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In July 2012, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA) asked me to compile a playlist of videos directed by photographers for their new online series, MOCAtv. Launched last week, MOCAtv bills itself as the “Global Contemporary Art Channel,” providing a wide range of content related to the arts. Looking to see if photographers’ skills translated into music videos was one of the most enjoyable commissions I have ever had.

My personal interest in music videos is mainly autobiographical. I was a teenager in the 1980s—the heyday of the music video. Videos were crucial to bands’ identity; it was really the only way, apart from photography, that an image was disseminated to the world. MTV was the dominant force, but if you grew up in Britain, it was the quaintly titled BBC show Top of the Pops that was one of the only ways to see them.

Looking back at these videos has evoked amazing memories, but at times, I view some videos with a new perspective and appreciate them now because of who made them and how they look. For example, the mesmerizing Addicted to Love by Robert Palmer was always incredible – but now that I know it was directed by the great British fashion and portrait photographer Terence Donovan, all I can see are the similarities to his later photographs of the 1980s with their strong, almost aggressive, female glamour.  It’s interesting to note where the photographer’s hand is so apparent and successful, and elsewhere, when they lose something of their signature flair by having a moving camera instead of a still shot.

Like many, my introduction to music came via my older brother. Always one step ahead of me, he had very sophisticated taste. My first concert was Souxsie and the Banshees when I was 14. Somehow I managed to persuade him (and more miraculously my parents) that I should go along with him and a gang of heavily hair-sprayed goths. It was not the music that I particularly remember, but the amazing beauty of this particular strand of post punk music. From that moment I was addicted to live concerts and the performance of dressing up.

I knew about New Order due to my brothers liking of Joy Division. I saw them perform that summer and their shortened remix of Blue Monday (1988) is like a backing track to those heady months, which were incredibly hot and renamed by many of my contemporaries as ‘the summer of ale.’ I was 18.

When I was asked to put this playlist together I couldn’t believe that I had never seen the video. I was so delighted that it was done by William Wegman. It is full of lovely references for me. Wegman is an artist who manages to have conceptual credibility and respect in the art world and also make calendars with puppies. I can’t think of any one else who manages such success in both commercial and art worlds with such ease and lack of compromise on either side. His ABC video Alphabet Soup featuring Fay, Batty, Chundo and Crooky is my favorite gift to all new parents; my daughter’s go-to bedtime book is Wegmonolgy and my brother has Weineramas. It’s like all good things in my life are condensed into this one video.

A year after Blue Monday, New Order released Run and asked Robert Frank to direct it. This video combines many different kinds of video techniques into one film. It has both live footage and a narrative. It also uses still photographs many times. Nothing is really explained but it has that coldness, disconnect and mystery which is so crucial to a Frank photograph. The song is not the strongest, but you are held utterly by the video. The ending is pure Frank: it stops on a still photograph where everyone is looking in different directions and the scene is chaotic but happy. In two takes he goes closer in to the black-and-white photograph with a woman clutching a book titled listen to god. About two seconds of existential anxiety almost lost as the song fades out.

Staying in the 1980s is Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, directed by Herb Ritts. This song, which came out in 1989, was reinserted into popular culture when it was used in a scene of Wild at Heart by David Lynch. The video is trademark Ritts. The female body (Helena Christensen) is Amazonian—sexy, strong and very much associated with the 1980s before the AIDS crisis (although of course the AIDS crisis had very much gripped huge swaths of society by this time). It’s crisp, clean and erotic. He shoots from many angles so the body, although always sensuous, can also become abstracted. This photographic technique, which Ritts has become so famous for, was most eloquently played out in a photograph of five of the most famous supermodels gathered together naked (Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood, 1989) their limbs lending graphic strength and dynamism to the composition of the picture.

Die Antwoord, I Fink U Freeky directed by Roger Ballen (2012) practically went viral among photography circles recently. The video starts with “Die Antwoord in Association with Roger Ballen.” This is the first time I have seen musicians and the director on equal footing, especially when the band has a much bigger global presence than the photographer.

