Posts by: Jonathan Blaustein

This Week in Photography: Objectifying Women

 

I’ve been thinking about this column for a long time now.

(Six months, maybe eight.)

I even wrote it once, but then decided not to publish, as it didn’t feel right at the time.

Thankfully, today is the day, due to some unforeseen coincidence, or divine intervention, depending on your perspective.

It began two days ago, when I was scrolling through Instagram, and came across a photo of a very attractive, naked young woman, getting into a swimming pool. (Or something like that, it was a quick look.)

The image reminded me of something out of Playboy in the 80’s, and I was stupefied for a moment.

Doesn’t Instagram have rules against this sort of thing, I wondered?

I scrolled back to the photo, and clicked on the person’s profile, and lo and behold, there was an entire set of similar images.

Very pretty young women, naked, and shot in color by a white, male photographer who appeared to be in his 30’s or 40’s.

It didn’t conform to the stereotype of the leering, older man shooting black and white photos of nude women standing below big rocks, or leaning on trees suggestively.

No, this was more modern than that, and really, I couldn’t help wonder how this was deemed appropriate in #2020?

For all the media buzz around the shift in power dynamics, and the need to respect the perspectives of women and People of Color, it seemed so out of touch with contemporary reality.

So I did a Facebook post about it, without naming the artist, (as I’m not now, though I did reach out to him for comment, but he declined,) and not surprisingly the feedback was voluminous and fierce.

One artist, who does thoughtful nude work in black and white, suggested there was more nuance than simply deeming the entire practice off-limits, but in general, the tenor of the conversation was one of frustration, shock, not-shocked-at-all-but-angry, and cynicism.

How could any artist working today, one formed by the reality of the 21st Century, think it was OK to shoot pin-up soft-core porn and see it as art?

Much less post it on a public platform like Instagram?

So I went to his website, and there is a section for nudes, and a blog post about the ethics, that was written many years ago.

This was no random experiment, or so it would seem.

And speaking of random, and the potential of chance, part of why I waited so long to re-write this column was that I couldn’t find one of the two books I’m going to feature.

I had it once, decided not to review it, tried to review it with this companion book, and then it disappeared.

(My wife is known in our home for moving things around a few times a year.)

I wanted to write this column, and felt bad about losing the book, but I simply could not find it, no matter how many times I searched for the spine on my book shelves.

And then… on the same day I saw that Instagram image, I found myself looking down at a little Indonesian chest, upon which my wife had set a small pile of novels.

I noticed a book at the bottom, and it had one of those spines in which you can see the book binding, but there was no information at all.

Could it be, I wondered?

What are the chances?

Sure enough, I reached down in hope, and picked up Jordanna Kalman’s “Little Romances,” published by Daylight in 2019.

Hallelujah!

Eureka!

Fuck yeah!

We were in business, because it meant I could bring this column out in the perfect week.

The other book we’ll look at, “A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter,” was self-published by Melissa Borman in 2019, and both women wrote to me directly last year to see if I’d review their books.

These didn’t just show up in the mail because some PR Agent somewhere hoped I might cover them.

They chose me, and so I gave the books consideration, but each time, it didn’t feel quite right.

In each case, the taste level felt a touch off from what I like.

They were edgy, but not quite enough. Poetic, but in a heavy-handed way.

Imperfect, but not like an intentional extra thread on a Navajo rug.

(I subjected them to my “Goldilocks” standards, and they came up wanting.)

But then, I read an OP-Ed in the NYT by Brit Marling, the writer, director, and actor, (who starred in the Batshit-crazy Netflix series “The OA,”) and it got me thinking.

She discussed the idea that the Hero’s journey, basically the base-level operating code of all storytelling, was totally male-centric.

Which I get.

Thousands of years of men telling stories about men doing manly things.

So I asked myself, is my taste so male-centric, (given that I’m a man,) that I might occasionally have a blind spot to overtly female-centric work?

Even though I’m a feminist, and show female artists all the time?

I wrote this in a column, but as I said above, it wasn’t the right column for the right day, so I set it aside. (And promptly lost Jordanna’s book.)

At the time, I remember thinking the books were sensitive in a way that didn’t resonate with me. And as my parents used that as a pejorative term, to attack me, (“You’re too sensitive,”) I couldn’t get myself to figure out these books.

Eventually, I began to wonder, what if I’m not meant to get them, entirely?

What if by subverting the traditional, male-centric way of telling stories, or creating artistic narratives, there is that 5% that is designed for women?

If that were true, wouldn’t that be OK?

Or more than OK?

Maybe it’s even subversive?

So here we are.

It’s #2020, and white guys are still taking pictures of hot naked chicks, and posting them out and proud on a public platform.

Let’s get on with the subversion.

“Little Romances” features a series of images of nude pictures of the artist, (and her young daughter,) that were made by the artist herself.

Jordanna Kalman is taking back her own right to share her body, in her own way, on her own terms, because she wants to, and because she can.

Due to our long-standing policy against showing work considered NSFW, I’m going to limit how much I show of the full nudes. Even though, as I write this, I’m wondering how many people are even at “work” in the traditional sense?

There are images which are printed, and treated as sculptures, or covered with flowers, and then re-photographed.

They are well made, thoughtful, and dreamy, and I like them, but normally I want to love something.

Between the risk of showing a young naked child, and the hyper-poetic aesthetic, I still see why they’re not quite right, in my opinion.

But in this case, I don’t think my opinion is the ultimate arbiter, and the book has cleared my biggest threshold of making me want to write about it.

 

Melissa Borman’s book is similar in many ways.

She photographs women, in color, in relationship to the landscape. There is no nudity to speak of, but they scream “feminine” like a drum circle filled with Oprah Winfrey, Gwenyth Paltrow, and a class full of women’s studies majors at Smith.

I joke, (which is itself a risk in a column like this,) but the pictures will show you what I mean.

Interspersed are snippets of poetry by Sylvia Plath, and a set of graphic images that suggest the cosmos, (which are also depicted on the cover.)

With respect to empowerment, and creativity, and taking back the narrative, this book is pretty awesome, and of the moment.

I know what I’d do differently, if I were shooting these pictures, but again, the entire point is that I’m not.

These are photographs of women, by a woman, and on some level, it is pretty rad that I’m not the target audience.

They’re certainly accomplished, and smart, and I like the way the book was made.

 

As with Jordanna’s book, this makes me want to write.

It makes me want to punch someone in the nose, if that person thinks the objectification of women in the media is not a problem.

My 8 year old daughter grabs her belly, pressing together any extra fat, every time I tell her she has a beautiful, healthy body.

She’s 8, and already has body issues, because of the world we live in. (Maybe she’s watching too many perfect teens on Netflix?)

Regardless, I’m glad these issues are finally getting addressed, and that some attempt at balancing power is being made in the wider world.

For all the times I’ve written the equivalent of “Can’t we all just get along?,” once in a while, it’s important to also say, when the world isn’t fair, people need to do something about it.

To Purchase “Little Romances” click here

To Purchase “A Piece of Dust in the Great Sea of Matter” click here

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: Flowers for Donald

- - Photography Books

 

A friend of mine

 

A guy I know

A dude I hung out with in summer camp

A boy I traded baseball cards with in middle school

A human with whom I communicate via Facebook messenger

A person

A bro I liked back in the day

 

He remembers everything.

 

We have a long-running, ongoing chat with another summer camp friend, and we like to talk lots of shit.

About sports, mostly, and the assholes we went to camp with. But there are also memories bandied back and forth from middle school, as that was the last time we were proper friends.

(Like I said, this guy remembers everything, but I don’t.)

As often as not, he’ll bring something up from back then, and I won’t recall, but the other day, he was on about the Central Jersey Bar Mitzvah circuit, in #1987.

(No lie.)

He correctly recalled my 7th grade crush, over whom I made moon eyes all night long at my Bar Mitzvah, back in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on a Saturday night in March of ’87.

Her name was Jill, and she would go on to be the best looking girl in High School, but this was before that.

Before I was an artist.

Before I was a hipster.

Before I thought I was cool.

I’ve since learned that plenty of people wanted to be me, back then, with my athlete friends, good grades, and relative success in sports.

But I was jealous of my younger brother, who was better looking, more popular, and more talented at sports, so I never realized how good I had it.

But this guy, this friend of mine, (for lack of a better word,) has all of it in his mind.

The slights and dramas.
The petty jealousies and broken promises.

It seems as clear to him in #2020 as it was in #1999 or #1987.

Who needs Youtube or Instagram or TikTok or cocaine when you can simply fire up your memories, where everything is as clear as the Mediterranean Sea on a quiet beach on the Costa Brava.

I went there, to Cadaques, for my honeymoon back in 2004, and that I can remember.

I can conjure the taste of the garlic clams I ate, or feel the cool magic of the crystal water on my skin. I can see my wife’s body when she took her top off, sunning on a rock outcropping with no one around.

As to summer camp, or 7th grade, it’s all kind of fuzzy.

I do remember my Bar Mitzvah, though.

And the way Clarence Clemons, the brilliant saxophonist from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, turned up at brunch the next day, and how I gave him a supremely cheesy set of quasi-sunglasses that were designed to be a giveaway at the party.

That I remember.

The Bar Mitzvah circuit was a right of passage; running around in fancy shoes and ill-fitting suits. Chasing girls you’d never get. Hoping to steal a swig of beer from some drunk uncle.

That was #1987 all right.

But now it’s #2020, and my son is turning 13 in a few weeks.

He’s having his Bar Mitzvah too, but his will be in his grandparents’ backyard, due to the pandemic.

There will be no more than 15 people allowed, and everyone will be wearing masks.

No friends will be there, only family, and my Uncle from New Jersey will be flying out with my Aunt, only because it was his idea that Theo get trained in Judaism in the first place.

