sara katz – the man behind the curtain

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Sara Katz

The Man Behind the Curtain

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When I was growing up, and my dad got into any sort of argument with my mom over something banal (the most common cause being a joke deemed too off-color, annoying, childish, etc.), I would say something in his defense or just affirm my approval by laughing. Even though this argument never actually placated my mom, he would turn to me every time and say, in a tone of voice that suggested this unconditionally proved he was beyond reproof, “See, she thinks I’m funny.” And when my mom gave her follow-up disapproving grunt, he would add with a smirk, “You just don’t understand me. Sara and I understand each other though.” And it was true, we did understand each other. But then I got older, and the more I actually learned about my dad, the more that childhood idolatry faded (like it does with most people at some point). My dad was not the immaculate wizard that I once thought he was. Yet as the bluntness of these pictures suggest, I am still extremely close to my dad. His willingness to participate in this project had no conditions, except his affirmation of my mom’s firm demand for “no naked photographs.” As if they had to ask.

While part of this project is photojournalistic in nature, a documentation of a day in the life of 60-year-old David Alexander Katz, the other half is about my own experience of what it is like to go home when home has lost its authority. As an only child who spent the vast majority of her first five years within five hundred feet of her house (and after that, evenly split between school), it perhaps took me longer than most to realize that the vocabulary, lifestyle, and values of my family were not universal. Now, to return home is to feel like a well-informed guest. I am still in the know. I am well schooled in the lingo and rituals, and yet I have also gained the outsider’s critical eye for detail. Parts of my dad that never seemed interesting or unique (i.e. worth photographing) now appear like new discoveries.

If there was a challenging aspect to this project it was that, while away from home I was confident in the idea, but after being home for a bit to shoot it became difficult to see the point. As my dad put it after he took in the work for the first time, “I dunno Sara, I’m proud, but it just looks like a bunch of pictures to me.” At times I’ve felt the same way.



Sara Katz was born in Baltimore in 1985, graduated from Bard College in 2007, and currently resides primarily in Brooklyn.


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Sara Katz

86 Responses to “sara katz – the man behind the curtain”

  • I lov e, love, love this :)…fresh…ThomasB philosophy…right on :)

  • Love it, Sara – and you do have an amazing relationship with your dad. I am close to my daughters but neither they nor I would even think of being together in a situation like this.

    As to your dad, he may have lost his authority and might tell off-color jokes, but when I see him with the cat, I feel that he is fundamentally a good man.

    I hope he’s a little careful, though. Cats can slip off tub rims and they can fall into the bath water, panic, and send their sharp claws wildly out, grabbing and shredding the closest thing available…

    I look forward to seeing your completed essay!

  • I am sorry, but someone needs to take that flash off of Sara’s camera and slam it (The flash) against the wall. HARD.

  • Sara: :)

    First of all, congratulations on having your work published! When I first saw the essay I was pissed that No Comments were allowed (which had immediately prejudiced my eye to the work). I’m not sure if that was just a glitch or you had a change of mind, but I simply couldn’t understand the No-Comment rule ever here (though I understand why some do not wish others to comment). Anyway, I’ve looked through the essay at least 7 times since seeing it this morning, and it’s strange, hyper-real, ‘mumble-core’ sensibility has worked its magic on me.

    In truth, at first, I didn’t feel particularly drawn to the work. It, obvious or not, immediately evokes for me strong and iconic work of photographers that have tackled their immediate family:

    Sally Mann’s Family Work
    Elinor Carucci and her book “Closer”
    Richard Billingham’s “Ray’s a Laugh”
    Amanda Tetrault’s “Phil & Me”

    That it was very difficult to feel connected to the images and the story….If you haven’t checked out the above photographers books, you might as I think you’ll find both an emotional sensibility, a connection and a sense of humor as Billingham/Carucci/Tetrault……Sally’s work, well, that deals with an entirely different perspective and sensibility……so, at first, I saw the ‘weaknesses’ here, not so much about the pictures or the concept, but from the Length of the story and what at first felt was a narrative that didn’t at first realize what I thought the story was about: Why this father was such a powerful/imformative and unique presence in your life, beyond him simply being your father (which is what the audience needs)….

    at first i just thought, the pictures and the moments just seemed too prosaic, too much of the quotidian with the particular to rhyme something in me….and yet, i kept finding myself returning throughout the day…and shift by shift, it started to add up for me…and i wanted MORE, much much much more….not more ‘interesting’ or ‘decisive’ or ‘quarky’ shots…but i just wanted more, i began to think more and more about your father….the christmas tree up til Feb 14, the combination of hug amounts of vitamins, yoga, chiropractics, weed, grilled jerk and a water bong….the cat in the tub, the operatic song in the shower with his daughter pointing her lens, that magnificent Gilden-esque #2 picture with the flash+close-up+dental floss…and the calisthenics on the tennis court and i was fucking hooked…

    like a Frederic Weisman documentary, his life started to appear in front of me, and I wanted to listen to him, wanted to watch him bowl, wanted to hear him sing, wanted to her him pontificate and prognosticate and who-the-fuck-knows what else, but in my mind’s eye, he’s a cantor and a beautiful one….all that language circulated, and oddity and ideas (am I inventing him as I type), that large personality, that laugh, the power to distill and to piss off, the booming voice over the Times and the jokes over the bowling alley…and the wisdom of keeping up the tree (Festivus? ;)) for so long…and all the vitality that is contained, all the immense, wild energy that is so obviously a part of your father’s face and actions….

    and then i thought, I wonder if he is a real Cantor or a Rabbi…forgive me if you are not Jewish (i don’t know) but Rabbi’s have played such a powerful and important part in my own life (i’m a atheist buddhist, i guess, or just a guy ) that I thought i ‘recognized’ him…i mean that energy…and that beautiful ‘wisdom’….like Coen brother’s A Serious Man…

    and how did all this happen….

