I'll be talking about my work next month in Dallas. On April 5th, the Dallas Society of Visual Communications meets at the Angelika Film Center as part of their monthly series of invited guest speakers. Read more about it in the link below.
I'm excited to have my short film Nocturne premiere at Cinequest this year. The film festival happens Feb.28 - March 12, 2017 in San Jose, CA. More info about the film below...
In a strange school house, brainwashed children outfitted with gas masks are run through drills, while suited men broadcast propaganda from a mysterious board room. Events build to a climax as the masses are encouraged to choose war, at all costs. A true fiction created from actual footage. But are we witnessing our past, our present, or our future?
In the spring of this year I became overwhelmed by the constant trauma the news was bringing in from around the world: the quick succession of terrorists attacks, and our increasingly circus-like presidential election (extreme even for a typically circus-like political process). I had to self-enforce a media blackout for a couple of weeks to get some perspective. Was the world really falling apart?
I felt disoriented watching the politics of Trump as he mobilized the hatred and fear of many Americans. After hearing the media make repeated references to McCarthyism I began reading about Joseph McCarthy and the Cold War and then, as history so oftens illuminates for us, began to see that everything old is new again. Around this same time I was researching archival footage for a video project and came across a vault of old public domain film and radio recordings from that era. Something told me to just start compiling this stuff, and over a weekend I edited together something that expressed what I wasn’t yet able to articulate. This became my short film Nocturne, a darkly comic and dystopian vision of where we have been, and where we could go once again.
In this "true fiction" created from actual footage, I want viewers to ask themselves: are we witnessing our past, our present, or our future?
The Photographic Journal has a new feature out today, showing unpublished images from my ongoing body of work "Visitors". What I love about TPJ is the voice they give to a diverse range of photographers, from very established veterans to up-and-coming unknowns, all given equal space to tell their stories in a beautiful minimal design that showcases the strength of the images. Here is a statement about my series they printed with the feature, which you can view here:
This series was born out of a lot of changes in my life last fall and resulted in me taking a solo drive up the west coast through Big Sur and spending a lot of time alone and being quiet, observing the world as an outsider, as if I were in a foreign country. During my trip I noticed actual foreign tourists with their cameras, and I related to their not quite understanding the language and customs happening around them. I watched them document the everyday details that most natives wouldn't take notice of, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and taking delight in it. This way of perceiving the world I carried with me back to New York City and into the next 6 months as I created new work, incorporating new portrait shoots and delving into my archive of unseen work. I wanted to create a view of the everyday that feels otherworldly; beautiful and deep but simple and emotional at the same time.
Photographer Profile - Eric Ogden: "I wasn't showing my personal vision. After that, I tried to re-route things"
By David Schonauer Tuesday March 15, 2016
Photographer and filmmaker Eric Ogden has recently been revising a dummy for his first book, which he hopes to present to publishers in the fall.
It’s not a collection of his best celebrity portraits or advertising work— “It’s too soon for that,” he says. Rather, he calls the book a “visual memoir” about his home town, the city that cradled his creativity and fostered his future career.
Today the one-time auto-industry boom town’s inglorious reputation is based on a faded economy and polluted water supply. But for Ogden the city was a variegated terrain filled with characters, colors and ideas that helped inspired his visual style.
“There’s an element in my photography that is almost cinematic or surreal or magical — it’s not overt, but there’s an element of that,” he says. “Flint is probably not the first place you think of when you think of words like that, but it definitely shaped me,” he says.
Ogden left Flint after high school, attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the early 1990s and then moving to New York City to launch his photography career. He went on to be named to the PDN 30 list of emerging photographers to watch in 2005 and to shoot for Esquire, the Hollywood Reporter, Men’s Journal, Vanity Fair, Fast Company and other magazines, as well as commercial clients like Nike, Atlantic Records, Sotheby’s and Maker’s Mark.
He is best known for portraits of film stars and musicians — Amy Poehler, Spike Lee, Matthew Broderick, the Kings of Leon, Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz among them — that are drenched in dramatic lighting and packed with narrative potential. In different ways, the narrative is about Flint, he says.
