Leica M9, Noctilux, Pikes Place Market.
Archive for April, 2012
With all the excitement over last week’s release of the gorgeous, epochal, mind-blowing Hair by Ty Segall and Tim Presley (d.b.a. White Fence), who knew that White Fence itself had just three weeks previously scented the air with Family Perfume, Vol. 1? Things are getting interesting, folks, as for the next few weeks, the Center of the Rock’n’Roll Universe is wherever Messrs. Segall and Presley bring their caravan of strange psychedelica, culled from the grease pits and toolkits of an urban garage.
Just a few weeks ago, your friends at Tulip Frenzy were offering career advice to young Ty Segall that he should find a way to team up with fellow Bay Area solitary studio habitué Kelley Stoltz. We now realize perhaps how conventional that team might have ended up being — with no insult in the least intended to Mr. Stoltz, whom we hold in high esteem. Whereas, based not only on his pedigree — Darker My Love, The Strange Boys, The Nerve Agents, just to name a few of the bands Tim Presley’s played in — but also on the sheer sonic weirdness of White Fence, the combo of Segall and Presley is like the two brainiacs at the Mensa Convention who find that one has the Nitrous, the other the Oxide, and laissez les bon temps rouler.
Just as there is more computing power in an iPhone than there was in the Apollo moon shots, there’s probably more studio muscle in Garageband than George Martin had at Abbey Road. A generation back, Olivia Tremor Control figured out how to produce music as magical as Sgt. Pepper’s with a four track and a bong, but on Family Perfume, Vol. 1, Presley sees them and raises them one by building a psychedelic masterpiece all by his lonesome. Go listen to “Balance Yr. Heart” followed by “Do You Know Ida Know,” and ask yourself whether if we played them for you, and told you the names of the songs and the album title, and went on to tell you these were lost tapes emanating out of the Elephant 6 basement, you’d give us even a momentary argument. You know you wouldn’t. And you haven’t even heard the album yet!
Tim Presley operates like some cosmic rock’n’roll throwback. His name is Presley, for cryin’ out loud, and according to this very interesting interview in Vancouver’s online Scout Magazine, White Fence operates like something not seen since the heyday of Chuck Berry: three different road bands to back him up, depending on where he is. There’s an L.A. version, a San Francisco version, and we’re betting it’s the New York version that backs Segall and Presley for this East Coast dates in May (alas, only Portland, ME, and NYC.)
Thank Heaven for cheap technology, because Vol. 2 of Mr. Presley’s aromatherapy is being released in just a few short weeks. Whatever is happening in the universe in the month of May, there’s nothing we can imagine that will be more exciting than seeing White Fence and Ty Segall get up on a stage together. A one-man Pixies meets a one-man Alex Chilton-meets-the-Beatles-in-Topanga-Canyon-circa-1967. The mind boggles.
Leica M9, 50mm Noctilux at f/0.95
The Leica M9 and Noctilux is a pretty perfect combination to take to a colorful, dark setting such as Seattle’s Pike’s Place Market on a cloudy afternoon.
We weren’t quite prepared for the tulip frenzy.
Leica M9, Noctilux wide open.
This combo also does pretty well capturing images outdoors, too. Thankfully it was a little overcast.
Leica M9, 50mm Noctilux
For more M9 and Nocti photos from Pikes Place Market, go here.)
It is kismet, or something even more magical, that accounts for The National Gallery of Art opening an exhibit on street photography just as the new Leica Store in Washington opens a few short blocks away. As an exhibition, “I Spy: Photography and the Theater of the Street, 1938 – 2010” is a visual tour de force, even as its curators have taken a curious approach to defining street photography. Showcasing work by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Harry Callahan, and Beat Strulli, the curatorial emphasis is not on capturing the momentary slice of life that photography of real people, in real situations on the street, on the subway, or other public theaters, provides. It is on the artifice involved in the technique by which they’re captured — the hidden cameras, the telephoto lenses, the shots of people taken from a bus. And unfortunately this gives an opening to a critic who doesn’t really understand what street photography is all about.
Leica M9, 35mm Summilux, Luxembourg Gardens, March 23rd, 2012
Philip Kennicott’s parched and somewhat misleading review in The Washington Post, focus on the techniques invoked to fool people — the “I Spy” emphasis of the curators — rather than the images themselves. “The assumption driving these (photographic) experiments,” Kennicott writes, “is simple but problematic: By masking the presence of the photographer, one can get a deeper, more unguarded truth about people. As Evans put it, he wanted to capture people “in naked repose,” with their guard down and “the mask” off. Whether it’s Freudian slips of tongue, unwanted conversations caught on a hot mike or leaked videotape from cameras no one knew were on, we tend to believe the spontaneous self is the honest self. But it’s a quirk of modernity to believe that the social mask is false and that there is some kind of genuine authenticity underneath it.”
