Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Year in Pictures

Midtown Shoppers, NYC, 2010 © Robert Forlini
Mother's Day, Elmsford, NY 2010
© Robert Forlini
The pictures in this case are not newsworthy, but they are new and noteworthy. I have just posted Recent Work from 2010 on my website, Robert Forlini Photographer. Please have a look, and as always I welcome everyone's interesting comments and general greetings and salutations. Happy viewing and Happy New Year!
Prize Winner, State Fair, Syracuse, NY, 2010
© Robert Forlini

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Paul McDonough Exhibit at Sasha Wolf Gallery Showcases New Book

Three Musicians, 1978 © Paul McDonough

For me, Paul McDonough is one of the unsung heros of photography. Although he has been creating images of keen observation and wit for many years, his work has remained largely under appreciated. Now, his second exhibition at Sasha Wolf Gallery in New York is accompanied by his first published book, hopefully bringing him more widespread notoriety in order to help correct this oversight. The exhibition entitled New York City, 1973-1978, together with the photographs from Paul's previous show at the gallery, comprise the work included in the monograph Paul McDonough: New York Photographs, 1968-1978 (Umbrage Editions, Fall 2010), which includes an essay by Museum of Modern Art curator Susan Kismaric. The book covers Paul's early work in photography when he was a new arrival in New York City. He was introduced to Garry Winogrand by childhood friend Tod Papageorge, and was soon inspired to switch from easel painting to street photography as a mode of expression. The pictures themselves not only capture the essence of the City during a time of turmoil and ferment, but have a timeless quality and irony found in spontaneous human drama. Paul has an eye for strange juxtapositions and split second coincidences which are simultaneously poignant and funny. His cast of characters include a encounter between a blind beggar and a hare krishna, three hungry car salesmen waiting for their next prey, a group of Japanese tourists at an exhibit of the first atomic bomb and a crazy collection of tree-climbing kids, bicycles and lovers (among others) in Central Park. The sum total effect of the work is bittersweet. Paul was a teacher of mine at Pratt Institute in the 1980's, and I remembered much of this work from exhibitions back then, an indiction of how well these photographs have endured the test of time. It was a pleasure to be able to experience them again, along with seeing the newly edited pictures for the first time. As Susan Kismaric concluded in her appreciation in the book, "In these pictures, working within a revered tradition so suitable for the pace of modern life, McDonough has applied his finely tuned intuition to show us nothing less than the poetry of daily life." 
War Museum Display-West Point 1975 © Paul McDonough

Central Park Pond-Kids in Tree 1973 © Paul McDonough

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lee Friedlander's "America by Car" at the Whitney Museum is a Disappointment

Please don't get me wrong: Lee Friedlander is one of our greatest photographers, and his work often amazes and delights me. But his latest dispatch, "America by Car", on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through November 28, is a huge disappointment. Friedlander is still an acute observer of quirky American culture, but the newly added gimmick of photographing through the interior of a car using a Hasselblad Super Wide camera creates a formal distraction and a mitigating factor to accessing the pleasure and meaning of these pictures. The interiors are not that visually interesting in the first place, and become monotonous when repeated ad nauseam. I felt like yelling, "You've come this far, just get out of the car, Lee!" The most engaging parts of the pictures are out there, reduced to mere incidental details which would be better explored on foot. As John Szarkowski once observed, the secret to photography is standing in the right place, and sitting inside the automobile isn't it. Even Friedlander's other recent pictures taken with the Super Wide seem like a retread of his prior work, a deliberate reprise of the same subject matter through a lens that caricatures his previous accomplishments. Is the photographer getting lazy, or making a nod to Postmodernism? I am reminded of how much more successful were André Kertész's later Polaroid SX-70 photographs in their construction and pathos. Even though the photographer was limited by his age in his ability to move about, he managed to turn this apparent disadvantage around in order to create images that built upon his past achievements. I believe that this work ingeniously becomes an allegory for his earlier period. Every artist has his or her hits and misses, but what really surprises me is the widespread acclaim that has accompanied "America by Car". What has happened to critical judgement in photography writing? Is there an acceptance that the anointed can do no wrong, or is there too much at stake in the art game to risk tainting the reputation of an investment, if not an artist? I'm sorry to have to be the one to say it, but the emperor has no clothes.

