This Week in Photography: The Chicago Beatdown

 

 

 

 

I love Chicago.

Of the American cities I know well, Chicago might be my favorite.

(Though San Diego and New Orleans are in the conversation.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago offers everything, at a world-class level: beaches, architecture, art, food, music and diversity, in a walkable, clean, urban megalopolis. I’ve said it before, but the buildings are so gorgeous, it’s like walking around a massive, public art installation.

 

 

 

 

That Chicago has always been a little-brother city means it’s had to work extra-hard to distinguish itself.

New visitors are surprised by how big it is, how clean, and how picturesque is the setting, with the ocean-blue lake and serpentine green river.

 

Bikers at the Lake
Jet-skiers on the river

 

The Chicagoans are nice, hard-working, and humble as the day is long. So when I visited last week, (just got home Sunday,) I was expecting a tight-gripped, large-person, bear hug, as Chicago always treats me well.

This was my 7th visit since 2015, and I’ve spent well over a month in the city since.

Honestly, Chicago loves me.

I have great friends, always talk to strangers, eat well, and never have drama.

This time, however, I got a little cocky, (acted too big for my britches,) so I got a proper Chicago-style beatdown.

(Ouch.)

What happened?

Let’s dive in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While my trip was efficient, as I said, it left little time for stopping to buy food.

And as soon as I got to the 21C Museum Hotel, for the Filter Photo Festival, the rest of the reviewers were heading out the door to the welcome party.

(So that added time pressure.)

Trader Joe’s was literally across the street, and I’ve already told you about my room-booze technique, which saves a lot of money at the bar.

Bourbon sounded like the perfect thing to put some pep in my step, so I bought a bottle of Bulleit, but was too tired to think about searching for food, (and too intimidated to roam the TJ aisles.)  So I showered, threw back a few glasses of whiskey, and was out the door for the 1+ mile walk North.

Do I know better than to drink on an empty stomach?

Of course I do!

Then, I didn’t dig the food when I got there, and as I’d jumpstarted my evening with the bourbon, and switched to white wine at the party, I was quickly too inebriated to make good decisions.

So not eating, and mixing drinks.

Two bad calls.

At the bar afterwards, my friend Doug offered me a pint of Guinness, and then someone else gave me a light brown beer.

We stepped outside to smoke a couple of times.

 

At the bar. Don’t entirely remember taking the photo.

 

By midnight, walking home with Caitlin and Grace, I’d put whiskey, white wine, black beer, reefer, and brown beer into an empty stomach.

Because I was so tired from the travel day, and hadn’t bought any food at Trader Joe’s, there was also no late night grub in the room.

(Nor leftovers, as I hadn’t had time for takeout.)

And we weren’t in a part of town where there were restaurants open.

That was mistake 3, adding nothing to the sad stomach, after the fact, to soak up the booze.

Oh man, was it going to be a nasty morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier in the week I’d bragged on a group text, arrogantly saying I never get hangovers.

That I had the perfect remedy, and really, getting too drunk was for suckers.

(I’m no sucker.)

Unfortunately, I got cocky in Chicago, and the city doesn’t cotton to hubris.

No sir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To say I threw up four times before 8:30am is to be factually accurate, but contextually mild.

I wanted to die. I might have cried.

(Hard to be sure.)

I definitely called my wife, begging for empathy, and genuinely wondered if I might have caught a bug in the airports? At first, so sure of my own invulnerability, I couldn’t imagine my pain was self-inflicted.

I’m a dude who knows how to handle himself. It’s a part of my identity.

Yet there I was, curled in a fetal position in the shower, begging my poor body, which I’d just abused, to find enough energy to review 14 portfolios that day.

(Cut to the chase, I did it.)

I’m told I looked like death, with bloodshot eyes, raccoon-bags beneath them, and ashen, waxy skin.

By afternoon I’d rebounded, and by evening, I began my 3-types-of-pizza-in-3-days foray, which we’ll talk about next.

But the big moral of the story was explained to me a few times over the next few days.

If you’re going to be too full of yourself, stay out of Chicago.

If, however, you make an ass of yourself, but then learn your lesson, take your humbling like a pro, and grow from the occasion?

After the beatdown, Chicago picks you up, dusts you off, and gives you a hug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, the pizza.

My friend Louie Palu has railed against Deep Dish as long as I’ve known him, claiming it’s not pizza.

Every. Single. Chicago. Local. I know insists they never eat Deep Dish.

That it’s for tourists.

By now, I’ve tried Pizanos, (good,) Giordano’s, (OK,) and Lou Malnati’s, (very good,) but I’d never tried the OG Deep Dish spots in Chicago: Pizzerias Uno and Due.

They’re a block away from each other, and apparently begat the trend, back in the day.

They’d been recommended to me before, so I was down to try it, but truth is, it was the first food I was going to eat since I was sick, and as Pizzeria Due was on the corner of my block, that’s as far as I was going to order it.

 

 

The place reeked of character, and when I saw a pizza with spinach and broccoli on the menu, I was sold, because I needed a little nutrition to jumpstart my system.

Did I assume I’d be the only person ordering that pizza that night?

Yes.
Yes I did.

So when I got the pizza home, and after I took the picture, I was a little surprised not to see much green inside.

 

 

Still, I thought, the veggies have to be in there.

I cut into a slice, (which looked quite good,) and wouldn’t you know it, I bit into a piece of sausage, but no veggies.

Sausage!
Again!

(For those of you who don’t remember, last year, at Tempo Cafe, they gave me sausage in my eggs, rather than green veggies, in the most Chicago of all flexes, and I ate it, b/c sending it back would have taken forever.)

This time, though it tasted good, I didn’t feel I had an option.

My hung-over body was begging for green vegetables, (just like in Jersey,) so I called Due, the woman apologized and said my pizza was there waiting. I went down the elevator, made the quick walk, and came home with a veggie pizza.

Which was sad, I’m sorry to say, and definitely not as good as the pizza she made me return.

(Seriously, once I’d eaten from it, maybe let me keep it? What else are you going to do with it? It wasn’t my mistake. The sticker on the sausage pizza said spinnocoli.)

As to the pizza, the cornmeal crust was too-thick, and flavorless. The pizza had too little cheese, and the sauce was weak.

Overall, just a bad pizza experience.

(Shame on you, Due!)

Pizzeria Due
1 star out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, though, I had pizza at Eataly, the Italian food mega-emporium chain that was started by the (since-culturally-defenestrated) superstar chef Mario Batali, and his partners, the Bastianich family.

 

Inside Eataly

 

I’d done the walk-through the day before, and found it to be a well-stocked joint, but a bit confusing to figure out.

On my return visit, having done the proper scope, I knew just where to go: La Pizza & La Pasta.

I ate with a few friends and colleagues, and was clear that I’d only share my pizza once I was done with it, as I was terrified of getting stuck with an unfavorable pizza experience, given the nightmare that was Due.

(Good thing too, when anchovies and mushrooms were suggested as possible toppings. Gross!)

We began with some arugula and parmesan salads that hit just right.

 

 

The pizza was in the Neapolitan style, and I got an eggplant parmesan pie, which was sublime.

The pizza had char, for looks, a firm-yet-chewy, flavorful crust. There was plenty of melty, high-end mozzarella cheese. Overall, the perfect balance of texture and taste.

 

 

The eggplant was not deep-fried, and offered a nice melt-in-your-mouth component.

Frankly, it was pizza bliss.

 

 

Eataly La Pizza & La Pasta
4 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last, but not least, I returned to Eataly to buy some Italian cookies for my wife, on Saturday, right before I needed to walk 30 minutes South to the Columbia College Student Center, where the Filter portfolio walk would be held.

(Plus, I needed a snack.)

After giving the store a quick once-over, I spotted a gorgeous $6 hunk of Pizza Margherita, in their Pizza Alla Pala station.

 

 

It’s where they attempt to recreate Roman style, but fail.

Here, there are pre-cut slices of gourmet, rectangular pizza.

In Rome, you walk up, tell them how much you want, and they cut you a rectangular hunk.

(Not the same thing.)

Then, after I waited 7 minutes, I got a little pushback from the pizza worker, just for choosing the piece I wanted.

(“Oh,” she said, “you want the REALLY cheesy one?”)

There was a $14 slice of burrata and fresh tomato pie, that included a full ball of burrata, which looked like art, and would likely have been amazing.

(But my stomach didn’t want to eat a literal ball of cheese.)

When I got back to the hotel with my takeout slice, (one block away,) and opened it up, my heart sank.

The Eataly-pizza-attendant has smushed some wax paper down into the slice, and nearly all the cheese had come up onto the paper.

She ruined it!

Cardinal sin.

I spent a few minutes scraping the cheese, which helped a little, before I ate it in a dejected condition.

And I was not impressed.

The sauce was zingy, at least, and the crust was thick and crunchy, with a bit of olive oil to it, so I could only wonder what might have been?

 

 

Eataly Pizza Alla Pala
2 stars out of four

 

See you next week!

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Jersey Pride

 

 

 

 

Friday night came together perfectly.

(And I didn’t have to plan a thing.)

That was the theme of my trip to New Jersey last week: easy breezy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I drove around a lot, made all the right human and logistical connections, and while the threat of drama is there with all travel these days, for me, for nearly a week, it was all good.

That’s the first point to make.

If you recall, when I traveled in 2021, back to Jersey in May and then to Chicago in October, I reported that people were on edge, ready to blow, and the tension was palpable.

It was no fun at all.

But I’m thrilled to share that in September 2022, it’s gone.

In the security lines, in the airport terminals, on the planes, I noticed nothing but polite, chill behavior.

(Major, major difference.)

Such good news that civility has been restored!

When I mentioned drama, it’s just all these stories of air-travel havoc, with delays and missed/cancelled flights.

I did have one 3 hour delay, but thankfully it didn’t mess with my schedule.

 

 

 

 

 

It was all smooth that Friday, and my cousins invited me to a big-time High School football game, with a local rivalry, major schools, big plot lines, you name it.

My cousin Stefanie had ordered me a ticket, and sent the .pdf to my phone, plus provided directions to the field, so really, all I had to do was show up.

Watchung Hills Regional High School is coached by Rich Seubert, who won a Super Bowl ring as a starting offensive lineman for the NY Giants.

That makes him as close to local royalty as you’re going to get.

(One step below Bruce Springsteen, obviously.)

His team was at home, playing their rivals from Westfield.

When I got there a few minutes late, (needed to download the day’s photo files onto my iPad in the rental car,) Westfield was already up 7-0.

 

View from the home stands

 

As to my family involvement, my cousin’s daughter was cheerleading, her son was on the Freshman team, and my other cousin’s step-daughter was in the marching band, playing clarinet.

It was a competitive game, with a lot of turnovers and penalties, and the home crowd, wearing white, was super-loud.

The whole environment felt like being in a movie, replete with an obnoxious, annoying play-by-play announcer, who made me long for noise-cancelling headphones.

(The dude was screaming into the mic the whole game. Enough already, bro.)

The field was tucked into a forest, because everything in New Jersey is tucked into a forest.

But when I looked more carefully, my cousin acknowledged in one direction, the massive Highway 78 was right behind the stand of trees.

(Such a trippy setting.)

 

 

At one point, I noticed one player who was just bigger, and more solidly built than the rest.

He stood out, like a football aura.

My cousin’s friend, Lydia, who was involved with the team, told me it was Rich Seubert’s older son, Hunter, the center, who was destined for major college ball and the NFL.

The kid had a presence.

(Check out these highlights, and you’ll see what I mean. Hunter Seubert is 6′ 260 lbs, and plays with a nasty streak.)

Anyway, Watchung Hills came back and took control, and was winning 17-7 when I left with a few minutes on the clock, to beat the crowds, and the parking-lot-bedlam.

(Pro tip: If you’re not invested in the outcome of the game, time your exit.)

 

 

 

 

 

The next night, we stayed in at my cousin Jordan’s, drinking box wine, taking dog walks, watching Ohio State-Notre Dame, and eventually having a big Jersey Chinese feast.

It was almost a sushi night, but I delicately engineered a pivot, and lots of grub from Chengdu 1 Palace arrived.

The highs were high, and the lows were average, but overall I was very impressed.

As to the specifics:

The pork lo mein was greasy, as were the egg rolls.

The General Tsao’s Chicken, which was reputed to be so good that two portions were ordered, was probably the best I’ve had.

A 10 out of 10 dish.

The boneless spare ribs were also perfection, and some weird, green, veggie dumplings ended up being amazing, eaten cold later in the evening. (Yes, I had the munchies. Don’t judge.)

 

Chengdu 1 Palace
Green Brook, NJ
3 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, after the pool party debauchery at my Aunt and Uncle’s place, I woke up early.

Before anyone, before 7am, and I headed out to do laps around the neighborhood.

(Got to get those steps in, to help digest the previous evening’s beer, rose wine, red wine, weed, vape, mini hot dogs in puff pastry, mac and cheese, shrimp scampi, spinach ravioli, caprese salad with high end mozzarella di buffala, and Italian cookies.)

Two miles of walking before 8, just me and the neighborhood deer, was a must, as was blowing off breakfast.

I game-planned to hit the beach, asking my Aunt, (a Jersey Shore girl, and known perfectionist,) where she would go?

She said Avon.

But I chose Sea Bright, the closest beach to my childhood home.

Growing up, we hung out from Sandy Hook to Long Branch, which are the northern-most coastal beaches.

