WRLD: Japanese gangsters, heavy fiction, weird comics, demented prog, and even some references to photography

Hello, faithful readers. I'm sure all 2-3 of you are wondering when I was going to talk about weird things to watch and read and listen to again. Well, wonder no more. It's time for another installment of WRLD.

Watching

Nikkatsu Studios in Japan produced some of the coolest gangster films of the 60's. I noticed that Seijun Suzuki's Detective Bureau 2-3 was available streaming on Amazon, and always enjoy watching Jo Shishido in action. ***

I went back and watched Tokyo Drifter, and this film is still one of Suzuki's best. *****

Branded to Kill is Seijun Suzuki at peak weirdness. John Zorn's essay on this film for the Criterion Collection is what got me into Suzuki. Highly recommended. *****

For No Good Reason is a documentary that profiles the artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson. Watching Steadman paint and draw is cool, and there is a little bit of great HST footage. The talking head style interviews are a bit dry at times, and the film is marred by crappy, invasive graphic overlays. Worth watching if you're a big fan. **

Terry Gilliam's new film The Zero Theorem was released on streaming at the same time as the theatrical release. The plot and cast sounded promising. Unfortunately, the writing is not great, and neither is the CGI. Tilda Swinton's bit part as a virtual shrink is hilarious. The look of the film is wonderful, but when that thrill wears off the story and characters just don't feel cohesive. Worth watching, but not worth buying. **

A few people have recommended the film Frank, starring Michael Fassbender as a musician who never removes his giant fake head. Planning to watch this one in the next few days.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a documentary co-directed by Werner Herzog that profiles a hunting community in remote Siberia. Seeing how other cultures live can be a nice reminder that our day-to-day worries are definitely first world problems. ***

To the Wonder is Terence Malick's latest film and the only good things I can say about it are that I enjoyed the cinematography at times, and that I was really happy that Ben Affleck barely has any lines. A disappointing mess, and that's coming from a huge fan of his other films. *

Reading

Yuichi Yokoyama's Color Engineering is an amazing mix of abstract comic book narrative, paintings, drawings, and photographs. Wilder in stylistic scope than his also quite enjoyable book Garden, Color Engineering touches the abstract edges of how we comprehend and digest art and storytelling. Reading this book requires simultaneously decoding 4-5 art forms at the same time, which is very stimulating. Highly recommended. *****

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is Haruki Murakami's latest novel, and everyone in my book club thought it was sub-par when compared to the rest of his work. **

Gringos is a hilarious 1991 novel by Charles Portis involving a cult, some UFO freaks, and archaelogical hustlers. Highly entertaining. ****

Robert C. Jones writes ghost town books they way they oughta be. How to get there, a little bit of history, and most importantly - what kind of ruins are left to see. The Mojave Preserve is a beautiful, underrated place to explore, and Ghost Towns of the Mojave National Preserve is an excellent resource. ****

Fine Art Printing for Photographers is the third edition of Uwe Steinmuller's highly technical book on inkjet printing. If you want to make better inkjet prints, this book is an excellent resource. While I didn't know him personally, I followed Uwe's site outbackphoto.net, and was saddened to hear that he passed away last month. He will be missed. ****

Every year I try to read a big, challenging book. This year, I finally read The Recognitions by William Gaddis. A huge, complex story that centers around art forgery, The Recognitions is the literary bridge between James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. At times difficult, erudite, hilarious, complicated, and astonishing. **** 

The Wes Anderson Collection features an essay on each of his films through Moonrise Kingdom, combined with extensive interviews, and behind the scenes photos. The supporting artwork is fun, too. The discussions about Anderson's influences and working methods are really interesting. Essential reading for fans of his work. ****

Chester Brown's review of Ant Colony nails it: "Michael DeForge is that rare sort of cartoonist, a genuine artist with a unique vision and a teeming imagination. He’s not trying to create sentimental pap for a mass audience. I love his work, but I do wonder why any sensible, profit-minded publisher would release this crazy book." ****