    i kept watching…i kept returning to the pictures, and i realized that i LOVED THIS STORY too, that i became interested in him, in his story, in what is going on…

    the magic of the quotidian, the beauty of the everyday…it’s fucked up surreal beauty…

    and that you play all these photographs so straight, that is the magic that poked me….

    and so, now i want more….hope this turns into a book….

    and i hope you check out the films of Frederick Wiseman too…

    congrats Sara…

    you can tell your dad they ARE JUST PICTURES…but damn, they add up! :))



  • P.S. this is what this story (and the man) also reminded me of:

    Pete: normally, i would have agreed…but the flash is so over-the-top, and the light so harsh and flat and the shadows so obvious that it just made me felt…over-technique not for craft itself

  • Bob

    I have to disagree. To much of a bad thing is just that.

  • Pete :))

    yes, i totally understand, especially when it comes to the ‘craft’ of the pictures and the ‘technique’, but somehow, it all seems to add up for me…since it’s the same technique in all the pictures, i think (or feel) that that is part of the ‘harsh’ sensibility…trying to make the pictures as if they were just part of a family album…that coldness bugged me at first, as did the overly ‘normal’, but somehow it kept scratching at me all day….that i thought: there is something quite magical going on…it’s like a mumblecore film, or A Serious Man film, or maybe it is a certain Queens/Brooklyn sensibility i feel…who knows…but i do hope Sara takes a look at those other photographers who have made masterful books out of their families lives…


  • Thanks to all who commented.

    On the flash issue: Well to be technical, the flash was never actually on the camera, but was hand-held. Anyhow, I’m certainly fine with people who disagree but the harshness of the flash (and for that matter the choice of black and white as opposed to color) was a conscious choice for this project. In general, I rarely use flash in my work, so this isn’t a general style of mine. Basically, I wanted to present a personal subject without being sentimental. The goal was to produce images more reminiscent of Wegee than typical family-album pictures. It was meant to be a reflection of the overall feeling of being an outsider in your parent’s home that comes with growing up and forming your own life outside of your childhood home. This is not to say the flash always worked for me–there are images that never got past the contact print stage because I didn’t like how the flash translated. But overall, I feel like the format is a key part of the content.

    To Bob: I was not familiar with either Carucci, Tetrault or Weisman so thanks for mentioning them. As for wanting to hear my dad you actually can–Burn couldn’t figure out a way to include them here, but I also submitted audio clips that accompany a few of the photographs. If you’d like me to e-mail them to you feel free to email me at soak(dot)atz(at)gmail(dot)com However, I’m sorry to say you’re wrong about thinking my dad has a good voice–the fellow can’t carry a tune, not that it stops him from trying. Raised Jewish, but he’s secular now. As a side note, both my dad think “A Serious Man” is one of the best Coen Brothers movies.

    Lastly, it was always intended to have comments allowed, so I’m not sure why they were not up at first.


  • I feel very strongly for your words, I feel I have an intrinsic link to them, almost as if they belong to me. For me personally I didn’t need the photographs (I am not saying they should not have been included of course!). Like you say, fill in the blanks. Well done – I’m seeing a new light.

    Jack Storey

  • sara :))

    great…will write u tomorrow….would love to hear his voice….like i said, the essay (story, technique and him) worked it’s magic over the day and i kept found myself returning…i believe (and trust) that a story such as yours need to be repeated over and over and over (if you’re a regular reader, you understand that as a photographer and lover of photography i’m an obsessive, so i keep returning to things), as the ‘simplicity’ of the images and their ‘quotidian’ appearance, over time and repetition begin to work their ticktock….and their oddity (in a good sense) and power lay it their relooking…just like life…and the weight of the repetition of the everyday, be it mundane or extraordinary…..

    glad u 2 like A Serious Man (for me 2, one of their best)….it’s all there in this story too :))….

    glad to see comments….hope and trust, with time, more will look/repeat and then chime in …it is deserved :))…


    p.s. by the way, i think the finest cantors could not necessarily sing ‘well’, but knew how to get at the voice of prayer, meaning the voice of the body :))…

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    I for one would never have guessed at the Weegee influence but I suppose in retrospect I could see on the surface how you would feel that.

    I dont care for this work. But you dont need to please me. There is something there but it feels like a vague start as a body of work. The writing helps place it somewhere in the universe but without, I am at odds to care. Perhaps I dont need to – it is up to you to care. Is it up to you to make me care?

    To Bob’s great list of work made in the family realm I would add Phillip Toledano’s lovely series called Days with My Father – – it’s sublime, amusing, universal and inviting in a way I find missing in this series.

    I commend your approach, congratulate you for being here on burn and would encourage a continuation of your anthropological investigation of the tribe called ‘home’.

  • I wish I could see this, but even after several viewings I can’t. Or better, what I see doesn’t touch me. Sorry.

  • For me to understand what “lost its authority” means, I need to understand what it meant when it had authority. otherwise I am just seeing some images judged against a memory that only you hold.
    Which is very much how this looks to me…half of an equation.

  • SARA

    hmmm, i was not aware that you had a sound track here….not sure why i missed this…my apology…i will check with Anton to find out why we could not have used your father’s voice over since we have done that sort of thing many times on Burn…does seem like it would have been appropriate and we can still add it anytime unless there is some tech reason i am not understanding…


    the “no comment” here was a glitch on our part…i think only one photographer out of all of our 300 essayists for two years has chosen the no comment option which is afforded to all….

