Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Photographer's Eye - The Thing Itself

In April I travelled to southern California to visit my cousin, her husband and their new baby. We went to Los Angeles one day, the beach another, drank lots of wine and margaritas and ate a lot of delicious Mexican food. On my last full day there we found time to drive down to San Diego for the day to pay a visit to the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts. The exhibit on display at the time of my visit was "The Photographer's Eye" based on the ground-breaking book by John Szarkowski. As director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York from 1962 to 1991, Szarkowski, who passed away in July, 2007, curated 160 exhibitions.

As a self-taught photographer I cannot even begin to explain the value of this book to me. From what I understand this book, as well as his other book, "Looking at Photographs", are required readings for any student of photography. The Photographer's Eye forced me to think about the things that I already know but never really conceptualized in the way that he outlines them. I've already ordered my copy of Looking at Photographs.

The introduction of The Photographer's Eye states: "This book is an investigation of what photographs looks like, and why they looks that way. It is concerned with photographic style and with photographic tradition: with the sense of possibilities that a photographer today takes to his work." As a way of understanding what the medium uniquely offers to the visual arts, Szarkowski's thesis introduces five characteristics inherent to photography: “The Thing Itself,” “The Detail,” “The Frame,” “Time,” and “Vantage Point.”

Szarkowski says in his introduction that the invention of photography provided a process based not on synthesis but on selection - paintings were made, but photographs were taken. At the time that photographs first became available as an art form the question that arose was: how could this mechanical and seemingly mindless process be made to produce pictures meaningful in human terms? In other words, pictures that were relevant, with clarity and a point of view. These things could be created in a painting in the mind of the artist but in photography, it is different.

I've gone through my archives and I've tried to find some work that falls squarely within the parameters that Szarkowski defines. Interestingly enough, I feel that art knows no parameters...However, when examining my own work, I find that it can be categorized as he explains. Of course I think that many of my images fall into more than one category but then again so much in life that cannot simply be described in black or white does the same.

The Thing Itself

Szarkowski says in his book that the first thing that a photographer learned was that photography itself deals with the actual and that the world itself is an artist of incomparable inventiveness that must be clarified and recognized. To me this just means that the world is a blank canvas that provides us endless opportunities to make art. I suppose this is why we love light and nuance, dark and shadow and why an image can be different at 12:01 than at 12:02 and that an image can have different meanings. He also says that the factuality of pictures, no matter how convincing, are different than the reality itself. I think that when people view art - photographs, painting, sculpture, etc. - they create their own opinions and interpretations based on what they as individuals see. What the artist intended is relevant and obviously very important but viewers often have a different thought-process. Still, Szarkowski makes it easier for us to understand this. He says that it is the photographer's problem to see not simply the reality before him or her but the still invisible picture, and to make his or her choices in terms of the latter. This is an artistic problem and that the photograph does not and could not lie.

Working It

Plates for Sale

Boy Wai

In New York Freedom Looks Like...Too Many Choices

Shadow Play


No Trespassing

Cycle Afternoon

Lost in Thought

En Una Rueda

All photographs and content are Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Friday, May 30, 2008


I'm almost finished choosing the images to take to Buenos Aires in July and to include in the book. It's been difficult to make the decision and I can only hang about five or six images. I'm also happy to report that I am almost finished with my first draft of my artist statement. Apparently I'm not the only one who is having a hard time with this. I decided to google it (I really don't know what people did before google since I use it a hundred times a day) and I found many, many links about the drama of the Artist Statement.

There are many articles that provide guides to self-promotion, making statements about individual work and the importance of explaining your philosophy, subjects and themes in your artwork. Most articles start with addressing the reluctance of many artists to even have to attempt to do this. It's not as easy as it sounds and it made me feel a lot better to know that I'm not the only one. People ask me about my work all the time and I'm always able to explain it, talk about what it means to me, why I took a particular photograph, etc. but, yet when it comes to writing it down, focusing in, it's not that easy.

