The Crown, Walker Evans, and more

  1. The Crown

During the holidays, I binge watched Netflix’ first two seasons of The Crown. Loved it! Just like a news paper article said, it is hard not to hit the pause button from time to time and google like mad to confirm or learn more about history incidents used by the show’s plot line. “Could that be true?” “Was he/she really that bad?!” more often than not, the show seemed rather accurate. It is also so entertaining. I’m particular fond of the show’s presentation of Churchill in his later years. The interaction between him and his portrait painter Sutherland was especially moving and memorable. In the 2nd season, i really loved the episode “Dear Mrs. Kennedy.” It made me laugh and then cry.

2. Walker Evans at SFMOMA

During one of our outings with Noah, we visited SFMOMA and stumbled on a marvelous show, “Walker Evans“. It is a retrospective curated by Clément Chéroux. An curator who recently joined SFMOMA from Pompidou. This happened to be the only US venue. Earlier this year, it was showing in Paris. What made the show truly enjoyable not only the amount of materials presented (400+ photos), but also the context of each theme contained in the exhibit. One gets to see not just Evans’ photography, but those who inspired him, the sign post he took a picture off and subsequently took it home, his house where the sign posts were used as decoration, his postcard collections, magazine articles he wrote, etc. etc. It was like a 360 degree history lesson surrounding his photography.



3. A few interesting reads from The New Yorker
– Profile: A Tech Pioneer’s Final, Unexpected Act – Jan. 1, 2018 Issue
– Profile: Jim Simons, the Numbers King – December 18 & 25, 2017 Issue
– Fiction Cat Person – December 11, 2017 Issue

Impressions from Paris — My Photography Exhibition (by Mi Zhou)

(ZM wrote about his trip to Paris earlier this month, in Chinese. He covered some very interesting topics and people, i thought more people will be interested in reading this so I translated it from Chinese into English, with great editorial help from Alice and Gui! Thank you both! 🙂)

Impressions from Paris — My Photography Exhibition
by Mi Zhou

After doing photography for over a decade, I had my first gallery exhibition. I flew to Paris for a week to attend the opening and met my agent for the first time. I want to share some of my experiences with other amateur photographers who are in similar situations.

1. The Agent

In June 2009, I received an email from someone named “Aurélie”, inquiring whether i have an agent in France. In the case that I did not, she offered Florence Moll’s services as my French representative. After a brief exchange of emails, Florence and I confirmed our agent-photographer relationship.

This was my first interaction with any agency. I was completely ignorant of how it should work. I remember asking multiple times for some kind of contract that would legalize our partnership. At the end Florence told me she has never signed any contract to date with any of the artists that her agency represented. All of her professional partnerships operated on the basis of mutual trust. I took her words for it, but I wasn’t sure whether it would work out.

Florence Moll represents a dozen or so top commercial and fashion photographers and designers in Europe. Most of her clients are luxury fashion merchandising brand names such as LV and Hermès.

I’ve always been curious how she found me and what motivated her to represent an amateur like me. To be honest, even if my photos really sold well in the future, the amount of money it would generate still couldn’t compare to her other commercial projects.

A year later, when i finally made my way to Paris and met Florence for the first time, I raised this burning question to her. She told me that her assistant Aurélie saw Ma Ke’s “Wu Yong” fashion photo series in a magazine last year and thought it was “simply splendid”. Aurélie then showed the magazine to Florence, who “fell in love at first sight.” She asked Aurélie to find this photographer at once. A few seconds later, Aurélie exclaimed in delight as she found my website on-line. After reviewing my site, Florence “fell in love all over again.” The reason she wanted to represent me was completely based on her love of my photos; potential profit was not in the equation.

The rest was history. Florence selected 80+ photos from my site, and I produced two sets of portfolio based on her selection and mailed both to Paris.


Agent Florence(middle) and her assistants

The potential audience of my photos was new marketing territory for Florence. In order to promote my work, Florence spent a lot of energy in networking with galleries, media, and museums. She even took some university classes on art and photography. During our meetings this time, i noticed how worn were the cloth covers of my two portfolio boxes, a mark of the numerous trips Florence made to various potential clients.

June 2010, Florence emailed me with good news: six months after submitting my portfolio, Polka publications group decided to print and exhibit a few of my photos, together with those from five other photographers: Peter Lindbergh、Stanley Greene、Brenda Ann Kenneally、Williams Daniels, and Alain Loison. All these names were new to me, so i did some research on line…

2. Polka

Polka is actually the name of the dog of the founder, Alain Genestar. Alain said told the story of how when everyone was trying to come up with a name for their new organization, nothing stood out. At the end he pointed at his little dog and said, that’s it.