  • I think as Bob has mentioned this essay grows on you…can’t help liking Sarah’s father seems a damn nice guy. I’m still watching this and I do see John G’s and Eva’s points. But sarah is tackling what I personally believe to be the most complicated subject of all..our family, I mean every single person who has some kind of inmediate family attempts this concept and very few manage anything memorable for those outside each inmediate family.

  • DAVID :)…after a while, that’s what i figured…and was happy to see comments, even if not many…i personally never understand the decision for silence, as the best thing for me about showing one’s work is to get feedback (good or bad), then again, i like to talk ;)))…but i like to listen to :))..

    Jamie :))..yes, Days with my Father is magnificent…i rememember when he’s just shown the work (before it was further developed…and magnificent addition, indeed :))

    John: i think that is an important point, and the intial snag for me, but as i kept rewatching/looking, i started to feel that authority…that power, or ‘strangeness’…it was there for me in the teeth flossing and the christmas tree shot…but i undestand….i think it’s just about time as the story develops….


  • The flash makes the essay for me. It’s good, it’s good! Note how Sarah uses it to her left (which is normal when off-camera), but to hold it to her right as well takes skill, planning, forethought, and dedication. Sure she could have gone further and used a secondary for fill, but then the instantaneous nature of the essay would have looked set-up instead, with less honesty.

    Maybe for those who feel uncomfortable with this look are so because the approach here makes us feel we are invading her father’s privacy, that we are being voyeurs. We glimpse him seemingly and seemlessly unaware of his daughter’s presence; he is without his social face. What is odd to me is that he looks like a man without that screwed sense of humour Sarah alludes to in such written detail, and is therefore much in keeping with the way her paternal relationship has evolved and matured.

    I’ll always prefer the straightforward use of flash to fill in those dark shadows over the soupiness of ISO 24,000. I like the flash here so much, I wonder how the essay would have read had there been less ambient light. Of course, the fact that Sarah has dragged the shutter just a little bit, only goes to show me just how much she was in control of her technique.

  • SARA…

    i now see and remember what the sound track problem is…you have individual sound snippets for each photo…we could publish that IF you built a multi media piece out of this…but our crew is not set up to build that complex a deal…if you do want to build it, we will certainly publish any point you choose…

    cheers, david

  • BOB…

    nobody is more prolific at writing comments than are you…if BB does not weigh in , then we all feel like something is missing…


    i am with you on the flash as well for this essay…4×5 film with a straight flat flash makes it for me…anything either “more natural” or “more dramatic” or “more sentimental” would have killed this particular approach….of course this is not for every essay, but nothing should be for every essay…rules ruling should be ruled out..this look is anti emotional to be sure…not how i would photograph my father , but it is how Sara chose to photograph hers….works for her

  • Love it! The guy could be a character from a Spike Jonze or a Woody Allen movie :D
    This is the kind of work that at first sight seems “just a bunch of pictures” but nonetheless has a strong aesthetic drive and the power only photography can burst about everyday life.
    Again, love it!


  • This essay feels like it still has places to go for me. I like the use of flash here, it works well and gives it a detached feel that separates this work from the slew of averagely done documentaries of one’s immediate family – let’s face it, that is an overdone topic that few do really well, along with the bus/train project everyone undertakes, and a few other “standard” projects. This has the capacity to move into the territory of “strikingly unique” work about one’s family that so few have really achieved (isn’t that an irony – when we try to photograph our family, that group of people only we have that unique relationship with, we easily end up with generic images that don’t say anything unique at all?)

    But, if anything, it does feel too cold for me. This is in part the use of flash, but also the frequent deadpan expressions and the lack of interaction between your father and any other figure, including yourself (although his comfort in permitting you to photograph as and where you have in itself says something).

    I’d be interested to see this series mixed with images that have more of this interaction. In images such as the shower scenes, I get the feeling of him being studied from something of an alien perspective – it is absurd or almost surreal in it’s detachment. Which is great, but I don’t think you go far enough down that line if that is what you want to have as the over-riding feeling here. As it stands, I think there is scope to either push it more in that direction, or to break it up with images showing more emotion and interaction. I wonder if an essay that mixed flash and no-flash shots could help to achieve this latter objective?

    I don’t normally like to weigh in with strong opinions about how the objective of an essay should be framed. But, given your statement that this is an examination of the feeling of returning home once home has lost it’s authority (an experience I have shared, albeit for other reasons), I don’t feel you fully capture the complex tensions between the familial bonds and the tension of a relationship that has altered during a period of separation.

    Overall, a good essay with some very strong images and scope (whichever way you decide to go with it) to make something very potent. But I feel there is still key work to be done here. I know it has been posted as a work-in-progress, and I look forward to seeing how this project develops.

  • Meh. In my second to last para, I had meant to say “a relationship that has irrevocably altered.” It makes all the difference.

    And I also meant to not destroy the basic rules of grammar.

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham: Well, I guess we might just have different taste. I actually personally don’t like “Days with my Father” as I fine few of the images surprising, and many overly loaded/heavy-handed with meaning. Nothing against them technically, but that work doesn’t stick with me.

    For you and others who remarked that they are turned-off by what they see as lack of emotion, I’m curious if maybe you could elaborate a bit. For a photograph to have emotion for you, does the emotion have to be literally present? Do you ever find still-lives emotional? If these were pictures of buildings or landscapes, would the deadpan style also bother you? This is a general interest of mine, so I’d be interested in what people think.

    John Gladdy: I understand your point, but I was actually argue that you don’t need to understand what my specific vision of parental authority was to get the ideas behind the photos. We all mythologize our parents when we are little, so while this project is using my personal life and my specific dad, it aims at a pretty universal experience.

    David Alan Harvey- I’m in communication with Anna right now about what needs to be done for all those audio clips to become a part of it. Hopefully something will work out there.

