Friday, November 21, 2008

Your Weekly Mr. Littlejeans

Everybody loves the sunshine.

You Don't Have to Smile

An old friend generously brought me to Benaroya Hall Wednesday night to see Annie Leibovitz speak and show slides from her new book, At Work. I am a big fan of her early photography for Rolling Stone, a little less so of her later 1980s work, and not really at all of her current work for Vanity Fair, Amex, and Disney, among others – but there is no disputing it, the woman is a national treasure. There is just no one else out there these days, now that Avedon is gone, who has spanned eras and documented the collective public-life consciousness of the country the way Annie Leibovitz has.

At one point during the talk, she made an interesting comment about her classic photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger – the one where he's wearing tight white pants, sitting on a white horse (if you don't know it, go get that book). She said she didn't really like it at first, because she was concerned that form would define the meaning of the photo. For the rest of the night, I thought about that. I guessed she meant that she didn't want the shapes or composition in a photograph to overshadow the personality of the subject. She clarified during the Q&A period that she has a tendency to fall back on "designing" as she photographs, which she feels is not enough. As a graphic designer I found that really interesting, because for me it definitely is enough – but I understood what she meant, that for her it had to be about the person, which is much more difficult to capture than composition, whether found or constructed.

In trying to figure out what bothers me about her recent work, Leibovitz's statement about wanting form to not define the meaning of a photo was instructive. Approaching similar goals (simply put: portraiture) Avedon presents an interesting contrast, because where Leibovitz has continued to add and add, he chose to subtract and simplify, to remove any constructed meaning and focus on the subject alone. Avedon's design was no design, no form. In Leibovitz's recent work, I sometimes feel that the form – the props, the styling, the mega-staging – does the opposite of what she says she wants; it does dictate the meaning. The form that is "an Annie Leibovitz photo" often clouds out or seems to change the personalities.

When I worked for Martha Stewart in far west Chelsea, I used to walk by Annie Leibovitz's studio everyday – an impressively remodeled old brick garage on 26th Street – and wonder who was in there and what elaborate productions were taking place. The wildly complex styling and sets are impressive, to be sure. I just don't get into the result, really, for the same reason I love her work from the '70s and early '80s so much – I prefer more simplistic and spontaneous photography, and I feel like it's a more honest portrayal of whatever or whoever is being photographed.

But, man, what a career. It was really cool to hear her discuss that early stuff, her relationship with Susan Sontag, their daughter, and the way her life and work has developed over the years. At the end of the night, Leibovitz was asked if she would be photographing Obama's inauguration, and she said that yes, she would be, but that she thought she might like to be in the back, taking in the whole spectacle of the people and the event. I'm looking forward to seeing those pictures.

Photograph of Annie Leibovitz, 1973, by Henry Diltz

Listen to an interview with Annie Leibovitz from KUOW's Weekday with Steve Scher at

Order Annie Leibovitz's new book from

I'm not crying. It's just raining…on my face

The state of Seattle sports is so craptacular that The New York Times is covering it on the front page this morning. An excerpt:

Erik Denmark, an internationally ranked competitive eater, sat at the bar. He grew up watching Seattle sports and once attempted to eat 40 hot dogs when the Seahawks played in the 40th Super Bowl. “Every week is a new low point,” he said. “It’s pretty ridiculous and pretty comical. It’s hard not to just laugh with cynical depression…everything happened so fast.”

Click here to read the rest. Try not to cry on your keyboard.

Above, Lorin "Big Lo" Sandretzky, watching the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals, 26-20, on Sunday. "I will stay positive," he said. Photography Rod Mar for The New York Times

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This is Your Life

Oh good lord, yet another blow to my ability to stay on task: Google just launched a gigantic searchable archive of images from Life magazine. The collection includes roughly two million photographs spanning the 123 years that Life was published, from 1883–2006. Here are seven of my favorites:

Mies Van der Rohe peering between models of his Lake Shore Drive apartments, Chicago, 1956. Photographer: Frank Scherschel

[image deleted]
Donyale Luna, Sydney, Australia

Picasso attempts to draw a Minotaur using light pen, Vallauris, France, 1949. Photographer: Gjon Mili

Gertrude Stein, France, 1944. Photographer: Carl Mydans

Members of the Sons of Watts acting as body guards in car of Presidential aspirant, Robert Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968
(A side point – today, November 20th, is RFK's birthday – he would have been 83.)

