Thursday, November 29, 2007

Serious whimsy: Dulce Pinzon & Daniela Edburg

From "The real story of the Superheroes," Dulce Pinzon, All rights reserved

Dulce Pinzon's show, "The real story of the Superheroes," opening December 1st at Kunsthaus Miami, has a serious purpose, but that doesn't mean it isn't lots of fun. Pinzon writes, "The Mexican immigrant worker in New York is a perfect example of the hero who has gone unnoticed. It is common ... to work extraordinary hours in extreme conditions for very low wages which are saved at great cost and sacrifice and sent to families and communities in Mexico who rely on them to survive." So how does Pinzon put across this somber & uncomfortable truth? By making pictures that would delight a child -- or startle a surrealist.

Her show depicts 20 Mexican immigrants at their NY workplaces dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes. Brightly colored & dramatic, the superheroes are pure fantasy, but the settings are authentically mundane. The photos are simply captioned with the worker’s name, hometown in Mexico, number of years working in New York, and amount of money sent each week to Mexico. For instance, the photo above says: "LUIS HERNANDEZ from the State of Veracruz works in demolition in New York. He sends 200 dollars a week."

Think about that... Living in this city off a low-wage job, no benefits, sending home $800 a month... See all the Superheroes.

"Muerte por algodón de azúcar" (Death by cotton candy), Daniela Edburg, All rights reserved

Daniela Edburg is another female Mexican artist whose work can be laugh-out-loud playful without suppressing uneasy undercurents. She says her series "Drop dead gorgeous" is "about the relationship between glamour and death," but, like Pinzon's, her pictures are anything but dogmatic. They can be extravagantly goofy (see the Wizard of Oz-magicked "cotton candy" above) & very funny (see "Muerte por tupperware") Or they can veer toward the unsettlingly realistic (see "Muerte por lifesavers," with its evocation -- conscious or not -- of a pill-popping suicide). They are never dull.

I'm reminded of the Day of the Dead & its capering, clowning skeletons. How important is it that these pictures are made by Mexicans? I don't know enough to answer. But, Mexican or not, these images manage to take themselves both less & more seriously than most I see in New York. I wish more conceptual photography had this kind of flexibility & edge.

Read an interview with Daniela Edburg in The Morning News.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nothin but 'Blueeyes'

I've been too wiped out by day job & other must-do stuff to post much lately or even explore the web. Today a welcome email from Blueeyes Magazine busted through the overwhelm, & I'm glad it did. Blueyes is an online occasionally-monthly magazine that emphasizes the kind of in-depth project photojournalism still revered & taught in the Midwest (I know because I studied photojournalism --long ago --at the U of Minnesota; the Blueyes staff is mostly from the U of Missouri ).

The new issue contains a poetic portfolio by Landon Nordeman, described as "all back stage breaks instead of dramatic finales, " a photo essay on the Ukraine in transition by Carolyn Drake & two new ongoing features: "First Look," which highlights "upcoming photography book releases that we believe in" (1st 1st look, a 1st book, Darin's Mickey's wonderfully titled Stuff I Gotta Remember Not to Forget) & "Document," an excerpt from a new memoir about being a photojournalist (Jim Lo Scalzo's Evidence of my Existence).

Worth checking out.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

New prints by Diane Arbus found

"DeWise Purdon, 'the man with no hands,' at Hubert’s," Diane Arbus

The NY Times reports that 21 early photographs by Diane Arbus have turned up in "a pile of papers" originally auctioned off as unclaimed possessions by a storage warehouse in the Bronx (see the story here). Bob Langmuir, the man who discovered the prints, is described as a "... rare-books and memorabilia dealer with a deep knowledge of old blues and folk recordings" who "...spent his youth rambling through Europe and Russia, serving as a merchant mariner and working briefly as a roadie for Muddy Waters. "

Sounds like he deserved a break. It probably helped that he at least knew something about the collecting business, as I imagine when word got out, he felt like Josh Brolin being hunted by Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.

