Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I found Vivian Maier

I'm a supporter of crowd-funding activities. A couple of years ago when I was thinking about doing a Kickstarter project and while I was funding a few more (still waiting for a DVD and a CD), I saw Jon Maloof's project about Vivian Maier. I was fascinated.
Last week I was fortunate enough to see a sneak-preview of "Finding Vivian Maier" and am still intrigued by the woman and her work. The movie shows many of her brilliant photographs interwoven among interviews with people who knew her during her life and with narration by John Maloof, who discovered her oeuvre after she had died. Having kept abreast of the developments around the film and having been given the book for Christmas, I thought I knew practically everything there was to know about this secretive street photographer: how her negatives had been bought at auction, were scanned and shared by Maloof on Flickr and on his blog and were considered brilliant enough by his audience on those sites that he got some media attention, ended up on TV and showed 80 posthumous prints at the Chicago Cultural Center. I also knew there was a film in the making and was looking forward to its release. Then a friend called up and invited me to the preview!

During the first 30 minutes of the film, the former nanny's charges remembered Maier(s) for the camera. Abrupt cuts in the interviews left the audience hungry for more details. In an attempt to hook the viewers into the biography by the apparent revelation of secrets, the director or editor cut the interview material just as one thought something was about to be revealed. Soon I bored of this game - as it just seemed to be going in circles and was not gaining momentum - and so I realized I was just going to have to take whatever came - at best, some more unpublished photographs, at worst, more unfortunate editing.
Maloof admits his concern at publishing a dead woman's work, yet says he is trying to share with the world the treasures he has found and which he feels need to be exposed. Maier is hardly King Tut, but one sometimes feels pulled between wanting to bury her secrets with her on the one hand and wanting to plunder her tomb (a storage rental space) to find more treasures on the other. For me, aside from the photographs, the most revealing moments came when I heard tapes played of her speaking voice, usually of her interviewing people in the yard or in the supermarket. These snippets, too, were cut too short, seemingly to leave enough material for "Vivian Maier: Found - Part II, the Continuing Saga". Perhaps the director thought that the visually-minded viewers of his film would want to see faces of interviewees (who one felt were rarely allowed to tell the whole story) rather than Super 8 films Maier made and cassettes she recorded.
The New Yorker published an enlightened article recently about the fact that the movie made her sound as if Maier were defective in some way because she didn't grab the fame and fortune that may have come her way, had she been well connected in the art world. In fact, what the article failed to mention is that she did try to have her photographs shown in the rural French town of Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur where her mother was from. Logistics seem to have made a cooperation with the owner of the camera store across the Atlantic impossible. And yet she continued to make photographs. The film makes no effort - whereas the article does - to portray her as an artist in her own right who lived with families so as to have a family and a home when it was convenient to her and so that she could continue to pursue her art while keeping her day job.
As a matter of fact, she pursued her art while she was on the job. She would take the children to the gothic sides of town where she could find fodder for her film. Like so many artists, she took a pragmatic approach to life. Knowing she would not be able to support herself with her art, she found a way to kill several birds with one stone. She would work for families taking care of their children. That way she would have family life - when she wanted it - without the emotional attachments which might distract her from her work. She would have a home without having to pay the upkeep or worry about its depreciation. Printing and marketing her work effectively while still walking the streets and shooting - which she loved - would have been too much for her.
Sadly, it seems that Maloof wanted to ride the wave of interest in Maier (his or the public's?) while it was still thundering through the media and he made this film before even developing and viewing all of Maier's work. I can only believe that he is hoping there will be some more revelations and enough material for a second film. One can only hope that he makes enough money from this movie and from the luscious books to be able to hire a professional documentary film maker for the second chapter.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Café Künstlerbund at Schloßplatz in the background
The time has come. The days lie immediately ahead of me. The Exhibition Days!
On Thursday I'll hang pictures for a group show that opens on Friday, May 16, 2014. A wide variety of artists from the German & American Artist Group will show their recent work at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum at Charlottenplatz in Stuttgart as part of the American Days 2014.
On Sunday I'll hang pictures for an group show that opens on Thursday, May 21, in Café Künstlerbund at Schloßplatz. Six American photographers in Stuttgart will be showing their work.
And in between I'll be attending a meeting of my art group, at which we'll discuss the final plans for our happening on May 22, where we'll show some of our paintings!

Juan in his Café Babel
The last show is for one evening only at Café Babel near Olgaeck (Urbanstr. 26) in Stuttgart if you want to stop by. Members of my former writing group from the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum (James Byrnes Institut) will be reading from their latest work. We artists from the Transatlantic Art Connexions group will be showing our new 40 x 40 cm canvases. The theme of the readings and in the paintings is "Connections."

Come join us for the shows!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Light for landscapes

Sometimes - even as a street and event photographer - you drive by a landscape on your way from Point A to Point B and you just have to pull over and see what's there for your sensor to feed on. That happened to me earlier this year as I was driving back from a friend's house. The morning sun hadn't broken through the fog yet and a field freshly planted lay embedded in thick morning soup.

 After wandering around the fields for a good amount of time, I started concentrating on the details of the agricultural tools lying around.

Then I thought I'd go for the standard up-the-antenna shot while I was there. With a white sky the struts stand out even better than normal.

One last series before leaving incorporated a foreground and a simple background. I also remembered reading somewhere to try vertical shots for landscapes, too. The final images reminded me somewhat of the photographs of Mark Seawell, whose work I admire so much. If you want to see some powerful landscapes, check out his collection.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Volksfest 2014

The annual spring fair at the Wasen in Bad Cannstatt is the largest of its kind in Germany.
For young children, it is an opportunity to go on carousels and other rides while eating cotton candy, sugar-coated almonds, french fries and chocolate-covered strawberries. OK, to be honest, that's also a big reason that the adults go there, too. For me and several dozen others, it's a great photo op!

Another reason adults go there is the beer. The Economist measures world-wide currencies based on the "Big Mac Index" in that it takes the price of a Big Mac in various countries and evaluates the currency based on the price of McDonald's iconic burger. Well, here in Germany it seems that they take the current price of a liter of beer and adjust the currency (raising and lowering salaries accordingly) so that a million liters can be bought (and mostly drunk) during this three-week festival! Currently, a liter of Festbier costs €9.10. That's obviously not too much for some Lederhosen and Dirndl types.

You think that's scary? Look at this! A little boy was walking through the fairgrounds with a "Scary Movie" mask on and was going up to everyone in his path and shouting "Boo!"

Think that's scary? These three Dirndl-clad lads nearly bowled me over as I was maneuvering my way through the crowded streets.

Still not scared? OK, then there are the rides. I'm sure they aren't as scary if you are clobbered, but if you are waiting below for your friends to get off the ride, watch out because all sorts of projectiles fall and flow from these whirling contraptions.

For photographers, I don't think there's a best time to go there, unless you are waiting for certain types of pictures. The evening is attractive because the lights are flashing, but on the other hand some people are getting out of hand by then and the next thing you know, lights are flashing on a police car or ambulance coming to haul away somebody.