Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Please join me March 20th

"Yellow stockings," photo by Tim Connor, All rights reserved

The Show: Can be seen 24/7 at Atlantic Ave/Pacific St. subway station, located at the intersection of Flatbush & Atlantic Ave (see map). The station is served by the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, M, N, Q & R subway lines & the LIRR. To find the pictures follow signs to the B, Q & LIRR on the lower level at Atlantic Ave.

The Reception: Thursday, March 20th, 6-8, Pacific Standard, 82 Fourth Ave. (2 blocks from station -- see map). Wine & slides.

Pictures from the exhibition
MTA's Art for Transit lightboxes

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lying liars tellin lies

"Roger Clemens"

For those of you haven't followed former Yankee pitcher Roger Clemen's recent attempts to deny using steroids, I can only say you've missed the planet's best soap opera for boys EVER. (If you need background here is more than you probably wanted to know.)

In his career Clemens won 354 games & 7 Cy Young awards. He was a shoo in for the Hall of Fame until it became clear that at the end he owed at least part of that record to injections of steroids & human growth hormones. Not that a lot of us --especially middle-aged men -- have any trouble understanding why he'd want to do that. Like tragic heroes throughout history, Clemens craved more -- more wins, more records, more adulation -- & he was losing his edge. Of course he wanted to get it back, especially since dozens, if not hundreds, of younger, less skilled & disciplined players were shooting steroids & racking up records of their own. So he stepped over the line.

But, trust me, this is no tragedy. This is not Lear in pin-stripes. In fact, this does not pass the hubris laugh test. It's a story of a big bloviating bully, a creature of the George W. Bush era, a man who believes with Cheney & the Neo Cons that in the endless war of life, constant pitiless aggression, unhindered by rules of any kind, is the only way to go.

Clemens shot up steroids but got older anyway. By 46 he knew he was done dominating the twenty somethings. He understood that all he had left now, aside from his billions, was the role of American Hero (Sports' God edition). Apparently, Clemens thought there was a lot of mileage left in the part. He thought that, played in tandem with his other major role, American Patriot (vehement pro-Iraq War edition), he was unbeatable at the box office of public opinion. He would be worshipped for the rest of his life.

"Roger Clemens & his lawyers," Susan Etheridge for the NY Times

Clemens decided to simply deny the whole ugly scandal. He would take a page from Karl Rove's playbook & lie boldly & loudly, over & over & over, face to face with those whose power mattered & via a cynical press to the man in the street. He would claim he was never (never!) injected with steroids. At the same time he & his hirelings would disparage & accuse anyone who might be made to take the blame. These included, in addition to Brian McNamee, the adoring "strength coach" who had procured & administered the drugs, Andy Pettite, a younger pitcher who Clemen had publicly mentored, & even Clemens's wife.

Before he appeared at the Congressional hearings on steroid use, Clemens made the rounds of the committee members. Politicians are by definition big supporters of American Heros , so it's maybe not a surprise how many of them were dazzled by Clemens's broad shoulders & mythic deeds. Still, I was genuinely startled by the news accounts of their simpering & autograph hounding. Oh shit, I thought, he was going to get away with it.

"Roger Clemens before his testimony," AP Photo, All rights reserved

Then came his testimony. It was by all accounts a disaster. Blustery & rude when challenged, completely unable to plausibly explain the evidence against him, Clemens seemed genuinely outraged that some committee members didn't believe in his outrage. His logic seemed to be, "I'm a Superstar American Hero & I'm here -- I'm volunteering -- to help clean up this disgusting mess -- so how could I be lying?" This seemed to work with a number of committee Republicans (or maybe their toad-like behavior had to do with Clemens's well-advertised friendship with his fellow Texans, the Bush family). In any case the Republicans adhered faithfully to the current Bush administration's doctrine of openly supporting the rich & powerful against the poor & unconnected & spent their time excoriating steroid "drug dealers," etc. To their credit most of the Democrats made it clear they believed Clemens was lying. Most of the press didn't believe him either. The man on the street (one poll I saw said 90%) also thought he was lying.

But before we celebrate the triumph of truth, a word of caution. This isn't over & its ending is not ordained. One account I read suggests that Clemens's lawyers would only have allowed him to so blithely perjure himself if they knew he could count on a pardon from President Bush. Hey, it's possible. He gave one to Libby. Still, I'm encouraged.

Frankly, I don't give a damn who does & doesn't get into the Hall of Fame. But I do think that a public liar should be shown to be a liar. Otherwise, it gets dangerous. Not long ago, remember, we weren't able to make it stick that Cheney, Rumsfeld & Bush were liars. Could we be moving away, even slightly, from the national disgrace of that? Could our recent Big Lie period of American history be on the wane? Or is it just that on TV George W. Bush plays a better hombre from Texas than Roger Clemens does?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Katy Grannan's "Another Woman Who Died in Her Sleep"

"Angie & Betty, Nazareth, PA," Katy Grannan, All rights reserved

In general I think very highly of Katy Grannan's portraits. Her practice has been to place ads in small-town newspapers for men & women who want to be photographed & then collaborate with the responders to create portraits . Taking her cues from her subjects' suggestions, Grannan makes pictures that can have an awkward beauty but are often uncomfortable -- reflecting the discomfort of her subjects, who usually choose to be nude or only partially clothed. I like Grannan's portraits because they record without trickery or judgment her subjects' desires -- which may be brave or ridiculous or both at once -- to be likeable, sexy, sophisticated, rebellious, etc.

