Friday, October 31, 2008

A salon of our own

Photo by A.J. Zelada ( a Critical Mass reject), All rights reserved

In 1863, after approximately 3000 paintings were rejected from the official Paris Salon, a special exhibition -- Le Salon des Refus├ęs -- was organized across the street. Among the rejected works shown were paintings by Monet, Manet, Whistler, Cezanne, and Pissarro, among others.

Photographer & blogger Liz Kuball had a witty idea. She decided to gather pictures (including her own) that hadn't made the cut in the recent Critical Mass portfolio review and exhibit them as a one-time show on her blog. Interested photographers were asked to send one picture within the next 36 hours & Uncritical Mass is the result.

P.S. I'm in some good company. Check it out.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yeah, it can be freezing out there...

"Tryin to get to heaven fore they close the door...", lyric by B Dylan, photo by Tim Connor

I didn't make the list of finalists in Photo Lucida's Critical Mass contest. Time to belt out one of those Broadway musical numbers about starting all over again? What do you think? Nah, I'm going to bed.

Here's the 10 photos I entered.

Here's the statement I included with the pix.

I set out to explore the interaction of beachgoers with the ocean. My setting was the South Wellfleet beach I have walked since I was a small boy. In my lifetime, the ocean has moved inland perhaps a hundred yards, but down on the sand, between the bluffs and the ocean, everything is exactly the same as it was. Every other important place in my life has changed significantly or even disappeared. Not this place.

Here at the Atlantic’s western edge, vacationers sometimes experience a similar sense of timelessness. The land-water margin is an elemental zone of transition, a liminal space in which internal transformations are possible. For many, the beach becomes a stage that metaphorically opens on eternity. Normally driven by clocks and to-do lists, beachgoers sometimes find themselves distracted, even staring out to sea -- without becoming impatient -- for hours at a time.

I photographed strangers as they walked and watched or played and swam at the land-water divide. My idea was not to make portraits but to illuminate behavior.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Photo plays key role in Powell's endorsement of Obama

"Elsheba Khan at the grave of her son, Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan," Platon, All rights reserved

This picture played an important part in Colin Powell's recent Meet the Press endorsement of Barack Obama for president. A much-decorated soldier and U.S. secretary of state during the Bush administration, Powell is the most prominent Republican yet to repudiate his party's now-standard practice of sliming political opponents. In his endorsement he specifically cited the September 29th New Yorker image, by Platon as an annihilating counter argument to the McCain/RNC's "Obama is a Muslim" whisper-campaign.

Here's what Powell said:

' is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America...

"I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way." (Complete transcript of Powell's remarks is here.)

"Kareem Rashad Suktan Khan," photo by Caroline

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"...We heard the rain battering on the roof and it rained on the river and on Jon's boat and on the road to the shop and on Barkald's meadow, it rained over the forest and the horses in their paddock and all the birds' nests in all the trees, over moose and over hare, and on every roof in the village, but inside the cottage it was dry and warm..."

From the novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Peterson, translation by Anne Born.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cemetery season

"He is sleeping," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Cruciform," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

"Celtic cross," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pig City

"Pig towers," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

A well-regarded Dutch architectural firm, MDRDV, has spent four years creating a plan to build seventy six high-rise towers to house pigs.

As reported on the ArchiNed News website, the pigs will be born & die (be slaughtered) in the 2000-foot-high towers. But at least they won’t be shut-ins. “Large balconies allow the animals to rummage around under trees outside, " say the architects. "A central abattoir is housed in the plinth, and pigs for slaughter are moved in lifts. On top is a fish farm that supplies some of the food needed. Each tower also contains a central slurry-processing plant and a biogas tank, which easily caters for the tower's energy needs. To reduce transport costs, 44 towers are located in the port; the other towers are located close to major cities.”

Are you still staggering from the picture this creates in your head? (See artist's austere rendering above) Well, says MDRDV, face facts: “The Netherlands produces some 16.5 million tonnes of pig meat each year, making it the European Union's leading exporter. In 1999 there were officially 15.2 million pigs in the country, and 15.5 million people. Each pig requires 664 square metres of space, including that required for meat processing ... If meat consumption was to stay at today's levels and purely organic farming methods were introduced, the pig industry would need 75% of the surface area of the Netherlands.”

"Pigs & appletree," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

So this isn’t just about profit then? This scheme would address important societal problems, including a pig vs. people lebensraum problem you probably didn't even know about. Maybe we should think about Pig City as a kind of pragmatist's utopia, not just for us hungry humans but also for the long-suffering nation of swine. “If pigs are efficiently kept in stacked 'apartments' in such a way that they enjoy better conditions, the meat acquires a better taste, livestock transport becomes unnecessary, diseases are eliminated, and the Netherlands acquires more space," according to MVRDV.

Right. But what if something breaks down in Pig City? Fish farm, slurry processing plant, biogas power system? With all that, a lot could go wrong. What if the humans who keep it all running don’t show up one day? Or two or three. Say there’s a gigantic hurricane. Say there’s a labor dispute. What if, left alone, the pigs get ornery & push out the doors? Can you imagine 50,000 huge, hungry, hogs trotting around Rotterdam trying to remember where they left their baser instincts?

"Pig mob" MDRDV

"Pig mob (closer)" MDRDV

But wait a minute! Is this for real? Could this be a sort of performance art, aimed at raising uncomfortable questions? An exhibition & wide-ranging panel discussion of Pig City by the contemporary art museum Stroom Den Haag suggests this might be the case. ArchiNed's post suggests just such an ironic reading: “Pig City is a cartoon-like representation of today's situation and, unlike the secret bio-industry, makes no attempt to gloss over the consequences of our pattern of consumption. The presentation, for that matter, is so lifelike that many read it as a realistic alternative.” So is it a fake? It's true that humans keep having babies at an explosive rate & that, if we can get it, we like pork chops as our protein. It's also true that we're running out of prime agricultiural land & that using such land to raise pigs -- which, after all, stink & produce gargantuan quantities of shit -- is not popular. Does this mean Pig City is the future?

ArchiNed doesn't offer an opinion. It does, however, note that “no doubt MVRDV would be the first to take on the job should it prove feasible."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two pix of Frank & Vincenzo

"Frank & Vincenzo," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Frank & Vincenzo are good friends of mine. I care about whether they like any picture I might take of them. For this one at a wonderful wedding we all attended, I snapped eight frames, one right after another. I was immediately drawn to the frame shown above. The problem is, I always seem to choose the 'off' picture, the quirky picture, the one just before or after my subject is ready, the one that -- if you're shooting for money -- you never even show the client (unless you know them very well & you're showing it as a joke).

"Frank & Vincenzo 2," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Here's one most people would probably like better (it's nothing special; I'm using it to make a point). And I'm not saying Frank & Vincenzo would or wouldn't like it. They're creative people. Frank's a photographer (his Fading Ad blog is here). Will that first picture bother him? I doubt it (I wouldn't be blogging it if I did). But a lot of people would be embarrassed -- & they're not necessarily the ones you might predict. They wouldn't like it chosen & shown. They'd assume you understood that.

This is why I have so much trouble with portraits. It's why I prefer to photograph strangers. With strangers I can be confident of my choices because they're about me. They're not really about the subject.

See one possible solution on Flickr.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The return of Debra

"Debra Winger, approx 1980"

I'm guessing you never pegged me for a worshipper of movie actresses. Of course not. You know that,
as a self-respecting cynic, I know perfectly well they're only mortals. (Although , let's face it, watching the Oscars on TV one could conceivably be convinced they're more like demi-godesses.) And even if I were to accept that at certain moments on screen they could be thought of as , OK, let's say semi-divine, I still know that their art is not them. Not exactly. At performance's end, when costume & makeup come off, actresses may be brilliant or dull, marvelous or boring, but, bottom line: they're just ordinary women (admittedly, remarkably good-looking). Only a pathetic fool would worship them.

As a matter of principle,
I'm 100% convinced that this is also true of screen actress Debra Winger. But -- oh bottomless, sobbing chasm of delicious despair -- I'm hopelessly smitten. I have been for decades. Her movies, mostly from the 80s (she dropped out of Hollywood in 1995), are watchable but not great (Urban Cowboy, Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman, Betrayed ). On the other hand Debra ("please, may I call you Debra?") is bewitching, mesmerizing, a princess, a courtesan, a vestal virgin, the girl I love -- oh God! -- she's that ole debbil moon, the tao that cannot be told... I confess! Every time she appears on screen I get a jolt -- it's spiritual, sexual, my chakras light & go ding ding ding like a pinball machine. I'm in heaven.

Fantasy. Irrational. Mildly insane. OK, I have a crush, right? I'm carrying a torch. That's all it is. A matter of deep unknowable physical history & hormones. There are no higher beings -- no angels, for example. No past lives in which I was the mighty king to her magnificent queen. Any educated person with a modicum of informed skepticism knows those are tall tales. In the end she's just another attractive woman. Of course...

"Debra Winger in 'Rachel Getting Married' ", 2008


Debra, I adore you...
more helplessly than ever.

Explanatory footnote: This all came up because of a movie, Rachel Getting Married that I saw yesterday. It's directed by the great mostly unsung Jonathan Demme, stars Anne Hathaway, Bill Irwin & yes, Debra Winger (she plays Hathaway's mother). I won't bore you with the plot, just say it's emotionally complex & has the guts to present this complexity without tying up all the loose ends into a nice satisfying (unreal) ending. Worth seeing for sure.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

American Prayer -- an Obama music video

There's good news too, don't forget. If we can get Barack Obama elected, we have a chance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

McCain-Palin's ugly mob

The ugliness started at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, where traditional partisan attack lines in the speeches drew, not the expected applause & laughter, but long rancorous boos & catcalls. Over the convention the negativity rose to a rapture of scorn. It reached its peak in Sarah Palin's speech, where the hoarse, sustained booing at every mention of her "liberal" targets sounded like excited cattle, just before the stampede.

As the campaign has progressed, Palin & McCain have settled on a strategy of playing directly to these haters. We have a long tradition of murderous racism, xenophobia & other kinds of intolerance in this country -- from the Ku Klux Klan to the Know Nothing Party & the Aryan Nation. But even those creeps can't have been any more ignorant or eager to believe low, rancid lies than the people in this video.

The video comes from bloggerinterrupted, who has made others that are equally shocking. He reports, "You can get this footage at every single McCain-Palin rally in the country. Every single one."

Friday, October 3, 2008