Category "Creativity"

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.”

Cultural Revolution propaganda poster

 

Have we gotten to the point where an actress accepting a job a few years ago, in which the character is 50% her ethnicity, means she was complicit in “the erasure of Black people”?

I’m having a hard time with that one, even though it’s obvious now that such jobs need to go to Black people.

Couldn’t she have stepped down gracefully, doing the right thing in letting Black actors voice Black characters, without the massive and awkward public apology?

Especially because I watched an egregious act of racism on Top Chef All Stars this week, yet I found no mention of it anywhere in the media.

My wife and I were bingeing the series, right before the finale, and came upon an episode where the chefs were pitching concepts for a restaurant, with the top 2 chosen for the traditional “Restaurant Wars” episode.

One chef, Eric Adjepong, a Ghanian-American, pitched a restaurant called “Middle Passage,” which was in honor of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Food from Eric Adjepong’s website

 

The judges passed.

Another chef, white-guy Kevin Gillespie, from Georgia, pitched a concept called “Country Captain,” which promised “Plantation” food, and he WAS chosen.

Primarily because his main dish, the eponymous Country Captain, was the first American version of chicken curry, as the necessary spices were brought over in the 19th Century.

If you can believe it, no mention was made that the spice trade was interconnected with the slave trade, which brought SLAVES to those plantations.

WTF!

And it gets worse…

Eric Adjepong was actually the chef who was eliminated that week, and one reason, (beyond his food not being good enough,) was that the judges called his concept confused, because he wanted his restaurant to have both fine dining quality food and causal service.

They could not comprehend such an idea.

One judge, former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, from Chicago, actually said to him that it sounded like he didn’t want his service to be “uppity.”

UPPITY!

 

 

To recap: Top Chef supported a concept about Plantation food, with spices brought over along with the slave trade, and cut one of only two African-American contestants, while using the word “uppity” while chopping the Black guy, and rewarding a chef who has a restaurant literally called “Gunshow.”

(As in, the only places where Americans can buy guns without background checks.)

 

 

Say what you will about Jenny Slate, but I checked out “Big Mouth” this morning for a minute, to see if she had done the voice acting equivalent of “blackface,” but she had not.

(It was kind of a nerd voice.)

How does one group of actors self-excoriate, when the other act of racism isn’t even in the public consciousness?

Maybe because systemic racism is so systemic that most people don’t know or care that it’s there until mass protest movements form?

(And because legitimate, self-aware artists can sometimes get caught up in a wave of shame.)

Jenny Slate, and Nick Kroll, who created “Big Mouth,” are both Jewish-Americans, and “our” group has been the victim of hatred for Millennia. (Nick Kroll also issued a public apology.)

Frankly, I think it’s time all the rational, cool people unite against our common enemy, Donald J Trump, (and his maskless hordes,) and make sure to vote the asshole out, no matter what!

 

Part 2: The Good Stuff

 

I swear, today, my goal was to write about the amazing art I saw at the Rijksmuseum, back in Amsterdam in February.

I was lucky enough to get press access, in the only free hour I had, and was there for the brilliant, inspirational Caravaggio/Bernini exhibition.

As I’d learned about art in Rome, back in 1997, of course these two are among my favorite artists of all time.

Proper geniuses.

The best of the best.


 

Then, getting to roam through the Rembrandts and the Frans Hals paintings, and the Vermeers as well…

I saw so much great shit.

And I want to show it to you in a nice set of images.

 

But I also remember walking through Amsterdam, and overhearing a tour guide instructing his followers in a bit of the city’s history.

The reason all those great paintings exist is that the Dutch had the Western World’s first middle class, due to their Republic in the 17th Century, because of all their global raiding.

And they took part in the slave trade too!

They colonized like motherfuckers, from Indonesia to South America to my hometown of Holmdel, New Jersey.

The Dutch, these days, are the most progressive, cool, open-minded people out there.

But it’s mostly because their ancestors were a bunch of resource-and-people stealing assholes 400 years ago.

And most of the great art, through the Millenia, was made in service of money and power.

I’ve taught art history, and I’ll tell you, almost all the good old shit is basically religious and/or political propaganda.

The spoils of war are what we worship.

How do we reconcile that?

I’m not sure we can.

But if anyone starts trying the burn down the museums, and the paintings, I’ll pull out my martial arts and try to defend our collective history.

(Or at least, I tell myself I will.)

Because art is about creation, and it’s one of the few things we can hold up against centuries of destruction, and death, and feel good about.

Right?

