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The Mekons’ Miracle in the Desert

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Thought exercise: try imagining the Rolling Stones, 42 years after their founding, releasing the strongest record of their career — a record that at once harkens to their 1964 debut but also their strongest work from their Golden Age. By this math, the record would have to come out in… 2004. Lord, forgive us as we write on the very day that Mick Jagger has announced he’s to have heart surgery, but is it in the realm of possibility that the Stones’ could, in 2004, have put out a record on a par with Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street?

We think you know the answer. Yet on Deserted, by our count the Mekons’ 20th album since their formation in 1977, this dearest of bands haven’t just touched upon their former glory. They have produced the greatest album of a long, cursed and hilarious career.

There is a technical term for this: a fucking miracle.

Thirty years ago, the Mekons released Rock and Roll, which always seemed likely to be their high-water mark, artistically. I (Heart) the Mekons (from ’91) may have had as many great songs, but the production was so harsh that to this day, we put gauze and vaseline on our earbuds before playing it. The run of albums that stretched from Me (’98) to Journey to the End of the Night (’00) to OOOH! (Out of Our Heads) (2002) had between them the greatest batch of Mekons’ songs and recorded performances, but boil all three recs down to what’s essential and you have a single Long Player.

From wild start to beautiful finish, though, Deserted has not a single weak moment. It is the apogee of the recorded output of this grizzled, sprawling spawn of the punk-era. It fill us with hope and gratitude. It is adding years to our life. It revives our faith in the art form.

Singers Jon Langford and Sally Timms don’t fully commit to their vocal chores the way the warble-voiced Tom Greenhalgh does, but make no mistake, this is the Mekons in the finest of fettles, fit as an old bass fiddle. Sequestered in Joshua Tree to produce an album, they chose to write songs with desert imagery, the usual nod to the lost “glory” of the British Empire, a recognizable dissonant squall, and some of the prettiest songs ev-er. From the start, it’s been hard to get the Meeks to take things seriously — I remember interviewing them on New Year’s Eve 1980 and could barely get a useable quote — even though, underneath it all, you don’t keep a venture like this going for 40+ years without a decided commitment. On Deserted, the Mekons mask their ambition inside the usual antics, but this greatest of punk-era bashers have produced an artful delight we plan on listening to for just as long as our batteries last.

Further Adventures In Black and White

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100

A few weeks ago I wrote about my revelation — honestly, it was an epiphany — that the way to think about “black and white photography” was to ignore the description of it as “monochrome,” and instead to press down really hard on the blacks and the whites. Simple stuff, obvious to many, an eye opener for me.

My rediscovery of taking black and white pictures, as I have mentioned before, came when Leica introduced, in 2012, the Monochrom, a digital camera that records images without adding an array of reds, greens and blues to the initial capture of blacks, whites and grey. Prior to the introduction of the Monochrom, seven years ago this coming September, I had not understood that digital photography is based on an initial imprint of black and white on the sensor, and that a gazillionth of a second later, what is typically known as a Bayer array of color is pressed down upon it. (Engineers and sensor experts may have a more exact description, but that’s the way most people should think of this process that takes place in tiny fractions of a second. Color is, typically, added to the black and white picture first pressed upon the sensor.) And yet the Monochrom, with its reference to monochromatic photography, really is a misnomer, given everything we’ve learned.

If you follow street photographers on Instagram, surely you’ve noticed images like the ones above and below, where there is almost a chiaroscuro effect, deep blacks next to bright light. It’s a thing. This approach bears a relationship to all of the black and white images we’ve looked at over the years. Yet the actual strategy of capturing contrapuntal blacks and whites — with entire regions of the image blacked out — is, I think, something that has at least been emphasized in the digital era, and championed by a new cohort of amazing street photographers.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had gone to a photo workshop taught by the estimable Alan Schaller who is, in my opinion, the strongest exemplar of this approach. Instagram seems to agree, given his hundreds of thousands of followers. In the previous post, I alluded to his technique of dialing down exposure compensation so that images are radically underexposed, thus enabling darks to get darker, with what remains in the light intensified. It is, to my eyes, an attractive approach. Practical, if you shoot a Monochrom, which is brutally punishing if you overexpose what’s in the light. But as attested by all these pictures you’ve been seeing taken in subways and tunnels, where the light/dark juxtaposition can be, and often is, stunning, this is not a trick, a gimmick, a fad. It’s not even a trick like emphasizing bokeh with fast lenses (or a clever iPhone), which can get tiresome if overdone. This technique is simply an intensification of timeless black and white photography — itself a timeless art form — and in many ways its apogee.