That, and because the Covid-19 test positivity rate is low enough in New Jersey that he’s actually allowed to visit to New Mexico, while people from most states in the US are forbidden from coming in without a two week quarantine.

Just like I’m not allowed to go to Cadaques, and swim in the Med, even if I could afford it.

We, the Americans, are banned from Europe.

 

Welcome to #2020.

 

Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

But you knew this already, certainly if you’ve been reading here each week.

/

Or most weeks.

Or every now and again.

I have the pleasure of being one of our President’s earliest critics, and where has that gotten me?

Or us?

Did it stop anything, or make a difference?

Does it matter that by the time my son has his Bar Mitzvah ceremony, outdoors at a social distance, more than 200,000 Americans will have died from this novel new disease?

Did my words matter?

Will they last?

Birds are dropping dead here in my backyard, from the freezing cold that accompanied the earliest snow anyone can recall.

Just now, while typing, I saw a red-tailed hawk swoop in and chase down a pretty little bird, as they’ve been slowed by the freeze.

In California, it actually looks like the Apocalypse.

So I ask you again, did my words matter?

Does art matter, if it can’t change the future?

I don’t know, but I do know this: if museums survive, their job is to preserve what is made now, to represent it to future humans.

Or our Android overlords.

(I’m sorry, XGM876, I didn’t mean to insult your ancestry! Of course being flesh and blood is not desirable, and your ferocious artificial intelligence makes me a bug, compared to your radiance.)

Why did I write such a batshit column today?

I’m glad you asked.

Because I just put down “Flowers for donald and Countries Glorious,” a book by Gregory Eddi Jones, published by his platform, In the In-Between, in late 2018.

And it’s awesome.

Just like Lena Dunham once anointed herself the voice of her generation, I’d nominate Greg, who happens to be a friend.

I published his equally absurd, unsettling, and on the nose 26 Gas stations book after seeing it at Photolucida in 2019, and this one takes things a step further.

To begin with, it’s all about obfuscation, manipulation, digital reality, and distraction.

Pretty colors, painted flowers, and text you can feel but not read.

It goes at Trump directly, but also includes references to Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and such platforms in ways that are as authentic as Jeff Sessions’ Alabama accent.

Do you remember Jeff Sessions?

Mad Dog?

Or Anthony Scaramucci?

Do you remember #2016?

Or that there was a world before the coronavirus?

Before San Francisco skies turned orange?

Do you remember the stock market crash of #1987, when I lost most of my Bar Mitzvah money?

Did you know that my kind-of-friend, the one I mentioned at the beginning of this column, has many residences, including one in Northern California?

Yesterday, he sent a note asking me to help settle his estate, if he burns alive, and make sure a tennis court gets named after him in the local park in our hometown near the Jersey shore.

He was kidding, but maybe also not?

I’ve tried to make sense today, even though I pushed the limits of stream of consciousness, but what do you do when things don’t make sense for so long that you forget how to keep your train of thought for more than 3 minutes at a time?

Maybe you make pictures, instead of write words?

Or you take words and mix them up so they don’t make sense, no matter how hard a reader tries to parse them?

That’s how this book ends, and it’s pretty genius, even if it did make my head hurt.

The final essay is called “Countries Glorious,” and I thought maybe it was written by a bot.

By AI.

Because the words were real, and the context could be intuited, but nothing fit.

Turns out, I learned from the end notes that it was a jumble of Trump’s actual inauguration speech.

Back in #2016.

When his crowd was so much smaller than Obama’s.

Even though he said it wasn’t.

In honor of all the lies, I’ll leave you with one last thought.

Hey Kayleigh McEnany: Fuck off!

To purchase Flowers for Donald, click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: Visiting Houston in #2020

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I went to Houston six months ago.

Went is the past tense of the verb to go.

In Spanish, it’s ir, and in French, it’s aller.

So I would say Je suis allΓ© a Houston.

Do you remember what it means to go places? To leave your home, or your town, and transport your body somewhere else, to a different city, or state, to a different culture, with a different landscape?

Honestly, I kind of forget what the sensation feels like.

Six months ago, I did something that was, at that point, second nature to me.

As you know, if you’ve been reading regularly, I hopped around America on airplanes from 2013 to early #2020, and wrote about many of my adventures for you.

By my trip to Houston, I was so burned out on travel.

I’d been to Europe two weeks before the Texas trip, and in 2019, I went to California, New York twice, Portland, England, Chicago, and Colorado.

Now, I can barely remember what it’s like to go anywhere, and I would kill for the chance to travel, while the last time I got out of New Mexico, I was barely able to scrape my carcass onto the plane.

I suppose I can thank this truly batshit year, #2020, for reminding me what’s important in life.

 

Part 2. Getting there

 

I was headed to Houston to attend the SPE National Conference, where I’d be debuting my first book, “Extinction Party,” at a Saturday afternoon book signing.

I have some good friends in Houston, and have written about the city here several times, so while normally I would have been fired up to go, my general exhaustion dampened my spirit.

As such, I booked only a two-night-trip, and then packed my itinerary as full as I could, to suck every bit of juice from the experience.

Thank goodness I did, because those vivid memories have been my sustenance, travel-wise, for the last half-year. (Which has of course felt like five years.)

The world has changed so drastically that I got a late start writing today, because I was giving my daughter a pep talk about improving her attitude towards Zoom school and remote learning.

Back in March, on the heels of my 46th birthday, I had never heard of Zoom, and remote learning was for people studying in a different part of the world than their teachers.

Not a different part of town.

But here we are, and I’m sitting in my customary writing spot, having just chugged a cup of my super-caffeinated Jot coffee, and I’m closing my eyes to see the places I visited.

 

Part 3. Being there

 

In retrospect, a lot of the travel writing I did in 2019 pointed out the cracks in the American dam.

There were hints, which I picked up on piecemeal, of an impending crash.

I chronicled NYC becoming so expensive that it was now meant mostly for tourists, with rents no one could afford. And a development project in my hometown in New Jersey that had sat vacant for nearly 15 years, before getting a multi-million dollar infusion.

I chronicled Portland street-gang fighters, and how they mocked Antifa while admitting there were a host of white mini-gangs that liked to stir shit up.

I discussed the decline and fall of San Francisco, where the homeless issue was so bad that the city was in effect a Third World society.

The signs were there.

And when I arrived in Houston, got my rental car, and headed to my friend Ed’s apartment, in East Houston, I soon saw hints of expansion and gentrification that only happen at the very, very end of a long economic boom.

While Ed napped, I got hungry, and walked a few blocks East to a dingy strip mall where he’d once taken me to a great Thai restaurant. (Houston is a driving city, but I needed to stretch my legs.)

At the time we ate in the Thai joint, (2013) I remember Ed telling me his part of town was mostly Latino, and thoroughly un-gentrified.

There was not much around, he said.

But while the Thai restaurant was closed on me, (in between lunch and dinner service,) right next door, I found a hipster cafe, Bohemeos, with great prices for tasty, heaping plates of food, (chicken nachos,) palm trees in the outdoor courtyard, and cool, inexpensive paintings on the walls.

 

Right next door, a street-art gallery, Insomnia, had popped up, with graphic T-shirts for sale, manga and graffiti-style art on the walls, and a young hipster behind the counter who paid me no mind. (Very on brand.)

 

There was a record store next to that, so I was surprised, to say the least.

As we drove around town that weekend, Ed showed me shiny new condos build along the train tracks, (Houston famously has no zoning laws,) which he said went for $450,000, and another new condo building that was literally abutting a highway overpass.

For the uninitiated, Texas real estate is notoriously cheap compared to wealthy mega-states like California and New York, so half a million bucks to live on the train tracks is the equivalent of twice that in a blue state.

I took note, and thought things were out of whack, but even then, in early March, with Covid-19 on cusp of destroying reality as we know it, I had no idea what was coming.

 

Part 4. Get on with it already

 

Honestly, no one did.

Not really.

Because my 48 hours in the city were packed with gallery openings, museum visits, parties, dinners, FotoFest’s grand opening, and lots of hugging my friends.

A few people wanted to elbow bump, but other than that, (and the fact that people were talking about the virus,) life was essentially normal.

What would you give to go back in time and feel normal again?

After I ate my lovely nachos that Friday afternoon, Ed and I went to the Houston Center for Photography, for the opening of their fashion photography show.

It was packed, and my publisher arrived and handed me my first copy of my book, which I promptly handed off to a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for their library collection.

I was jazzed up, and talked to friends for an hour, barely getting to see the art on the walls, but I did return on Sunday, and have some photos for you.

The truth is, I saw two fashion photo exhibitions in Amsterdam two weeks prior, and both were edgy and progressive in their installation, while the HCP show had some new work, and a slew of re-printed reproductions hung in one horizontal line, so I was disappointed for sure.

 

From there, we went to Foto Relevance, a gallery run by HCP supporter Geoffrey Koslov, and it was in a very chic, Chelsea-like concrete structure that screamed of money and a big rent.

The gallery was gorgeous, and the Letitia Huckaby show was nice, but I couldn’t help wondering if this too was a sign of an economic imbalance, as the gentrified-high-rent-Museum-district was so much shinier than I remembered it.

(Houston, or H-town, is known for its keeping-it-real, diverse charm, rather than glitz.)

From there, it was on to a big, art-dinner party, in a lovely Italian restaurant, with some fellow artists, curators and collectors, and I had such great time.

I sat across from Osamu James Nakagawa, and diagonal from Brad Temkin, two super-talented artists who have been embraced by Houston, and the party was in honor of Brad’s show at the Houston Museum for Natural Science.

Needless to say, such gatherings are currently verboten. (And often illegal.)

My broccoli cannelloni was delicious.

 

Part 5. Finishing strong

 

On Saturday, I had brunch with curator friends at Barnaby’s Cafe, a local chain that all the art folks like, and the plate of food they gave me, for a reasonable fee, was 2x as big as I could eat. (Leftovers for sure.)