Then again, if the biggest museums offered equal space, acclaim, and respect to non-Western traditions, maybe we’d have a less racist world?

Maybe if the museums, (at least in America,) which are supported by billionaires and oligarchs, were themselves less a part of the structural racism problem, we’d already be living in a better country?

Like I said, there are no easy answers.

But at least we can ask the right questions.

This Week in Photography: Make Art in Difficult Times

 

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t made photographs, as art, in more than two years.

(Well, until the other day, but that was as a favor to my wife, so it doesn’t count.)

I haven’t made art with a camera in more than two years, and those pictures were crap. The tail end of my Party City series, and none of the 2018 images made the final cut.

Which means, as an art photographer, I haven’t engaged my craft for the longest phase of my adult life.

I’ve made editorial images for you, here in the column, but as a conceptual, studio based artist, it’s not the same thing.

How do I reconcile this?

Well, the way I learned about art, (and the way I teach it,) is that all avenues of creative expression are equally valid. It was assumed that most, if not all artists, would have multiple outlets in their creative practice.

So the idea that one was inherently better than another, or more noble, was never ingrained in my mind.

That I made photographs for my first twenty years as an artist does not have to be relevant to what I’m doing now, or next.

In #2019, I made installations in a museum exhibition, and worked on a set of pencil drawings, based upon portrait jpegs I took from the internet.

That was way out of my comfort zone. And I made a book.

Now, in #2020, I’m leaning into this column, because it’s a stable foundation in an unstable world.

Yet the camera has not called to me.

But like I said, photography isn’t the only way to express ideas, it’s only one of many. (I recently surprised someone on FB by proclaiming her banana bread counted as art.)

I’ve been teaching a long time, so much so that there were certain crutches I leaned on, year in year out, when I taught at UNM-Taos for 11 years.

For teaching composition, for explaining the flow of visual information in a rectangle, I always used the same book: Hokusai and Hiroshige.

That’s right: I taught the crucial element of photography by deconstructing Japanese 19th Century woodblock prints.

Year in year out, this book delivered the goods, as it features Hokusai’s famed “Thirty Six Views of Mt Fuji,” and Hiroshige’s “Fifty Six Stations on the Tokaido Road.”

If we dated it, I suppose the camera was invented in a couple of spots in Europe, with some overlap to this time period, but on the ground, printmaking was the way visual information was recorded in 19th C Japan.

And its mass production allowed the images to be collected by regular people, much like the 17th C Dutch middle class spawned so many great paintings.

I wanted to share the book with you today, because the serene colors, all sorts of blue, and then the snow scenes, white on white, are a visual gift from the past.

Why do I love them so, beyond the color, and the constant change of perspective?

Beyond the curvilinear water, the slope of Mt Fuji, and the ochre contrasts to all that blue?

It’s because this book represents a place in time so deeply, with the clothing and the postures and the boats and the hats.

This is what we have of then.
As in so many other cases, the art becomes the history.

 

Which brings me back to #2020.
To now.

I may not be making art photographs, (other than the other day as a favor,) and maybe you’re not either.

Maybe you’re drawing, or painting, or bread baking or dancing or gardening or yodeling or playing French horn or practicing your French. (Bonjour, je n’aime pas le yodeling.)

Or maybe you are making photographs?

Maybe you’re pushing yourself?

Maybe you’re making your best work, or are about to? Maybe all the frustration you feel, the anger, the anxiety, is going to spring up as something dynamic and meaningful?

I’m asking, because last night, I saw some new work from my friend, and former student, Andy Richter, during an online critique I set up for the alumni and expected attendees of our Antidote Photo Retreat. (Andy was the 2019 Antidote Fellow, as he came out to run a morning Kundalini yoga program for us, along the acequia.)

During our group crit last summer, I pushed him to go beneath the surface.Β He was showing some aura portraits, with strong colors, were perhaps more style than substance.

As an artist, I thought he had more digging to do, and I told him so.

So that’s the context for understanding why I was so happy for Andy, seeing his new series, currently titled “Walking with Julien,” which received Minnesota public funding for an exhibition in Spring 2021.

All the images were taken on walks with his young son, around his diverse Northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, (he’s originally from MN,) and everyone on the Zoom call, including an important museum curator, was blown away by the work.

The portraits, in particular.

Andy confirmed that certain aspects of fatherhood were tough, as it constrained the freedom to which he was accustomed. (This is a guy who photographs hermits deep in caves in India.)

And now, even worse, like the rest of us, he was literally stuck at home. With his neighborhood as his unexpected muse.

