Popsicle #46: The letters of Sergio Larrain

I never think about photography…it doesn’t interest me.” Henri Catier-Bresson, 2003

Maybe photography isn’t an art any more. Maybe it never was.” Robert Frank, 2008

Why did two of the most legendary photographers of the twentieth century give up on photography? I found myself asking this question often while viewing the beautiful new retrospective monograph, Sergio Larrain, published by Aperture.

Larrain was a recluse. After little more than a decade of professional practice, he gave up photography in the early 1970’s to live in the Chilean countryside and practice yoga. His primary form of creative expression during these years was letter writing. I recently spoke with Joseph Koudelka who reminisced about the barrage of letters Larrain would send him and his fellow Magnum photographers proselytizing his spiritual practice. Koudelka was clearly unaffected by these letters, but I wonder how Cartier-Bresson felt? Cartier-Bresson had great respect for Larrain. In fact, it was Cartier-Bresson who invited Larrain into Magnum in 1959. The Aperture book reproduces a couple of letters that Larrain wrote to Cartier-Bresson. This one was written in 1960, a year after Larrain became a full member of Magnum:

Dear Henri,

Thank you for your little note. I am always happy to hear from you. Here I am, mostly writing…doing [few] photographs.
I am puzzled…

I love photography as a visual art…as a painter loves painting, and [I] like to practice it in that way…work that sales [easy to sale] is an adaptation for me. It is like doing posters for a painter….at least I feel I lose my time.

Good photography is hard to do and takes much time for doing it. I [tried to adapt] myself since I entered your group in order to learn and get [published]…but I want to get serious again…there is the problem of markets…of getting published, of earning money…I am puzzled as I tell you and would like to find a way out of working in a level vital for me…I can’t adapt myself longer…so I write…So I think and meditate…waiting for a clear direction to grow in me…

Good bye, my love for you


Three years later, Larrain wrote Cartier-Bresson another letter in which he seems more confident in taking the uncommercial path:

I try to do only work that I really care for. It is the only way for keeping me alive photographically, and I take as much time as I [need]. I keep myself in a slow peace, with much time for myself and doing other things, and see how photography develops…if it continues to develop… I do what I want the way I want, I feel that the rushing of journalism – being ready to jump on any story, all the time – destroy my love and concentration for work.

Unfortunately the book does not reproduce any of Larrain’s letters to Cartier-Bresson or other photographers after he quit photography in the early 1970’s. But it does include a 1987 letter he wrote to the book’s editor, Agnès Sire, a former art director at Magnum and current director of Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson. Here are some excerpts:

Good photography, or any other manifestation in man, comes from a state of grace. Grace comes when you are delivered from conventions, obligations, convenience, competition, and you are free, like a child in his first discovery of reality. You walk around in surprise, seeing reality as if [it is] for the first time….

That is why people that do creative work have to isolate themselves, they are all hermits, one way or another….

In Magnum we [saw that] with Bruce [Davidson] for example. When he just came, it was pure poetry his NY gang and what he did at that time. He got, from there, a contract with Vogue NY, as I remember, to do 4 stories a year, he got money, and the miracle has gone forever…sometimes it came back, but never [like] in the beginning…then how do you keep the light alive?

The art is to live in happiness, with love, with truth, with purity, not swallowed by mechanization…Henri did preserve that for many years.

I don’t know if Cartier-Bresson’s decision to give up photography was influenced by Sergio Larrain, but Larrain did seem to have an acute understanding of the way success corrupts artist vision. “The photographer’s tragedy is that once he achieves a certain level of quality or fame, he wants to continue and he gets completely lost,” said Larrain in a rare interview in 1976.

Another photographer equally distrustful of success is Robert Frank. In the introduction to Sergio Larrain, Agnès Sire writes about this connection:

Larrain has often been called the ‘Latin American Robert Frank’ and it is true that they shared the same desire to make room for an inner life, while continuing to integrate the heritage of classic documentary photography. Both of them also chose to turn away from photojournalism when they were quite young in order to move on to something else, and both believed that success (including and above all in the press) is dangerous for the poet.

