Alec Soth's Archived Blog

July 30, 2007


Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 8:59 pm

After last night’s dream about bunnies, I’ve decided it is time to dam up the stream of consciousness for a little while. So I’m going to keep things simple and just highlight stuff:

1) John Gitelson has recently launched the maniacal Garbage Can Project. (Be sure to watch the rat on 11/29/06).

2) On Jon’s blog, he recently wrote about a nice project called You Are Beautiful.

3) I’m a sucker for feel-good art. Another great project, Learning to Love You More, is run by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher. They describe the project as follows:

Participants accept an assignment, complete it by following the simple but specific instructions, send in the required report (photograph, text, video, etc), and see their work posted on-line. Like a recipe, meditation practice, or familiar song, the prescriptive nature of these assignments is intended to guide people towards their own experience.

Their first assignment was ‘Make A Child’s Outfit In An Adult Size.’ Here is one of the responses:

Brad Hall, Richmond, Virginia USA

If you want to do a fun assignment, take a crack at the New York Post “tryouts”: (1) Photograph someone through the window of a car. (2) Photograph someone leaving a building (as if on a perp walk). (3) Photograph a piece of artwork (as if capturing a family photo or other document out in the field). Read the full article here.

4) If you like grown ups dressing up like kids/animals, check out Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott’s recent spread in W Magazine, INTO THE WOODS:

Photo: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott

Furries in fashion has been done before. See for yourself here

5) Aperture has a special sale on Elena Dorfman’s new book, Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay. In an interview with Aperture, Dorfman says:

The idea of fandom – of what people attach themselves to – has always been interesting to me. A friend of mine told me about this community; I found a convention happening in San Francisco and went to see what it was all about. It was the wildest, most frenetic hotel ballroom I’d ever seen, full of people buying games and paraphanalia, most of them dressed up as the characters from the games or the comic books. Kids were sitting with their mothers at booths with homemade costumes; there were kids dressed in provocative and outrageous ways; kids who were so androgynous I had no idea as to what sex they were – as well as lots of kids who were just very innocently wandering around andd having a great time. It seemed like a very open environment for exploration, whether through role-playing or acting out some kind of fantasy, creating scenes though the characters they represent.

Name: Chloe, Character: Chi, From: Chobits. Photo by Elena Dorfman

See a short video of Dorfman’s work here and read an interview with her here. In an interesting twist, Dorfan had a virtual opening of her show. Read about it here. Meanwhile, James Deavin shows his virtual landscapes in real galleries.

6) Dorfman’s project is reminiscent of Robbie Cooper’s book, Alter Ego, in which he compares portraits of individuals with their avatars:

NAME Ailin Graef BORN 1978 OCCUPATION Metaverse entrepreneur LOCATION Frankfurt AVATAR NAME Anshe Chung AVATAR CREATED 2004 GAME PLAYED Second Life HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 30. Photo by Robbie Cooper

See more examples of Cooper’s project here and here.

July 26, 2007

Am I crazy, or are there bunnies and circles everywhere?

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 9:42 am

July 25, 2007

Circles, Eyes, Rabbits and Avant-Garde Cinema

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 11:02 pm

Early this week I wrote about human vision and the scarcity of circular photographs. This led to a post about the retinal photograph of a rabbit and a couple of posts about circles and bunnies (here and here). All of this got me thinking about avant-garde cinema. Surely there must be a film about bunny-eyes?

I started with the surrealists. There is eyeball mutilation in Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), but no bunnies:

still from MUn Chien Andalou. Watch the movie here and here.

Then I watched Emak Bakia (1926) by Man Ray. What a great little film – and I’m not just saying that because it includes Kiki de Montparnasse. It has lots of circles and eyes but, alas, no rabbits:

Still from Emak Bakia. Watch the movie here and here.

I found more of Kiki’s eyes in Ballet Mécanique (1924). The movie was made by Fernand Léger with cinematography by Man Ray – still no bunnies.

Still from Ballet Mécanique . Watch the movie here and here.

Kiki was friends with Jean Cocteau. Cocteau seems like someone who might have put together some bunnies and eyeballs. He didn’t – but in 1950 Cocteau brought to France a young American filmmaker he admired: Kenneth Anger. While in Paris, Anger used his recently botched suicide as the basis for a film, Rabbit’s Moon:

Still from Rabbit’s Moon

Still from Rabbit’s Moon

The title of the film refers to Japanese myth. “It’s interesting that the Japanese do not see a face or Man in the Moon as we Westerners do,” said Kenneth Anger, “but see a mythological animal, the white rabbit.”