    Framers Intent: Thanks so much for your comments, I find your feedback helpful in terms of thinking about the next step. Your point in either pushing the surreal/detached quality or mixing in some less deadpan shots is a way I can see expanding on it. It’s funny you mention an alien perspective–when I was defending an earlier body of work in college a professor remarked they pictures looked like they were taken by an alien, and then another professor in my defense (I think) said “No, they just like they were taken by Sara.” But anyhow, not the first alien comment I’ve gotten.

    Back to the flash, in addition to the first image and #8, there are a few more from the series that didn’t make the Burn edit were the flash is used a bit more democratically. But I am certainly open to the idea of experimenting with doing some shots with greater fill–I did make a point of having some degree of variety/range within the use of harsh flash.

  • Well I should confess I’ve recently been spending a lot of time with Richard Kalvar’s Earthlings, so the “alien” reference may well be a hangover from that. But I do get a strong sense of detachment in your images which doesn’t quite go over the edge into surrealism yet feels almost pushing towards it; there is something of the unreal in the way it is so deadpan and uses flash – it breaks very strongly with the way this subject matter is usually photographed, mixing intimate scenarios (like the shower and bath images, among others) with a sense of emotional/psychological distance on the part of the photographer. I’m not sure if “emotionally cold” is the most accurate term either, but I trust you understand where I’m groping. Right now, I think the essay is pretty open in terms of where you take it with your future development of it. I’m interested in seeing which way you decide it should go.

    It isn’t just an “outsider’s view” – a full outsider would have photographed different things, or photographed them differently. Yet there isn’t that strong familial bond on show either. His ‘isolation’ (in so far as he doesn’t interact with anyone in any image other than the massage image perhaps) adds to this absence of a sense of family. It’s coming from a different place entirely to either a “family docu” or an “outsider docu”. That’s bloody hard to achieve, but you have it. The question is simply where you take it.

  • Sara… “We all mythologize our parents when we are little”… you might be wrong with this assumption..

  • but it is how Sara chose to photograph hers….works for her
    It better work for others too, I mean, outside of BURN, no?
    I like the idea of photographying what is closest to you. It’s a funny paradox of the medium that millions do it ( merely taking pix, but which adds up as photography, as a sum, IMO), and few photographers actually do it, or show it. So, it is still an original idea.

    At the same time, I am a bit with Eva here, maybe it’s really incomplete, but I looked at it 4 times, and I can’t see a strong point in the end, or get to care that much about it, or your Dad (while wishing him well, and kiddy too!). In a way, he thinks like me too!!! :-)))

    “It is just not my family” keeps creeping in my thoughts, and your stance , again for me, doesn’t encourage empathy for someone else’s.

  • Eva- Obviously there are no universal statements so my casual use of “all” can be taken out, but it is a pretty commonplace phenomena. Also, “mythologize” doesn’t necessarily have a positive connotation–I was using it in the broad sense of distortion. Stating that most kids don’t fully comprehend the adults around them is not exactly controversial, but if you think so feel free to elaborate.

  • if BB does not weigh in , then we all feel like something is missing…

    I dunno, I rather think it might be the start of a good day! :-)))))))

  • Sara…
    Why are the images meant to be so blunt? The other thing I keep wondering about this essay is what made you chose your father instead of your mother or why not both together?

  • Herve! ;)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

    damn, you’re starting to sound like we;re married :)))…

    but, i’d have to agree with you….:)))

    by the way, a body of work does NOT have to work for others in order for it to be successful, strong, interesting….the importance or success of a body of work actually has very little to do with whether or not it is liked (understood/appreciated) unless we’re talking about, well, ‘popularity’ or ‘success’ in that it works for others….the life of a body of work (be it artistic, journalistic or commercial) has little to do the immediate reaction…some of the sensibility of Sara’s essay inhabiits both artistic bodies of work and commercial bodies of work….i think the reference to Weegee is an apt one…actually, i found some of this work positively Lynchian….or actually, like Kevlar, without the obvious visual puns…lots of interesting non-sequitars here each time i re-watch….

    but it’s time for me to shut up and run home to sit in some silence :))


  • Well, dear wife! :-))), to put it simply, if i submit something publicly, I’d wish for people to be drawn to it. It’s OK if few end up being drawn, liking it or whatever, but the more, the merrier…
    While I did not say Sara’s is failing. The reason why I try to remember to IMOs my comments, something for which I am quite succesful at! (unlike, hmmm, my wife!) :-)))

    Popularity is an altogether different attainment, and can be quite in the waiting.

  • BB: but it’s time for me to shut up and run home to sit in some silence :))

    That’ll be the day! :-))))

  • Sara. You actually said its about YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE…but now that is expanded into an ASSUMPTION that this experience is pretty universal(which granted, in some form or other it probably is quite common), But im looking at the work and all I see is dull. the everyday as prosaic. flat.
    And I would also say that these pictures are much more about you than anything else. they are certainly not about your father.
    And I too find them lacking in magic, or any kind of spark.Empty. and I dont think its the location.

    ….but hey, what do I know????


  • Contrary to my usual feelings about grainy photos, I think these would have been more interesting if they had been grittier. The 35mm Tri-X in Rodinal look. They are just too clean and sterile looking for the subject.

  • I don’t know. For me, the use of flash and the detached style imbues it with a bit of a 1950’s information video vibe. It carries that, uh, awkward look, but I think that supports what Sara is trying to say with this piece.

  • Paul: The blunt quality has to do with the relationship with my dad, in the sense that we are in general more frank/honest with one another than is the case for the average child-adult relationship. It’s not meant to be either positive or negative. The reason for focusing on my father and not my mom was twofold: I have always had a stronger connection with my dad, and he had a great fall from grace of society, so to speak.

