Monthly Archives: April 2011


CultureBox is a new blog by South African art magazine ‘A Look Away’ assistent editor, Andrea Vermaak. ColourBox is “a colourful box full of South African arts and culture, from fine artists, graphic designers, sculptors, photographers and illustrators; to writers, poets, musicians and performing artists.”

And, yay, Andrea was kind enough to blog about my project Swimming Upstream.

I think it’s very cool and a perfect start to the weekend:) You can see the full post right here:

Please have a look and if you like you can leave a comment as well.

Thank you:)

Blue spotted tail

 I had this friend in Cape Town who was awesome at helping me think.. I’d come up with vague ideas and he’d untangle my messy thoughts into workable plans while filling the gaps with possibilities and angles that I could never come up with. With having run his own business for an x-amount of years already, he was a few steps ahead of me in the “doing business in Cape Town as an outsider” department. Best thing was that I was never afraid to tell him my ideas as he never thought they were really wacked, and if he did it was usually a compliment. Anyway, it worked. His enthusiasm and way of seeing things would in turn spur on my own creativity and by the end of the chat or at the bottom of the bottle we’d have a plan. If we didn’t, I would get a call later saying “I’ve been thinking about it and this is what I think we should do…”
It was also great to find that an “I” had turned into a “we”..
Then I had these two other friends who both had a more down-to-earth realistic approach to “fun plans”. Pragmatic could possibly be the right word:)

And isn’t it surprising that I need both sides now. Plus the one friend who would think that I could do whatever I set my mind to. Needing both sides plus the support kinda makes you wonder what kind of thinker I am, if one at all, but there it is. I need other people to make my plans a reality. I guess I can come up with ideas, I know who can do what or where to get it but need someone else to light the fire and to take it one step further and yet another to tether the ideas to the ground or to guidelines set by institutions or company rules & regulations.

 What has brought this on? My sponsoring application and quite possibly my ticket back to Cape Town. You see, I could get on a plane *right now* and just wing it in SA but I don’t want to. I am scared to. Having spent all my savings on Swimming Upstream part 1, I think it’s wiser to do part 2 slightly different. Starting from scratch in a different country is one thing, starting from below zero in your own is quite something else and really isn’t all that wunderbar.

In order to avoid that the next time I am trying hard to find a way around that. One way around that is by having someone else pay for my expenses. The idea is simple, the execution of that idea not so much. Who is crazy enough to pay for me to do what I want to in life? Someone who has something to gain by that. Who has something to gain by that? I could continue with this odd Q&A but you get the idea already. One option is corporate sponsorship, especially because I fall outside a lot categories for government funding simply because I have no formal training in photography (i.e. never went to the Academy of Art) and apparently that is very important.

On the one hand I have a very cool list of projects, shoots and possibilities in Cape Town that I will forever regret if I don’t do them. On the other hand I have a short list of options for making those plans a reality. Instead of coming up with new plans or projects just to fit certain rules, I now think it’s better to build on what’s already there and making the existing options ‘the plan’. Why can’t doing shoots with musicians or learning about film-making be the plan? Or to be a photographer at Grahamstown? To be a StoryTraveler or to take photographs in Zimbabwe? Or all of these *and* more? Why not? They just need to be presented in a language decision makers like to hear, filled with “inter-culturalisation”, “urban landscape”, “stimulating talent”, “across borders” et cetera.

This is where those friends come in:)  I have a sneaky suspicion if I could just sit down with you and chat properly we’d have a plan before we reach the bottom of the bottle. And then we could have another. Just because…

The title comes from a song of the new Fleet Foxes album “Helplessness Blues”. Listening to it right now:)

The word should be a clue

Napoleon Sarony. Almost ashamed to say that I had never heard of him until I opened the morning paper just now. This time not a love song on someone’s photography but on a photographer’s battle for copyright.
Born in Quebec, Canada in 1821, Napoleon moved to New York City at age 15 where he soon set up a business as a lithographer. By the time he 46 he left his own firm and established a photographic studio on 37 Union Square. Napoleon photographed amongst others Sarah Bernhardt, William T Sherman, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and Oscar Wilde. Celebrity photography was all the rage at the time, and apparently photographers would pay their subjects to sit for them and retain full rights to sell the photographs. Which brings me to why I am almost ashamed of not knowing about Mister Sarony.

