Category:scott sforza, wh producer


I don't know what's going on here. This image was the intro for a Yahoo News slideshow yesterday on Russia's annexation of Crimea, and so it doesn't have any caption or credit line.

At first I thought it was just a graphic of the Ukrainian and Russian flags, but looking a bit longer, I started to wonder why it had these irregular, dingy, textured spots on it. Which would be odd for a CG graphic, but normal for a photograph.

But then what's it a picture of? A wall? A carpet? Is this a detail from a giant flag mural somewhere? Did someone make a flag-themed rug for some international event? Which people have been walking all over like some geopolitically conflicted Rudolf Stingel installation?

Anyway, the obvious solution now is to make such an installation. I can see a whole series of flag carpets, coming soon to a regionally appropriate biennial near you.

March 6, 2014

FOIA Party


The FBI has provided these photos in response to USA Today investigative reporter Brad Heath's 2012 Freedom Of Information Act requests. They have been redacted under FOIA exemption (b)(6), to protect the personal privacy of FBI personnel. Presumably, the presence of Timon from Lion King was determined not to violate the privacy of the attendees at this retirement party.



There is no way to redact the FBI's inspiration, however. Color me impressed. [@bradheath via @AlJavieera]

John Baldessari, probably 1988 or so, image via


OK, this is pretty sweet. For the Oval Office photo spray with Francois Hollande and Pres. Obama, the French press corps shot a bunch of selfies instead, with the world leaders in the background. The one above is from @ThomasWieder, Elysée correspondent for Le Monde, [via BBC Paris correspondent Christian Fraser, @ForeignCorresp]. It looks like he's being handled by his handler, too.

@Thornburgh suggests it might be a protest against Hollande's recent granting of an exclusive interview to Time Europe correspondent Vivienne Walter. Time's editor at large Catherine Mayer had gloated about the get by tweeting out a selfie from the Elysée Palace a few days ago.


And as we know from White House correspondents, including the media in your shot is an act of aggression, or protest, no matter who's doing the including.

Previously: Pete Souza, White House Photographer
Hell Yes, Francois Hollande!
Aujourd'hui c'est la rentree

I was looking around for something on Richard Hamilton this morning, when I Googled across a 2010 discussion between the artist and the human rights architect Eyal Weizman at Map Marathon, one of the Serpentine Gallery's Marathon series. It was rather compelling for several reasons.

For one thing, their discussion of the political power of maps was frank and vivid in a way that I'm unaccustomed to in US media or art world forums. They talked specifically of Palestine & Israel, but I quickly took down two quotes that seemed very relevant to, of all things, Google:

the "double crime of colonialism is to colonize and to erase its own tracks" -Eyal Weizman paraphrasing Edward Said.

"All maps of a political kind have nothing to do with the people who occupy the territory being mapped." -Richard Hamilton.


These both reminded me of Google Maps' tendency I find so eerie, of Street View cameras and car/trikes to be erased from the panoramas. It turned out at the same time of Map Marathon, I had been working on this Walking Man project, where I followed the Google Trike through The Hague, its European debut, and collected the disembodied portrait fragments of the guy--who turned out to be a Google employee--walking alongside the entire trip.

It would have seemed a bit extreme at the time, but now it feels depressingly plausible, even urgent, to consider Google and its pervasive data collection as a political force and as a surveillance agent. Whatever the benefits of Google Maps--and they are real--we are still in the dark about just how transparent our information is, and how opaque the implications of Google's deep information structure is. And we won't know, and we won't have open, informed debates and political discussion of it until our entire cultural landscape has been transformed by the company. And maybe not even then.

Richard Hamilton,Maps of Palestine, 2010

So this is what's going through my head as Hamilton and Weizman discuss the artist's contribution to the show, Maps of Palestine (2010), above. It was a pair of maps from 1947, and 2010, showing the shifts in political control between Israel and Palestine. It basically shows the impact of Israeli military retaliation in 1967 and subsequent settlement activity in occupied territory, and it appears to challenge the practicality of a two-state solution. [Indeed Weizman, upon whose groundbreaking crowdsourced mapping and analysis the newer map is based, believes only a one-state solution is feasible now, and that everyone's just going to have to figure out how to get along. That's a dark optimism of a sort, I guess.]