Polka is made up of three entities: Polka Gallery, Polka Magazine, and Polka website. Personally I think these three entities are the most ideal media channels for promoting photography. Polka is run by Alain and his son and daughter. Every year, it publishes four magazine issues: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. The magazine’s publication is in sync with four exhibits in its gallery. It also organizes exhibitions and promotional events at other locations, including all the major photo festivals throughout Europe. From the Polka editorial committee, one could see the focus of this organization: “Photojournalism”.

Some of Polka magazine editorial committee members: Christian Caujolle, Jean-Jacques Naudet, Reza, Marc Riboud, Sebastião Salgado, Robert Delpire.

Polka Gallery currently represents 32 photographers (see images below). I feel honored to appear in the same list as Elliott Erwitt, William Klein, Mary Ellen Mark, James Nachtwey, Sebastiao Salgado. Many of them have been my idols for years. Meanwhile, I’m trying to not let any of this get to my head — I understand perfectly where my work stands against these masters.

Current Artists Represented by Polka

Current Artists Represented by Polka

Polka magazine has published a total of 10 issues since 2008.
Polka Magazine

Polka Magazine

This is the best photography magazine I’ve seen. It attempts to revive the golden age of magazine as a media channel. The most impressive part of the magazine is its 100% high quality content. All the articles and information are about the photographers and their work. Some of them are classics and some are new documentary photos (too bad it only appears in French). Every issue contains over 150 pages and 20+ topics. Every topic ranges from 6 to 20+ pages, so each topic can be thoroughly presented. Many photos get spread page treatment. I think this is probably as close to heaven as it comes for photojournalists.

From every magazine issue, Polka Gallery picks 5-6 photographers holds simultaneous gallery exhibits. They usually include 1-2 famous photographers, plus 3-4 new faces. Each exhibit lasts for 2 months.

While in Paris, I went to the gallery four times, every member of Polka was easy going and friendly. Alain introduced me to his little dog Polka. They constantly expressed their appreciation of my photos, explained that they were the perfect fit for their magazine and gallery. They thanked me for attending the opening. The chief editor of the magazine, Dimitri Beck, gave me the entire set of their magazines as a present…

3. The Printer
It is a little embarrassing for me to admit that after all these years, I had no gallery quality final prints of any of my photos. Usually, established photographer will have their best work in print form, ready for exhibition and sale. But I’ve never done so. The production cost is high, and more importantly there hasn’t been the need. I’m really grateful that Polka took care of all the cost of print and framing for the exhibit. But I was a little worried of the quality of the final print since the I only had photo scans done on an Epson V700.

Picto is a prominent professional imagery production company in Paris. The printer Christophe Batifoulier works in their Fine Art department. Bati sports sideburns and looks like a skinny version of the actor Jean Reno. He holds a prestige position inside Picto. His has a gigantic workshop as his private office and workspace. It contains four computers, one scanner, two large scale printers, one giant viewing table and a wall sized board where final prints could be hung up using magnets and viewed in ideal light.

At Picto, Bati enjoys unprecedented independence. he is not limited by the cost of material or any fixed working hours. Bati only agrees to print photos that he likes. His imagination and sensitivity enables him to reveal what each photographer is trying to express, merely based on a sample print.

Upon my arrival, the first thing Florence did was to take me to see my exhibition photos at Bati’s workshop. When I saw the final print, I was blown away. They far exceeded my highest expectations. Bati showed me samples he made on various papers and with various inks. He said that he could tell which scanner I used based on my scanned files. He commented that my scanner focus was not accurate, the negative was not completely flat, and some of the details in highlight areas were lost. It was good enough for any print that is under the dimension of one meter. But it could have been better.

Before he set out to print my photo, Bati spent a lot of time adjust my image files, including the tone, contrast, sharpness, and grain. He thought the best scanning technique for film negatives was not drumscan but Imacon. He explained the reasoning but unfortunately it was too technical for me to grasp his finer points. He also suggested to not use color ink to print black and white photos, because even with the most careful adjustments, it is hard to keep the tone consistent if you print the photos at different times, which is not good for gallery edition because they only print photos when there is a sale. Carbon ink wouldn’t have such a problem.

Three days later I went to visit Bati on my own. He showed me some of the photos he was working on for other photographers. We chatted for a long time. I asked him how it was like to work for Koudelka. Bati told me that for him photo production was not about money. It was a game for him. He didn’t want to work for only one or two photographers, because no matter how great those photos are, limiting oneself into such a narrow style would impede one’s imagination and reduce the enjoyment of the work itself. He loved working with various photographic styles and topics; they brought him inspiration and challenge. He didn’t want to open his own print shop because he didn’t want to be trapped into the marketing and finance matters that he didn’t care for. For the photos he loved, he was willing to spend the time, resources, and his passion in production. For photos he didn’t respond to, he usually pushed them to other co-workers instead.