Someone pointed me to a 2013 Slate article on Mike Mandel's Making Good Time. Mandel covers an early 20th century industrial photography team called the Gilbreths who put pulsing lights on workers and took long exposures. The photographs were then analyzed in order to improve worker efficiency. Mandel then provides his own modern update on this style of photography. A wonderful intersection of industrial photographic history, light painting, and humor. ****

Listening

Matthew Young's 1982 album Recurring Dreams was reissued by Drag City earlier this year. Subtle, wonderful headphone listening. ****

Some how Van Der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts has escaped me all of these years. Wow. This album hurts my head, but tickles a little bit at the same time. ***

Doing

I'll have some news soon on an exciting new commercial photography project. Until then, you can always follow the latest photos, news, and antics on FacebookTwitter, or G+.

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WRLD: Grandmaster, Magic, Big Star, Townes, Creation, Cutie, 1-800-MICE, H Day, Abandoned Futures, Coin Locker Babies, Satellites, Mogwai, Exploding Star Orchestra

Watching

The Grandmaster

Last month Martin Scorsese interviewed Wong Kar-Wai about his 2013 film, The Grandmaster. The cinematography is amazing, and overall the film is pretty good [Amazon]. ★★★

Deceptive Practice

The best documentary I've seen in ages is Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay [Netflix, Amazon]. Ricky Jay's dedication and artistry are inspiring, and the film is riveting from start to finish. Highly recommended. ★★★★★

Big Star

This documentary profiles the Memphis rock band Big Star from their early years to post-breakup. Essential viewing if you're a fan [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★★

Be Here To Love Me

Be Here To Love Me is a portrait of singer songwriter Townes Van Zandt. A haunting look at a tortured artist [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★★★

Upside Down

Upside Down is an uneven documentary about the UK label Creation Records. Selling records and partying with Scottish accents, it's half entertaining and half annoying [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★

Cutie and the Boxer

Cutie and the Boxer profiles an 80 year old Japanese artist and his wife who are living in New York and barely making ends meet. I had high hopes for this one after the preview, but the film focuses too much on the antagonistic wife [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★

 

Reading

1-800-MICE

1-800-MICE is bonkers. Blurbed by Daniel Clowes and Matt Groening among others, but none of them get it quite right. Surreal, absurd, extraordinary, and utterly unique. Highly recommended.

H Day

I've been a fan of Renee French since 90's comic books Grit Bath and The Ninth Gland. H Day tells parallel stories on facing pages without words. One side is about migraines, and the other is about an ant invasion. Mysterious, weird, and quite enjoyable.

Abandoned Futures

With a cover photo from the Pearsonville Junkyard, night photography workshop alum Tong Lam presents well crafted photos of some world class ruins. Tong doesn't like the term ruin porn, and instead makes a case for the history of ruin lust. Abandoned Futures contains some of the best writing on the symbology of ruins in recent years, and is highly recommended.

Coin Locker Babies

I've read quite a bit of Haruki Murakami's work, but hadn't read Ryu Murakami until my book club selected Coin Locker Babies. This novel is the story of two orphans who are abandoned at birth in a coin-locker, and are raised in the shadows of a ruined factory town. While the violence was a bit graphic for my taste, there were some hypnotizing sections that gave me new insight into why I photograph abandoned places.

Satellites

Satellites is the result of an amazing 7 year journey exploring the forgotten outposts of the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately this book is out of print, but it's definitely worth seeking out at your local library.

 

Listening

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Mogwai's Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will has been in heavy rotation during January. Maybe because it's good workout music? The Drowned in Sound review of the album is right on target.

Exploding Star Orchestra

The Exploding Star Orchestra takes a wild journey through large ensemble jazz improv with a wide array of field recordings. A wild but engaging sonic ride. Here's a nice review on Dusted.

