Hello, Hej

If you’ve spent most of your adult life in Sweden and then moved abroad, it’s a moral imperative to locate your closest Ikea the second you come up for air.  It’s a law actually… in the Swedish constitution.  Given that subconscious mandate we find ourselves, from time to time, trying to come up with something to do on a Sunday and without even realizing what has happened we’ve driven to Burbank and we’re about to order meatballs.  It’s called a changeover.  The movie goes on and nobody in the audience had any idea what happened.  Tyler Svensson took over…  

And such was the case a couple weeks ago when I found myself, family in tow, once again at Ikea.  We weren’t shopping for anything in particular–just walking around looking at a ton of stuff that we really don’t need when I had an idea.  I realized that it would be fantastic to do a street style series in Ikea.  Seriously, it would be amazing.  Have you ever gone people watching at Ikea?  

It’s b-a-n-a-n-a-s.  

People do all kinds of crazy shit there constantly.  Jump in display beds and pull the covers over their heads, lay down on sofas with their feet dangling over the edges, fall asleep in the cafeteria with their face almost in their food, crawl into cabinets and wardrobes to check the size, study themselves in corridors filled with mirrors–it’s like they either don’t think anyone is watching or they just don’t give a shit   And that’s just the patrons.  There’s the whole warehouse that would be perfect to shoot on 8x10.  There’s the roof with the million solar panels that’s also aching to be a massive large format print.  The cafeteria and kitchen mass producing food as a long exposure.  Fleets of delivery trucks unloading those anonymous brown cartons and boxes.  This literally no bottom to the visual narrative you could create there.    

I shot out a whole roll there just as a test and when I got it back there were so many interesting images that I had difficulty editing them down to a series. In the end I figured it might be fun to post a small taste of what I’m thinking could be done.  These are all shot on Tri-X pushed to 800 at the Icon.  All on my Leica M7.  I think for the real thing I would want to do it 4x5 or 8x10 just for the sake of printing large.  I could even do it on the Hassy.  Need to think things through a bit more but I like where this is heading.   

The fork

I have Kertész on the brain.  I bought a used copy of “Andre Kertesz: Sixty Years of Photography” this weekend at Arcana books and I must have looked through it 20 times already.  It’s in my bedroom, atop of a chest of drawers very close to the bed.  I keep grabbing it right before I go to sleep.  It’s a used hardcover originally published in 1978.  The pages feel old on my fingertips but the pages are still glossy.  There’s an inscription in the cover to some unknown person on some unknown birthday in 1986.  It’s a first edition.   

This book really speaks to me.  Volumes.  It’s my first book of his and for the life of me I can’t figure out why I didn’t buy it earlier.  His images are so much more impactful in print–his contrasts make so much more sense on paper than on a screen and his compositions are even more finite and absolute when framed in hard glossy white boarders.  It’s a joy.  It’s an absolute joy.  Incidentally I find his use of longer lenses topical considering how I’ve been feeling with the 50mm as of late.  I’m sure he would have thought it funny to hear anyone referring to 50 as long but that’s neither here nor there.

What draws me to his work is his perfect geometric composition forged in a delicate dance between physical matter and light.  He’s infinitely aware of the everything in his scene–directions of his shadows, reflectivity of metal, softness of a bounce… he’s always in complete and utter control of what will be black and what will be white, leaving nothing to chance.  Everything is intentional.  I can feel his feet moving and winding around his scene, finding the perfect space to render his perfect compositions and contrasts.  His street scenes feel like paintings to me sometimes, especially some of the winter scenes– the ones he shot from above on a longer lens.  The whole frame compresses into this tapestry of white tones punctuated by hard black strokes from trees and roads.  It’s so graphic it could have been illustrated.  