He was generous at sharing his knowledge and expertise. He was contemptuous of people who mystify technique or guard their techniques like a trade secret. He even suggested that in the future, I could mail him my film negative so he could scan it for me, then send me print samples to get whatever adjustments I prefer, then he would modify his file accordingly. He pointed out some of my photos that he thought were ideal for galleries, and asked me in addition to Polka whether I have other gallery representations.

Hopefully I will work with Bati again in the future.

4. The Exhibit

Polka Gallery

Polka Gallery

The Polka Gallery itself was nothing fancy. Compared to some of the galleries in China, it seem almost shabby. The gallery space is divided into two physical partitions. The partition facing the street is currently displaying twenty photographies by Stanley Greene. Inside the courtyard, the exhibition space has two stories. Five of my Burning Man photos were displayed on the facing wall. The other three walls were given to the other three photographers in this exhibit, five to seven photos each. The basement was devoted to Peter Lindbergh’s 20 photos.

The opening went from 6pm to 9pm on a Thursday afternoon. What put me at ease was the informality of the opening. There were no ceremonies, nor were there any speeches given or demanded. No time was spent on exchanging pleasantries. Even the Culture Minister of France drew no crowd. Everyone there seemed to be returning friends and all knew their way around. According to gallery personnel, there were over fifteen hundred attendees at the opening.

During the opening I discovered another benefit of having an agent: I didn’t need to spend energy socializing. I was chatting with my old friend Kang, Yves, and their friends. Claude told me that she saw lots of bigshots, but none of their names rang a bell for me. One photographer came up and congratulated me for having an exhibit at “one of the best two photography galleries in Paris.” I didn’t snap too many photos at the opening.

Alain Genestar(left)

Alain Genestar(left)

The crowd at the opening

The crowd at the opening

The gallery set two sizes for my photos: 21x60cm, limited 15 prints each; 40x100cm, limited 10 prints each. The photographs were framed on an aluminum board, on the back of which was a 8-ply paper board with a rectangular window opening for the photographer’s signature. I was pleasantly surprised that my photos made three sales. Two buyers wrote their checks in person. Both Florence and Polka were happy, too.

The next day, Florence and I went to the Gallery again to sign a bunch of documents that gave Polka the right to represent me in photo sale. Florence explained to me the document explained the method of representation, its limitations, the sale price and rules, etc. Both Florence and I were first timers seeing documents like this, so the sales manager of Polka, Adélie (Alain’s daughter), patiently explained every bullet point on the document. She also explained certain rights that I as the photographer should retain for myself. Florence told me that for the initial sales, she would wave her commission so that I can earn a little money to compensate for the travel expenses. I was very moved, given how much time and energy she had spent on this project herself.

5. Meetings

Florence explained that I wouldn’t be able to meet a few people because Visa pour l’Image, the premier International Festival of Photojournalism held in Perpignan, happened to fall on the same week. But she managed to get me appointments with photo editors from “Vogue”, “W”, and “Le Monde”.

I’ve never participated in this kind of meeting before. I thought photo editors from such publications would probably be desensitized by the large volume of photos they go through on a daily basis. Also, considering the general stereotype of French arrogance, I was hesitant to attend these meetings. But I was proven wrong. My portfolio was submitted prior to each appointment. If the other side had no interest in the work, there would have been no appointment in the first place.

All of the meetings turned out to be very pleasant. At Vogue, the editor called in everyone from her department, and asked me lots of questions regarding my photos’ backstory. We discussed many topics covering travel, culture and society. She said unfortunately they already sent two photographers to this year’s Burning Man, and they just got back…

It was pretty difficult to get in “Le Monde”’s door, literally. We had to pass an X-ray machine, then through a double door that was controlled by security from inside, Florence presented our appointment sheet to the front desk who summoned our host, then we had to take a security controlled elevator to reach the editor’s office.

The photo editor of Le Monde is an elderly lady in her sixties, Frederique Babin. She spoke to Florence in French while browsing my portfolio. Later I asked Florence what they were discussing. Florence asked me in return, “Didn’t you notice her eyes were wet when she looked at your work?” Before we left, Frederique asked me to prepare a complete work portfolio and send it to her.

None of the people I met talked about art or trends. Instead, they were more interested in whether the imagery moved them spiritually or emotionally. Meanwhile, everyone showed more respect for traditional film photography and classic black and white imagery. They were also interested to learn whether a photographer could master diverse topics and styles. Florence believes that “As long as your work is truly great, it would shine.” I couldn’t agree more. She also told me to be patient and spend as long as needed to photograph what I was interested in. But she also said, it would be difficult to promote someone who doesn’t put out new work every two years. Ha, so there is still some pressure.