 

Doing

  • A wonderful English artist is producing a marquetry version of one of my photos. I'm excited to see how this turns out, and will share photos when it's done.
  • I've switched from using a Really Right Stuff pano-head to a Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2. More on this decision later.
  • My office is loud. I tried a lot of noise-cancelling headphones. All marketing hype aside, the Bose QC 15 really do work the best. Audiophile magazine Sound & Vision nails it in this Bose review. If you need to shut out the world, this is 300 bucks well spent.
  • I'm shooting video at work. It's way harder than shooting stills. But fun. I'm learning Premiere, too.
  • A couple of my Holga images are in a recently released color grading book. More info when I get a copy.
  • I'm online less and less these days. I still like looking at pictures on Tumblr. That's about it. You wanna talk? Send me an email. And don't be surprised if my online presence becomes a bit more sporadic this year.
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WRLD: Stanhope, Motorcycles, Yakuza, Cults, Pynchon, Aerial Photos, Feral Teens, Origami, and Prog-Folk

Watching

Beer Hall Putsch

Stand-up comedy is like dance for me -- I can't watch 98% of what's out there, but the 2% that's good is really good. Doug Stanhope is in that 2%. His most recent 1-hour special is called Beer Hall Putsch [Netflix only], and it's over the top. The Occupy Wall Street and NFL fantasy bits are nuts.

Long Way Down

In 2004, Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman went on a 20,000 mile adventure on motorcycles in Long Way Round [Netflix | Amazon]. The series starts a bit slowly, but the hard travel segments in Russia and Mongolia are amazing. In 2007 they rode from Scotland to South Africa in Long Way Down [Netflix | Amazon].

Pale Flower

I recently watched the nihilistic 60's Japanese yakuza film Pale Flower again, and it's still astonishing. Now on Blu-Ray from Criterion [Netflix | Amazon].

The Source Family

The Source Family is a really great documentary about a 70's cult led by Father Yod, who had 14 wives, a health food restaurant, a Rolls Royce, and a psychedelic band [Netflix | Amazon].

 

Reading

Bleeding Edge

The new Thomas Pynchon novel Bleeding Edge will be released on Tuesday, 9/17. The extensive 7,000 word piece on Pynchon published last month on Vulture is a must-read for fans of his work. And Jonathan Lethem's review in today's New York Times really nails what's great about Pynchon.

Around the Bay

The new CLUI publication Around the Bay: Man-Made Sites of Interest in the San Francisco Bay Region is essential if you live in the Bay Area. The book pairs aerial photographs with a short history of the industrial sites around the Bay. The companion exhibit, Above and Below, runs at the Oakland Museum runs through February 23, 2014. The big, projected fly-over video of the Bay is fantastic.

Mira Corpora

Jeff Jackson's debut novel Mira Corpora is a dark, surreal coming-of-age story that I could not put down. Featuring a section with feral kids living in the woods on the edge of an abandoned amusement park which is down the way from a crumbling house inhabited by a teenage oracle.


Ametsuchi

I'm really surprised Rinko Kawauchi's new book Ametsuchi isn't getting more attention. I picked this up in a book store and was blown away. Images of controlled burns, constellations, Buddhist rituals, and a unique design with inverted versions of the images behind the pages. Here's a video interview with Kawauchi with a look at the book. Highly recommended.

 

Listening

The Master Musicians of Bukkake are back with a new album called Far West which delves into prog-folk and Morricone inspired soundtrack music.

 

Ghost Capital is still blowin' up the spot with a great selection of hard-to-find world, African, and electronic music.

 

Doing

Despite the crowds, riding a bike on the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is a lot of fun. Here's how to get to the path.

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WRLD: Oil fields, comics, curmudgeons, Kaurismaki, Pynchon, tanks, and ALTO!

San Ardo oil fields on Highway 101 -- by Joe Reifer
San Ardo oil fields on Highway 101 -- by Joe Reifer

Watching, Reading, Listening, Doing (WRLD) is an experiment in paring down artistic input/output into quick summaries to refer back to. Disparate inputs help create interesting output. Let's see what's been in the blender lately.