Top left of page: Alaska 2007 © Lee Friedlander
Top right: Montana 2008 © Lee Friedlander                                                                            
Bottom left: January 1979 © Estate of André Kertész

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still Printing in the Darkroom? Try Adox Paper!

Orange is back in style!
When Agfa Photo went belly-up in 2005, I was devastated. The paper and other black and white photo materials which I had used for many years and which in part defined my style were no longer available. I went back to using Ilford materials, which I found to be adequate, but not up to Agfa's superior quality. Now the Adox company of Germany has revived many of Agfa's inimitable photo products, including variable and graded paper, film and chemistry. Adox bought the old Agfa manufacturing machines and claims the materials to be identical to the original. My experience bears this out. The superb quality, including the long tonal scale, deep, rich blacks and ability to produce more contrast (which can save many otherwise unprintable negatives) are all there! For me, a new day has dawned and my interest in silver printing has been renewed, even in this digital age. Both the RC and Fiber versions are outstanding. This is an unsolicited endorsement, and I encourage you to try this paper. I really want to keep this bold venture afloat so we don't lose this excellent product again. Also, if you were a fan of Agfa film and the famous Rodinal, now Adonal, developer (not my cup of developer, but I know many who swore by it), these have been reincarnated as well. Currently available in the USA only from Freestyle Photo. Many worldwide distributors can be found on the Adox website, along with technical data. Happy printing!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Study Art?

...and so he became an art teacher.
©1979 Mark Alan Stamaty
Autumn is here, and it's time for students and teachers alike to turn their thoughts back to the business of education. I sometimes hear the value of formally studying art debated. After all, art is a subjective thing and who's to say what's good or bad? True, we can teach technique and traditions, but can creativity be learned, or is it something innate? I once heard the photographer Roy DeCarava (who taught at Hunter College for many years) say that the best experience you can expect from an art teacher is "to be inspired, to get really turned around." I have been lucky to have had several teachers who influenced and informed my path as an artist. What has distinguished the best teachers has been their passion and commitment as artists, not only as educators but as practitioners of their craft. As Phil Perkis noted in Teaching Photography: Notes Assembled, "The teacher is seldom the person who loves science and runs home after school to the basement to do science experiments." But how much better to have a teacher who actually does what they teach! The best schools require this from their instructors, but incredible as it seems, many do not. I know an artist who enrolled in a university art education program to discover that many of her fellow students had never made art themselves, yet they would earn degrees declaring them "art educators". It's no wonder then that this lack of commitment leads to mediocre teaching in the arts, which further justifies fiscal cuts. I'm also tired of the perceived need to justify art in the schools because it improves test scores in other, more "academic" disciplines. Why shouldn't art be taught for it's own inherent value and the joy it brings? As Krishnamurti observed in Think on These Things, we should be teaching our students how to think rather than what to think. That's what studying art gives us.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PHOTOcentric 2010 at Garrison Arts Center Sept.3-26; Reception Fri. Sept. 3, 6-9pm

Andrew Jackson's Tomb, Nashville, TN 2009
© Robert Forlini
I will be exhibiting two photos, Andrew Jackson's Tomb, Nashville, TN 2009 and Girls Fishing, Lake Peekskill, NY 2009 in this year's PHOTOcentric show at the Garrison Arts Center. The show was juried by eminent photographers Stephen Shore and Harvey Stein, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. The show runs from September 3-26, 2010, with an opening reception on Friday, September 3 from 6-8pm. The Garrison Arts Center is located at 23 Garrison's Landing in Garrison, NY 10524, about an hour drive from New York City and easily accessible by Metro-North Hudson Line trains from Grand Central Terminal. For further information, you may contact the gallery at 845-424-3960 or at I hope you can make it!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Write Up on Hey Hot Shot! Blog