Sandy Hook and Sea Bright are where the NYC shipping channel harbor opens up, so the water is not nearly as clean.

As I got in the car, though, I called my other cousin, (on the Blaustein side,) as he lives 4 long-blocks from the beach in Belmar.

It was only five minutes extra in the car from where I was staying, and he was around, so I turned the car and changed the plan.

Luckily, Belmar is further South from NYC, so the water is clean and clear.

 

 

(Not blue, though, as it’s the Atlantic.)

Jeff and I chilled out on the 10th Avenue beach, in fold-up-chairs, taking the sun, and I swam twice.

The water was gorgeous and refreshing, and I’d been waiting for that moment for three years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it was Monday, Labor Day, and the direct sun was intermittent, the beach had plenty of people, but was far from mobbed.

 

10th St Beach, Belmar, looking North

 

We walked up to the street and got pizza at J’s, and the slices were massive.

The young woman behind the counter was pretty, and had what sounded like a cool French accent, but by Monday I was punch-drunk, so I couldn’t be sure.

She confirmed she was from Strasbourg, and I dropped a few words of French to be polite.

Which was a huge mistake.

I got distracted, and the slices were just so big, ($7/piece with toppings,) so I did my usual thing of asking her not to warm them up in the oven, which kills the flavor.

(Room-temperature-to-warm is much better than reheated.)

She said they were warm, but trust me, they were not warm. So I spent $15 on cold, chalky pizza, but having skipped breakfast, I ate them anyway.

As to the area itself, North Belmar, (a half mile away from Avon, my Aunt’s preferred spot,) is not only pretty, chill and friendly, but it’s steeped in Jersey history.

My cousin lived in Freehold for decades, where Bruce Springsteen was from, and confirmed that part of Belmar was the closest spot he could reach.

(Due East.)

It’s where Bruce had come, as a youth, before he got into the neighboring Asbury Park scene.

My cousin lives on 10th Avenue, near E Street.

The tour groups show up now, he told me, because the E Street Band, and “10th Avenue Freezeout,” are part of the Legend of Bruce.

So there you have it.

 

J’s Pizza
Belmar, NJ
2 out of 4 stars

Belmar Beach
4 out of 4 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

Later on Monday, I had a precious evening to myself, and a good rental car.

After visiting briefly with my friend Mandi, in her creepy/lovely, ghost-ridden, 1750 farmhouse, it was time to make the most of the luxury.

 

Me and Mandi, outside her house, built 1750

 

Given how much I love the Jersey Shore, I used that free time to go back to the beach again for a stroll.

Sea Bright is the first beach town facing East on the open ocean, (instead of North, along the Bay,) and I used to work in restaurants there when I was in college.

Much of it was leveled by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, so the town beach’s infrastructure was very new, which was a trip.

The sky was gray, after 6pm, and I walked for 15 minutes or so.

Then I approached the ocean.

There was a line of super-tanker ships, launching East towards Europe, and I was glad I’d gone to Belmar to swim earlier.

I took this video for you, as it’s clear how different the ocean vibe is from the Big Blue Pacific I showed you, in San Diego, earlier this year.

 

 

 

It feels like you’re looking across the pond towards Ireland, that rainy green Isle, rather than Asia, a half a world away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I began the column by saying everything went smoothly last week.

Mostly true.

But I did make one additional mistake.

I never should have eaten both of those mega-slices of cold pizza in Belmar.

Such a gut-bomb.

By evening, in Sea Bright, all I wanted was a salad.

But you can’t eat salad on your last night in Jersey, can you?

After Sea Bright, I drove north to Long Branch, feeling the ocean breeze through the open car window, and then doubled back through Sea Bright, Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Red Bank, and finally Middletown.

Rt 35 was my jam, growing up, the perfect North-South highway, stuffed with forest trees and endless strip malls.

All that good food, and local businesses.

Accountants.

Pool Supplies!

You name it.

I’d settled on going to Crown Palace, (which I’ve featured here before,) a brilliant local Chinese restaurant, because at least I could get string beans and broccoli with garlic sauce.

That was my big plan, to ask them to mix both veggies together.

Green vegetables!

Almost as good as a salad.

But my even bigger plan was to pee as soon as I got in the door.

(I really had to go.)

I was not encouraged when I pulled in and there were no cars, but still, I tried the door.

Locked!

Closed Monday.

There are trees everywhere, as I keep telling you, and in New Mexico, I’d pee behind a tree, no problem.

I walked around to the side parking lot, trying to find a spot to do just that.

Do they have cameras, I wondered?

Is anyone going to come out and harass me?

I saw the edge of the parking lot ahead, and thought I might be in the clear.

Lots of trees.

But then I spotted children’s playground equipment behind the business next door.

A day care center?

Abort!
Abort!

I held my pee, and that was that.

(No use going to jail for indecent exposure. Man up and hold the pee.)

What to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that area like the back of my hand, and headed further up the highway to one of the local pizzerias from when I was a kid.

But I didn’t want pizza.

Or a chicken parm sub.

My insides were sad, from all the heavy food.

I wanted a salad.

Fresh vegetables!

And wouldn’t you know it, but I drove by Simply Greek, in the Commons at Holmdel, on my way to Villa Pizza.

It was on the other side of the highway, and had been there for years, so I took the jug handle just up the road, and went back.

(Salad it would be.)

I walked around the parking lot while they made the food, and the dark skies against the electric light was a visual feast.

The staff at Simply Greek were super-nice, and the prices were more-than-fair, by inflationary standards.

So I liked the joint immediately.

I kid you not, the falafel sandwich and a small greek salad, with extra tzatziki, weighed about 5 lbs, and cost $25.

It was easily the best food I had all week.

The summer Jersey tomatoes wanted to sing me a song, they were so happy, and the feta cheese was better than anything that exists in New Mexico.

Magnificent!

 

 

Simply Greek
Holmdel, NJ
4 out of 4 stars

 

 

 

So there you have it.

My first travel piece in ages.

See you next week!

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The End

 

 

 

 

This weekly column is coming to an end.

 

 

JB, 9:15 am MST, 08.26.22

 

 

 

 

I’ve sat on the news for a while, waiting for the right time to drop it.

(And today is the day.)

I should say, straight off, that I won’t be going away entirely.

You’ll still get to read my rambling, discursive musings every other week, here at APE.

But on October 7th, 11 years after I began writing for you each Friday, the streak will be snapped.

The photo industry is not remotely what it was, when I began the column in 2011, and change is a healthy and natural part of life. (Especially as this blog is supported by neither subscription fees nor ads.)

It is what it is, but I must admit, after living under the yoke of a weekly deadline for this long, I’m excited to see what it’s like without the structure.

So after today, only five (weekly) columns left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It all began when I was on the hustle, during The Great Recession.

In the late spring of 2010, Rob Haggart put out a call for images of the cataclysmic economy on APE, (a colleague was looking for photos for a story,) so I sent him a project I had.

 

Gas station grocery shelf, Antonito, CO, 2009

 

I was psyched Rob replied, liking the pics, so I told him I was about to attend two big photo festivals, back to back, and as a burgeoning blogger, perhaps I could report on them from the field for APE?

He agreed to publish my articles, and liked the work, so he then offered to pay my expenses on a trip to NYC, to cover the PDN Photo Plus Expo for the blog.

(As you might image, I was blown away, and jumped at the chance.)

A guy I knew on Twitter, Richard Bram, told me he’d be there too, so we agreed to meet up in the cavernous Jacob Javits Center on the West side of Manhattan.

We connected, and I found Richard charming, knowledgable, agreeable, and just fun and easy to be around.

In the end, I mentioned Richard in the article, and so began a long and fruitful friendship.

He’s been featured in more articles than anyone else, as off the top of my head, I recall a festival in Houston, museum visits in Brooklyn and London, eating in a little Ramen shop in the East Village, and a fish and chips joint on the Thames in 2019.

 

Fish and Chips, Limehouse, London, 2019

 

And wouldn’t you know it, but for the first time ever, Richard came to visit last Friday, and stayed the night here at our place.

The timing was perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be in New Jersey next week for my first major photo/writing gig for a big-time, international publication.

(I can’t share details yet.)

As such, I’ve spent weeks checking my gear, ordering new equipment, and building a battle plan to be the mobile, nimble, 21st Century digital journalist on the go.

So of course Richard and I would end up testing equipment, talking endlessly about the intricacies of fill flash, and geeking out as hard as we could.

Richard admitted he’d been in the theater growing up, with parents who acted in local community productions.

He also has a distinguished face, and knows how to use it.

Therefore, Richard modeled while I switched cameras and lenses, tested out my lighting kits, and did a deep dive into a different type of photography.

(Most of the time, I think myself more artist than photographer, but I’ve shot my share of weddings, headshots, passport photos, graduation pics, etc.)

Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Richard was there with me at the beginning, in 2010, and was here at the end too, in 2022.

{Ed note: To reiterate, this is the end of an era, not my time here as a writer. You’ll still get me 2x a month.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As gifts, Richard brought a lovely woodblock print he’d made in Oaxaca this winter, and a ‘zine that came out last year.

 

 

Normally, I look at submissions in the order they arrive, but have made exceptions over the years, (including with Nancy Baron’s ‘zine recently,) so we’re going to check it out, but keep it brief.

(Since I dropped some big news on you at the outset, we’ll go short and summery today.)

The ‘zine is called “The Red Cube,” was was published in 2021 by Bump Books.

It features many looks at Isamu Noguchi’s classic sculpture in Lower Manhattan, which was a block away from where Richard and his wife lived during their New York years. (In between stints in London, but in case it’s not clear, Richard is American.)

The ‘zine, too, (with that big red cube in the background,) spans an era, between 2011-2020.

There’s not much to say about this that the photos below won’t show.

It’s a series of street photographs in the Financial District of NYC, and feels like a love letter to the city, now that he’s moved on.

 

 

 

 

 

New York has been featured more times in this column than any other locale.

I’ve covered countless NYC gallery and museum exhibitions over the years, hit the High Line, eaten at the cronut shop, dodged snowflakes the week before Superstorm Sandy, gorged on pizza, and done a 6 year stint at the NYT, all during the time of this weekly column.

 

Me and Jessie on the High Line, 2018

 

I had a daughter, got two dogs, built a career, saved my wife from the ravages of clinical depression, made countless friends, lost some too, was a college Art Department Chair, traveled the US, blogged for The New Yorker, and learned more about the world, my craft, my community, and myself, than I ever could have imagined.

So I hope you enjoy this last 6-week run, (including today,) before I retire the weekly-columnist-mantle.

I appreciate all the time and energy you’ve given us over the years, and the opportunity Rob has provided.

Hope all is well, and catch you next week!

 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Hitting the Beach

 

 

“There is something deeply Universal about this human instinct to rest and rejuvenate by the sea.”

Jonathan Blaustein, January 5, 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve never quoted myself to open the column.

(That’s a new one, for sure.)

But there’s a reason, I promise, and we’ll get to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The other day, my daughter asked what I used to do in Summer, when I was her age?

I told her my folks sent my brother and me to sleep-away-camp, beginning when we were 6 and 8 respectively.

We’d go off to rural Pennsylvania, (or later Upstate New York,) for two months at a time, over an 8 year period.

 

JB at Pine Forest Camp, circa 1985. (Can you tell which one is me?)

 

She was surprised, as that is wildly out of her life experience, growing up here in Northern New Mexico.

But, I assured her, though we weren’t packing her off like that, it was pretty common among suburban, Jersey Jewish kids, back in the day.

Before and after we left for camp, though, on nice days we went to the beach.

Down the Shore.

(Jersey in the 80’s was like living in a John Hughes’ film.)

 

Image courtesy of Sebastian Galaviz/ Spotify

 

It was pretty rad, I must say.

In fact, given it’s June 23rd, (as I’m writing,) there’s a good chance I would have been at the beach on this exact date, 40 years ago.

Damn!

I miss it.

Living in the mountains, the nearest, large body of water is 700 miles away, and that’s the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico in Texas, the Pacific Ocean in SoCal, and the Great Lakes, all are nearly 1000 miles from here.

(It’s enough to make a Jersey-Shore-boy heartsick.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But wouldn’t you know it?

I had a vicarious trip to the sea in a photo-book today.

(We’ll get there in a minute.)

After looking at the book, and ruminating on that urge to be near the ocean, I laid down on a rug in the living room, imagining the waves crashing and cresting.

Back in Jersey, on the Atlantic Ocean, there’s a particular smell to the water.

(Like sweetly rotting clams.)

I’d love to have that odor in my nose right now.

But that’s 2000 miles away.

(At least California is closer.)

So I started thinking of the big, blue waves of the Pacific.

“Wait a second,” I thought.

I have a solution to this.

We just need to get digital!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grabbed my phone, and ran to a closet.

Finger-scrolling furiously, I found a video I made on the beach in San Diego, nearly six months ago, and it was as if past-me were speaking to current-me.

(Some legit, time-travel-type shit.)

Check it out.

 

 

OK, I know most of you don’t watch the videos.

Fine.

But context matters, such that (except for the embarrassing fingers-on-the-lens moment,) I was strolling along the oceanfront, narrating for you guys, (and my current-self,) how nice it is to relax by the ocean when you can.

(It’s where the column-opening-quote came from.)

Standing in the closet, remembering how nice the sounds and breezes were, I felt the heartsickness subsiding.

Then I found a video of my last look at the Pacific, seconds before we turned away, to head back East across the Great American West.

