Category:scott sforza, wh producer


Instead of jumping to the first search result, Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button should go to something tangentially related but certifiably awesome and probably better than what you were looking for in the first place. For the first datapoint in fitting that algorithm, I submit this post from The Bowery Boys about the "World's Greatest Photo-Mural,' as proclaimed by the New York Herald upon the dedication on December 14, 1941 [!] of the Defense Bonds Mural in Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA.

At 96x118 feet, and covering the entire eastern wall of the station's Great Hall, it was certainly the world's largest photomural to date. [Only an Axis appeaser would point out that it's actually six photomural elements installed in a larger, non-photographic composition.]

The mural was created by the Farm Security Administration's Information Division, the legendary New Deal documentary photography propaganda unit run by Roy [no relation to Ted] Stryker. The three main photocollaged panels depicted what America was defending: Our* Land, Our* Children, and Our* Industry. [* Offer apparently not valid for non-white Americans, as the NAACP pointed out in protest letters to the FSA.]

Classic racial exclusion notwithstanding, I was most amazed that a giant war bonds photomural in Grand Central Station was the government's instant response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. And I was also wrong. According to a contemporary report in Time Magazine, the FSA photo staff spent three months designing and fabricating the massive photomural. Which should be evidence enough for the conspiracy theorists who suspected that Stryker and his puppet FDR had been planning to get the US into war all along. But it turns out the Treasury Department had already begun its defense bond campaign in 1940, and that the government marketing masters at the FSA had already been enlisted in Treasury's bond-selling campaigns.

Which seems odd, that a Depression-era tenant farmer resettlement program would morph into a historically ambitious documentary project for rural America, and then into a war bond marketer, before becoming the military propaganda operation for D-Day. Odd until you hear Stryker's longtime assistant Helen Wool describe Stryker's vision of the FSA's photographic mission in a 1964 interview for the Smithsonian:

[I]n that drastic difference he still stuck to the same type of basic idea, that America is America and that's all there was to it. We had psychological warfare films, and we had displays, and we had defense bond things, and everything else. But, underneath it he was selling America as it should be sold. [emphasis added because, obviously]
So what does the 3-months making of the world's largest photomural entail? Fortunately, the snap-happy photographers at FSA like Edwin Rosskam and Marion Post Wolcott documented the process, in a group of 53-70 images now at the Library of Congress:

August 28, 2011


michael appleton for nyt

Such a great shot, such artful product placement. While it's unfortunately still true that you cannot buy publicity like this, only the most foolish brand evangelist will find himself unprepared when disaster coverage strikes.

hiroko masuike for nyt

The truth is, news photographers want to include your store or brand in their hurricane coverage; it can add excitement and content to the shot. The trick is to help the journalist by making that sexy storefront/logo shot not just easy, but irresistible.

reuters via daylife

Be respectful, not demanding. Craft your message with current media standards in mind, if only to increase your chances of actually getting it on the air.

Most brand messaging during a disaster buildup often feels impulsive, improvised.


Which works great for a nimble, inherently creative brand like agnes b.

reuters via daylife

But let's face it, executing on-brand on the fly is tough. Even if guy from Reuters takes a picture of your defiant but slightly odd scrawl, the benefits to your brand are limited if readers have to rely on the caption to learn that Lush is actually the name of your irreverent beer and winé shop.

But it shouldn't always have to be so ad hoc. This scaffolding covering the glass cube at the Fifth Avenue Apple store looks absolutely fantastic. Those guys really are brand geniuses.

Apple Store 5th Avenue - open 24 hours a day, except when a hurricane is coming
via johnrevill's flickr

Except it's actually for an ongoing renovation project. They got lucky. Here's Getty coverage of a very high-quality boarding-up underway at the Georgetown Apple Store:

Thumbnail image for getty_apple_gtown_hurricane.jpg
getty via daylife

A barrier which, however strong physically, utterly failed from a brand standpoint. The raw OSB--and not just OSB, but mismatched OSB!--is almost as detrimental as the hidden logo.

Must Buy Apple Products
"Must Buy Apple Products," image m.v. jantzen via flickr

In fact, a quick survey shows, with the exception of a few strikingly on-point, silver sandbags in the Meatpacking District, hurricane preparedness design is a glaring weakness in Apple's heretofore vaunted retail strategy.

jeremy m. lang for nyt

Another tenet of disaster coverage messaging is to balance long and short term objectives. On the one hand, there's marketing to do and money to be made. On the other, you don't want to be seen as exploiting either the situation or your customers. So make sure the statement about fair plywood panel pricing is in the shot with the helpfully upselly hurricane shopping list.