There is drama in black and white photography if what is dark and what is light are each dialed up in opposition. Polarization is terrible for society, but man, does it work in photography. In the film and darkroom era, much of this manipulation of darks and lights took place when the enlarger was burning the image onto a piece of treated paper prior to its chemical bath. In the digital age, we’re given more leeway to capture it this way inside the camera, in these malleable, deeply forgiving files, with the picture’s actualization coming in post-processing in Lightroom. (Gary Winogrand once casually talked about how photography lets you make mistakes, and things could still look good, but digital photography offers an entirely wider permission structure.)

Penumbral photography, as Nabokov would probably call it, is when the counterpoint between light and dark falls in shadow. And so we go out into the street searching for shadows, for the drama of light falling in grids and patterns. We don’t really know why this is harder to achieve in color, given that one reason we all so love Caravaggio is because of the color that emerges from the gloom, not just the light. But the answer is, I guess, that in photography, it is just easier to make this work within the limitations of black and white.

When photographers typically are complimented by civilians, the nice, easy thing they hear is, “You have a good eye.” In recent weeks, I’ve been going out into the city seeking places where there is the clearest possible delineation between light and dark. That’s what I’ve been looking for. It’s not just a function of seeking out content and subjects that matter, though of course they do. The desire is to find light, and dark, in a formation where a human emerges from that meeting place.

Along the way, we’ve made pictures that would, six weeks ago, still have been fun. But by newly emphasizing what is black, things have, to our eyes, simply gotten more interesting. The picture above is something I would have enjoyed taking anytime over the last few years. I probably would have been pleased with the composition. But because it is now not taken as a “monochrome” image, but as black and white, I think it moves higher up in my own list of favorite images.

I would have been happy to have taken the above image because of the way it simply captures the baby looking at the camera, the little fella with the beret standing to the right, the reflection to the left. Yet because I went into the process thinking anew, because each of the 10 zones of black, white and grey have at least some representation, the picture comes out, to my eye, more interesting.

One of my favorite photographers, Rene Burri, is perhaps most famous for his pictures of people taken from above, freezing them in time. I love the idea of standing unseen and capturing the drama within the diorama before my eyes. Emphasizing the light and dark, though, opens up new possibilities. And of course, the little girl in white going down the steps makes the picture.

“Good things happen when light meets dark” is an aphorism for photographers, whether they shoot in color or black and white. Thinking of this in a wholly new way, thinking in the binary of BLACK and WHITE with shades of grey the connective tissue, the emollient; understanding that, as Schaller put it, there is no bad light, if you just think in terms of the contrast between shades of it, is liberating. We are seeing the world in a new way, and we find that thrilling.

If you wish to come along the journey with me, my Instagram is @tulip_frenzy. And if you’d like to see more work, my photography site is entitled John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

By a Muddy Furlong, FEELS’ “Post Earth” Is the Best Record of 2019 So Far

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 22, 2019 by johnbuckley100

In the summer of 2016, FEELS — an L.A. punk band we would never have discovered but for the fact that their eponymous first album was produced by Ty Segall — made us grin from ear to ear. Their musical lineage was as easy to identify as a freckle-faced redhead standing between two auburn-haired adults. Hole must have married X, we thought, and spawned a precocious young ‘un. It was one of those instantly fun records for which you willingly risk permanent hearing loss, because the only way to listen to it was to crank it through your earbuds loud enough that your public transport seat mates stare straight ahead even as they edge away. Did that for about a month solid, and promptly forgot about them.

Well, not entirely. A year later, the estimable Kevin Morby released Shannon Lay’s solo album on his Woodsist imprint, and it was a pretty, folky wonder all the more notable for the fact that the lovely singing and acoustic finger-picking came courtesy of one of FEELS’ two guitarists. Living Water was a complete non sequitur, like learning that before Nick Drake released Pink Moon, he played lead guitar for Free or something. Shannon Lay’s solo album was delicate and melodic, and BORE ABSOLUTELY NO RESEMBLANCE to the raucous, minimalist band that Segall had taken to the studio the year before.