It’s so lovely, that one perfect moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, enough of the waxing philosophical.

(I saw a photo-book that put me on this rant. It wasn’t planned.)

My book stack is big, as I’ve said, so I reached in and pulled out a box from Summer 2021, published in 2020, so it’s not exactly ripped from the headlines.

Surely, I had no idea what would be inside.

I found the attention-grabbing “Aquas De Ouro,” from Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, published by Radius Books in Santa Fe.

Straight up, Radius is known for craftsmanship and design, and I mean this cover!

Shimmering Gold!

I don’t speak Portuguese, but as I know some Spanish, Italian and French, I guessed the title meant Waters of Gold, and the coastline in the graphic made me think of Rio de Janeiro, though I’ve never been.

Sure enough, that’s what the book’s about, as it seems the artist was born there, spent a chunk of her life in England, and then returned to make these photos.

(I’m not clear if it was a part-time, or full-time return to make the work in the book.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter.

I write all the time that books are experiences, and this one actually felt like that was the main point.

Creating a real, lived-in experience for the viewer.

All those close-ups!

The movement, in and out of the crowds.

In and out of the water.

I was re-watching “Friday Night Lights” recently, and after looking over my shoulder, my wife said she’d forgotten how the many jump-cuts, and constant change of camera-angle coverage, made her feel like she really was in that small, West Texas town.

That’s what this book did for me.

It brought me to Ipanema Beach for a few minutes.

(Which is pretty cool.)

The print quality is super-high, as I’d expect from Radius, and frankly, I bought some weed in Santa Fe recently that got me super-high, so shout out to the quality that city’s turning out!

Big Ups to Santa Fe!

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the book, though.

The photos are dynamic, as I said, and there are a lot of them.

Probably, if I’d been editing, I’d have chopped it just a tad.

But text bits, in Portuguese and English, are sprinkled throughout, on different paper stock, so that does keep the narrative moving, and alleviates any potential viewer boredom.

(Especially as none of the text is overly-long.)

In keeping with my shorter, breezier, Summer style… this is a very well-made book.

I enjoyed my time with it, both for the art itself, and the fact it sent me back to my own digital archive, to re-live memories of the sea, from past sunny days.

(As I can’t get quite get there at the moment.)

Hope you’re enjoying your Summer so far.

See you next week!

 

To purchase “Aguas De Ouro,” click here 

 

 

 

If you’d like to submit a book for potential review, please email me at jonathanblaustein@gmail.com. We are particularly interested in books by artists of color, and female photographers, so we may maintain a balanced program. And please be advised, we currently have a significant backlog of books for review. 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Revisiting Rambo

 

 

I re-watched Rambo yesterday.

(Technically, it’s called “First Blood,” from 1982, but once it became a hit, everyone just called it Rambo.)

 

 

 

 

 

My buddy Louie made the suggestion, as he swore it was a great film.

I was 8 when it came out, and Sylvester Stallone, as Rambo, became a cultural icon.

These days, it’s hard for youngins to relate to how big a deal someone/something could be, if it got caught in the eye of the monoculture.

ET, Rambo, Top Gun, The Terminator.

 

Courtesy of Terminator Wiki

 

They defined the 80’s, much as Charlie’s Angles, Star Wars, and Archie Bunker repped the 70’s in the Zeitgeist.

I remember Rambo as a roid-head, basically, using his massive muscles as a metaphor for American dominance.

But this movie is SO not that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 7th grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Ferraro, who was the cool guy everyone loved.

He had a “cool” car, which I think was a Camaro, but I’m sure some of my classmates could correct me.

And he was totally into Springsteen. (Again, this was Jersey in the 80’s.)

One day, he broke down “Born in the USA” for us, and explained it had been misappropriated by Reagan, and politicians like him, who used the song un-ironically at their rallies.

 

Courtesy of Billboard.com

 

I say un-ironcally, as the song is actually about a Vietnam Vet who comes back to his small-town factory life, and has a shit time of things.

It’s not a happy song, nor a traditionally patriotic one.

But the politicians only heard the chorus, and no one else was paying attention, I suppose.

Same thing with Rambo.

I mean, the guy was a hippie, for God’s sake!

A long-hair!

This being the 80’s, Stallone had a fluffy, feathery version of long hair, but still, we get the picture.

Wearing an old army jacket with an American flag on the lapel, he catches the attention of a smug, conservative, bigoted Sheriff, (played by 80’s stalwart Brian Dennehy,) while walking along the highway.

 

 

I’m not sure if the setting is ever disclosed, but as they’re obviously in massive, Western mountains, and at one point, we learn Portland is south, I’d say they’re in Washington.

Rambo, of course, is White, but as a hippie, he represents “The Other,” and the Sheriff literally runs him out of town on sight.

He’s done nothing wrong.

He’s just walking-while-hippie, which counts as vagrancy.

And though in the 21st Century, we all say “Thank you for your service,” every time we see a uniform, back then, Vietnam vets were treated poorly, and became one of the first populations of long-term unhoused Americans.

So that’s the premise.

Then, Johnny Rambo ends up hunting the bigoted cops up in the mountains, after they beat and attempt to torture him, and he escapes from jail. (With a pre-NYPD-Blue David Caruso playing the only skeptical cop; the one who thought it was dumb to pick a fight with a former Green Beret.)

Stallone is ripped, for sure, but not massive, so whatever they did to blow him up into a body-builder for the sequels, it came later.

 

 

He’s no bigger than when he played Rocky Balboa, and does a great job in this one too. (His early acting work is criminally underrated.)

Like Rocky, Rambo was an underdog.

But he was fighting against “The Man,” and then in sequels becomes a mass culture symbol for institutional American might.

Often, when symbols are powerful enough, people don’t even know they’re being indoctrinated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was thinking about that, preparing the column in my mind, and went searching in my Photos for some images I want to write about today.

(But not yet.)

Instead, I found a group of pictures I shot in a Santa Fe government building back in February.

The family and I were on a rare downtown walk, and stopped in to use the restroom.

It must have been the Veterans Affairs department, where we discovered a series of photographic installations.

One drew my attention immediately, as I saw grids of dead soldiers from Vietnam.

 

 

From a distance, as a grid, we just notice the volume of people, and outlines of faces.

As soon as I saw it this morning, I flashed to the grid of images of dead children in Uvalde.

 

Courtesy of The Texas Tribune

 

But then I saw the close-up images of the soldiers, (from when I approached the installation,) and immediately you notice the individuals, and realize how many of the men who perished from here were Hispanic and Native American.

Ancient cultures, both of them, and so specific to New Mexico, but bigots would just see a wall of brown faces.

 

 

Like the people killed in that El Paso Walmart a few years ago.

Nasty business, this racism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s get to the real inspiration for this column, shall we?

(Rambo came later.)

The other day, driving my daughter back from her school’s summer camp, she told me she’d changed her mind, and decided she was offended by the kid who’d called her a “Crazy Jew” a month ago.

At first, it hadn’t bothered her, but now it did, so she was going to tell on him.

She said there’d been a discussion in camp that day, as she described anti-Semitism to her friends.

They disagreed with her, and didn’t think there should be a separate word for hating Jews.

It was just racism, they said.

All one big hatred.

I told Amelie that while there was hatred specific to Jews, (and hence a particular word for it,) I actually liked what her friends had to say.

Hatred over skin color, country of origin, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual preference, it’s all the same thing.

And it’s all awful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It must have been that conversation, because when I went on a walk yesterday, my mind flashed to some art I saw in San Francisco, and it really stuck in my craw.

I’m sure it was a part of my overall-negative-reaction to the city, and while I’m bored of piling on, it happened.

So why not report on it?

The story is, I visited the San Francisco Art Institute when I was in SF in March, and the famed, historically important art school has fallen on hard times.

(It nearly went out of business, and was operating a skeleton program with a skeleton staff, when I was in town.)

Again, I don’t want to add to their woes, but I’d been told there was a famous Diego Rivera mural there, and should check it out.

So I did.

Three times, I had the chance to pop in, and have the gallery to myself.

I was not amused.

The mural, which as with all Rivera work looks great, is an obvious critique of Capitalism, by the famously Communist, Mexican painter.

It shows the means of production, and I later learned it’s called “The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City.” 

At the literal heart of the story, the bi-laterally symmetrical, center of his composition, is a gross, stereotypical depiction of a Jewish businessman.

“Oh shit,” I thought, when I first saw it. “Now I have to write about anti-Semitic art again. What a bummer.”

And here I am, three months later, doing just that.

 

 

 

 

 

The hooked nose.
The beady, bulging eyes.
The bowler hat and round glasses.
The super-shiny suit.

He’s in the middle of the cabal, this Jew.

 

 

The other “White” guys could be from anywhere.

But not the one in the heart of it all.

(Symbolically.)

The rodent-like, dark-hair/dark-eye Jew, smaller than the other two, with a flashy, pin-striped, double-breasted suit.

Man, it made me mad.

Because as I said earlier, powerful visual symbols often subvert the conscious mind.

They propagate hatred, over generations.

What a crock of shit.

See you next week.

 

 

 

(Editor’s note: While doing some background research, I learned Diego Rivera had some Jewish ancestry, which does not absolve him of exploiting this nasty trope. Furthermore, Google turned up an English kerfuffle ten years ago, where a muralist got in trouble in London, for the same Jewish stereotypes, and was then compared to Rivera, who also had a mural over-painted for its inclusion of Lenin.)

This Week in Photography: Visiting San Francisco in 2022

 

 

In 1957, Miles Davis released a seminal album, “Birth of the Cool.”

Fair play to him, because by all accounts, Miles Davis was one
cool cat.

 

 

Over the years, plenty of musicians radiated cool, to such an extent, their names are dropped like a club membership.

Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Debbie Harry, John Coltrane, Patti Smith.

(There are more, to be sure.)

When you read those names, you can conjure not just the person, and their aura, but all the times you heard someone tell you they “liked” said musician, in order to score cool points in your mind.

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, I read a scathing review of the new Chuck Klosterman book, “The Nineties,” in the NYT, clearly written by a Millennial with an axe to grind.

Sample quote: “Overall one is left with a shuddering sense of {Gen} X’s insignificance, its preoccupation with what more politically motivated successors deem ‘opulent micro-concerns.'”

The was plenty more snark, and I took the subtext to suggest perhaps Gen X was overly invested in the idea of cool, relative to all the other important values/traits in the world.

(That was my takeaway, in any event. Upon re-reading, it’s hard to pin down, but at the time, my reaction was strong.)

I stopped for a moment, and pondered.

Is it true?

Do today’s middle-aged Americans care more about being cool than making money, or saving the planet?

And what is cool, anyway?

How is a word so crucial to our culture so undefined?

 

 

 

 

 

 

As always, I’m asking for a reason, and we’ll get there eventually. (This feels like a long-read.)

If cool can be born, as Miles suggests, can it also die?

How do you kill cool, and what comes next?

My wife and I had this discussion throughout the winter, because our beloved local ski resort, Taos Ski Valley, used to be on the of coolest places on Earth.

A hidden gem in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where you could hang out with your hipster or hippie buddies on a mostly-empty mountain, smoke “illegal” weed on the very-slow-chair-lifts, and ski terrain that was much-more-difficult than your average tourist could handle.

Founded by Austrian Jews, Ernie and Rhoda Blake, in the 1950’s, the place oozed counter-culture, yet much of its tourist base came from North Texas and Oklahoma.

 

Ernie Blake, image courtesy of Adventure Journal, and Taos Ski Valley Archives

 

Now, before you chide me, I admit, those are not typically cool places, but then again, we haven’t defined cool yet, have we?

Folks came to Taos from there because it was the closest ski resort, so they could drive.

They’d pile the family in the pickup, haul ass for 6-10 hours, and wake up in a snow-covered paradise.

As locals, we’d joke about them skiing in blue jeans, or Oakleys with Dallas Cowboy hats, but they were down-to-Earth folks, happy to shoot you a smile, and often they ate picnic style, having brought food to save money.

So while they were not cool in the too-cool-for-school way, (which is not really cool at all,) they were cool in the way that matters to Gen Xers.

They were respectful, down-to-Earth, authentic, unpretentious, and chill.

Maybe that can function as a working definition for today?

 

 

 

 

 

So who killed the cool at Taos Ski Valley?

A hedge-fund billionaire named Louis Bacon bought the resort nine years ago.

He’s an “environmentalist” who famously fought solar electricity infrastructure in Colorado, because he didn’t want new power lines on his land.

A guy who’s best buddies with famous Anti-Vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr, and was once featured in Vanity Fair for an awful, petty beef with his perhaps-even-crazier, rich-guy neighbor on a small, Caribbean island.

Maybe in two paragraphs I’m laying out the case that Louis Bacon is not a cool guy?

At TSV, Bacon made a shrewd real estate play, by setting about to demographically replace the current customer base, and instead import wealthier, more “regular-folks” skiers.

It’s a long story as to how, (including replacing most of the Hispanic lift operators with White guys playing jam-band music, and launching an airline to fly in folks from Austin, Dallas, LA and San Diego,) but rest assured, it was a multi-step process, and as of 2022, I can say it has totally succeeded.

 

A Taos Air billboard above a San Diego sushi spot.

 

In so doing, he’s priced out, or chased away many locals, (who are scruffy, and don’t spend money on $18 burgers,) including me.