But this misses the point. And unfortunately the equating of street photography with spying using deceptive techniques allows him to get away with it.
There is a simple reason why street photography matters, why it is interesting as a documentary artform. People are always the most interesting subject for a photographer. Landscape photography is aesthetically pleasing. But photographs of real people engaged in living are fundamentally more interesting than images of mountains and rivers, no matter how lovely. We love Ansel Adams’ work, but Henri Cartier-Bresson’s put down — that Adams and others were taking pictures of rocks while the world of the mid-20th century was coming apart — rings true.
Spontaneously capturing people going about their business doesn’t need the subterfuge involved in “I Spy.” You just lift your camera to your eye and capture what’s coming your way.
Leica M9, 35mm Summilux, Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, March 30th, 2012
“I Spy” focuses on street photographers using the most extreme mechanisms for capturing their slice of life. In reality, street photographers are more likely to use wide-angled lenses, freely shown, than telephoto lenses from the equivalent of a duck blind. The images taken by artifice in “I Spy” — Harry Callahan’s capturing of women on the streets of Chicago from a fixed position with a telephoto lens, Walker Evans’ use of a camera hidden in his shirt — really could as easily have been captured via a more straightforward manner. And in fact, there are dozens of street photographers that could have been included in this exhibit that use less extreme techniques.
Leica M9, 35mm Summilux, Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, March 30th, 2012
The best single subset of the exhibition are Magnum photographer Bruce Davidson’s images taken in the New York City Subway system in 1980. It captures all the grit, all the reality of what life was like in New York in that year of the subway strike, of The Clash playing at Bonds, of chaos and disorder. Today New York is closer to antiseptic Singapore than it is to its old 1970s sexy self. Davidson captures this long-ago slice of life, not by artifice, but in search of straightforward truth: he carried his camera onto the subway openly, taking his camera, and his life, in his own hands.
Cartier-Bresson said, “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth that can bring them back again.” Davidson captured a vanished world, with realism and truth. He didn’t need to spy to capture the truth. He just need to get out there in search of the most interesting topic that art can ever serve up: people in the act of living their lives.
The long-awaited release (well, we’ve been waiting for it since at least last week) of Hair, the collaboration between garage rock tyro Ty Segall and Darker My Love frontman Tim Presley (under the official authorship of “Ty Segall & White Fence”) is finally out, and it is like one of those madcap mashups straight from Ben and Jerry’s lab. Imagine the tasty concoction created when Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbet is melted by Ivan Julian and Capsula’s The Naked Flame. But not even that description prepares you for the gooey pleasures within!
See here, Tulip Frenzy declared Darker My Love’s Alive As You Are Numero Uno on our Top Ten List for 2010, and nothing that we’ve subsequently discovered from that year makes us qualify our drooling enthusiasm. It was a perfect album, which is just as rare as a perfect game in baseball, and maybe even more pleasurable because you can play it over and over and over, as we continue to do. Throughout 2011 we were waiting for the great follow up to that odd country rock masterpiece, and somehow it eluded our ace intelligence squad that Presley — who’s been in bands as disparate as The Fall and the Nerve Agents — had reconstituted hisself — with or without benefit of side persons, we do not know — as White Fence.
All we know is even last week we were spotting the flaw in young Ty Segall’s go-it-alone approach, and it’s that one-man studio bands don’t swing, as even the most rhythmically nimble need other live human beans to bounce off of. And of course hearing the ruckus created by Segall’n’Presley on Hair, it’s clear that just walking into the studio together got these young’uns to throw their very hearts and souls against all four walls, no doubt to their neighbors’ consternation. Does not play well with others is one of those black marks on a child’s life, but if anyone doubted what young Ty could amount to, just listen to this. The squish of the fruit from his labor with the more experienced Mr. Presley is sonically fine, more fun than a barrel of Fleshtones, taking the crunching guitar work Presley’s delivered in his previous incarnation and smashing it down upon Segall’s Brendan Benson pop inclinations, like what the Raconteurs would have sounded like had Jack White been into the Byrds and psychedelic drugs, not Zep and Delta blues.
Speaking of which: In a just world, there would be a few crazed bloggers today writing enthusiastic nonsense about Jack White’s solo album, while the mainstream media treated Hair like it was the release of Blonde On Blonde or Tommy or something. Alas, things don’t quite work that way. But if you want an early listen to the funnest collaboration since Quentin Tarantino sat down with Robert Rodriguez and mapped out Grindhouse go buy Hair! And stay tuned for the summer tour of Ty Segall with a — wait for it — actual band.