Napoleon Sarony took several portraits of Oscar Wilde and one of those photographs became the subject of a very important American Court Case in which the Supreme Court upheld the extension of copyright protection to photographs. Lithographer’s studio Burrow-Giles had marketed unauthorized lithographs of a portrait taken by Sarony called “ Oscar Wilde no 18” in order to show off their lithographic skills. Sarony took the company to court claiming copyright infringement. Burrow-Giles, however, claimed there was no copyright infringement as there was no copyright to begin with. According to them, photographs could not qualify as “writings” or as the production of an “author” and thus were not subject to Copyright Law.

The whole affair went to trial court and Sarony was granted over $610 dollars (equivalent of $12,000 nowadays).

Regarding the interpretation of “writings” in the Constitution, the Supreme Court wrote that Congress has “properly declared these to include all forms of writing, printing, engraving, etching, &c., by which the ideas in the mind of the author are given visible expression.”

Contrary to other visual works that could be copyrighted, Burrow-Giles argued that photography was merely a mechanical process rather than an art, and could not embody an author’s “idea”. The Court accepted that this may be true of “ordinary” photographs, but this was not in the case of Sarony’s image of Wilde. The trial court had found that Sarony had posed Wilde in front of the camera and suggested his expression, and selected his costume, the background and accessories to create a particular composition of line and light. This control that Sarony exercised over the subject matter, in the view of the Court, showed that he was the “author” of “an original work of art” over which the Constitution granted him exclusive rights.

It’s interesting nuh, and still relevant. Is photography just mechanics or an art? Isn’t everybody a photographer these days? And with such fierce world-wide competition, it is necessary for your work to “get out” and to be seen. If it takes unauthorized use for a photograph to achieve that, should the maker just take one on the chin and be grateful as some have suggested?

I asked Cape Town graphic designer and dj Toby2Shoes about his views on copyright and file sharing and he said “I think you just need to realise that the Internet is just getting bigger and bigger and it gets easier and easier to steal or copy someone´s work. It is just the way it is, you need to adapt and move with it.

Sooo…  is copyright still useful these days then?

According to author Lauren Beukes it definitely is “You need copyright to protect yourself from plagiarism and from other people stealing your work. However, there’s a difference between lifting wholesale and remixing. In my novel Zoo City, for example, I wanted to quote two lines from Paul Simon’s and Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s ‘Homeless’ and I have a character saying “phoneless, phoneless…” and it would cost me $4,500 to license that lyric. I eventually took it out. I am a big believer in remix culture, sharing, copyleft and Creative Commons.

Lauren continues with “If someone wants to use a quote from my fiction in a song, please go ahead, just credit me and share-alike (meaning if someone wants to take that song and turn it into a poem or an animated short, they’re also allowed to use it). Commercial plagiarism, where you make money off someone else’s labour, whether it’s selling pirated DVDs at the traffic lights or passing off someone else’s writing as your own in a best-selling novel is not okay.

I think she’s right, unauthorized is never the way to go. The word itself should be a clue.

All images by Napoleon Sarony. Top one of Evelyn Nesbit and the second one is photograph no 18 of Oscar Wilde.

Mind Bokeh

just a post to tell you I updated the “new” section on my website, Have a look and tell your friends about it:)

And… I have a plan. A cunning plan. Call me Baldrick:)

Lastly, I wanted to tell you quickly about a few blogs I love: Nowness, Burn Magazine and the British Journal of Photography.

The title for this post comes from the new Bibio album, indeed called Mind Bokeh. Loved the title, hate the cover.