The movie shows the clown Pierrot continually failing to grasp the moon. Harlequin appears and taunts Pierrot. Later we learn that the moon is a metaphor for Columbine. In Elliot Stein’s book Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions, he writes:

All of Anger’s films are separate movements in one vast film, a large symphony in which all kinds of rituals occur as here with the stultifying return of zoom after zoom into the blinding full moon which looks down on the progress of Pierrot from romantic illusion to destruction. If Pierrot is Anger himself, then Pierrot’s new toy, the Magick Lantern, is obviously the cinema.

Kenneth Anger on the set off Rabbit’s Moon

Due to a studio scheduling conflict, Anger had to stop shooting and left the film uncompleted. But it suddenly resurfaced in the 1970’s with a strange pop soundtrack. In a fascinating essay, Michael Cohen describes how he spent years tracking down the man behind this soundtrack:

Finding the identity of the song, and a copy of an official release, became my personal mission. I began referring to it as “the most obscure song in the world” and as “the greatest song no one’s ever heard.” For seven years, on and off, I searched for any clue….

The song literally seemed to have come from nowhere—as though Kenneth Anger, desperate for the perfect soundtrack, had conjured it ex nihilo from the depths of the netherworld in some shadowy deal with Lucifer. I shuddered to think what Anger must have offered in return.

Finally, in early 2004, as I was losing hope—a sudden surprise breakthrough. Through a string of coincidences involving an Australian woman named Anne I tracked down the aforementioned Andy Arthurs. He was indeed the culprit, and identified the song as “It Came in the Night,” an extremely rare non-album track by A Raincoat. A month later I ordered the single from an Australian record dealer for a mere $10 plus shipping. At last, I scratched that seven-year itch.

Cohen goes on to do a bunch of interesting research on Andy Arthurs. His biggest single was “I Can Detect You (for 100,000 Miles).” I love the picture of him wearing binoculars. I just wish the magnifying glass he was holding was round:

  • Listen to It Came in the Night here

Baby Eyes

Filed under: artists,circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 3:00 am

Rinko Kawauchi

Her photographs are almost always square, but Rinko Kawauchi makes me think of circles. They say that newborns see the world upside down. I wonder if it sort of looks like Kawauchi’s world.

AILA(86), 2004, by Rinko Kawauchi

“People often say that I have a child’s eye. For example, I stare at ants gathering around sugar, or when I seek shelter from the rain, I gaze upon snails. These are things which you often do when you are a child aren’t they? I have a very similar sensibility to that.” Rinko Kawauchi

Rinko Kawauchi

“I prefer listening to the small voices in our world, those which whisper. I have a feeling I am always being saved by these whispers, my eyes naturally focus on small things. Even when I walk around Shibuya, I find myself running towards a little batch of flowers. I find comfort in them. I think this is a very normal sensitivity, on the contrary to what people may think, I think its sound.” Rinko Kawauchi

Untitled (from the series “Cui Cui”) 2005 by Rinko Kawauchi

She has also photographed bunnies in a circle:

Rinko Kawauchi

  • Visit Kawauchi’s site here
  • Read interviews with Kawauchi here and here

July 24, 2007

Full Circle

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 10:57 am

Boy holding bunny near house in Wisconsin, ca. 1870, by Andreas Larsen Dahl

  • See a larger image of the boy holding a bunny here
  • See more of Dahl’s circular photographs here

July 23, 2007

Now that’s what I call an alternative process

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 9:57 pm

The German physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne (1837–1900) coined the term rhodopsin for the pigment that is responsible for both the formation of the photoreceptor cells and the first events in the perception of light.

In 1878 he did a fascinating experiment. He covered a rabbit’s head to allow the rhodopsin to accumulate in the rods. Then it was uncovered and positioned toward a barred window. After a three-minute exposure, the animal was decapitated and the eyeball removed. He then ‘fixed’ the retina with a solution to prevent it from being resynthesized. The next day, Kühne was able to see a picture of the window and bars printed upon the retina:

Retinal Photograph, drawn by Willy Kühne, 1878

Circular Photos (or Views from the Convex Helmet Shield)

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies — alecsothblog @ 12:08 am

George Eastman on board S.S. Gallia, 1890, by Frederick Church

A few years ago I was lying in the grass staring up the sky when I made the seemingly obvious discovery that my vision is circular. Our eyes are round, the earth is round, even camera lenses are round – but after years of taking pictures I’d failed to notice that my vision was round too. After that I started telling friends that I was going to start taking circular pictures. I haven’t followed up on this threat, but it still seems like a good idea. There was a time, after all, when this was perfectly acceptable:

Sir John Herschel’s photogenic drawing of telescope at Slough, 1839

Portrait of boy and girl in colonial costume, ca. 1860, by Oscar Rejlander

Telescopic View of Full Moon by Briggs Co. (active 1868-1930)

Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen, 1863, by Julia Margaret Cameron

Unknown photographer, circa 1890. These images were taken with a vest camera. Designed by R.D. Gray in 1885, the vest camera was a disc form fitted behind a rigid false shirt front with a lens that, disguised as a button, passed through the front. Six exposures could be made on the glass plate, rotated by a knob which also passed through the front.