Lemonade Stand, Rhinebeck, NY 2009
© Robert Forlini
     First off, apologies to both of my followers for the dearth of posts lately. People often ask me if I have a Facebook or Twitter page. The answer is no for now. I have a hard enough time keeping up with this blog! One reason is that not that many interesting things happen to me. Another is that I'm probably spending too much time shooting on the street or laboring in my darkroom. Remember, I savor time away from my computer. I guess I still prefer reality to virtual reality.
     In other news, my photos just received a nice write up on the Hey Hot Shot! Blog. For those of you not familiar with it, HHS! is a photography competition project of the Jen Bekman Gallery in New York. Occasional contenders are selected to be featured on the site's blog, and mine was one of them. Shout out to Casey A. Gollan who wrote the piece, and who dug a little deeper into the archives of my web site to see beyond my original submission.
HHS! Contender: Robert Forlini

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Italian Feast Photos on Exhibit at Ciao Italy Festival in Brooklyn on June 19

Dancing of the Giglio, Brooklyn, NY, 1999 © Robert Forlini

I will be exhibiting a selection of photographs from my Italian-American Festival series at the 3rd Annual Ciao Italy Performing Arts Festival in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Saturday June 19 from 6pm-10pm. Photographer Todd Carroll will also be showing his photographs of Italian folk dance festivals. The event will present a variety of performances of traditional Italian and Italian-inspired music, opera, dance and theater, and will be held at the Associazione San Cono, 233 Ainslie Street, Ground Floor, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The festival was conceived to create a bridge between the historic Italian community and the community of artists now living and working in the neighborhood. Cost of a festival pass is $25.00, and RSVP is strongly suggested at or 347-338-8852. Special thanks and appreciation to Anabella Lenzu and Todd Carroll for organizing this event in the celebration Italian culture. The evening promises to be an exciting and entertaining experience for all. Ci vediamo alla festa!
Angels, Columbus Day Parade, NYC
1998 © Robert Forlini

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson @MoMA

If you are in New York, do not pass GO, visit "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century" at the Museum of Modern Art on view now through June 28. This extensive retrospective contains over 300 prints from the career of one of the true masters of the medium. The exhibition, curated by Peter Galassi, occupies the 6th floor galleries and is categorized into 13 themes. There are many of the familiar "greatest hits" as well as rarely seen surprises which put his body of work into new perspective. While I'm particularly fond of HCB's early work for its immediacy and artistic freedom, I saw the later pictures in a different context. Many of the better known "photojournalistic" pictures which were sometimes fettered by the constraints of creating imagery more accessible to the public are complimented by photographs which are grittier and edgier. I felt some, especially the photos taken in the United States and the USSR, were prescient of the work of the younger photographer Robert Frank in their probing and haunting qualities. Mr. Galassi's essay in the accompanying catalogue offers further insight into the milieu behind this astonishing work. I was able to attend the panel discussion "The Legacy of Henri Cartier-Bresson" moderated by Mr. Galassi with Magnum photographer Gilles Peress and art historian Jean-Francois Chevier. While the evening was somewhat unstructured and meandering, the lively discussion provided fascinating anecdotes about Cartier-Bresson's life and work.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New! Improved! Postmodernism!

     Hey Kids! Wanna be a "Postmodernist" Photographer? It's easy! Just take an extreme close-up color photo of a Barbie head, and blow it up to mural size! (I said it was easy, I didn't say it was gonna be cheap.) Next, repeat for Barbie heads of all different ethnicities. Now you've created a body of work that makes a profound commentary on race and diversity in our society. Mix in a couple of Ken doll heads, and you've added a thesis on gender issues. Add a G.I. Joe and you've made a statement on the nature of war.
Can you spot the real Postmodernist photo?