He bought almost all the restaurants up there, (or drove them out of business, as when he demolished some to build condos,) and owns a hotel as well as the condo developments, so the dude is practically the King of his own village.

TSV was BUSY AS HELL this winter, and his $1 million, 1 bedroom condos sold, (with private underground parking,) so it looks like his “evil” plan worked just fine.

Consider the cool dead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For any other writer, that might be a long way to go to make a point… talking about Taos in an article about San Francisco.

But please bear with me.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, it was a hip fucking city.

We were young artists, and lived in the Southern part of the Mission District, an immigrant/hipster neighborhood, teaming with galleries, bars, and coffee shops.

Mexican markets, Guatemalan bodegas, burrito places that gave you free food for life, if you got their logo tattooed on your body.

 

Jimmy the Corn Man tattoo, image courtesy of Joshua Bote/SFGATE

 

Phil, the namesake behind the now-multi-million dollar coffee chain, Philz, used to make me falafel sandwiches in his dingy, little market, on the corner of Folsom and 24th St.

I remember, with a deep, gruff voice, he’d say, “You want the fool?” (For Fool Mdamas.)

“Sure,” I’d say to Phil. “You make it great. Hook me up however you’d like.”

 

 

As the dot-com-boom flourished, (before ultimately tanking,) early-version-tech-bros would take limousines into the neighborhood, standing through the moon-roofs, gawking at the poor immigrants.

On weekends, they’d drive in, and park in the fire lane, by the hundreds, content to pay the fine, rather than look for parking.

(Not cool, my friend. Not cool.)

But with the dot-com-crash, those folks left, artists held on for a bit longer, and the normie-vibe was mostly restricted to the Marina, Nob Hill and Pacific Heights.

The rest of the city was still diverse, and plenty cool.

In 2022, however, I’m sad to report that San Francisco cool is dead and buried.

Replaced, ironically, by a tech-bro-über-capitalist meets progressives-will-let-it-all-burn-before-they-admit-defeat style of un-hipness, and for many, a hell on Earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, let’s back up for a second.

I went to San Francisco in March, for a photo festival I won’t name today, because this is a negative article, and they’re a great organization.

(It’s not their fault their city went down the drain.)

As a journalist, I shared these theories with current and former San Franciscans in San Diego earlier this month, and they agreed entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

In 2016, I first reported here about the burgeoning, San Francisco tent cities, and how it seemed a new street class was being entrenched as a permanent way of life.

So many were denied the chance to live safely, because of the ravages of income inequality.

In 2019, I wrote a harrowing story about how bad things had gotten, with people howling in the night-time streets, and I was determined not to repeat myself this time out.

(Been there, done that.)

These days it’s national news, that the Tenderloin has turned into an IRL version of David Simon’s “Hamsterdam” from “The Wire,” so I was hoping to write something more upbeat for you, in 2022.

As such, I limited myself to the “nice” neighborhoods of North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, (where the tourists go,) Pacific Heights, Chinatown, the Bayfront and the Marina.

In three full days, I never left that zone, in the hopes I could just write a nice-travel-story for you, and leave the misery behind for once.

(I swear, that was the plan.)

In the end, though, it caught up to me, because looking away, denying the reality in front of you, never seems to work out well, does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s take an interlude.

Retrench.

Focus on the positive.

It is still possible to eat well in San Francisco, and you can buy really good weed too.

On my first full morning, I took a rambling, gorgeous walk, on a perfect California day, towards sparc, the closest dispensary that opened early.

I saw an unhoused man, lounging on a couch on the street, (before it was collected as trash,) and he was reading a newspaper.

 

 

He seemed content, so we can include that in the happy part of the article.

The bud-tender who helped me at sparc was cool, (thank God for the little things,) and he sold me a super-strong, horchata flavored indica joint, when I told him my mission.

“I’m about to walk for hours along the waterfront, in the sunshine, and I want to be the happiest guy out there,” I told him.

He obliged, (it was expensive,) and then I bought one more joint, to share, and they gave me a weed drink for free, because I was cool to everyone.

 

 

I’ll cut to the chase and say the pot was great, so I definitely recommend this joint, if you’re in town, or visiting.

After walking back to my hotel, it was time to eat.

So I had a double-double, animal style, from In-N-Out burger for lunch, before my big excursion, and it was excellent, as always.

 

 

You may think I shill for them because of “The Big Lebowski,” but really, it is that good.

(I even turned my Mom onto it, and she was dubious.)

 

 

 

 

 

From there, I walked for miles along the water, before parking myself in the sand at Chrissy Field. (A dog beach at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.)

 


 

It was amazing, (as was the entire walk,) so I imagine tourists can still have a good time in SF, if they ignore the rot, and stay in the sun.

My friend Heather recommended Equator Coffees, in Fort Mason, so on the way back, I got a special turmeric latte, a brilliant almond croissant, and a flavored bubble water.

 

 

(Dehydrate, sugar up, rehydrate.)

I don’t remember exactly what I paid, but it was certainly reasonable.

Let that be today’s traveler’s tip: when in SF, stick to the street food, and you’ll eat well on a budget.

In my regular life, I never walk and eat, but in SF, I mowed down that croissant, a cannoli from  Victoria Pastry for Sunday breakfast, and a couple of slices of excellent pizza.

 

 

Otherwise, it was takeout from an incredible Chinese BBQ spot, a brilliant, bombastically big Chicken Mole burrito from Cilantro SF Taqueria, and the aforementioned In-N-Out.

 

 

I don’t think I spent more than $10 on any of it, and it was all 1000x better than I can get in Taos.

So (in conclusion,) they still have good weed, street food, and nature in San Francisco, but you have to dodge all the shit to enjoy it.

(I’m being literal.)

 

 

 

 

 

I told you I stuck to the “good” part of town.

I even overheard someone refer to Union Square, where the department stores and boutique shopping is located, as, “a bad part of town now.”

(No lie.)

Sure, I saw some unhoused people sleeping in alleys, as I wandered.

But not many, compared to what I’ve reported previously.

And I didn’t see one tent.

Not one!

I made it to Coit Tower for the first time, after hearing they had some amazing murals, which turned out to be true.

(I forgot my mask, and didn’t want to be “that guy,” so I didn’t get up close to the art for very long.)

 

 

It was almost enough to forget what was going on in many other parts of the city.

Keyword, almost.

Because on the last day of the festival, as I was walking up to the location, I saw a huge glop of human feces on the sidewalk.

It was a pretty street, with fancy neighbors, but there was no denying the turd before me.

I had a flashback to my time in the city, and how by 2002, my wife and I were so tired of dodging human poop on the sidewalk, we were ready to go.

But that was in the Mission; a concrete, low-income part of town, with few parks.

Now the shit is LITERALLY everywhere.

Including right in before of me, on the sidewalk.

Unmissable.

I came and went a few times that day, and ultimately someone dropped a tissue on part of the poop, to warn fellow pedestrians.

“That’s OK,” I thought. “I don’t have to write that up. It’s only one turd.”

But then, it got worse.

Much worse.

 

 

 

 

 

On my last day in town, I had coffee at Caffe Greco with two photo peeps I’d only known online.

It was like the pre-times, as we de-masked, drank cappuccinos, and chatted about art and life.

One companion brought up the unhoused-sanitation-issue, complaining the city did not have enough public toilets.

If you live on the street, she went on, and the government doesn’t provide you with adequate places to go, you have to find places to crap every day.

Ultimately, that means public space.

(Most of the time.)

She was empathetic to the plight of the unhoused, rather than bitching about it, but the severity of the situation was not lost on me.

After an hour or so, I excused myself, to go back to the hotel, wash up, and then head out for some more takeout.

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier that morning, as I walked down the hotel stairs, I noticed an metal-grate exterior door to the alleyway.

Someone had left it open, so I closed it, and mentally noted that could be a problem.

On my way back from the cafe, as I ascended the stairs, I could smell something so pungent, it had heat.

I’m not kidding.

The air was warm with stench.

I didn’t see anyone, or anything, and popped into my room for a few minutes.

Being stoned, by the time I walked out ten minutes later, I’d forgotten all about it.

So I was hopping down the stairs at a good clip, and came to a screeching halt, as I saw what appeared to be a pool of urine in front of me on the landing.

Maybe I missed it by a foot.

From there, my eyes traced up, almost in slow-motion, and I saw the biggest human shit I’ve ever encountered.

Right there.
In front of me.
On the floor.

So I high-tailed it in the other direction, and took the elevator.

When I reported it to the front desk, they apologized, and said someone had gotten in, and it was a problem.

By the next day, when I mentioned it upon checkout, they had changed their tune, and lied, saying it had only been a dog.

Yeah fucking right.

The biggest dog on Earth, maybe?

I don’t think so.

 

 

 

 

 

After the encounter with excrement, I walked for an hour, trying to regenerate my appetite.

And I thought about things, over and over.

All I wanted was to have a few days in the city, pretending everything was OK.

I was prepared to avert my eyes, (for once,) so as to avoid having to write Another Critical Article About San Francisco.

(Help me help you, San Francisco.)

 

 

But it was not to be.

San Francisco is no longer cool, and New Mexico is burning.

Some guy bought a house at the edge of the ocean, in North Carolina, and it collapsed into the sea 9 months later.

The world is in a precarious place, my faithful readers, and sticking our heads in the sand will not help.

Not at all.

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Best Work from PhotoNOLA, Part 2

 

 

 

“Just as a bow kept strung loses its usefulness, so humans cannot stand continuous tension.”

Koichi Tohei, Japanese Zen/Aikido master (1920-2011)

 

“Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

An old Cajun French saying

 

 

 

 

Last week, I went all Zen on you.

What with the meditation advice and such.

 

 

I know it can seem preachy, sometimes.

So I try to be careful.

(And as I tell all my students and clients, I never give advice I don’t apply in my own life.)

Happiness doesn’t just come from self-care, be it exercise, kung fu, or movement meditation.

Humans are social creatures, and need contact.

Isolation, and even worse, loneliness, make us sick.

But wait, I promise this won’t be a heavy column!

(Nor a long one.)

So let’s move things along, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

Having fun, hanging out with friends, keeps us emotionally and physically happy.

Even if you don’t drink alcohol in your daily life, or stay out late, tying one on every now and again, hitting the town with your buddies, is a pre-pandemic habit that needs to come back ASAP.

(Or for most of you, maybe it already has.)

I went to my first post-pandemic, IRL photo festival in mid-December, as the Delta wave receded, and just before Omicron hit.

New Orleans draws certain people in, like a dumpling restaurant in the back corner of a forgotten strip-mall.

More invested, knowledgeable people than I have tried to write about New Orleans, and understand it.

I make no pretense.

I’ve been there five times in my life, always in December, and had a shit ton of fun on each occasion.

I feel comfortable in the town.

As different as it is from where I live, here in the high desert, at the base of the Rocky Mountains, there is somehow a connection between the places.

Honestly, it has to be the Spanish and French roots.

 

 

It shows wherever you look.

The 18th and 19th Century architecture is insanely gorgeous, and evokes a historical glamour I haven’t seen elsewhere in America.

 

 

(Though admittedly I haven’t been to Charleston.)

 

 

 

 

 

There’s music on the streets, on the regular, and it transforms any ordinary moment into something truly special.

Like the time I sat on some concrete steps, down at the Mississippi River, and listened to a talented busker behind me belt out “Ring of Fire.”

 

 

It was a moment.

(And yes, I gave him money.)

 

 

 

New Orleans is a city that enchants, and really, do you ever remember me saying anything like that before?

As usual, I stuck to the French Quarter and the CBD, getting bussed around the city a few times, never knowing where I was, because it was evening, the city is a maze, and I’d let loose and drank more than a few.

(So much fun, those few days.)

Let’s cut to the chase.

That’s the moral of the story, today.

Please, loosen up when you can, and have a jolly good time.

Live a little.

We’ve all gone through, or more likely are still going through, a seismic global catastrophe, with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Which is now two and a quarter years old.

No one can stand constant tension, as the great man said at this column’s outset.

We all need to break it, sometimes.

Having fun is a great way to do it.

And I speak from experience.

New Mexico weed stores opened on the first of the month, and April is normally my least favorite month, for a variety of valid reasons.

This year, though?

April’s been pretty, pretty, pretty good.

 

 

 

 

As to the real purpose of my trip to New Orleans?

Beyond eating, drinking, walking, listening, talking, and having a great time, (for the travel article I wrote in December,) my main goal was to look at photographic projects.

I went to PhotoNOLA to review portfolios, offer feedback, and then write about my favorites, here, for you.

Last week, we offered Part 1, and it was a pretty excellent mix of work, if I do say so.

This time out, as before, the artists are in no particular order.

And thanks to all of them for allowing us to share their wonderful work with you!

 

 

 

 

 

To begin with, Laurie Peek had a sad story.

Let’s get that out of the way. (Call it your trigger warning.)

She lost her son, Jackson, during the pandemic, when he tragically drowned.

Like many others, he had no funeral.

So she began making new work, “In Lieu of Flowers,” in mourning, and the pictures are quite beautiful.

Or so I imagine, as I met Laurie while Zooming from a comfortable chair in the IHH event building, during the online portion of the review.

Each image, she told me, represented one person who couldn’t have a funeral, due to the pandemic.

Like I said, super-sad.

But processing that grief through art is a powerful way to go.

(Just ask Marvin Heiferman.)

 




 

 

I met Vikesh Kapoor at a festival in Los Angeles a few years ago, (shout out to Exposure,) and have happily followed his career’s ascent.