While perhaps not everything is bigger in Texas, certainly the food portions are.

From there, we went to the MFAH so I could sign a copy of my book, and get a tour of “Through an African Lens: Sub-Saharan Photography from the Museum’s Collection,” which featured some killer work, including a massive Zanele Muholi wheatpaste.

 

MFA,H was among the first museums to re-open in the US, earlier this summer, and they have some major health protocols in place, so maybe it’s time to go visit?

From there, I sped across the city to SPE at the Galleria, the massive mall complex in the Western part of Houston, where thousands of maskless people walked around, shopping obliviously, not knowing that the end of the world would soon be upon us.

My book signing went well, as we sold some copies, and I was always engaged talking to friends, as the photo community is so supportive.

Rather than resting afterwards, I’d set up in impromptu dinner party at Ed’s place, with curator, artist, festival and educator friends, but before that, even, I snuck in a quick trip to Cherryhurst House, a private, alternative exhibition space that was almost like a mini-Pier 24. (The San Francisco non-profit I’ve written about a few times.)

I’d met Barbara Levine, the Cherryhurst House curator, at the HCP opening the night before, and she invited me to an open house to see the space, of which I had not previously heard.

(A second open house event, scheduled for a few days later, was eventually cancelled, as we were all standing on the precipice of the cliff, we just didn’t know it yet.)

There was an exhibition of vintage album covers, presented as art, and the entire place, with its beautiful sofas and modern design, was like an art installation in which you could make yourself comfortable.


There was a photo booth, and Barbara and I crammed in together, new friends for only a day, to take our portraits.

(I haven’t been that close to someone other than my family since.)

There is a second installation on the property, an old house that was carved up into bits by a visiting artist duo, Havel Ruck Projects, in the style of Gordon Matta-Clark, and I found it fascinating and oddly beautiful.

Then I said goodbye to Barbara, and sped back to Ed’s place, late for my own party, but secure in the knowledge that others would turn up even later than I did. (As was the case.)

After a simple and tasty dinner, with friends from Chicago, Atlanta and Albuquerque, I left Ed behind and went to the FotoFest opening party, for their show “African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other,” which was busy, but not packed with people crushed together. (Thankfully.)

To give FotoFest credit, I’ve never been to an art show that had so many African-American people in attendance, and it felt wonderful to be around legitimate diversity.

 

 

But I was very tired by then, and after doing a couple of laps around the massive space, I went home to bed, zipping through the empty highways, amazed that such roads could ever be quiet.

I woke up hungry, and Ed and I went to brunch with our friend Joan at Bistro Menil, after taking a turn around the neighboring park, but before we toured the Menil museum collections.

I had one of the best burgers of my life there, (Spanish-style,) and noticed friends walking across the park, though the window, sent a text, and watched them read it and smile.

Afterwards, we went to the new drawing center, and sat quietly in one of the most Buddhist, calming, invigorating shows I’ve ever encountered, by Brice Marden.

The guards insisted I not take pictures for you, and for that I apologize, as it was the last art show I saw in #2020, and possibly the best.

Will I ever see an art show again?

Will I ever get on an airplane?

I hope so.

But this deep into #2020, I really don’t know.

This Week in Photography: The ICP Online Portfolio Review

 

The sports world went on strike yesterday.

 

(As usual, I’m writing on Thursday.)

It all began when the Milwaukee Bucks, the putative best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, decided at the last minute not to take the court for their impending playoff game against the Orlando Magic.

For those of you unaware, the NBA resumed earlier this summer in a “bubble” at the Disney/ESPN campus outside Orlando, Florida.

The professional basketball league created an artificial community, cut off from the rest of America, with very stringent rules and testing procedures, to allow the players and associated staff to stay safe from Covid-19.

As there are no fans allowed in the games, the entire affair has been arranged for broadcast television, (which is now also done via streaming, for some,) so that the global audience, including millions of Americans, could have “entertainment” to soothe them from this psychotic year.

I’m a fan, and the father of a LeBron James super-fan, so I was glad to see the league resume, and have watched many games.

As the NBA is made up of predominantly Black players, and has a reputation for being the most progressive of the American sports leagues, there were special concessions made for this time of protest and strife.

In particular, the courts are painted with Black Lives Matter, and most of the players wear a slogan on the back of their jerseys, where their names traditionally go, which supports the movement as well.

(For the record, the players were offered a list of pre-approved slogans; they could not just choose whatever they wanted.)

Some players, including union leaders Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley, were concerned that by entertaining America, they were just providing a distraction from the need for social justice, which was more important than a game.

While a few players opted out of the bubble, almost everyone didn’t, but then yesterday, on the heels of the shooting of Jacob Blake, and the subsequent rioting in Kenosha, WI, including the murder of protesters by an unhinged 17 year old with a long-gun, the players went on strike.

And athletes from Major League Baseball, the WNBA, and Major League Soccer followed suit.

I was not surprised, as the day before, I’d read quotes from George Hill, a Bucks player, that expressed anger and exasperation at being in an artificial environment, playing ball instead of being out in the world, making a difference.

As of last night, the NBA players took an impromptu vote as to whether to resume the playoffs, and the LA Lakers and LA Clippers voted to cancel the season, though in an official vote today, the players decided to continue with the playoffs.

On Twitter, (where I learned of the resumption 2 minutes after it was announced,) I saw a tweet from a fellow blogger suggesting that marketers, podcasters, and others in different professions should go on strike as well.

I won’t say I considered it, because I didn’t, as part of having a weekly column for 9 years is that I’m trained to show up for you.

I’ve never missed a deadline, and don’t intend to start now.

However, while I considered writing a super-short column, (a mini-strike, if you will,) that obviously isn’t happening.

(500+ words so far.)

But, (you knew there would be a but, right,) instead, I’m coming at you with a promised column that does the next best thing: it provides direct access to a slate of diverse artists I met on Zoom earlier this summer.

I was reviewing portfolios for the school at the International Center of Photography in New York in early July, and as I wrote shortly thereafter, I saw some terrific and timely photography and art, all of which was made by women and men of color.

You know I’ve written many times, including recently, that I believe all voices in the photography world should be respected. Hell, a few years ago, (in this column) I rebranded myself as a Jewish-American, because I didn’t want to be known as a White Guy. (Ahead of my time, for sure.)

While I advocate against cutting out any particular group, (including my own,) I’ve also spent years championing work by female artists, and artists from a diversity of cultures and races whenever possible, because it’s the right thing to do, and it also affords you, the viewers, the chance to see things you would not otherwise.

A classic win-win.

So today, we’re going with “The Best Work I Saw at the ICP Online Portfolio Review,” and I’m sure you’ll dig these pictures.

Not surprisingly, most of the students I encountered were impacted by the pandemic in some way, including those who were in a 1 year program, but didn’t get to spend much time in NYC, or on campus.

As resourceful artists often do, they came up with elegant solutions, and I’ll share them with you now.

Normally, I say the artists are in no particular order, but today I’ll show them to you in the order I encountered the photographers that day.

We’ll begin with Danny Peralta, and I actually mentioned him in a previous column, as he works with diverse media, and his photographs were not what impressed me the most.

Danny is an educator and community developer from the South Bronx, in addition to being a talented artist, and he showed me a set of watercolor drawings that drew attention to the health effects of environmental pollution.

For whatever reason, eco art is often associated with white hippies, so I hadn’t seen many projects that directly tackled the issue from within a community of color.

Danny drew/painted a series about inhalers, as so many people in his community use them, due to asthma and other breathing issues due to pollution.

(I can’t breathe.)

It’s fantastic stuff, IMO.

 

 

Next, I met Zoe Golden-Johnson, who just finished her junior year of undergrad at ICP, having been in a joint-student program from St John’s University in Queens.

Due to the pandemic, Zoe was quarantining in Upstate New York, in a town near Poughkeepsie named Wappingers Falls.

Like many photographers during this strange time, (including me,) Zoe went on walks around her neighborhood, as her family had recently moved to a different part of the village, and it was all new to her. (And filled with creepy, late 19th C and early 20th C East Coast architecture.)

While at first, I told Zoe that this was not the most innovative of methodologies, a few photographs in, she showed me an image of a shadow puppet on the side of a green, siding-clad house.

It stopped me in my tracks, as it was created, rather than found, and it seemed like it had so much potential as a way of making photos.

“You should do a whole series of these,” I recommended.

Zoe smiled, and then a few images later, showed me an exquisite self-portrait, also in shadow, done in the same location.

I found it to be an exceptional picture, and hoped she’d continue working in that way. I also suggested it was brave, and a little risky, to use a stranger’s house, unless maybe it was her own home?

She confirmed it was, (no creeping necessary,) and I hope she continues working in that vein.

 

Next, I spoke to Madeline Mancini, who was in the exact same situation as Zoe, only 2500 miles away.

Madeline also finished her junior year at ICP, on loan from St. John’s, but was pandemic quarantining at her parents’ home in Las Vegas, Nevada.

(Ever the dorky New Mexican, when she said Las Vegas, I asked, “Nevada or New Mexico?”)

Madeline is into horror and suspense, weird and strange movies, and also looked at her neighborhood, and her immediate environment, trying to find the surreal and spectral in the mundane.

I’m always a sucker for normal-is-odd, so I liked this work immediately.

 

After a short break, I spoke with Violette Franchi, who spent a year at ICP after studying architecture in her native France.

Violette used her time in NYC wisely, as she learned about, and then devoted her time to exploring and photographing in Starrett City, the largest housing project in East New York, Brooklyn, which is one of the most poverty-stricken parts of the city.

While I often find myself suggesting to students that they try to mix up varied approaches to making their photographs, Violette needed no such encouragement.