"WOWOW look at what Best Buy is doing! Selling cases of water for over 40 bucks!" via @AConDemand

And remember, a hurricane is no time for business-as-usual, and that goes for branding, too. So instead of squeezing out full, point-of-sale retail for every bottle in inventory, be creative. Offering a case of water free with purchase of every flatscreen could build goodwill toward the brand, which may pay off immediately by mitigating any effects of post-storm looting.

There will always be naysayers who think that putting even a little thought into your brand's disaster coverage presentation is crass and exploitative. Or who are willing to just hand over complete control of the presentation of their brand to freelance photographers and shiftless twitterers.

To these people, I would say simply, "Follow the experts."

Monocle's artfully, pointlessly taped storefront, via eric etheridge's awesome hurricane retail roundup

Not the branding experts who, in their obsessive preservation of brand essence, apparently miss the entire point of taping a window in the first place.

No, the other experts, the ones who live and breathe disaster coverage; the ones whose job it is to stand ready to help, to be prepared to move in wherever The Weather Channel's satellite trucks may roll. When you're wondering what your hurricane brand strategy should be, ask the important question first, "What would the Red Cross do?"

colin archer for nyt


Oh brother, I have this giant post mostly written about how Leo Steinberg's awesome 1997 lecture Encounters With Rauschenberg includes all these references that show that, not only did he recognize the intimate interrelationships between Johns' and Rauschenberg's early works, he also identified hints of dialogue, reference, in works made decades later.

And of course, I'm referring to Steinberg's discussion of The Ancient Incident, the 1981 Combine/sculpture of a pair of lover/chairs pyramided atop some old steps, which is going to be in Gagosian's Rauschenberg show in Paris next month. [Hold on, unless that's the bronze replica Rauschenberg made of the sculpture in 2005. I think it may be. Except I just read the title of the image file, so no. 9/14 update: Except I just read the caption on the email announcement of the same show, and sure enough, this is patinated bronze, and, confusingly, is also titled The Ancient Incident (Kabal American Zephyr), but it has a date, 1981-2006, like it's the same work, except it's a different one, or. Anyway.]

I was really going to publish it, but it feels a little, I don't know, sappy, hokey, romantic, even. But not crazy, AFAIK. As I write out these 2.25 paragraphs, I'm starting to wonder if the best way to put the info out there isn't as an annotated, footnoted, republished version of Encounters With Rauschenberg, which reveals the lecture to actually be a secret, epic poem of the founding of Bob & Jap's hometown of Zembla. I so totally called it.

But while busily not writing that, then, and worrying my over-conversational voice, over-excited art historical imagination, and my over-reliance on semicolons and footnotes is a sign of my over-doing it on the David Foster Wallace homage front--but see, Maud, my footnotes are from Pale Fire, not Infinite Jest! I don't think I'm not copying Wallace; I think I'm not copying Nabokov! Nice work in the NYT Mag, btw!--John Powers matter-of-factly produced the greatest post ever. On his own blog, Star Wars Modern.

It's all about the connections between previously overlooked satelloon mentions by Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballard and Robert Smithson and Spiral Jetty. And with some steampunk Contact thrown in for free. I bow my head in awe and gratitude, and I look forward to seeing you back here after you've finished reading it.

And then I didn't post it last night because, well, Libya, of course. Did anyone else notice this crazy, masking tape rebel flag behind these doctors treating a pro-Qadaffi soldier? [nyt/ap]


And then I didn't fix the post because I was interested in Art In America's report [via rkjd] that several months ago, John Chamberlain and Gerard Malanga quietly settled their lawsuit over the sale of 315 Johns, which Malanga and like a million other people insisted was his work, made of tons of silkscreened Chamberlain portraits as "an homage" to Warhol, but which Chamberlain claimed he had traded for with Warhol, and that Andy, he, and Henry Geldzahler had cooked it up in the first place, which is how Chamberlain managed to get it authenticated--and which he sold for $3 million at Art Basel "to an unidentified collector." Mhmm.


My favorite part is how the case got resolved "a few weeks before the May 5 opening of Chamberlain's first show at Gagosian." Actually, that's my second favorite part. My favorite part is the awesome quote Malanga's lawyer Peter Stern gave AiA:

"[T]here has been no retraction of allegations in the complaint and no one has acknowledged that they are in possession of or know the whereabouts of the painting.
Well now. Glad that's all cleared up.