    John Gladdy: I never said it was not about my own experience–of course it is. My full statement had to get cut down by Burn, but in that I mention that it additionally aims to tackle a larger theme and encourages that people fill in the blanks with their own experiences . That full statement is on my website, and is what I have in my head as the statement attached to this piece. Anyhow, I think you’re putting words in my mouth a bit with that “based on an assumption” bit, but I’m not really interested in getting into a technical argument. The gist is that it’s personal experience in relation to a more general experience, which you seem to get anyhow, so let’s just leave it at that.

    I agree, the format of them says more about me then him, but I guess I don’t see that as either good or bad…it’s just sorta the fact of the work.

  • Jim Powers- Interesting, wasn’t expecting that response. Just for those who are curious about the technical side, these are all 4×5 with 100 speed film. So pretty much the opposite of 35mm Tri-X. Again, I’m curious why you (and others who made similar comments) think the subject (family) should not be treated with some sterility. I guess my question is, do you think the subject of family should never be treated in a deadpan way?

  • Pity that captions are used to describe not enhance

  • “a body of work does NOT have to work for others in order for it to be successful, strong, interesting….the importance or success of a body of work actually has very little to do with whether or not it is liked (understood/appreciated) ”

    HUH? It better “work” and be “successful” and “interesting” for a few others….

    If this is a hobby, then your probably right. Otherwise, if nobody likes your work or understands and appreciates it, you are going to starve.

    And contrary to the phrase… NOBODY strives to be a “Starving Artist.”

  • About the style, it’s not to my taste, but hey, you can’t please everybody, and you especially can’t please everybody here, and frankly, you’d be crazy if that’s what you wanted. You’ve made some intelligent decisions and carried them out in such a way that you are happy with the results. David Alan Harvey likes your work and published it. Well done by just about any realistic measure. It’s fine to explain yourself, which you’re doing quite well. Just be careful not to defend yourself. There’s no need for that.

    Personally, I liked the dry, witty, captions. The first few times through that was about all I liked. Then I started to like your dad. He seems a good sport with a great, understated sense of humor. Then I had questions, like about the bong and the halfway house. I can tell there’s something(s) going on under the surface. You might consider trying to subtly enhance those features. At first glance, one may be inclined to wonder what’s special about these photos. For me, it was the dry wit, both in the captions and in the personage of your father, that made me look closer. Then the little mysteries even more so.

  • Sara, I guess I can’t quite figure how anyone can grow up in a family and threat the subject of that family with sterility. The connection with family is the unique thing you have to bring to photos of your family. Any photographer can shoot sterile, disconnected photos of someone else’s family. Why would you want to do that with your own family. That’s a rhetorical question. As the photographer, you can do anything you please. But I personally don’t see the point.

  • “a body of work does NOT have to work for others in order for it to be successful, strong, interesting….the importance or success of a body of work actually has very little to do with whether or not it is liked (understood/appreciated) ”
    ……… not sure if the stuff the audience is a positive. Why bother to bring the work to an audience,
    Herve it is not an original idea rather an old and tested one

  • threat=treat, of course.

  • Ok.. this is another assumption:

    “that we are in general more frank/honest with one another than is the case for the average child-adult relationship”

    I think family is so very very personal that the beauty of it, to me, is to dig deep, and in the deep find a connection to that intimate feelings that might be universally understood. That does by any means signify that we all have the same experiences, at all.

    You ask if family work should never be treated in a deadpan way.. I think that this depends on you, how you see and feel about it.. don’t think there’s only one, or the right way to do this kind of work.

    What leaves me sit here and look at the pictures is two things: what am I supposed to see, and why do I not see it.. it looks like a study..doesn’t make me wonder nor ask questions nor make feel any empathy, it’s there, picture after picture, laid out on the table.

    And since the work is up here I wonder and go back to my two questions above..

  • Imants: When I view other work, I always find captions that add a little descriptive detail or two that are not immediately apparent to be an enhancement, so I’m not sure what you are trying to get at, but I’d love it if you elaborated what you look for/want in captions.

    MW: I completely agree on not being able to please everyone. I don’t intend to come off defensive–just trying to explain more where I can and probe some the of the general criticisms a bit. Anyhow, if the audio part gets up some of those little mysteries will get filled out a bit more.

  • and he had a great fall from grace of society, so to speak.
    I think you do bring that out in your pictures, Sara, there is a malaise, a loneliness, even a sense of depressingness coming thru (IMO!). your photography here is totally apt at doing what photography can do best at times. Exposing (perfect word, given the medium) a feeling, independantly of the missing facts, which we know little about.

    I think in the end, because of our different personalities, some people will be more touched, more drawn to the essay than others, and will see a “wordless narrative” (!) unfolding, while others will simply see a guy, that happens to be your Dad, but “so what?”.

  • Herve it is not an original idea rather an old and tested one

    Maybe, I stand to be corrected, but it just seems to me that few of the “recognized” (commonly called “great”) photographers we know the names and work enough, do introduce work on their familes (Sally Mann definitely is one).
    Friends and milieu, yes, but family, much less.

  • Ok, I think I found what bothers me here.. I feel I look at ‘something’ rather than at ‘someone’.

    Not sure what I should make of this notion, if anything.. will let it sit for a bit..

  • I agree with Herve and Mw there is an undertone of uneasiness throughout the essay, and it probably has something to with this gentleman’s fall from grace, and perhaps – excuse me if I am totally wrong- your bluntness and sterility is your way perhaps of reproaching this fall.