“I’ve noticed that whenever I have the chance to choose a location for a portrait shoot, I’ll end up in a bar with wood paneling, or I’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s go to a parking lot or a supermarket,’ places that feel mundane and midwestern, which is not to say that the Midwest is mundane,” he says.
As his career has developed, Ogden has stayed in touch with friends in Flint, returning every year to visit and take pictures. “I don’t have family there anymore, but I know a lot of people who live there,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in the city over that period of time, the disintegration of some stuff, but also attempts to rebuild and renew.”
It might be that by returning to Flint, he has been looking to find out more about his own creative instincts.
“I grew up in a neighborhood that was kind of rough — it was not a sheltered life,” he says. “So I was exposed to a lot of interesting characters and oddness. I probably already gravitated to that, just because of who I am, but all that gave me a slightly eccentric view of the world.”
Reckless Teenage Years
Art careers are about growth and the search for new ideas, but they are also about the search for an essential artistic point of view, the one that never changes.
“Today we are flooded with images — most people have cameras at their disposal and everyone is a photographic subject. Eric finds a way to cut through the clutter and do something distinctive, using his camera as a tool to explore,” says Fast Company Director of Photographer Sarah Filippi. “His cross-disciplinary concepts create unique worlds where we see the ironic or slightly-off moments that one would normally pass by. He draws influence from film and theater, giving his work a signature style. In many ways, Eric aims to make you see what’s in front of you in a different way, altering your perception.”
At his website, Ogden points to his experiences growing up in Flint — “endlessly drawing as a kid, playing in bands, discovering punk music and cinema, my reckless teenage years” — as his own personal reference point.
His first camera was a 1980s-vintage video recorder, which he and his high-school friends used to create DIY films. “We would sketch out these stories and figure out cool locations and then shoot them and edit them and add music. We would do stunts — somebody riding on the hood of a car, really dangerous stuff. And we started to get a little following. Each time we’d make one, our friends would be like, ‘Hey if you make another film, can I be in it?’”
At college he was exposed to cinema and art history, while soaking up more of the pop culture of the era —music videos by filmmakers like David Fincher and album covers by graphic designers like Vaughan Oliver. Then in his sophomore year he took his first photography course. “As soon as I realized photography didn’t have to be straight documentary, that you could manipulate reality through lighting and lenses, art direction and props — essentially what you do when you make a film — I got very excited about it,” he says.
When he moved to New York in 1994, all he had a handful of phone numbers. “I would talk to anyone,” he says. “I was so green and fearless that way — I didn’t know what was appropriate and not appropriate. I started to assist some photographers, worked on the crew of some low-budget movies, sometimes for a small fee and sometimes just for lunch. I worked in photo studios painting backgrounds and cleaning bathrooms.”
His first break came when he got an assignment from photo editor Nancy Jo Iacoi at Time Out New York. “She’s a great friend to photographers and has given many their first real jobs,” says Ogden. “My work started getting seen, and I was shooting portraits for Vanity Fair and fashion for Lucky magazine. I learned a lot from that; it added to my skill set for shooting and relating to people.”
A Career In Motion
Not long ago, Ogden heard from a photo blogger, who wanted to know what work he considered his best. Instead, Ogden told him about a pivotal moment that changed his work.
“It was about a time when I was in my early 30s and my career was really taking off,” he says. “I was shooting a lot of jobs, but nothing that really showed my own personality or point of view. And for Christmas a friend gave me a set of DVDs of films by directors I loved — short films and music videos by Spike Jones, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry. I spent several days watching them and then went into a pit of despair. I was like, ‘I am so far off the mark. When did I wander off the trail toward what I want to do?’”
It was a tough time, Ogden says, but it turned out to also be a rewarding one. “I realized I wasn’t doing what I was put here for,” he says. “I wasn't showing my personal vision. After that, I tried to re-route things, being conscious of jobs I was accepting and not accepting and how I shot things. It was a turning point."
Since then, he has been able to plumb his own influences and experiences to find a unique voice. He’s also circled back to his early love of filmmaking, shooting a number of motion projects, including a comic sketch starring actress Anna Kendrick that was done in conjunction with a photo assignment from Fast Company. The four-minute short was later named a winner of the International Motion Art Awards.
