This Week In Photography Books – Kehinde Wiley

by Jonathan Blaustein

“Thank You,” and “I’m sorry” are among the most powerful phrases in any language. (As words are only ideas encoded in sounds, fortunately, the concepts are universal.) In my day-to-day business, I’m constantly surprised that so many people are unaware of the import of appreciation and contrition.

Taken together, those twin values synthesize into Respect. Which is, in my opinion, the key to happiness and success. If you don’t respect yourself, you cannot possibly respect others. And unless you’re a super-talented, pathological narcissist, you’re unlikely to make it far in this world without a healthy dose of Respect.

I mention this, today, because I’d like to temporarily tackle an issue that’s been consistently bugging me for my two-year tenure here at APE. Yes, I’m going to directly address the cadre of knuckleheads and d-bags that leave nasty, heartless, and comically un-self-aware comments at the end of these articles. Lest you think me a simpleton, I do know that these words you’re reading ensure we’ll see more such comments below.

That’s right. It’s time to speak to our gallery of fools; the short-tempered, know-it-all, sadsacks who hide behind the veil of anonymity. Here’s the truth: you make yourself look really bad every time you drop the hatred on our heads. Secretly, deep down, you know this to be true. If not, you’d add your name and email address to each post. But you don’t.

When you disrespect me, (and Rob,) with your petty, childish zingers, you disrespect the rest our the enormous audience that follows this blog. They know better than to admire your thoughtlessness. Ultimately, you disrespect yourself. Your shame spiral all but guarantees that you’ll do it again, here or somewhere else. There is no bucket of Ben and Jerry’s big enough to drown your self-hatred. (Clearly, I’m differentiating between hating, and constructive criticism. The latter is beneficial, as I’ve said many times.)

If you are one such person, gathering your thoughts to trash me at the end of reading this, how about you try something else today? Stop reading, here, now, and go do something else. Take a walk. Lift some weights. Read a book. Even better, grab your camera, and go make some Art. Channel your anger into something more productive. Because if your goal is to hurt my feelings, or get me fired, it won’t work.

However, if this community, (and the Internet in general,) were to lose that mindless hatred, we might just have ourselves some interesting, intellectually challenging debates. I’m certain there are countless readers who never, ever write in because they’re afraid of being embarrassed by one of the few people to whom I’m speaking now. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what those people have to say?

Yes, Respect is the word of the day. It was the keyword for the recently completed European Football Championships too. (Plastered all over those Polish and Ukrainian stadiums.) It’s also a word you hear a lot in inner cities. Minority and low-income communities are constantly decrying the lack of respect they feel from the police, the powers-that-be, and from the rich folks who live a neighborhood or two away.

One way to combat a dearth of Respect is to challenge people’s pre-conceptions and bedrock assumptions. It’s the reason that I wrote those incendiary paragraphs above. It’s also the reason that Kehinde Wiley has had such a remarkably successful career in a short span of time.

Mr. Wiley, the SFAI and Yale trained painter, has made a living off of placing not-quite-sterotypical visions of contemporary African-American men into the traditional, art historical painting context. (At present, he’s also working with Non-African-American-Men-Of-Color.) I say not-quite, because, despite the clothing and bling, there is a vulnerability to his subjects, and sometimes almost a sexual ambiguity, that defies easy stereotypes.

I missed his show at the Jewish Museum when I was ever-so-briefly in NYC late last month, mostly because of a lack of time. Additionally, I knew I had his book in my pile. Big mistake. If you live anywhere near NYC, go check it out. The book has stoked the embers of my curiosity. But now I’m back in my horse pasture. Oh well.

Mr. Wiley has a new monograph of his work, published by Rizzoli, and I’ve given it a good look. Fantastic stuff. The artist photographs his subjects, and places them in ornate, painted compositions that are often titled to reflect their art historical origins. As so many photographers wish they could paint, including the brilliant HCB, this book is worth checking out. The transformation from person to photo to canvas is symbolic of the entirety of Art practice.

Furthermore, there are a suite of photographic images included in the book. The style is the same as the painted images, but they lack the magic, spark, genius…whatever it is, they lack something. Definitely not as good, but still interesting. I only mention it, because I believe it behooves all of us to be proficient in more than one medium, but of course that’s much easier said than done.

Bottom Line: Very cool book, probably not something you’ve seen before

To purchase “Kehinde Wiley” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

 

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 41 Comments On This Article.

  1. What an awesome intro to your article – extremely well said. Very cool book.

  2. Isn’t it Internet 101 to never give comment trolls the time of day? You just vindicated their actions by addressing them in your post. If it’s their attention they want, well.. they just won.