She had made friends and contacts in the local community on her own, without any fixers, and used big cameras for the landscapes and establishment shots, smaller cameras when appropriate, and also mixed in video and photographs of found imagery and tv screens.

(Including images of junk mail and advertisements she found on the ground of the mail room, and shots of cheesy TV commercials pimping the development back in the 70’s.)

I found it to be a sophisticated and nuanced look at a place in time, (including the future, as she also has images of renderings of impending development,) and was seriously impressed with her drive, work ethic and talent.

A2 tower’s entrance, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. Starrett City is located on the southeast corner of the studied intersection.

View from the balcony of Jerry’s apartment, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City is the US nation’s largest federally-subsidized apartment complex. Starrett City contains 5,881 apartment units in 46 buildings, ranging from eleven to twenty stories high.

Laron and Bernard filling up their tank at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. Laron and Bernard are regular customers and live in East New York.

17th floor entrance doors, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Starrett City towers are all designed identically, with no designated communal spaces above the ground floor.

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

Syed, clerk at Conoco gas station, East New York, 2020. He lives with his wife and daughter in a shared house with his older brother Ali. Syed’s family is in the basement and Ali’s is upstairs. Ali and Syed emigrated from Pakistan with their parents in 1996.

Mail left out in one of the towers’ lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2019. All the 46 towers have the same design and elements for their ground floors: two elevators in the lobby space, postboxes, a shared laundry room, the janitor’s premises and staircases.

Mackenzie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. Mackenzie has worked at the used auto parts store for a year and a half. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Teenage girl, standing in Starrett City’s shared outdoor spaces, East New York, 2020.

Ultimate Auto Parts store, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, on the northwest corner of the studied intersection, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Tamara on her afternoon stroll, East New York, 2020. Tamara resides in a nursing home in front of Starrett City. East New York is a neighborhood with a large Russian elderly community. There are fifteen assisted living facilities and nursing home at a mile around Starrett City.

Margie, standing in her building’s lobby, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Margie is 90 years old, she was born in Puerto Rico and has lived in Starrett City for 15 years. Everybody calls her grandma in her tower.

Our Daily Bread, a given out, collected and scanned cover of a Bible, East New York, 2020.

Found, collected and scanned piece from a commercial brochure, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Ernesto, outside his building, Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Ernesto moved in Starrett City in 1996 and said he loved it back then. « It used to be the best place in the universe in the 90’s. Now I’m trying to get out of here. I’m two years sober.Β Β»

An older resident walks back home with groceries, Starrett City, East New York, 2020.

Jarrell’s daughter in a shopping cart at the intersection, East New York, 2020. She wanted a ride to the shop. Jarrell works as an educator and him and his family live in Starrett City.

Shortie, working at Ultimate Auto Parts, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2020. The store stands right by Oasis Motel, and is one of the eight auto-themed businesses within a thousand feet.

Shelter residents looking out the window at Oasis Motel, Flatlands Avenue, East New York, 2019. Oasis Motel is a men’s shelter located on the northwest corner of the studied crossroads. The shelter is facing Starrett City as well as the parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, soon to become a massive residential complex.

Parking lot of NYC’s biggest Church, the Christian Cultural Center, is located, East New York, 2020. The Church’s empty property is only full on Sundays. This lot will soon become the β€œUrban Village”, a massive residential complex that will face the current Oasis Motel shelter on the other side of the street.

Jerry, on his balcony on the 17th and last floor of Starrett City, East New York, 2020. Jerry was the first resident to move in his tower of Starrett City, 45 years ago. Jerry used to work as Starrett City’s postman and is now retired. He is divorced and his kids have left the apartment. Every day, he plays the numbers, resolves puzzles and volunteers at the same post office he has worked at for 20 years.

3D rendering of the future “Urban Village”, soon to be built on the Christian Cultural Center’s site, New York City’s biggest Church, East New York, 2020. The Church is located on the southwest corner of the studied intersection. This promised β€œinnovative urban living” is promoting affordable housing when the units will be unaffordable to almost 4 out of 10 East New York families. The project comes from a partnership between a real-estate developer and the Church’s pastor Rev. AR Bernard. Image made by Β© Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU).

Archive from a TV Commercial advertising for Starrett City after its construction, 1979. Screenshot with added subtitles, 2020.

After Violette, coincidentally, came another young Frenchwoman who made work in Brooklyn: Tina Levy.

Tina, like Madeline, likes the surreal and bizarre, but her work shared far more in common with the Roger Ballen, black and white, aesthetic.

Tina had studied Philosophy at the Sorbonne, and was thrilled when I suggested she consider drawing and painting as well, (like Danny,) as that was where she felt her work was headed.

But I loved these photographs, which were made in her neighborhood and local environment in Brooklyn. (Greenpoint, where I lived back in the day.)

 

After Tina, I met Beverly Logan, who had completed an MFA at ICP, and had a very different process from everyone else.

Beverly had traveled extensively, and taken a lot of pictures in her life, and told me she had an archive of 250,000 images, which she searched for fragments to build collages.

Even in a digital age, these were laborious, as she made prints of the fragments, and then assembled real life pieces, rather than using Photoshop.

They screamed of Americana, and surrealism, but had a snappy, optimistic palette that seemed to contrast with these dark times.

I mentioned Patrick Nagatani’s “Nuclear Enchantment” to her, as her smart work made me think of my late teacher, and in general was super-impressed by what I saw.

 

Finally, (yes, finally) I met with Kechen Song, who was a Chinese national living in New York for his program. (Soon to move to Syracuse U to attend the prestigious MFA program there.)

He had barely left his apartment for months, during the pandemic, and told me he’d been wearing a mask for most of year, as he knew from China’s experience the chaos and death that was headed New York’s way.

Kechen had a few projects, including this mind-numbing and amazing video of taking and recording his temperature, over and over again, until his notebook went black.

The project I want to share, though, featured images he made by hacking, or mis-using his flatbed scanner, with only objects he found on his desk.

So many of these artists had their process, (and education) impacted by the pandemic, and used those constraints to fire up their creativity. This project is the perfect example of that, as everything came off of one desk, including the art-making equipment.

 

So I’ll leave you there, along with the reminder that if the NBA players can use their platforms to send a message, and I can show up to enlighten you on the regular, and all these artists can mine the pandemic for creative fuel, I hope you can do your best work, and make a difference too.

See you next week!

This Week in Photography: Time is Hell

 

My daughter is turning eight next week.

 

Right here, in this space, I wrote about when she was born.

I discussed changing her diapers.

I shared how it felt.

It was 2012, and Barack Obama was about to be re-elected President of the United States.

His opponent, Mitt Romney, represented the Republican Party. Now, he’s one of its foremost critics, from the inside, and President Obama, out of power nearly four years, unloaded on Donald Trump in the digital version of a Democratic Party convention.

My daughter and her brother just got their first pet: a mutt that we rescued from the animal shelter.

This morning, she asked if I’d write about the dog, and so I have. (Her name is Haley, she’s a blue heeler/pit bull mix, and we already love her dearly, after only two weeks.)

#2020 feels like a different century than 2012. A different millennium.

Perhaps a different timeline entirely?

But then again, “Space is paradise, time is hell.”

I read that just now, at the beginning of a super-impressive photobook, “Fordlandia 9,” by JM RamΓ­rez-Suassi, from Madrid, published by NOW Photobooks, which turned up in the mail back in March.

I pulled the book from my stack this morning, knowing nothing about it, and my daughter spied me as I walked through the house with the cardboard box in tow.

She asked what I was going to do with the book, and I told her that I wrote about books for my work, and that sometimes I wrote about travel, but not now.

“Because you can’t travel?” she asked.

“Exactly,” I said.

But of course I can travel, in my mind.

A great photo book allows me, and all of us, to venture to far-flung parts of the world, in our imagination, if everything comes together just right.

Is time hell?

Was the quote correct?

I’m not sure I agree, but I do think time is experiential, and I’ve shared that thought with you before.

These days, people speak of Covid-time, and it’s generally accepted that #2020 feels like 10 years compressed into one.

And Einstein’s theory of relativity proves that time does change, relative to the speed of light, so why can’t it change relative to our perceptions as well?

While looking through this excellent book, time slowed down for me, and I lost track of where I was. Just as I write in flow, and forget where I am for a little while, this photobook took me out of my head, and out of my chair, and that was exactly what I needed today.

Honestly, I’m not sure if the artist is a man or a woman, given the name is comprised of initials, but I’ll check when I’m done writing and add it as a post-script, just so we know.

But I did break my traditional rule of no Googling while reviewing, and I’m glad I did. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

I was impressed from the jump with “Fordlandia 9,” as the cover has a leather spine, and leather corners, which goes a long way towards making it look like a photo album. (At significant expense, I’d imagine.)

It opens with the aforementioned quote, and then unspools a narrative in a slow, luxurious manner.

I was immediately sucked in, because the reproductions are so good. (Immaculate, really.)

There are occasional vellum pages interwoven, which I also liked.

My first thought was this was a non-linear narrative, perhaps a collection of strong images that were not connected, as there is so little to go on.

Bit by bit, though, the story became clear.

First, there are hints of Portuguese, (rather than Spanish,) and a succession of jimmy-rigged objects that imply deep poverty, and the ingenuity that comes from having to make something out of nothing.

A leg-less chair tied and propped, so that it can be used as a seat.

A piece of cardboard fashioned to be sun protection.

Given the gritty texture and implication of humidity and poverty, I imagined it was set in Brazil, but that was only an educated guess, at first.

Then we see portraits, all of which depict serious people, perhaps a bit sad, but haunting in a way that we’ve seen before from images of residents of the “Third World.”

Muddy ground, gnarled trees, cars ensnared by growing vines.

The artist also weaves in just a few black and white images, which is tough to do, but works here as a repeating motif.