And oh yeah… will need some “thinking help”… so get in touch:)

Eduard Steichen – Beauty Primer

Having blogged about Robert Frank yesterday, I figured that today I could blog about one of the other photographers that was on show at the TEFAF, Eduard Steichen. Seeing how I am still a little bit bored (read: ill). 
 Eduard Steichen was the curator of the most awesome photo exhibitions ever, The Family of Man. Damn, I wish I could have attended that exhibition instead of just owning the book. Although I totally would have bought the book at the exhibition as well. The Family of Man was created by Steichen en Alfred Stieglitz, two men I admire for their photography but also for creating that exhibition, for starting Salon 291 and Camera Works. It must have been so exciting to be at the forefront of photography during time when it was still new and not everybody and their dog was snapping pics (not that I mind dogs with camera’s).
Steichen was born in Luxembourg on March 27, 1879. The family moved to the US when he was 3 years old, originally settling in Chicago but they relocated to Milwaukee a couple of years later. He became interested in photography during his 4 year apprenticeship at a lithography studio and soon formed the Milwaukee Art Students League with a bunch of friends, hiring well-known photographers to give lectures. Steichen met Alfred Stieglitz in 1901 and that was the start of a very fruitful relationship. Steichen became the most featured photographer in Stieglitz’s Camera Works and he also created the logo for it as well as a custom typeface. You may well know Stieglitz, btw, from his most famous photograph, The Steerage.
Steichen is the creator of what we now know as “fashion photography” after he accepted a dare by the publisher of Jardin des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton, Lucien Vogel, to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography. Now how awesome is that? Edward (as he was now known) photographed garments by couturier Paul Piret and these images were subsequently published in Art et Décoration. According to Jesse Alexander, this is “now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object.” Cool. Cool. He later became a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923-1938. Vogue btw was only founded by Arthur Baldwin Turnure in 1892 but I assume that fashion was shown through illustrations.
 I could talk to you about The Family of Man for days but that would be a bit extreme perhaps. In short, it is an exhibition about humanity, in all it’s facets. First shown in 1955 when the world was just slowly getting back on its feet after having witnessed the horrors of WW2. The curators picked 503 photos (out of almost 2 million) by 273 photographers coming from 68 countries which in itself is quite an achievement. They sequenced the photos in such a way that they tell the story of humanity across borders and passed skin tone. It moves from the creation of the world to a young child to falling in love, getting married, family life, children playing together, people working hard or traveling but also depicting bullying, war, depression and death. It ends with a photo of the United Nations. The photos are mixed with quotes from sages, philosophers, or statesmen. I think is quite possibly the best book (exhibition) against crimes against humanity. And Steichen curated this:)
As for his own photography… what I love is his sense of light, and there’s a delicate sensuality to his photos as well as a strength and some glamour. To me, there’s also an element of graphic design to his work with strong lines made by the body, light/shadows or his use of the surroundings. And even if the photos are dated by means of the clothing people are wearing, his work is not old-fashioned and still very inspirational.
Right now I am listening to the new Aleila Diane & Wild Divine album as well as Raphael Saadiq’s new one, Stone Rollin’. She seems cool to photograph. As you know, I have a long list of people I’d love to photograph. She is one of them as is Cat Power, Mark Lanegan, Jon Spencer, Pierre Bokma, the one hot guy from Andrew James and if she was still alive, Billie Holiday. Ag there are so many.. 
 Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just photograph whoever you want? If you could just write them an email and say “hi there, let’s meet up. I like your work. I think I could take a cool portrait of you. Let’s do it. Let’s have some fun. Cool. Thanks. See you next week” something like that:) No publicists or managers to by-pass.. Sorta like how things happened with Miss Texas 1977. I wrote them on Tuesday, they were in my kitchen on Sunday. That’s how we like it:)
Just do whatever you want, then get it into a magazine later. And get paid for it so you actually can do the next portrait session.. 
I *have* to approach more magazines. That being said, I submitted work to an online magazine yesterday. Not holding my breath which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to be published there because I do. Wouldn’t submit work otherwise but ja, guess you become more realistic after knock-back #57. Which isn’t true ’cause every time I send my work anywhere a part of me becomes nervous and jittery, hoping for that email to pop in saying cool, we’ll take it. Oh well.. April is going to be a good month that’s for sure with lots of work lined up, a friend from Cape Town visiting me and well, hell, spring on its way.
All the images are by Edward Steichen except the 3rd one which is a photo from The Family of Man and was taken by Unosuke Gamou in Japan.  The first one by Steichen is called Beauty Primer and was taken in 1934, the second one is a portrait of Gloria Swanson, the third one is a portrait of Mary Heberden in 1935 and I don’t know what the last two are called. I do know the last one was also taken in 1935.