And then I start wondering, what, exactly, are these maps like? I mean, what did Hamilton actually make and show? Unsurprisingly, almost no one seemed able to talk about the maps as images or as objects; some people called them/it paintings, but nearly all the discussion was around their content and its meaning. Adrian Searle wrote about the Maps in The Guardian in the context of Hamilton's art historical career and extensive political engagement. When a 4-map variation of Maps of Palestine was included in 4th Moscow Biennale, not only was there no image, or dimensions, the title and the very subject have been omitted. In the opening's press announcement, director Peter Weibel stated, rather amazingly,

There will be quite a few so-called political works at the exhibition. For example, Gerhard Richter's painting is not just a painting, it also refers to 09/11, and the piece by Richard Hamilton does not just show us a map of Israel, but it asks us questions about war.
Credit lines are a continuation of occupation by other means.

Maps of Palestine, 2011, 4th Moscow Biennale
see full-size img in Al-Madani's flickr stream

The only image I can find online of the Moscow Maps is from flickr user Al-Madani, and it's the first to show the work as a physical object. It curls up on the lower corners: an unmounted print of some kind.

It's only after turning up Rachel Cooke's interview with Hamilton in advance of his Serpentine show, "Modern Moral Matters," which coincided with the Map Marathon, that I get my answer. Cooke's entire anecdote is kind of golden, though:

Hamilton hands me a colour copy of a piece of new work that will hang at the Serpentine. It is a political piece, and consists of two maps: one of Israel/Palestine in 1947, one of Israel/Palestine in 2010, the point being that, in the second map, Palestine has shrunk to the size of a cornflake. I hold the image in my hands, and give it the attention befitting a new work by an artist of Hamilton's reputation. In other words, I look at it very closely, and I notice something: on these maps Israel has been spelt 'Isreal'. Slowly, my cogs turn. Hamilton loves wordplay. One of my favourite pieces of his is a certain iconic French ashtray subtly tweaked so that it says, not "Ricard", but "Richard". So presumably this, too, is a pun. But what does it mean? Is-real? Hmm. This must be a comment on the country's controversial birth. Either that, or he wishes to suggest that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a nightmare - can it be real? - from which we will one day wake up. How clever.

"So what are you up to here?" I ask. "Why have you spelled Israel like this?"

Hamilton peers first at me then at the image. "How is it spelled?" he asks. I tell him how the word should be spelled and how he has spelled it.

There is a small silence. "Oh, dear," says Hamilton. Rita Donagh gets up from her seat and comes round to look at the image over my shoulder. "Oh, dear," she says. The misspelling is, it seems, just that: a mistake. It's my turn now. "Oh, dear," I say. "I'm so ... sorry." My cheeks are hot. Hamilton looks crestfallen. Donagh looks worried. "Can you change it?" I say, thinking that Hamilton works a lot with computers these days. "Not very easily," he says. Oh, God. On the nerve-wracking eve of his new, big show, I have just told the 88-year old father of pop art that there is a mistake in one of his prints (this one is an inkjet solvent print). Why? Why did I do this? And how on earth will our conversation recover?

After a moment of perplexity, though, Hamilton starts to laugh. "Oh, well!" he says. "I'm sure there's some way of sorting it out. Not to worry!"

So there we have it. Inkjet print. And from the image published above, it appears they reprinted it with the correct spelling. If only all the Israeli-Palestinian mapping problems could be resolved so quickly.

Also, I wonder if these maps will turn up in Hamilton's Tate retrospective next month. UPDATE: YES IT WILL. [thanks to Tate Modern's curators and communications folks for the update]

Map Marathon: Richard Hamilton & Eyal Weizman - Political Plastic [vimeo]
Map Marathon - 2010 []
Modern Moral Matters | Richard Hamilton []
Richard Hamilton: A masterclass from the father of pop art [theguardian]

January 8, 2014

Kiev Mirror Displacements


Apparently protestors in Kiev staged a mirror protest, holding mirrors up to the police. [via @TheBlogPirate]

detail of The People's Guide To The Republican National Convention, by Paul Chan, for Friends of William Blake

Since the NY Times has seen fit to examine the Bloomberg Administration's rights-defying actions against protestors during the 2004 RNC Convention in New York City, I thought it'd be a good time to look at a remarkable artifact of those protests, Paul Chan & co's The People's Guide To The Republican National Convention. Here's how Paul described it to the CAA Journal last Spring:

The first map I made was in 2004. It was done with a group calling itself Friends of William Blake. I drew Manhattan south of Central Park and we detailed all the events and activities in New York affiliated with the 2004 Republican National Convention. The idea was to make a free map that helped people "get in or out of the way" of the RNC. It worked--to the extent that we showed both protesters and clueless conventioneers the strip-club where the Utah Republican delegation was hosting a fundraiser, and the midtown location of the Dick Cheney gala. The map did not show directions as much as sow havoc.
There are still print copies of The People's Map to be found, but it looks like Activist Magazine is the only place online that hosts the original PDF [pdf, 1.1mb]. I'm going to host it here in hopes that it'll get picked up and archived around a bit.

