Category Archives: Books

Words: Ted Orland on art, marketing, and fame

Josef Albers teaching at Black Mountain College

Still, if the only goal were to attain quick visibility in the art world, the formula (at least on paper) is absurdly simple: devote ten percent of your effort to artmaking, and ninety percent to marketing and self-promotion. But that gambit works (when it does work) only as long as you keep sprinting down the fame & fortune treadmill — pause for an instant and it’s a straight drop into oblivion. The fact that cultivated fame has little substance behind it, however, hardly slows the stampede. In our media-dominated culture it’s an open question whether fame is the result of accomplishment, or whether fame — all by itself — is the accomplishment.

Page 90, The view from the studio door: How artists find their way in an uncertain world / by Ted Orland.

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.

Stalker, Zona, Roadside Picnic, and down the Tarkovsky wormhole

Tarkovsky on the set of Stalker

Tarkovsky on the set of Stalker

Since discovering Stalker in early 2012, I’ve taken a much deeper dive into the world of Andrei Tarkovsky, and have now seen 6 of his 7 films. If you enjoy exploring abandoned places, and are open to taking a meditative look into what it all means, then Stalker is essential viewing.

In the near future, an unseen alien force has taken possession of an area of Russian wilderness that authorities have dubbed The Zone. The only thing known for sure about the region is that few who enter it ever return. Led by a Stalker, one of a small group of outlaws able to safely navigate the Zone, a renegade scientist and a cynical, burnt-out writer penetrate the dangers outside in search of the power and transcendence rumored to exist inside. The Stalker longs to un-do a mysterious physical transformation the Zone has performed on his young daughter. The scientist will risk anything to see that reason triumphs over faith. The writer seeks a germ of inspiration that the crumbling and corrupt world beyond the Zone no longer provides.

Together, these three men become desperate pilgrims walking a desolate trail leading to one of the most enigmatic and tantalizing endings in the history of cinema. A haunting and honest meditation on the intersection of science, feeling, and faith, Stalker is both profoundly unsettling and deeply moving. – Kino Video

Stalker becomes more rewarding with multiple viewings. Tarkovsky is a master of the long take, and many of his films are light on traditional narrative. This isn’t easy viewing. That’s OK. Like a lot of great art, the viewer needs to do a little bit of work to get the most out of the experience. The four books and two documentaries below will help you explore the world of Tarkovsky:



Geoff Dyer’s Zona is theoretically about Stalker, but it’s also about how our relationship with art changes over time. Wonderful, light hearted ramblings on a difficult, heavy film.



Roadside Picnic
 - Stalker is based on the Russian science fiction novel Roadside Picnic. Beyond being a big fan of Philip K. Dick, I don’t usually read a lot of sci-fi. Roadside Picnic was a fast, fun read. Reading the book before seeing Stalker won’t ruin the movie for you. Tarkovsky’s film jettisons the narrative in favor of spiritual and philosophical explorations.


The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky: A Visual Fugue
 - After watching Stalker, I watched Solaris again, and then saw Andrei Rublev, Mirror, Nostalghia, and The Sacrifice. Johnson and Petrie’s book was a really helpful guide to understanding Tarkovsky’s history, themes, influences, cultural context, working methods, and critical reception. I was initially concerned that this book might be too academic, but it’s got an easy to read style, and is very insightful.


Sculpting in Time
 - I haven’t finished Tarkovsky’s essays on filmmaking yet. I’m taking this book a little bit at a time, but it’s certainly essential reading for understanding Tarkovsky’s universe.


One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich
 - Chris Marker’s (La Jetée) documentary has a mix of clips from all 7 films, Tarkovsky directing, and Tarkovsky re-united with his family during his final illness. Recommended.


Voyage in Time
 - If you’re going down the rabbit hole (or perhaps wormhole), the documentary Voyage in Time follows an exiled Tarkovsky scouting locations in Italy with Antonioni’s screenwriter Tonino Guerra. This one is slow going, and for the completist only. Probably works best if you’ve seen Nostalghia.

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 RoundLong 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
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.

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.

San Ardo oil field gigapan: The image above is composed of 2 rows of 7 images, with 2 bracketed shots at each camera position. The iPhone app PanoCalc was useful in figuring out the number of photos to shoot. The images were stitched in PTGui Pro using a Mercator projection. The final image is 10,000 x 8,000 (80 megapixels). Below is a zoomable version created using Pano2VR.

Reading

Charles Burns - The HiveCharles 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 PhotographyThe 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 RazorIf 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 HavreAki 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 documentaryI 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 SacAnother 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! 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.