He’s had a nice array of exhibitions lately, in Philly and Chicago, with accompanying lectures, and Vikesh had a solo show, with a talk, at the New Orleans Photo Alliance gallery during the festival.

But when we met at the the review table, he showed me something different.

Work from a commission from Leica and the BJP, in which he photographed people who were impacted by Vikesh’s mother, who was the local ob/gyn in a small, rural Pennsylvania town.

There’s a video as well.

Together, they tell a visual story of an immigrant in a far different culture, whose life intertwined with, and impacted so many people in that small world.

(Vikesh told me she delivered 3000 babies in a town of 9000.)

It’s an excellent project, for sure.

 

 

 

 

Pam Connolly and I got along swimmingly, and when I found out she lived in New Jersey, of course it all made sense.

Seriously, though, Pam showed me very-well-executed, sharp, lovely photos of constructed, tin, old doll houses.

They’re not creepy, though, as the bright colors, and seductive use of light, make it more fun and nostalgic, than anything.

(She also includes landscapes that are imaginary views out the widow of the mini-homes. )

Pam’s work made me think of Jane Szabo, who’s created some very cool work by moving miniature houses around the natural environment.

Seriously, someone needs to give these two a show together!

 

 

 

Next, we have Peter Hiatt, whom I ultimately owed an apology.

(Or, at least, I offered one.)

At the review table, Peter showed me a set of images of paint ball courses, near where he lives in Indiana.

They were nice, but not super-distinctive.

I told him I didn’t see a lot of passion there, and wondered why all the people, the crazy culture, were being elided, when that’s where many of the best details likely reside?

I suggested Peter focus on subject matter to which he felt a more intense, personal connection.

And it was a pass for this article.

However…

When I went to the portfolio walk at the Ogden Museum, I saw Peter’s work spread out on tables, with the prints arrayed in a group.

Like bashing a door-handle with your funny-bone, I immediately saw that his handling of color, in a weird, consistent palette, was spot on.

And the repeating use of shapes and compositions eluded me, viewing them one at a time, under less optimal lighting conditions.

So I apologized, and told Peter I’d be happy to publish his work, if he wanted to be included.

He did, and here we are.

Thanks, Peter!

 


 

Last, but not least, we have Sarrah Danziger, whom I briefly met at the aforementioned portfolio walk.

(Friday night of the festival.)

We didn’t get much of a chance to talk, but I thought her environmental portraits about people in the local culture, (she lives in New Orleans,) were really well done.

I offered to publish them on the spot, and again, here we are.

Thanks so much to all the artists, to the crew at PhotoNOLA for having me, and see you all next week.

 

This Week in Photography: Road Trip to San Diego

 

 

 

I need time after a trip, before I write.

(To let things settle.)

Everyone’s different, of course, but I allow experience to morph into memory, then share the stories.

Occasionally, I’ll rush to judgement, (as I did with the New-Orleans-travel-piece late last year,) but only when I know we’ll be doing more articles down the line.

As it happens, I’m going to break down the best work I saw at PhotoNOLA into two articles, but ironically, this will not be one of them.

 

Owen Murphy, long-time APE fan and Co-founder of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, during the PhotoNOLA portfolio walk, December 2021

 

No.

As I’ve written many times, to encourage the creativity spirits to shine upon me, lo these 10.5 years with a weekly deadline, I’ve learned I am but her/his/their humble servant, and follow the energy where it takes me.

Today wasn’t quite the day for New Orleans.

So I promise we’ll get down to NOLA soon enough, (twice,) but today we’re going in a different direction.

Literally.

Instead of going South-East to the bayou, we’re heading due South, then due West, to drive through Arizona, all the way to the Pacific Ocean in sunny, Southern California.

(San Diego, if we’re being general. South Mission Beach, if we’re getting specific.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth be told, the first vacation Jessie and I ever took together was a road-trip from Northern New Mexico to North County San Diego.

We stayed in a little, now-defunct, beach motel in Leucadia, on the North side Encinitas.

That was early ’98.

It fit our style, so we’ve been back a dozen times over the years, for vacation, or the Medium Festival of Photography. (Where I’m headed next month.)

 

The kids at Moonlight Beach, Encinitas, 2018

 

In 24 years, and all those visits, I’d never been to Mission Beach before.

Was Sea World over there, maybe?

But I trusted the internet, and found us a screaming-deal on a big condo on Airbnb, just three houses off the sand in South Mission Beach, with a private roof-deck-hot-tub.

 

View from the “shared” roof-deck, but I never saw another person there.

 

(I know that sounds like a lot, but I swear, it was super-reasonably priced.)

The rub was, I booked four of five months in advance, which was early enough, (because the condo was popular,) and we rolled the dice on Winter season, which can be rainy.

Plus, the ocean is cold then, as it is most of the year.

In July and August, the Pacific is beautiful to look at AND warm enough to swim, but it’s super-crowded, and more expensive.

(Just a heads up.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the massive state of Arizona sat between us and the Golden State, on our huge New Year’s Eve adventure.

We booked a hotel in Tucson, (morning of departure,) and for the first time, I can properly recommend one chain as being distinct from the others.

(Though it was a small sample size, so maybe it was just one solid hotel.)

Assuming it’d be close to the Interstate, I went with something near the airport, and found the Home2 Suites by Hilton.

Not sure which marketing firm rigged-up the concept, but consider me their target demo.

The rooms were a bit more expensive than your average joint, maybe in the $160/night range.

 

View from the hotel room, Tucson, the morning after a massive desert storm

 

But you get a very-large-suite, with a sitting room, a kitchen, and a big, two-bed sleeping space. (They separate with a well-designed curtain.)

The place had sleek, “design-y” details, and the room rate included a huge, all-you-can-eat-breakfast-buffet, filled with a surprising variety of options

(Waffles, fruit, muffins, bacon, egg & cheese tarts, fruit, cereal, coffee, you name it.)

If you’re not on a budget for two rooms for the family, (or you’re just spending a few hours to sleep, on a road-trip,) it’s great value to get one huge room, but the kicker is, breakfast for 4 costs $40-$60 at a restaurant, in these inflationary times.

So if you factor in not spending for breakfast, the hotel, (which was also immaculate,) seemed a cost-and-time-efficient option.

My other travel-hack for the two-day drive was to stock up on great New Mexican road food: carne adovada burritos from the Frontier Restaurant in ABQ.

 

 

It’s a not-large amount of shredded, long-stewed, sweet/spicy red chile pork, in a house-made flour tortilla.

Only two ingredients.

But man, the depth of flavor and complexity are insane, and they keep well in the car all day. (The Frontier sells them by the six pack.) We put the left-overs in the hotel fridge, and ate them on the way to San Diego the second day too.

For my New Mexican readers out there, I’m telling you.

This is the way to go.

Frontier Restaurant
4 out of 4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

But we’re not here to write about New Mexico.

(Or even Arizona, really.)

Before we made it to SoCal though, we did pull off the Interstate to see some Saguaro cactus, up close. We were miles from anywhere, in Western Arizona; the desert beauty captivating in every direction.

These Saguaro cactus trees, though, they have gravitas.

 

 

Theo unintentionally modeled his streetwear fashion, among the trees, and I remember telling myself, “Make this a memory.

Make this a memory!”

 

 

Later in the trip, Theo would intentionally model some streetwear, so we could show the photos to the Taos-based fashion designers, whom the kids had befriended in their store near the plaza. (I totally forgot until just this second, but now that it’s back on my radar screen, I’ll see what they think.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reason why I can so firmly recommend this part of San Diego to you, as a little spot to drop out and chill, is it’s easy to live with no cars. (Or at least, minimal exposure.)

South Mission Beach, as a little neighborhood, is actually surrounded by water on three sides.

 

South Mission Beach, a mostly-car-free slice of California Beach Paradise

 

And the residential streets, going East-West, are pedestrian only, with little sidewalks, and nothing else.

Additionally, the Strand, or boardwalk, is also car-free, just for pedestrians, scooters and bikes.

(It runs along the beachfront for miles.)

 

View along the Strand

 

So we parked our car in the garage, when we arrived in South Mission Beach, and didn’t take it out again until we left town.

 

 

 

 

 

While it was winter, we still walked around in T-shirts, shorts and flip flops at the hot point of each day, as the mid-60’s California sun felt like 75.

And having the place to ourselves, (more or less,) in perfect weather felt like the thanks-for-gritting-out-the-pandemic gift to our kids we hoped it would be.

Lucky us.

No, seriously. For real.

Lucky us.

 

 

The week before we got there, there were ferocious rainstorms, and in some places it even snowed!

Like, Climate-Change-level record rains.

That would have sucked.

And then, the weekend after we left, they had a Tsunami warning, and the entire beach had to be evacuated.

But we were lucky.

We had perfect weather, and walked miles each day, along the beach and the bay, to burn off the burgers, pizza, tacos and burritos we ate.

(And boy, did we.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first night there, we went for takeout at the closest possible place.

One guy owns both Capri Pizza and Grill, and Sara’s Mexican Food, which share one building on Mission Blvd.

We tried pizza the first night, and got a good Margherita pizza with meatballs.

I thought it was solid, if unspectacular.

 

 

The next morning, desperate to be a teenager, free and alone in a city, Theo went out to bring back some breakfast.

Not knowing it was the same owners, he ended up at the Mexican place, and got excited, ordering Carne Asada burritos with guacamole. (Something I’d told him was a staple in the local Mexican food culture.)

They were excellent, and along with the accompanying salsas, much better than anything we can get in Taos.

Unfortunately, the third time was not a charm, as we went back to Capri one too many times, and got a kind-of-dry chicken parmesan sub, and an almost-inedible Taco Pizza.

We’d chatted up the counter-guy the previous night, and because he liked us, he gave us extra meat, to be generous. But lacking nearly enough fresh tomato, or chile-heat to cut the richness, it was waaaaaaaay too much for me.

 

Capri Pizza and Grill
2 stars out of 4

Sara’s Mexican Food
3 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a killer restaurant corner, on the other side of the Belmont Amusement Park, that was worth writing home about.

My cousin, Daniel, who’d told us about the excellent, if expensive sports bar Guava Beach Bar and Grill, also recommended Mr. Ruriberto’s, which is quite the name.

 

Waiting for fish tacos at Mr. Ruriberto’s

 

Their fish tacos had a bit too much remoulade for my liking, but were otherwise flavorful and excellent.

The Carne Asada burrito was standout too, so I would make friends with Mr. Ruriberto, if he wanted to be my friend.

 

 

Can you imagine?

{“Hello, Jonathan. Como estas?”

“Well, hello, Mr. Ruriberto. I’m fine, thank you, how are you?”

“I too, am well, Jonathan. I have a question for you, Jonathan. Would you like to be my friend?”

“Yes, Mr. Ruriberto, I would. I would like to be your friend.”}

 

Mr. Ruriberto’s Taco Shop
3 stars out of 4

 

As to the NY Style Pizza joint next door, ZoZo’s, that place was legit.

I only felt bad we discovered it at the end of the vacation, as I would have eaten myself sick on their food for sure.

The Margherita pizza was special, alive with flavor, and the slices I spied on their mega-pie were monstrously big.

 

Inside the pizza place

 

It was also more-reasonably-priced than Capri up the street.

 

ZoZo’s Pizza
4 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to make memories on our vacation, and so we did.

I remember Jessie telling me, on the first full day there, “The cops must be brutal here, because there are no homeless people.”

She meant it mostly as a joke, but also not, if you know what I mean.

Given what I’ve seen in San Francisco, and read recently about LA, it was true, the lack of a sizable unhoused community was noticeable.

But as San Diego was known to lean conservative politically for a long time, and has a big Navy base one bay to the South, I could see how things landed where they did.

I also noticed many of those cute little side streets, (and accompanying alleyways,) weren’t very-well-lit, so it is likely the cops keep it quiet and “safe,” given how much all those condos are worth these days.

(Daniel asked how much I thought the place we were staying would run, and I guessed, “$2 million?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “that’s about right.”)

 

 

 

 

Daniel lives in a beach bungalow a few miles north, in Pacific Beach, and not only did he steer us right with Guava Beach and Mr. Ruriberto’s, but he also invited us over to his apartment, for grilled monster-burgers, with grilled zucchini sticks and potatoes.

 

Drinking a White Russian with Daniel

 

(He went to culinary school years ago, but doesn’t work in the field.)

After dinner, we took his massive rescue dog, Rudi, down to a nearby beach in the dark of night, so he’d get one last walk before bed.

The moonlight on the black Pacific Ocean made it shimmer and shake, like rustling charcoal.

 

 

Daniel drove us home, as our legs were tired from the walk North, but it’s a great reminder if you go on holiday where you have family or close friends, that can help with the memory-making as well.

(Plus with local’s tips on food, it’s like having your own personal fixer. Daniel also told us about an Ice Cream Sandwich place the kids insisted on trying, and I’m not sure it’s quite as appetizing in the photo as it was in real life.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking along the waterfront makes you feel good.

(Most of us, anyway.)

The entire peninsula is barely more than 2 blocks wide, and the Bay beach has it’s own visual charm, with boats and bridges.

 

 

Walking along one morning, Jessie and I saw a family of cranes, like something out of a Chinese Landscape Painting.

 

Crane in the foreground

 

We stopped and watched for a while in the quiet, and it felt like the California Dream was still alive.

