Martin Usborne’s color portraits

From Martin’s website:

Martin’s key interest is man’s relationship to (other) animals. Although his imagery is sometimes dark – capturing the way in which we silence, control or distance ourselves from other animals – his pictures strive for a subtle humour.

Martin often undertakes editorial or commercial commissions and his work is regularly featured in international magazines and has been seen in group and solo shows around the world as well as in the National Portrait Gallery London. He has had four books published.

Martin lives and works in London. He studied philosophy and psychology and then 3D animation before finally settling on photography.

He is currently spending a year to see how many animals he can save in 365 days. Read the ongoing blog here. He hopes for this to become his next book.


Photo: © Martin Usborne. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
There is much more to see and read on - The Classiest photography blog on the web


A Couple of Comments About Portfolio Review Events

I recently spent a weekend in Boston at the New England Portfolio Reviews. My good friend Paula Tognarelli of the Griffin Museum and I ran the reviews years ago when I served as Executive Director of the PRC. So, whenever Paula asks me to serve as a reviewer, I am more than happy to oblige.

A photographer I have known for many years drove up from New York City to attend the event. It was the first time he had his work reviewed at a portfolio review event. Over lunch, I asked him for his impressions. He said, “It reminds me of kindergarten, everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.” It’s true; there is generally a great deal of hyper activity during the event.

As usual, I saw a wide variety of work on many different levels of sophistication. Many of the people I reviewed (like my friend from New York City) were attending for the first time.

Since the weekend, I’ve been thinking about what kind of advice I could give to photographers that may be planning to attend their first review event. Here are a couple of thoughts. It’s a short list and it’s in no particular order. I’m sure if you asked the other reviewers, they would have more than a few of their own.

Finish all of your homework
Do a little research on your reviewers. It makes for a better review if you know something about the reviewer’s background. I’m sure you will better understand my comments about your work when you know a little bit about my history. I learned this incredibly valuable lesson during my 30+ years presenting advertising concepts to potential clients. You can never know too much about your audience.

Don’t follow me into the men’s room
Don’t laugh, it has happened. I appreciate that you want to maximize your investment, but approaching reviewers during breaks will not win you any extra points. Most review events book reviewers with a very, very full schedule. We need a bit of breathing room after each review to reset our brains.

You shouldn’t argue with me – I’m always right
You paid a fee to hear the reviewer’s perspective on your work, and the review time goes by very fast. I may not be right, but at least have an open mind. And, oh yes, take notes.

Please, please work hard on your craft
Only about 20% of the prints I reviewed were exhibition quality prints. If I recommended that you take a printing workshop, do it. It means that even if I were knocked out by your work, I would not be able to include it in an exhibition. The prints just didn’t come up to exhibition quality.

I consult with photographers on a regular basis about portfolio development and there are a large number of additional points I could include. These four were taken from the notes I made during the review event.

In the photo below, Jo Sandman is having her recent work reviewed by Dalia H. Linssen PhD. I’ve been a huge fan of Jo’s work for many years. Her work is totally unique. You can see more Jo’s incredible work here.


There is much more to see and read on - The Classiest photography blog on the web

Rick Ashley introduces Superman to Inges, Manet, Sargent, and Hopper

A Question of Identity

Sometimes (very rarely in my case) you see work that stops you in your tracks. That is exactly what happened when I first saw Rick Ashley’s work he creates with his brother-in-law. The images certainly provoke a strong immediate response, but immediate responses can be incorrect. Work this broad and complex can be easily misunderstood.

It took a while for me to wrap my head around it. The best work takes time to digest.

I have the good fortune to know Rick and to see how the work has evolved over time. It is challenging and important work and I am very pleased that Panopticon Gallery in Boston is featuring it in their current exhibition.

I highly suggest that you get to the gallery if you can, and if you can’t be sure to check out more of the work on Rick’s website.