Reading

Charles Burns - The Hive

Charles Burns continues to amaze me with his unique vision in the 2nd installment of his darkly original, narrative-shifting trilogy - The Hive. Highly recommended.

 

 
ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography

The ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography was worth reading for the 50 concise photographer biographies. Judy Herrmann's values analysis exercises are also quite good. The remaining material is a high level overview of changes in the photography industry, but the advice is rather general. Worth checking out from the library for photographers of all levels. May be of particular interest to photography students who don't already understand the industry.


Occam's Razor

If you enjoyed David Hurn and Bill Jay's On Being a Photographer, you might try tracking down Occam's Razor. What was true about the art world 20 years ago is even more true today. The photography world needs an articulate curmudgeon like Bill Jay to stay honest. I wish the photo blog world had half of his wit and insight.

 

Watching

Le Havre

Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre blew me away. A bohemian shoe shine man protects an African refugee from being deported. Those of you familiar with Kaurismaki's long history of dour films will be surprised how uplifting Le Havre is. And the cinematography is fantastic. Highly recommended.

 
Thomas Pynchon documentary

I really enjoyed this Thomas Pynchon documentary with music by The Residents. The film is a goofy speculation about Pynchon's choice to remain out of the public eye. Word on the street is that a new Pynchon novel called Bleeding Edge may be released this year.

 
Cul De Sac

Another excellent holiday gift (thanks ss!) was Cul De Sac. In 1995, a 35 year-old plumber and ex-soldier from suburban San Diego dug an 18 foot hole in his back yard looking for gold. Apparently meth was involved. He ended up stealing a tank from the National Guard and went on a rampage crushing cars before the police opened the tank and shot him. A really interesting meditation on the decline of the post WWII 50's suburban dream.

 

Listening

Alto!
Alto!

ALTO! is a three piece band from Portland, Oregon with Derek Monypeny on guitar, and Steven T. Stone / Kyle Reid Emory on drums /electronics. Somewhere between krautrock, outrock, progrock, and experimental. Listen to side one of the album on ALTO!'s Bandcamp page, download a track for free, or name your price to buy the whole album.

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23 epiphanies: Ramblings on artistic influences

Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer
Power plant accoutrements -- by Joe Reifer

My presentation at last week's Mono Lake Night Photography Festival was about the value of cultivating a diverse set of artistic influences. You are already doing this informally. The idea is to talk or write about your artistic input, as a playground for better understanding how these things are influencing your artistic output.

I had 45 minutes to talk, and spent just under 2 minutes talking about how each of these artists has influenced my night photography. As the presentation was both fast and media intensive, I've reproduced the list of artists below for those who attended the conference.

I encourage you to make your own list of influences. This could be a desert island list of your favorite films, photography books, novels, museum exhibits, dance performances -- whatever you're into. Making a list is the first step -- the epiphanies are born out of process of articulating why you love this work, and how the work has influenced you. The writing doesn't have to be lengthy -- start with one sentence for the why, and one for the how. Have fun, and feel free to share your list.

  1. Gordon Matta-Clark: Conical Intersect [video on UbuWeb] [photos & bio on artnet]
  2. John Divola: Vandalism Series [photos on divola.com]
  3. Roger Ballen: Outland | Shadow Chamber | Boarding House
  4. John Pfahl: Altered Landscapes
  5. Draw on your image: To be discussed in a future blog post
  6. Gaspar Noe: Enter the Void [Netflix]
  7. Matthew Barney: Cremaster Cycle
  8. Werner Herzog: Of Walking In Ice
  9. Mark Rothko: Rothko's Rooms[Netflix]
  10. William Vollmann: Imperial
  11. Michelangelo Antonioni: Red Desert [Netflix]
  12. David T. Hanson: Waste Land
  13. Flotation Tanks
  14. Haruki Murakami: A Wild Sheep Chase
  15. Ikeda Carlotta: Butoh Dance
  16. Yasujiro Ozu: Tokyo Story [Netflix]
  17. Master Musicians of Jajouka: Apocalypse Across the Sky | Pipes of Pan
  18. Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed [Netflix]
  19. Caspar David Friedrich [friendsofart.net]
  20. John Hind: Our True Intent Is All For Your Delight
  21. Chris Verene: Family | Chris Verene
  22. Jacques Tati: Playtime
  23. Erik Kessels: In Almost Every Picture #9 Black Dog

Note: Book and movie links go to Amazon, and help put a few extra pennies into the epiphany research jar.