What is peculiar about Larrain is that he had nowhere near the same level of success as Frank or Cartier-Bresson when he gave up photography. And while I very much like a number of the photographs in Sergio Larrain, I don’t think his work reached the same level of either of these masters. Nevertheless, Sergio Larrain was easily one of my favorite photo books of the year. But a large part of my admiration for the book is my fascination with Larrain’s decision to quit photography. In some ways, this desire is expressed in Larrain’s best pictures, such as the two pictures depicted on the front and rear of the book:

CHILE. Valparaiso. Passage Bavestrello. 1952.

But ultimately the best expression of Larrain’s desire to retreat is his letter writing. Here is another passage from Larrain’s 1987 letter to Agnès Sire:

You see, in our work of hunters of miracles we have the happiness of the magic, but also the impossibility to control it…we have to be open to the muse, as they used to say … and keep eating, clothing, paying the rent…etc. I suppose it has always been like this, when the kayak hunters went to the sea, they never knew if they were going to find the whales or a storm…when we try to control things completely, boredom establish its reign; and we degrade…and at the same time, life has to keep going, always…that is why to make a good use of the hunt [we need] wisdom. To get oil for the lamps, leather for the shoes and clothing, [to] make harpoons with the bones, etc. To keep this miracle of life, in happiness, in tenderness, forming children, preserving elders, listening elders…

In the eternal moment which is reality Agnès, you have to give time to rest, to renew, as with the land, if you exhaust it, by permanently asking fruits, you disorganise the rhythm…the breathing…Silence, peace and loneliness are necessary to receive inspiration, [to] be empty for the new…for the reign to come, daily…adios.

With those words as inspiration, I think I’ll say adios to these weekly Popsicle posts. I’m wiped out after the recent Texas Triangle marathon (shooting, exhibition and publication in less than a month) and need a break from these weekly assignments. While it is frustrating to only complete 46 of the 52 posts, it isn’t like I’m quitting photography…yet.


No time for Popsicles, I’m in Texas!


It’s been a wild first week in Texas working on the LBM Dispatch. Brad Zellar and I and our terrific assistant Lily Brooks are having a ball whipsawing between megacities and cow towns in equally contrasting weather conditions. Follow our travels on Tumblr and pre-order your copy of Texas Triangle:

Add to Cart

Also be sure to check out our pop-up show of the work in Austin at the Ransom Center, Friday December 6th at 7pm. More info HERE

Popsicle #45: The Automobile by Russell Edson

Since conversing with the brilliant August Kleinzahler on stage a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco, a number of people have asked why he and I were paired together. The obvious answer is that I included his poem “Sleeping it off in Rapid City” in the catalog for my traveling exhibition, From Here To There. What’s peculiar is that I’ve never once been asked why that poem is in the book.

My simple answer is (1) I once slept off the most extreme hangover in my life at the very same historic hotel described in the poem (2) the poem is about my favorite subject: “the middle of the middle of the heart of this great land.”

Beyond this interest in place, Kleinzahler and I share an affinity for the imagery produced by the movement through place. Just look at the titles of his collections. Along with Sleeping It Off In Rapid City, there’s The Strange Hours Traveler’s Keep and his new book, Hotel Oneira. So many of the poems are about transportation and transience. Here’s a passage from the title poem of the new book:

Look at them down there by the ferry slip,
the bridal party, organza, chiffon and lace, beside themselves,
being wonderful, desperately wonderful, a pastel foam.
Behind them a tug pushes a rusted barge upriver.
Helicopters, small planes, passenger jets above.
They behave, these girls, as if this is their last chance to be thus.

You can feel the rumble of trains
vibrating up the steel of the hotel’s frame.
They move only very late at night, from three or so until dawn
north along the river and then west.
There is going on just now a vast shifting inventory
from the one place to the another. I can feel it, inside my head.

“Kleinzahler’s thematic framework generally involves exotic travel via eclectic means of conveyance,” Aaron Belz recently wrote in the SFGate, “He takes us on ferries, rumbling trains, jets, “a handcar,” “a black Hupp-Yeats” (electric automobile) to places like Zaragoza, Bockenheim, Lake Toxaway and “the fogbound Ginza.” What’s interesting to me is that Kleinzahler rarely writes about the most commonly romanticized form of transportation, the automobile. “I’m not big on road trips,” Kleinzahler once wrote in an article on Travels with Charley.

