Sunday, September 11, 2016

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer

©tod papageorge

I just finished reading Arthur Lubow's new biography on Diane Arbus. I regard Arbus as one of my leading influences.

Regarding influence, it's worthy to note, I don't consider the influence of an artist to imply that there physical body of work is what is most impactful. There are plenty of influences that share no resemblance to my own personal work, yet I can site them as having a profound impact on my life, and more importantly, my life as an photographer. This especially rings true with Diane Arbus' work.

What strikes me about Arbus, and is beautifully written in this book, is her emotional connection to her subjects, especially as it relates to her upperclass upbringing. In an Arbus photograph, something is revealed, and often times, it's Arbus who is reflected most prominently in the physical photograph. "This can be said about Robert Frank, who led the charge in redefining documentary photography as a path to self expression, but with Arbus, the connection between subject and photographer is transformative. There is a "nakedness" in her photographs that is other-worldly.

When I finished the book, I took out a few books from my collection of Arbus' contemporaries; photographers that are associated with the New Documents exhibit. What's abundantly clear, as I'm sure it was when the New Documents exhibit first opened at the MOMA in 1967, is how Arbus' work completely stands on it's own accord. While Winogrand and Friedlander were trailblazers in their own right, Diane Arbus is an anomaly.

The internet has further illuminated the chasm between Diane Arbus and her contemporaries. So much so, that most street photography looks passé now when you compare it to the work of Diane Arbus. If you browse the hashtag #streetphotography on Instagram, you will see millions of present-day photographers, trying their hardest to emulate the style of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. Especially Garry Winogrand! Seldom do you see work that encapsulates what Arbus was doing in her lifetime. Bruce Gilden has tried, but with Gilden's work, there is an emotional dis-connect  between him and his subjects. With Arbus, the bond between photographer and subject was quintessential to her process.

This is an exhausting and comprehensive biography, that reflects with great detail, the complexities and vulnerability of a great photographer. It's a worthwhile read if you can stomach the downward spiral of a conflicted artist who unravels with each ensuing chapter of this book.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Obscura Land, Volume 1: Detroit

I have been selected by Obscura Land, an independent publisher in Detroit, to be a part of their inaugural publication.

Obscura Land will be publishing a series of 5 monographs on a quarterly basis. Each one will feature a specific Detroit photographer, as well as a sixth monograph that will showcase 14 additional photographers. 

My photographs will be part of the sixth installment, with the cover of that piece featuring my 2013 photograph, Urban Tourists No.1. That image is part of an unfinished portfolio I've been working on, that explores the phenomenon  of reverse-migration, and with it, the flow of people and populations back into the city of Detroit, as it trends (in appearances anyway) toward rebirth and gentrification. 

The publication is is being offered in three separate subscription packages, with each one offering progressively more than the previous. If it sounds a bit convoluted, go to their site, it's explained rather nicely in the video featured on their website.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back From the Abyss

Holy crap it's been a long time since I've posted an entry to this blog. My life has taken many twists and turns during the last couple years and writing to an unknown quantity of blog readers had to take its place in the back of the line. It's always been a mystery, as to who actually gives a damn about this blog, but it has served the purpose of keeping me engaged with my personal photography; so for now, that'll have to suffice. Either way, I'm back for a while. However that might unfold is anyone's guess.

There are so many options as far as staying involved with the world around me, and most of them now seem to involve variations of social media, which for me, tends to induce that queazy feeling you get after you've downed a crappy hotdog at Home Depot. I deplore Facebook so much, I had to delete my account this year, which ended up being a cathartic choice for me.  Twitter? Forget it!