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Learning from films: Red Desert / We Give Our Lives

Criterion recently released a restored version of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 masterpiece Red Desert (il deserto rosso) [Amazon | Netflix | IMDB]. On the second viewing, I made screen captures of scenes where the composition caught my eye -- mainly focusing on the theme of people set against industrial settings. Many of the still images could stand alongside work from my favorite photographers.

Those of you attached to fast moving modern films with plot may find this film difficult -- I hope the still images convince you that a viewing will be rewarding. The cinematography and use of color are amazing, and Monica Vitti's performance is riveting.

The slideshow is set to a song by the group Sabbath Assembly who have a new release called Restored to One [MP3CD]. The album is a modern response to the music of a cult called The Process Church of the Final Judgement. Psychedelic gospel music by way of The Family and NNCK? And Jex Thoth has an amazing voice.

The video is best watched full screen at 720p.

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5 disc shuffle, and Noisy People

I'm addicted to putting 5 CD's into the changer and putting it on shuffle. Yeah, you can put a bunch of discs in your computer and have a random jukebox all day long, but 5 discs in the changer is how I've been rocking out since the early 90's, and it works well for me. Here's what's playing on a rainy weekend while I do some image cataloging and finish framing for my upcoming show:

Yeah, it's a strange and eclectic mix, but it's really working. And speaking of strange music, my friend Tom Djll is featured in the documentary Noisy People that screens next Wednesday at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. The filmmaker, Tim Perkis, will be appearing at the PFA for the premier with guest performers. I've been a fan of the out there improv scene in the Bay Area for a long time, and I'm excited to see the film!

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New Topographics

The pivotal turning point in modern jazz was 1959, when Ornette hit New York. You can argue that Coltrane or Miles or Albert Ayler forever changed jazz, but there is no doubt a big shift in the continuum occurred in 1959. John Litweiler's books The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958, and Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life dig deeply into this pivotal time in music. With photography the rise of modernism isn't quite as clear, but 1975 was clearly a big year due to the exhibition at the George Eastman House called New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. This exhibit was a turning point in modern landscape photography. The Grove Dictionary of Art provides a nice, concise definition of New Topographics:

Term first used by the American William Jenkins (1975 exh. cat.) to characterize the style of a number of young photographers he had chosen for the exhibition at the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, NY, in 1975. These photographers avoided the ‘subjective’ themes of beauty and emotion and shared an apparent disregard for traditional subject-matter. Instead they emphasized the ‘objective’ description of a location, showing a preference for landscape that included everyday features of industrial culture. This style, suggesting a tradition of documentary rather than formalist photography, is related to the idea of ‘social landscape’, which explores how man affects his natural environment. Jenkins traced the style back to several photographic series by Edward Ruscha in the early 1960s of urban subjects such as petrol stations and Los Angeles apartments.

The photographers included in the exhibition included:

  • Robert Adams
  • Lewis Baltz
  • Bernd and Hilla Becher
  • Joe Deal
  • Frank Gohlke
  • Nicholas Nixon
  • John Schott
  • Stephen Shore
  • Henry Wessel, Jr.

Because the New Topographics is the photographic lineage to which I feel the most connected, I've been making an effort to sit down with books by these photographers. I've been a big fan of the Bechers and Stephen Shore for a long time, but a few of these photographers have escaped me. I've had pretty good luck tracking down expensive and hard to find books through the Link+ interlibrary loan system. I tried to obtain the actual exhibition catalog, but it turned out to be quite rare and expensive. A few years ago a stained copy sold for $610 at Photo Eye.