As I write this post, I’m in ‘the middle of the middle’ en route to Texas from Minnesota. I’m sometimes embarrassed on my reliance on the road trip as a source for inspiration. All I can say is that it works. For me the act of driving is analogous to the art of photography. While I move through the world in my minivan, I’m simultaneously separated from that world by the lens of the windshield. I’m there, but I’m removed, watching.

In advance of this trip to Texas I grabbed from my bookshelf Drive, They Said: Poems About Americans and Their Cars. There are plenty of clunkers and clichés and Kleinzahler is notably absent. However, the book has a poem by another one of my favorite poets: Russel Edson. This poem manages to evoke my love of driving, and the aesthetics of driving, in a totally fresh way:

The Automobile

A man had just married an automobile.

    But I mean to say, said his father, that the automobile is
not a person because it is something different.
For instance, compare it to your mother. Do you see how
it is different from your mother? Somehow it seems wider,
doesn’t it? And besides, your mother wears her hair differently.
You ought to try to find something in the world that looks
like mother.

    I have mother, isn’t that enough of a thing that looks like
mother? Do I have to gather more mothers?
They are all old ladies who do not in the least excite any
wish to procreate, said the son.

 But you cannot procreate with an automobile, said father.

   The son shows father an ignition key. See, here is a special
penis which does with the automobile as the man with the
woman; and the automobile gives birth to a place far from
this place, dropping its puppy miles as it goes.

   Does that make me a grandfather? said father.

   That makes you where you are when I am far away, said
the son.

    Father and mother watch an automobile with a just married
sign on it growing smaller in a road.


Popsicle #44: Mike Mills @ Project Los Altos

Last week I attended the opening reception for Project Los Altos – a multi-site exhibition in which seven artists, myself included, were commissioned by SFMoMA to make new work. Group shows of commissioned work can be hit or miss affairs, but I found Project Los Altos to be an unusually strong offering.

One of the most compelling things about the exhibition is that it doesn’t have a fixed location. During my visit I walked around town and saw work in storefronts, street corners and orchards. It feet like a treasure hunt. In order to see Mike Mills’s installation, I had to walk past the counter of an old costume shop to a storeroom in back. Even without Mills’s thoughtful installation, the shop itself was worth the trip.

One of the things Mills presented was a facsimile printing of a locally owned weekly paper, The Los Altos Town Crier, from April 7, 1976 ­– the same week that Apple was founded out of Steve Jobs’s garage in Los Altos.

Screen shot 2013-11-10 at 7.21.44 PM

While I expected the newspaper to be a shockingly dated look at social media before the advent of the personal computer, it didn’t differ all that much from current community papers. Here are some of the headlines:

Residential burglaries show 58% increase

Local groups to paint bicentennial fireplugs

Housing committee to urge aid for elderly

Couple teaches class for mature travelers

Nurse, MV policeman to pledge wedding vows

Eagles whip Spartans, 7-1

Weekly community newspapers like the Los Altos Crier inspired the work Brad Zellar and I do with The LBM Dispatch. While on our various rambles working on the Dispatch, it always comes as a bit of surprise that community life carries on. As cynical as we might become about the various social and environmental affects of our current age, people still gather in community centers, fireplugs are still painted. Looking at this issue of the Los Altos Crier, life doesn’t seem that much better or worse than it was thirty-three years ago.

Screen shot 2013-11-10 at 7.23.22 PM

But what about the future? As part of his installation, Mills made a fantastic video in which he interviewed children whose parents work in the tech industry. He asked 8 to 12 year-olds for their predictions about the future. “It’s kind of dark,” says Mills of their responses, “so many of the kids think that in the future there’s not going to be nature, there’s not going to be animals, people are going to be not as smart as they are now.“

The video is both funny and saddening. But I wonder if the children’s cynicism is unique to our age? In the 1976 Crier, I read the following:

Everyone seems to have an opinion – and usually a strong one – about whether or not our High School District should reduce its graduation requirement for English from the present three years to two.

Not long ago the requirement was for four years of English.

If the change is made, students would supplement their two years of English with two years of “communications” courses, which could include English, or such subjects as computer programming or a foreign language.

