John Szarkowski dies at 81

John Szarkowski, one of most influential figure in the history of photography, dies at age 81 on Saturday July 7th, 2007.

Through his writings and curating he changed the perception of our thinking in photography over the last four decades and elevated the medium to that of fine art. He is perhaps the most important figure in photography in the post modern era.

Group M35

Over at Mostly Photography a former colleague Joe Szymanski gave his account on a small agency known as Group M35 came to existence but quickly fell apart with in three years. Although the drama has been over for sometime now but I feel that, as a former member, I should give my account on how i got involve with it until everything fell apart, or should I say there’s wasn’t anything to begin with?

In about late 2004 toward the end of my college I was in the process of switching my student visa in the US to temporary working visa and was hunting for the photography related jobs(part of regulation) in order to secure the work visa which allow you to stay in the US for longer time. I came across my former instructor Charles Clark, who at the time was in San Francisco area. I approached him several times and showed the series I was working on. Few month later while I was having conversation at his place I mentioned about the visa issue I was having and he pitched his idea about establishing a agency where like-minded photographer could feel like home. He then asked me to be part of it and that way my visa issue would be solved. Having no clear direction on where my visa issue would take me I joined the agency. Little does I know less than a year later my family’s immigration case to Canada got approved.

I guess my suspection on the agency was around winter of 2006 while I was in Korea. I received a surprising email from Charles about ceasing the operations in San Francisco Studio and moved it entirely to New York. Although it seems legitimate that operating in New York will generate our exposure. After all, this is a place where it is considered industry heavy weight. However I felt that there should be some kind of notice in advance or at least a consensus among members through email rather than rush to New York, as the content of the surprising email feel like. Regardless the suspection quickly went away during the meeting at summer of 2006 when members gathered for the first since the establishment. As any other organization, there’s heated debate, but everyone seemed to have an hope that this project can work. There’s even a promise of gallery space in San Francisco where there would be a first group show.

Well, the group show as promised never materialized. In fact little does I know the building where it supposed to be agency’s future gallery space has been sold by the landlord. Adding to the already twisted story even more bizzard is that in May 2007 when I stopped by New York other than few people working in the office none of the NY based member were aware my visit beforehand. Then Charles came along talking about having a exhibition in South Korea which would be a great help to me. Now, although I’m no Korean but since my wife is and she knows a little bit of art scene over there I knew right away that either something of a miracle happened or it’s just another ambitious BS(I’m more toward later). What’s next came out his mouth is even more shocking – he was planning on ceasing the operation in studio and having it move to his apartment. You don’t have to be a detective to smell something’s up. But I was not experienced enough to notice the agency is gearing toward oblivion. Two days later, the news I was fearing was finally delivered – Group M35 is over.

As much as I blame Charles for his act there is a partial responsibility on me for not communicating enough with both agency and other members. During those three years I was constantly moving around first San Francisco to Oakland then to Los Angeles then Canada. Even in Canada my family was renting a house and wasn’t until March 2007 I was finally have a somewhat stable place to stay. So much moving that it took a toll on me for not keeping touch with what’s going on in NYC. I guess not having a stable place can really be vulnerable.

Finally, if you want to know Joe’s account on the agency please click here.

Blackwater

I’m usually not being persuaded by TV hosts when they recommending a book off their TV shows. To me it’s either the context does not fit to my interest, writers who show up for the interview aren’t intelligent enough(believe me, there’s quiet a few out there) or the content of subject is just too shallow. However, this book which was recommended by the host of CBC’s The Hour really grasped my attention and I finally able to remember and get off my butt and bought it.

The book ‘Blackwater – The rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army’ by Jeremy Scahill tells a story of a security firm manage to expand itself into a multi million monster through contracts outsourced by US government led by Bush and neo-con politicians. It gave a chilling detail on how the company were manage to integrate as part of ‘Total Force’ in Iraq as Donald Rumsfeld puts it but at the same time immune to any accountability since there are too many gray areas on contracting private army. Finally it shows a ambitious plan to expand the company in which recruits are not limit to people from the west but anyone who has skill and good resume.

The most frightening to me, however, is not that this multi-million dollar mercenary company is fighting an unseen dirty war somewhere in this world for the US. The most frightening part is that the religious background of people at helm makes it a grave potential for an all out religious war in the future if a serious misconduct in the Middle East where Blackwater is currently active occurred.

Check out the book if you have time. I guarantee you’ll walk away from your chair, table, bench, bed……wherever with a dead chill

The Dark Side Of Art Dealing

Any business builds on trust – whether you are in trading or banking or whatever. But in the business of art dealing the trust are particularly vital because it’s the artist’s work, financial well beings even reputation are on the line. The impact of trusting a wrong dealer can be extremely grave for artists. Unfortunately in this sensitive sector you still face a chance of falling into a wrong dealer by the ratio of 50-75 to 1.

In recent months there is an incident occurred within the art community here in Vancouver where a man name Sergio Patrich chased by artists across Canada for owing them commissions and submitted art works. The person who first smell the rat is a guy who design a website for Sergio’s galleries in town but did not receive any payment. He posted his story on the website(URL here) and that’s how the ball started rolling. One by one artist started to tell their experiences dealing with Sergio and forced him to close down his gallery. But apparently he did not learn from this lesson well and chose to open up two galleries at the other location. The result? Same scam but at much bigger scale, and naturally crumbling down at faster rate. This time not only tons of artists sue the crap out of him and landlord of the gallery space he rent evict him for not receive payment, he even got himself into a federal case which the government were investigating his holding company.

