Photography | A Continuous Lean.

Smoking Blue Note Style

Sep 24th, 2015 | Categories: Jared Paul Stern, Music, Photography | by Jared Paul Stern


Blue Note’s jazz records are true icons of American cool. A little ironic, then, that the music label was founded by two white guys from Berlin. One of them, Francis Wolff, began his career in Germany as a commercial photographer and carried his camera along to every Blue Note recording session in New York City in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Many of his images were incorporated into Blue Note’s now legendary album covers, and a new book by musician and producer Michael Cuscuna from Flammarion being published next month offers up some of his best work along with a number of previously unpublished pix. Over 100 of Blue Note’s most revered artists, including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley, Grant Green and Sonny Rollins are included in the book, which features more than 150 of Wolff’s shots.

Naturally recording a jazz album required a lot of smoking, and it seems like Blue Note definitely did its part to boost the shares of Philip Morris; though while many may have mastered the art of lighting up like Art Blakey, hardly any could come close to playing the drums with the same panache. The photos of Wolff (and later Blue Note designer Reid Miles) were candids of artists at work and not staged, however, unlike the many copies and “homages” in the years since, and there’s a lot of great stuff here to pore over. Wolff “didn’t waste shots reaching for an image,” Cuscuna writes. “His eye and his technique nailed it, usually in the first take.” Originals of some of Wolff’s photographs can be found at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in NYC. The book, called simply Blue Note, is available for pre-order on Amazon. We recommend making some space on the shelf now.


Grant Green, 1961 © Francis Wolff Blue Note

Garry Winogrand Gets His Due

Aug 5th, 2015 | Categories: Art, New York City, Photography | by ACL Editors


Despite all the hype that the medium has garnered as of late, street photography as an artistic style is marked by delayed acceptance. Vivian Maier, Bill Cunningham, Diane Arbus the entire cast of the film Everybody Street, these photographers practiced their craft for decades, but have only recently drawn the eye of the mainstream art world. That many of these artists have not been able to garner an audience until well into their careers (or in Maier’s case until well after her death) is a testament to the fickle sensibilities of the art world, but it does not detract from the quality of these artist’s work. Garry Winogrand stands out among this pack as a prime example of a street photography that is finally getting his much deserved day in the sun.


Matters of Life and Death.

Mar 15th, 2014 | Categories: Photography | by Michael Williams



Photography retrospectives like the one currently on display by the late photographer Jerome Liebling at Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea (showing now through April 19th) have a way of grabbing me in a way a lot of art just can’t. The collection of 75 beautiful photos span some six decades and are a stunning look at both city life and beyond. It’s art, nostalgia and history all together at once. Liebling’s photographs embody all of those things in such an effortless way. Each has an interesting gesture, perspective, texture or theme. Often all of these elements are captured together to freeze moments in time. The collection of images is titled “Matter of Life and Death”, and the photos comprise everything from youth to death and all of the scenes in-between. The show was curated by Liebling’s daughter Rachel and is a moving selection of images capturing people from all walks of life.

Photography as a medium is inspiring to me mainly because of the fact that the process is so seemingly democratic (as camera technology is available to almost anyone), but it takes the eye and creativity of an artist to truly distinguish one’s work. As someone who occupies the very far end of the amateur photography spectrum, the more I progress, the less I realize I know. That and, you either have the eye or you don’t. Some things you can’t just muscle through.

Mill Town.

Jan 26th, 2014 | Categories: Made in the USA, Photography | by Michael Williams



Many of these scenes are familiar and many of these places are known, but that doesn’t make and of this less striking. Photographer Christopher Payne set out to capture the landscapes and workrooms of America’s textile mills and factories. The scenes are intense and colorful, and may very well serve as a time-capsule portrait of an industrial complex which is nearing its last run. These photos and the photographer came to my attention recently through ‘Fruit of the Loom‘, a recent New York Times Magazine photo essay. This textile photo series began when Christopher “stumbled on an old yarn mill in Maine” and was inspired by the old machinery and the small-scale manufacturing that is largely forgotten in America. Payne visits Woolrich in Pennsylvania, New England Shirt in Fall River and various other mills in-between, seeking the beautiful colors and symmetrical scenes that these seeming lost industrial holdovers present.

