Thursday, February 25, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
"Why Not Use the L?", Reginald Marsh, 1930, All rights reserved
Before I went to The National Museum of the American Indian in New York last week, I had never heard of Reginald Marsh. I only went to the Museum because Manhattan galleries think Monday is Sunday -- but that's another story. The Museum turned out to be in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, an amazing beaux arts building with a graceful, skylit rotunda (another story too).
Rotunda of U.S. Customs House, designed by Cass Gilbert, completed 1907.
Reginald Marsh had painted the murals on the ceiling. As I stood there gaping at their energy, a very sweet Museum lady came up and told me Marsh had painted them as a WPA project during the Depression. His subject was the New York docks -- the mighty ocean liners churning through the harbor, bullied by tugboats, the gangways & huge nets being unloaded by muscular longshoremen, the long roadsters lined up waiting for privileged travelers -- in fact, his paintings depict what was, at that time, going on right outside the Custom House (it's located only a few hundred yards from South Ferry). My favorite mural shows a modern-looking impromptu news conference with an elegant woman in furs (the Museum lady whispered that it was Gloria Swanson) cornered by an intently jostling mass of reporters, newsreel cameramen and photographers. "How was Europe?" I could (almost) hear them shouting.
Looking up was like watching the past swarm into the present.
You can find out more about Marsh here. I liked reading that he worked for years -- including at the NY Daily News -- doing quick sketches from life, and that all his paintings started with sketches.
"Carousel," Reginald Marsh, All rights reserved
"Coney Island," Reginald Marsh, All rights reserved
"Battery Belles," Reginald Marsh, All rights reserved
"20-Cent Movie," Reginald Marsh, All rights reserved
I love these pictures because they put me in a city that's been gone for 70 years but is still, somehow, immediately recognizable. We all carry plenty of historical New York Citys in our heads -- say, Edith Wharton's decorous gilded age New York or, later, F. Scott Fitzgerald's wild but sophisticated city of swells & flappers. But in those images we rarely see the lower classes. Marsh concentrated on them. He contended that "well-bred people are no fun to paint."
You can see more pictures here.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Still from the film, "The White Ribbon,"written & directed by Michael Haneke
“ 'The White Ribbon' is offered to its grateful, masochistic audience in a punitive and yet oddly forgiving spirit, as a reminder of just how awful we are and how much worse we used to be."
From A.O. Scott's review in The New York Times
*Kicker: Journalism slang for an ending that finishes a story with a surprising or graceful flourish.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Photo by Umida Akhmedova, All rights reserved
Does the picture above look to you like an "insult to the Uzbek people" ? The Uzbek government apparently thinks so. Prosecutors there used it to convict Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova of slander against the nation, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 3 years in prison. Luckily, fellow photographers in central Asia (but not in Uzbekistan) protested, and the cause was picked up by the Russian media. The government backed off, and a judge granted amnesty to Akhmedova "in honor of the 18th anniversary of Uzbek independence."
Here's what the government's experts wrote about the series in which the picture appears.
“With one glance at these pictures one can see that repair work is being done in these rooms, and that the children entered them purely through the childish curiosity that is inherent to them,” the complaint reads. “But to foreigners, these photographs may give the impression that these children live in these homes.”
In a way the most frightening part of the NY Times story (in its entirety here) is the photographer's evident bewilderment. Even in Uzbekistan, whose leaders' aggressive stupidity must be hard to mistake, Akhmedova clearly thought she was just making pictures.
"I still don’t understand how my creative work could have brought me to this courtroom,” she said.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
"Black bird," Tim Connor, All rights reserved
In the past three months we've had serious health problems in my family. I did what I had to do, & I did my best. This got more & more difficult. My own photography & writing came to an almost complete halt. To continue taking care of my family, I realized I would have to confront my own depression.
Depression is something I don't write about. I've suffered from it since I was a teenager, maybe before, but I don't think I have anything special to tell someone else. I've been lucky because depression rarely knocks me out of the game entirely, the way it does some people. Certain days might be like mountain-climbing in a suit of armor, but I'm generally able to keep plodding through my routines. It's taking the leaps -- of trust & creativity -- taking the initiative, being spontaneous; it's believing in my purpose that I sometimes can't manage. The feeling isn't so much pain as a kind of exquisite vulnerability. Especially on the topic of my own claim to the title "artist," I am as though skinned-alive. I want only to withdraw, go to ground, stop feeling, go to sleep.
For me photography is difficult in depression. Writing is almost impossible. I find that antidepressants help a lot in general, but in this one area of creative confidence, not at all. Though I continue to see photographs, & the words still course through my brain, I somehow can't take the picture or write the sentence. I just can't do it.
I didn't post in this blog from December 14th of 2009 till 2 days ago. It is a mysterious instance of grace that my depression has lifted & I can do so again.
I am grateful.
Screenshot of my book, "Outer Borough," http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1144336
Here's my book "Outer Borough (you can virtually flip through its pages here.) You can buy it too -- 11" x 17" hardcover -- at cost, though unfortunately not cheap. Here are the images collected in a set on Flickr.