Those two records were sufficiently great, and the musical distance between them was as alluringly broad as the Grand Canyon’s North and South Rim, so that when Post Earth was released in late February, we didn’t need to be asked twice to listen to it. It’s the best record we’ve heard so far this year, and by a muddy furlong.

Concept album, sorta, it starts with an obvious reference to our current situation: “All smiles DJT/War dogs on the street/The land of the free/One nation under fraud.”

By the end of the record we are “Post Earth,” and why not? If these guys are rocking on Mars, it would be well worth the trip.

Like getting your DNA profile back from 23 and Me, on their second album, we’ve discovered FEELS has relatives we never knew they had, and of course Sleater-Kinney gets a prominent branch on the family tree. But aside from placing them in their rough taxonomy, the only things you really need to know about FEELS are these: their songs pack a post-punk punch. And whereas on their first rec some of the tunes might take odd detours from the melody, on this ‘un, Laena Geronimo and Shannon Lay never veer far from hummability, and they are warbling angels even if they candy-crush it for a few measures before returning us back to a state of Pylonesque grace. There isn’t a dull moment on the record. It is absolutely astonishing, and deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gang o’ Four’s Entertainment and Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, to name two records you know they’ve listened to.

Look, this is shaping up to be a good year. We love Hand Habits’ gorgeous placeholder and The Brian Jonestown Massacre hits at least a few points better than Anton Newcombe’s late-season batting average. We just this morning downloaded Its Real by D.C. homegirl Mary Timony’s Ex Hex, and it is a powdered party in a packet, ready to be added to nitroglycerine. Capsula are back with Bestiarum, and the best punk band in Bilbao is once again rocking Spain so hard, we expect to see Iberia floating toward the Canary Islands. Yes, of course, it will be a national holiday when Wand’s Laughing Matter gets released, and what the Cosmonauts have let us hear from Star 69 gives us veritable chills. And Great Googlymoogly, the Mekons return to the scene in the weeks ahead.

But if the year ended today, Post Earth would grab the laurels, and we’d be happy. Coming around the track near the end of the first quarter, FEELS leaves everyone else wiping their goggles.

Understanding Black and White Photography In a New Way

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

All photographs taken with the Leica Monochrom

When I was a young photography enthusiast and learning to take pictures with an SLR camera, I loved black and white photography principally because I could develop and print photos in my school’s crude darkroom. I had no real appreciation of black and white per se, no consciousness of tones of grey, or to “thinking in black and white.” Black and white was the medium of journalism, and we all saw pictures every day in newspapers and magazines. I didn’t trouble to think about monochrome photography in the great tradition of an art form I barely understood. I was aware that if photography was “art,” surely its greatest artists all shot in black and white, and the classic pictures I saw — Paul Strand lived one town away from me — looked better than what was on the front page each day of the New York Daily News. Naturally, as soon as I was in a position to take pictures and pay to have them developed, I began shooting Kodachrome. And when many years later I got serious again about photography, I exulted in Fuji Velvia film, with its deep blues and reds.

It was only relatively late in the process of rediscovering photography that I recaptured my early love of black and white images, only this time for a completely different reason. I had begun studying in earnest many great photographers, ranging from Cartier-Bresson to Ansel Adams. For the first time, I became conscious of tones, of the minute differences in what Adams divined as a 10-point scale between white and black.

If there was one thunderclap moment, an epiphany when my life as a photographer changed, it was when Leica did the craziest thing, producing, in 2012, a camera called the Monochrom. The Leica Monochrom is digital, but it does not record photos with color. Walking out the door with it is like leaving home with only black and white film in your camera. Once I began using a Monochrom, more and more, I began visualizing images in black and white, began to focus on luminance values, not chromatic information. About half of all the pictures I took were now in black and white — street photography, landscapes. It didn’t matter. I began instinctively to understand the concept of tonal values.

Although there is a wide range of color photographers whose work I love in part because of their color palate — Alex Webb, William Eggleston, Steve McCurry, and in particular, Saul Leiter — the photographers I wanted to study were the ones who shot in black and white. Sebastião Salgado was an inspiration not only for his humanism, but because the pictures he took, even scenes of jungles and flora and fauna, looked so much cooler in black and white than they ever would have in color. I became a huge fan of a local D.C. photographer named Astrid Riecken whose use of chiaroscuro on streets I knew filled me with inspiration and awe — how did she do that? Through Black+White Photography magazine I learned about a young photographer from London named Alan Schaller whose work is simply extraordinary. When the Leica Store DC hosted a two-day photo workshop with him in February, I went.