Meanwhile, the rest of Chan's CAA thing is about the maps in his Waiting For Godot project. Keep reading.

X jxm vlr rpb pelria ilpb vlr Paul Chan []
Mass Arrests During '04 Convention Leave Big Bill and Lingering Mystery [nyt]
The People's Guide To The Republican National Convention, original single sheet version, 2004, rncguide_map.pdf []

"Oh, just the press getting access to the Oval Office, NBD," Pete Souza trolled.

It's almost embarrassing that I did not make the Sforza/Souza connection until this outrage crested. But maybe now is the right moment.

Last month the White House News Photographers Association and 37 other groups and media organizations complained to the White House that they were being frequently blocked or excluded from covering Pres. Obama's activities. And that the White House was instead releasing its own video and photographs, usually taken by WH official photographer Pete Souza.

Team Obama responded, it seems, by releasing the above Souza picture as the White House Photo of The Day. And as USNews reports [really? They're even still around?] the "media" were "enraged":

Julie Mason, SiriusXM POTUS press pool host and former White House Correspondents' Association board member, saw Friday's photo and suggested it was an equivalent to a middle finger, a snub and an eye roll. "All of that, plus a drop of anxiety," Mason wrote in an email. "Behold how sensitive the White House is to claims they shut the press out."

BagNewsNotes, a website that analyzes images, was the first to notice Friday's Oval Office picture and called the White House "incredibly petty" for putting it out, arguing that photojournalists should have been offered the opportunity to capture President Obama doing something personal, instead of another staged photo-op.

Personal? Staged photo-op? Are these somehow mutually exclusive? Here's what BagNews actually wrote:
People in high places should always be mindful how much they are saying, or not saying, with a picture. If the White House intended even a half-respectful gesture, they would have provided access to the president yesterday in a spot that was personal, doing something personal -- graciously offering to the visual media (if just to lower the heat and at least suggest you get it) just one of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of scenes only Pete Souza has been privy to for six years now.
Half-respectful gesture? Graciously offering? I guess now I'm at a loss as to what the actual problem is here.

The actual letter sent to press spokesman Jay Carney argues that the WH is wrongly excluding journalists by declaring public, newsworthy White House activities "private," and then releasing only official photos. But BagNews is complaining about Souza's insider exclusive on actual "personal" activities. These are completely different types of events.

real or real staged? I can't tell or remember now.

At first I'd just meant to post a quick plus ça change, because literally the exact same complaint had been lodged by the same photographers against the George W. Bush administration, in 2006. Then the issue came to a head when the White House released a photo of Bush looking out the window of Air Force One on a brief Katrina flyover. Except when I went to look for the image, it turns out that photojournalists had been permitted to take essentially the same shot, including the AP's Susan Walsh, who filed the 2006 handout complaint.

The issue has not died down, just the opposite. A couple of weeks ago the AP's Santiago Lyon wrote an op-ed in the NY Times titled, chillingly, "Obama's Orwellian Image Control." Lyon cites iconic photos or news-worthy moments that photojournalists captured which "show--surprise--the president is human." Except all but one of Lyons' examples were outside the White House [Nixon leaving], straight news [Reagan's hospital window], or at totally staged press events [GWB's Sept. 11 bookreading, and his rousing rubble mounting at the WTC.]

The other example, JFK Jr. peeking out from under his father's Oval Office desk, does not serve Lyon's argument well. Kennedy had calculated the political value of his children's images from early in his campaign, and photojournalist Stanley Tretick had become the president's go-to guy for sympathetic, "human" images. He was the Pete Souza of his day, whose nominal employer happened to be, not the White House, but LOOK Magazine. In October 1963, two months after the death of their third child, and when the overprotective Jackie was vacationing on Aristotle Onassis' yacht, JFK brought in Tretick for some exclusive hangin-out picture time with the kids. Is this the kind of independent journalistic access the media is clamoring for?

img: still from Stephen Crowley's epic 32-sec. pool spray video, 2009

I think the journos are totally right to give the administration crap about limits to access; they should push for whatever they can, and raise the political price for the WH's own communications/image policy. But let's look at what they're really arguing over: 'pool sprays,' 30-second drive-by photo ops of people doing nothing. Let's see what we've already lost: 'Sforzian Replays,' where the president re-performs some act or re-gives a speech for video and still photographers. The White House image machine is weird and complex and conflicted, and everyone wants to control it to their own ends.