Last year he also joined other photographer/filmmakers, including Ruven Afanador and Frank Ockenfels III, in a project for International Flavors & Fragrances, a perfume and flavoring manufacturer. He’s now completed a director’s cut of the atmospheric video, which he plans to enter into film festivals.
“My point of view has evolved and expanded,” he says, “but I’m still the same person creating the work, and that feels good.”
I remember first coming across Roger Ballen's work a number of years ago, and as it equally mesmerized and repulsed me, I recognized the fierce originality of an artist who has fully come into his own vision of the world. Here he gives some guidance to photographers willing to take that same journey, by asking some important questions. Thanks to the Cooperative of Photography for creating this inspiring video.
"Covert Presence", an atmospheric portfolio of my work, is in the new issue of the art and culture magazine Aesthetica. There are no people in nearly all of these photographs, but there is a presence. Can I still call them portraits?
IN the middle of ad agency Droga5's NYC headquarters art production floor they have an "artists wall" that rotates every month with new works-in-progress, new series, or whatever the guest photographer chooses to share. I was asked at the end of last year if I'd like to hang some prints, which I ended up doing last week. I decided to show a body of recent work, much of it created for Instagram, that had been originated or modified using iPhone apps to achieve the varied effects. These images were then printed on 20x20 archival fiber paper. It was an interesting experiment for me to see how images that I've been creating, working on and posting on such a visually tiny platform would fare enlarged to that degree and printed in such a classic manner. Most made the transition really well, and it reminded me of how in some ways this work has brought me full circle since my early art school days when I was layering negatives in an enlarger, creating double exposures and printing black + white negatives onto color paper in trays by hand. I take it for granted (and yet it blows my mind) that I can now achieve similar effects using only my phone. But it also proves to me that the tools used are really beside the point, whether it is film and chemistry or a smart phone, the point of view is what carries across all media.
I find this is the case with the artists I most admire. With the recent death of David Bowie, it seems everyone is taking stock of what this great artist achieved, in his music and even more expansively, across our culture. But no matter what role he was playing, what character he inhabited or what phase he was in, it was unmistakably Bowie. Even with his roles in less than stellar films, he remained unscathed, keeping somehow apart from everyone and everything else, carrying his artistic world with him like a protective bubble that could not be pierced by the outside world. Not that most of us will achieve the greatness or groundbreaking originality of a Bowie, but in realizing that the tools we use, whatever they are, are only that, a way to make your voice heard, your vision seen, we can then focus on our own unique points of view. That is something I think David Bowie did for many of us; while blazing a path of his own he showed others that they could do the same, inspiring people to find their own fierce creativity within.
The writer and philosopher of the everyday Alain de Botton has now started A School of Life to help us all find a little more guidance in our lives, and he does it in the most generous, least annoying way possible. I've been a big fan of his since his books How Proust Can Change Your Life and The Consolations of Philosophy. Here in this video (from the School of Life Youtube Channel) he talks about the idea of higher consciousness, a subject often touched on in relation to meditation. Though the practice of meditation and the idea of higher consciousness are much more in the mainstream than they used to be, they can still intimidate and confuse people who are new to both. I've struggled with this myself, as I've slowly come to meditation in fits and starts over the past few years. The confusion is not surprising. Often the very practitioners or teachers who could help don't remedy this situation much by giving it all a gauzy mystical touch when relating it to others. I've discovered the practice of creating space and quiet in yourself is a very concrete and teachable skill, like building muscles with exercise. Which is a relief, in some ways. It doesn't have to feel out of reach (like striving for enlightenment), and it's an especially good skill to have as artists, for with these glimpses of our larger selves, we also tap the most creative aspect of our minds.
We are told so much these days by "thought leaders" that we are all artists AND we are all brands, that we are solo-entrepreneurs (solopreneurs?), that we need to use social media to market ourselves, that our social network is the most important thing we have. It is in this dizzying environment that I find other artists as well as myself taking cues from Silicon Valley rather than art history. I agree we have a lot to gain from studying startup culture; the lessons of real-time prototyping, A/B testing, pivoting your business quickly, bootstrapping, iterative correction rather than the drawn-out expectations of a perfect launch, disruption, the list goes on and on. But there is a certain soullessness to all of this. What is missing, I think, is what William Carlos Williams famously summed up in his long poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower:
It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.