Where Are You From? | The LBM Dispatch Series

Oct 23rd, 2013 | Categories: Al James, Photography, Travel | by Al James


If you want an unflinching view of present-day America, look no further than Magnum photographer Alec Soth and writer Brad Zellar’s self-published LBM Dispatch Series. Drawing from the tradition of Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and Kerouac and Frank’s The Americans, it is a serial journal of photos and writings that unfolds state by state, telling the stories of how we Americans are living today; how we get by, how we chase dreams, how we gather together and connect. As a photographic newspaper or travelogue, the LBM Dispatch bridges the gap between the immediacy of a blog and the beauty and permanence of an art book with each edition edited, laid out, printed and shipped just a week or two after the trip is completed. Empathetic, genuine, humorous and inspiring – the LBM Dispatch is a reminder that America is richer, sweeter and more nuanced than pollsters and cable television pundits would have us believe. Soth and Zellar were kind enough to answer a few questions for ACL about how the project came about and where they plan on taking it.

ACL: I assume that the newsprint format that you use for the LBM Dispatch was a discovery you made with The Last Days of W. What is it about newsprint that feels right for this project?

Alec Soth: Yes, that is true, but there are differences. The Last Days of W. was never a fully-fledged project. In that case I was digging through old photographs and wanted to make something that was modest and impermanent. So newsprint made sense, but it wasn’t actually constructed like a newspaper. With a writer and photographer going out telling stories, Dispatch is much more like a newspaper. And the immediacy of the form also made sense. But the project is much more ambitious than Last Days. That is partly why, in fact, we no longer print on newsprint. The first two issues were done that way, but the quality was just so meager —particularly in the dark values— that we switched to offset printing. This made the whole process much more expensive.

ACL: I love the idea that the LBM Dispatch is inspired by local newspapers. I grew up in a rural logging town in Oregon and our local paper takes itself just as seriously as say The New York Times, which I think is great. I feel like you guys approach the work in the same way. How does this idea or framework of being reporters help propel the stories and trips along.

Brad Zellar: It’s certainly the key to the whole thing. Although we don’t represent ourselves as reporters, our approach to the work is still very much a hunt for newsworthy or interesting stories and characters. I worked at my own local daily newspaper in a small Minnesota town, and the things that interested me way back when —the profiles of local people and the search for colorful or poignant yarns and haunted history— are still the things I tend to look for.

AS: I’m prone to self-indulgence. I’m much more likely to daydream or ponder my own neuroses than investigate the world ‘out there.’ One of the reasons I was interested in joining the photo agency Magnum is that I figured their tradition of doing documentary work would help keep me honest – keep pushing me out into the world. But I go back and forth. My last project, Broken Manual, was definitely inward looking. Afterward, I realized I needed to balance things out. But doing editorial work was increasingly unsatisfying. So Brad and I started our own paper. While it isn’t a conventional newspaper, having that as the backbone of the project does keep me from doing too much navel gazing.


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Yellowstone and the Adventures of the American West.

Apr 13th, 2013 | Categories: Americana, History, Photography | by Michael Williams


The U.S. Geological Survey has a nice collection of photos from the national parks of the American West, including a bunch of images from the various surveys of Yellowstone National Park from late 1800s that eventually led to the land being protected forever by the government. These early black and white photographs capture the beautiful natural landscape of an area that has gone on to become one of the most celebrated and a widely visited places in America.



Now Tumblr-ing: National Geographic Found.

Apr 10th, 2013 | Categories: Photography | by Michael Williams

NGS Picture ID:1098252

Hope you had a productive day so far, because this is a day-wrecker. National Geographic recently launched an archival Tumblr called Found which is a gold mine of great imagery from the decades of photojournalism from the United States and throughout the world. (See also: The Lively Morgue.)

A few of these images had been popping up in my Tumblr dashboard, but I wasn’t sure as to their origin until last night when I discovered this new site.  Seeing this for the first time was a similar experience to when the Life archive (which I might have posted about here and there) was made available via Google. Though what has been posted is just a tiny offering of the vast NatGeo archive, it’s a nice start to what will undoubtedly be a long and enjoyable friendship. [FOUND]

NGS Picture ID:1127476 tumblr_mkzwqdxan41s7f3fyo1_1280