I got the chance to ask Rick a few questions about the work.
PW:  Where to start? There is so much to discuss about the work. I’ve been very interested in finding out what was the impetus for the series. What was the thought process that led you decide to work with Michael?
RA: The idea for the series was planted while preparing to teach a course on portrait photography. The boss made the comment that to create great portraits “all you needed to know was how to pose the subject”. This seed of an idea grew into my creating a compendium of “bad” photographic poses. The problem was how to examine such conventions without just creating more “bad” portraits. Michael was my answer.
Michael is my brother-in-law, and we have been making photographs together since 1975. This project began 4 years ago and continues to evolve in ways I never anticipated. I chose Michael as I hoped the disconnect between these pretentious poses and someone with Downs Syndrome would bring attention to the superficial nature of posing specifically, and the inability to know anything about anyone in a portrait generally. To my surprise, the resulting photographs did not reveal pretentious poses, but instead different Michaels: the author, the jock, the hipster, etc. What the poses failed to do on others, they did to Michael to such an extent that his mother was amazed at the transformation, once commenting that ‘he almost looks normal”. My guess is that this occurs as Michael has no agenda, no image of self that needs to be presented. Michael is fully engaged in the process. He sits, puts his hands where I ask, and looks where I ask him to or he doesn’t as Michael doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to. The resulting photographs, which were based on photographic conventions, were then emailed to China where they were hand painted onto canvas, as painting is the original maker of myths.
PW:  Why the shift to Superman photographs?
RA: The Superman photographs evolved from my research into the history of portraiture from the Renaissance forward as many photographic cliches find their genesis in painting. The subjects of these formal portraits were dressed in their finest attire illustrating their status as surrounding props gave clues to their character and achievement. Most of these superman photographs find their compositional style and motifs in the works of Inges, Manet, Sargent, and Hopper. These photographs remain as photographs as their inspiration comes from painting. Other photographs in the series explore public relations and editorial motifs for presenting character.
These photographs and paintings were created to explore issues of artifice and identity, and to see if Michael and I could make interesting pictures together. The artist presents and the observer interprets, interprets what is seen in personal terms, adding meaning to the work. The more ambiguous the greater freedom for interpretation.
PW: I think the unique strength of the work is that it transcends conventional fine art photography boundaries. Due to the fact that the work incorporates a multiplicity of media, what has been the reaction from the photo community?
RAWhen I first showed some of the painted portraits in Boston, Houston, and Santa Fe, most everyone was intrigued and interested in seeing more. In my opinion much of this was due to the fact that the photographs had been sent to China to be painted, perhaps a new mode of photographic representation or just another gimmick. It was not until I added the Superman photographs to the project that the work hit a nerve. Suddenly I was being asked: “Do you feel like you are taking advantage of Michael?” and to paraphrase another: “you are receiving this reaction because you don’t portray Michael as the person he is and while the photos of Michael may be ones he loves they aren’t positive portrayals that assist in breaking down walls of prejudice against those with developmental disabilities”. Symbols, even ones with unexpected consequences, are charged with great power and influence our perceptions irrespective of their validity.
This is not the forum to examine the assumptions and positions of those opposed to Michael being portrayed in his superman suit, but let me end with this. My father contracted polio at the time I was born. My formative years were spent with a father that had use of his left arm and right hand and could breath without assistance for only a few hours a day. He was a brilliant and strong man who had served in WWII later receiving his MBA from the Wharton School, and then from a wheel chair he ran an automobile dealership and insurance company never once complaining about his condition. As a child I continually watched people judge my father based on what they saw and the assumptions they made about him based on that information. What was true about my father is true of Michael and for that matter the rest of us.
As for the multiplicity of media in this body of work (photographs, painting, etched glass, and debit cards thus far), the choices evolved through the exploration of the idea not the decision to create a group of photographs. Ideally when this work is shown in its entirety, paintings will hang next to photographs and superman will hang next to the man in a sports coat so that each successive bit of presumed knowledge is negated by the next piece, leaving the viewer with a multitude of identities presented in various media whose only real commonality is Michael, and that in the end we know nothing without meeting Michael and getting to know him in person.
PW: I have to ask, where are you planning to take the work from here?
RA: Cleveland.

The facts:
Dress Up:
 Photographs by Keiko Hiromi, Atelieri O. Haapala,
 Eileen Clynes and Rick Ashley

Additional Exhibitions: New England School of Photography group exhibition 
Curated by Stephen Sheffield and William Scully – 
Emerging Artist
Panopticon Gallery in Boston
May 15 through July 9th
502c Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Phone: 617-267-8929

To see more of Ricks work, click here.
There is much more to see and read on


Toshio Shibata, Constructed Landscapes

The Peabody Essex Museum is only 25 miles North of Boston, but my advice is not to try to make the trip during rush hour. Which, as any Bostonian knows, runs from late afternoon through early evening. If that is your only option, the trip is always exceedingly well worth the irritatingly slow drive. The PEM is one of the cultural jewels of New England and it currently shines even brighter than usual.