The positive thing that has come out of all this dread on my part is that I've forced myself to really think about my work. Really. Superficially I can say "I took this shot because X. I took this one because Y. I felt sad, happy, frustrated, thrilled, annoyed, confused, content," whatever...But, in avoiding to write it down, I've made myself really think deeply about it. I'm putting together this collection for Buenos Aires and I'm putting together the larger collection for the book and I'm realizing that NOT doing it (the Artist Statement) has actually helped me to BEGIN to do it. I started to have all these ideas in my mind about my work and what it means and at a glance a lot of it can seem completely unrelated but in fact it is all Connected by the larger concepts behind it. During my first year of law school everyone warned to KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. And everyone warned me not to lose the forest for the trees. After law school I promised never to use these cliches ever again. But, they worked in law school and they work here. I've learned that the photographs are Connected. They might be so via a small, thin thread but it's all there. This is all very cryptic even to me but it will make sense once I finally finish and post my statement...which I promise to do.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I've been taking self-portraits lately and as soon as I get my new computer I'll be loading some to Flickr. I find these to be a lot of fun but also quite difficult. On the one hand I love to find creative ways to really "see" and "look at" myself and I'm the best model because I am always available. However, on the other hand, my timing is not always perfect with the self-timer and I find it difficult (sometimes) to meter the light since sometimes it can change when I put myself in the shot. I'm learning still and I'm having a lot of fun doing it. I think it's really important when photographing something, anything, to have something to say. Something relevant.

My favorite self-portrait photographer is Cindy Sherman. Her images are much more than simple self-portraiture - they are social commentary. She turned the camera on herself as a way to make statements about women, art, politics, love and sex.

Here is an excerpt from

For a work of art to be considered a portrait, the artist must have intent to portray a specific, actual person. This can be communicated through such techniques as naming a specific person in the title of the work or creating an image in which the physical likeness leads to an emotional individuality unique to a specific person. While these criteria are not the only ways of connoting a portrait, they are just two examples of how Sherman carefully communicates to the viewer that these works are not meant to depict Cindy Sherman the person. By titling each of the photographs "Untitled", as well as numbering them, Sherman depersonalizes the images.

There are also very few clues as to Sherman's personality in the photographs - each one is so unique and ambiguous that the viewer is left with more confusion than clarity over Sherman's true nature. Sherman completed the project three years later, in 1980, when she "ran out of clichés" with which to work. This series gave Sherman much publicity and critical acclaim; she had her first solo show at the nonprofit space, the Kitchen, in New York City. In 1980 Sherman also created a series of what she called "Rear-Screen Projections" in which, similarly to the Film Stills, Sherman dressed up and paraded against a projected slide background.

Here is a collage of some of my humble self-portraits.

of me

1. the woman and the dawn, 2. Before the Sun Rose, 3. Just Me, 4. I May Have Been Dreaming, 5. Suburbia, 6. esta mujer, 7. ...breath out so I can breath you in..., 8. she has something to tell you, 9. The B-Movie Actress and the Villain, 10., 11. The Good Morning, 12. Untitled, 13. Mirame, 14. in the mysterious distance, 15. Hidden Places, 16. not the simple girl..., 17. The Chessas and 100,000 views:), 18. I Love New York

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The MacBook Pro

This week I am going to get my new computer. It's coming by next Monday and I am very excited about it! I ordered it online because every time that I walk in to the Apple Stores in Manhattan I feel like I am going to have an anxiety attack. There are always so many people in there. Even though they have one sales associate for every other person, it's still too much. I'm getting the 15 inch, glossy screen and I cannot wait to see what I can churn out with it.

Because I haven't been able to use Photoshop on my soon-to-be defunct PC, I tried processing my images on Flickr. It's not ideal but I'm content with the results. You can find the before and afters below.

On a different note, I'm getting ready for the show in Buenos Aires this July and I was able to find a printer on 13th Street who is going to make the postcards for me. I'm also thinking of doing a catalogue of my work (about 20 to 30 pages) for the show. This place can do it too. It's located on 13th Street between 5th and University and they are very reasonably priced. I find it by coincidence when I was coming out of the New York Health and Racquet Club right across the street. I've walked down that block a million times but I usually turn down University rather than towards 5th Avenue. If you have printing needs, then I would check it out.

