Today’s RPC* Content

“With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!”

*Rostromedial Prefrontal Cortex

P.S. Neil Young tonight!

WWWHO? (What Would Werner Heisenberg Observe?)

…and what’s your perception of the status of the medium, in and outside of class? There’s an assessment happening every week, the Warman & Godden version being the latest report.

Follow the links; the most telling comment might be the middle sentence of David Bram’s reply to Jake Stangel. I usually ignore comments on other people’s posts, but this one hits the nail on the head for me.

An Epiphany in a Critique

This is from a biographical profile of Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum, by John McPhee. Mr. Hoving died last December.

“Princeton’s grading system goes from a high of 1 to a low of 7, and at the end of the senior year a student’s final departmental grade must be better than a 4 or he gets no degree. Hoving’s average at the end of that first term in his sophomore year was 4.46…

“In the second term of his sophomore year, Hoving went to a preceptorial in Art 301, a course he had signed up for that dealt with sculpture from the Renaissance to the present… In preceptorials–or precepts, as they are called–five or six students sit around a table with a professor and exchange ideas on the assigned reading and related material… The professor, Frederick Stohlman, set on the table a graceful piece of metalwork that had several flaring curves and was mounted on a base of polished hardwood. Stohlman asked each student, in turn, to say whatever came into his head about the object.

“Hoving heard the others using terms like ‘crosscurrents of influence,’ ‘definitions of space,’ ‘abstract approaches to form,’ ‘latent vitality,’ and ‘mellifluous harmonies.’ He felt unconvinced, unimpressed, unprepared, utterly nervous, and unsure in the presence of older and more knowledgeable students. A warm flush came over the back of his neck…

“Finally, Stohlman and the others looked at him, waiting for his contribution. ‘I don’t think it is sculpture,’ he blurted out. ‘It’s beautifully tooled, but it’s not sculpture. It’s too mechanical and functional.’

“Stohlman, an authority on Limoges enamels, was an inspiring teacher, and it was he who, some weeks later, first put into Hoving’s hands a work of art of importance–a piece of Roman glass. Now, in the precept, he looked at the other students and warned them of the dangers of getting caught in their own lecture notes, and went on to say that anything should be looke dat first as an object in itself, and not in the light of secondary reading or artistic theory. Finally, he pointed out that the sophomore was right–that the thing on the table was an obstetrical speculum.

“‘From that moment on, I had fantastic confidence,’ Hoving says. ‘I was never again afraid to say, “I don’t believe that.” Three weeks later, if that hadn’t happened, I might have been talking about elegant sfumato and sweeping diagonals, but, fortunately, I have never looked at a work of art through a cloud of catchwords. In the technical language of the history of art, you can draw a cocoon around anything, whether it is a Campbell Soup can or an obstetrical speculum. That’s what those cats in the precept did. A work of art should ba looked at as a humanistic experience, an object on its own. It betrays what it is immediately.’

“Hoving got a 1 in that course. He decided to major in art and archeology… He audited undergraduate art courses he was not enrolled in, and he sat in on graduate seminars… His final departmental grade was a straight 1, and he was graduated from the university with highest honors.”

Epstein’s Power

Mitch Epstein’s presentation last Thursday evening at Columbia College so well-attended that the overflow crowd was seated in the Museum at a large video monitor. The next morning I discovered that an identical lecture was “preserved” on video last fall in New York. You can witness it in its entirety (in six segments) on youtube:

Booster Shots

The Fine Arts Boosters asked the AP class to shoot around the department, so that pictures could be offered for sale as a fundraiser; just about everyone in the class contributed to the project. Here are a few of the images (I’ll add more [and credit lines], so check back).

Seasonal Events

Current Events, in Silhouette

Technically, a silhouette (“little silhou”)* is gotten on film by exposing in a situation that produces a black outline, engaging for its easily readable form rather than for any shadow detail, against a much brighter field. Sunsets (with, oh, I dunno; cacti?) come to mind. We can’t/don’t want to wait for such occurrences because we can invent them and have control over them. Ideally, there should be a difference of five stops from foreground to background, and you’d like the meter to go by the background’s light level, not “over” expose for the sake of recording information in the darker “figure.”

(Harry Callahan, Eleanor, 1948)

For the first semester students’ second project, make silhouettes of our (and your) current events. This can be easily done indoors by a window, without braving the elements; or in a doorway between two rooms; or perhaps in an open garage, and still achieving the necessary four- or five-stop differential without resorting to harsh, amateurish “post-production” versions. The earlier in the process one can intend, the easier (and “better”) it is.

(Ray Metzker)

In class, we brainstormed in order to add to our list of recently shared adversities (H1N1, snowstorms, rampant headlice, earthquake).  Make negatives of silhouettes by February 23, in order to shift one’s next project (street photography) from passive to active, from research and writing to actual street shooting.

* JK

Contact Sheets, Made by You

A contact sheet (aka proof sheet) is indeed a photograph, and needs to be considered seriously as such. It’s information about the negative.

In our darkroom, we recommend making a contact sheet without a filter that would modify contrast. Set the enlarger height to illuminate one of our 9×11″ pieces of glass, with a negative carrier installed. Expose through the glass, through the negatives, onto the paper for nine seconds at f11 (f8 if the developer concentrate calls for it).

Some folks (Mr. Winogrand was one) prefer to make proofs at contrast grade 1, reasoning that they can see better into the highlights and shadows. Consistency is key here.


We (Photo II-IX) are planning and making typologies. Here are some ways to consider them:

Descriptive: similarities in form, consistent presentation

Explanatory: information, in order to understand

Interpretive: potential implications

Ethically evaluative: references to cultural judgment

Aesthetically evaluative: references to art, the art world; self-referential

Theoretical: explores possibilities

Check this out:

I guess I love the colons, eh?

Make your first batch of negatives by 2/23 (which is before the street photography project).

Then, read this:

Mitch Epstein

…is speaking this Thursday at Columbia College: 6:00 in Ferguson Theater. Free. Rock star status among Photography majors. I predict standing room only (and HGFOS). Don’t miss it.