Ballen has lived and worked in South Africa for most of his life. His work is a swirling mix of reality, fantasy, documentary and personal investigation. He photographs in the poorest white areas of South Africa, and his work is immediately recognizable for its disturbing almost nihilistic qualities, which are confusing in terms of ethics and morals of representation. This video is like a zooped up, hammy musical journey through his work and is so well suited to the band, who have a trickster element to them. They are the perfect artistic combination.

Another South African photographer, Pieter Hugo, has directed Spoek Mathambo, Control which was originally recorded by Joy Division and has again been introduced to a younger generation through the biopic of Ian Curtis in the film Control by Anton Corbijn (who has also done a large number of music videos). Again this has similar elements to the Ballen video in that reality has been pushed to appear fantastical. Of all the videos selected it is the most ‘photographic,’ and you can really see Hugo’s skill in using backdrops to create scenes. If you were to go through freeze framing it each scene could work beautifully as a photograph. It reminds me of his Nollywood series about the horror film industry in Nigeria. For this he took costumed actors and put them into the street causing a tension between reality, fantasy, horror, staging and theater. This video has all of those elements and similar references to the genre, but was filmed in a township in Cape Town. It’s the best cover of Control I have ever heard, making it absolutely belong here in South Africa and not the North of England.

Music videos act as lightening rods to memories. Headier than photographs they possess the most potent Proustain links to the past. When they are at their very best, like the ones I have mentioned here, they are like stills come to life. Photographers can offer a particular way of looking at the world. When that coincides with a similar musical vision the results can be spectacular.

Susan Bright is a New York-based writer and curator. You can see more of her work here

View more of MOCAtv’s programming on their YouTube channel.

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“I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it. Because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.” 

— Nadia Comaneci

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As a tribute for my most popular picture The Rise of a Planet I came up with this scene. The image is also part of The Luminarium’s latest exhibition called Gaia ( My girlfriend helped me a lot with suggestions during the work.

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Girl News - Girls and Being a Teenager

Who else knows every single thing about music and books and movies but also knows how to use hash oil but also houses a private, expanding and infinite constellation of feels and thinks? Nobody! Weirdly, teenage girls have it the hardest: nobody likes them, because stop shotgunning one another with loud inconsequentials on the subway, OK? And because they are messy and self-serious and uncontained and are always, like, stroking their filthy accessories and iPhone charms in this grossitating way. I’m a professional girl, and when I am with two or more teenage babies I feel like they’re going to combust and just period and period and period all over me. But, but but but, they’re all anybody thinks about, looks at, looks at with their dinky in their hand, wants to be, has shit to say about. Teenage girls are as full of secrets as Gretchen Wieners’ hair but exist at the center of contemporary society, which is fucked, right?

Also, for every post-teenager girl, her teenager-self is a lodestar. The interim between adolescence and a 21st birthday, or whatever, is characterized by absorption and experience and wrongthink and total psychic, psychotic distress, true, but every year after that is just editing. Actually, yeah: Adulthood is just making a Pinterest out of what you liked when you were 15, basically. Shit, guy.


If you are a teenage human girl, hi. I love you. The squeezes I want to give you, girl… I’d crack your bones like Nicki eats your brain, dig? Anyway, it’s Friday, and what you need to be doing is downloading Do The Right Thing, which is not specifically a Teenager Movie but that is as or more crucial an experience as any rando Selena Gomez vehicle, and then text your friends to come over way later. Then I want you to get the fuck on your bike or skateboard and side-wind somewhere to commune with your girls and just, like, rub your sweat on each other and seal joints for each other with your tongue-tips and probably go swimming naked with boys because you want to look at them but only go with boys who pretend not to look, or look with the dignity and respect of a blind elder statesman, and then way later after you’ve watched Do The Right Thing and had multiple, mental les petite morts about ice (trusssssst me) go out to the yard and sink in, watching stars or satellites or just your phone’s screen, fading in and out in the dark until morning, when you go eat some pancakes to come down a little softer. There’s other stuff, about watermelons and cooking syringes and vodka, but learning how to be bad is even funner than being it, dangerous angel. Anges dangereuses! Ooooh, that’s even better.