    The book looks great, by the way.. I love his work. The paintings are much more impressive in real life, in large scale. I actually think the photographs work better in the book format.

  3. Thank you, Jonathan! Fantastic intro & I couldn’t agree more!
    Also, this work looks amazing… Definitely curious to check it out.

  4. YEAH. Show some respect.

    I get it if you don’t want to read about Jonathan’s life or you don’t like the photography or you don’t think the photographer deserves a book but why vent your spleen all over the place. This column is meant to entertain. Move on and enjoy your life… or go pump iron or something.

  5. Stella Kramer

    Jonathan,
    I saw the Kehinde Wiley show at the Jewish Museum and it was fantastic! The juxtaposition of the men and the ornate, decorative patterns and backgrounds challenged me to imagine the world in a very different way. It was glorious!

  6. TL;DR (No, really)

    The best way to deal with trolls is ignore them. I fail to see why you need to address them at all. Or, make people log in with Twitter, Facebook, etc only like some blogs do, don’t allow anonymous comments.

    Also:

    “If you are one such person, gathering your thoughts to trash me at the end of reading this, how about you try something else today? Stop reading, here, now, and go do something else. Take a walk. Lift some weights. Read a book. Even better, grab your camera, and go make some Art.”

    Comments like this are negative also. It could be that you are assuming that people who disagree with you are sitting at home bored. Too often people who post dissenting opinions are labelled as “trolls.” Comments are optional on blogs, turn them off if it stresses you out so much.

    • Well, the whole reaction is just more nasty name-calling really, and perhaps will only foster more negativity. But I believe it’s been repeatedly noted in the past that the standard editorial reaction to critical posts here has been to label the poster a troll, or to simply dismiss them with some other insult. Most posters here simply want to write a note of praise in order to highlight a link back to their photo site, which is fine if that’s all you want, but if Blaustein and Haggart truly wish to participate in “interesting, intellectually challenging debates,” then they will have to learn to respond with more than insults to commenters who present opposing opinions. Or maybe someone can point me to a place where this sort of debate about photography actually exists.

      My own comments here have run the gamut from innocuous to indelicate, but they’ve always been greeted with defensive hostility by both Blaustein and Haggart. (And yes, I include my email, as if that makes any difference. And no, I’m not one of those people that’s ever called anyone here a hateful d-bag, which actually should make a difference.) I think the primary issue here though, unfortunately, is that given the photo book reviewer’s apparent disinterest in engaging in any sort of critique of the work at hand, we few commenters interested in critique and debate really have no hope of provoking that sort of discussion.

      At any rate, there’s one thing we can all agree on, and that’s that middle-aged white people should stop using the word “bling.”

      • We can also all agree that using last names to address people is best left to places where it’s written that way on their uniform.

        A quick review of your past comment shows little effort to engage in the work at hand and more effort to snip at the writer. I recall you took Jonathan down an notch in one comment and we let it stand so I don’t know why you’re being so whiny.

        • You’re insulted that I’ve addressed you by your last name? How silly. Perhaps you and Jonathan (I’m sorry, is that too informal now?) should stop interpreting every little thing as some sort of personal insult.

          • The comment was a joke meant to copy the little snip you made at the end of your last comment. Looks like you’re the sensitive one around here.

  7. And lol at the fact that my comments must now “await moderation.” So I am on the sh*t list.

  8. matt black

    I saw one of Wiley’s paintings years ago at the Ft. Worth Modern and have been kicking myself ever since because I didn’t think to write down the artist’s name. Thanks for solving that little mystery!

  9. “As so many photographers wish they could paint, including the brilliant HCB, …”

    HCB wasn’t a photographer who wished he could paint.
    He was a painter first and last and did a long span of brilliant photography in-between. (“Painter” includes drawing.)

    “The transformation from person to photo to canvas is symbolic of the entirety of Art practice.” That’s quite a declaration. What does it mean?

  10. blake andrews

    I agree with Mark’s assessment. As someone interested in photobooks I generally read these reviews, and I usually find them entertaining although I don’t always agree with Blaustein’s opinions (e.g., the Wiley book does not appeal to me).

    The comments which follow the posts are often quite revealing. But I never add to them, for the simple reason that my first few comments several months ago were treated with mysterious hostility. The author(s) seem somewhat thin-skinned, and there is a tendency to treat any critical comment as “trolling”, perhaps including this one. Sure, we could stop reading the posts or go lift weights or whatever, but is that what you really want? To limit your audience to those who agree?

    Yes, a few past comments have seemed like trolling. But those are the minority. I think most negative comments are in the spirit of constructive criticism, and if approached with an open mind and a positive spirit, they can be quite helpful.