While promoting my work in the past year, Florence also met her share of arrogant clients. Some organization’s first sentence was “Who referred you?” On the other hand, she understands the other side’s frustration, too. Her agency would receive approximately ten portfolios and resumes submitted by new artists every week. I guess that birds of the same feather eventually flock together.

The one-week Paris trip passed in a blink of an eye. It felt like all the events had something to do with me, and had nothing to do with me at the same time; all had something to do with photography, or not.

Now I’m home and life goes on as before.

William Kentridge: Five Themes @ SFMOMA (2)

Went to SFMOMA again this afternoon. Turned out it is a “family day”, i.e. free admission to all!

Finished watching the remainder of “Soho and Felix” series, and watched “HER ABSENSE FILLED THE WORLD” again.

Walked through the entire exhibit from beginning to the end a couple of more times, spent time looked at the final drawings, browsed through all the series again, including some of the films.

Realized that another powerful element of all of his work is the music. Really great music that matched the story telling on the screen really well.

My least favorite of the five series is “the Nose” on Soviet, cuz it seemed the most abstract and too slogan-like. The one touched me the most is “Soho and Felix”, it is the most personal and romantic. The funniest and most enjoyable and lighthearted is “Artist Studio” – while paying tribute to movie techniques, i think his presentation was the most clever and varied. “Shadow Procession” was beautiful to watch from artistic point of view, but the subject is too brutal and harsh for a second viewing, i couldn’t bear it. “Magic Flute” was thought provoking, but similar to “Shadow Procession”, subject is too heavy, that i couldn’t watch it again, especially the “Black Box” piece.

A New York Time article on the exhibit and William Kentridge at large: Nosing Around in Many, Many Forms . In addition to the article, it listed a few video clips that are worth watching.

Bought the exhibit catalog. But haven’t watched the DVD yet. I think i’m a little over-dosed on all of his arts and ideas. Would need to take some time to get a little distance before diving back in again… When i do, there will probably be a third installment on William Kentridge.

William Kentridge: Five Themes @ SFMOMA


I just spent three hours in SFMOMA, until the final minute before their closing time. I was literally chased off the exhibition floor, because i had four more short films to go in the final theme “Soho and Felix”. What made leaving most agonizing was they kept showing the remainder of the films as they started chasing people out, why couldn’t i stay? just 20 minutes longer?!

Luckily our membership will last till summer. So i think i’m going back tomorrow to finish where i left off and maybe watch some of my favorite segments in various themes again.

Today is the first day of the opening of the show. Luckily many people are like me, they probably never heard of a South African artist called William Kentridge before. It was not crowded.

ZM stumbled on the exhibit by chance yesterday when he took his group of friends from New York there and it happened to be member’s preview day for the show. He came home all excited and told me to go, “So creative! Fantastic! Unbelievable work! We didn’t want to leave.”

It is probably one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. My degree of enjoyment of the show is comparable to how i felt after seeing the Matisse-Picasso exhibit in NY MOMA back in 2003. The content are drasticaly different between the two. But my feelings were equally high, mesmerized, and satiated.

The material itself is mixed media, mostly animation films involving charcoal drawing, puppet, real footage, shadow play, and music/opera. There are also final drawings on display, as well as etching, collage, sculpture, and installation. The subject has a wide range, from lighthearted materials such as artist self-portrait, humor, love story, to sober political topics such as apartheid, soviet union’s prosecution, migration, and colonialism.

The diverse media, the fantastic imagination, and the cleverness sprinkled through William Kentridge’s works reminded me of Dali Museum in Figures outside of Barcelona, Spain. This is the kind of work that i think Dali would be creating if he was alive today.

I love how he left charcoal smudge after he erased what was there before. It looked like the mark of memory in time, shadows of what had been when all things had passed… Then i read what William Kentridge had to say about these smudges.

The imperfect erasures of the successive stages of each drawing become a record of the progress of an idea and a record of the passage of time. The smudges of erasure thicken time in the film, but they also serve as a record of the days and months spent making the film – a record of thinking in slow motion.
– SF Chronicle, “William Kentridge: Five Themes at SFMOMA

I love the three films in the Magic Flute theme. The operatic music, the miniature stage sets, and the mechanic controlled puppets taking turns came on stage.

I love the way he present multiple installation in each theme, and you have to watch all of them to see the multiple facets he had intended to tell one story. I’ve seen other modern art installation with multiple screens, but no one had mastered the interconnectedness as well as William Kentridge, and no one had made the experience so intriguing, enjoyable, and sometimes, beautiful.