I use that term all the time, repeating motif, and then at one point, a subject is repeated, sitting in an old car, the first image in color, the second in black and white, but then there is a second man, a twin or look-alike brother, and it jarred me out of my reverie.

This book is so well thought out, and so well constructed.

Towards the end, we do see the Brazilian flag appear, and that’s the only legitimate tip-off of where we are, until the end notes.

Shortly thereafter, there is another piece of text, only the second after the opening quote, and it says “Matthew 15:13.”

That’s it.

Just a verse name.

So I felt compelled to break my no-Googling rule and look it up.

There are multiple translations, but the gist is this, “He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.'”

(The He in question being Jesus.)

The text is placed in between one image that might be a person walking into a hole in a giant tree, (or a cave,) and right before a picture of some bent-finger-like tree branches.

Of course I took it to mean that the Amazon is being de-forested at such a rapid rate, we might all fucking die in a decade or two.

Powerful, powerful stuff.

Finally, the end note tells us the photos were shot mainly in the states of Para, Amazonas and Mato Grosso, in 2017 and 2019.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned so much from a book with so few words.

This one is brilliant, and now that I’m back from Brazil, and back in my comfortable chair, I’m thinking less about American politics, and more about appreciating the life I have.

And hoping the planet is healthy enough that my daughter gets to live to 88.

No promises.

(PS: The artist is male.)

To purchase “Fordlandia 9” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: I Have A Dream

 

—“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children…

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone…

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American hero, August 28th, 1963

 

—“At first I was self-conscious about photographing in these communities. What would the residents think of this white woman with a big camera photographing on their street, telling their story? But the people I met along the way calmed my fears. Although there were some exceptions, once they knew what I was doing, they were excited. The people I met were usually eager to point out things I should photograph and wanted to know when they’d be able to see the pictures.

Even though the residents I met seemed to accept me, I became acutely aware of the things I was choosing to photograph. What do my choices say about me? Am I recording a realistic picture of the communities? At several exhibitions of these photographs, people have been surprised to discover that I’m not African-American. That people don’t feel that these photos were made by an outsider is comforting to me.”

Susan Berger, photographic artist, 2019

 

Fifty-seven years ago this month, in the dog days of August, one of the most famous Americans of all time delivered one of the most famous speeches ever given.

You know it, and I know it as the “I Have AΒ Dream” speech, but I’m not sure I’ve ever read it in its entirety before today.

(Maybe I have and forgot?)

I was a little surprised to realize that it was given only one hundred years after Abraham Lincoln freed America’s slaves, (in legal terms,) via the Emancipation Proclamation.

That’s only the lifetime of a very old person.

Not much at all, when you think about it.

And as a forty-six year old American, I’ve spent many hours wondering what the 60’s were really like?

Protests, drama, riots, assassinations, chaos, near-nuclear annihilation.

The division of my fellow citizens into hippies and squares. Pro-segregation assholes versus others who craved a country where people could at least attempt to live together, or eat together, or sit in the same section of a public bus.

 

Square-jawed 1960’s square, Don Draper

 

I wondered, at the time, did people feel like the world was unraveling? Did they know that the Civil Rights movement would make changes to our broken society, without healing all the wounds caused by slavery and systemic racism?

Did they fear that things might break completely, leaving us two nations instead of one?

Did anyone have confidence that the turmoil would lead to “better” days, or were all Americans sitting on the edge of their seats, unsure if things would ever get “better” again?

Now I no longer wonder.

We’ve passed the threshold of fifty years since the sixties, and one hundred and fifty-five years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and now all Americans know what it feels like to fear whether our country can withstand the fissures that threaten to implode our historical experiment.

China and India, the two burgeoning global super-powers, are both thousands of years old.

Like, five thousand years.

By comparison, the United States of America is an extremely young society, and one that was built upon lofty ideals, but rotten realities.

You may be tired of being reminded that the institution of slavery and the theft of Native American land allowed this nation to thrive, but it is an inescapable history.

Hell, in #2020, jerkoffs like Tom Cotton have the balls to suggest that slavery was a “necessary evil.”

(You can’t make that shit up.)

And I’ve felt the need to write several columns asking you, and all of us, to open our minds to the fact that people of all races and genders “should” be able to appreciate each other, respect each other, and value contributions from those people who don’t look and sound like us.

Yet most of my friends are white.

I try, and have tried, to bridge the cultural and racial divide with friendships, and sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t.

Some may find me naive for thinking that our commonalities should be as important, or occasionally more important, than our differences.

If Kanye West and Jared Kushner can be friends, and plot to take America back to when it was “Great” again, why can’t we?

But enough with the sermonizing.

You come for the photography reviews, and won’t stay if you feel like I’m preaching too much each week.

Perhaps you like it when I’m funny, or say fuck and shit all the time, or maybe you like that I weave politics, cultural criticism and a deep-rooted optimism together with a love of art?

(No matter. It’s time to get on with things.)

This column was inspired by a photo book by a white Jewish lady curious about African-American culture, and I even published some of the photos already, after reviewing them at Photo Nola in 2014.

(Back in the Obama era, when despite the promise of an end of racism, we were met with no such thing.)

This week, Obama’s second-in-command, a white man from Pennsylvania, synonymous with the tiny state of Delaware, offered his second-in-command position to a woman whose parents came from Jamaica and India.

A child of immigrants, reared in that great American melting pot of California, which is supposed to represent the best we have to offer. (In my opinion, anyway, and I’m not alone, which is why nearly 40 million people live there.)

Of course I’m rooting for Joe and Kamala, not just because I respect their politics, but because I genuinely believe that if Trump wins again, America might cease to be a democratic republic by 2024.

Like a person can only take so many whip lashes before dying, America can only handle so many sustained attacks on our democratic institutions before becoming an autocracy.

And while we can hope and dream of better days, no one knows what will happen in November of #2020, one hundred and fifty five years after the end of our Civil War.

Having said all that, today I’m showing photographs from Susan Berger’s book “Life and Soul: American Streets Honoring Martin Luther King,” which was published last year by Dark Spring Press, and turned up in the mail in May of #2020.

It’s a thoughtful and well-crafted book, and one that takes a couple of risks, but it’s perfect to show today.

To begin with, in our current cultural climate, the mere fact that it exists, that it was shot by a non-African-American, would make it uncomfortable to some.

I get that, and so does Susan, which is why she wrote about it head-on in her excellent opening essay. (Accompanied by another strong essay by Frank Gohlke, a photo world legend for being a part of the seminal “New Topographics” show back in the 70s.)

They’re both a part of the tight-knit and talented Arizona photo mafia, and the end notes tell us that Susan worked for Mr. Gohlke back in day.

The end notes also give us a break-down of all the trips that Susan took to photograph MLK streets around the country, between 2009-14, trying to build a representative, (if not categorical,) view of where these streets are located and what they contain.

Apparently, but not surprisingly, they are almost exclusively in urban, African-American neighborhoods, some of which have absorbed Latino populations, and ironically the entire project was inspired by the artist driving by a sign for an MLK street in the middle of rural America.

Of course, it wouldn’t be #2020 if I didn’t point out that the resources required to fly around for one’s art, and the cost of purchasing and providing film for a medium format camera are marks of privilege.

Now it’s been said.

And I do find flaw with the other risk taken here, which is the repeating motif of reprinting close-up crops of images throughout, opposite blank, black pages.

That said, it’s an excellent book, and between the murals, statues, local restaurants, churches, small food markets, bleak vibes, (again, in the Obama era,) and hotels named after Dr. King, it certainly presents a vision of poverty and decline.

I suspect that Dr. King would be disappointed to know that this deep into the 21st Century, things are still as bad as they are.

Access to education and health care is still so uneven.

And among the tens of thousands of dead in this god-awful pandemic, too many are people of color.

But I also suspect that he might not like the manner in which like-minded people of different races distrust each other, and attack each difference, rather than building upon our common values.

Maybe it was always thus?

I’ll end here on a message of hope, just so you don’t feel like overdosing on sleeping pills.

We always have the opportunity to learn from the past, and the future has not yet been written.

Though many Americans have bought into Trump’s politics of hate and division, there are nearly 330 million people living in this Great country of ours, and I believe that a majority, enough to win the next election, (despite the obvious cheating he’ll try to engender,) desire a country in which we we can, indeed, all get along.

(Or at least most of us.)

To purchase “Life and Soul” click hereΒ 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: Civil War Visions

 

My kids talk a lot.

 

It’s true.

And I’ve found that the older I get, the more I like quiet, though give me a few drinks at a party, and I’ll never shut up.

(A party? I wrote the word, but am now having trouble remembering what it might mean. Party? Sounds familiar, but like something from a pre-#2020 reality.)

So I like quiet, which can be hard to come by, and I also like to read my own column.

Occasionally, though, the two strands will overlap, and I’ll come to the point, reading the column back, where I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.

(In my head, as I’m reading it.)

I’m not talking about being crazy, or doing a full “Being John Malkovich” either. Rather, sometimes I write the column, and then it just doesn’t feel right.

On a handful of occasions over the years, I’ll write in flow, (as usual,) and then decide, when I’ve finished, that it’s crap.

I’ll be reading it back to myself and think, “Oh, just get on with it already, you old windbag.”

Or, maybe, “Gosh, could you be any more self-involved? Please, tell us more about yourself, or your kids.”

Now, if I’m being honest, this almost never happens, but it did today.

I wrote 1600 words, (over four parts,) and but it was all wrong.

Luckily, I’d grabbed an envelope from my submission pile before I got sidetracked by a different idea, and once I opened it up, I knew the book-reviewing-deities were smiling on me today.

Because it is literally perfect for the moment, (based upon what I’ve been writing about lately,) but it also allows me to stop talking, and let the pictures in the publication do the work.

Brandon Tauszik reached out to me early in lockdown, asking if he could send me a self-published ‘zine, and as I’d shown a digital project of his a bunch of years ago, so I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to check it out when the time was right.”