The world is full of opinions in the digital age, and some are so frightening, I decided to limit my exposure to the crazies who want to be my "friend" on social media. No longer do I have to endure throngs of people who nauseate me every time they open their pie-hole.  For me, and this is just me, my primary reason to engage socially on the internet, is to eat, sleep and shit photography 24/7. It's a choice I'm comfortable with, however narrow minded. When I'm not in a photo-induced coma, I prefer to socialize the old-school way, with eye contact and conversation. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

So hopefully, this will inspire you, or engage you... If your into that kind of thing.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cell Phone Chronicles-Boulevard of Broken Dreams

I've been visiting Los Angeles since the early 80's, and I've never been able to clearly see the association between the city of Hollywood and the glamour and glitz of the motion picture business. Nothing personifies the reality of broken dreams more glaringly than Hollywood Boulevard, yet for some reason, tourists come by the busload to wander up and down Hollywood Boulevard.

There are basically two main attractions on Hollywood Boulevard. There are the terrazzo and brass stars honoring Hollywood legends, and the cement blocks at Mann's Chinese Theater, that feature the foot and hand prints of Hollywood notables. Otherwise, Hollywood is a collection of crappy gift stores, miscreants and hustlers, all trying desperately to capitalize on the overabundance of naive tourists, eager to get a peek behind the curtain.

Once you arrive at the theater, you're accosted by pushy rap-star wannabes hawking their bootleg CD's, or by down-on-their-luck super heroes offering to pose with you, in exchange for a few dollars. By law, the superheroes aren't supposed to panhandle or ask for donations, but unchecked, they can be overly aggressive and demanding.

After a few hours of hanging out there, I went back to my hotel room, and surfed the net trying to find out a bit more about the so-called super heroes. Being a tourists myself, I didn't have the time to properly document Hollywood Boulevard as thoroughly as I wanted, so ultimately, the IPhone captures you see below were a half-hearted attempt to photograph my short stay.

For a more in-depth look, I would suggest watching the film, Confessions of a Super Hero.  It's worth a look. It aptly reveals the desperation of four people as they chase their dreams of making it in Hollywood. Enjoy…

©tom stoye

©tom stoye

©tom stoye

©tom stoye

©tom stoye

©tom stoye

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Confessions of a Smartphone User

About a month ago I bought the new IPhone 6S. I was leaving town for a month, and wanted to be able to take photographs that could rival, or at least compete with my 35mm. There are times when I tire of the neurosis of always feeling like I need to carry a sack of equipment with me no matter where I go. The 6S is the first smartphone that allows me to freely go about my day without worrying about leaving my 35mm at home. I have no illusions about the image-quality of my smartphone being superior to my Canon, I just want to feel like I can still be creative without the pictures completely sucking, and the new 6S is amazingly sharp and more than adequate.

Cell phone photography still has a weak reputation with serious photographers, but I think much of it has to do with the perceived threat of technology somehow taking over the comfort zones of photographers who have spent decades doing it one way, and one way only.  It took us awhile to get comfortable with the idea of going digital, but it's moving so rapidly, that the idea of shooting with a phone is still too foreign for many to jump in.

Many purists are holding on to traditional means of image making as if it were the only bastion of respectable photography left.  I'm not sure why this is so intimidating, but I don't feel like we are losing anything in the digital age. This isn't a stand against traditional methods of making photographs, as much as it's an attempt for me, as a photographer, to explore as many ways as possible to see what's at my disposal when producing work, and if a cell phone can accomplish that, then bring it on!

The cause and effect of the smartphone phenomenon, is the overabundance of cataclysmically bad imagery out there polluting the photographic landscape: which is annoying, but the flip side of that scenario, is the bounty of great photographers whose work can now be seen and shared online.

Admittedly it's overwhelming to throw your work into the vortex of selfies and vertical videos, but using a smart phone doesn't make you complicit with someone else using the same device poorly. I'm reminded, that given the chance,  you can take equally shitty photographs using a Hasselblad too. 

The adage, "anyone can take a picture," has never been more relevant, but with that in mind, not everyone can take a great photograph; and whether that's with a state of the art camera or my smartphone, who cares?