I love the title of one short film in the theme “Soho and Felix”, when his wife left him, Soho’s empire started crumpling physically (this film was made in 1991 i think, but the crumpling of tall building eerily resembled 911). At the end, over the flat world filled with ashes, stood Soho alone, and the sky was filled in with big block letters, “Her Absence Filled the World.” It almost made me cry. Just almost.

will try to write tomorrow after i see the remainder of the show… The SF MOMA site did a good job presenting this exhibit as well. The interactive feature is especially interesting.

Just found the press release from SFMOMA regarding the exhibit. It is organized by SFMOMA and Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida. After premier at SFMOMA, it goes to Fort Worth, WEst palm Beach, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Jerusalem in 2009-2011.

Don’t know why it has to hide in such a pdf instead of on the site page itself, but the Five Themes are:

  • Parcours d’Atelier: Artist in the Studio – it contains multiscreen projection “7 Fragments for Georges Méliès(2003)”
  • Thick Time: Soho and Felix – contains nine short animated films made in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003 (this is located on the opposite end of the exhibition floor, i almost missed it. Ended up watching this at the end.).
  • Occasional and Residual Hope: Ubu and the Procession (1996, 1999). One of the hardest one to watch because it is about apartheid.
  • Sarastro and the Master’s Voice: The Magic Flute (2003, 2005, 2006, 2007). My favorite!
  • Learning from the Absurd: The Nose. On Soviet Union.

The exhibition catalog will include a DVD containing films by Kentridge and some background on their making.
It will also contain comments on his work never published before. Kentridge turns out to explain his art as brilliantly as he produces it.
– SF Chronicle, “William Kentridge: Five Themes at SFMOMA

Definitely getting the exhibition catalog! 🙂

Quality of his video on youtube is not very good, these two are less shaky so you won’t feel dizzy watching, might gave you some idea on some of his methods.

War Photographer (James Nachtwey)

War Photographer

This documentary came highly recommended by Mi, who has seen it on tape shortly after its airing on Cable TV, about a month ago. This time, Mi brought the tape to the west coast. We watched it together over the weekend. James placed a macro camera right above his shutter on his ¡°weapon¡±, so we could see how he aimed and when he clicked each shutter. I imagine it must be fascinating for hard-core photographers like Mi, to know when each moment was chosen and to imagine what picture he would have made if he were there instead of James.

From the movie we learned that James was a man of few words, but he was kind and compassionate. He treated his subject with respect and his pictures showed. We also got to see real time the sulfur mines in Indonesia, the stone-throwing Palestinian kids in Gaza strip, the grieving parents of Kosovo mass grave victims, and of course Rwanda, etc. The normal misery of our world today.

I was dry-eyed throughout all the showing of the misery. Looking at these poor souls through James lens somehow made them less real. Or maybe I had been desensitized by too much of these¡­What really got to me was one statement made by James¡¯ best friend since high school. He said, ¡°He truly believes that the good will triumph over evil, and that is what had kept him going and kept him from being cynical like so many of his fellow journalists.¡± Upon hearing this, my tears started rolling down non-stop.

So that was what we had to accept all along. It was such a simple belief, yet so hard when faced with all these facts. ¡°the good will eventually triumph over evil.¡± That’s what human being has been blessed with: Hope.

Testing New Lense

Christmas came to this house early! Just received a NIKON 24-85mm zoom lense from Mi! The best travel lense! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! :* You are THE B-E-S-T!!!
Finished one row of color negative to test the lense.

Will take the entire Thanksgiving week off! Leaving for Thailand on Saturday. Happy Turkey Day, everyone! See’ya all in December.



Mi and I first met Thoth a few weeks back in Central Park. He was just setting up shop. A couple of women tourists were talking to him enthusiastically, asking for his autograph, and taking turns posing pictures next to him. A few others were flipping through a scrapbook he placed at the beginning of his line of paraphernalia. I poked my head in and read a few clippings. He called himself Thoth, and he was one of the top 20 famous faces of New York City selected by a well-known magazine. According to those newspaper and magazine clippings, he was quite a celebrity with the media, and a fixture in the Park. Many photographers have taken pictures of him. He displayed them all in the book.

Mi and I were curious to hear his music. We walked around the proximity waiting for the tourists to disperse so Thoth could start his performance. Finally he was left alone. He took his sweet time to prepare himself and the surroundings. Kneeling on the floor the Japanese fashion, he settled on reading a small book. From afar the color theme of the book reminded me of Tibet. His sincerity indicated it was the beginning of his ritual. It was followed by meditation and praying. We were standing around, watching him. He stood up, lighted incense one by one, while walking in some kind of dance steps. Finally he picked up his violin, stood up erect, silently he waved the bow around him, eyes closed, mouthing some soundless phrases as if calling the spirits to gather around.