(For a steep price, as long as it doesn’t burn down, fall into the sea during an earthquake, or get subsumed in a Tsunami.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theo and I made a friend, Orrin, while shooting hoops at the public court at the beach.

He had his own portable music, which was a little trend we spotted on the Strand, (especially people on bikes or roller blades,) but it made for a great soundtrack.

I made a quick video of Theo taking in to the rack, just for fun.

 

 

We met up again the next day, and Orrin specifically chose this track for a longer video. (With his friend Brandon shooting as well.)

 

 

(BTW, I’ve finally added audio to the videos, and hope you like the step-up in my content-game.)

Further up the Strand from the basketball court, (and past the countless beach-volleyball-courts,) there’s a mini-amusement park, Belmont Park, with all sorts of games, food options, a huge pool, and rides as well.

On the last day, we decided to try the roller coaster, (a first for both kids,) and they let you buy tickets, by-the-ride, instead of only having to pay a steep entrance-fee, which I thought was pretty cool.

As to the roller coaster itself?

Well, Amelie was so scared, (and preferred to wear her mask,) that I couldn’t help making a quick video.

Listen to the way she reacts, when I say, “Good luck.”

 

 

The meta-commentary: “Good luck? What the fuck do you mean, good luck? This thing should be so safe, we don’t need luck. Asshole!”

She lived through that terror moment, (on camera,) and we were shocked at how they made it super-fast, with legit G-force we felt a few times.

The cars shook you around, with quick changes in speed, so you really felt it in your gut.

Surprisingly great roller coaster, for such a small one.

 

The Giant Dipper Roller Coaster
4 stars out of 4

 

 

 

 

 

Last, but not least, the photography part.

Sometimes I do a travel piece, and photography doesn’t come up.

But not today.

On the last day, just as we were driving East for home, we stopped at my friend scott b. davis’ house, and he showed off his new Radius book, “sonora,” which features his beautiful work, made over many years.

(After we did a quick studio visit. Check out all the old-school chemicals…)

 

 

It’s a gorgeous book, totally austere, and the high degree of craftsmanship was appropriate, given scott is an expert platinum/palladium printer, and meticulous in general.

 

 

Theo showed me that scott, and his wife Chantel, had hung one of my images in their kitchen, and I took a trippy-reflection-portrait of the three of us.

 

 

(Weird, right?)

From there, we drove through the rock mountains, windmills, and sand dunes.

 

 

 

Then on to Tucson, (this time NOT in a huge, dark-of-night rainstorm,) and we had In-N-Out burger for dinner there, as somehow we’d made it in and out of California without eating it.

 

 

(No pun intended.)

After destroying our burgers, (In-N-Out is always 4 stars, every time,) we visited with my friend, photographer Ken Rosenthal, who was recovering from an awful fall he’d taken out in nature last year.

(Wrecked his knee something fierce.)

Jessie and I checked out his studio as well.

This photo of a geyser at night stopped me in my tracks.

 

 

It is just so exquisite.

(Perfectly capturing that mysterious power one feels, in so many parts of the Great American West.)

We drove through more majesty the following day, (hundreds of miles of it,) on our way home.

Elephant Butte Lake in Southern New Mexico looked worthy of a return trip, and nearby Truth or Consequences is set in a killer locale.

 

Elephant Butte Lake, Southern New Mexico

 

On we drove, to the North, through Albuquerque, Santa Fe, then Española, before we got home.

 

 

 

Road-fried, with bellies full of gas-station-burritos.

And all was right with the world.

(See you next week.)

 

 

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: Visiting NOLA, Part 1

 

 

Short column today.

I’ve teased easy-breezy-reads before, only to drop 1800 words on you.

But not today.

(I swear.)

 

 

 

 

It’s Thursday morning, (as usual,) but the last week-and-a-half has been anything but typical.

 

 

 

 

It began a week ago Tuesday, when I left at 8:30am for ABQ, to catch 2 planes to New Orleans for an evening arrival.

That’s not unusual, a trip taking nearly 12 hours door-to-door, but sure enough, my plane was delayed in Houston, and then cancelled, as they shut the NOLA airport due to fog.

It took two days to get there, and I spent the rest of the week schmoozing, eating, drinking, reviewing portfolios, walking around the city, seeing exhibitions, drinking some more, and having a lot of fun.

I got home Sunday evening, after waking at 3:30am for an early flight, and while I was regenerating brain cells, yesterday morning, we had a wind and ice storm knock out the power and internet for 26 hours.

Right now, I’m barely functional.

I’m asking for a tiny bit of empathy, (as it’s not like we had tornados,) so let’s get the show on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

This was my first IRL festival since the world shut in March, 2020, and man was it fun.

I spent much of 2021 on PhotoNOLA’s advisory council, and made my feelings clear, from the jump, that getting people together in-person, (safely,) creates a positive energy impossible to replicate online.

Having cool, creative, hard-working artists in the same room builds camaraderie, and the possibility of new opportunities, which form the backbone of the fine art photo world in the US.

Certainly, I laughed harder than I have in years, drank more booze in a weekend than I do in 6 months of lock-down-life, and was palpably reminded what an amazing group of people we are, as a community.

Kudos to the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and PhotoNOLA, for making this happen!

As usual, I saw a ton of great work, and will write about the best portfolios I saw in a future article.

 

 

 

 

 

I caught a killer photo installation of wet plate collodion work, in the Houston airport, by Keliy Anderson-Staley, which I’ll share with you here.

 

“In Passing,” by Keliy Anderson-Staley

 

Normally, airport art is forgettable, but I also saw some wonderful paintings in the NOLA airport by Richard C. Thomas on the way home, so let’s drop them into the narrative as well.

 

Paintings by Richard C Thomas

 

When I first arrived in New Orleans, hungry as a mistreated dog, I walked the two short blocks from the International House Hotel, (which is gorgeous,) to the French Quarter, looking for some cheap, tasty street food.

 

Hotel lobby

 

I found the aptly named Istanbul Cafe, where I got an excellent chicken shawarma wrap, which fit the bill, and I went back on Saturday night, to get some dinner that would also serve as breakfast for my early morning.

 

Istanbul Cafe in the French Quarter

Chicken Shawarma platter. So good!

 

Next, I headed to Walgreens, for a bottle of room-booze, (Bulleit Bourbon,) and a four-pack of blue Gatorade, because once you hit 47, you don’t want to be drinking heavily without a plan.

When bars charge $15 per shot, getting a full bottle of good whiskey for $24 means you can hit the streets with a nice buzz, hook up your friends for happy hour, and generally manage the hair-of-the-dog situation.

The Gatorade is great for preventing/managing hangovers, as is my nightly ritual of 2 Advil and 1 Benadryl before sleep.

The greasy follow-up breakfast is also key, and I hit the really great Majoria’s Commerce Restaurant each morning, which was literally across the street from the hotel.

Day one, bacon egg and cheese on a homemade biscuit.

So good!

Day two, (the breakfasts got bigger each day, as the hangovers stacked up,) I had their loaded hash-browns, which had cheese, jalapeños and sautéed peppers atop the potatoes, with 2 eggs, a side biscuit, and an extra side of smoked sausage. (A local speciality.)

 

Commerce. Legit.
Loaded hash-browns with smoked sausage
I don’t normally eat like this…

 

Day three, all that, plus a side of grits. (Each day, I grazed on the food, a bit at a time, to combat the encroaching hangovers.)

If you’re going to abuse your body for a few days at a time, in a party city like New Orleans, I’m telling you, a solid plan is required.

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, during the blackout, the kids and I played hangman, and laughed for a solid hour. (When your 14-year-old uses “puta” in-game, you can assume fun was had.)

I shared the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention,” as we lived all day without electricity or internet, and found new ways to amuse ourselves.

I’m glad the power is back, but honestly, that kind of out-of-routine experience is what makes memories.

It’s a lot like traveling, and I’ll remember this NOLA adventure for a long time.

Beyond the hilarious trip on a school bus, (where I was named bus captain, reporting to the driver, Ms. Jackie,) the wonderful parties, and a great visit to the Bayou Beer Garden, I also had dinner with a few friends at the über-trendy, insanely delicious Italian restaurant Sofia.

(Brilliant fresh pasta, fantastic pizzas, great meatballs, and a house-made ricotta, radish and flat bread appetizer that was so much better than it sounds.)

 

Sofia, the next morning
Enjoying a great meal with my buddy Frances

 

Art installation on the wall of Sofia

 

As we walked the streets, a group of 5 revelers, including 4 photographers, we stepped directly over a highly mutilated pigeon, and I was the only one to even notice.

I grabbed a photo for you, (trigger warning, it’s gross,) because that’s a part of the fun of seeing new things.

 

Extremely dead pigeon

 

Across the street, a white cathedral glowed in the artificial light.

 

St Patrick’s Church, 1833

 

Quite the NOLA juxtaposition.

 

 

 

In a world in which many of us stayed home for a year, not-too-long-ago, I’m here to remind you that travel really does make us smarter, happier, and richer-in-experience.

So get out there, as soon as you can…

I’ll be back next week, and will share more about NOLA when I feature photographic portfolios in early 2022.

Hasta luego!

 

 

This Week in Photography: Visiting Chicago Part 2

 

 

I’m writing on a Monday.

(Monday morning, in fact.)

I’m not going to lie.

It kind-of sucks.

 

 

Thankfully, there’s a good reason for the routine-shake-up.

Tomorrow, I’m off to New Orleans to attend the always-fun PhotoNOLA festival.

It will be my first IRL photo-event since the world shut in March 2020, and I can not wait to see friends, review portfolios, eat amazing food, and stroll around the beautiful French/Spanish/Creole/American city.

(Honestly, up until recently, I didn’t know Spain controlled New Orleans for forty years.)

On Wednesday, PhotoNOLA will be releasing six video interviews I did on their behalf, for the Virtual BookFair, and I was fortunate to speak to a really cool collection of artists and publishers.

I’ll include the link, even though it hasn’t happened yet, (for me,) and it’s already happened, when you’ll read this piece.

(Such a 2021 time-warp. Appropriate for a strange fucking year.)

 

 

 

 

Between writing on a Monday, still feeling discombobulated from the crazy book I reviewed on Friday, and needing to get my house in order for a big trip, I don’t have many available brain cells at the moment.

Certainly not enough to read/look at a new photobook, process it, think deeply, then spit out an appropriately-intelligent review, as you’ve come to expect these last 10 years.

Instead, we’re going to pivot.

Before I fill my head with a host of new stimuli down in Louisiana, I thought we’d time-jump back to mid-October, when I went to Chicago to eat, drink, be merry, and see some great art.

Thankfully, that last goal was met at the Art Institute of Chicago.

(If you can’t see amazing things there, you’re not trying hard enough.)

 

 

 

 

I was a bit sad the Hokusai/Hiroshige exhibition closed a few days before my visit, and will openly admit I didn’t do enough homework to know the well-received Barbara Kruger show was happening while I was there.

As a critic, I’ll offer a “my bad,” as I ought to have dialed in the radar, but my goal was to see the André Kertész show, (for you photo geeks,) in particular because my friend Greg was involved in the curation.

So with that as my action plan, I strolled South a couple of miles along Michigan Avenue, and stopped to take a photo for you, where the Chicago River emerges from the massive Lake.

 

 

I caught a cool video art installation in Millennium Park, and have since learned it was called Crown Fountain, by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, featuring images of Chicago residents.

 

 

When I got to the museum, I let instinct be my guide, (as I arrived mid-afternoon, and didn’t have much time,) and headed up a floor in the Contemporary wing.

(The Museum is really two buildings connected together, and I’ve been through the historical wing a few times now.)

I found the opportunity to commune with some of the true greats of the 20th Century, including a few of my all-time favorites: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Charles Ray.

As to Pollock and Rothko, there’s not much I can say that hasn’t been written a thousand times.

I’ll admit the work, which is large-scale, and overwhelms the body with emotion, needs to be experienced in person to be understood.

 

Two Pollock paintings

 

Abstract Expressionism leans heavily on both words, and the feelings and energy expressed impose on your soul, (in a good way,) which is why museums are so bloody important.

(Sorry for the English slang. I’ve got an Arsenal game coming on in a few hours.)

Standing in the middle of a room full of Rothkos, none of which I’d seen before, is akin to sitting on the sand, staring at the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

His paintings are the only art that’s ever made me feel that way, and the experience alone was worth schlepping from Taos to Chicago.

However, I also got to be creeped out by an insane, large-scale boy sculpture by Charles Ray, which also needs no explanation.

 

 

Is it Hansel before he gets eaten? The inspiration behind Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit? One of the kids from “The Sound of Music”?

Really, who’s to say?

 

 

 

Beyond that, I loved an installation by the brilliant Kerry James Marshall, the beautiful portrait of Chicago’s Barack Obama by Jordan Casteel, and these two super-textural paintings by Japanese artists Shimamoto Shozo and Shiraga Fujiko.

 

 

 

 

 

This Roy Lichtenstein painting was bonkers good, and held my attention for 5 minutes or so.

 

 

What a joy!

I was also mesmerized by this David Hockney painting, called “American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman,) which I stood before for a good 6 minutes.

 

 

It was so seductive, in his SoCal sort of way, but like the Raymond Jonson painting I saw in Albuquerque earlier this Fall, it also felt Anti-Semitic.

When I reviewed that show, it was the first time I’d ever leveled that accusation in my career, but here, I recognized the feeling again.

A clearly unflattering depiction of a wealthy, Jewish art patron.

Is it OK to paint people as unattractive?

Sure, why not?

But when a person within a culture feels a negative emotional reaction to an old trope, (one used to denigrate a people for millennia,) I think it deserves mention.

 

 

 

 

Next up, I’ve got to discuss the issue of the exploitation of the female form by famous, powerful, White artists.

I realize at this point, I’ve been covering this subject throughout the pandemic, and maybe it’s time to let it go.

But I’ll let you be the judge if it’s worth considering today.

Richard Prince, who’s taken heavy fire from the photo-world for years, based upon his appropriation of Sam Abell’s work, and then Patrick Carou, had some pin-up photos of pretty, topless, young women, and I really thought they were tacky.

 

 

But they were joined by cheesy, exploitative work by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.

 

(I normally love Warhol’s paintings, as he’s been a huge inspiration to me.)

 

 

As I stood there, in the museum in 2021, I couldn’t help but wonder if the curators were oblivious to the cultural moment?

Really, is this the time to be flaunting such things, when one has an entire basement filled with genius works?

Do we need to see big, bulging breasts painted/sculpted by rich, old (or dead) White guys?

I say no.

And the only female artist of that level of renown in those galleries was Cindy Sherman, whose images both critique and simultaneously reinforce the stereotype of the young, blonde, damsel-in-distress.

 

 

Sure, we all know Cindy was subverting tropes, but the AIC draws plenty of “regular citizens,” and in the context of the Prince, Warhol and Koons work, I suspect Sherman’s subversive photographs are themselves subverted.

 

 

 

 

Lastly, I’ll show some images from the André Kertész exhibit, which focused only on small prints he made during stint living in Paris.

 

 

Normally, that wouldn’t matter, (the size of the photographs,) but after looking at so much big work, reveling in the power of scale, I admit it was hard to get so close to small pictures to absorb the details.

(The one Mondrian painting included, b/c Kertesz had photographed his studio, was a brilliant touch.)

 

 

There were beautiful night scenes in Paris, including images of the Eiffel Tower. (Naturally.)

 

 

And we also saw some well-constructed interior photos. (Including Mondrian’s studio, which explains the original painting on the wall.)

 

 

But wouldn’t you know it, one of Kertesz’s prominent subjects, while living in Paris, was shooting pretty and/or striking young women.

 

 

Like Paul McCartney admitting in a recent New Yorker article that he got into a band to catch birds, (English slang for girls,) I’m not going to hate on Kertész for gravitating his camera towards attractive women.

So many photographers have done it, and it’s not for nothing that Hollywood, (and the entertainment industry in general,) treats gorgeous young women as such prized commodities.

Certainly, these photographs were excellent, and held my attention while my brain cells slowly rebelled against me. (It was nearly 4pm on a day I walked 15 miles.)

But it is a good place to end today’s column.

When we describe “agency” and “power dynamics” in 2021, it’s within the context of a long history of the exploitation of women by men.

Sure, anyone can photograph anything they want these days, as long as the subject is a consenting adult.

I do think each artist who likes to photograph “hot chicks,” in our new times, should have a pretty compelling reason to do so, given our culture of objectification.

That’s all I’ve got.

Lots of reporting from New Orleans up ahead.

See you next week!

 

This Week in Photography: Visiting Chicago Part 1

 

I don’t smoke weed every day.

(Not anymore, anyway.)

 

 

 

I only consume occasionally now, as it’s better for my body.

Beyond the perpetual munchies, (which make you fat,) marijuana tricks the brain into dumping extra serotonin into the blood-stream, so once you stop, the emotional crash is no fun at all.

Like booze, with its famed “hair of the dog,” weed entices you to stay on the ride, because getting off is a bitch.

Thankfully, I prefer life sober, and only smoke for “special occasions” these days.

As such, the first thing Jessie and I did, once we dropped our bags at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago last month, was head to Verilife, the closest dispensary we could find.

Given our stressful day, and that we were sort-of on vacation, it was a lock we’d go buy some reefer, as dealing with the maskless hordes all day was a big-fat-drag.

I’d already scoped out Weedmaps, (which now counts the great Kevin Durant as an investor,) so I knew where to go.

 

 

 

 

Verilife was a slick operation, with lots of digital interactions, a well-organized rope-line, and a succession of people who’d check you in.

The guy who verified our ID’s noticed we were from New Mexico, and asked about Ojo Caliente, the famed hot springs resort on a Native American Pueblo, about an hour from Taos.

(I hated to tell him they had a huge fire last year, which burned down the historical bathhouse, but what can you do?)

When we made it to the front of the line, where you pre-order on an iPad, I asked the helpful bud-tender for a good pre-rolled Indica joint, to chill us out, and he massively up-sold us to an $80 Sixpack of pre-rolled, half-gram joints, which came in a fancy box, replete with matches.

 

 

He was right, of course, as who needs to go right back to the dispensary, and that box kept us good and happy until Sunday morning, when we went back for a pre-rolled Sativa joint to power us through our last day.

 

 

 

 

Just for context, I went to Chicago last month for three reasons:

1. To have a romantic weekend with my wife, by the ocean-esque Lake Michigan, as we hadn’t been away from the kids together in years. (Thanks for the help, Mom and Dad!)

 

Jessie by the lake

 

2. To hang out with some of my photo-world buddies, whom I hadn’t seen since March 2020, in Houston at SPE, the day before the entire world shut.

3. To visit some art museums and galleries to write reviews for you, and just enjoy the city, eating and having fun for a travel article. (The one you’re reading right now.)

Therefore, having some killer, chill, smiley joints to smoke as we walked around the lake, and the city, made everything so much more dramatic.

 

Looking South along the lake

 

I highly recommend it.

Just going to 7-11 for some blue Gatorade, right after we left Verilife and lit up, was great, as you get the woozy feeling, where everything looks hyper-real, but without the lack of control and potential for disaster that comes from getting too drunk.

(Luckily, I didn’t overdo it with alcohol at all, even though I almost always had a drink in my hand when kicking it with my buddies.)

 

 

 

 

The first night, I went to Sparrow with three friends, and it was my first time in an indoor bar or restaurant since April.

The experience was awkward, to say the least, as masks were required to enter, but then everyone took them off the second they got inside.

One of my buddies kept his mask on the entire time, when he wasn’t sipping, and I would put mine on for a few minutes, realize I couldn’t be heard when I spoke, because it was so loud, and then I’d take it off again.

There was no doubt my mask-wearing-system was pointless, but the human brain often needs time to process, in new situations.

And my friends assured me the vaccination rate was so high in Chicago, (higher than I was,) that I should feel comfortable no one would breath Corona-air on me.

(They were right. No Covid the entire trip.)

 

One line for negative

 

 

 

The highlight of the weekend, if I’m being honest, were the long walks Jessie and I took by the lake.

Each day, we spent hours ambling along the concrete shore, staring out at the beautiful blue water, watching the high rise buildings jut up at its edge.

 

 

Walking along, smoking joints, taking in the people-watching, was worth the price of the plane tickets and hotel.

 

 

 

No doubt.

Part of why I chose the Millennium Knickerbocker, (beyond the nostalgia of having been there for 4 Filter Photo Festivals,) was it’s the closest place to the Oak Street Beach, other than the Drake Hotel, which is across the street.

You only have to walk a half block, then a very-short-block, to get to the entrance to the park, and being that close meant we could really utilize the gorgeous Lakeshore.

Additionally, the entrance features a phenomenal mural, by Jeff Zimmermann, which sets the tone each time you head to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing we noticed is Chicago is a town full of grown-up frat boys. Or, at least, the Magnificent Mile area is full of them.

I cannot tell you how many massive dudes I saw, (like, really big,) and they all wore a similar outfit: hoodie, baseball cap, shorts, and sneakers.

Always, no matter how cold it got, (and it was pretty nice when we were there, if windy,) they wore shorts.

Somewhere, there must be a memo, describing the Chicago-bro uniform, because no one deviated.

Well, almost no one.

We did see one guy walking past us, heading South, and he was so fabulous it’s hard to put into words.

His skin was brown, and it made me think of Persia, not Mexico or India, but who can say?

My man was nearly naked, wearing only a floral-print banana hammock bathing suit, to go along with his brilliant mustache, well-chosen footwear, hairy chest, sunglasses, and mohawk.

Jessie and I tried not to gawk, as he was so compelling, strutting with confidence, and I felt it was too rare a moment to pull out the camera. (I mean iPhone.)

“You only see someone like that once in your life,” I said to Jessie, so we made sure to describe him to each other, to remember details for me to share. (Here. Now.)

Needless to say, we were shocked, thirty minutes later, to see him walking North as we headed South, as I guess the walk-up-and-turn-back thing is pretty common at Lake Michigan.

The second time, I had no reservations about grabbing some photos, so here you go.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the walking, people-watching, drinking with friends, and art-viewing, (which I’ll cover in a separate article,) we spent a fair bit of time eating.

Some people I know, (yes, I mean you, Louie,) insist on bagging on Chicago deep-dish pizza, calling it a bread bowl, a plate of hot cheese, or something other than pizza.

As a born-and-raised Jersey boy, I still Stan for East Coast pizza, but have no problem opening my mind to other styles of the World’s Best Food.

However, in my 5 previous visits to Chicago, I’d never had brilliant pizza, despite many attempts.

Giordano’s was overrated, and Pizano’s was good, but not great.

I’ve surveyed folks over the years, and heard Lou Malnati’s is everyone’s favorite local chain, so for lunch on Friday, we ordered a monster pie.

(We skipped dinner and breakfast to properly feast.)

The River North Lou Malnati’s is located just off a public plaza, which I’m told is called the Viagra Triangle, as it has a series of high-priced, outdoor restaurants where rich, older guys take their young, pretty girlfriends.

We stopped in and ordered a Deep Dish Malnati’s Chicago Classic, which featured sausage with extra cheese and sauce, and I asked them to add the garlic spinach, and olives, so it would have more of a Mediterranean feel. (Plus, you need get your vegetables where you can when you’re eating pounds of melted cheese.)

While waiting the 30 minutes, we walked down to Walgreens to buy more Gatorade, an umbrella, and some OTC Covid tests, (so I could prove to my buddies we were clean, before attending a small house party.) Then we walked up Rush St to grab the pizza, in full-food-crash-mode, and brought it back to the hotel to eat.

 

 

If I’m a truthful critic, it needed a touch of finishing salt, and some fresh ground pepper, but beyond that, the jazzed up Malnati’s pie was super-delicious.

Totally worth the hype.

The sauce was sweet, but not overly so, (and there was enough of it,) while the spinach cut some of the richness of the sausage.

Lou Malnati’s 
Three and a Half Stars

 

 

 

 

That night, at my friend’s house, we had even more deep dish pizza, this time from the opposite of a chain restaurant.

Instead, Doug ordered from Milly’s Pizza in the Pan, the kind of joint that popped up during the pandemic, where you have to be in the know, call ahead, take what they’re offering that day, show up at the appointed time, and they bring the pizza out to your car from a commercial kitchen.

It’s not remotely a restaurant, and I must say, the bougie food did have more flavor than Sweet Lou’s.

 

Photos courtesy of Doug Fogelson

 

Each pie, (one vegetarian, one with meat,) utilized various colored peppers, which added freshness and balance, plus you could actually taste each ingredient.

The pies were a bit thinner, while still being deep dish, and it was more food to savor than stuff in your face, as you desperately try to get all the fat in your stomach to soak up the booze.

Milly’s Pizza in the Pan
Four Stars

 

 

 

 

 

I know today’s column is long, and I never want to go on forever, but there are three more restaurants to cover.

First off, on Saturday, we did a big takeout meal from Silver Spoon, which is an underground Thai restaurant I discovered in 2015, and continue to visit each time I come back to Chicago.

 

 

It’s literally below street level, and is always full when I go, so I’m not the only person who realizes how good the food is, and reasonably priced as well.

It’s near a Giordano’s, so watching the tourists line up, waiting for an hour to get mediocre pizza, when there is such great Thai food three doors down, always makes me giggle.

We had veggie eggrolls that tasted like they could be from a Jersey Chinese joint, (massive compliment,) vegan summer rolls that were as delicate as Donald Trump’s ego, some dumplings that seemed deep-fried, rather than in a pan, a brilliant Pad Thai, and a Pad See Eiw that was too spicy. (My fault for asking for medium-spicy.)

Silver Spoon
Four Stars

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, rather than join my buddies for coffee out West, we wanted to maximize our time downtown, as the hotel allowed us a late checkout. So we went to Tempo Cafe for brunch, a classic diner of the type rapidly disappearing in America.

There was a long wait, but all those schmucks wanted to eat inside, so we grabbed a semi-private outdoor table, on the sidewalk, straight away.

Tempo Cafe has been my go-to hangover breakfast three times now, and it’s always delivered.

Though they brought us coffee super-quickly, and kept re-filling the cups, (thankfully,) we had to wait ten minutes to order, then half an hour for our food, which was a huge bummer.

I distracted myself by looking up, staring at the buildings, and making up stories about the people walking by.

 

Sidewalk views at Tempo Cafe

 

 

Given what I said about getting your veggies when you can during a weekend bender, I ordered an egg skillet with broccoli, spinach and mozzarella cheese, and was excited for it to arrive.

Unfortunately, when the food finally came, they brought me a skillet loaded with sausage, instead of spinach.