    • Hi Blake,
      Thanks for chiming in. We always love to hear from our fellow photo-bloggers. (If retired.) I well recall responding to each of your comments in the past, but to no avail. You chose not to reply.

      I’m sure you don’t read each and every week, as I do. This column was directly addressed to a small contingent of folks to do not intend to promote dialogue. Some people just throw nasty, personal insults out there. It happens. Not every week, but often enough.

      If you read the Interview I did with Rob last month, you’d see that I espouse the value of constructive criticism. It’s the bedrock of Art education.

      I just don’t see why we can’t draw distinctions between “respectful dialogue,” and “insults and attacks.” As the creator and author of this column, I believe it is important and valuable to do just that.

      If it’s intelligent dialogue you seek, let’s do it.

      • scott Rex Ely

        JB:”I just don’t see why we can’t draw distinctions between “respectful dialogue,” and “insults and attacks.” As the creator and author of this column, I believe it is important and valuable to do just that.”

        I think when you have an open discussion forum, like this thread for example I think you run the risk of sanitizing the openness by you deciding what is respectful dialog and what might actually be constructive criticism.
        I see comments that may not directly praise or heap flikr style thumbs up accolades as components that keep the openness more organic instead of becoming a tidy one way comment pr piece. Life is messy and if you don’t like the not so pretty things to come into your garden then you run the risk of becoming sterile and insipid and nothing really grows.
        I have never insulted anyone and I use my real name so i don’t know why my comments are being moderated. Thus my rationale for my explanation above.

        • “Life is messy and if you don’t like the not so pretty things to come into your garden then you run the risk of becoming sterile and insipid and nothing really grows.”

          Scott,
          As you’ve joined the discussion forum many times in the past, let me ask you, do you really believe that what you wrote above is appropriate to this situation? To ever question the intent of someone’s mockery will lead me to become sterile and insipid?

          All responses are always equally valid? Even bereft of identity or any attempt at civility?

          If you believe that, then we can respectfully disagree. If you re-read the column above, you’ll see that I specifically spoke to anonymous haters. As you said, you always include your name.

          • scott Rex Ely

            All responses are just that responses. A response in a world wide bar where the door is always open. My point is to question the “ugly” replies and then spend time defending your work seems to be counterintuitive and a waste of time. the blogs I like the best are the ones where I can if I’m interested read any point that someone else uniquely adds to the conversation.
            Silly zingers and nonsensical, even rude boorish hooligan slander are just part of the skimming process to get the pulse of the thread. We have said here a million times that the best photographers are great editors and I see buzzing past comments that are inflammatory or even hateful and anonymous is the price we pay for unfiltered dialog and just help make us better editors. Like a said earlier comments are just vapors. The equivalent to me would the ambience of a noisy restaurant where the smells and the tastes of what we came there for override any judgment we have on how people access their meal or beverage.
            There is appears to be no physical threats being made at any time I have ever read any comments here so to me it’s just words and the relevant ones, for me, I log as one more minuscule part of the puzzle and move on to my next adventure. Thanks for your energy and your time. Sincerely, SRE

            • scott Rex Ely

              Talk about editing Please read this one. massiveapologie.
              All responses are just that responses. A response in a world wide bar where the door is always open. My point is why question the “ugly” replies and then spend time defending your work seems to be counterintuitive and a waste of time. the blogs I like the best are the ones where I can if I’m interested read any point that someone else uniquely adds to the conversation.
              Silly zingers and nonsensical, even rude, boorish hooligan slander are just part of the skimming process to get the pulse of the thread. We have said here a million times that the best photographers are great editors and I see buzzing past comments that are inflammatory or even hateful and anonymous is the price we pay for unfiltered dialog and just help to make us better editors. Like I said earlier “Comments are just vapors”. The equivalent to me would be the ambience of a noisy restaurant where the smells, the tastes and essence of what we came there for, override any judgment we have on how people access their meal or beverage experience.
              There appears to be no physical threats being made at least during the time I have read the comments here. So to me it’s just words and the relevant ones for me I log as one more minuscule part of the puzzle and move on to my next adventure. Thanks for your energy and your time. Sincerely, SRE

  11. Are you guys OK? There seems to be a lot of Anger coming out from both of you that seems out of all Proportion to any of the comments that I have ever read on the site. Maybe I haven’t read enough comments, but “mindless hatred” doesn’t really describe anything I have seen in APE threads. I may be wrong but the only place I can recall seeing outright insults is the “knuckleheads and d-bags” above. Secretly, deep down, I may be wrong.