Times are changing. Maybe the fact that many of today’s kids are weak on writing skills is telling us something – possibly something slightly frightening – about the future.

The future is always frightening. There’s always a new, scary technology changing us. But as I stood in the affectionately tattered Costume Bank in Los Altos with a handful of strangers, I felt encouraged. With a little bit of effort, we can still find authentic and meaningful communal experiences.

Popsicle #43: “The Tea Song” by Michael Hurley

The three or four people who follow these Popsicle posts might have noticed the lack of writing about music. The embarrassing truth is that I just don’t give it much attention. When I was young, I was a passionate record collector. I loved studying the album’s lyrics and artwork alone in my bedroom, but I lost interest when CD’s came along.

Live music has never played a big part of my life. I guess I was too much of a loner and felt self-conscious about waving a lighter all by myself. So for twenty years, music has mostly been background noise. But every now and then something causes me to prick up my ears.

Last week a random magazine assignment had me photographing a legendary underground musician who performs under a pseudonym. I took the assignment because I was intrigued by the mystique. But when I saw him perform, I was underwhelmed. The music only seemed to exist in service of propping up the fabricated persona.

The next morning while driving to work I turned on our local public radio music station, The Current. Despite being public radio, The Current mostly features a rotation of not-Top-40 but still widely circulated contemporary pop music. But on this morning they were featuring a ‘theft of the dial’ segment in which a musician takes over the DJ duties and so the rotation was disrupted.

In this case the DJ was another singer who works under a pseudonym, Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman. I’m not sure what to think of Tillman, but I will give him credit for introducing me (and the rest of the drive-time audience) to an incredible piece of music:

When this came on the radio, I was immediately carried away into the universe of the song. What a relief, I realized later, that none of this had to do with persona. I didn’t know that Hurley, aka Dr. Snock, recorded this at age 22, a few days after being released from the psychiatric wing of Bellevue Hospital. Nor did I know that it was recorded on the same reel-to-reel machine that taped Lead Belly’s Last Sessions.

“If Michael Hurley were just a little crazier, he’d be huge,” wrote the LA Weekly, “If he wore a funny hat like Sun Ra and was obsessed with, say, lawnmowers or parakeets, maybe more people would pay attention.”

After hearing “The Tea Song,” I realized that I should pay more attention. – not just to Hurley, but to music generally. I might just go out and buy the record.

Popsicle #42: Stalker & Zona


The purpose of these weekly blog assignments is to raise the bar of my cultural consumption. When I was in my twenties, I listened to John Zorn and read John Ashbery. But I got lazy after drinking the midlife cocktail of career and kids. I might have a dozen foreign documentaries in my Nexflix cue, but when the kids finally get to sleep, all I want is to do is take a bath in Breaking Bad.

I thought a lot about the different roles that culture plays in one’s lifetime while watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker, and reading Geoff Dyer’s recent book-length homage to the film, Zona. Dyer first saw Stalker in his twenties and it has haunted him ever since.  Midway through the book, Dyer discusses the role of age in his response to the film:

The prominent place occupied in my consciousness by Stalker is almost certainly bound up with the fact that I saw it at a particular time in my life. I suspect it is rare for anyone to see their – what they consider to be the – greatest film after the age of thirty. After forty it’s extremely unlikely. After fifty, impossible.

The most important film in my life was Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit) by Wim Wenders. Like Stalker, it is a late-70’s art house film that challenges viewers with a slow pace and nearly three-hour running time. In the case of both films, the way this time is experienced is largely what makes it potentially life-altering. But excluding the benefits of a good nap, can one’s life be altered significantly by a film after the age of forty?

It turns out I was thoroughly engaged by Stalker. Like Kings of the Road, it is something of a road movie. Three men take a forbidden journey into “the zone” in search for “the room” where all of one’s wishes are realized. While there isn’t much of a story, there is suspense. Will they safely find the room? What will happen when they get there?

What I enjoyed most about Stalker was the amount of time I had to consider these questions (and many others) during the course of the film. A traditional thriller is often described as a roller coaster ride. In Stalker, the peaks and valleys have been flattened and the viewer has time to look out at the landscape and consider the meaning of the journey. This is literally the case in a railroad scene that Dyer names “one of the great sequences in the history of cinema.”


