotype process patented by Fox Talbot in the 1840s.

The curious thing is that not far from the Scott Archer memorial, Jacobson found a dead fox on the ground, a bizarre omen for Fox Talbot. He photographed it using his Wet Plate camera and titled the image The Death of Fox Talbot. As I say, a photographic joke for insiders.

Lawrence, by Coster

This perfect photograph is a portrait of Lawrence of Arabia in 1931. It was made by the prominent London photographer Howard Coster and sold recently at Sotheby’s for about $6000. The print was owned by T.E. Lawrence himself, and is signed by Coster. Lawrence wrote,

On Friday I was on the embankment near the Temple when a little bare-headed man rushed up and said “Colonel Lawrence, I want to photograph you”. So I went along for the joke of it and he put me on a little chair at a little shop in Essex Street. Rather a nice little stammering man, I thought. Works for Vogue!”

Coster specialised in photographs of men, especially of the literary and artistic world. He provided a lot of the author-portraits for Penguin Books, august-looking writers who are now largely forgotten. This is how he announced the opening of his studio:

“My studio in Essex Street has been opened for the purpose of making portraits of men exclusively. The idea is original and by concentrating on this individual branch of photography it is obvious that fine work must result.”

You can see Coster at work here, in a rare bit of film from 1931, the same year as the Lawrence picture.

Odds Against Tomorrow 3

For a Hollywood genre film Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959, was experimental and arty. The story hinges on the racial conflict between white man Ryan and black man Harry Belafonte. The opening shot was filmed on infra red film which bleached the skin of the racist character, played by Robert Ryan above. A moment after this shot he racially mocks a little black girl.

The movie’s director Robert Wise said this: I did something in Odds Against Tomorrow I’d been wanting to do in some pictures but hadn’t had the chance. I wanted a certain kind of mood in some sequences, such as the opening when Robert Ryan is walking down West Side Street…I used infra-red film. You have to be very careful with that because it turns green things white, and you can’t get too close on people’s faces. It does distort them but gives that wonderful quality—black skies with white clouds—and it changes the feeling and look of the scenes. -Robert Wise, from wikipedia.

See my other posts on the photography in in this film: Odds Against Tomorrow 1, Odds Against Tomorrow 2, and Odds Against Tomorrow 4

Odds Against Tomorrow 2

The 1959 heist movie Odds Against Tomorrow was mostly shot on location in New York city and upstate New York. The locations were carefully chosen, each scene plays out in very distinctive place. It gives the film a sense of reality, as if the events could be happening right next to you. In these shots the skyscrapers are composed in relation to the actors. They become like characters in the film, echoing the toughness of the bank robbers. The bottom two images could almost be still photographs, like portraits in Life Magazine.

See my other posts on the photography in this movie: Odds Against Tomorrow 1Odds Against Tomorrow 3 and Odds Against Tomorrow 4


Odds Against Tomorrow 1

Odds Against Tomorrow is a 1959 film noir, a combination heist-movie and message-film (is that three genres?). It was directed by the great Robert Wise and starred Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, whose shadows you can see in these photos.

The climax is a chase through an oil refinery at night. Harry Belafonte is chasing down the racist Robert Ryan, to their mutual destruction. The sequence was lit – or perhaps sculpted is a better word – by powerful spot lights. The shots function as tightly composed still photographs. The cinematographer Joseph C. Brun had been nominated for an Oscar in 1953, and seeing these images, you can understand why.

See my other posts on the photography in this movie: Odds Against Tomorrow 2Odds Against Tomorrow 3 and Odds Against Tomorrow 4

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