So, you would think after two failing scams he might be in the dark for a while…..guess again, currently he’s trying to open another gallery out in Squamish, British Columbia, which is a town two hours drive north from Vancouver.

For more detail about Sergio’s bad practices please visit Gallery Owe blogsite

Technology – Does it helps us or hurts us?

While I was in Korea visiting my girlfriend(who is now my wife) I got a chance to observe some interesting phenomenon which I’ve been hearing for some time – Koreans as to all Asians in general embraced technology and any new high-tech gadgets that are put out there on the market. Their love for the new ‘toys’ are so incredible that in order to keep up your trend you have to constantly replacing new gadgets like cell phones, MP3 players, TVs……etc to the point that a person’s familiarity to the object he or she bought could not keep up with the speed of replacement. This was a real eye opener to a person who live on the other side of Pacific for almost 15 years.

But the point in case here is not about Korea. Sure they may be blamed or laughed at for their worship on latest high-tech consumer products but it is only a small picture of a wider issue that are debating among people in the developed and some developing nation today – Does our craze over technology actually help us or hurt us? On one side the supporters say these technologies are helping us in every way from communication to getting information to organizing works. On the other hand however there are people who have serious doubt if they are assisting ours lives. In fact, they believe that technologies isolated us and kept us distracted, as well as the potential to paralyzes us if these high-tech product are defunct.

As to my opinion, I do agree that technology does help as far as organizing your workflows or absorbing informations. But this is where my support ends. The fact that technological advancement are limiting our imagination and creativity is serious. Take a look at photography which had huge advancement in the last 10 years as far as moving from analog to digital to now digital capturing still image in a cell phone or video camera. Functions on camera and other image capturing devices are tripled compare to the film era and graphic-related computer softwares are making editing job quicker and smoother. But how about the quality of pictures which photographers and amateurs bring? Well, just goto any of the popular photo sharing site and you’ll get the idea.

So, Does technology helps us or hurts us? I guess the answer is best to leave you the reader to judge……..since I already told mine

Thougths on Doctored Photographs

In the last few months I came across few news articles regarding to photographs that are digitally manipulated slipped through editors’ eye and were published on newspapers or magazines. No that the issue was something new but it seems to me that the pattern is on the rise.

Being as ethical problem aside, I think there should be a re-education and new discipline guideline to many of the photographers out there to reaffirm them on what is unethical when it comes to adjusting photographs through software for media usage such as newspaper. We’re in the age in which image capturing and editing is so fast and convenient that with ease of the button you can get the image you want in a matter of minute, that is if you own a right gadgets. The problem to it is that it make the market ever more competitive since everyone can be commercial photographer, photojournalist, wedding photographer…..etc. For few who are eagerly want to stay on the game they cheated. In the case of media photographers, few bad apples cheated by sending doctored photos.

Nevertheless, the core lesson to me of all these is that too much choice creates more desire. And the desire can lead to greed…….

Multiculturalism vs. Melting Pot

Little more than a year ago when I immigrated to Canada the word “multiculturalism” kept on mentioned in the media and among the people here. At the time I was a little bit confused about the term since having living in the US for sometime the word , at least on the surface, is very close to the meaning “melting pot” which the Americans like to use for their uniqueness as multi ethnicity society. It was until few days ago I happened to stumble through a short article from local Chinese newspaper was I start to clarify the definitional differences and understanding the concept.

The idea of multiculturalism is that immigrants who live on the foreign land are in every way still retain its heritage, customs, language ….etc. at the same time still have a strong tie with its native land. In other words, my cultural uniqueness is part of your nation’s social structure. The evident example of this can be found on the street of Vancouver where a lot of second generation immigrants who are born and grew up here but still very much look like they were just arrived the country – whether from appearance or practices.

The concept of melting pot, on the other hand, has a limitation to how much cultural identity an immigrant can retain on the land you move to. the concept allow immigrants still retain their cultural uniqueness but at the same time require them to accept the value and certain custom which the native have been practiced over the centuries. It is under this concept in which cultural ties between immigrants and their native land are less visible. An example of this can be found in San Francisco’s Chinatown where to a modern Chinese is like stepping to a past yet still very foreign in terms of lifestyle.

So, if you ask me which concept is superior? Hard to say. I think there is much to learn for practitioners of either concept – in this case Canada and the US. The downside of multiculturalism is that sometimes cultural practices that immigrants brought along can be disrespectful or unethical to locals. The downside of melting pot is that immigrants can have difficulty accepting values which the country they move to impose upon, which would cause potential uneasiness and hatred among the locals.

Whichever the case, I personally think it’s just a wording game. But I think that managing a multi ethnic society itself is a enormous task and creating a structure that can catering and couping with wide differences of ethnic groups would still take sometime before it would become ideal.

World Refugee Day

Nearly 10 million people are classified as refugee by UNHCR and about 24 million more are internally displaced – all due to conflict, economical hardship, political indifference and many more. As the world celebrate the world refugee day a disturbing trend report presented by UNHCR shows that the number of refugees as of 2006 is actually increasing with conflict in middle east one of major contributing factor.

Although it is only one day celebration we can not ignore the fact that the issue is ongoing and needs to be bring about constantly, not just once a year.

So, spread the word over the issue and contribute any possible way you can to bring about change.