While putting this post together, I looked up the YouTube clip of this scene. It is fascinating to see how utterly stripped of meaning it is when viewed as a three-minute excerpt on the web. “Stalker is a literal journey that is also a journey into cinematic space and – in tandem – into time,” writes Dyer. So to experience this scene outside of that space is to not experience it at all. I’m reminded of the way I watched The Tree of Life on an airplane monitor over the course of two transatlantic flights.

Here is a quote by Tarkovsky and Dyer’s response:

‘If the regular length of a shot is increased, one becomes bored, but if you keep on making it longer, it piques your interest, and if you make it even longer, a new quality emerges, a special intensity of attention.’ This is Tarkovsky’s aesthetic in a nutshell. At first there is a friction between our experience of time and Tarkovsky-time and this friction is increasing in the twenty-first century as we move further and further away from Tarkovsky-time towards moron-time in which nothing can last – and no one can concentrate on anything – for longer than about two seconds.

The great pleasure of watching Stalker was to finally have an escape from moron-time. But was my life changed? Can such a thing even happen to someone in his forties? The more I think about Stalker, the more this seems to be the very subject of the film. The three characters in Stalker are all middle-aged and world-weary. All are coming to the Zone in hopes of changing the course of their lives. At the end of the jouney/film, all three men return to the bar where they started. While they have all experienced something monumental, none appears fundamentally changed. Only the one child in the film seems capable of channeling the room’s magical forces.

I loved Stalker. But it couldn’t quite take me to the same transformative place that Kings of the Road did. Perhaps that kind of epic transformation is reserved for the young.


Popsicle #41: MUMBAI NEW YORK SCRANTON by Tamara Shopsin

photo 15-45-25

A recent study suggests that “Facebook envy” affects one in three users of the site.  Family happiness was noted as a particular source of grief and vacation photos the greatest cause of resentment.

I confess I felt similar pangs of envy while reading Tamara Shopsin’s memoir, MUMBAI  NEW YORK  SCRANTON. The book starts with Shopsin and her husband vacationing in India. It didn’t help that I read about their travels while on my own family vacation to Wisconsin Dells. While Shopsin and her husband visit neglected museums and hunt for arcane mementos, I was staying at Kalahari – the 2nd largest indoor waterpark resort in the country – with several thousand other miserable Midwestern families.

Nor did it help that Shopsin’s husband is Jason Fulford. Not only is Fulford one of my favorite photographers and publishers, he appears to be an unusually sweet husband. He calls Shopsin “beach ball,” sends her postcards while they are traveling together, and comforts her by resting his chin on her eye.

Like the most lyrical status updates you’ve ever seen, the couple’s photographs and illustrations sprinkled throughout the book are only more cause for envy. But even without the artwork, Shopsin and Fulford are able to make a trip to the grocery store charmingly romantic:

Jason pushes the cart. He calls it a “buggy.” This and calling any kind of soda “Coke” are all that’s left of his Southern accent

People study meditation for twenty years to clear their minds of worry and distraction. Jason and I go to Wegman’s.

The first stop is always produce. Jason gets the standards. Green beans, Fuji apples, baby carrots and so on. I find the curve-balls like fennel or beets. The fish department has misters in the cases. We hold hands and pick out a salmon fillet because it has omega-3. I remember we need peanut butter and am rewarded with a kiss. The ritual takes an hour, costs $125, and will feed us for a week.

Not only did reading this make me envious (why don’t I grocery shop with my wife, much less while holding her hand?), I felt guilty for feeling envious (why can’t I be more self-assured like Tamara and Jason?).

After drowning my self-pity in Amstel Light on the fake beach of Kalahari, I read on. It actually takes a long time for Shopsin to get to the “harrowing adventure” described on the book’s dust jacket. On his Facebook page, Shopsin’s friend John Hodgeman describes it this way:

There is a THING THAT HAPPENS in this book, and I knew what it was, and what a devastating surprise it was, and what happened after…

And when I finally did reach the moment where THE THING THAT HAPPENS started to happen, I audibly gasped in surprise, which I never usually do. I realized suddenly that every sentence led to this inevitable thing, and hinted at it, and I should have known all along.