    ;oP

    rp

    • john mcd.

      Well said. This is a valuable site which offers a tremendous amount of useful information. But it is diminished when the people who create it react to comments they don’t like-comments which are sometimes stupid or obnoxious, but sometimes might just be accurate-by resorting to insults and puerile name-calling.

      • Gentlemen, perhaps you do not, in fact, read the comments each week. I do. I’ve ignored many a disrespectful insult in the past. Many. This week, I felt it was appropriate to deal with it head on. Rob agreed.

        I don’t understand why people assume that Rob and I must simply accept the situation as it is, rather than trying to combat the hate. Sure, he could eliminate the comment section, or force people to register, but is that what people want?

        I made a plea for Respect, for goodness sake. The only reason I denied it to those I chastised is because the stack of silliness reached to high, and started to itch at my cheeks. If you think I lack the right to defend myself, or do not like the tone I adopted, then we can respectfully disagree.

        • “Gentlemen, perhaps you do not, in fact, read the comments each week. I do. I’ve ignored many a disrespectful insult in the past. ”

          That’s the problem maybe, isn’t it? Why do you read the comments at all? Or, more importantly, why do you reply to them? A review is basically an opinion and there’s no need for you to justify yours past what you wrote in the actual review. I honestly don’t think you have anything to gain from replying to comments. If you can’t fight the urge of reading them at least pretend like you don’t.

          Wherever there is a ‘comments’ section on a website you find one of two scenarios. Either there are lots of comments, some of which are hateful, or there are barely any comments at all.
          Just take the hateful comments as a compliment. It means that you’re doing something right.

  12. Thanks for the review, it got me out to my local art museum to see the painting on the cover of the book.

  13. This work is not my particular cup of tea, but with a book and show in tow, my opinion is of little consequence.

    Sometimes the “personal prelude” to the reviews here can be relevant or entertaining, other times… not so much, the actual review portion can come off like an afterthought to the “introduction,” as if the book itself is tangential, which is not such a good thing. I think the latter is what the trolls react to in such a negative manner, their knee jerk reaction to a (sometimes) legitimate grievance. FWIW, photo book reviews are valuable resources, and having such a visible forum here, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if the actual review portions were a bit more in depth.

    • Stan, you make an interesting point with respect to the value and visibility of this platform. We have a large audience, and our commenters are a very visible, very small fraction of that overall number. It is because of that visibility that they have an out-sized import.

      So I ask you this, do we not have our large audience because they appreciate what Rob, Heidi, Suzanne, Jess and I do each week? (Week in, and week out.)

      Almost every other photo book reviewer writes essays, in the graduate school style. And so many of these books are reviewed elsewhere, in that traditional, methodical style. Folks who like to read reviews like that do so, elsewhere.

      As anyone who’s read all of my columns would attest, (including Rob,) I have covered a huge range of important, relevant topics through these reviews, from racism to the Global Economic Collapse to genocide and War. The personal narrative is the thread that binds it all together.

      So my response to your critique of how I “ought” to write is not to insult you. And most certainly not to represent myself anonymously. My response is to say, if Rob, and I believe in what I’m doing, as well as the vast majority of our Global Audience, then why should I alter my style to make it more like everyone elses? Rob is my editor, and he loves the work I do here. That is enough.

      • Jonathan- a couple of things… First, I must admit, I was under the impression that APE was already well established (going back to the “anonymous” days) before you became a contributor- I could, very well, be completely wrong about that- mea culpa, if that is, indeed, the case.

        Seems there are now four contributors, and if you are the only one of the four regularly receiving ‘insulting’ commentary- well, that says whatever the hell that says, for better or worse. I certainly wouldn’t presume to tell you, or anyone, how they “ought” to write anything. I thought I was pretty respectful and even handed when I suggested that a more elaborate analysis of the work itself might ease some of the (admittedly) undue ‘criticism.’

        In the past I was quite impressed at how coolly you withstood or ignored the personal attacks- so I’m really quite taken aback that you’ve responded to my comment in such a defensive manner- as if I was one of those personally insulting you or “trying to get you fired.”

        I suspect that like most people, I read reviews to gather bits and pieces of information to make me better informed as to whether I want to further examine, and possibly purchase, the work in question. Sometimes the reviewer’s personality can add, or detract to that assessment- as I stated in my original comment.

        Thanks for uh… “not insulting me,” not that I ever insulted you- but you did say that you welcomed constructive criticism- and for what it’s worth, I took you at your word.