And that time is today.

It’s called “Pale Blue Dress,” and features some bright and sharp photographs of Civil War re-enactors in California.

There are so few photographs here, when most people would have wanted to show a book’s worth.

It’s brief, which makes it seem more like a poem than a novel.

We see Abe Lincoln, who’s been featured in the column a couple of times lately, and visions of a 19th Century war that, as I wrote just last week, still dominates the American cultural narrative in the 21st Century.

Photography records history, whether we like it or not, and in this case, it’s a record of people who like to recreate history, visually, for pretend.

It feels lighthearted, (like this column today,) but masks a much darker message.

In an essay at the end of the book, the Stanford historian James T. Campbell, PhD, writes,

“They are generous, even gentle images, devoid of irony or condescension, inviting not ridicule but curiosity about people whose commitments may differ from our own. In this polarized, perilous moment in the history of our democracy, this is an attitude worth cultivating. Societies that lose it sometimes fight civil wars in earnest.”

I often think that part of why history repeats itself is that once an event has receded from living memory, because no one is alive from when it happened, nor their direct descendants, then it becomes more likely to happen again.

No one outside of a few thousand truly insane individuals really wants another Civil War here, so let’s all do our best to put out good energy these next few months, and hope the national mood dials back from “11.”

Stay safe out there, and see you next week.

To purchase “Pale Blue Dress” click here

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: An Empire in Decline

 

“A new era has dawned in our country,
all the Earth is lit by the light of morn,
glory fills our hearts with an aura of greatness,
in the mighty state a happy time has begun.”

(From the state newspaper “Neutral Turkmenistan, “2012)

 

I’m writing on Thursday morning, (as usual,) July 30, 2020.

It’s the day that many of us have been waiting for, as Donald Trump has officially suggested postponing the presidential election here in America.

The times of our glorious leader are abundant, and let us hope they continue long into the future, when the son of dear leader, the great Barron, will guide is into endless prosperity, safety, and happiness.

Now, the cynics among us might suggest that Trump is baiting people into perseverating about one more distraction.

The quarterly economic numbers came out, and they were abysmal, like the worst EVER, meaning DJT’s plan to open the economy, believing that the coronavirus would simply “disappear” was wrong.

The Big Don doesn’t do “wrong,” so instead, he gave the media a big fat T-bone steak of scary, so that everyone would fret about that, rather than questioning him about the American economic free-fall.

So here we are.

We, as Americans, do a great job of thinking about ourselves, and our country, all the time.

The Trump collapse has even pushed Global Warming fears to the back burner, as who has time to contemplate planetary extinction when there is a fierce political battle going on right here in our own country?

(A colleague reminded me of that a few weeks ago, texting that most of the world lives with fear and difficulty all the time.)

We’ve officially reached the end of the road, with respect to the height of the “American Empire,” and the changes we’re feeling are not only about Trump, but rather a declining power settling down into a lower status.

It’s never easy.

But every great power that has ruled the world has then had to adjust to a time when they were relegated to #2, or #3, or even lower down the table.

(Even my favorite soccer team, Arsenal, is a declining power right now, having just finished 8th in the Premier League.)

Whether or not I start kissing up to China, (O great and wondrous Xi,) no sentient being would think that the US stands much of a chance of balancing their power in the coming decades.

Not if we’re this broken, and we don’t make things anymore, and we can’t seem to move past the divisions of a 19th Century war.

Basically, we’re fucked, and even if Joe Biden wins in November, and Trump is out in January, we’re firmly in the damage control portion of our history.

How can we salvage things, not how can me Make Everything Great Again.

Sorry to be a downer, but a cool dude like Obama couldn’t unite this country, and when there are White Power jerks out and proud in places like Northern Arkansas, we are where we are.

But why am I thinking this way right now?

Where did this particular, giving up isn’t so bad rant come from?

I’m glad you asked.

Like the old days, the glorious past which will always be better than the future, I’m writing about a photo book.

Perusing my book shelf this morning, I came across “Promising Waters,” by Mila Teshaieva, which was published by Kehrer Verlag in Germany, as a prize winning book in the Critical Mass competition. (Published in 2013.)

I’m sure they sent it to me for judging, but somehow, I never checked it out before today.

Thank goodness, because without it, I might not have written that sad bit of realpolitik above.

(We’re #2! We’re #2!)

This book is excellent, and smart, which are not necessarily the same things.

The photographs are bleak and beautiful, and seem to be set in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, though it’s hard to say which one.

Frankly, this is one of those books I like, which teases out the story, bit by bit, asking you to guess, before giving you all the information you need at the end, which then makes you want to look through it again.

Which I did.

(And you would too.)

So it’s excellent, because it’s well made, but it’s smart, as it considers the viewing experience, and then adjusts accordingly.

For today, I’m going to jump to the end, as is my prerogative as a reviewer.

There are two very well written essays, and the second tells us this was shot in several countries around the Caspian Sea.

Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

And the end notes also have a numerical list of places, with a map and a little description, but I didn’t understand how it functioned until my second viewing.

Each page has a tiny number, which I missed on first viewing, and it corresponds to the list, (and the map,) so that afterwards, you can try to figure out where each picture is taken, and then compare some places to others.

(Like a puzzle.)

So that’s why it’s smart…

As to the pictures, and the intermittent text, it all speaks to a place in the world that is reckoning with life after an Empire’s primacy.

These may have been far-flung outposts of the Great Soviet Empire, but now they’re not even that.

There are references to changed alphabets and languages, and rising, empty cites.

Of oil fields that leak and pollute, and sea borders that are in dispute.

One photo, of an abandoned library, is absolutely heartbreaking, but then you read the caption in the back, and learn it used to be a Jewish synagogue, which was decommissioned by the Soviets, and turned into a library, only to be left to rot, once the Cyrillic books were no longer relevant.

Everywhere, we see painted backdrops, to distract from the surroundings, and the text speaks of shiny facades added to crumbling Soviet buildings, or fancy buildings built for a world of rich people that likely never came. (Or will never come? I’m getting confused by time, and with my tenses, this deep into lockdown.)

There are tiny houses, meant to be destroyed for new construction, and an overwhelming sense of decline.

Still, a young man works out on improvised exercise equipment, a young woman has a fancy pocketbook in a washed-out-looking restaurant, and another young man stands before a computer with the word Democracy visible.

Nothing about this book was made for America in #2020, yet it all feels like a cautionary tale.

On a happier note, it is late-summer now, so at least you can go for a walk in the evening, if you wear your mask.

(Sorry, that’s all the optimism I’ve got for today.)

To purchase “Promising Waters” click hereΒ 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please contact me directly at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by women, and artists of color, so we may maintain a balanced program.Β 

This Week in Photography: Spoiling for a Fight

 

Part 1: The Intro

 

Donald Trump has unleashed secret police upon America.

For all my repeated criticism of the man, over many years, that is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write.

But here we are.

They are secret, because their uniforms are unmarked, and they have apparently been pulling people off the street into unmarked vans in Portland.

Now, he’s sending them to cities like Chicago and Albuquerque, because he sees his best shot at re-election dependent upon an uprising of Red State voters, who fear for their lives.

(By implying that urban chaos will soon be coming to their small town or cluster of farms.)

 

How did we get here?

One of the biggest causes of our national decline over the last 4 years has been the language of dehumanization.

It began during the 2016 Presidential campaign, in which Trump was willing to use name calling, and nasty language, in a way that no “normal” politician ever had.

Whether calling Mexicans rapists, insulting a Muslim Gold Star family, or saying, of Republican war hero John McCain, “I like people whoΒ weren’t captured,” Trump’s insult comic schtick was entertaining to a certain type of American, and it propelled him to the White House.

 

 

Whether or not a person likes Trump, and supports him politically, I doubt there are many, if any, Americans alive who would suggest he has attempted to unite the United States at any point in the last 4 years.

I’ve written about Divide and Conquer before, but really, it’s not a theory: it’s happening in real time. He has attacked cities, and “Blue” politicians all along, while denigrating minorities, banning Muslims from entering the country, jailing brown children, and defending White Supremacists.

And it’s worked so well that liberals are turning on each other by fighting over racial and/or gender-based lines, often trying to takedown those who don’t conform to a specific set of beliefs. (Making it that much easier to be conquered.)

Years of calling people libtards and fascists, thugs and gestapo, and now we find ourselves in #2020, with one faction of the country aggressively risking the health of others over a belief in science, and people who label themselves as Anti-fascists are being deemed fascists by others.

Everyone keeps calling the other side “they,” and there is serious risk in that, as “us” only refers to “our” side.

 

 

Words matter.

And the words that Trump encourages, which make people less than human, (as the Nazis did,) make it that much easier to treat people as less than human.

To risk giving them a deadly disease, because they’re just Blue Staters anyway. (As when conservative Texans come to Northern New Mexico and refuse to obey our laws around face coverings.)

We find ourselves at a crossroads, where protestors believe they can engage in destructive behavior, because it’s justified against Trump’s evil, and then he responds by sending in federal police, (because the military already refused, after the Lafayette Square debacle,) and we all sit here, holding our collective breath, wondering what will happen next?

 

Part 2: The fighting instinct

 

I used the phrase “takedown” a few paragraphs ago, but really, how many of you know where it comes from?

IRL?

It’s a wrestling term, now utilized in BJJ and MMA as well, in which one person attacks the legs and waist of another person, and then either trips or throws them to the ground.

(Including the vicious body slam.)

I have both executed single and double-leg takedowns, and been the recipient of them, and they are violent as hell.

It’s a real thing, and another example of language migrating from the literal to the metaphorical.

I mention it here, though, as I just finished binge-watching “Kingdom” on Netflix, and cannot emphasize enough how good the show was.

 

It is set in the SoCal world of MMA, (in Venice, where I almost moved in 2001,) and ran on a DirectTV streaming platform from 2014-17, which means that pretty much no one saw it.

I became aware of it in 2017, when I was doing some research on the actor Frank Grillo, but lacking DirectTV, I couldn’t watch it, and promptly forgot about it.

As soon as it came to Netflix this month, I jumped at the chance, and have rarely seen a better example of storytelling and acting fused together.

Because it’s a show about fighting, featuring very talented but not super-famous actors, (Like Grillo, Matt Lauria from “Friday Night Lights,” Kiele Sanchez from “The Purge: Anarchy,” Joanna Going from some 90’s movies, and the brilliant Jonathan Tucker,) I’m pretty sure most people would dismiss it as pulp entertainment without giving it a second thought.

However, like other superlative genre fare before it, (“The Wire,” “The Sopranos,”) Byron Balasco, the creator, managed to tell real, human, empathetic stories in a way that mesmerized, perhaps BECAUSE of the limitations of his genre structure. (To be clear, I’m not saying it’s as good as those TV pantheon shows.)

And I read in an interview that they were pretty much left alone, to do what they wanted, which comes across in the creative freedom they expressed.

Alcohol addiction, sex trafficking, the cycle of familial abuse, homophobia, drug addiction, mental illness, class difference, death, the penal system, and corruption; all are woven together deftly alongside positive values like love, loyalty, and determination.

It was just so good. (Though I’m pretty sure if it were shot in #2020, they would have a more diverse cast.)

One core message that comes through, again and again, is that fighting is a mentality, not just a sport.

Some people are trained to fight, and are often born into families that reinforce it.

(Like Trump, according to the new tell-all by his niece Mary Trump.)

Fighting perpetuates itself, and it requires a tremendous amount of discipline to not fight, when the situation presents itself.

 

Part 3: For example

 

For example, I recently came through the most difficult period of my marriage, as we diagnosed my wife with clinical depression in late-March, and were told the recovery would be rocky.

(It was.)

In the beginning of July, my wife went through a rage phase, where all sorts of repressed anger came to the surface, and for a few days, it was all directed at me.

Despite the fact that I was her support system, and she credited me with saving her life, I had said unkind things during the late stages of her illness, and the beginning of her recovery.

I used nasty words, thinking I was justified, because of the hurt her illness caused, and she did not call me on it.

It seemed OK.

But clearly, it was not.

When her anger finally flared, it was palpable, and scared the shit out of me, causing anxiety attacks.

With the help of some very good friends, (you know who you are,) we got through it.

But the key moment was when my amazing friend Ed advised me that the only way to break the cycle was to not bounce the anger back to her.

Not to absorb it into my body, which would make me sick, but to essentially channel it directly into the ground.

To admit what I said, apologize with kindness, and then not aggress back.

We never mentioned Jesus, at any point, but really, it was the theory of turning the other cheek.

And as a martial artist, I’m familiar with the concept of getting power from the ground, so the idea of sending this energy back into the ground, rather than rebounding it, made sense to me.

Thankfully, it worked.

In the weeks since, two readers picked fights with me, in emails responding to my column, and in each case, I used the same strategy.

Rather than perpetuating the anger, and participating in a fight, I refused, and responded with kindness, respect and peace.

It was clear that in each case, the other person was taken aback, and a bit frustrated that I chose not to engage in a disagreement based upon anger, but it defused the situation, and that was that.

On a macro level, that’s essentially what Americans need to do, if we’re going to heal from the misery of the Trump era. (If, god willing, he loses in November and moves on.)

We will somehow need to find the common humanity between political parties, between urban and rural, between cosmopolitan and sequestered.

The alternative is that we eat ourselves, and then eat each other.

 

Part 4: Another Example

 

Here’s what it looks like when you respond to anger with anger.

It backfires.

For example, last week, I saw a tweet by my colleague JΓΆrg Colberg, which drew attention to an Instagram spat involving the renown SoCal artist John Divola.

 

 

Apparently, William Camargo, a Latinx artist from Orange County, made a post about an image he shot that was a satire of, or homage to, or derivation of a series by John Divola, who’s from just up the way in Venice.

It references a series I’ve written about before, as I was lucky to interview John twice, for VICE and the NYT, and have spent time with him in person as well.

In fact, he gave me a copy of the book, which is named after the series: “As Far As I Could Get.”

Divola is known for conceptual rigor, and humor at times, and constantly wrong-footed me during our interviews, (another fighting term,) because his vision of what his work was about was always different than my expectations.

In this series, he set up his camera in the isolated California desert, set the timer, and then sprinted away from the camera, to see how far he could get before the shutter clicked.

I think it’s funny, as it speaks to a certain futility of the human condition.

 

Over time, as he aged, he would presumably cover less distance, but it was always a strategy, and done in an empty desert locale.

William Camargo, the artist who satirized him, set up a scenario in which he tried to see how far he could get from the swap meet parking lot to the liquor store, in ten seconds.

Seen by itself, I thought it was a smart update, an excellent photograph, and by re-contextualizing the scenario, was a takeoff on John’s idea, rather than a ripoff.

Kudos, for sure.

But in his caption, he tore into John for the fact that running is a sport of white privilege, and misrepresented the structure of Divola’s project.

 

William Camargo, who is a part of Diversify Photo, and espouses the language of the current progressive movement, chose to insult John Divola, who is white, in a public forum.

Isn’t it possible to draw attention to the fact that in certain communities, it is not safe to run, (a la Ahmaud Arbery, who’s mentioned,) without the concomitant need to attack someone else?

Especially when Divola’s work was not actually about jogging?

I get that it is fashionable at the moment, to “takedown” old white guys, (I critiqued Martin Parr last year, don’t forget,) but it was not the Instagram post that got John Divola in hot water.

It was his reaction.

He responded with anger, and put words in writing, in public, that looked really, really bad in #2020.

 

Indubitably, I am not defending what he wrote.

In fact, I just spent a whole bunch of words suggesting that letting anger go by, rather than fighting back, can be transformative.

(Not always: AOC was totally right to defend herself from that Florida man’s awful comments.)

But the glee with which some people then further attacked John Divola, as if it proved that all old white guys are unhinged, was equally unsettling.

And that is my final point for today.

If we on the left refuse to see the value of others like us, creative, passionate, liberal people of all races and genders, than how will we ever help heal these rifts with the rest of America?

Do we expect other people to do it for us?

(And there I go using “us” again. It’s so complicated!)

This Week in Photography: Chaos and Class

Part 1: The Intro

 

 

I love it when a plan comes together.

That’s what George Peppard used to say, as Hannibal Smith, in the cheesy 80’s TV show “The A-Team.”

Then, the character was played by Liam Neeson in a pretty-bad movie version of the TV show, which came out in 2010.

This morning, on Twitter, I stumbled upon a video of the comedian Frank Caliendo doing a Liam Neeson impression, pretending to be his character from “Taken,” (which was shot in France,) in which Caliendo-as-Neeson threatens to give a telemarketer a bad Yelp review.

 

I also read in the New York Times today that France would soon require all people to wear masks indoors.

(Elsewhere, I read that a French bus driver was beaten to death for asking his riders to mask up.)

In the Washington Post, I saw that the Governor of Georgia would bar all cities and municipalities from requiring people to wear masks, during our American-dumpster-fire-outbreak.

In a normal year, many Americans of means might be taking their European holiday right now, but of course Americans are actually banned from Europe, due to our anti-scientific, highly politicized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our leader, Donald J Trump, has made such a mess of things that I’ve had to officially apologize to my friend, about whom I wrote in this column early in the year, because Trump now does have mass deaths on his hands, if not nearly as many as Adolph Hitler.

DeSean Jackson, a football player for the Philadelphia Eagles, recently made an Instagram post in which he incorrectly attributed a quote to Hitler, while proudly promoting an Anti-Semitic agenda.

And also this morning, on Facebook, a friend posted that she and her family would be moving to Germany, for the rest of #2020, so their son could attend school, and have a “normal” life.

This same friend belongs to a family that famously fled Nazi Germany and came to New Mexico to found a ski resort, in which certain trails are named after members of a failed coup to take out Hitler.

The coup was featured in a movie starring Tom Cruise, who became mega-famous in “Top Gun,” in which Val Kilmer also became a super-star for playing Iceman, but then Kilmer lost a big part of his New Mexico ranch due to The Great Recession, which was the worst American economy until now.

In #2020.

Are you confused yet?

If so, my plan has indeed come together, because after a week off, I wanted to see if I could open this column in a manner that truly reflected the insanity of the moment.

Things change from second to second these days, and my fellow Americans are acting so irrationally that they’re willing to risk killing each other to prove a political point.

For example, in Red River, New Mexico, a town known at “Little Texas,” (which you can read about in a Reuters article written by my son’s former youth soccer coach,) apparently a man walked into the local health clinic, with Covid symptoms, but not wearing a mask, and he tested positive along with 3 other people, so that now the clinic has been shut for 14 days, and the town no longer has a functioning medical office, despite being in a valley surrounded by mountains, cut off from the rest of the world.

Like I said, welcome to #2020.

 

Part 2: Making some sense

 

The American Revolution was really about money, even if Freedom was a part of the mix as well.

Rich guys like George Washington didn’t like paying so many taxes to the King of England, given that the crown didn’t offer too much back in the deal.

We used to worship Old George here in America, but now he’s been cancelled because he was a slave owner.

Donald Trump chose to give a maskless speech on the 4th of July, to a maskless white audience, at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills, on land that was stolen from the Lakota people, despite treaties promising them their ancestral homeland in perpetuity.

(Those treaties were not worth the paper on which they were printed.)

As to the white men enshrined in stone on that mountain?

 

Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, and in the current moment, are considered assholes. (Rightly so, I guess. We may have idolized them for centuries, but slavery was simply inexcusable.)