It’s because of the current exhibition of Toshio Shibata’s black and white and color prints.

Phillip Prodger, once again, makes the smallish balcony photo gallery seem as large and important as any photography space in any museum. He curated the current exhibition featuring black and white and color prints by Toshio Shibata.

The work is beyond superb. Toshio Shibata’s photographs are both beautifully composed and expertly rendered. They are large-format prints and (as opposed to many large–format prints) they deserve to be. Details in Toshio Shibata’s photographs – both obvious and subtle – are of utmost importance. They are as crucial to the impact of the photographs as the photos carefully delineated compositions.


At a recent event held at the PEM, Cary Wolinsky brought to my attention a minute figure in the corner of one of the images. Seeing that small figure immediately changed my entire perception of the photograph.

Toshio Shibata’s use of color is both subtle and bold. It works in almost magical ways. For example, in Okawa Village, Tosa County, Kochi Prefecture, 2007 a red bridge slams headfirst into a rich green landscape. Usually, these two primary colors would create an extremely irritating vibration. Not here. The red and green mesh perfectly.

My advice. If you are in the Boston area, do not miss this exhibition, and do not make the trip during rush hour.

From the Peabody Essex Museum website:

One of Japan’s preeminent landscape photographers, Toshio Shibata is known for exploring the delicate balance between human-made structures and nature. Photographing erosion control barriers, water catchments, roads, dams and bridges, he examines the unique appearance of such structures in his native land. Through his lens, riverbeds can look like origami, and waterfalls resemble kimono.

This exhibition of 28 large-format works will be the artist’s first solo show in an American museum since 1995 and the first time his color pictures will be shown in America.

Shibata was recently featured in a two-person show at the National Arts Center, Tokyo, and in a solo retrospective at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum.

Made possible by the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

The facts:
Toshio Shibata, Constructed Landscapes

April 20 – December 31, 2013
Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970-3783
Phone: 978-745-9500, 866-745-1876

See more of Toshio Shibata’s photos here, and as always, there is much more to see and read on


Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light

From the Museum of Modern Art website:

Bill Brandt is a founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, and this exhibition represents a major critical reevaluation of his heralded career. Brandt’s distinctive vision—his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange—emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.
Bill BrandtBrandt’s activity during the Second World War, long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz, are presented here for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement, developed primarily between 1945 and 1961, is a series of nudes that are both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder” that is paramount in his photographs. Brandt’s work is unpredictable not only in the range of his subjects but also in his printing style, which varied widely throughout his career. This exhibition is the first to emphasize the beauty of Brandt’s finest prints, and to trace the arc of their evolution.

The facts:
Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light
March 6, 2013 – April 12, 2013
Museum of Modern Art
The Edward Steichen Photography Galleries
11 West 53 St‬
New York, NY 10019
212 708-9400

Harlem comes to Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Presents
Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street

On the third floor of the new glass cube at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in a small room off to one side, is one of the most impressive exhibitions I have seen recently. The exhibition shows no new work, has no oversized color prints, and doesn’t present a single celebrity portrait. It consists of only 43 small black and white prints taken in the 1960s for Bruce Davidson’s brilliant photography book, East 100th Street.

To see the prints you must stand close and actually interact with them. Compare that experience with the MFA’s recently closed Mario Testino exhibit.

Prior to visiting the exhibition, two photographers mentioned (negatively) to me that they felt the prints were too dark. I thought they were lush and rich and the dense blacks helped to reinforce the gritty reality of life on East 100th Street in the sixties.


From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website:
A photography exhibition that offers a bold, honest look at life in 1960s Harlem

This exhibition celebrates the MFA’s recent acquisition of the 43 prints by renowned New York photographer Bruce Davidson that were originally showcased in his groundbreaking show, East 100th Street, at the Museum of Modern Art in 1970. These powerful images capture the gritty reality of life on the block between First and Second Avenues, which had been described during the 1950s as the most dangerous in the entire city. Davidson began the project in 1967, when this section of East Harlem was slowly improving. Carrying his bulky, large-format camera and tripod, Davidson returned almost daily for nearly two years recording the strength and diversity of the inhabitants of this Harlem neighborhood. Gradually gaining the trust of the residents meant that Davidson was able to make intimate, close-up portraits like this young pair on the street.

The facts:
Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street
January 19, 2013 – September 8, 2013
Gallery 335
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

You can read more about Bruce Davidson: East 100th Street and see additional images at

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