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Posts Tagged ‘Photography’

Bloedel’s Retreat

September 7th, 2010

This past weekend, Sara and I rode our bikes onto the ferry to Bainbridge Island and headed out to spend the afternoon exploring the peaceful acreage of Bloedel Reserve.

In the 80′s, Prentice and Virginia Bloedel opened their former home to the public as a collection of gardens. Like all gardens, it is a curated, supernatural experience of nature. As if listening to a ‘greatest hits’ record of natural beauty, walking the grounds was an inspired dialogue  for someone left, too often, without the time or patience to seek out these sublime combinations in the wilderness. Unlike most other gardens, however, Bloedel Reserve is big enough to come across like the real thing. It is at once both wild and tamed — anarchic and groomed. It manages to be represent both inspiration and artwork all rolled into one.

One has the suspicion that the unique flavor of Bloedel Reserve has its roots in the union of personalities that birthed it. Prentice and Virginia were possessed of two very different sensibilities when it came to the things they fancied. Prentice was part of the Bloedel family — owners of a far reaching timber empire. He was Yale educated and, as a young man, desired to teach, but he was lured back into the family business. The way that he took to the industry, however, suggests that it may have the been the job he was born to do. He pioneered the economical practice of using sawdust and other mill “wastes” as fuel as well as the practice of reforestation of lands that were logged by planting saplings as the land was cleared. Overall, one gets the impression that he loved nature, the woods, and promoted man’s responsible and economical use of natural resources. He was attracted to the grounds that became the reserve because of its large acreage and rugged beauty.

Virginia Bloedel, however, fell in love with the French-style main house that occupied the plot (the Bloedels purchased the land and main house in the early 1950′s). She was lover of beauty and order. She filled the house with art and Louis XVI style furniture. She passed her love of art on to her daughter (also named Virginia), who ended up collecting (with her husband Bagley Wright) the bulk of what is now the Modern collection of the Seattle Art Museum. All the parts of the estate that seem to have an ordered class and an European beauty I attribute to Ma Bloedel.

There is a reflecting pool (pictured top) in the center of the grounds. It was the Bloedel’s favorite place to hang out in the garden. A single bench sits at one end of the pool, and a vase of bright flowers sits at the other. It’s a surprising venue for quiet contemplation.

The large shallow pool was built with the guidance of landscape designer Thomas Church and was later reworked by Richard Haag, who added a tall rectangular hedge around the whole thing. In a way, this place encapsulates the spirit of the entire Reserve — the surprising presence of man’s mind and hand in the middle of wild forest.

Design, Life, Photography , , , , , ,

Tap Tap Tap…

August 1st, 2010

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my lady exploring Seward Park. We heard some tap-tapping towards the end of our walk that, upon further inspection, turned out to be this guy. Pileated Woodpeckers are surprisingly big — the size of a crow — and they really do have the classic ‘Woody Woodpecker’ shock of red plumage on their heads. For a North American bird, he looks almost tropical.

As I approached, this nervous fellow went hopping up the tree, keeping an eye on me the whole time. After I backed off, though, he descended once again to resume the excavation he had started below.

Life, Photography , , ,

Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman, and my Calathea Lancifolia

April 8th, 2010

My girlfriend bought me this plant, a striking Calathea Lancifolia, from the Volunteer Park Conservatory here in Seattle. If you live in Seattle and haven’t been, the Conservatory is a classic paradise well worth an hour of your afternoon. They have a few of these little guys integrated into their tropical exhibit, and it is perhaps my favorite species in a room filled to the brim with incredibly beautiful and curious flora.

Why do I like this little plant so much? Several reasons should be fairly obvious from the photos above. Besides the fact that it is simply a visually stunning plant — with contrasting green variegation, a gradient green, gently waved edge, and a bold purple underside — my favorite aspect is how the markings on the top of the leaf appear as if the silhouette of a different sort of plant has been imprinted over top. It makes me think of a plant wearing a plant suit, which amuses my easy-to-amuse mind to no end.

Speaking of plant-within-a-plant, the notion of self-reflexivity is also at the heart of this particular fancy. Within the realm of the arts, the aspect of High Modernism that I always respected was how closely form and philosophy are married. If you were in art grad school in the 60′s, you probably would have been evangelized to the notion that a piece of artwork is most true to itself — most correct — when all of its visual, objective qualities reflect both the reason for and action of its creation. This notion began with abstract artists like Josef Albers (below left) who was interested in light and color and whose painted forms echoed the shape of the canvas they were painted on. This idea reached it’s apex with artists like Jackson Pollock and Frank Stella (below right). Stella made works where each mark was the width of the brush he painted it with, and whose canvases where sized to efficiently house the number of marks needed to complete the composition. Pollock’s work looks crazier, but his dynamic sloshing of paint is just as much an overt index of the painting process. They are very simply paintings about the act of making a painting.

