Friday, February 26, 2010


c. David Grim (taken 4/5/08)

Here's another example of what I was talking about in the previous post about portraits. Perhaps the subject would recognize herself, but it doesn't really matter if the viewer does or does not. The point here is the emotional resonance.

I don't remember if this was posed, or if she even realized I was taking here photo at the time. I was making it a habit of dragging my camera with me everywhere I went. So my friends didn't even notice the presence of a recording device. It became part of the unnoticed background of every situation, and I believe that leads to the best circumstances for framing portraits.

Not to say that anything would be taken away from this particular shot if she were conscious of what I was doing. It's still capable of conveying a palpable human emotion. It's hard for me to look at this without wondering what she's thinking about. And there is something almost unbearably touching about the finger in her mouth.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events 2/26-27/10

c. David Grim (talen 8/4/09)
Image and text not related.

While there are a few things worth mentioning that are actually new this weekend, there are also a number of events that are being pushed as replacements for openings that were poorly attended during the first night of the big storm (wow... it's strange to think that it was almost a month ago).

Those include:

FRI: 6-11PM Lauren Toohey/Sam Thorpe @ Most Wanted Fine Art
FRI: 6PM-ish Closing for West Virginia University's MFA program @ the Fast Forward Gallery
SAT: 7-11PM Jason Woolslare and Aaron Shafer @ Zombo Gallery
SAT: 6-9PM Nancy Haworth @ Panza Gallery

I'd be willing to throw down a lot of cash in a bet that I am the ONLY person alive who has seen all four of these shows. Like a fool, I made a point to get out and see all that art- even when the forecast called for several feet of snow. I made it, and I have to say that I can recommend visits to all of these venues.

Also, you can stop by at The Grey Box Theater in Lawrenceville on Saturday from 7-11PM for Future Tenant's "Party Like a Rock Star", its annual fund-raising event. It's $35, and includes an open bar, art auction, DJ, and dancing.

And finally, I'm planning to make a visit on Saturday (2-5PM) to the Michael Berger Gallery on the South Side for an opening reception for work by Scott Draves and Cheonae Kim. If you haven't yet visited the new venue for this gallery, you should make a point of it this weekend. It's upscale, yet strangely welcoming, and the stuff I've seen there has been consistently excellent.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prometheus Descending.

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

I thought I'd continue the trend of posting "people shots" for a bit. This past weekend I used some spare time to organize the images on my external hard drive. I have hundreds of them, and I've had difficulty sitting down to sort through them.

On one hand, it's tempting to shoot living things because you catch them in poses and attitudes that simply can't be replicated. Inanimate objects may have more universal appeal, but you really have to go out of your way to find subject matter that hasn't been photographed by thousands of other folks. Still, there has to be something compelling in the picture because many viewers are disinclined to care about humans they don't know personally.

The thing that draws me to direct my camera toward people is that the technique I've been employing results in an odd depersonalization. While identifying features tend to get lost, the emotionality of expression seems to be exaggerated in a very interesting way. Individuals become more archetypal.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Portrait Painter.

c. David Grim (taken 4/5/08)

It's a bit ironic now when I think about it, that I used to try to shy away from taken photos that could be described as "portraits" and/or "abstracts". I felt the former were generally cliche and obvious, and the latter didn't seem to make much sense in the photographic medium.

Boy, how things have changed. This shot was taken shortly after I bought my current camera. I had struggled with a DSLR for about a year, and was highly dissatisfied with my output. I just wasn't meant to be a very technical photographer, and lugging that thing around in its unwieldy bag filled with equipment was certainly dampening my enthusiasm.

So when I got the new model, I was excited to learn it could do some odd and wonderful things. Plus, I could simply stash it in my pocket and go. It meant that I was a lot more spontaneously playful in my image-making, and as a result I started to see possibilities in themes that I had previously avoided. This is the result of one such session. Obviously I was having a lot of fun that evening.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Existential Gloom.

c. David Grim (taken 3/9/09)

Ok. I understand why so many Americans self-identify as Christians. And all of a sudden the worldwide fervor over Islam makes more sense. When you've got all your ducks in a row, and you're finding the success in life that you want, it's easy to dismiss religion as a collection of unnecessary superstitions and dogma meant to take all the critical thinking out of life.