I too was surprised by THE THING THAT HAPPENS. And it was fascinating to see the way it shaped my understanding of everything that preceded it. Suddenly, the stroll through the supermarket made sense. Shopsin was seeing the scene with the precision of an artist and the gratitude of a survivor. My envy vanished.

The morning after finishing MUMBAI  NEW YORK  SCRANTON, I discovered the omelet bar at the Kalahari’s breakfast buffet. I loaded up my bowl with onions, mushrooms and jalapeno peppers. When the omelet was done, I smothered it in Tabasco and Sriracha. I sat next to my wife and enjoyed every bite.  I even considered posting a picture on Facebook.

Popsicle #40: Guadalupe Ruiz

Last week, Tom Griggs and I asked the question, What is happening in contemporary Colombian photography? But how does one define ‘Colombian photography.’ Does it include foreigners living in Colombia (and if so, how long do they need to have been living there)? What about Colombians living abroad? In an increasingly global art world, do these kinds of geographical delineations carry meaning?

I thought about all of these slippery questions while looking at the work of Guadalupe Ruiz. Ruiz was born in Bogotá in 1978, but moved to Switzerland to attend college at seventeen and has lived there ever since. “As a result,” Léa Fluck notes in her introduction to Guadalupe Ruiz (La silueta), “her work has become inevitably internationalized.” Nevertheless, Ruiz still strongly identifies with her heritage. In an interview with Fluck, Ruiz says the following:

I think there are more interesting things to see in Colombia. My gaze is somehow full of memories and images I have stored in my mind for a long time. Physical distance has allowed me to realize that. It is a matter of the experiences you have lived in the place where you grew up. This allows me to more easily translate the codes of the society to which I belong.

Despite this attraction and affection to her native country, Ruiz is ambivalent about the way her Colombian identity is attached to her work:

I don’t want to give people the image they want to see. They have never been in Colombia, but believe we Latins are all the same. That we like salsa and are always partying and don’t work. Most of all, that it is dangerous “over there,” that drugs are everywhere, the FARC, Ingrid and all those people forgotten in the middle of the jungle…It’s like in US films, when they show the bad guys, the bandits in Bogotá, and then go and shoot the film in a lost little village in Mexica. It is a cliché. On the contrary, I don’t identify with Latin culture at all, since it is not enough for me. Living here in Switzerland has somehow impregnated my made in Colombia roots. It is that mix, which is not something commonplace, that what I am emerges from: someone who is half lost, who doesn’t feel neither truly Swiss nor fully Colombian.

It is the lost quality, this feeling of displacement, which makes Ruiz’s work so memorable. In the same way that she’s ungrounded culturally, her pictures are untethered to strict categorical definitions like ‘staged’ or ‘documentary.’





In the end, a question like What is happening in Colombian photography? is just a conversation starter. It is an excuse to look at an extraordinary artist like Guadalupe Ruiz and remind oneself that the best artists aren’t afraid to work outside of the lines.

Popsicle #39: In This Dark Wood & Everything Passes


A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace. – Henri Cartier-Bresson

In the forty years since Michael Lesy published his classic book Wisconsin Death Trip, there has been increasing interest in publishing collections of vernacular photographs. The challenge these publications face is sweeping away the funereal haze so that viewers can actually engage with the photographs.

What made Wisconsin Death Trip groundbreaking was the multiple ways Lesy tackled this issue. Along with the unconventional title, Lesy employed an unusual design approach that, while dated now, still successfully keeps readers on their toes. And through the incorporation of hundreds of local news stories, Lesy helped readers imagine the life and times of the people in the pictures. Lastly there was Lesy’s own text. “The pictures you’re about to see are of people who were once actually alive,” he writes in the first sentence of the book.

One of my favorite recent books of vernacular photographs is Elisabeth Tonnard’s In this Dark Wood (the book was originally self-published in 2008 but is now being reissued by J&L). At the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, Tonnard worked with the Fox Movie Flash collection; approximately one million photographs on 35mm half frames of pedestrians in San Francisco. Drawn to the nocturnal images of people walking alone, Tonnard was reminded of the first lines of Dante’s Inferno:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita,
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Tonnard ended up pairing ninety of these photographs with different English translations of those first lines. Compared to Lesy, Tonnard’s approach is minimalistic. But the effect lyrically brings the nightwalkers to life.