A Weekend in the Country

A Weekend in the Country

happy spring pre-processing

happy spring

Back in the CIty

We'll Take Manhattan

Friday, May 23, 2008

the long weekend

I previously blogges about one of my favorite places in the world - the Hamptons. Of all the traveling that I have done and hope to do, it's ironic that one of the places close to my heart is only 2 hours (without the crazy traffic) from home. This small part of Long Island, New York is very special to me and I love to get away there. I love it in the winter as much as I do in the summer but the first summer weekend here is always my favorite. We haven't had a very cooperative spring here in New York but for this weekend, glorious weather has been predicted. We don't usually come out when the crowds of July and August arrive but it's wonderful no matter when we are here.

Tonight we barbecue and tomorrow we have lobsters from Stewart's. Every day we enjoy the fresh, clean breezes and at night we stare at the star-lit's hard to imagine such a sky in Manhattan but it exists out here.

Happy weekend...

The Happy Hour

it's not easy being green

The Couple

por aquello que encontré en tus ojos

a trip so nice

Got Milk?

el tibio recuerdo...tus labios...

Me ire con estas olas

Making the Right Choice

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

do these shoes make my butt look fat?


I am addicted to beauty products and to shoes. Last night I was sitting on the couch with Doug watching The Office on TBS (love that show) and reading the Bliss Catalogue. They have these great shoes that I need (shoes in a beauty catalogue is genius). Yes, I need them. The cover of the catalogue says that they will make you slimmer, they'll help your back (I have major back problems), they straighten your core. It sounds like they do everything for your feet except give you a pedi. I need them.

I love shoes. I may love shoes more than Carrie Bradshaw. I may love shoes more than Imelda Marcos. Honestly. Sometimes I exaggerate (I'm Latina so I can't help it) but I think I have over 200 pairs. That embarrasses me...a little...not really. I can't help it. I have a huge (obviously) collection from over the last 10 years or so. Some go way back...I actually have these amazing silver heels that I wore to the Junior Prom. They are still in their box that I wrote "Junior Prom" on because otherwise I have no way of telling that box from the others. I have shoes in storage, shoes in dusters, shoes in boxes, shoes under the bed, shoes at my mom and dad's, shoes at my office. I love shoes.

So, I have to get these great sneakers from Europe from Bliss to add to my collection and to help my back. Actually, what I really have to do is stop buying shoes but these will help me physically and not just feed my addiction. These shoes will not make my butt look fat but even if they did, I would probably buy them anyway.

Just Dandy

Sometimes I go barefoot...
walking into...

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Repetition

Once you start to look for these, you see them everywhere. Some patterns are of completely mundane things that you find where ever you turn. Others are extraordinary and are there on purpose. Some are completely random. To me, they are all unique even though they are a repetition.

In the Windows

Shadow Play


Rib Cage

have a seat

The Way Out - The Way In

The Lotus Position


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The People Who Believe

I believe. This is a broad statement but it's how it is.

I believe in love. I believe in hard work. I believe that nice guys (and gals) finish first. I believe in being honest. I believe in destiny. I believe in second chances. I believe in myself. I believe in being realistic. I believe that everyone finds their own way.

This is for people who anything.

White Shadows

a wish for the future


if you want it, you've got to believe

A Whisper

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A New Kind of Love

This is just a quick post to proudly announce the birth of my niece and Goddaughter, Paloma Aurora. New mommy, new daddy and baby girl are all very well.

The feeling is indescribable. Since I'm taking a crack at this writing thing, I'll do my best. It really is a miracle to see my sister with the baby in her belly and then two hours later to see her holding her child. For months we've stroked her belly, sang to her belly, laughed to her belly, taken that belly to restaurants, pilates, Madison Avenue...that belly has even been to a Jay-Z concert, London, Miami, Grand Cayman and Cuba! And, here she is, out of the belly and in our arms, ready to give love and to be loved.

When my sister first told me that she was pregnant I didn't know how to feel. I was so happy and so overwhelmed. We talked about how it seemed to surreal to love someone so much who we hadn't even met, who wasn't even with us yet. We talked about our own parents and how we thought we'd be when we have our own kids. We saw our mother and father in us more than ever and imagined what it would be like to see their faces when they first laid eyes on their grandchildren. When I first saw that baby I thought my heart was going to explode with love. That's the best way I can put it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I Make My Own Hours

This is a new thing for me: two blog posts in one day. I know that tomorrow I will be in the hospital all day with my family waiting for our newest member to be born so I won't be around to write. And, I'm taking advantage of the fact that my computer is actually working so I'm going to write now.