But when you're desperate or depressed, and things are not falling into place, it's easy to turn to outside help. Who doesn't want someone to tell them exactly what they need to break out of a deep funk?

I'm not saying I've had any kind of conversion experience. Most of the answers provided by spiritual leaders come off to me as too general, too rigid, and/or beyond sense or sensibility. Plus there is too much sociocultural baggage that seems to come with the territory.

All I'm saying is that sometimes I wish I could rely on an otherworldly authority to let me know the direction I need to be going in. But on the other hand, perhaps that would be the source of further complications that I just don't need in my life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Couple of Recommendations.

c. David Grim (taken 7/4/09)

This photograph really has nothing to do with what I wanted to write about today, but it's a fairly innocuous abstract that I enjoy, so I thought I'd include it anyway.

What I wanted to do was to give shout-outs for a couple of cultural artifacts that I've recently discovered.

It seems strange that I could have possibly missed Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptation of S.E. Hinton's Rumble Fish during the 80's, especially given the fact that The Outsiders was one of my favorites as a teen. This intensely moody and stylized depiction of Tulsa kids getting in trouble definitely meets my criteria for celluloid art.

Starring Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Vincent Spano, and with notable appearances by Dennis Hopper, Lawrence Fishburne and Tom Waits, this is a movie to let wash over you with all of its sordid glory. I read somewhere that Coppola was inspired by Larry Clark's early photographic work of adolescents doing bad things, and I believe it.

Meanwhile, if you don't mind a lot of details about sailing, you could do a lot worse than to check out Jonathan Raban's "A Passage to Juneau", which mixes tales of Vancouver's explorations in the late 1700's with the author personal tragedies. While some of the arcana of the sea takes some patience to wade through, I found the book extremely well written and emotionally affecting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Absurdity of Man.

c. David Grim (taken 9/14/08)

This image is just one in a series of many I took upon request for a friend of mine. He had been contacted by a noted alternative record producer, and he was getting a CD together to send out.

I don't do many jobs for other people. Generally I just shoot whatever I feel inspired by, and have little interest in doing commercial work. Occasionally I will agree to do something for a friend if I like him/her enough. In this case, the image never got used, but I liked the location anyway (which should be obvious to anyone who has traveled the PA Turnpike).

More than anything else, this shot reminds me of just how small we are. Our lives seem so momentous while we are living them, but we are really just blips in time. Despite all of humanity's efforts, some day in the future there will be no trace left.

Perhaps there was a time in my life when our essential transient nature would have been too depressing for me to reflect upon. But nowadays I find it mostly a sense of comfort. If I think too much about the sum total of man's accomplishments, I'm mostly just struck by its absurdity.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


c. David Grim (taken 12/31/08)

It's now nearly a week-and-a-half since the last "storm of the century", and it's still a swirling mess outside. There are still plenty of roads awaiting clearing here in the 'Burgh, and little prospect of the great heaping mounds of snow vanishing overnight. We're in need of an unseasonal warm-up to melt the excess away.

So it's an indoor existence that stretches into the foreseeable future. What are the things that can make life bearable for the shut-in? A pool inside the house would be nice, of course. And maybe a hot tub. But I don't know anyone with those types of lifestyle perks.

Some of my friends settle for a cable plan, for all the good it does them. But my access to their homes has reinforced my decision never to buy into that morass. There are literally hundreds of channels of garbage awaiting the passive viewer. So much of today's programming consists of poorly-produced "reality television", detailing the lives of truly pathetic individuals that make me ashamed to be an American. Actually, it's more the fact that people are willing to accept having it put before their faces (and actually pay for it), God, I'm becoming a crank...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Put Your Head Here.

c. David Grim (taken 8/20/08)

Here's a shot that I think is both seasonal and topical. It's got imagery that seems to fit the current environmental conditions of the Northeastern United States. Still, that resonance alone is not why I chose it for today. In my last post I wrote about the dialogue that an artist has with past masters. This is fairly well-trod ground when it comes to painters. It's likely impossible to work in a style that's wholly original. The world of 20th Century Fine Art pretty much saw to that. Even if it wasn't nice to look at... even if it was annoying as hell... someone had to do it just 'cause.