And you can find that same tonal perfection (albeit the opposite way around) in his still-lifes, like “The fork,” for which my image is named.   It’s a simple image that we all have taken…


I love this description from “The melancholy life of the amazing André Kertész” by Noel Bourcier:

This photograph was shown at the ‘Salon de l’Escalier’ (Paris, 1928) and at ‘Film und Foto’ (Stuttgart, 1929) and was used in an 
advertisement for the silversmiths Bruckman-Bestecke. The purity of the 
composition matches the function of the object – the fork is not depicted merely as a formally beautiful object, but also retains its qualities as a utensil. With 
this vivid description of the spirit of an object, Kertész fulfilled an important artistic goal.

It was the original photographic incarnation of the expression form and function.  Which brings me to my image.  When I shot it, I was hot and miserable and not even remotely interested in making an interesting image.  My mind was purely focused on staying safely wrapped in the cool shadow of the pop-up tent I was hiding in and as close as I could be to the fans–our saving grace on this freakishly hot fall day.   I was supervising a commercial shoot and for some reason we were having record highs.  Anyway, I looked down, pissy and hot and miserable and saw this frame plain as day.  Like Kertész I try to always have a camera on me, so I framed up, shuffled my feet a little to get what I was after and made my version of “The fork.” 

HC-B once said of Kertész, “Each time Andre Kertész’s shutter clicks, I feel his heart beating.”  After I took made my image, some of the crew looked at me a bit strange and asked why I was taking pictures of the ground.  I just pointed and the shadows.  I have no idea if they got it or not, but I can tell you that when I hear my camera’s shutter click, I know my heart is beating.  

Shot on my Leica M7, amber filter, 35mm Summicron on Tri-X pushed to 800 at the Icon.          

Shadows and legs

I made this image on a Sunday a while back.  AM and I had just picked up the girls in Century City and were headed to the Farmer’s Market in Beverly Hills for some fresh produce and then to the library so Ester could take-out a few books.  The library, police station, city hall and courthouse in Beverly Hills are all connected and part of this strange, deco inspired compound that sits right on the edge of Santa Monica Blvd, subdividing the shopping mecca of Rodeo and it’s associated side streets from the residential areas.  I’ve heard that the folks of BH were more than just a little inspired by the city hall in Pasadena which has got to be one of the most picturesque government buildings I have ever seen.  In fact it’s long overdo for a visit and shooting session.  Elliot loves to take the gold line so I guess I know what I’m doing next weekend.  

But I digress, after the famers market we cut through the parking lot and over to the library where the sun was shinning down through these open partitions in the corridor casting deep, lovely shadows all over the place.  The rest of the fam went inside while I stayed for a moment to take it in.  I loved how the shadows and light cut through the corridor, bifurcating the entire frame with concentric perfection.  All that was missing were my subjects.  Then I saw a pair of legs pop-out from seemingly nowhere, a few meters away towards the middle of the corridor.  I fumbled with my camera for only a second but as soon as I had it up to my eye the legs were gone, tucked behind a pillar.  So I waited.  

And waited and waited.  A woman came out the front door, rolling a large metal cart in front of her but still the legs didn’t reappear.  The woman passed where the legs had popped-out, made a straight line for the book drop, opened a compartment in the wall and started loading the cart with books but still no legs.  I was so focused on finding the legs that I didn’t notice a man exiting the library until he had blocked my view of the corridor.  I knew I was going to miss those damn legs.  I knew they were going to pop out again while this guy was blocking my view.  But they didn’t.  

The woman loading the cart must have loaded everything there was to load as she was now heading back towards me.  She passed the departing man and they didn’t share a glance.  I decided this was my image–the cart lady and her books in shadow with the man framed in a sunbeam, so I raised the camera, framed and clicked.  A few weeks later when the negatives had been processed and I was standing at the big light table at the Icon checking the negs with a loupe, I noticed something that made me smile.  There in my frame, off to the side were those damn legs.   

Shot on my Leica M7 using a 35 Summicron with an amber filter on Kodak Tri-X, pushed +1 at the Icon. 


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