Folk Music Festival Ashville, NC. Photographer: W. Eugene Smith

Woodstock Music & Art Fair, Bethel, NY, August 1969. Photographer: John Dominis

Click here to procrastinate.

Via Vintage Seattle. Go there to procrastinate more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bono Vox

This one's been in the hopper for a bit but I thought I would post it anyway – earlier this year the ladies of Rodarte teamed up with Jenny Lewis, filmmaker Griffin, and their grandmother, whose voice contributes to the soundtrack, to produce Vox Humana, an entry in SHOWstudio's Future Tense video series. In a previous post I mentioned the influence of Japanese horror movies on Rodarte's Fall 2008 collection, and that comes through here again, combining with the label's Mulholland-Drive aesthetic for a darkly ethereal effect. If I had a gigantic reel of videos that would just constantly play on a big TV in my apartment, this would be on it.

Click here to watch Vox Humana at SHOWstudio and here to visit Rodarte.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Standing on a Beach

Emily and I took the ferry up to Whidbey Island this past weekend. My mom has a little cabin on Penn Cove – about two hours from Seattle if there's no line-up at the boat.

Her place is right across the water from Coupeville, one of the older towns in the state, and home to Toby's, where we stopped on the way up to watch the Skins/Cowboys game. Mussels are the hometown specialty – aside from Prince Edward Island, Penn Cove is one of the biggest producers of blue mussels in North America – and Toby's does them right.

We met Fritha, who just biked all the way from Whidbey Island to Mexico by herself – and Rita, who is just about the sweetest bartender on the planet.

Outside we said goodnight to Elvis, the Coupeville wharf cat.

The next morning was freezing cold and all the spider webs were covered with dew.

We went for a walk on the beach. It's really cool, you can see both the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains when it's clear enough.

We always look for beach glass and agates…

…and whatever else washes up.

Barnacles are underrated as a design inspiration.

Someone's fort was still standing.

Two seagulls harassed a bald eagle overhead.

Emily found a nice piece of lodgepole pine.
"I want to bring this piece of wood home for the cats to scratch on."
"It's too big, I don't think it will fit in the car."
"We should put a big piece of wood in our apartment."
"Yeah but let's leave it here. It'll dry out, and you can get it next time."
"But what if someone else takes it."
"I think you might be surprised how little competition you have."

We also took a little walk in Ebey's Landing. There's a great 3.5-mile loop along the bluff but it was a little too foggy, so we decided to save it for a better day.

We hit up some thrift stores on the way back down to the ferry, and had lunch at the Dog House in Langley. 2008 marks its hundredth year in business. I prefer Toby's but the Dog House is good too.

This was our first trip to Whidbey since we've been back, and I'm looking forward to going up there more. It's great to be able to take a mini-vacation and feel like you've been away for a long time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Italian Job

Awhile back my dad bought an old wrecked Jaguar which he's been slowly restoring over the past several years. The other day before lunch at El Gallito, he and I stopped by the shop of the guys who are currently working on it. I'm gonna wait till it's a little farther along to show pictures, but in the meantime here's another really cool car they're working on – a one-of-a-kind modified Cisitalia road racer.

Click here for more images and information on Cisitalia.

Quincy Jones Something's Cookin' mp3
The Italian Job OST

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All in the Family

My wife Emily is managing the new Totokaelo store, which just opened yesterday.

The space is really nicely designed, with all kinds of interesting little details.

And here's the front side of a letterpressed flyer I designed, with a driving route linking the downtown store to the original Fremont boutique (click to enlarge, or if you're in Seattle, stop by and pick one up – the store is on Western Ave betweeen Madison and Marion).