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Things might come early, but they never come too late
Garry Shandling

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015


"Everything in the world has been photographed a few million times and it does not stop. At this time in the history of photography, everything has been done. All the novelties have been done; yet the pseudo critics ask for more pseudo-originality. All we have to look for now is, as a picture, does it move my heartstrings? If it does, why should I condemn it because it happens to look like something Weston did?"

Minor White

©arnold kramer

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Harper Avenue, Detroit, MI

©tom stoye

I'm enamored with this appliance store on Harper Avenue in Detroit. I keep returning to it when I'm making my rounds of the city. The side of the store, located right next door to a pawn shop, has some beautiful "commercial folk art" gracing it's building.

Detroit photographer David Clements has an entire book dedicated to preserving the art form. His book, Talking Shops, is available here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Scott Hocking's Emergency Ark

Took a day trip to Port Austin, Michigan this week, to take a look at Detroit artist Scott Hocking's new site specific piece, aptly titled, The Emergency Ark. The Ark, like much of Hocking's work, is dependent on the repurposing of found materials, which in this case, is a dilapidated barn found in the vast open spaces of farm country, located in the northern reaches of Michigan's thumb.

The proposal is the brainchild of Port Austin native Jim Boyle, co-founder of the Public Pool art gallery in Hamtramck, and now a Detroit resident. Boyle's plan, once completed, will include ten artists using area barns as their backdrop.

Using a barn, as a canvas, is nothing new. As they say, "It's already been done." But Hocking's barn has flipped the concept, by completely dismantling the barn and re-creating it as an upside down ark. Sitting conspicuously in the middle of a beet field, the ark not only transcends the barn itself, but the way in which we interpret spaces that are recognized as being the "countryside." Because of the vast and limitless space of the surrounding farms, you can't help but to be drawn to it, as it awkwardly rests in what us city folks naively refer to as the "middle of nowhere."

The barn is located about a mile South of Oak Beach Park, at the intersection of Oak Beach Road & Fehner Road. If you're coming from the Detroit area, just make your way up Van Dyke Rd till you get to Oak Beach Road. Happy trails.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ivy League Power Lines

©tom stoye

Please forgive me ahead of time for posting this. Photographs of overgrown urban prairie are so 2005. I know it's been done a thousand times, but I still find the ivy covered power lines incredibly intriguing, so fuck it, add this to the mix. I promise I won't do a coffee-table book of vine laden power lines. This is one and done. My apologies to Andrew Moore and those two French guys, whose names I can never remember.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Photographer Bruce Harkness-Poletown 1981 @ The Hamtramck Historical Museum

©bruce harkness

©bruce harkness

If you look up photographer Bruce Harkness images on the web, his presence is scarce. There are a few scattered images, but for the most part, it would be pressing do any sort of extensive research about his work. While looking for images to use for this blog entry, I was hard-pressed to come up with images that would fairly represent the body of work represented in this exhibit.

Sadly, many photographers are being marginalized based on their lack of web-presence. The digital revolution has made people lazy, and because of this, the physical print is often looked at as sentimental or antiquated. Instagram and other social media websites have made it convenient to look at a photographer's work without without ever having to get up of the couch.

Bruce Harkness' Poletown 1981 photographs are worthy of turning off your computer and making it to his exhibit at the Hamtramck Historical Museum. This exhibit documents the hostile takeover of Hamtramck's Poletown neighborhood by General Motors, in order to construct the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly Plant.

To build the new plant, 1,500 buildings were demolished: literally wiping out a once thriving and ethnically diverse neighborhood on the southern border of Hamtramck. Churches, homes and businesses were suddenly gone, and Harkness was there to document the neighborhood as it morphed into 465 acres of barren land, so that GM could build it's new factory.

Over 4,000 residents were displaced, many of whom fiercely protested the demolition of their neighborhood. Eventually, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of GM, siting it as legitimate use for eminate domain. The Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit, went on to become a landmark case for the consideration of "public use" for eminent domain

Poletown 1981 will be on display till August 30th at the Hamtramck Historical Museum, located at 9525 Jos. Campau, Hamtramck, MI. 48212 (three blocks north of Holbrook on the west side of Jos. Campau.

