“Just as a bow kept strung loses its usefulness, so humans cannot stand continuous tension.”
Koichi Tohei, Japanese Zen/Aikido master (1920-2011)
“Laissez les bons temps rouler.”
Last week, I went all Zen on you.
What with the meditation advice and such.
I know it can seem preachy, sometimes.
So I try to be careful.
(And as I tell all my students and clients, I never give advice I don’t apply in my own life.)
Happiness doesn’t just come from self-care, be it exercise, kung fu, or movement meditation.
Humans are social creatures, and need contact.
Isolation, and even worse, loneliness, make us sick.
But wait, I promise this won’t be a heavy column!
(Nor a long one.)
So let’s move things along, shall we?
Having fun, hanging out with friends, keeps us emotionally and physically happy.
Even if you don’t drink alcohol in your daily life, or stay out late, tying one on every now and again, hitting the town with your buddies, is a pre-pandemic habit that needs to come back ASAP.
(Or for most of you, maybe it already has.)
I went to my first post-pandemic, IRL photo festival in mid-December, as the Delta wave receded, and just before Omicron hit.
New Orleans draws certain people in, like a dumpling restaurant in the back corner of a forgotten strip-mall.
More invested, knowledgeable people than I have tried to write about New Orleans, and understand it.
I make no pretense.
I’ve been there five times in my life, always in December, and had a shit ton of fun on each occasion.
I feel comfortable in the town.
As different as it is from where I live, here in the high desert, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, there is somehow a connection between the places.
Honestly, it has to be the Spanish and French roots.
It shows wherever you look.
The 18th and 19th Century architecture is insanely gorgeous, and evokes a historical glamour I haven’t seen elsewhere in America.
(Though admittedly I haven’t been to Charleston.)
There’s music on the streets, on the regular, and it transforms any ordinary moment into something truly special.
Like the time I sat on some concrete steps, down at the Mississippi River, and listened to a talented busker behind me belt out “Ring of Fire.”
It was a moment.
(And yes, I gave him money.)
New Orleans is a city that enchants, and really, do you ever remember me saying anything like that before?
As usual, I stuck to the French Quarter and the CBD, getting bussed around the city a few times, never knowing where I was, because it was evening, the city is a maze, and I’d let loose and drank more than a few.
(So much fun, those few days.)
Let’s cut to the chase.
That’s the moral of the story, today.
Please, loosen up when you can, and have a jolly good time.
Live a little.
We’ve all gone through, or more likely are still going through, a seismic global catastrophe, with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Which is now two and a quarter years old.
No one can stand constant tension, as the great man said at this column’s outset.
We all need to break it, sometimes.
Having fun is a great way to do it.
And I speak from experience.
New Mexico weed stores opened on the first of the month, and April is normally my least favorite month, for a variety of valid reasons.
This year, though?
As to the real purpose of my trip to New Orleans?
Beyond eating, drinking, walking, listening, talking, and having a great time, (for the travel article I wrote in December,) my main goal was to look at photographic projects.
I went to PhotoNOLA to review portfolios, offer feedback, and then write about my favorites, here, for you.
Last week, we offered Part 1, and it was a pretty excellent mix of work, if I do say so.
This time out, as before, the artists are in no particular order.
And thanks to all of them for allowing us to share their wonderful work with you!
To begin with, Laurie Peek had a sad story.
Let’s get that out of the way. (Call it your trigger warning.)
She lost her son, Jackson, during the pandemic, when he tragically drowned.
Like many others, he had no funeral.
So she began making new work, “In Lieu of Flowers,” in mourning, and the pictures are quite beautiful.
Or so I imagine, as I met Laurie while Zooming from a comfortable chair in the IHH event building, during the online portion of the review.
Each image, she told me, represented one person who couldn’t have a funeral, due to the pandemic.
Like I said, super-sad.
But processing that grief through art is a powerful way to go.
(Just ask Marvin Heiferman.)
He’s had a nice array of exhibitions lately, in Philly and Chicago, with accompanying lectures, and Vikesh had a solo show, with a talk, at the New Orleans Photo Alliance gallery during the festival.
But when we met at the the review table, he showed me something different.
Work from a commission from Leica and the BJP, in which he photographed people who were impacted by Vikesh’s mother, who was the local ob/gyn in a small, rural Pennsylvania town.
Together, they tell a visual story of an immigrant in a far different culture, whose life intertwined with, and impacted so many people in that small world.
(Vikesh told me she delivered 3000 babies in a town of 9000.)
It’s an excellent project, for sure.
Pam Connolly and I got along swimmingly, and when I found out she lived in New Jersey, of course it all made sense.
Seriously, though, Pam showed me very-well-executed, sharp, lovely photos of constructed, tin, old doll houses.
They’re not creepy, though, as the bright colors, and seductive use of light, make it more fun and nostalgic, than anything.
(She also includes landscapes that are imaginary views out the widow of the mini-homes. )
Pam’s work made me think of Jane Szabo, who’s created some very cool work by moving miniature houses around the natural environment.
Seriously, someone needs to give these two a show together!
Next, we have Peter Hiatt, whom I ultimately owed an apology.
(Or, at least, I offered one.)
At the review table, Peter showed me a set of images of paint ball courses, near where he lives in Indiana.
They were nice, but not super-distinctive.
I told him I didn’t see a lot of passion there, and wondered why all the people, the crazy culture, were being elided, when that’s where many of the best details likely reside?
I suggested Peter focus on subject matter to which he felt a more intense, personal connection.
And it was a pass for this article.
When I went to the portfolio walk at the Ogden Museum, I saw Peter’s work spread out on tables, with the prints arrayed in a group.
Like bashing a door-handle with your funny-bone, I immediately saw that his handling of color, in a weird, consistent palette, was spot on.
And the repeating use of shapes and compositions eluded me, viewing them one at a time, under less optimal lighting conditions.
So I apologized, and told Peter I’d be happy to publish his work, if he wanted to be included.
He did, and here we are.
Last, but not least, we have Sarrah Danziger, whom I briefly met at the aforementioned portfolio walk.
(Friday night of the festival.)
We didn’t get much of a chance to talk, but I thought her environmental portraits about people in the local culture, (she lives in New Orleans,) were really well done.
I offered to publish them on the spot, and again, here we are.
Thanks so much to all the artists, to the crew at PhotoNOLA for having me, and see you all next week.