  • My beloved husband Henry (ooops, i mean Herve)! :))))))…

    well u r right, i can rarely shut up (ask marina), though I am now home and about to sit on the cushion for 1 hr, so i might as well get my last words in for the day…but, you can have the last word, and we’ll both have a great smile :)))….

    first of all, a body of work begins and ends with the creator, so far as it’s true relationship to it’s ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ is defined/meant. Of course the reader and audience is always the final arbiter, I will go that far with Derrida and the rest of the deconstructionists. However, with regard to the notion that the TRUTH and MEANING (and by extension its ‘workability’) of a body of work, I will grant that Derrida, de Saussure, Lacan, et al touch on an important truth when they grant not only credibility and validity to the reader but a certain creative necessity (can a work of art, or language itself exist without the eyes/ears of an audience: of course not….the old bear/shit/woods conundrum). In other words, i do partly agree that something cannot work without an audience. It exists, for sure (ask Pascal), but it cannot work. However, that ‘work’ means: does the audience connect to it, feel it, see it as sustainable, working, valid, accomplished, successful, etc (forget popluar)? Yes, I agree with you and Pete in that sense ONLY. That a work doesn’t work/register for a viewer, does NOT NOT NOT mean it doesn’t work:

    For example, language. You come visit me and tell marina that you and I are now married and we’re running off to BKK. Well, she talks to only in russian, and from behind the bedroom door (where she was the entire time, so she did not flee their out of emotion). She tells you actually what she feels (go motherfuckers, go ;)). You, not understanding russian, have no idea what she says/means/suggests. It doesn’t work. It does work for her, though her ‘goal’ (to explain to you to take her husband) fails. What is the characteristic of working? Is it communication, as in language? So, okay her ‘conversation’ with you failed. However, is art always about CONVERSATION? Hardly. In fact, Art, or story telling to begin with, serves many many many functions, community-building and communication being only one. This work could have been entirely cathartic and that is enough, though Sara’s catharsis may in fact be the rest of everyone else’s stasis.

    More importantly, for me, Heidegger would neither have (i imagine, i guess rather) not only your and Pete (and the vast majority of those who continually write about success/failure with regard to the making of stories) notions of ‘working’ but would have struggled with what makes something authentic (your validation or some intrinsic validation through the process of making). The attempt to MAKE something, in actuality, is the force of BEING, the action of materializing being, and in truth, while your BEING has a profound effect (maybe even a defining one) on me, it does not at all mean you give truth to the meaning of my essence). In other words, Art (or let us say the act of making, the act of transgression (which art is for me)) is one of the gestures of Being, to catapault time, to catapault an imaginary expression derived from the non-imaginary outside world.

    A body of work must, above all, work (i used this word lightly) and must succeed (though ALL work fails to match both it’s creator’s expectations/hopes and for its ultimate accomplishment: all photographs, photographic work, just as all things carve out by words, music, art, teaching, meditation, jobs, even hair cuts, end in incompletion , failure) within the frame work of the creator’s notions. In other words, only the creator can say ‘this works for me’…only you can say ‘this doesn’t work for me’ and the failure comes from that impass…now, the great beauty is that, somehow and miraculously, there is rarely ever a time when only the creator ‘gets it’….there is always at least some other madwoman who understands, or rather, who feels…maybe i’m that madwoman…

    because as i said, i didn’t like it the first 2 times i saw it, and than i found myself thinking and thinking…i judged it immediately, or rather, reacted immediately through a comparison between other photogrpahic work i respect/like on families…but, still…i kept thinking of him…thinking of men like him…even my own dad…not at all like ‘him’…but….something connected, otherwise i wouldn’t have gone back all day…almost obsessed….

    this was not an intellectual reaction….all these words and ideas came later…it was purely visceral, emotional, mysterious…i wanted to see him more and see these pictures again…actually MUCH MUCH MUCH more than i wanted to keep looking at Mike’s essay….so, what gives?…

    clearly, it is working for me…and isn’t that enough…..

    as for someone better get it or else…well…there will be people who like it, get it…i’m stepping up to say i do….also, i LOVE Perec, but was he rich writer??….no-one strives to be a rich artist Pete…and one need not starve…..whenever i’ve shown my own work, i wonder are people nice because they know me or cause they like the work…does it matter?….listen, we’re broke, both of us, and both marina and i have had success…shit, who would let me rant like this but David ;))…and yet, i’m still broke…

    just to remind, we don’t have to bring up the cliche’s of Van Gogh to talk about greatness being something beyond specifics of ‘it works’….

    how about the writer, Robert Walser….look him up….look up his life… his books…

    in the end, it is a dead-end argument…

    people don;’t like it…cool :))))…

    and i think it’s great, actually, that Sara has received all these comments, even comments that are critical, comments that don’t like/feel attached….because, it offers her an opportunity to articulate what is going on with her and her work…

    and that is what is important about talking about work…not the arguing of merits (meaningless) but the dialog about what is happening and what is our place in that…

    and now, i’m off to sit :))

    yes, in silence


  • I’m not sure about this one.

    The flash is awful. It’s cold, harsh and aggressive. At least to my eyes. Sorry.

    I do like the last frame however.

  • Jim: Thanks for elaborating! I know you said it’s a rhetorical question, but I actually have a pretty straight-forward answer. I don’t think everyone can take “sterile” (I personally wouldn’t go that far in describing them) photographs of their family. When are a lot of people a very close to a subject it often falls into a generally agreed upon photographic language. For me, the reasoning for why to pick this style is because I think it speaks to the reality of having one foot in and one foot out of the childhood home. As an inside I essentially have permission to exploit my dad, so to speak, in that he is a willing participant. The nature of 4×5 photography required all of these shots to be to a degree staged (though the flash did allow for some fluidity/movement) so my dad really was a collaborator. Like you said, the connection you have with your family is what you can bring that is your own. In my case, my connection with my dad allowed me to make these perhaps at times abrasive (though I’d argue sometimes quite loving) images.