The other day I ran in to a colleague from my former life as a big law attorney. She no longer works at the firm where we met. We got to talking and she asked me whether I missed practicing. Without hesitating I said "no" but thinking about it now, I'm not sure. Immediately after I heard myself say it, I qualified my brief and somewhat adamant statement by telling her that while I do not miss practicing, I do miss the structure that a corporate/office job provides. This is true but even that's not the whole story. Unlike many lawyers, including some I know, I did not completely dislike my practice. No one would really believe me when I told them that I liked it. I loved the challenge and I really enjoyed being a part (albeit a small part as a junior associate) of negotiations. I enjoyed drafting and in general, I enjoyed problem solving. However, like most lawyers working in that environment I really didn't like the time commitment and the stress.

Now, just because I make my own hours, doesn't mean that I feel any less of a time commitment or stress. This should be obvious right? It isn' least not to me. I'm working part time in real estate in my family's business and it's going well (even with the market that we are experiencing) and on the other days I work on my photography...the website, the blog, stock photography, getting ready for the show this summer, the book, whatever. I usually find a way to fill my day. I have to be really diligent about it and I think so far, I am. I have made it a habit to make a list every Friday afternoon of all the things that I have to get finished by the following week. More often than not things don't get completely accomplished but usually they do. When I'm at my other job, I try (I REALLY DO) to focus on it so that when I'm home, other than spending an hour or so in the early morning calling clients, I can focus on photography. But, all of this is hard. I know, poor me.

The reality is that I am much better when I have structure and deadlines. I don't have that sort of pressure now. Well, I do, but unless I'm sending photos for a contest (which I've been doing a lot of), the deadlines are not always hard and fast, or, I have so much time to get whatever it is finished (like the book and the post cards for my show), that I wait until the last minute because I know I have a time limit.

When I was working as a lawyer, my friends and I would dream about making our own hours. Now, I make my own hours and I wish I had more structure. I'm not a huge fan of cliches but we all know which one works best here.

Today was a day I spent at home (it's usually Tuesdays and Fridays but every once in a while I mix it up if I make appointments or someone else will be out). I had a long list of things to finish today but it was so gorgeous out that I left at 9:30 and didn't come back until 3. I worked from home until about 9:30, went out to run some errands, went to the gym and then went to Brooklyn for acupuncture (I have back issues and it has really helped me). I was going to go to my office when I realized the time and decided that I should come home, fight with my computer and try (try) to get some work done. I didn't get much done. I reviewed some recently approved stock photos, checked my email for the millionth time, spoke to my mom and sister and am now writing my second (and, very long) blog post of the day. In fact, when I set out to write this, I was planning on going in an entirely different direction! This was supposed to be about my day out and about in beautiful New York City, wondering why I ever complained about yesterday's bad weather when today's is divine, taking my headphones out of my ears so I can hear the birds singing on Irving Place and wondering whether anyone here works since they all seemed to be out on the street having lunch and on the subway. But, that will have to wait for next time...most likely Thursday since tomorrow I'll be celebrating with my wonderful family...tomorrow is Wednesday but I'm making my own hours and skipping work.

The End of an Era...almost

My computer is on its last legs. I think it is a miracle that I'm even sitting here right now typing this blog entry on it. I've had it for just under four years and it's dying already. I think it literally has bugs. About an hour ago, as I was cursing it, I saw a tiny red thing crawling up the screen. ick. Then just before I turned it on again, I saw another one. double ick. Either way, I'm getting the Mac Book Pro this weekend. wee! I can't wait. I'm a little nervous to switch to Mac but honestly, how hard can it be? Not nearly as hard as it is to have some small semblance of patience each time I turn this freaking thing on and wonder whether it will decide to work!

So, this is a very exciting week for me...I'm getting a new niece or nephew tomorrow (wow!), I'm getting a new computer (yay!) and I'm going to see Kanye West tonight at Madison Square Garden (holla!) Pictures of all of the above to follow...

Here are some images of two other fabulous shows at the Garden. Shakira and Mr. JT.

The Grand Finale

toda escoba nueva siempre barre bien