August 19, 2011



The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Homeland Security on the government's deployment of body scanner technology on streets and in roving vans.


These are the three pages of the FOIA report that did not come from a scanner manufacturer's publicly available brochures and website, and that were not the publicly available agenda for a scanner industry conference.


Related: DODDOACID, one of a suite of six Redaction Paintings made in 2007 by Jenny Holzer from FOIA documents, and acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 2010 []

FOIA Note #20 (August 15, 2011) Government Transparency [ via @wagnerblog]

June 26, 2011

Sgarbian Backdrops

The near-universal consensus from the VIP opening was that the Italian Pavilion exhibition curated by art critic/Berlusconi apparatchik Vittorio Sgarbi was an unalloyed, over-politicized disaster. Yet so far, I have seen very little substantive criticism or engagement with it. Rome-based art theorist Mike Watson's column in Frieze is a so-far-rare exception:

...the show appears to have resulted unwittingly from the congruence of a cultural elite who lack political power and a political elite who lack culture, highlighting the negative aspects of both - although ultimately it is the clumsy Berlusconian presence which comes off worse here.

In Italy, a country with a deep cultural heritage, the fine arts are the final refuge from a philistine tendency that affects everyday life with an alarming pervasiveness. Yet it appears that the systemic contradictions which plague the Italian political and cultural sphere - and which serve to keep the powerful grinning their stricken grins - have now invaded the fine arts.

Oddly, when I first started liking this quote last week, it was partly because I'd read it as "the fine arts are the final refuge for a philistine tendency," an Italian play on patriotism as the last refuge of scoundrels. I imagined a demagoguing, pseudo-populist media mogul's flailing administration wrapping itself in a fresco at Venice. But apparently not.

Instead, Watson maintains the notion of art as a "refuge from," a world apart from the [real] world. Watson says this philistine affront occupying "the centre of the most prominent cultural event in the art world's calendar," demands "an appropriate response." But what? A sternly worded petition? Some scathingly derisive remarks over dinner in Basel? Art world folks can tweet their outrage all they want, but when the smoke from Sgarbi's stinkbomb of a show clears, they'll still be inside their gilded cage refuge.

The Physiognomy of a Nation [frieze]

May 16, 2011

Police Action Painting

Police spraying protesters in Kampala, Uganda, May 10, 2011 [image james akena/reuters via]

I haven't been able to get these images out of my head since Brian Sholis pointed to them; they're stunning and disturbing at once.

As Time Lightbox's Ishaan Tharoor put it,

We're used to protest movements that come in colors--the yellow of people power in the Philippines, Ukraine's orange, the green of Iran's brutalized democrats. We're less accustomed to seeing protests quashed with color. But in Uganda, security forces sprayed opposition leaders and activists with a vivid pink dye--a mark intended both to humiliate dissidents and make it easier for police to nab them.
The first publicized use of dye cannons was in Cape Town, South Africa in 1989, in a fiasco that became known as the Purple Rain Protest [image below via wikipedia] An anti-apartheid demonstrator seized the cannon and turned it on the white-painted buildings in the square, including the National Party headquarters. "The purple shall govern" became a rallying cry for the democracy movement.


In 2008, after Indian police painted protestors purple in Srinagar, Slate's Explainer put together a concise history of the dye cannon. Which is, well, ironic, considering how aesthetically similar the police painting images are to the Indian Holi Festival, where crowds bombard each other with powdered pigment as part of an equalizing, anarchic celebration of religious joy.

Clearly this is not art; but it is painting. And the sobering political implications and power dynamics depicted in these incredible--even, I hate to say it, beautiful--images makes me question the glib, benign assumptions I hold for that word, that action.

For a long time, I've been fascinated by the military definition of 'painting," the use of laser sighting and guidance systems to target weapons ranging from guns to missiles. It made me wonder what other seemingly paradoxical contexts "painting" has found its cultured, refined way into. I guess I can add one more to the list.

Color in the midst of protest [time lightbox]


Holy smokes, this has to be the greatest photo of David Brooks and Newt Gingrich anyone has taken or ever will take. Will the uncredited Getty Images photographer who was in the Russell Building stairwell last week please step forward to claim your prize? [via andrewsullivan]

UPDATE: Congratulations, Chris Somodevilla!

"One idea could be using mirrors so photographers could do their jobs out of the president's sight line, the White House's Earnest said."

My mind is blown and I am still picking up the pieces after contemplating the possibility that White House photographers might be instructed to shoot using mirrors so as not to disrupt the president's line of sight.