One of the joys of viewing vernacular photography is finding images connected to one’s own passions. As a big fan of table tennis, for example, I had a blast collecting the pictures for our recent book Ping Pong. After a recent trip to Bogotá, another emerging interest of mine is Colombian photography. So I was thrilled to discover Everything Passes. As with In A Dark Wood, the images are of pedestrians made by street photographers (fotocineros) on half-frame film. But in this case, all of the images were made along a legendary thoroughfare in Medellín called Calle Junín.


Everything Passes is a modest book. Nevertheless, it doesn’t settle for simply reproducing nostalgic images. As with Wisconsin Death Trip, the publishers employ a cinematic approach to sequencing the images. And while the text by Alfonso Morales isn’t as conceptual as Lesy’s or Tonnard’s, it did help me enter the world of the photographs:

Strangers to the street, to the city and the time, we have no choice but to trace back the steps of the passerby portrayed to the very limits of our gaze. In order to understand the experiences they have accumulated, we need to follow them back to before the day and exact moment when they were chosen by the fotocinero to figure as the subject of an instant portrait…To go back as far as 1675, when the history of the Nueva Villa de la Candelaria de Medellín began…To return to a time when Calle de Junín was known as “slippery street” because of the number of people who slipped in the mud there during the rainy season…when it was still thought to be haunted by a night-walking ghost that threw pebbles at passerby…To return to the days when the places were built that would make the street a required destination: The Astor tea and pastry room (1930), founded by Swiss immigrants, the Versalles restaurant (1961) the first place to sell soft drinks in Medellín, the Teatro Junín (1924) since demolished to make room for the Coltejer skyscraper (1968), the Club Union, the favorite spot of the local paisa high society…

Perhaps then we would understand why the name of the street has been turned into a verb: juninear ‘to Junín,’ which means to go to the street to run an errand, to do some shopping, or just to stroll; to be seen by other people, known and unknown; to show off your clothes before the lens of a camera, which is really the threshold of another landscape, the gateway into a territory in which people are transformed into images and the images, freed of their weight, set out for unknown destinations…

Reading this text as it scrolls along the bottom of the page like subtitles in a foreign film, the photographs begin to change. While the clothes and hairdos will always evoke a quality of nostalgia – and thus of death – I’m reminded of the actual people that walked these streets – “the people who were once actually alive.”

Popsicle #38 : Dalston Anatomy by Lorenzo Vitturi

dalston3It is a humbling experience for a bookmaker to troll the endless aisles of the New York Art Book Fair. But it also provides an invaluable learning experience. After scanning hundreds of books, one invariably jumps off the table demanding attention (and acquisition).

One of the books that did this for me this year was Dalston Anatomy by Lorenzo Vitturi. The first thing to catch my eye was the book’s cover. Or covers. The 500 copies of Dalston Anatomy are bound in a variety of vibrantly patterned Vlisco fabrics. The books cry out to be touched. Fortunately this tactile quality isn’t lost when opening the book. If anything, Dalston Anatomy is an ode to the sensual pleasures of the bustling marketplace.

All of the images in Dalston Anatomy were all made at London’s Ridley Road Market. We see a cacophony of texture and color: Afro’s and braids, fruit and balloons, bright paint and windswept tarps. Intermixed within this sensual frenzy are Vitturi’s sculptures made on site at the market.


One of my favorite things about Dalston Anatomy is the way these sculptures are so seamlessly intermixed with Vitturi’s photographs. This book isn’t a boring treatise on the distinction between sculpture and photography. It is a fluid, almost musical incorporation of different mediums and cultural influences.

In last week’s Popsicle, I discussed Tim Davis’s essay on the fear of humor in photography. Davis claims that the artists most likely to feature humor in their work are neither self-proclaimed photographers nor A.W.U.P.s (Artists Who Use Photography). “The nakedest and least ashamed photographers,” he writes, “are usually sculptors.”

Vitturi’s unpretentious use of sculpture in Dalston Anatomy isn’t just humorous, it’s joyous. The fact that this joyousness makes the book sing should be a lesson for photographers and bookmakers. Whether it is in the crowded markets of Ridley Road or PS1, audiences will always be drawn to jubilant music.