In the late-sixties Emmet Gowin gave the circle another shot. In his 1976 monograph, Photographs, he writes:

About the circular pictures: I had quite forgotten that it was the nature of the lens to form a circle and in 1967 my only lens was a short Angulon intended for a small camera. I’d been given an old Eastman View 8×10 and brought the two together out of impatience and curiosity. After a while, I recognized the wonderful exaggeration near the edge. I began to use the camera with the lens, but for several years I would trim these prints so that the circle was disguised. Eventually I realized that such a lens contributed to a particular description of space and that the circle itself was already a powerful form.

Accepting the entire circle, what the camera had made, was important to me. It involved recognition of the inherent nature of things. I had set out to describe the world with my domain, to live a quality with things. Enrichment, I saw, involves a willingness to accept a changing vision of the nature of things – which is to say, reality. Often I had thought that things teach me what to do. Now I would prefer to say: As things reach us what we already are, we gain a vision of the world.

Danville, Virginia 1973 by Emmet Gowin

After Gowin, most circular photographs appear to be staged or experimental:

Little Children III, 1988, by Jeff Wall

Man, 1993, by John Priola

Attracted to Light C, 1996-2000, by Doug & Mike Starn

Bubble, 2001, by Mariko Mori

Nachtphoto, 1992 by Thomas Ruff

Last Riot 2 (tondo #3), 2005, by AES + F

I’m looking for more circular photographs. Please send names, links or anything else that comes to mind.

July 20, 2007

Friday Poem

Filed under: circles n\' bunnies,poetry — alecsothblog @ 5:09 am


by John Ashbery

As Parmagianino did it, the right hand

Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer

And swerving easily away, as though to protect

What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,

Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together

In a movement supporting the face, which swims

Toward and away like the hand

Except that it is in repose. It is what is

Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself

To take his own portrait, looking at himself for that purpose

In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .

He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made

By a turner, and having divided it in half and

Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself

With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,”

Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait

Is the reflection once removed.

The glass chose to reflect only what he saw

Which was enough for his purpose: his image

Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.

The time of day or the density of the light

Adhering to the face keep it

Lively and intact in a recurring wave

Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

But how far can it swim out through the eyes

And still return safely to its nest? The surface

Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases

Significantly; that is, enough to make the point

That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept

In suspension, unable to advance much farther

Than your look as it intercepts the picture.

Pope Clement and his court were “stupefied”

By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission

That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,

Even though restless, hearing raindrops on the pane,

The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,

Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay

Posing in this place. It must move

As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.

But there is in that gaze a combination

Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful

In its restraint that one cannot look for long.

The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,

Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,

Has no secret, is small, and it fits

Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.

That is the tune but there are no words.

The words are only speculation

(From the Latin speculum, mirror):

They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.

We see only postures of the dream,

Riders of the motion that swings the face

Into view under evening skies, with no

False disarray as proof of authenticity.

But it is life englobed.

One would like to stick one’s hand

Out of the globe, but its dimension,

What carries it, will not allow it.

No doubt it is this, not the reflex

To hide something, which makes the hand loom large

As it retreats slightly. There is no way

To build it flat like a section of a wall:

It must join the segment of a circle,

Roving back to the body of which it seems

So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face

On which the effort of this condition reads

Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark

Or star one is not sure of having seen

As darkness resumes. A perverse light whose

Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its

Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant.

Francesco, your hand is big enough

To wreck the sphere, and too big,

One would think, to weave delicate meshes

That only argue its further detention.

(Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale,

Like a dozing whale upon the sea bottom

In relation to the tiny, self-important ship

On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim

That everything is surface. The surface is what’s there

And nothing can exist except what’s there.

There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves,

And the window doesn’t matter much, or that

Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even

As a gauge of the weather, which in French is

Le temps, the word for time, and which

Follows a course wherein changes are merely

Features of the whole. The whole is stable within

Instability, a globe like ours, resting

On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball

Secure on its jet of water.

And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,

No words to say what it really is, that it is not

Superficial but a visible core, then there is

No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.

You will stay on, restive, serene in

Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning

But which holds something of both in pure

Affirmation that doesn’t affirm anything.

above: Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, c. 1524 by Parmigianino

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