It would be unfair to Alan, from whom 12 of us learned an enormous amount, to relate what he taught us here. Study his photos. Attend one of his workshops. I’ll say only this. He got me to understand in a way I never had before that black and white photography is just that. Black and white. Blacks. Whites. Shades in between. Accentuating any of those elements is one key to making a memorable photograph.

I know this sounds obvious. And it’s not precisely what he taught us. He had very specific advice for us on both how to take pictures and how to process them in Lightroom. I don’t think I’d ever previously understood how using exposure compensation to amp up the darkness in an image puts emphasis on what is in the light. And of course, once I thought that through, I went back to photographs I’d collected, to work I’d worshipped, and I began to get it, began to understand “black and white photography” specifically not as monochrome photography. B+W as the combination of intense blacks, intense whites, and shades of grey in between.

Since that workshop, the weekends have been rainy. I haven’t been able to test the techniques I learned at that workshop at the magic intersection of bright afternoon sunshine and the shadows caused by buildings. Nonetheless, I’ve been out there, exploring. Taking some bad photographs. But also photographs that astonish me because I can see things in a way I never did before.

I’ve had to take a number of photos indoors. In so doing, though, I’ve gotten a much better understanding of the magic you can create accentuating the blacks and the whites in an image. And new ways of exploring tonality: the range of shades that Ansel Adams would think of as Zones 3-7 are all the more satisfying if you anchor them with Zones 1 & 2, and Zones 8-10.

I’m just getting started. Learning how to see in black and white, which is what I thought I’d begun to do when I purchased a Monochrom six and a half years ago, is just the beginning. Learning to see in BLACK and WHITE is an incredible discovery, and I’m grateful to Shaller for having gotten me to think this way.

John Buckley is a photographer and writer in Washington, D.C. whose images can be seen at John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Coming To Terms With Tim Presley of White Fence

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Let’s start this here. The most interesting modern music since 2010 has been created by three Californian men, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall of 1000 bands, and Tim Presley, mostly of White Fence. Of the three, Presley is — to me — the most enigmatic, the most frustrating, and in many ways, the greatest genius. We come here not to bury Presley, but to praise him.

It’s not a competition, really. In his various incarnations around Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS, etc., Dwyer has produced a world of music that is never uninteresting. Ty Segall has made the classic rock’n’roll of our time, his impressive work ethic and protean abilities dazzling us with his growth into a towering industry unto himself. Both Dwyer — by recording 2013’s White Fence: Live in San Francisco — and Segall — by teaming up with Presley for two albums, Ty Segall and White Fence’s 2012 Hair and last year’s Joy, not to mention going into the studio with him and playing drums on the 2014 White Fence masterpiece, For The Recently Found Innocent — have helped their genius pal record the work that, were a comet to hit Los Angeles tomorrow, he’d be remembered by for all eternity.

Presley is the Bode Miller of rock’n’roll, often frustrating because he doesn’t live up to the potential others define for him — okay, me — but when he’s on, he gets gold medals, he is astounding. As with Bode, you get the feeling that Presley doesn’t really give a shit. Several of the albums he’s recorded under the name White Fence consist of tapes made in his room and released into the world in underwhelming lo-fi. Yet on Live in San Francisco, backed by an ace band, at the 2015 Levitation festival in the mud outside Austin where we first saw him, and — we’re getting there — last Monday night in Baltimore — its clear that Presley’s all in, that he can take those slight songs recorded in his bedroom and owing to his genius as guitarist, songwriter and performer, transform them into intoxicatingly weird punk rock grit. He knows what he’s got, he’s casually confident even if somewhat reticent. His talent is not something he wants to just throw away.

If so, though, then why are the two albums he recorded with Cate LeBon under the name Drinks so unsatisfying? Why is the most recent White Fence album — released by “Tim Presley & White Fence” as I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk — ultimately reduced to a few great songs, two fascinating electronic music experiments, and some noodling you won’t listen to twice? Why the inconsistency? Does he have equally strong convictions about each of his incarnations?