As far as photography goes- forget it. You're not going to stumble onto unique subject matter, unless brand new phenomena starts manifesting. So there's nothing new under the sun. Who cares? But a "dialogue" with photographers who have reached the level of "icon"? I guess you can do it. What about a "dialogue" with painters/sculptors (etc.) via photography?

I've never felt that comfortable taking images of others' work, and thinking about it as show-worthy material. Because at what point have I truly made it mine, with enough of my own interpretation to make it stand out from the original subject? With photography the process of appropriation can be more literal and obvious than in other mediums. It's a tricky business, and it lends itself to accusations of thievery.

Friday, February 12, 2010


David Grim (taken 8/20/08)

The summer before last I took a trip to Buffalo to check out the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. The place is a lot more substantial than it sounds. It's really a full-blown art museum as big as any other in a city of its size. Apparently the institution was on the vanguard when it came to displaying OP-Art. This sixties movement was about how technology was changing the way people thought about fine art. But it was also about making accessible work that anyone could appreciate viewing.

I have no problem with the late Twentieth Century push to make populist art. There's no reason why people should feel like they need an MFA to "get it". It's not that I can't groove on the context of any particular piece. Sometimes understanding the dialogue that an artist has with a tradition can add value to the viewing experience.

And that idea (the dialogue) brings up an entirely different issue that I hope to explore further in a future post. I've been having discussions with a friend (an abstract painter) about derivation, and I've started thinking about how that applies to photography. The above image did not appear in the Albright-Knox. It is a reinterpretation, although it is relatively close to the original. What does that mean as far as "ownership"?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Staggering Chameleons.

c. David Grim (taken 2/25/09)

Are these two female superheroes poised at the edge of the freewheeling sixties? What kind of special powers would they have? Can they lead a drum circle for hours, or transcend the material world? Or are these prostitutes catering to some weird fetish?

Actually they are just two girls with face paint during Fat Tuesday. I'm not Catholic, so I really have no idea what that's all about. It has something to do with Lent, right? Mostly I just associate it with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I've never been to that celebration, so I don't know if these chicks were honoring the occasion properly. I guess it doesn't matter, because it seemed like they were just using it as a pretext to get really f'd up.

It's a Pittsburgh tradition- any ethnic tradition carries with it an opportunity to get all jacked up on alcohol. The 'Burgh gets itself looped on St. Patrick's Day, and Dingus Day, and Columbus Day... and so on. And it really doesn't matter to folks whether they are simply appropriating someone else's holiday. I guess we could put a positive spin, and call it a process of "inclusion".

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fallen Angel.

c. David Grim (taken 8/19/08)

I've decided to take liberties, and post images to this blog that I'm not altogether happy with... as long as they interest me at some level. In this instance I wish that I would have played around with the angles a bit, because the effect I ended up with wasn't quite what I expected. I intended for there to be a certain creep factor, but I didn't know it would come out looking this sordid.

This was shot along a path in the woods at a spiritualist community. The entire place is dedicated to channeling the dead. So to find something unusual and dark nestled in the forest shouldn't have been a surprise. But the truth is that everything was bright and kitschy and wholly positive. It took a perverse sensibility to find the filth and degradation.

As she appears, she is certainly a fallen angel. She may have fancy baubles and other bright trinkets scattered throughout her domain, but she's definitely been letting things go. The disarray isn't contained to the cracks. Perhaps our young lady has just been visited by a randy leprechaun bearing controlled substances. Who can tell? All I know is she is zonked, and doesn't look like she's going to make into work for a week or two.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Take a Drive.

c. David Grim (taken 6/22/09)

Here's something for y'all, stuck inside for the fourth day in a row. Where do you really want to be right now? Zooming down the highway 10-15 mph over the speed limit, the summer sun beating down on the blacktop, making everything go hazy and awry.

Where are you going in your head? Are you going to Philly, or DC, or Cleveland to see your favorite band? Are you making a quick jaunt over the state line to avoid the high PA tobacco tax? Have you saved a pocket full of cash to blow at the racetrack? Or are you just driving aimlessly, hoping to open a window of chaos into your life?