The newly discovered Arbus's were shot at Hubert's Dime Museum & Flea Circus, a Times Square emporium of the bizarre, in the late 50s, right after Arbus split from her husband & their shared fashion photography business. According to the story, they depict "...giant cowboys, tattooed men, snake dancers and...'the man from World War Zero.' ”

Arbus's fascination with the outlandishly different became one of the great themes of her work, of course, so these are important pictures for the light they shed on her evolving methods & style. But I wonder if they're anything special as photographs. And, if they're not, I wonder how Arbus would react to the news that they're now worth a fortune.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poem for Thanksgiving

"Blowing weeds," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Ordinary Life

Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.

Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town’s outskirts,
good news, bad—

but objects and thoughts
were unfinished somehow,
rough drafts.

Houses and trees
desired something more
and in summer green meadows
covered the volcanic planet
like an overcoat tossed upon the ocean.

Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.

Adam Zagajewski
(Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh)

Seen in The New Yorker

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Had to share this picture...

"Day driver," Stuart Hawkins, All rights reserved

The combination of sheer daffiness & gritty photojournalistic style made this one irresistable. It's by Stuart Hawkins from a series called "Customs," shot in Nepal. Hawkins' statement says in part, " work documents and ironizes the ubiquity of American, media culture, " but the pictures are a lot more fun than that. Some seem completely staged, others lightly improvised, but all skip right past the ponderous big production solemnity of Gregory Crewsdon et al.

Thanks to Michael David Murphy, through whose excellent blog I found this work.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Climate change: Pretty as a picture?

"Washington, DC after sea level rise due to climate change," Photo creation

Venice on the Potomac? Or perhaps a makeover inspired by Tenochtitlan, the 14th & 15th century Aztec capital with its hundreds of canals & floating gardens? No, it's a photoshopper's imagined Washington, DC after global warming has raised sea levels worldwide. Lovely, isn't it? Did the Lincoln Memorial ever gleam so white?

I downloaded this image a while ago, motivated by a vague notion it might be useful at work (full disclosure: my day job is working for an environmental advocacy organization). I remembered it after reading Geoff Manaugh's excellent "Climate Change Escapism" in BLDBLOG. Manaugh's piece is a fascinating take on a series of images by artists Pedro Armestre and Mario Gómez of well-known Spanish locations before & after transformation by climate change. The Armestre-Gomez series will be distributed by Greenpeace as a cautionary glimpse of the horrors we can expect if we don't take drastic action against warming now. But, as Manaugh points out, the images aren't really scary.

Indeed, he suggests that, according to the images, "...Climate change is the adventure tour of a lifetime – and all it requires is that you wait. Then all the flooded hotels of Spain and south Florida will be yours for the taking. Given images like these, the future looks exciting again.

"...What we see is a world transformed, made unearthly, like something from a J.G. Ballard novel. Where there once was a pristine beach, the sea has returned, giving us modern ruins: sandbars in the lobbies of hotels, tide pools accumulating on the boardwalks of towns you didn't like in the first place. What appear to be coral reefs are the underwater remains of marinas. What look like atolls are lost subdivisions, or banks at the bottom of the sea."

"La Manga de Mar Menor in Murcia," Photo by Greenpeace, Photo creation by Armestre & Gomez

Face it, it looks great. Look at the picture that leads off this post & imagine messing around a drowned & deserted Washington in a rowboat. It's a peaceful sunny day, you've got a picnic lunch in the boat, you're clunking up to the vast, scalloped Capitol dome rising out of the water. Down below a huge shimmering shape, a colossal underwater mountain of white marble, fades into the depths. The proud republic of America once made its laws there.

We all love ruins, palaces in the jungle, obelisks in the desert, crumbling fortresses, lost cities, ghost towns -- all that "look upon my works, ye mighty, & despair" stuff. Too bad the effects of global warming won't be like that. Well, maybe they will -- in certain places -- in two or three hundred years.

Here's another picture I downloaded. It's Manhattan, I think, heavily influenced by Kevin Costner's Waterworld.
"Drowned Manhattan," Photo creation

I read somewhere that in England in the spring of 1914 no one was worried about war. It was an exceptionally pleasant, sunny spring & early summer. The nation was drowsy, contented, absorbed in its pleasures. Four years later World War I had torn the world apart. Forty million people from all over the planet were dead or wounded. In England two-and-a-half million young men were dead or wounded, a whole generation traumatizd & nothing would ever be the same again. I wonder if the world -- the U.S. at least -- is not in a similar kind of dreamy, self-absorbed state right now.

Sea level rise is already here of course. The only question is how high will it go. Bangla Desh, for instance, has about 150 million people, mostly poor, packed into the low-lying Ganges delta, facing the Bay of Bengal. What happens if the sea rises 3 feet -- a perfectly reasonable, scientifically moderate estimate -- & most of Bangla Desh is permanently underwater? With 150 million people trying to get themselves & their possessions to high ground (in densely populated neighboring India) no one knows what to expect. But we can ask: Will the water stay an uncluttered, pristine blue like in the pictures? Will the temples rise proudly from the waves? Will muscular Bengali warrior-adventurers adapt & grow gills like Kevin Costner did in the movies?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Safe arbor

Tree at dusk
"Young tree at nightfall," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

God help me, I'm doing portraits of trees. Last year it was statues . When I take pictures of people for work, the purpose is clear -- to me & to them.

"Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Trees, I'm not sure. Here's part of a poem I love by Robert Frost:

"They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay."

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Annie's garden revisited
"Annie's garden revisited," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Monday, November 5, 2007

'Intimate Distance' opens in Brooklyn

"Little Neck Parkway at Northern Boulevard, Little Neck, Queens, New York, 2007," by Zheng Yaohua, All rights reserved

Nine photographers of the Chinese diaspora open their show, "Intimate Distance," this Thursday, November 8 from 7-9 pm at Q Art Space in Brooklyn. Click here for more info.

I've been following the work of Zheng Yaohua, one of the nine, -- known as zeyez on Flickr -- for a while. He makes deadpan, deceptively bland snapshots of streets & intersections, buildings, restaurants, houses, small parks -- all the ordinary places -- in areas like Queens. At first glance these pictures seem so undramatic as to be almost random. But, if you continue looking, you see they are subtly composed, carefully patterned. Although the pictures claim only to represent themselves, their wan light & exaggerated lack of incident seem to brim with not-quite-decipherable meaning. What are they trying to say?

Zheng's pictures in the show, selected from his series "On Their Sites", give us a hint. He writes that the series is inspired by Joel Sternberg's smililarly-named On This Site, a photo book that revisits the locations of horrible crimes (e.g. see here the crab apple tree under which Jennifer Levin's body was found). Sternfeld's book questions the problematic nature of photographic representation & the slippery meaning of collective memory. But Zheng's homage goes beyond that. Listen to what he writes to accompany the picture reproduced above.

"Tony Brandon scraped his left knee on July 7, 1967, in a semi-serious fight with his classmate George Tenet, a CIA director later, on the sidewalk near the eatery that the Tenets used to own ('Scobee' or the former '20th Century'). He remembers how badly it hurt and how George worried about his new shorts being torn, which were a birthday gift. It was his [Tenet's] birthday that day."

In an addendum Zheng adds: "George Tenet served as the Deputy Director and the Director of the CIA from June 1995 to July 2004. He was born on January 5, 1953. It is likely that Brandon's memory of the date that had three 7s was related to another event."

This is a strange, obscure, oddly fascinating story. Unlike Sternberg, Zheng is initially concerned with private, not public memory. Who is Tony Brandon? How did he & his story come to Zheng's attention? Is the story, despite its meticulous fact-checking addendum, after all, real? The details feel too weird to be invented. The inclusion of young Tenet, the pugnacious lickspittle who as a grown man would in 2003 reassure George Bush that the Iraq War was "a slam dunk," pushes the story into the public realm. It also knocks the general interest level up a notch. We watch Tenet scuffle, hear him whine about his mussed-up new clothes. It feels like a unique insight. It sounds like a real memory.

But what if it's fiction? Personally, I don't care if it is or isn't. Is the past real or fiction? Is there somewhere it can be accessed with any kind of accuracy? "Little Neck Parkway at Northern Boulevard" is here in the photograph & there in the past. Real or not, Tony Brandon & George Tenet are grown up in a new story. Everything is changing every second. It really is that complicated.

Maybe -- with his 'ordinary' photographs -- that's what Zheng means to say.

Thursday, November 1, 2007