     Joking aside, what is "Postmodern Photography", and how did it get here? I remember articles in the 1980's posing the question before anyone knew the answer. Postmodernism was an art movement which was named before any artists actually created work. Then came the rush to fill the void. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of another art movement that so flagrantly placed the cart before the horse. Traditionally, hasn't it been the artists, the practitioners and not the theorists, who have led the way? Historicaly, labels were only later invented in order to categorize, even pigeon-hole artists' work, even if the epithets were initially meant to be perjorative (think Impressionism).
     In a recent Time magazine article "The Problem with Postmodernism", photographer Tod Papageorge stated, "Sure, things have to change, but photography-as-illustration, even sublime illustration, seems to me an uninteresting direction for the medium to be tracking now, particularly at such a difficult time in the general American culture." He continues, "There's a failure to understand how much richer in surprise and creative possibility the world is for photographers in comparison to their imagination.... Now ideas are paramount, and the computer and Photoshop are seen as the engines to stage and digitally coax those ideas into a physical form—typically a very large form. This process is synthetic, and the results, for me, are often emotionally synthetic too."
       When looking at some contemporary photography, I am reminded of Robert M. Pirsig's observation in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance: "'What's new?' is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question 'What is best?', a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream". The race to acheive "what's new" perfectly describes the pitfall of much of Postmodernism, written about here even before the term was coined in reference to photography.
     At a recent visit to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, I read the following quote on a wall plaque,"The traditional concept of art meant special knowledge reflecting high acheivement with a focus on technique involving mental agility, and not so much beauty for its own sake." That, I thought, is a goal worth investigating and moving toward in photography. Like the punk rock movement, which eschewed the bloated and overinflated mainstream rock of the 1970's, and the revolutionary bebop style in jazz, a neo-traditionalism could provide revitalization in photography, evolving but remaining true to its roots, a return back to basics with stripped-down directness and the freedom of improvisation.  What's new is that our collective experience has been altered, filtered through the past with raised social and political awareness. What's best is that these are the types of pictures that cut more deeply.
For more of Tod Papageorge's comments, here's the link:
"The Problem with Postmodernism", from Time magazine

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shooting Film in a Digital World

     I still shoot, and teach, silver-based photography. A question often posed by my students is, "why do we still do this this way?" (although at the same time they lament the possible loss of our wet darkroom). Well, film and digital really are two different animals. I use the analogy of my microwave oven: convenient, fast, providing instantaneous results. But when I got my microwave,  I didn't throw away my traditional oven. I still use that for what has become known as "slow food", the art of preparing food of quality and taste.  I do use digital photography as a tool when it's called for,  just as I prefer my microwave when I want to heat up a frozen dinner.
     Likewise, when it comes to my art work I choose film, particularly black and white. Part of the reason is that I've been using these materials for nearly 32 years, and there is a consideration of continuity in my work. Film cameras, especially rangefinders, are quick, quiet and direct and don't distract from the picture taking process. They're a pleasure to operate. They also don't become obsolescent in next to no time. I've found digital cameras to be unnecessarily complicated (the new Leica M9 has potential to overcome past design deficits, albeit at a substantial price). And like the warmth and smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread, there is something inherently gratifying in the luster of a silver print that cannot be replicated in ink.
     Then there is that meditative time spent in the darkroom. It gives one time to think, to reflect on the work and on life, and to spend time in my personal equivalent of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Gone are the myriad distractions and frustrations that come with working on a computer (in fact it's one of the few things I do these days that doesn't require a computer at all).
     Throughout the history of photography, technological changes have influenced the aesthetic (see John Szarkowski's incisive book Photography Until Now).  About a century ago, Eugene Atget used what was then outmoded photographic technology to create some of the medium's most enduring images. As Phil Perkis has observed on the elements of photography, "The shift to digital tools will not eliminate these aspects any more than the shift from film to video has changed the basic concepts of montage and narrative in motion pictures...I feel strongly that the underlying principles of making something that we think of as transcendent remain basically the same...I hope I'll still be able to get film and printing paper." Me too; I'd really miss the timeless hours spent engrossed under the glow of those orange lights.
     Here are two funny and enlightening posts that I enjoyed which continue this debate in greater detail:

Self-Portrait in Darkroom, 1987  ©Robert Forlini

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why "Perception and Description"?

I thought my first foray into blogdom should explain its title.  It is derived from a quote by Garry Winogrand on the art of photography: "This process is Perception (seeing) and Description (operating the camera to make a record) of the seeing." As a young photography student, I met Garry on two occasions in the early 1980's, once briefly and again for a more extensive conversation. With his razor sharp insight, he created this deceptively simple axiom which sums up what we should strive for in our photographs. In 1982 Garry's interview with Bill Moyers aired on PBS; I suggest you take a look: