I/Eye: On Photography

From “Los Caprichos”: Oculta las costuras

Posted in Los Caprichos, platinum palladium, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 22, 2017
From the series *Los caprichos: after Goya*: "Oculta las costuras" (She hides the seams.)

From the series Los Caprichos: after Goya: “Oculta las costuras” (She hides the seams.) The Caprichos are a series of 80 platinum palladium prints made from photos of moving footage shot from a computer screen. The prints are inspired by Goya’s album of the same name, published in 1799.


Even in this headless state, this “she” is already ready: she’s the embodiment of modern advances in “plastic surgery”.  The position of her feet and legs, though, connect her to the past and to Goya’s imagery of women.

Eleanor Sayre, the Goya scholar, left us a clear picture of the iconography of women in Los Caprichos (of 1799): you could tell what a woman was by the position of the feet, legs and hips (though a witless fop might be duped  irrespective of the use of a powerful monocle, such as that employed in plate 7, Ni asi la distingue).  A wide stance, with toes turned out, was indicative to the reader — and there were many women with turned-out toes in the original series. Why is that?

Sayre speculated that it had to do with with the scourge of  venereal disease in the urban centers of 18th-century Spain, a result of the deregulation of prostitution under Phillip IV in 1623, when women were forced out onto the street to ply their trade without the benefit of reliable shelter or medical attention. By the time of Goya’s Caprichos, published at the very end of the eighteenth century, it’s easy to see why people would think it was the women who were to blame. The sex dolls in this Capricho are at any rate immune…






Los Caprichos: “Hasta la muerte”

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 12, 2017
Hasta la muerte

Hasta la muerte (Until death), from the series *Los Caprichos: after Goya*.


Goya had a wicked sense of humor.  His Caprichos are full of puns and double-entendres, and though their subject-matter is dark, many of them are funny, too. Sometimes they included figures that people would recognize. In my own Caprichos, I spoofed the famous figure in the image above by paralleling him with Goya’s print of the same title, “Hasta la muerte”, which translates as “Unto death” (see below). Goya’s image is about an old woman’s vanity: she dwells on her own image in the mirror but doesn’t notice those who laugh at her futile preening. The original print, then, is also a mirror for Mick, whose  youthful declaration that he couldn’t picture himself singing “Satisfaction” at 45 has been amazingly transcended by a scrupulous burnishing of self-image well into the “golden years”. I’m sure he’d get a kick out of the parallel.


Hasta la muerte

Hasta la muerte, from Goya’s 1799 album “Los Caprichos”.

Los Caprichos: Mucho hay que chupar

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on July 23, 2017



“Mucho hay que chupar” (There is much to suck), palladium print on Arches Platine paper, 2017.

An image from the series Los Caprichos: after Goya, a book project inspired by the satirical 18th-century album of the same name.

Caprichos means literally: whims. Images from this series are photographed from video source and printed using the platinum-palladium method. In keeping with the original’s mordant titles, I’ve given each image a caption — in Spanish.

Though this one is a direct quote from one of Goya’s captions, the image takes the viewer to a context very different from its eighteenth-century counterpart. The artist Enrique Chagoya also adapted the Caprichos: his approach was to copy Goya’s imagery making strategic alterations. In his version of the print that bears this caption, he makes the artist’s theme more explicit. You can see his print in the collection of MOMA.

From “Los Caprichos: after Goya”: O te hundes o sales a flote (“Sink or swim”)

Posted in Los Caprichos, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on June 3, 2017
"O te hundes o sales a flote" ("Sink or swim"), from "Los Caprichos: after Goya"

“O te hundes o sales a flote” (“Sink or swim”), from the series of platinum palladium prints Los Caprichos: after Goya.


In late 2017, my first complete set of Caprichos will become part of the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This means they will live under the same roof as a set of Goya’s eighteenth-century originals. This would have seemed like a guarantee of permanence (and a flattering proximity) even a decade ago. But libraries are fragile things; they burn, they’re looted, they’re lost in political chaos.

Today is the day after  President Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which many governments labored to construct under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

An analysis of the political and legal repercussions for His Highness (and us) of His Highness’ Colossal Climate Tantrum can be read at the LawFare blog, in a post by David Wirth. Take what heart from it you can.

Homage to Diebenkorn

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 23, 2015
Homage to Diebenkorn. 2015

Homage to Diebenkorn. 2015

Brad Boca at Candela Fine Art has been doing beautiful drum scans of the still life work I shot during the summer months when it’s too hot to print (with the temperatures soaring into the mid-nineties in the platinum palladium room). Here’s a sample. I work on a combination of instant film and color transparency. The instant film is for proofing the composition and lighting. The color transparency is for the “final” image and is the medium that gets drum-scanned.

