Pretty Pictures

December 6th, 2009

This July my urban landscapes portfolio was reviewed by a group of other photographers and the education director of a gallery in San Francisco. One person noted that the photos focused on geometric shapes and patterns, commented that they were very nice, but asked what point I was trying to make. Huh? I kinda faked it for a minute then sketched this in my notebook:

I need a drink

During the much needed break that followed, one of the photographers approached me in the lobby. He said he was sick to death of all this talk about “the point” of photos. “What does it mean?!? Who cares! It’s a beautiful photo!” He offered to refer commercial work to me. If I didn’t mind “prostituting” myself that way, he added ironically. (All said with a British accent, which of course made it sound even better.)

In 2007 I had a solo exhibit at Bank of Alameda in, uh, Alameda. I selected photos that I knew would work in that type of commercial space. Then I sat down with a curator friend to help me title the show. We kicked around words like “palatable” and “innocuous,” and joked that I could call it “Sell Out.” But that wasn’t true, and I wasn’t being fair to myself.


Mosquito (2006)

It’s not like my photos are vapid. They are not pictures of kittens hanging from tree limbs with the caption “Hang in there, baby.” As I wrote in “The People Who Work Here Newsletter,” “I like puppies, but I don’t take pictures of puppies.” Even my more “innocuous” photos are provocative. My calla lily has a mosquito perched on its tip. My florid sunflower has a ghostly, ephemeral image of a child in its center. And the luminous anemone in “An Enemy” is quite menacing, hence its title. (Funny story: I exhibited that piece in another solo show in 2007, at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. My sister asked gently, “you do know it’s actually pronounced ‘Ah-neh-mo-ne,’ right?” I do now.)

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel (2007)

Many of my photos are downright edgy. Last year I applied to Stanford’s highly competitive ART 44: “Creating a Photographic Exhibition: From Concept to Opening.” This culminates in a group show at the well regarded Modernbook Gallery in Palo Alto, which represents the likes of Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor (bit of a package deal) and Fan Ho. I didn’t get chosen for this class, but when I went to pick up my work co-owners Mark Pinsukanjana and Bryan Yedinak graciously offered to review my portfolio on the spot. Hell yes! One of these pieces was “Fallen Angel,” a picture of, well, a dead bird. Mark told me matter-of-factly that they stopped being embarrassed years ago about their decision to sell pretty pictures. “Do you really want to wake up every morning and see a dead bird hanging over your bed?”


Christian Dior Haute Couture Fashion Show, Spring/Summer 2009

I actually really like “Fallen Angel.” The textures, the splash of red, the loneliness. But, yeah, I wouldn’t want to wake up to it every day. I could see it on the wall in an avant-garde gallery at 49 Geary though. Or maybe a museum. It’s like the difference in fashion between haute couture and prêt-à-porter. You wouldn’t wear haute couture to the grocery store. But there is a place for it.

There’s also a place for my pretty pictures. Lots of places in fact, including EyeWise Optometry in Alameda. I have eight photos hanging there in a solo satellite exhibit of the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. On Friday, 12/11, EyeWise is hosting a reception for me, from 6-9 PM, to coincide with the monthly Estuary Art Attack. “Fallen Angel” is not on exhibit, but “Mosquito” is.

Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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2 responses to “Pretty Pictures”

  1. JL says:

    Ah, but how many images of those kittens hanging from tree limbs with the caption “Hang in there, baby” have been sold? Mugs, t-shirts, puzzles–I may even have had that poster on my wall. There’s something to be said for prostitution.

  2. […] the past few months my photos have been hanging at EyeWise Optometry. As I wrote in “Pretty Pictures” they hosted a reception for me on December 11, attended by friends, family, and a throng of […]

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