When the music finally bursting out from the violin, it felt like a joyful eruption of a lively volcano. The music sounded Irish and cultic, he danced while playing, and suddenly his beautiful singing voice joined in. His red silk cape, his extravagant feathered headdress, and now his singing all reminded me of Farinelli. Mi started circling him like a lion circling its prey, taking pictures. That day I was assigned Mi¡¯s Leica M6. So I shoot a few frames as well. The location was a underpass with ruined wall paintings, resembled a ruined temple. The sound affect was lovely. For a few moments, one could be fooled to believe it was a real concert hall from ancient times. And we were privileged to witness a god singing.

When the music stopped, people started walking up dropping their dollar bills in his small bowl. He settled back to his sitting cushion and started making notes on that same small book he was reading at the beginning, completely oblivion of these by-standers coming and going. As I walked up to surrender my dollars, he suddenly turned to me, looked at me straight in the eyes and said, ¡°Thank you!¡± I was so shocked and all I could manage was a smile before fleeting the scene. Later I was a little shamed of myself, when would I ever gain the courage to converse with strangers?

Mi went back in the following two weekends, hoping to find him there. The past Sunday Thoth finally showed up at the right time when the late afternoon sunlight was still beautiful. Among the series, I liked the cover the best. Thoth¡¯s torso formed a human arrow, half guiding half inviting the audience to see the light, to hear the higher being, through Thoth¡¯s body language, through Thoth¡¯s music. The frontal view resembled a face with his breasts as eyes. Shiny metal chains that Thoth wore as decorations resembled a kind of ¡°headdress¡±. It strongly recalled an image impressed upon me during my childhood. It was from an ancient Chinese legend. A general was killed brutally, his fellow general who was also a music lover decided to revenge his friend’s death. During the fight, he lost his head, refusing to fall, his breasts formed eyes, his belly button formed a mouth, his torso became a new head, he continued his battle cry, and he continued to fight.

There is something very similar between Thoth and that Chinese ancient general. And Mi¡¯s photo vividly says it.

More photos of Thoth by Mi: Thoth
The Story of Xing-tian ÐÌÌì(in Chinese): ɽº£¾­(Ê®)ÎÞÍ·¾ÞÈËÐÌÌì

Diane Arbus Retrospective – First Visit

It was the best photography show I’ve ever seen. The content was rich and complex, the format was comprehensive and original, the exhibit was beautifully laid out and well executed. The power of each photograph was gripping and intense, and the sheer volume of these photos overwhelmed me. Not sure whether the exceptionally hot sun outside the window added to the pressure, but I did need to take a break in the middle closed my eyes and rest before I was physically capable of viewing the rest of the exhibit. When we walked out the exhibit hall, Gui said, ¡°No wonder she killed herself.¡± I nodded. Each face captured by Arbus was showing a world of thoughts and intricate relationships heavily packed within. If each of us was required to take care of one complex world, then Arbus saw them all, and they had to weight down on her. Who could have taken all that weight? Speaking of ¡°Altas Shrugged¡±.

Standing on the sidewalk outside MOMA, blinking in the bright and burning sunlight, I was suddenly seeing, as if for the first time, the world that I¡¯ve been living in. Every face came at me, passed me, surrounded me became new and interesting. I suddenly was eager to stare into each and every pair of eyes that were gliding through my world in such a random fashion, knowing suddenly they are each unique and complicated. Each face has a story, a soul, a world of emotions¡­

Being a person that was attracted to words, I found Arbus¡¯ writing particularly interesting. From those sentences, one could easily sense the sheer volume of ideas and thoughts tangled in her mind at each given moment, and the strength she exerted trying to untangle them to make others see as she did, to capture them before they rushed past her; yet, they kept on rushing past her¡­

The Full Circle
These are singular people who appear like metaphors somewhere further out than we do, beckoned, not driven, invented by belief, author and hero of a real dream by whichever own courage and cunning are tested and tried so that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what it is to become whoever we may be.
–Diane Arbus, Harper¡¯s Bazaar, November 1961

If the fall of man consists in the separation of god and the devil the serpent must have appeared out of the middle of the apple when eve bit like the original worm in it, splitting it in half and sundering everything which was once one into a pair of opposites, so the world is a Noah¡¯s ark on the sea of eternity containing all the endless pairs of things, irreconcilable and inseparable, and heat will always long for cold and the back for the front and smiles for tears and mutt for jeff and no for yes with the most unutterable nostalgia there is.
–Diane Arbus letter to Marvin Israel, Circa 1960

Working Girls, without Exoticism

The New York Times (9/28/2003 issue) did an review by Philip Gefter of Reagan Louie’s photography exhibit currently on view in SF MOMA. The title of the exhibit is “Reagan Louie: Sex Work in Asia”.