We don’t know. But we know this. Monday night with Ty Segall at Ottobar in Baltimore, the two played glorious psychedelic punk rock. It was occasionally sloppy, a mess. And it was often transcendent. It became evident that in a strange parallel to the role Nick Lowe played with Dave Edmunds when they toured as Rockpile, Segall — the far bigger name, the person who’s cracked at least satellite radio — was there to actualize Presley. Like yeast making bread rise, Segall did his thing, which was to let the 300 thrashing bodies in a little firetrap with un-ironic signs forbidding crowd surfing appreciate the genius that is Tim Presley.

We’ve given up worrying about Tim Presley. We’re taking the long view. His 2010 album with Darker My Love, Alive As You Are, was Tulip Frenzy’s Album O’ The Year, as was White Fence’s For The Recently Found Innocent four years later. The White Fence live album ranks for us up there with Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and Live At Leeds as the best concert recordings ever. Seeing him with Ty this past week made me realize that about 25 minutes of their two albums together is pure and unadulterated bliss, among the best work either has ever made. Among the best music of the past decade.

We’re willing to sit through lo-fi albums made in Presley’s bedroom, underwhelming combos, slight solo albums and the like to get to the good stuff. You see, Tim Presley’s good stuff is for the ages.

The High Heel Race Is Bigger Than Ever

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 31, 2018 by johnbuckley100

High Heel Race 2018-13

All images Leica SL and 75mm Noctilux

D.C.’s High Heel Race has gotten so big, they ask spectators to sign up in advance, so they can estimate a crowd count.  Let’s just assume that each year, weather permitting, it’s going to get bigger and bigger.

If you’d like to see monochrome images from years past, you might want to go here. If you want to see how it looked in 2018, see below.

High Heel Race 2018-10

High Heel Race 2018-11

High Heel Race 2018-6High Heel Race 2018High Heel Race 2018-7High Heel Race 2018-9High Heel Race 2018-17High Heel Race 2018-5

High Heel Race 2018-8

High Heel Race 2018-14

High Heel Race 2018-2

High Heel Race 2018-12

High Heel Race 2018-18

High Heel Race 2018-16

High Heel Race 2018-4

In Eighteen Months of Going to Protests, the Only “Paid Mob” We’ve Witnessed In Washington is Trump, his Family and his Cronies

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 11, 2018 by johnbuckley100

March For Racial Justice-11

Back in January 2017, when things seemed most bleak — we had no real idea how bad things would yet become — we went to the Women’s March and it was uplifting.  To see hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, black and white, thronging the Nation’s Capital to protest against Trump was a remarkable experience, and we pledged then that we’d continue to go to protests and document them.  In fact, we created a gallery documenting these protests over on our sister site, TulipFrenzyPhotography.com.

We understand that, going into the final few weeks of the election, it has become a Republican talking point that those who’ve shown up to protest Trump, and most recently, the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination, are a “paid mob.”  Hmm.  Let’s go through some of these demonstrations, via photos of attendees, and see if they look like they needed George Soros to write them a check before they showed up.  In the interests of brevity, I’ll show only a few photos per demonstration.  And admittedly, because I went to so many, not all of them were uploaded to Word Press, and so I’m left here tapping only into images of only those demonstrations I wrote about on Tulip Frenzy.  For photos of the Kavanaugh demonstrations, go see my Instagram: @tulip_frenzy.

womens-march-15womens-march-34These were attendees from the Women’s March.  Do they look like a “paid mob” to you?

A week or so later, people began coming out to protest Trump’s evil Muslim Ban.  Do these look like paid protesters?

third-trump-demo-march-8third-trump-demo-march-12

Continued protestors against the Muslim Ban.  Paid mob? I don’t think so.

Tax Day Demo-12

Next came the Tax March.

Then the March for Science.  Paid mob?  You decide.

The Climate March.  These people look like it too money to get them out?

March For Truth-4I think this was the March for Truth.

These people, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, came out in protest of Trump’s failure to deal with the devastation in Puerto Rico.  Paid mob?

March For Racial Justice-2

The March for Black Women last fall was inspiring.

And then there was the Anniversary of the Women’s March in January.

We could go on and on.  The protests we saw in Washington last week renewed our spirits.  Calling any of these American families protesting for our rights “a paid mob” is just more derp and hooey, exactly what we’ve come to expect from our President and his cronies.  They’re the real paid mob.  Lock’em up.

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