I mean, the compositional challenges pale in comparison to the artistic compositional goldmine that such an environment would provide. I mean, just imagine. Here's one AP shot I didn't post the other day about Sforzian backdrops at Fort Campbell. Check out how the floating reflection of the camo netting draped over the crowd barrier, which is picked up in the teleprompter:


With mirrors, photos of the president would be like rainbows, visible only from the single specific angle that aligns the lens, the mirror, and the face.

Street photographers would suddenly have an edge. Lee Friedlander, traveling with the President:


I've slowly been making my way through Kierran Horner's analysis of Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror in relation to Gilles Deleuze's concept of the 'time-image.' I had just gotten to this part when I found the AP White House photo policy story:

Left alone, Alexei locates and sits in front of a large mirror hung on the wall. The next shot begins stationary behind Alexei, facing his reflection in the mirror, and the camera slowly pans in over his shoulder, focusing ever more tightly on his reflection, until, gradually, the reflection becomes the sole image of the frame, staring back toward the actual Alexei.


There is then a sharp cut to reveal a medium close-up of Alexei sat contemplating his reflection from the opposite angle. This shot/reverse shot dynamic and the 'eye-line match' are common to most conventional cinema, establishing an object, or person, as perceived by a character from their point of view.


As David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson describe it 'shot A presents someone looking at something off-screen shot B shows us what is being looked at' (2004: 303). However, as in this case, the 'eye-line match' refers conversely to an interaction between two characters, here, the actual Alexei and his virtual counterpart. It is as if he is reacting to/with his reflection. This dialectic can be read as representing the Deleuzian 'crystal-image':


'In Bergsonian terms, the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is a 'coalescence' between the two. There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or a postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned into the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture.' (Deleuze 2005b: 66-67)

I see Barack Obama as Alexei. And a virtual presidency. Can you begin to imagine what kinds of images this would produce? Forget the stunning conceptual aspects for a minute; has anyone at the White House thought through the political implications--should we call them the optics?--of not permitting the cameras' eyes to gaze upon the President directly?

Maybe not mirrors, then, but what about one-way mirrors? Is that what they're thinking? Put the photgraphers on the darkened side of a one-way mirror. Fortunately, there's only 225 hours of Law & Order-related programming on basic cable each week to communicate the absolute trustworthiness of anyone speaking on the mirrored side of the glass.


Before getting too fixated on the complications of presidential imagemaking, though, it's worth remembering that the White House is already a supremely weird place for photographers to work. Go back to 2009, just days after President Obama's inauguration, when the NY Times' Stephen Crowley pulled back the curtain on the surreal and utterly staged 12-second tradition known as the "pool spray." These are the images whose authenticity is suddenly, apparently, of such great concern.

Previously: WH beat photogs upset at staged photographs they don't take

So long, Sforzian Replays. After Reuters photographer Jason Reed went all meta about it on his blog last week, the White House has decided to do away with the longstanding practice of re-enacting speeches for reporters from different media.

"We have concluded that this arrangement is a bad idea," Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said late Wednesday. He said the administration is open to working out some new arrangement with photographers.


There are conflicting accounts on whether technology exists to take photographs without distracting the president. One idea could be using mirrors so photographers could do their jobs out of the president's sight line, the White House's Earnest said.

Yes, by all means, mirrors. Pick mirrors, ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.

White House Announces End To Re-Enactments For News Photographers [ap/huffpo]

The death of the Sforzian Backdrop has been greatly exaggerated.


They may not show it off every day, but it turns out that the Obama White House's advance team speaks fluent Sforza. As these AP photos from the President's congratulatory address to the soldiers at Fort Campbell, KY clearly demonstrate.

For starters, there's that Patton-esque flag up top, plus the small bleacherful of racially diverse soldiers for the wallpaper effect,


a motif that was so popular in the Bush era [and so hilariously screwed up in the brief McCain phase.] Check out all the cell phone cameras in the photo above. Don't recall that ever happening in the wallpaper before.


Looks like they used camo netting instead of regular bunting or blue curtain to cover the barricade there.


And check out that fresh new banner, hung on the side, so that:


Here's a nice wide angle shot to see how the staging comes together:


But if there's a difference, besides the frequency, I guess, between staged military events in the Bush and Obama eras, it's this: you just never know, so save yourself a peck of trouble down the line


and don't stand under the banner.


[all Ft. Campbell images via ap]

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting that time.

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about this archive

Category: scott sforza, wh producer

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Selected Court Documents
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