"Nicole," Katy Grannan, All rights reserved

But , even though Grannan's current show, "Another Woman Who Died in Her Sleep," at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, follows her familiar rules, I found it deeply troubling (Grannan has another show, "Lady into Fox," running concurrently downtown, which I haven't seen). All the portraits are of one woman,Nicole, who appears to be messed up by drugs and/or mentally ill. Very large color prints show Nicole, posing, by turns, in extreme states -- from hysteria to deep depression. In one photo she's wearing a bleached-blonde wig, crouched on a hotel bed, snarling ferally at the camera. In another she's in the weeds, propped against a cement wall, seemingly tied-up, comatose, her tanktop yanked down past her breasts. Such images of abuse -- drifter, hooker, addict, corpse --are even more painful as we gradually realize that the photos reveal a growing pregnancy. The last image in the show is Nicole, her face completely blank, holding a newborn baby.

I have no objection to this subject matter or to Nicole enacting her fantasies. This is acting, after all -- however close it is to reality -- & even if it weren't, it would be unforgivable to insist, "concerned photograper" style, that exhibiting pictures like these must somehow be presented as good for society. But I object to its presentation as nothing more than a diverting exercise in post-modernism, as only about the photographs.

We learn nothing at all about Nicole except her name. Instead, Greenberg Van Doren's handout for the show tells us, "In the new works, Grannan explores the uneasy relationship between fixed photographic portraiture and her subjects’ mercurial identities. The photographs are replete with ambiguity and contradiction: they are evidence of an invented, unknowable self, confronting undeniable, inescapable photographic description... Here, Grannan questions photography's ability to describe a complex individual with a single photographic 'truth'."

Well -- duh. But there's more. The release even quotes Oscar Wilde's "Anyone who disappears can be seen in San Francisco" in an apparent attempt to pin the denial on California, that "literal & metaphorical backdrop...mythical destination & real end-point... " where Grannan's subjects "...struggle to define themselves under the scrutiny of relentless sunlight."

Personally, I found myself getting pissed at the show's total lack of context. This show's portrait of damage & suffering has considerable power. It evokes real emotions. I wish somebody would take responsibility for it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sylvia Plachy: Faith in the unforeseen

"Mermaid," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

For a while in the 80s I ran a coffee-lounge for tenants in a high-rise luxury building on W. 57th Street. The lounge was usually empty so I worked on my novel. (No, I never finished it, but I did finish this one, if you're interested.). I also read a lot. I was reading the Village Voice -- still a real newspaper then -- when I 1st saw Sylvia Plachy's work. They had assigned her to publish one picture each issue -- a kind of visual summation, a what-the-city-looks-like-right-now moment. I forget what they called this feature, but the picture ran without a long explanatory caption. It was a window, a B & W glimpse, more consciousness than news, not an editor's statement, an artist's. Every week I looked through this artist's window with astonishment & delight.

I've never met Sylvia Plachy, but she inspired me to keep taking photographs. I gave up trying to take photos for a living & concentrated instead on getting paid as a writer & editor. Meanwhile, I went out & made the pictures I loved. A few years later I started Not dot com pictures, a 2-year web project that consisted of emailing a new image every day to everybody I knew. I was thinking of Plachy when I did it.

"Adrien Brody," Sylvia Plachy (her son), All rights reserved

"Aquila Theatre Company’s The Invisible Man," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

I recently discovered a new book of Plachy's photos, Goings on About Town: Photographs for the New Yorker, This time in color, the photos led off the magazine's cultural events' listing of that name for more than a year. Here's a slide show of selections.

In his foreword to the book, Mark Singer says of Plachy, "...she approaches her subjects with a peculiar mixture of doggedness and dreaminess, calculation combined with faith in the unforeseen. "

Later, he continues, "Stalking without threatening, she nimbly pursues what only she, for the moment, can envision. In that instant, she conjures; at some future moment, we will savor."

"Go go, Las Vegas," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

"Children playing at a Celebrate Brooklyn! concert," Sylvia Plachy, All rights reserved

What I love about Plachy's pictures is their sense of constant flux & motion. With frames often tilted & blurs accepted, they feel one with the action, part of the parade -- inside lived life. This is in marked contrast to the willed perfection & stillness of so much contemporary photographer (think Robert Polidori).

I particularly like Singer's phrase "faith in the unforeseen. " Like her friend & fellow emigre, André Kertész -- Singer describes him as a "...mentor and honorary grandfather, who called her ('affectionately,' she insists) taknyos—'snotnose,'—in their native Hungarian "-- Plachy doesn't make up pictures in her head & then go out & produce them . Like Kertesz (I wrote about him here) her images are unscripted. They're unplannable.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Sometimes a sentence...

"Flann O'Brien," portrait by Riccardo Vechio

"Birds were audible in the secrecy of the bigger trees, changing branches and conversing not tumultuously."

Flann O'Brien

Quoted by John Updike in his Feb. 5th "Books" column, Back-Chat, Funny Cracks, in the New Yorker.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"Diversity of Devotion" opens in Brooklyn

"Boys praying, New Baptist Church, Brooklyn," Melanie Einzig, All rights reserved

"Billy Graham's last crusade, Queens," Scott Lewis, All rights reserved

"Diversity of Devotion," a photo documentation of spiritual practices in the five boroughs of New York City is now showing at the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. The exhibit runs till April 19.

An opening reception will be held Tuesday, February 5th, from 7:30 - 9pm.

Made up of 65 images from 36 photographers depicting 27 spiritual and religious beliefs, the exhibit includes familiar religions as well as those which are lesser-known, such as Voodou, Zoroastrianism, Sikh, Falun Gong, Wicca, Santeria and Rastafari.

"The project’s goal is to remind both artists and audiences how fortunate we are to live in a city where myriad beliefs coexist in peace, and celebrate the unique and beautiful found within each," says curator Jenny Jozwiak.

More information at the library's web page.