  14. Leo Fitzroy

    I find it quite interesting how well this work is doing. As a resident of Beijing I’ve met Kehinde on numerous occasions, in fact we shared studios in the the same Compound for two or so years. Kehinde would generally visit for a couple of weeks every 6months or so to check on how his paintings were doing, he had a team of 20-30 Chinese workers painting all round the year. Of course this was all quite secretive but has I had made friends with one or two of workers I’d visited when he and the other two american “managers” weren’t around. The works were photographs projected onto canvas stenciled and then painted by different workers who specialized in certain areas. I’m not slating this method as it’s been used throughout the ages. Just shedding light on the process. Painting cannot be truly appreciated via a “photobook” but by viewing this work up first hand does not gain much that the book doesn’t provide. I would call this multi-media done in paint, I believe that painting is a form that goes much deeper than the medium but is about the thinking and forming hand and the process involved in working with the paint. This work does not qualify on those grounds. I could go into the attitude of Kehinde and the way he runs the factory, but i’d rather not. I think his work is hypocritical in the extreme and has little merit. It’s black guys posing in known poses from famous pre-raphaelite paintings. This level of race discussion is gimmickry and no level of charity work changes that I’m afraid. The revered artist in society needs to be de-masked otherwise art will become a forum of ridicule, which to many, it has already become.

      • Leo Fitzroy

        Actually this work is quite old now no? Sure I first saw the book and exhibition about 3-4 years ago in Beijing.

  15. Mr Wileys work is a great piece of art, thanks for sharing. I wish I was in the US to see his show, maybe it might come over to Europe sometime in the future.
    Keep up the great work on your blog, I love coming to here to read and learn.

  16. Non-zinger actually constructive time. (I hope)

    I find Mr. Wileys’ work offensive. It is very in your face in it’s otherization of African American men. It also seems to only see one segment of a much broader, richer culture. I can see how, as a liberal white dude, you’d be excited by work of this nature. However, your lack of critical analysis of this work supports it’s underlying problems. While not expecting you to bash the work due to it’s lack of spectrum, one has to admit that ignoring that lack is problematic as well.

    If you had taken the time to find out what Mr. Wileys’ process was, you would know that his work has little to do with sexual ambiguity outside of the knowledge of the “Old Masters” relationships with their models and apprentices. To suggest that mimicking poses from old paintings somehow emasculates the poser is a little insulting. But hey, you’re a white guy doing white guy stuff and a young black man that you’d be afraid to be on a dark street with is a lot less threatening if he’s gay… He finds young “hood” guys and places them in the context of European aristocracy in the use of body position and the use of stylistic notes from the renaissance period. Transforming them into “Black Aristocracy” (he did a show in Columbus, OH wherein i saw those words) because, you know, we brown people only appreciate a brotha when he says fuck work and gets out on the corner to hussle. So, what’s really problematic in the work you’re celebrating is the suggestion to it’s audience (wealthy white art buyers) that this is what Black America sees as its aristocracy… Seriously dude? The paintings are beautiful. Conceptually: SHIT.

    I love the shit out of this blog (even though i occasionally reply to a post with some haterade). If you’re going to promote some silly work that happens to be pretty; say so. I can appreciate that a lot more than i can take the suggestion that “i’m just a hater” and that i should “find something else to do” when i see something that i’m offended by.

    • john mcd.

      I love your take on this photographer’s work. Completely agree. Yesterday the NY Times ran a series of beautiful 55 year-old images of African-American life in Mobile, Alabama, by Gordon Parks which stand up as well today as they did then, and make this stuff look silly and pretentious. I’d rather look at one picture by Eli Reed than a hundred by Mr.Wiley.

  17. john mcd.

    I find valuable the fact that Jonathan brings to our attention the existence of a wide variety of photography books. Some of the work I like, some of it-like this one-I don’t. But I don’t actually read Jonathan’s pieces for his reviews of the books, which tend to be short and to the point. They seem more like suggestions than serious critique, which is fine. I read what Jonathan writes because I enjoy his personal narratives. If I really want to know more about a photographer then I look for a more in-depth serious review elsewhere, one of those “essays, in the graduate school style”. I’m much more interested in Jonathan’s thoughts on “a huge range of important, relevant topics from racism to the Global Economic Collapse to genocide and War”. His personal narrative is, as he said, the thread that binds it all together.

  18. Nice review, and I agree that we should all do more than just photography, if we can. I saw a show of Wiley’s work last year and it was impressive, you have to see the paintings in person to appreciate their ornateness and their sheer size. The impact is awesome, a word I rarely use. He is a very interesting artist. I was sorry to hear about the nasty, anonymous comments. Pathetic really, not worth dignifying with a response–although I can see why you felt compelled to call their bluff. Those kinds of people just need to get lives.