Mark Michaelson collects American mugshots, and they’re fascinating. He has amassed over 10, 000 images in total, dating from the 1870s to the 1960s.
“Graffiti belongs to everyone and no one.”
French-Hungarian photographer, Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. At first, he worked as a journalist, taking photographs to supplement his income. Often joining his friend, Andre Kertesz when he went out with his camera, it didn’t take long for Brassaï to find himself inspired. Photography enabled him to express his love of the city: “to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night.”
In 1933, Brassaï began documenting the graffiti he found in the working class districts of Paris. Wandering the city, he’d make notes and sketches, noting down the location so that he could return to take photographs in better light. Resembling cave drawings, the marks were at odds with their modern surroundings and, over time, he noticed the graffiti would change; etched faces morphed and mutated, growing old as they weathered, exposed to the elements.
For local children in the fourteenth and fifteenth arrondissement, two death’s-heads held special significance. Dubbed “The Frog” and “The Giraffe”, they were treated as mysterious portents, and remained untouched, for a long time. Brassaï drew many comparisons between art, childhood and magic. He said, “everything is magic for a child. For children, the visible world is simply a screen placed in front of the visible world.”
Like children’s drawings, graffiti for Brassaï, was pure and raw. It fascinated him and he wanted to explore the impulses that led people to make it. He believed, “in drawing a line or figure, a child has a feeling of power and dominion similar to that of a magician. Only through art can he force the world to obey his will.”
The urge to leave our mark is strong and walls everywhere bear witness to this compulsion. From the cave paintings of Altamira in Northern Spain, the lava-preserved etchings in Pompeii and modern street art, our primal gestures can express a range of human feeling and emotion.
Drawing or carving our name, a sign or symbol into a fixed surfaces, leaves a mark, and this impression can endure. Birth, love or death, it’s all there, distilled on the wall.
I am fascinated by people who live very solitary lives. Recently, I enjoyed Winter’s Watch, a short documentary about Alexandra de Steiguer, the caretaker for the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, 10 miles off the coast of New England.
“You have to be at peace with the fact that something might happen, and you might not make it through,” says Alexandra de Steiguer, the caretaker for the Oceanic Hotel, in Brian Bolster’s short documentary, Winter’s Watch. De Steiguer has spent the past 19 winters tending to the 43-acre grounds of the hotel, on Star Island, which sits 10 miles off the coast of New England. In the long, wintry off-season, she is the island’s sole inhabitant.” (via YouTube)
Ben Roberts always seems to be creating new work. Every time I look at his Flickr, there is something new to see. His photographs are beautiful and atmospheric, with many of them being shot at night. We recently spoke about his work and inspiration.
Hi Ben, please tell me a little about yourself.
I am a 38 year old American living in Japan. I live in the nature heavy area of Nagano. I live with my standard poodle. I actually grew up here in Japan, (my parents were Christian missionaries), but I didn’t attend the public schools. I am not a professional photographer, I just love photography.
How did you develop an interest in photography?
I always enjoyed the idea of photography as a medium for capturing memories. I shot instant cameras for fun while I was at college in America. When I got my first digital camera and started to take photos of things around me, I figured I would get more serious and bought a DSLR. Film photos were always more beautiful to me, and when I inherited a film camera, there was no turning back.
What cameras do you prefer to use?
I have used and owned a lot of different cameras. The film camera I first inherited was a Minolta CLE – a really nice rangefinder that is pretty much a Leica. I still use that camera. I also bought a Pentax LX which is great for the type of photography I shoot. I also love my Mamiya 7. I have found I love the look of reversal film.
Do you have a favourite photographer or artist whose work you admire?
A lot of music doesn’t do one thing or another. It just doesn’t do anything. Then there are those pieces of music that thrill your soul. It’s such a wide range, and it’s really interesting that we all love different things.”
– David Lynch
Two diametrically opposed views on the same song.
Regardless, we all need music that thrills our souls.
I love to look at photographer’s contact sheets. They’re private and intimate, like leafing through a sketchbook or reading someone’s diary. So often, we see a finished image and forget all about the process behind it. Henri Cartier Bresson likened contact sheets to the analyst’s couch, “It’s all there: what surprises us is what we catch, what we miss, what disappears.” It’s amazing to think about all of deleted, discarded or forgotten photographs that go unseen.
Some of my favourite contact sheets belong to the photographer, Robert Frank. While working on the The Americans, he took thousands of photographs, however, just 83 made the final cut. His contact sheets helped him sort through huge amounts of film, while figuring out which shots worked best.
Spencer Bentley sums up brilliantly in this PetaPixel article, “Great photographers don’t just take great photos. They build them, they work at them, they move about a scene testing, and probing, and experimenting to find that one shot that will be shared. While I’ll never be Bresson, I can do that. I can test. I can move. I can probe. I can experiment.”
Contact sheets remind us that great photographs don’t just happen, they’re carefully crafted, considered, framed, and often, edited.
Not every shot is a masterpiece.