No. Today you aren't going anywhere. And for the foreseeable future you are staying put. But in a couple of months this will all be a surreal memory. Maybe you'll even be nostalgic for the cozy feeling of having no place to go. Stay warm.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Winter Wonderland.

c. David Grim (2/8/10)

You'd think that I'd have all kinds of time to post new images with accompanying text to the blog, what with the days off from work because of the snow. But I've spent more time driving around town than I usually do when I'm not working.

Besides the feeling that I might not be able to get out for very much longer, I've also felt compelled to look after the people in my life that I care about. I've actually taken two separate trips to the grocery store. I've also drove all over the North Hills looking for a shovel. This is, without a doubt, the WORST time to be looking for a shovel. I ended up with a thirty-dollar gardening spade from Home Depot. The thing probably weighs thirty pounds, but at least it's something I could use if I get in a pinch.

I'm actually ready to be back in my regular schedule. Driving on the roads around Pittsburgh is treacherous. No one here was ready for this storm. Days after the downfall, the major arteries are still covered with a lumpy mess that a front-wheel drive car can get stuck in iof it doesn't keep moving forward. It's like an unintentional slalom course.

And to make things worse, they are calling for another ten inches over the next 36 hours. I have no clue where anyone is going to park. I'm already wondering where half the cars I normally see are being kept. And I have NO idea what "they" are going to do with all of the snow. Apparently during the last huge blizzard, the municipal authorities had the white stuff trucked to the river and dumped. That caused massive flooding. Yikes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

To Receive Revelation.

c. David Grim
(taken 4/8/08)

I just finished reading "The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell. I had read a couple of her books, and I knew enough to expect her to inject her own personal tangents into the story of the religious squabbles of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sure she's full of herself, but I suppose this tale would likely be fairly dry in less capable hands.

So I got through it pretty quickly despite my reservations about the rather superficial treatment that Vowell lent the subject. I learned stuff I didn't know about 17th century figures like John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson, and Roger Williams. For instance I never realized that Williams (the founder of Rhode Island after he was banished from Massachusetts) was actually an early proponent of the separation of church and state. I vaguely knew that he encouraged eccentric oddballs to settle alongside him, but I didn't know that he was ready to defend a citizen's right to atheism.

As far as Hutchinson is concerned- I had heard of her but I couldn't have told you anything about what she stood for. And apparently what she believed was very radical for her milieu. She believed in personal revelation. In other words, she honestly thought that God was speaking to her and through her. This was a dangerous challenge to the authoritarian structure of the early Protestant church leaders in New England.

I'm not particularly religious, but I find myself drawn to the belief that one's God actually dwells within. Why bother with it otherwise if it's not that personal? What good is a god that require human translation?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events: 2/5-6/10.

c. David Grim
(taken 4/12/09)

This Friday is the first Unblurred of 2010.

Lauren Toohey and Sam Thorpe are together at Most Wanted Fine Arts for "Guests Undressed". In January they had an exhibition at ArtForm in Lower Burrell, and featured a "naked buffet". I got there too late for the show-it-all, but I enjoyed the work and the space itself. No doubt they'll keep it just as interesting on Penn.

Another highlight will be "Escape to Eyeball Island" at Modern Formations. Gabe Felice is currently one of my favorite artists, and he's a damned nice guy too. If you haven't been out to DV8 Cafe in Greensburg (where he's gainfully employed), you gotta come out to see him (and his work) now. This one's billed as "a concept show inspired by self sabotage, remote viewing, and prophetic everydayism". Maybe I'll even remember to return his Gary Busey movie to him.

Garfield Artworks has an all-photography show with Radikal Kats, Dennis Warner, Jason Collat, Maura Housley & Lindsay Husk. Jeffrey Schreckengost & Lisa Toboz present their woodwork and photography at the anarchist T-shirt store and gallery called Rebellious Nature (104 N. Graham St.), and "Unstill'd" includes site-specific installation work by artists of the Distillery 4 program. That's located at the mysterious Schmutz Lodge (5405 Broad St,).

Finally you can see 'You're a Cheese Sandwich" down in the 6th Ward at Fast>>frwd (3700 Penn Ave). It's all work by students currently enrolled in the WVU MFA program.

