Wednesday, October 5, 2011


First a bit of a post-mortem. The premise of the contest now seems ridiculous: I wasn’t really asking you to identify photographers, but to read my mind—to guess what photographers I might have been thinking of, taking into account what you may know (or surmise) about me, my collection, and my knowledge of photography.

The terms of the contest were also flawed. What with all the public Facebook chatter, the bunch of you converged on the answers as a body, and to some extent maybe everyone was building on everyone else’s work. The results would have been more meaningful with a secret ballot. But then the whole thing would have been less fun.

A word about how the pictures were chosen. The clarity of the “equivalence” was the most important thing in my mind. You saw maybe a third of my candidates; I rejected the others because I thought they weren’t completely clear. There were photographers I desperately wanted to include, like Evans, Friedlander, and Nixon, but for one reason or another the perfect examples didn’t turn up. There are also innumerable people (Cartier-Bresson, Gutmann, Erwitt are a few that come to mind) who are the right kind of photographer, but would have been hard to bring to a sharp point—to parody, if you like—for the purposes of a game like this.

One rule I had to establish was that severe anachronism wasn’t allowed: the era of the snapshot couldn’t be glaringly out of synch with the era of the photographer being parodied. For example, I had a great “Friedlander,” a storefront with the silhouetted reflection of the photographer’s head poking up in the middle of it. But the picture antedated Friedlander by a couple of decades, and the silhouette-head was wearing a silhouette-hat. It would have been confusing, so I tossed that one and everything like it. For the same reason I didn’t feel I could include a color shot to represent a photographer who worked only in black-and-white, and vice-versa. Maybe I should have made this clear at the outset.

All right. Having gotten all that off my chest, here are the photographers I was thinking of. All were guessed by someone.

1. August Sander
2. Helen Levitt
No apologies—it’s a Levitt, man.
3. Robert Frank
The image is a bit clean and static for Frank, but the dashboard Mary or Jesus is a piece of quasi-vicious agit-prop that’s totally like him.
4. Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Uneasy figure in oddly detailed but mysterious setting, bathed in strong flash at sundown or sunup: to me it’s a giveaway.
5. Julia Margaret Cameron
6. Weegee
Am I off here? The woman looks to me like she’s mentally ill or a vagrant. That together with flash at night—who else could it be?
7. William Eggleston
8. E. J. Bellocq
Sorry for the confusion with this one. The pose suggests Bellocq, but I would not have included this if I had thought the subject was Asian. Also the picture isn’t anywhere near old enough.
9. Larry Clark
10. Cindy Sherman
I’m surprised at the argument. Maybe someone can tell me where I went wrong.
11. Gregory Crewdson
Possibly the scan isn’t what it should be (Polaroids can be difficult). But I am actually sort of proud of this one, because I’m not echoing any specific picture or pictures but taking a leap on his behalf. I don’t think I’ve seen this through-the-window angle in a Crewdson, but it’s got the house and street at night, the suggestion of a Spielbergian suburb, the mysterious occurrence. John P. proposed Jeff Wall—that’s close, because it catches the setup idea.
12. Diane Arbus
13. Mark Cohen
Is he too obscure? Check this out:
14. Nan Goldin

And now the winners. Tied for first place are Mike Grinley and John Phelan, both of whom saw things my way in 10 cases out of 14 and each of whom will receive $10.00 credit at out.of.frame. Congratulations, Mike and John!

Tied for second place, with 9/14 apiece, are Maria DiElsi, Richie Hart, and Mark Sullo. Congratulations, Maria, Richie, and Mark!

Special mentions for firsts and/or onlies: Nick Osborn for diCorcia (#4), Richie Hart and Maria DiElsi for Weegee (#6) and Crewdson (#11), and John Phelan for Cohen (#13).

Thanks to all of you for playing my game!

Joel Rotenberg