According to the review:

PROSTITUTION may be the world’s oldest profession, but you’d never know it from Reagan Louie’s pictures of “working girls” in Asia. Young, stylish and playful, their freshness is an unexpected departure from the haggard patina of the all-night sex worker.


It was his intention to dispel the Western stereotypes and myths he had carried around about “exotic” Asian women.

MR. LOUIE did not take these photographs to titillate viewers. “The photographs of these sex workers were collaborations,” he explains. “I was very aware of the nature of the relationship I had with the women, the power I had as a man and as an outsider, and the power of photography. I wanted to make clear to these women that I was photographing them for reasons other than sexual gratification. How much they understood or believed this would be evident in how willing they were to step out of expectations and present themselves as people.”

You can clicking the thumbnail on the left to see a larger version. I was surprised at how the photographer made it seem so clean, smooth, and… yes, young. It is merely another occupation. Similar to other white collar women going to work. They dressed maybe a little sexier, but not obviously so, considering today’s fashion trend. There is a matter-of-factness in it. They are selling labors and skills just like us “skilled labors”. If they, themselves, don’t associate lots of emotional or morality bagadge with their job; what’s there for us to say? Is there any reason for us to feel superior? Look at them, do they need to be saved? or to be pitied?

But then again, is it just the photographer’s point of view? Is he only letting us see what he intended us to see? Is he only seeing what HE wanted to see, what he wanted to believe? Or is it because he is a man, so this is more of a man’s point of view?

The Eerie Exactness of the Daguerreotype

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently exhibiting The Dawn of Photography: French Daguerreo 1839-1855. New York Times ran an review of this show on their Friday (Sep. 26, 2003) paper: The Eerie Exactness of the Daguerreotype, by Michael Kimmelman.

In the first room is a view across the Seine by Marie-Charles-Isidore Choiselat, …daguerreotype is about 6 by 7 inches, a compact panorama.

It shows the Pavillon de Flore and the Tuileries on a September afternoon in 1849. You see the piers of the Pont Royal streaked by shadows under gathering clouds. A halo surrounds the buildings where the photographer blocked out part of the picture to prevent the sky from being overexposed.

So we get both sharp detail in the architecture and passing weather, the halo making the scene look not just dramatic but slightly unreal. The wind must have been brisk that day because the leaves on the trees in the garden are a little blurry, a result of the longer exposure time Choiselat allowed in that part of the picture. But if you take your magnifying glass and look very closely at the bridge, you can just make out the nearly invisible speck of a policeman standing at attention.

The daguerreotype is so minutely detailed that when the magnification is strong enough, you can even count the buttons on the starched front of the policeman’s uniform (as the curator, Malcolm Daniel, confirmed through a microscope).

Here is the picture described above. Of course, to count the buttons on the police’s shirt, or to even see where the policeman is, you have to go to the Met with your magnifying glass. 🙂

Another quote from the New York Times review:

But you might also say that in an age overrun by visual images, photographers today like Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth make spectacular color prints with digital means to recover something of the shock and amazement daguerreotypes must have provoked when people first saw them.

But the best early daguerreotypes, like Choiselat’s view across the Seine, remain weirdly unlike any other photographs, with their own mysterious, ethereal space. From Daguerre’s invention photography got the seeds of its talismanic aura: most people wouldn’t casually rip up photographs of their loved ones because it is still commonplace to believe, if only unconsciously, that photographs somehow contain tidbits of the souls of their subjects.

That is completely irrational and superstitious, of course. But you can see where it comes from when you look at daguerreotypes. They are perfectly true to life and somehow not of this world.

Night is Blue

Zhou Mi’s new series. I loved this photo. The musician, the city, and even the trumpet were blurred into one rthym. It is so very jazz. Can anyone say “Kind of Blue”? That’s how it makes me feel. I guess New York City CAN be romantic. 🙂

Check out his new series :
Night is Blue
Coney Island: this is another new project he just took up. I loved these photos, the harse light gave the photos the quality of sculptures. As if the someone (the photographer? people in the photo? us viewers?) wants to freeze those moments in time. I sensed reluctance and happiness with a hint of regret. It is so 50’s! As if coming out of someone’s childhood memories.

Arbus Reconsidered

An incredible article on Diane Arbus by New York Times Magazine(Sep. 14, 2003). She was known as the street photographer that captured freaks in Manhattan. She was from 50s-70s. Starting October 25th, SFMOMA is going to put up the one and only full-scale restrospective of her photography since 1972!
Many of the photos have never been shown before and some has never been printed, even. She committed suicide in 1971.