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is unveiling "Cluster", a collection of pieces curated by director Adam Welch. It runs from 5:30-8PM.

Down in Lawrenceville Jason Woolslare rools out "Where's my Huffy", from 6-11PM at the Zombo Gallery (4900 Hatfield Street). I'm a big fan of Jason's colorfully-layered line paintings, so I'll definitely fit it into my schedule. And as a special bonus, Woolslare's colleague Aaron Shafer is filling a wall as well. Meanwhile Liz Reed has a series of photoscans at Coca Cafe (3811 Butler St). It's been awhile since I've visited that venue, but it's a charming little space to grab an espresso. The reception runs from 7-9PM. If bars are your scene, you can check out the drag queen portraits of Donald Rager at Remedy (7PM).


If you get some time cleared up during the afternoon, stop by at the Union Project in Highland Park (801 N. Negley Avenue) for the "I Made It! Mine" market, which will have all types of handcrafted items by local artisans just in time for Valentine's Day. It goes from noon until 5PM.

Too often I fail to blog about events in Braddock. But just because it's out of the way (1137 Braddock Ave), doesn't mean it's not worth the transit. Unsmoke Systems is featuring the work of graduates of the Art Institute of Pennsylvania. The opening reception runs from 7-10PM.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Democratization of Photography.

c. David Grim (taken 4/12/09)

Part of the difficulty of modern-day art photography is the task of finding interesting or original subject matter. The medium has become democratized by mass production and digital technology. For decades only those with significant resources could afford to make photographic images. That's why you don't find a lot of snapshots from the 19th century. Setting up a scene took a lot of time, and processing was cumbersome.

With the invention of the Polaroid instant camera, everything changed. Any schmuck could pull a camera out and snap a shot, enjoying the results in a very short time. There was no need to fuss with darkrooms or noxious chemicals. Suddenly there were millions of folks worldwide participating in the activity. Naturally a lot of the product was substandard or rushed.

Nowadays one need only pull out their mobile phone or other hand-held device in order to make a quality reproduction of external reality. It's harder to come up with an image that stand out among the multitudes. Several years ago I read that an artist working in the photographic medium generally has about 5-6 years of exhibiting before they run out of steam. It requires constant reinvention to keep things fresh. I'd be lying to you if I didn't identify with this challenge. Hopefully I'll continue to shoot phenomena in a way that fascinates me for a long time. For now that's my only standard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Demon Inside

c. David Grim (taken 7/4/09)

Most of us come into contact with so many people in the course of our daily lives. We have family, friends, co-workers, and folks that we see on a regular basis without even really noticing them. It's natural to contextualize all of those among us, putting them into boxes that help us understand our surroundings.

We think we know what to expect from those we deal with regularly. If we stop to think about it for any concentrated length of time, we can probably rattle off a list of stuff we use to characterize them. Maybe we know where they are from originally, or we know what they do for money. We may know where they live. Yet all of this is surface information that merely creates a public facade. What do we really know about the internal state of those around us?

Perhaps you can say with authority that you know what you are capable of. You've probably imagined extreme circumstances, and tried to speculate about how you would act when confronted by them. But if you are honest with yourself, you likely have no idea how you'd act if your life turned on a dime. To think that you could make an informed guess about someone else's reaction is simply folly.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Noir Alley

c. David Grim (taken 3/24/09)

The city holds many surprises, a host of which can be enriching and exciting. Driving or walking, you may find yourself coming across a piece of intriguing street art, a neighborhood festival, or a charming little restaurant you've never noticed before. However, not everything the urban environment holds in store for you is pleasant.

Imagine the decadent, the deviant, and the destructive aspects of human nature. With a high population density, the city has extreme examples of virtually every category of social behavior. If you can think about it, it is being done somewhere... and likely in the city.

Who knows what nightmares await the tragically curious? Poke your head into the nooks and crannies of life, and you're likely to have a slice of it taken clean off, or at least to get a whiff of something unsavory. Are you the kind of person that must learn your own lessons? Then by all means, explore to your heart's content. Introduce a random element of chaos into your life. It's a sure cure for boredom.