If Special Moments or human interest photos are being brought in-White House, then old/corporate/non-government media should come up with a new visual product. And maybe they start by looking around at their own freakshow presence. BagNewsNotes said some photographers read Souza's image up top as an act of visual aggression, "a subliminal 'screw you.'" Why don't they give right back?

img: Jim Watson/AFP

In October, BagNewsNotes posted a notable collection of pictures of House Speaker John Boehner caught in the media scrum during the government shutdown: Shooting Boehner: Shutdown Visuals Meet GOP Aggression:

What's going on, symbolically of course, are the press members -- as the proxies of the people -- not just dropping their typical submissiveness but actually challenging Boehner's destructiveness and irresponsibility.
BNN also calls it "breaking the contract," [their scare quotes] the contract which apparently precludes media from "panning out," thereby acknowledging its own circus existence. BNN's editorial take is that Boehner and the GOP basically brought this chaotic imagery on themselves.

Is there a White House "contract" too, and if so, hasn't the White House broken it, and mightn't White House beat photographers protest by taking nothing but complicated and aggressive pictures? If the Obama administration's only giving them shit images, why don't they put it in a bag on the White House porch and light it on fire?

White House Pic of the Day of Media Enrages Media []
Shooting Boehner: Shutdown Visuals Meet GOP Aggression [bagnewsnotes]
Limit on Access Stirs Tensions Between White House Photographer and Press Corps [nyt]
Obama's Orwellian Image Control [nyt]

Previously: It's all done with mirrors
And previously in the Bush era: WH Beat Photogs Upset At Staged Photographs They Don't Take

October 13, 2013

The Confederacy Is Present

Carhartt product placement? image: @catblackfrazier

Talking Points Memo calls it "Rage & Performance Art," which is complicated only if you let it.

Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and former half-term governor and Fox News personality Sarah Palin headlined a protest at the WWII Memorial today. They were decrying the memorial's closure as a result of the government shutdown. The shutdown they orchestrated and perpetuate. Personally.

The protestors, Tea Party Republicans and truckers, siezed the barricades and marched them up 17th Street to the White House, where they waved a Confederate flag and demanded President Obama come out with his hands up.

image: @davidfrum

On a process note, it's interesting that where Sforzian moments were once centrally conceived for and executed by professional photojournalists, nowadays photo-op political stunt events are disseminated through amateur snapshots.


One thing that hasn't changed, though, is Karl Rove's Sforzian dictum that you should be able to get the message even if you have the TV sound turned off. And I think that comes across loud and clear.

As in this photo from [decidedly non-amateur, non-bystander] Texas Republican congressman Steve Stockman, which includes a flag behind Palin that cites John Locke's "appeal to heaven" to call for revolution against the government. [via]

the blue gloves

The Guardian commissioned this animated short by director Jonathan Hodgson about the ongoing hunger strikes by prisoners in Guantanamo. The content and text are all based on testimony of five men who are still imprisoned six years after being cleared for release.

The disturbing treatment depicted in the film is largely dictated by the US military's standard operating procedure regulation manuals for handling prisoners and administering force feedings.

Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes - video animation [guardian]
Previously, related: Standard Operating Procedure

October 6, 2013

American Decay


From grupa o.k. comes this 1972 diagram [drawing?] by Carl Andre, Line of March, which describes a smallish floor piece. And it connects to the second inauguration, on January 20, 1972, of Richard Nixon.

Courtney Fiske blogged about finding a 1973 ARTNews article about Line of March titled "The politics of cheese." Andre had found the index card-size sheet metal pieces for the sculpture on his way to Washington, where he'd planned to protest Nixon's inauguration by installing a work, titled American Decay at Max Protetch's gallery on M Street:

The piece consisted of 500 pounds of cottage cheese anointed with 10 gallons of ketchup, resting atop tar paper, covering an area about 12 by 18 feet, with the cheese itself about 10 inches deep. Although the piece was not for sale, one collector did take home ten small cans of the Sealtest large-curd cottage cheese.

There were those who felt, on seeing the piece, that Andre had taken an obscurantist stance, but they should remember that during the campaign Nixon's lunches consisted of cottage cheese coated with ketchup. It has not yet been determined if the cottage cheese Nixon ate was Sealtest large-curd. At any rate, American Decay, which opened at the Protetch Gallery on Jan. 19, closed on Jan. 20 because of the putrid smell which permeated the premises.

I can't find photos of American Decay, but I will definitely look. It sounds gross, but fantastic.

The student of politics will also note that Nixon's inauguration actually took place on January 20, 1973, a full year after the date in the drawing above. Gilbert & Lila Sullivan had another Line of March drawing in their collection that does have the "right" date.

So now I really have no idea what this piece of paper is.

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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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