The museum is open Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 4pm, or by appointment. Call 313-893-5027. Admittance to the museum can also be gained by visiting the Polish Arts Center next door. A staff person will be glad to show you through the museum.

In addition, Harkness will present his photos at the monthly Hungry for History program on August 27th, 2015. There will be a sit-down dinner followed by a lecture. The dinner is at 530pm ($12 charge), the lecture at 7pm is free.

For dinner reservations call 313-893-5027 or 313-574-9758.

©bruce harkness

©bruce harkness

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Urban Tourists and the Dequindre Cut

©tom stoye

Spectators gather at the Lafayette Street entrance to the Dequindre Cut Greenway, to watch as performance artist Nick Cave makes his way down the ramp to a waiting audience. Off in the distance is Meis van der Rohe's iconic Lafayette Towers, which were recently designated by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark.

For me personally, this photo represents a remarkable chain of events, that is a metaphor for a multitude of other equally drastic and surprising changes to Detroit's landscape since I began photographing the city in my teens.

Once a dilapidated Grand Trunk Railroad line, the Dequindre Cut is now an urban recreational pathway, that connects the Detroit Riverfront to Eastern Market.

©tom stoye

In 2004, when I started to document graffiti culture in southwest Detroit, the cut was a lawless playground for graffiti writers, conveniently hidden below street level. The writers rarely referred to it by its formal name though- it was simply known as "the yard."

To gain access to the middle of the yard, which saved a lot of time, I had to jump a fence, while lugging around my cumbersome camera bag and tripod, then slide down a steep (and often muddy) embankment to a retaining wall, then jump off the retaining wall to get to the bottom. If I was lucky, there would be a pallet at the base of the wall that would act as a make-shift ladder, making my decent a hell of a lot easier; but often times I would end up landing flat on my ass covered in mud and debris from my decent. On one occasion, I had the misfortune of loosing my balance, which resulted in me rolling down the hill into a mound of piss-soaked clothing. Barf!

©tom stoye

Unlike myself, the graffiti writers (who were half my age) were quite adept at negotiating entry into the yard, and I was always relieved when they were around, but on a few occasions I remember being profoundly embarrassed by my inability to keep up with them.

To see the Dequindre Cut now is a bit surreal, because I can't quite wrap my arms around it as a gathering place for public use. When it was forbidden space, the Dequindre Cut was both dangerous and sublime. I always had the feeling that I was lost and about to discover something when I was down there…something that only a select few were privy to. The duality of discovery and being discovered was always present. That feeling, that heightened sense of awareness that is required when you are doing something that is forbidden (or hidden from the public eye), is one of the motivating factors of why I love taking photographs of yet-to-be discovered peoples and environments. To be uncomfortable, is to be alive, and never is that feeling more intensified then when you are doing something you are not supposed to do. It reminds me of a quote by the author Jim Harrison, who once wrote, "When you're lost, you know who you are." Harrison's quote sums up why I gave so much of my time and energy to documenting graffiti culture, and as a result of that, occupying the same environments and spaces that they used as their palette.

That feeling of discovery has now been replaced by convenience and familiarity, but that being said, I'm glad to see Detroit finally taking the steps to move forward.

I've waited a lifetime to see Detroit wake up from its slumber. Let's hope that it's not for the benefit of a select few, and that the marginalized and forgotten get a piece of the pie.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Urban Tourists

©tom stoye

Thousands of cyclists turn off of Congress Street. They come from all over southeastern Michigan to participate in the Slow Roll, a weekly bike cruise that brings together a diverse crowd of bicycle enthusiasts who show up in droves every Monday night at a designated meeting place.