We live in a consumer culture, and inevitably non-consumer things get swept up in that way of thinking. Obviously we all need to make a living, but there is often a simplistic equation that makes popularity into a barometer of quality, especially when it comes to marketing, to social media presence, to pure revenue. Great artists can be greatly successful, and I wish that for everyone who does inspire me. But often we are misled with the lures of this virtual popularity, the rush of internet mini-fame, advertising that masquerades as legitimate art or worse, some kind of social awareness or justice all the while selling us a product. None of this is new. We all buy into these ideas, and I'm not above any of it. I work commercially, and my images have helped to sell products. But there needs to be an awareness, and a balance. I've spent the last two years deeply immersing myself in business & marketing books, startup guru podcasts, life-hacking blogs, life optimization groups, you name it. I've found it fascinating and yes, there are some helpful ideas to glean from these worlds for sure. But in them all there lacks the one thing art offers above all else--a wordless beauty and a sense of comfort, but comfort given not by gentle platitudes, it is the comfort of recognition; that we are human, that we are flawed, that we often fail, or that we just get lost sometimes, and we don't know everything. These things are beautiful and we can gain wisdom from that recognition. We learn how to live not by becoming super-human, as many of these blogs cheer us on to attempt, but by gaining insight and acceptance, kindness and clarity, forging a community of understanding, these are the things that will keep us all going in the face of difficulty. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” This is the spirit that goes beyond the often narrow view of business culture.
Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter whose films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malcovich, Adaptation, and others, is one of the most conscientious observers of the human spirit of our time. He doesn't pull any punches, but he has infinite grace when it comes to illustrating our struggles in this world. I came across this speech he gave to the British Film Insitute last year, and it addresses many of these ideas. It is an antidote to the constant inescapable striving and self-sellling we see so much of these days. It is worth watching.
It's that time of year again, and I'm excited to be part of Aperture Foundation's Benefit Auction & Party on October 26th at Terminal 5. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Aperture Foundation presents an evening of art and entertainment featuring Nan Goldin's famous slideshow of The Ballad, with a live musical performance by Laurie Anderson and special guests. DJ sets by rock photographer icons Bob Gruen and Mick Rock should be a blast, too. Dubbed "The Playlist" there will be a live auction of new photographs donated by artists such as Stephen Shore, Sarah Moon, Richard Mosse, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Catherine Opie, as well as a silent auction of framed photographs, each inspired by a song or a piece of music, featuring the work of a fantastic list of artists.
My donated print "I Dream A Highway" (below) will be part of the Playlist's silent auction. The online bidding has opened on artnet here. I took the title from Gillian Welch's dreamy, fourteen minute folk-country epic I Dream a Highway, which captivated me the first time I heard it in my car. As I drove through small upstate towns, the abstract lyrics unspooled an expansive almost-narrative that bent and wound around like the terrain I was driving. It's hard to explain the mood it captures; a sense of reverie and melancholy, with the feeling of a secret, clustered longing in a sun-raked, lazy heat.
I scribbled down this quote from the great Francis Ford Coppola while listening to him in a segment of the Harvard Business Review's Ideacast. It is one of my favorite sentiments and something I have to remind myself of every now and then.
"The things you get fired for when you're young are the exact same things you win lifetime achievement awards for when you're old. Which is to say the things that run against the grain, that are not common, are not logical, that don't fit in to the standard approach… if you do survive and get that across--remember that the things that get you in trouble are the same things that are later remembered as being exceptional."
-Francis Ford Coppola
I recorded this audio response to the question a photography blogger asked me: "What was the best thing I ever did as a photographer?" I took this not to mean literally what was my "best" work, but instead what thing changed my work or the way that I worked. My answer involves two stories, but in both I talk about a couple of pivotal moments in my career that helped to define it and evolve it in a new direction. Thanks to Michal Fanta for posting.
The Opening Night of Photoville at Brooklyn Bridge Park is happening Sept.11th. I'm excited to be part of one of the night's main events, an audio-visual celebration of music photography curated by the legendary rock photographer Jenette Beckman, featuring nothing less than a tour of modern music through its most iconic musicians AND photographers, both past and present. Also, the Smorgasburg Beer Garden is not a bad thing.
