Art and Design

Read Zone Eleven

Read Mike Mandel: Zone Eleven

“Zone Eleven” alludes to Ansel Adams’ Zone System, a method for controlling exposure of the negative in order to obtain a full range of tonality in the photographic print—from the deepest black of Zone 0 to the brightest highlight in Zone 10. “Zone Eleven” is a metaphor coined by artist Mike Mandel in his challenge to create a book of Adams’ photographs outside of the bounds of his personal work. Many of these photographs were found in the archives of Adams’ commercial and editorial assignments, and from his experimentation with the new Polaroid material of the times.

For this book, Mandel has unearthed images that are unexpected for Adams, and created a new context of facing-page relationships and sequence. Zone Eleven is the product of Mandel’s research into over 50,000 Adams images located within four different archives, from which he presents a body of Adams’ work that was largely unknown until now.

Mike Mandel is well known for his collaboration with Larry Sultan from the 1970s to the 1990s. They published Evidence in 1977, a collection of 59 photographs chosen from more than two million images that the artists viewed at the archives of government agencies and tech-oriented corporations. Conceptually, Zone Eleven is a companion book to Evidence. As Evidence reframes the institutional documentary photograph with new context and meaning, Zone Eleven responds to the audience expectation of “the iconic Ansel Adams nature photograph.” But Mandel selects images that do not fit that expectation. Zone Eleven is a book of Ansel Adams images that surprisingly speak to issues of social relations, the built environment and alienation.

I’m not sure what to think of this collection.

It opens with a portrait of two tree trunks: an eleven. It proceeds without commentary, leaving you to draw your own conclusions and connections. The photos span decades and subjects, removing them from any context to create visual and thematic pairings and sequences. I found myself confused and cross-referencing the back matter to figure out what I was looking at, probably missing the point.

Except, what stumped me is why these photos? By choosing photos outside Adams’ oevre, Mandel asks us to reevaluate him as a photographer, yet the signature style and themes we know him for are absent from these photos. This collection could populate an artistic urban Instagram account. They are of course fine photos, but what does it mean that Adams took them when they could have been taken by “anyone”? It feels almost like a trick that I am meant to impart some greater weight to them because of who took them. Or am I meant to see him as more human by realizing he also took plenty of pedestrian photos like the rest of us? This is more meta thought than I really want out of viewing a photography collection, I think I’m not cut out for post-modernist art 😂

I appreciated the brief Manzanar series most. It starts with an overview of the camp as landscape, more familiar framing from Adams. A set of portraits emphasizes the humanity of the interned Japanese people. A young nurse’s expression seems to dare the viewer. Two of the same young man show him being playful, then serious, for the camera.

See also: Library of Congress – Ansel Adam’s photos of Manzanar

Art and Design Cool Nature

Abstract bubbles beneath ice

Liked iceformation by Ryota Kajita / 梶田亮太 - PhotographerRyota Kajita / 梶田亮太 – Photographer (

His photography series of “Ice Formation” is featured in the magazine “Photo Technique” (November/December 2012), “”(May 2015), ““ (August 2015), “城市画報 -CITY ZINE-“ (January/Februray 2016), National Geographic Magazine (March 2020) and is represented by Susan Spiritus Gallery in Newport Beach, California and Fotofilmic in Vancouver, Canada.

bubbles beneath ice covered in spiky frostI love the spiky ice atop the frozen surface, the rounded bubbles at center contrasted against the dark depths. A warm fur cloak cocooning a precious cluster of eggs.

white bubbles in a splat of black surrounded by thinning iceI like that the thinning window of ice is at once dendritic, parasitic, the expansion of decay and darkness. And within that hazy-edged darkness, brilliant sharp crystalline bursts of white.

Art and Design Websites

Defining visual minimalism

Replied to What Is Too Minimal? – Carl Barenbrug (Carl MH Barenbrug)

A product designer and creative director at Minimalissimo

A minimalist design approach adds only what is needed, and takes away what is not; that doesn’t mean it must be devoid of ornament or color.