This event has caught fire since it's inception five years ago, and is becoming one of the crown jewels of what is happening in Detroit in the present. There is a small fee to participate, but it's well worth it for the feel-good experience of hanging out with thousands of like-minded people who gather for this weekly ride.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Urban Tourists

©tom stoye

A rant for the day.

Today they imploded the historic Park Hotel in Cass Corridor. Although I'm not sure what qualifies anymore for something being "historic." If it's half-dead, is it worthy of saving?  A rhetorical question, because it could have (and should have) been spared 40 years ago.

I love architecture, and I am a proponent of municipalities doing what is necessary to preserve a building, but Detroit has a pathetic legacy of waiting till the last minute to give a damn.

In Detroit, we let shit rot... and then we destroy it.  That's what we do. Maybe not everything, because there has been some great examples of buildings being brought back from the dead, but more than not, we let buildings go until there's barely anything left, and then then the preservationists cry about saving it when someone rich enough can foot the bill. Where were those voices when it sat dormant for the last 12 years? And the Ilitch's, well…the Ilitches needed a loading dock for there new arena. A sad day.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Popps Packing-Biennial Fundraiser

©popps packing

Biennial fundraiser at Popps Packing today. Popps Packing invited 100 artists to design and build a pinewood derby car to help support renovations and programing at Popps Emporium. All cars are on display in the gallery for the solent auction, then raced on a track for the event.

Music provided by DJ George Rahme, with live performances by Kathy Leisen & Nathan Shafer, Jimmy Ohio, Deb Agoli & Pete Langway.

Trophies, food and prizes!

Kids races start @ 5pm
Artists races start @ 7pm
Silent auction closes @ 10pm

Popps Packing is located @ 12138 Saint Aubin, Hamtramck, MI 48212

Friday, July 10, 2015

Robert Sestok-City Sculpture Opening

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Tomight is the night; the grand opening of longtime Cass Corridor artist Robert Sestok's City Sculpture art park. Sestok will be showing his large-scale works at the corner of Alexandrine and the Lodge Freeway. With a rotating exhibition schedule and visiting artist program, the park is dedicated to exposing the public to experimental sculpture work in Detroit.

Before the suits whitewashed Cass Corridor's history by rebranding it as Mid Town, the Corridor was the center of the art universe in Detroit, and Robert Sestok was an intrigal participant in that movement.

Because of the cooperative nature of the artists who were living and working in Cass Corridor during the 1960's and 70's, there styles formed a collective raw aesthetic that reflected not only the city of Detroit, but the overall mood of anxiety and disenchantment that was paramount to the rise of the counter culture movement. Along with artists Gordon Newton, Michael Luchs, John Egner and Brenda Goodman, to name only a few, Robert Sestok can be seen as an important piece to the legacy of artists whose work has come to represent the fabric of Detroit's art community.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Jerome Ferreti@ The Scarab Club

This Friday, July 10, 2015, The Scarab Club will present, Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Jerome's Review, a one man exhibit, featuring the work of Detroit artist Jerome Ferretti. Jerome will be showing a combination of works borrowed by local collectors, as well as new work.

The Scarab Club is located at  217 Farnsworth, Detroit, MI 48202

The exhibit runs through August 15th.
©jerome ferretti

Friday, July 3, 2015

Leonard Freed

Leonard Freed (b.1929 d.2006) was born in Brooklyn New York, to working-class Jewish  parents of Eastern European descent. He was a long standing member of Magnum.

His original ambition was to become a painter, but in 1953, while visiting the Netherlands, he discovered photography. In 1954 he studied at the New School under Alexei Brodovitch.

Throughout the sixties he worked as a freelance journalist, traveling the globe, while documenting a wide variety of  subjects. From 1964-1965, he accompanied Martin Luther King during his Civil Rights March from Alabama to Washington D.C. The end result of this, was his 1968 book, Black in White America. He also published, Police Work, a notable book, that examined life inside the New York Police Department.

©leonard freed

©leonard freed

©leonard freed

©leonard freed