New York Time Article: Arbus Reconsidered
(for a Chinese translation of it, go here)

SFMOMA Retrospective: Revelations

EARTH PILGRIM by Sacha Dean Biyan

Absolutely amazing! Photos, design, words, and a journey, what a life!
EARTH PILGRIM by Sacha Dean Biyan
“A compelling photographic journey to the farthest reaches of the globe, delving into the customs and rituals of various remote and vanishing cultures. A revealing glimpse into the lives of several indigenous groups struggling against the tide of global assimilation.”
The names of the place could roll down your tongue like morning dew, still reflecting the lush green of the tropical jungle: “amazon. irian jaya. papua new guinea. ecuador. peru. bolivia. java. brazil. indonesia.”

A Morning with Wings

A new picture from Zhou Mi’s Ecuador series (click on the picture to see a larger version).

My heart was immediately filled with delight, and it soared. It is Cuenca! I’ve been there. Those pretty domes are in iron grey, resemble the color of a stormy sky. I also remember those lovely villas with white washed stucco walls and red spanish roof-tiles, and the cobble stoned street radianted away like sun rays.

Evenly spread square windows with balconies or dark doorways are neatly arranged like musical notes, the clean lines and curves of the street curbs are like the musical scale, and the beautifully arranged three maganificant domes formed an obediant group of geomatric shapes in the backdrop. Waiting for the nod of the concert master, and then all are brought to life by the flock of birds flying toward us, like the music flowing from under the pianist rapidly dancing fingers. Bathed in the gentle morning light. One could almost feel the slight chill in the air, and hearing the wing flopping as they flew past us.

How did he do it? To capture such a beautiful moment. Even birds seem to know how to arrange themselves in his picture so that the composition would be most pleasing…

Ah! The magic of photography masters!

On Photography (by Susan Sontag)

Saw a Chinese translation of some Susan Sontag opinions extracted from her book On Photography. It is not the easiest read in Chinese. The translation is a bit dull and obscure sounding. One could still see her unique point of view and many interesting observations she has made.

Found a review of the book on The same paragraph reads much more lively in English and a lot more easy to understand. Funny.

Here is one of many quotes in the review (it is also in the Chinese translation) that i find interesting:

“The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. … [Taking pictures] gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic–Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun.”

People of the Andes (Cont’d)

Zhou Mi are posting new pictures on a daily basis. This (In the fog) is my absolutely favorite so far. He described to me on the phone before I actually saw it, “A mountain road, foggy, two small children happened to be in front of the fog, they were walking hand in hand. It was very clean. Peaceful.” In my mind i thought the back of two kids walking away towards the fog.

When I saw the picture, i fell in love immediately. Not only they were walking toward us (i should’ve known! When did he ever take picture of people’s back? duh!), but their body languages were so vivid, and at the same time so vastly different from each other. The little boy, with a grin on his face, was pushing the girl forward(toward Mi, we would assume, a stranger with a magic black box in his hand, wearing a foreign looking backpack). He was full of mischief and a hint of daring and courage. The little girl, on the other hand, was struggling with a shyness that was almost as thick as the fog behind them. Her right arm swayed backward, her left arm was as if fighting to remain by her side. She looked a little off balanced. Her legs were taking rigid steps forward, as if paralyzed by her shyness. Her face was hiding under the ubiquitous wool hat. We couldn’t see her expression verywell. But it was perfect, because we know she was hiding. Her whole being wanted to hide, yet at the same time her curiousity wanted to sneak a peak at this oriental looking stranger herself, too!
There was an air of camaraderie surrounded them. Kindness and intimacy.

The deserted mountain road, the little house in the fog, even the person on the bike that formed a silhouette, set up the most perfect back stage. For these two little persons to walk toward us…

I dont’ know if there are words perfect enough to describe this perfect moment, this perfect picture. Mi stole a jewel from God’s favorite creations. For this image, we are in debt to him.

People of the Andes

Zhou Mi just got back from his one week trip in Ecuador. 20 rolls of film, he said. He just started developing them yesterday.

“I learned 7 Spanish words!

Buenos dias (Good morning. To be frugal, I used it in the evening, too);
Gracias (Thank you. I also used it in the case of an apology);
uno, (one)
dos, (two. Five is one plus two plus two);
manana, (tomorrow. The day after tomorow is tomorrow’s tomorrow);
si, (yes. I used it whenever i didn’t understand);
agua, (water. Wine is the kind of water that makes you dizzy);

Armed with these seven magical words, he hired guide, made friends with the native people, traveled in the narrow moutaineous road to their homes, went from Quito to Cuenca. People of young and old, occupation ranged from farmer to artist to resturant owner, dressed in modern style and traditional poncho…

Guamote’s animal market on Thursday.

To see more, check out Zhou Mi Photography during the coming days. He would be posting more as he developes them in New York’s heat.

For those who can read Chinese, check out ÐÐÉ«. He is posting under the name Shishamo.