    Eva: Your assuming I’m make a lot of assumptions. In general, my father and I do have a stronger than average bond. I could elaborate on this quite a bit, but suffice it to say that we never went through any teenage-years estrangement, and our relations go beyond the typical adult-child modes of behavior. That’s not to say other people don’t have that too. Again, I said “in general.” I’m not, nor never did, claim to have some unusually special/rare relationship with my dad. Just a close one. Also, I’ve never said we have the same experiences, in fact I’ve been very clear in saying the opposite. Like you said, I’ve mentioned that people have similar arcs/phenomena in their lives, not that everyone has the same experience within those–that would be obviously a silly thing to claim.

  • I need to revisit this just a bit. When I left my first comment, I had misinterpreted what I saw before me as a single image of an “in progress project.” That single image, of course, was the one of the dad in the tub and the cat on the rim.

    Now I come back for a visit and see that there is an essay that follows that picture.

    For me, I almost never use flash – unless I do something like photograph a wedding for a family member or close friend and the reception is in such a dark place that I just have to use flash or the shots I get might be fine by me but will make them unhappy.

    But your use of flash does not bother me the way it does some here. It seems to fit your overall theme.

    The Dad, however, seems to have but one look in all these photos and it is a fairly bland look – even when he is a bit animated. Bland is okay for an image or two, but I am certain that he has other dimensions to him.

    Still, I enjoyed the essay. A different kind of look at different kind of father-daughter relationship than I have ever experienced.

  • Bob.. isn’t what you write an “open the door to anything goes”?

  • Bob, you put words in your comments, and then tell us they’re ours. Like success. I never mentionned that word. And unlike Jim Powers, for ex. (not on this essay, per se,, but previously), I never, or VERY rarely (I am not perfect), comment as if my opinions are objective final judgments on photographic work.

    To sum up (chuckingly): What part of “IMO” you don’t understand? ;-)

    in the end, it is a dead-end argument…
    You’d have me fooled here! :-))))

  • Imants, I indeed wrote “closest to you”. My mistake. I really meant family.

  • Sara if one uses text it should be integral to the work presented. What you have here is………………. This is what I really meant to show when I took the photo but I didn’t so I will tell you in words.

  • Herve: I think you put it quite well. It is a wordless narrative. I know a lot of the stories on BURN are more clear, and certainly the debate over how obviously sequential something needs to be in order to have a “plot” will never be solved.

    Eva: Saw your later comment after I wrote my previous comment. Anyhow, I agree but with a slight caveat: instead of looking at something instead of someone, I’d say you are looking at something in addition to someone. As you perhaps know, “still life” in french translates to “nature morte” so literally “dead nature.” And in a sense, these are both portraits and still lives of past moments in my dad’s life, specifically as I remember them. To state the obvious, photography, especially photography of family, is very much linked to memory. While these images were all taken over a relatively short span of time, the content of them comes from memories/moments that span a much longer amount of time. Maybe if you think of these images as monuments/still lives of the past that will help? Or maybe it won’t, but that’s a thought.

    Bob: I see why you’re considered a prolific commenter!

  • Sara,

    these are great pictures. I see so much love between you and your father in the pictures. His unconditional attending in your essay and you being so close to him, show the deepness of your mutual love and understanding.

    Thanks for showing to us.

  • Imants: You’re referring to the captions and not the statement, right? Many of the images don’t have captions, and the ones that do are often details that couldn’t be photographed. Like that he likes the tree left up till Valentines Day, for example. Unless you are referring to things mentioned in the statement you don’t find in the photo…but I thought you were talking about the captions?

  • love 10 and 19. went to your site and i really loved the “admission perimeter” series.

  • nearly all the pictures have captions. and they are all playing the same game as the rest of it.

    “my head is my only house until it rains”

  • John Gladdy: Another example of the BURN edit being somewhat different than the overall edit. And I’m not a big fan of games in general, besides the card variety.

    Kenneth: Thanks! “Admission Perimeter” is a very new project, but glad you like what it is so far. As far as this, #10 is a personal favorite. It’s interesting to me that your the second person to mention the end shot–I personally feel more neutral to it, but it seems to be a common favorite of other people.

  • Oh my. I have to smile every time I view this. I am very close in age to your dad–just a splash older–and his life is all right there on his face. Amazing. Love the look of these. Love it.

  • I have never mentiond your statement just the use captions.

  • My beloved husband Henry (ooops, i mean Herve)! :))))))

    geezus..the end is near…the second coming…!!! this blog is becoming more and more and more …liberal (to say at least)…by da minute;) horizons…but nothing bellicose or jingoistic here…pure love and care:)

  • SARA

    This project works for me on every level. No, it’s not how I would have portrayed my Dad, but I’m not you nor was he David Alexander Katz. In my opinion, you have perfectly captured on film what I read in your statement. Blunt, yes, but that’s how you described your approach in your statement. Unflattering, unsentimental, just your Dad as you see him now that you can see him with more of an outsider’s eye. And your tight close-ups, B&W and rather harsh flash all push me as viewer to see him not as a mythological superdad, but as a 60 year-old man who is living his life exactly as he chooses. His deadpan expressions — except for the “scary” one — just show that he is not posing for the camera, or if he is, it shows he doesn’t give a damn how cool or uncool he looks. I am also struck by the close bond you two share. There is no way he would have continued to participate in this project after seeing any of the proofs if he wasn’t comfortable letting you — and, by extension, us — into his inner space.

    I commend you both for your honest and fearless depiction of ordinary life just-as-it-is rather than as we wish it were. I came away from viewing this work feeling that now I know why some of my own attempts at portraying the ordinary life of my subjects had failed. I had not been daring enough to show their warts. “The Man Behind the Curtain” is all about a man’s warts. Love em or leave em…they are what make us human.