So, while it might be tempting to see Calathea Lancifolia as a particularly Modernist plant because of the way that its appearance echoes its meta reality as a plant, it turns out that there something hindering this interpretation. There is an alternate way of spinning the appearance of plant-like markings on Calathea Lancifolia’s foliage. They can be seen not as a self reflection, but instead as a mask. While there is a certain self-consciousness — a redundancy of selves — to the wearing of a mask, any deeper reality must acknowledge the falseness of a second face. Once the train of thought turns towards the issue of costume, we enter into the realm of the Post-Modernists.

Starting with Marcel Duchamp, whose Rrose Selavy and Monte Carlo Bond characters set his reputation as the early father of Post-Modernism, and finding it’s full concentration within the work of Cindy Sherman (above), using disguise became a means of subverting the rules and exposing the artifice of Modernist ideals. It’s fun to think of Sherman as the anti-Stella, as her work exposed photography not as a reflector of any sort of truth, but as an agent for boundless uncertainty.

So, at the the end of the day, I think that within my little Calathea Lancifolia, I get both a modernist masterpiece and a post-modernist schizophrenic. Either that, or its just a really cool looking plant. Only time will tell how this little plant is to positioned by art historians within the hallowed canon of fine art.

(plant photos courtesy of Sara Lawrence at Soft Dimension, Albers and Stella images courtesy the unexpectedly excellent Saint Louis Art Museum, and Cindy Sherman images courtesy the Internets)

Art, Design, Ideas, Painting, Photography , , , , , ,

Patitz, Lindbergh & the Supermodels

March 10th, 2010

When I was young, everything I knew about Fashion was embodied in the long legs and plucked eyebrows a small group of elite models that were known simply and ubiquitously as the Supermodels. They were in all the makeup ads and all the best music videos. Photographers like Peter Lindbergh (who took the above photo for Vogue in 1991) and Herb Ritts (taking a break from his typical muse: well muscled men) captured these amazons in crisp black and white photographs that exposed us to these mythically unattainable figures in an era that otherwise heroicized the flawed and the authentic. I have a hard time reconciling Cindy Crawford and Kurt Cobain, but they somehow managed to both rule MTV at the same time without any irony whatsoever.


One of my favorite Supermodels is the now largely forgotten Tatjana Patitz. When I look at photos of her now, I can’t help but think that she seems especially austere — so German. This photograph looks like it could have been taken by Leni Riefenstahl. The image below, also by Lindbergh, casts Patitz as a sort of blue-eye to blue-eye match for Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.

I did an image search for Patitz recently after a random memory trip while riding the bus to work. I was struck by the unassailable way that the Supermodels were styled and photographed back in the 90s. They seem especially statuesque and hard-edged compared to today’s magazine girls. The Supermodels all look like real grown up women. That Crawford, arguably the most approachable of them all, was the the most popular of the group seems to have taught advertisers to go with a look that is a little more friendly, a little more girlish.

Linda Evangelista

Christy Turlington & Elaine Irwin

However, given our collective penchant for Mad Men, the Rat Pack, and classic cinema, I can easily imagine this type of mature, composed and strong feminine model coming into favor again as a representation of our desire. The era of the 16-year-old model could be coming to a close. Also, I can imagine all of our current economic woes pushing the country temporarily back towards a conservatively European model of beauty like they did at the end of the 80s. Adriana Lima watch out!

Advertising, Fashion, Photography , , , , ,

Joseph Szabo TEENAGE

December 24th, 2009

I was in a used book store the other day here in Seattle and chanced upon a book locked up in the rare/collectible book case that looked too interesting to pass by. After fetching someone to unlock the case, I was treated to Joseph Szabo’s TEENAGE.

Szabo taught at Malverne High School on Long Island for more than twenty five years (from the early 70′s to the late 90′s) where he was able to take a number of remarkably candid photographs of teenage life (and hair). I’m so into these photographs that I’ve been wondering how I would be able to undertake a photo project like this without seeming like a total creep. Maybe I’ve missed my chance, and I’m now stuck documenting the lives of the over-30s.

Nevertheless, looking through these photographs has got me humming Sound Of Silver over and over while looking through my old yearbooks trying to remember what I’ve tried to forget. Clearly I’m not alone. The forward to TEENAGE was written by Cameron Crowe, and other auteurs — from Sofia Coppola to Terry Richardson — have drawn direct inspiration from the posturing, sexual yearning, and social exploration of the world that the collection depicts.

Check out the book (if you can find it) and be sure to take a moment to look through more great photos of this ilk on Szabo’s gallery’s site.

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