Teddy Roosevelt was a racist, and now even Abe Lincoln has been criticized, because he promoted the stealing of Native American land in the MidWest.

This section of the column was titled “Making Some Sense,” but I’m not sure that I have.

 

Part 3. Follow the money

 

I was trying, before jumping off the rails, to bring attention to the fact that money and power are, and have always been, intricately connected.

It’s the real reason that the Washington Redskins are finally changing their highly racist, despicable nickname: sponsors like Fedex came after team owner Daniel Snyder’s money, so he folded.

That is literally the only reason he did the right thing.

Money buys power, and historically, power is enmeshed with class.

Here in America, while we’re occasionally willing to discuss race, and are often obsessed with money, class is barely allowed into the cultural conversation.

It’s the hush hush, as nobody wants to be considered lower class, the middle class has been shrinking for decades, and the Upper Class likes to stick to its own, and does a damn good job of keeping everyone else out.

I was reminded of that while reading my friend Kevin Kwan’s new book, “Sex and Vanity,” which both features and skewers the world’s jet-setting .1%, at a fabulous wedding in Capri, on New York’s Upper East Side, and in the Hamptons as well.

Kevin updated E.M. Forster’s acclaimed novel “A Room with a View,” while simultaneously examining entrenched racism in America’s chicest Upper Class apartments and beach clubs.

(It’s a fun read for summer too.)

But it really resonated with me, as I was first introduced to the New York Upper Class as a freshman at Duke, and my clumsy attempt at social climbing pretty much ruined my college experience, and changed the course of my life.

 

Part 4. The Photobook

 

Even though I took a week off from writing, and am definitely hopped up on super-high-caffeine coffee, this column is actually building somewhere.

I promise.

It ties together threads from above, and even from my last column before I took my break, in which I mentioned the students from various ICP programs that I reviewed via Zoom a few weeks ago.

How so?

Well, a while back, my former photo professor, Allen Frame, who also teaches at ICP, wrote to see if I’d be interested in potentially reviewing a photo book by his friend, and former ICP student Martine Fougeron, and I said sure.

(She and I were once in a show together in the Bronx, but I wasn’t able to attend, so we’ve never met or been in contact.)

I opened the book today, and was immediately struck by the fact that she chronicles the lives of her two boys, Nicolas and Adrien, as they grow up.

It hit me quickly, as these last few months, my children, Theo and Amelie, have been each others’ best friends, companions, and social networks, as we live mostly quarantined on our farm at the edge of the Wild West.

The boys featured in the book, however, don’t share much in common with my kids, beyond the fact that my daughter has a French name.

“Nicolas & Adrien” was published by Steidl in 2019, which is always the mark of art world insiders. And the cover features scarlet and gold, the colors of Gryffindor house in the Harry Potter novels, and wouldn’t you know, but I’m reading Book 3 to Amelie, but I’m not sure if we should keep it up, now that JK Rowling has come out as an Anti-Trans activist on Twitter.

(I promise, no more off topic rants in this column.)

From the opening statement, in which Ms. Fougeron writes of her sons attending the Lycée Français de New York, and summering at the family home in the South of France, the book gives off whiffs of the Upper Class vibe.

From the chic fashion within, the strong chins, the subtly entitled body language, I was pretty sure the book represented a look inside the 1%, and as it builds, my suspicions were correct.

There is a reference to Le Bal des Debutantes, which also comes up in “Sex and Vanity,” and the end statement discusses the multi-generational wealth in which Ms. Figueron was raised in France.

That doesn’t make the book less interesting, though, as our prurient desires to see behind the velvet rope also drove work by Slim Aarons, and Tina Barney, among others. (Or even my much mentioned buddy Hugo, whose series, “Upper Class,” was his thesis show at Pratt in 2004.)

This book begins in 2005 though, and follows Nicolas and Adrien as they grow up, changing for the camera, smoking weed and frolicking with their good looking friends.

It it summer escapism?

I’m not sure.

Kevin’s book clearly satirizes the people with whom he fraternizes, and when “Nicolas & Adrien” depicts one of the boys in his Occupy Wall Street phase, I wasn’t sure if the irony was intended.

(I almost choked on my tea, which I drank before my coffee.)

Still, I found this book worth writing about, and recommending, as it crosses the threshold of making me think, making me want to write, and it’s also well-made, so that’s how we got here.

To stick my landing, I’d like to mention that the rich have always ruled the world, and likely always will.

Whenever they’ve been taken down, like when heads rolled in France, or when communists took over in Russia, they’ve always been replaced by other people who like to keep the money and power for themselves.

It’s why all those Chinese politicians are billionaires these days, (which Kevin chronicled in “China Rich Girlfriend”) or why the Soviet leaders kept all the good food and pretty dachas for themselves.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t press against that selfish mentality, (because we must,) but based on the history of human civilization, we should at least understand how big a fight we’re facing, to undo millennia of entrenched inequality.

See you next week.

This Week in Photography: Towards a New History

 

Truly short post today.

(Like, for real.)

I’ve been writing some intricate columns lately, which have required me to spend a lot of time ingesting media in a toxic environment.

So I’m taking next week off, for my annual summer break, and will do my best to recharge the batteries so I can continue to put my finger on the cultural pulse for you.

I’ll have some more book reviews, travel articles from the winter, and then yesterday, I did online portfolio reviews with students at ICP in New York, and saw so much good photography and art that I’ll be writing a “The Best Work I Saw at…” post for you soon too.

As I’m isolated out here in my field, it was a blessing to have so many fun, cool conversations with a talented and diverse group of artists.

In eight reviews, I spoke with six women, and two men of color, so it felt like the most perfect experience for #2020.

The first artist showed me some incredible water color drawings/paintings, and we discussed the idea that it’s important to find the right medium to express our thoughts in the most appropriate way.

(Some ideas or emotions don’t need to be photographs.)

And just last week, I had another deep, intricate conversation with an African-American friend/colleague, in which we got into all the real issues, in a calm, positive way. (It may lead to an interview, so I’m keeping it cryptic for the moment.)

One thing he said, though, was so relevant, I want to share it here.

He suggested, bluntly, that if you asked 100 photographers to name their top 10 in the History of Photography, there was a strong chance almost no Black photographers would be chosen at all.

The established canon skews super-duper-heavily towards white people. (And men in general.)

It was hard to argue, as I began to think of my “favorite” names, and wasn’t sure I would pick a Black photographer, unless I were trying to front.

Which brings me to today’s book, “The History of Photography in Pen and Ink,” by Charles Woodard, published by A-Jump books in 2009. (Right in the eye tooth of the Great Recession, and given to me by someone who is no longer my friend, it’s been so long.)

I thought of this book, at first, because it is light and funny, and I knew I needed to keep it short today. (I rediscovered the book while searching my shelves a couple of months ago.)

Plus, after the NYT did that deep dive into Robert Frank’s famous image from “The Americans,” I figured you’d all like to see one of his other classics rendered as a simplistic drawing.

But these days, even reaching for a cute-little-production led to deeper thoughts, as I turned the pages, and counted how few women were included.

As I neared the end, my friend’s words echoed in my mind, as I recalled one Japanese photographer within, but no other obvious artists of color.

In #2020, if Charles Woodard decided to do this project from scratch, I expect we’d see the inclusion of some Latin American photographers, like Manuel Alvarez Bravo or Graciela Iturbide.

Maybe Gordon Parks would be in there, or Carrie Mae Weems?

I’d like to think so.

But the book, cute as it is, is evidence that our shared history, the History of Photography, (as it’s traditionally been taught,) does not include enough diversity.

Surely this will change, now, and hopefully it won’t mean the exclusion of some of the great Jewish-American photographers, or all those amazing Germans and French artists.

Maybe, just maybe, we can write bigger books, that include all the great photographic artists in history, from across the world, and show respect for what he, she or they had to say?

Just a thought.

See you in two weeks.

This Week in Photography: Racism and Art

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I have a question.

 

Do you think everyone is racist?

 

Personally, I don’t. And I wrote as much a few weeks ago, when I claimed I’m not racist.

Given all the supposedly controversial things I write here, I’ve expected someone to come after me, at some point, and pull something out of context.

And it may yet happen.

But I also believe that some people, (frankly a lot of people,) don’t hate and disrespect others based solely on the color of their skin, or their ethnicity.

(And I’ve written about the evils of structural racism many times.)

If you’ve been reading all along, you know I’m happy to admit my failings, and have chronicled my own privileged youth, so I try to keep it real for you each week.

Hell, I even called out the NYT for building a super-diverse room, at their annual portfolio review, but encouraging conditions where each racial/ethnic group stuck to its own.

What’s the point of that?

Maybe it’s because I’m a “bohemian artsy type,” but for me, few things are more pleasurable than hanging out with people from different parts of the world, or different cultures.

As I wrote last week, when we come together, it creates an energy that is as addictive as it is infectious. Of course, the one thing that can get in the way is one’s political philosophy, because while I try to treat each person with respect, that falls apart when we’re talking about people who don’t respect others.

(Like all the Texans and Arizonans who won’t value other people’s health by wearing masks or social distancing in their home states, and then come to New Mexico and disregard our public health ordinances. Fuck those guys!)

I’m on this rant for two reasons, which will hopefully become obvious before this column is done.

First off, I came across a story on Twitter yesterday, where the actress Jenny Slate left a Netflix show, “Big Mouth” because she had been hired and paid to be the voice actress for a character who was half Black, and half Jewish-American.

Truth: I’d never seen the show, and typically find Jenny Slate to be annoying every time I’ve seen her on screen.

I’m literally not a fan.

But her mea culpa letter on Instagram felt like something from a Maoist re-education camp, in which she wrote:

“I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play “Missy” because her mom is Jewish and White- as am I. But “Missy” is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people. I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing “Missy,” I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people.”