Typically, people want their website’s branding to:

  • be distinctive and memorable to visually distinguish the brand, so visitors know without checking the URL or byline whose work they’re seeing
  • present text so it’s easy to read
  • convey a vibe aligned with their mission

Color and ornamentation may be key to those ends, in which case, a minimalist design could incorporate both, though using the least needed to provide function, establish a brand feel, and accomplish their goals.

Which colors raises many questions; our cultural vision of a neutral minimalism has coalesced around black on white or white on black. With minor changes in styling, these simple pallettes can become classy, chic, brutalist, academic, anything really. But I think too often black and white websites are underdone; they are often not visually distinct.

That’s where color comes in, and another discussion point about minimalism: is it about the number of elements or the feel of the design? A hot pink and yellow website would feel loud, but only have two colors, so might qualify as minimalist if simplicity is the intent. If minimalism is more vibe than construction, that begs the question of whether all vibes count as minimalist — are certain moods inherent to minimalism, while others are excluded? Perhaps it’s a matter of sensation: should a minimalist website provoke our senses as little as possible (e.g. avoiding loud color combinations or bold colors like bright red)?

In short, is minimalism an aesthetic or a philosophy?

It’s possible that someone could intentionally create a website that’s visually difficult to read (please don’t), or that they don’t care about taking credit for their work and don’t care about distinguishing their brand. Yet to choose no styling is a design decision — arguably not a good one for readability (at least set a max text width!), a decision nonetheless. Unstyled is more of a philosophical statement than a visual neutral in the context of today’s web.

Via Leon.

Art and Design

Doorways, black and white


The SIGNAL A project features original artwork by designer Xtian Miller.

Pilgrim’s Progress sworn allegiance

Love this imagery. It’s like the inverse of this Paul Strand photo of Wall Street in 1915. Doorways into light versus windows into darkness. Also get a bit of a Shaun Tan vibe with the exaggerated scale and single figure.

Art and Design

Fern Fronds as Art
Adiantum pedatum (American Maiden-hair Fern) young fronds enlarged 8 times from Urformen der Kunst (1928) by Karl Blossfeldt. Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.
Aspidium Filix Mas (Shield Fern Fronds) enlarged 4 times from Urformen der Kunst (1928) by Karl Blossfeldt. Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.
Art and Design

Read Sand, Stone, and Sandstone

Read Sand, Stone, and Sandstone by Bruce Barnbaum

The remarkable monograph, published by LensWork publishing, contains 65 black and white images. The imagery includes many of Bruce’s most celebrated photographs made over his 45 years in photography, along with many older, but seldom seen images, and very recent images that nobody has yet seen.

A spectacular monograph from one of my favorite photographers. His black and white work truly uses the silver of the silver gelatin. His photos glow. He often uses high contrast, and sharpness, in his images for a striking and complex image. It’s a good reminder to see these photos, how I like photos to be processed, and how I might like to lean into the glow when I edit my own photos, and not be scared of contrast like I prefer.

I was delighted to find that this book includes both his natural photos of stone and sand — dunes and canyons — but also selections from his architectural photos of European cathedrals and convents as well as other manmade stonework.

The book itself pairs the photos on facing pages wonderfully, adding another layer to contemplate — the photos individually, the photos together, and the commentary the photos have with each other. One: a stone staircase, dark at the core and light at the passages on, contrasts with two arcing dark stones at Antelope Canyon creating a similar form — tonal inverts of each other, yet both carved stone, one by man, one by water and wind. A delight for the eyes and mind.

It’s interesting to look through this book of photos, and compare with the Edward Weston book I read recently. Both photographers, I learned about in high school, and got both books because I had liked their work then. Barnbaum’s work resonates much stronger with me than Weston’s. Both photographed dunes and nature, but Barnbaum’s have more feeling, for me. The richness he achieves in his prints, and the way he captures and extracts forms from complexity, are truly fine art photography, something more in a world where every person with a phone is a photographer. His work remains as moving as I recall from when I first saw it nearly twenty years ago. Much landscape photography leaves me cold, too perfectly beautiful, but these images create meaning as well as beauty.