Usually my, like, advice-manifesto is to emulate the behavioral patterns of rich old white men. Like this:“When you get old and confident it’s so great because you do whatever the shit you want, like rich old white men. Seriously? Let rich old white men be your Spirit Animals when it comes to pursuing only and all of what amuses you.” Maybe that’s too triple-black-diamond for the moment? Look, I like every new year that I am because “more” is a better birthday present than a telescope and water skis (that is a reference to the 1980s, but I’m not sure why?), AND if you’re a certain/the right kind of person your eventual oldening will mostly be an opportunity for better material items and (the price you pay is sometimes sobbing in parking lots, and you have to try harder at having friends, but otherwise it’s cool), rendering teenager-ness a period only distinct because of how you remember exactly where and how that dude rubbed your pussy-area outside of your jeans because something about how your hormones operate makes any and all sexual encounters imprint on your memory, forever and ever and ever, with total recall whenever you close your porcelain doll-eyes. Anyway, that feeling of tilting your face out the window of a car on a 6 AM hot-white highway isn’t about “16,” it’s about “choices.”


It’s not how skinny you are that makes grownup women want to be you (after all, the skinniest skinnies are born-again Orange County fortysomething moms of ten who have actually but secretly accepted Lululemon as their lord and savior); it’s how much you don’t know what you look like.


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The older you get, the more the icons of your childhood become real people, suffering from the inevitable passage of time; a normal thing for everyday folk, but shocking when those you worshiped and idolized as a kid get old, gain weight, or even die. This weekend, when Whitney Houston passed away all too early I was flooded with memories of dancing to her songs as a child, and even watching The Bodyguard 100 times. Today, I’m not sure I would watch anything Kevin Costner was in, but when that movie came out I was obsessed- I went and bought the CD and listened to every song on it on repeat. I have never been a religious person, but my favorite song on that album surprisingly was her version of Jesus Loves Me that she sings for a few seconds in the movie. Maybe it was her gospel roots, but she made that song sound so good. When she died, I googled “Whitney Houston, Jesus Loves Me” hoping to find the studio version, only to discover that the night before she died she unexpectedly got on stage at a pre-Grammy party and grabbed the mic and sang one verse of Jesus Loves Me. Her voice was shot, and she looked almost shy, but somehow I think that is an appropriate and beautiful last performance for a woman who is unfortunately going to be remembered as much for her astounding talent as for squandering it away through drugs and alcohol. I hope that she knew she was loved by many and she has found some peace wherever she may be now. Below is Whitney’s Jesus Loves Me if you want to hear it, as well as the video for I Wanna Dance With Somebody, one of the all-time best Whitney songs ever, although it is hard to choose. It is almost impossible not to be cheered up this video. I think the red skirt is my favorite, but the one-sleeved orange dress is equally fantastic. I also love when she pulls on the chain. Either way, she kills it and this video still makes me want to dance.

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Miss Favela bar scene in Brooklyn, NY. Photo by Isabela Eseverri  – One light off camera

Rooftop party in Manhattan, NY. Photo by Madeleine Stevens – One light on camera


We  just did a one day small strobe lighting class in my loft in NY where I will be spending the next two weeks guiding photographers into  taking their personal next step. Both Madeleine and Isabela were out in the Saturday night scene practicing as seen above what they had learned from us during the day. I encourage photographers to “get personal” so even a one day tech class like this one becomes after all an exploration in doing work that is somehow a mirror of individual predilections.

The students who are here for a week, will take this process much further and show their work on this Friday evening at the loft in front of a cast of the best and brightest in photoland and let off by shows by both Chris Anderson and Bruce Gilden.

I will post work from time to time this week from this essay class. Stay tuned. You will see some very nice work shot right now by these very serious photographers.

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