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Green beret

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 15, 2014
2014 © Sheila Newbery

2014 © Sheila Newbery

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Studio work

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on September 13, 2014
Still life on instant film, 2014

Still life on instant film, 2014

Fuji’s instant film is gorgeous; I’ve shot with it often enough before, but never to do still life. The trick to getting consistent results on instant film is to swab the polaroid back rollers with alcohol before loading each new pack. (The parcheesi men here were stowaways in a vase I found at Urban Ore, Berkeley’s greatest recycle and reuse store—aka junk shop.)


Los Caprichos: Tantos adeptos

Posted in Los Caprichos, Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on July 28, 2014
"Tantos adeptos", from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium, 2014)

“Tantos adeptos”, from *Los Caprichos: after Goya* (platinum palladium, 2014)

New work for Los Caprichos: after Goya: the caption can be translated as “so many followers”. The original Caprichos contain a number of images that show dubious authority figures and their fulsome adherents, either emphasizing the blind slavishness of the latter or the fatuous pretensions of the former:

Here I give you a contemporary riff on that theme.

Los Caprichos: Salvese quien pueda

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on July 19, 2014
Salvese quien pueda from "Los Caprichos: after Goya" (2014)

Salvese quien pueda from “Los Caprichos: after Goya” (2014)


The first post in a long while: I’ve been working intensively on the Caprichos. The lettering has been the hardest part: my aim has always been a simulacrum of the 18th-century round hand script used by the master calligrapher(s) who inscribed Goya’s legends. (For a sample of the elegant fluidity of the original, click here.) When I first encountered Goya’s plates years ago, I naively assumed that he’d written the legends himself, on each of the images. Subsequently, I realized that would have been impossible: he produced thousands of individual Caprichos during the brief period of their production, and hand-lettering them all would have been staggeringly difficult for all the reasons I’ve already encountered: you simply can’t afford to make mistakes! Last year, I had the chance to inspect one of the British Museum’s bound presentation albums, prepared by Goya for a patron/friend. With the chance to hold it in my hands and eyeball it in a raking light, I could see clearly that the lettering was part of the plate, something Robert Hughes also notes in his study Goya (New York: Knopf, 2003), but which I’d somehow overlooked in my reading. So that explained a few things—yet knowing this didn’t diminish my admiration for the skill of the calligrapher; in fact, it increased it, because I can’t imagine how it was done (drypoint directly on the plates?).

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing my legends out by hand (this is the laborious, somewhat nerve-wracking part) and then scanning them so they can become part of the negative, which is ultimately printed in platinum-palladium. The one you see above is a recent one. The translation in  English would be “every man for himself”.

Note: in “Goya’s Caprichos” (Print Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2, June 1993, 187–189), Janis Tomlinson questions Juliet Wilson-Bareau’s position that Goya was responsible for making the captions to the Caprichos.  The fact is that the orthography is varied—and this has always made me wonder about the calligraphic aspect of  production.  Tomlinson also emphasises how little we know about the origins of the project: “Despite the seeming familiarity of Los Caprichos, our knowledge about the series if very limited. […] [W]e in fact know very little about the artist’s motives or intended audience.” What we do know is that it was the first of Goya’s works to be offered for sale to the general public, and that it was a financial disaster.

Smoke stop

Posted in Uncategorized by Sheila Newbery on January 28, 2014
Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

I decided to go to Denver for the “One by One” show at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center—by train. I like the feeling of moving through the landscape (as opposed to rocketing through the air); there are fewer things that have to go right to prevent violent death, and the mechanical failures of trains—though legion—are generally harmless, though like as not they will cause delays. There is also the leitmotif of the “smoking stop”—the conductors may be the last officials in the travel business who take into account the fact of addiction; accordingly, there are stops along the way of more or less a cigarette’s duration. Then the whistle blows and the chuffing progress resumes—and no remorse for any left behind. We’re reminded at each approach that once the train departs, it doesn’t stop for anyone.

But I know this isn’t strictly true.

I once witnessed a woman stop the train at Grand Junction—with great presence of mind. She had had a smoke on the platform and wandered off, unconcerned. When she saw the train pulling away, she didn’t panic. She hoofed it into the station, assumed her best “frantic mother” demeanor and told the station master her baby was on board that train. She was thoroughly convincing, and hopped neatly back into her car (one ahead of mine), with a little kick of her heels.  She was the talk of the train.

Of course, there was no baby…

Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

Smoke stop EMY-DEN (2014) © Sheila Newbery

Anyway, I’m glad I went. Rupert Jenkins, Paul Sisson and the staff at CPAC made good order and a handsome display out of the bewildering variety of pictures on view, and Eric Paddock very sensibly addressed this in his opening remarks where he stressed that photography is no longer one kind of practice, and no single medium. It’s many things. I kept thinking of David Hockney’s lament that the “chemistry” of photography had replaced the “hand” of the artist (in the sense of drawing or painting), but even this pronouncement seems now almost quaintly out of step.  Photography is strapped to the atom, the electron: its essence is speed. We can barely keep up.