    Keep going. I want the book.

  • I can’t help laughing. I think the division between people who are totally appreciative of the essay and those who draw akind of a blank over it is actually making our “Lybya intervention” fence-siding a quibling trifle….

    Sara, you are not leaving us indifferent, so you definitely did something right! :-)

  • mountains out of mole hills stuff.

  • Patricia

    Thanks for your wonderful perspective here.

    At first viewing, I did not like this essay. After a few times through, it grew on me. I like this man. I relate and identify with him. In that respect, this series works for me.

    The technique? distracting. The off axis flash, large/medium format Weegee/Diane Arbus/Roger Ballen look, is a clunky/lazy basic “just get it on film” technique which can be seen in endless snapshots from the flashbulb era.. It is ugly lighting. It is used for effect, to mimic the look of the cigar chewing speed graphic toting, flash-bulb flashing photojournalists of the forties and fifties.

    I like this essay in spite of it.

  • Frostfrog

    Your comment about cats and tubs sounds like the voice of experience. BTW Apollo is doing fine, and Pepe is happy at a new home on Lasqueti Island.

  • Congrats to Sara K for publishing on Burn, big kudos for a kool katz… The comments are all over the place — boring, engaging, not grainy enough, flashy, captioned correctly, or not… and through it all Sara has ably responded, to her credit. Why wouldn’t she? She went to Bard, home of very bright, opinionated and verbal students… where… one of her teachers just may have been the celebrated and widely collected Larry Fink, whose signature flash look is shown here. Coincidence? Maybe. In any case, Mr. Fink’s work is in museums and galleries worldwide, like it or not, and Sara can use that flash any way she wants, too… Keep going, Sara!

  • dq
    March 25, 2011 at 9:47 am
    Congrats to Sara K for publishing on Burn, big kudos for a kool katz…

    yes, yes :)

  • dq: Thanks! And yes, I did have the privilege of getting to know Larry quite well, both as an artist as well as a person. While the choice of flash was my own, he certainly played a big role in terms of the development of the project. He’s not the sort of teacher who ever tells you specifically what to do, but for me he certainly inspired a playful/exploratory way of working. He’s a force to be reckoned with, should you ever get to meet him.

  • Sara, DQ:

    Now the penny drops; I was thinking last night how much this essay has in common with the work of Ruth Kaplan , who is my professoressa, mentor and friend. Larry Fink is a huge influence on her, and she has recently interviewed him for her classwork.

    Good instincts, DQ!

    Small world, isn’t it, Sara?

  • I do wonder about the Finks of the world and their undue influences on students………….

  • Sara tells her story in the print section of the essay. I don’t see any congruence with the words & her set of images. I’m not judging the images, in & of themselves. The photographs are staged & the flash codifies this for me.

    By telling us how close they have always been, it seems to me that these portraits tell a different story. Their collaboration appears in the service of hiding what has actually happened & how they feel about each other.

    I’m not a professional art critic, but these stilted images are like vessels, clamped down tight, holding back the real flood of emotions, conscious & unconscious of the collaborators. I do think it’s important to give equal billing to the subject as to the auteur. As Sara states right up front, she & her dad have been an “act” for some time, with her mother as the audience.

    I applaud Sara for diving in & trying to find a way to process what’s real & meaningful for her. Not an easy thing to undertake.

  • although i like the idea and some of the photos, i find the work too contrived..

    the mention of fink actually bemuses me, since i see his work as much more instinctive and of-the-moment..more honest.. less knowingly constructed.
    were it not highlighted on your site that you were taught by him, sara, i would have drawn no comparison to fink whatsoever..
    a complement maybe.. ?!
    who knows..

    i adore work which illuminates the personal life.. family life..
    none of us know what we have lived through until we get a handle on relative reality and see how others have been taught.. however –
    to me this seems a little too theatrical and staged.. flash doesn’t bother me in the slightest – tools for the job, whatever they be..
    although the sense of dull fatigue i feel from the series could be intentional, i think there must be more.
    i can almost hear “hold that”, being said through this series.. which might be just fine.. not read many of the other comments.. for me though, it gets in the way.

    i photoed my dad only documentary.. a simple portrait when i was 18 – the 2nd to last time i saw him alive actually.. it’s warm.. so warm.. and i’m glad i photographed him when and how i did because it is genuine, not concerned with photography, and he is looking at me.. not playing a role.

    in any case – i really did enjoy meeting your dad, and photo-nonsense aside, hope he is enjoying meeting us here.

  • “Seems unwise for photographers to over study “photography”.Choke.Pictures are abt life.Get lost get found.Feel alive, take a picture.Chill”
    1 day ago”

    who said that?

  • I love Fink’s vision, and his use of flash is brilliant.

  • Gordon – It most definitely IS the voice of experience. Fortunately, though, the claws never reached that part.

  • David Bowen:

    were it not highlighted on your site that you were taught by him, sara, i would have drawn no comparison to fink whatsoever..
    a complement maybe.. ?!

    Sara did mention Fink does his best not to unduly influence his students. So yes, you are quite right…his teaching in this case was complementary.

  • Yea sorta accounts for all the fink look alikes

  • Imants, Larry Fink doesn’t look anything like Mr. Katz…unless Sara’s father is a fly-fisherman:

  • Roguewave: I really enjoyed your comment.

    David: My dad actually had the same comment. There is an energetic side to him, and I didn’t get to that.

    A general response to the Fink comments: If you saw the range of work by people who at some point study with Larry, you would realize he’s not one to impose his aesthetic. I only got to know him during my last year, and I’d say his main influence for me anyhow was his energetic way of living. Both in terms of photography and life in general, I’ve met few people as alive as Larry.

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