He admitted, as many artists have before him, that the combination of inner necessity and logistical constraints has perhaps forced him to see more deeply.

Are these meditation walks?
Does it matter what we call them?

So I wanted to share the story, and some of the pictures, with you here today. And Andy was gracious enough to agree.

Some days, maybe some times every day, things might seem grim.

Certainly, I never thought I’d long for the insanity of #2019, but here we are.

Please remember, art is best at times like these. It helps your psyche, day to day, and it records the moment for the future.

Stay safe, and see you next week.

Trending – Making Sense Of People, Their Behavior, Needs, And Mind Set

- - Creativity

While visiting NYC for the expo I met Karen DSilva, a former founding partner at Spark Visual Research and current creative consultant. At the Sony party she was telling me about a talk she gave at ShootNYC on trending and how to harness the power of societal trends to get your photography to connect. Now, I tell a lot of people that making a connection to someone with your photography is a lot less linear than they think, but I’ll admit I was a little nonplussed at the buzz-y sounding idea behind trending. Well, her talk has spawned a workshop and considering her pedigree (creative depts at Photonica, Getty and Image Bank) I asked her to explain it further. After reading her explanation, I have to say, this sound pretty awesome for the right person:

We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with images (television, books, internet, newspapers, packaging, billboards…) so the million dollar question now becomes, how do you get your images to stick? The secret to creating an image that resonates is simple, your images need to connect with people. When an image connects, it is because your image holds meaning for the viewer. Maybe there is an emotional connection or your image provides inspiration, or possibly it makes them feel empowered. Decoding our society is all about understanding how it evolves and what makes people tick. How do we do this? Two words, understanding trends.

Trending is about making sense of people, their behavior, needs, and mind set. It is about the direction in which something is moving. When we experience a shift or change in the way we live as a community, that reaction is a trend being born. For the last few years, life quite frankly has been a little scary. War, terrorism, foreclosures, and unemployment, need I say more? As a society we push back by craving something safe, something comforting. What gives us a sense of security? Historically, safe + comforting + security = tradition (the ultimate comfort zone). In the marketplace, we refer to this trend as HERITAGE. Heritage is thick wool sweaters, tweed, beards, old fashion barbershops, curves, artisan food, suits, and smart looking hats. It’s old world quality and time honored tradition. Heritage gives us a sense of identity, timeless elegance, and a soulful spirit.

Now, going back to getting your images to stick. As a photographer, when you tap into a trend like Heritage, you’re adding relevance to your image. Of course, the next question becomes how does one apply heritage to your images? First of all, it’s a lot easier to recognize a trend and even discuss the effects of a trend than actually incorporating the trend into your work. In order for it to be meaningful, the trend needs to complement your aesthetic and take into consideration the stories within your work. A true connection is made when an image embraces the spirit of the trend, rather than just adding a trend wash. Mixing in the trend of Heritage into your work, can add a modern marketplace vernacular to your images. Bottom line, it’s that extra something. The old β€œI’ll know it when I see it” client answer to the eternal question β€œwhat are you looking for?”

So, on December 6th (with the support of APA), myself and 2 other trenders are hosting our first trending, brainstorming, workshop extravaganza. The aim is to download our photographer audience on the trends of Heritage, Transparency, and Cinematic. We’ll break up into small groups and walk through different stations designed to make you apply these trends to your work. This is going to be about thinking outside the box, collaborating together, being creative, and just plain having fun. Go here for more information:

http://www.karendsilvacreativeservices.com/events/

Michael Bierut – I Don’t Consider Myself Creative

- - Creativity

Michael Bierut is a graphic designer and partner at Pentagram. He worked on the redesign of The Atlantic.

Here’s a great video where he talks about his creative process that I found on The Design Observer. I thought this quote was particularly poignant:

“I don’t consider myself creative. I don’t have ideas that I want to express that I make up myself. I can’t think of any personal projects that I’ve done. I just don’t work that way. The reason I became a designer is I wanted people to come to me with problems I can solve. I know how to do that, I can be creative then. I feel like I’m a doctor and I can’t just practice medicine on myself, so I need patients who are sick, the sicker the better in fact.”

Your thoughts absolutely determine your reality

- - Creativity

I always say if someone from the future travels back in time to tell you that your lifelong dream will fail 100%, and you still go for it anyway, it will work.

…in my experience, taking the same path someone else did results in getting close but never where you want to end up. Ignoring those paths and making up your own route leads you to where you really belong, wherever that may be.

The David Horvath Edition – SUBvertMagazine.com
via, Seth.