The master street photographer Gary Winogrand who left us in 1984--too soon at the age of 56, was able to make art out of single fleeting moments that most of us don't even notice as we make our busy way to work, to the coffee shop, to the train, not bothering to look up in the morning rush, the rush home, the rush to weekend plans, the rush through life.
This is a tension I currently feel in my creative life: when I was younger, with less responsibility perhaps, I used to actively observe more, watch human behavior, notice subtle interactions in the world around me. I had more time on my hands, but this was also before the age of iPhones and apps, which largely take up everyone's concentration and this "nothing" time, the seemingly dead moments between things that most of us try to fill up with busy-ness, with productiveness, or at least with incessantly checking Instagram (just me?) all while wearing that feeling of being busy as a badge of honor. And yet now, that very (iPhone) object that monopolizes my attention contains a tiny decent camera that I keep with me at all times, and thus ironically I am more capable of snapping immediate moments, street photographs, and catching spontaneous beauty that is gone forever, save for the image I made.
In the past I never felt much camaraderie with that generation of classic street photographers and photojournalists. My taste always leaned towards the work of visionary portrait and fashion photography where a reality was constructed as much as it was observed. But in recent years I find myself equally drawn to the disarming truth the best documentary work has captured for all of us to witness, the seemingly ephemeral truths that will endure after we too are gone. Lately, with the knowledge of this small camera at hand, I have found myself looking around again, and every now and then I have been able to grab some wonderful unguarded scene; my brother swimming in a watering hole upstate with one of his daughters, the glimpse of a well-placed telephone pole and old car as I leave a bar in a night parking lot, a girl touching a boy's newly shaved head as a square of sunlight falls on them both at the bottom of a stair case.
Winogrand's street photographs echo and rebound with other images of his era: Robert Frank's The Americans that ushered in the change about to hit our country in the 1960's, and abroad the stripped-down creative rebellion of the French New Wave filmmakers, breathless images photographed by Godard and Truffaut in glorious black and white light. Winogrand's world was even mirrored strangely by Catherine Deneuve's listless secretary wandering the streets of Polanski's great film Repulsion.
Jack Kerouac famously said about Frank's off the cuff snapshot of a lonely elevator girl --"What's her name and address?" He was smitten by her dreamy gaze and a story of her he could only imagine. Winogrand's photos are full of these women, leaving us to tell our own stories, and maybe even just a little, to fall in love. Women Are Beautiful is the name of Winogrand's 1975 monograph of these romantically un-romantic street portraits. It is a wonderfully apt title. People will always be beautiful, if someone is paying attention.
I'm thankful for karamolegos35 for creating this fantastic little slideshow I came across one day on YouTube.
This well-known poster (via Good Fucking Design Advice) I recently read hangs in Jony Ive's office (Apple's chief designer) and in many other offices, I'm sure. Good advice. And something for your Monday.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I was lucky to have a friend tell me I should check out the Pierre Huyghe exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Arts when I was in town back in January. On a perfectly rainy museum day, I went alone to the LACMA and spent several hours there, but most of that time was spent at this singular show from an artist I'd never heard of until that day.
At its best, art should challenge, temporarily alter and possibly even permanently change your perceptions of the world. It is rare for me to encounter that, but when I do, it really excites me. I hadn't seen a show that gave me that visceral response in quite a long time. But here was an artist working in multiple disciplines and media (high-production filmmaking, performance, drawing, installation, audio/video, sculpture, natural objects) and excelling at all. An underwater crab with a Brancusi shell, floating boulders, a reclining woman with a bees nest for a head, a ghostly white dog walking among the audience with a scarlet-painted leg, a man with a glowing LED face-mask, on and on. I felt dropped into an alternate universe. But the films were what really astonished me. There was that sense of odd beauty and playfulness with a little foreboding, combining everyday elements into striking new images that made me think of other artists--Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze and Matthew Barney, even the great European director Krysztof Kieslowki--though Huyghe's work felt completely original. Unfortunatey, the show only runs for a couple more days as I just discovered, so I thought I should post this now. It is hard to get a sense of his work online, you really have to just see it, and I hope any of you reading this will get the opportunity.