In the next few weeks I'll be talking about some of the books by these photographers that I've checked out recently. Stay tuned.

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This Heat

I looked at the best of 2006 album lists in the local weekly papers, and on a few blogs. I don't get it. I can't relate. I didn't hear much of anything new in 2006 that blew me away, but maybe I'm not trying hard enough. And yes, I did try listening to Joanna Newsom's much talked about Ys. The best musical thing that happened to me by far last year was the This Heat box set, Out of Cold Storage. The two pivotal albums included here are Blue and Yellow (aka This Heat) and Deceit, which were previously difficult to find and expensive. The box includes 6 CD's including Health and Efficiency, repeat, Made Available (BBC), and Live (previously unreleased). This box has been sitting next to my CD player since it arrived -- I have not bothered to put it away.

Containing elements of krautrock, prog, post-punk, and experimental tape music, the This Heat box set just completely blew the doors off anything else I heard this year. Have a look at the Pitchfork review. My favorite record shop, Aquarius Records in San Francisco, stocks the box set and has some mp3 song samples available, along with a nice review. You can also buy the box or the first album individually from the distributor, RER USA.

Fans of Can, Faust, Wire, Henry Cow, King Crimson, etc. please take note. This may be an undiscovered gem for you, too. Big thanks to Derek Monypeny, from the amazing Oakland based band Oaxacan, for turning me on to This Heat a few years ago. If you live in the Bay Area, Oaxacan channels krautrock and free improv into their own unique blend of sounds. Catch them live if you get the chance.

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RIP: Jey Clark

I started out writing a post about Nels Cline's new tribute to the music of Andrew Hill, but stumbled on some sad news along the way. Sax player and local Berkeley saxophone/reed store owner Jey Clark died back in August of last year. Jey introduced me to Nels Cline's music when I was in college. I lived in Santa Cruz in the late 80's/early 90's, where Jey owned a saxophone/reed instrument store called 4 Winds. Having been inspired by Eric Dolphy and Ben Goldberg, I took clarinet lessons for a short time, and bought my clarinet from Jey's store. From hanging out at 4 Winds before and after my lessons, I became friends with Jey, and introduced him to a circle of young, fired-up musicians who were beginning to explore free jazz. Jey played with our group euDecide on a few occassions. One of the best tapes I have from that era features Jey on sax.

When Anthony Braxton was playing at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center, he brought his horns in to Jey's shop for a tune-up the afternoon before the show. Braxton's clarinet had some keys held on with rubber bands! Jey and his repairman at the time, Norm, spent the whole afternoon getting Braxton's horns in shape because of their love of Braxton's music. Braxton also fell in love with a rare and beautiful C-melody sax that Jey had in his shop -- Jey let him play it that night at the show, and Braxton spent the first 15 minutes of his set really giving that horn a workout!

I moved away from Santa Cruz in 1993. Around that time Jey had moved 4 Winds over to San Jose, because the Santa Cruz school system wasn't supporting a music program, which led to less business for his shop. After a short time in San Jose, Jey sold his store to Starving Musician and left California to travel and teach Tibetan Buddhism. He practiced in the Dzogchen tradition, and was one of only 3 certified teachers in the U.S. of Yantra Yoga.

I lost track of Jey between about 1995 and 2004, when I saw a new saxophone store in Berkeley that turned out to be owned by Jey and his friend Erik.

After 9 years of not seeing him, Jey was as friendly as ever, inviting me to a BBQ at his house the following weekend, which I wasn't able to attend. I've walked by Saxology a few times over the last two years - a lot of times Erik would be in the shop working late. I wanted to be respectful of their business and not bother Erik & Jey, but now I wish I would've bothered them more. Jey was always a person who radiated warmth and good vibes in an understated but infectious way. You don't meet too many people like that in the world -- it's good to appreciate and learn from the people who are able to have this type of energy. I'll miss you Jey. Rest in peace.

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