My face fell faster than Carl Lewis, (the 1984 version,) and I had a decision to make.

Wait for the server to come back, (5 minutes,) and then for the cooks to make a fresh breakfast, (30 minutes,) or suck it up and dive in.

Jessie and I joked about the short order cook, reading the ticket the server handed in.

“Spinach and Broccoli? Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? It’s Sunday brunch, and this poor schmo is just orderin’ vegetables? Nah, I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean, Morty?”

“I don’t think this guy ordered right. The dum-dum. He forgot the sausage! I’m sure he meant sausage, not spinach. So we’re gonna fix it for him.”

Thankfully, I’m not a vegetarian, so I trusted Morty, ate most of the plate, and wasn’t hungry again for hours.

Tempo Cafe
Two and a Half Stars

 

 

 

 

Finally, I need to mention our Lyft ride, heading West to a brew-pub on Sunday, for our last visit with my crew before we schlepped to O’Hare again.

Her name was Delisa; she had an electric blue car, and electric blue nails.

Jessie and Delisa got to talking, as both were social workers for years, and though my mind was elsewhere, I kind-of followed along as they talked about helping kids in the system.

Eventually, (no surprise,) we got to talking about pizza, and she was a fan of Uno and Due, (which I’ll try another time,) but also said Parlor Pizza might be her favorite in town.

Sure enough, after we finished day-drinking at The Perch, (which has great beer, and good food, but was not-quite review worthy,) the remaining revelers walked down the street, in Wicker Park, looking for one last bit of sustenance.

There it was, right in front of us, Parlor Pizza Bar, so how could we not trust Delisa?

 

 

Sitting outside in the sun, savoring our last hour in the city, knowing we’d have a subway ride, the airport security line, then the plane flight home, and a 2.5 hour drive from Albuquerque, I hoped Delisa knew her pizza.

This time, it was more bar-pie-style, with a thin crust, and thankfully it was delicious. (Oddly, the menu was QR-code-only, which is apparently a thing now.)

The pizza margarita was amazing, a true gem of a pie. Our friends ordered a specialty number with honey and vegetables, which was also super-good, and I went off script, choosing a make-your-own, with burrata, heirloom tomatoes and meatballs.

In a place like that, with a long list of pre-selected options, the cooks obviously want you to go with their creations, and not do it yourself.

So the JB Special was good, but not THAT good.

 

The JB Special, which wasn’t so special

 

For some reason, they don’t put meatballs on pizza in Chicago.

It’s a sausage town.

And when I said it like the New Yorkers do, (SAUW-szige,) I was told that’s wrong.

In Chicago, it’s SAAAH-sidge.

And they should know.

(When in doubt, just ask Abe Froman.)

Parlor Pizza
Three and a Half Stars

 

 

 

From there, my friend Jeff dropped us off at the “L” train, where we waited in the late afternoon light, (with very full bellies,) hoping we’d make it back to New Mexico in one piece. (We did.)

Thanks, Chicago!

See you next time!

 

Views from the “L” train platform

 

This Week in Photography: Staying Alive

 

 

 

There’s a first time for everything.

(So they say.)

 

They also say things come in threes.

Both of those famous clichés collided for me this week, and as a result, I’m shaking off some serious PTSD.

That kind of stress will melt your brain, so we’re going a bit non-traditional this week.

(It is what it is.)

 

 

 

 

As to the details, I had my first proper Covid test, my first colonoscopy, and was held at gunpoint, by a raving lunatic, who might well have killed me had things gone differently.

(Like I said, it was a crazy week.)

Let’s unpack some of these things, so I can create a functional column, and offer the educational and entertainment value for which I’m known. (Or so I tell myself.)

It would be cruel to keep you in suspense, given the drama bomb I dropped a few sentences ago, so let’s get to it.

And before you ask, no, I’m not exaggerating.

It really happened.

 

 

 

 

On Saturday, I walked up to the basketball court behind the firehouse, to shoot hoops, and burn off some stress.

I’d been dreading the colonoscopy, for obvious reasons, and the fact I had to go into the hospital the day before, to get tested for Covid, was also weighing me down.

Nothing like a bit of exercise to combat the stress.

Right?

Of course I brought my camera, because as I wrote last week, I’m shooting every day now, (or close to it,) and this autumn light will only last so long.

Around here, November brings high clouds, gray skies, windy days, and brown grass.

Once the leaves drop, and until the snow comes, Taos is often dreary, no lie.

But Saturday was beautiful, and the afternoon light was great, so I was excited to shoot hoops, and shoot pictures, but it never occurred to me the verb might pop up in the worst possible way.

 

 

 

 

For the most part, I don’t trespass.

People around here like their privacy, a hallmark of the Wild West, and almost everyone has guns.

But I’m also known around the neighborhood, having lived here for 12.5 years, and my wife’s family has been here half a century, so that carries some weight.

I’ve also been shooting my project for 10 months, so I’m confident the neighbors have seen me around, which gives a sense of protection.

Plus, I’m a trained fighter, and carry a knife.

(Normally, that’s enough.)

 

 

 

 

As I was walking home from the court, I noticed a glowing, wooden, religious statue in a neighbor’s driveway, sitting next to a blue tarp, which was electric in the light.

It was a sure-fire photo, and there were no cars in the neighbor’s driveway, that I could see.

Frankly, I’d shot the trailer a couple of times already, as the place was normally empty, and no one had ever looked at me twice, much less said a word.

 

January, 2021
August, 2021

 

I yelled “Hello,” and began walking the twenty feet or so up the driveway, when I saw a big, white pick-up truck parked there, and the door was open, so I immediately turned around and left.

Didn’t want to intrude.

That said, as soon as I walked another five steps, I saw a group of chickens right in front of me.

 

The chickens

 

They belong to my neighbor, Morris, who lives across the street, and while the light wasn’t hitting them perfectly, of course I pulled out the camera to rip off a few shots.

There I was, crouching along the road, in full view of the trailer, with my camera, doing nothing but make art.

It got my blood pumping, but in a good way. All those creative juices flowing, combatting the stress chemicals I was trying to purge.

I got excited.

And it was totally quiet.
No one around.

So I got cocky, I guess.

And nearly paid with my life.

 

 

 

 

Having the camera out of the bag, watching the chickens literally cross the road, I wanted to keep going.

 

The chickens crossing the road

 

And as I said, it was totally silent.

So I waved at the trailer window, as I could clearly be seen, walked back up the neighbor’s gravel driveway, and took two quick photos of the wooden Santo sculpture, the blue tarp, the driveway detritus, and a part of the white truck with the open door.

 

The Santo and the blue tarp

 

Trying to be respectful, even though it seemed there was no one around, I walked quickly back towards the road.

But before I could get there, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the door of the trailer burst open.

A large, White, bearded man came charging.

Fast.

He had a gun pointed right at me, with his finger on the trigger, was obviously very angry, and started screaming at the top of his lungs.

“GET THE FUCK OFF MY PROPERTY,” he yelled! “Do you hear me? Move! Move the fuck off my property. NOW!”

I put my hands up, started walking backwards, immediately, trying to create distance between me and the insane, armed man implicitly threatening to kill me.

“That’s right, motherfucker. I’m the kind of guy who carries a loaded weapon. You better get the fuck off my property right now,” he threatened, all the while, keeping the gun trained at my head.

“Listen, man,” I stammered, “I’m very sorry I trespassed. I shouldn’t have done that. Very sorry. That wasn’t cool. But I announced myself, waved at your window, and I’ve lived here in the neighborhood a long time. I’m an artist, and was just taking a quick picture. That’s it.”

I continued to walk backwards as I spoke, calculating how quickly I could get to the property line, as he kept coming at me with the gun, enraged.

“I just moved here,” he said. “I don’t know who the fuck you are. And I got robbed last night. So you better get the hell off my property. Now. MOVE!”

I kept my cool, and trained my eyes on the gun.

“Listen, like I said, I’m sorry. I apologize. My bad.”

“GET THE FUCK OFF MY PROPERTY,” he screamed again!

I kept back-tracking, but he stood his ground, instead of charging, or pulling the trigger, thank God.

Finally, when I was in safe range, I went with empathy.

“I’m so sorry you got robbed. That’s awful. I can’t imagine how you feel. Really, there are a lot of nice people in the neighborhood too. I’m sorry you got robbed, and that it’s affected your experience here.”

“Yeah, well,” he replied, “as long as you get the fuck off my property, and never come back, we’ll be good.”

With that, he turned around, walked back into the trailer, and stared at me through the window. The same window, I should add, I waved at a minute before, so anyone might see me approach.

“Listen,” I added loudly, “please, let me bring you a beer, to make it up to you. I shouldn’t have trespassed, and I’d like to make amends.”

“You don’t need to,” he said, “just stay away from my property, and we’re all good.”

But that’s tricky. We walk by there every time we go to the basketball court.

So I headed home, got a beer from the fridge, wrapped it in tinfoil to be discrete, and walked back up the road, my heart pounding quickly.

I stayed by the property line, yelled towards the window, and told him I was back with a beer, as a show of good faith.

“I don’t drink,” he said, more calmly than before.

Are you kidding me? The only truck-driving, gun-wielding, large White guy in America who doesn’t like beer?

 

Courtesy of The Great American Disconnect

 

Just my luck.

But the tone of his voice had changed. I could tell he no longer perceived me as a threat.

“You don’t need to do that,” he said, more calmly still. “We’re good.”

“Listen, man, we’re neighbors. It’s important there be no bad blood. I just wanted to show you I’m a good dude.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re good. You’re peaches and cream.”

“OK,” I replied.

“I’m peaches and cream.”

So I re-wrapped my beer, turned on a dime, and walked home.

 

 

 

 

I’m going write about Chicago soon enough, but one thing was clear to me, traveling through two airports: people in America are ready to blow.

There is a seething anger that is not even below-the-surface anymore.

In both Albuquerque and Chicago, despite the Federal mandate, I saw people without masks, or confidently wearing masks below their noses, and under their chins, constantly scanning the area around them.

 

Woman with a mask under her nose; man with a mask under his chin

 

These people were waiting for someone to step to them, baiting anyone into speaking up, so they could unload.

They wanted to fight; to spew their anger at the world.

It was so unsettling.

You know I’ve been writing about the decline of America for years now, and when I came home from San Francisco in 2019, I did a big article reporting the social fabric in this country was badly frayed.

Clearly, the pandemic pushed things over the cliff.

People are ready to shoot, punch, or stab, and ask questions later.

I’m truly concerned.

When you have to kiss someone’s ass, and beg forgiveness, just so they don’t kill you, we’re in really bad shape.

 

 

 

But there’s one last part to this column, before I jump off and meditate some more. (It’s been helping with the PTSD, for sure.)

Today is Thursday, (as usual,) and this time on Tuesday, I was under anesthesia, having my intestines probed with a digital camera.

The whole thing was humbling, to say the least.

And it all came to pass, because my brother and Uncle both reached out this summer, within a week, to tell me the medical guidelines had changed, and people were supposed to get a colonoscopy at 45 now, instead of 50.

Then, my Uncle and Mom told me my grandfather had died of colon cancer, in his late 50’s, which meant I had a family history of the disease, making it vital I get checked ASAP.

Even typing the word, colonoscopy, I cringe a little, as it’s so much easier to say procedure.

Or surgery.

I really don’t want to evoke any visuals for you, (unlike last week, with the yellow hot-air balloon,) but I promised the surgical staff I’d use my platform to spread the word.

Colon cancer is deadly, and took down Chadwick Boseman last year.

 

Courtesy of Crazy Eddie’s Motie News

 

Black Fucking Panther, dead, in his prime.
(Scary stuff.)

But it is also preventable.

 

 

 

Listen, getting this cancer screening sucks.

I won’t lie.

Having the Covid test, with a Q-tip jammed almost into your brain, then taking all these medicines to clear out your insides, sticking to a liquid diet, following all the rules.

It’s laborious, and given the reality of many people’s work schedules, and insurance situations, I can see why so many put it off, or don’t do it at all.

Truly. I get it.

But having faced down the fear, and gone through the process, (with a clean bill of health, thankfully,) I wanted to at least share what I’ve learned.

There are so many things that can take you down, these days.

From Covid, to cancer, to crazies with guns.

Hell, a young Las Vegas Raider killed a women the other day, by driving drunk, at 156 miles an hour, crashing the back of her Toyota at 127.

She burned to death, trapped inside.

That is a nasty way to go.

But so is colon cancer.

So if you’re over 45 here in America, please consider checking with your primary care physician, if you haven’t had your screening.

It can save your life.

See you next week!

 

This Week in Photography: Keeping It Local

 

 

I’m beat today.

(Like, for real.)

It’s Wednesday, and I’m writing, which means I’ve got a kink in my schedule.

Please allow me to explain…

 

 

 

I’m leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning; my first air-travel since the bender in Jersey last May.

But it’s not even my first big trip this week, as Monday at 4:30 am, the family poured into our trusty Subaru, and did a 15 hour turn-and-burn to Denver, so the kids could visit the eye doctor.

We’d planned on spending the night, but when my brother told me our dog wasn’t welcome, (he’s a long-time Denverite,) we had to pivot, and spent a full day cruising up and down I-25.

(Thankfully, a little adventure when it was sunny and 70 degrees was invigorating, as it snowed the next day.)

Hitting the road, I was reminded that just going a couple of hundred miles can change everything.

There are no mask mandates in Colorado, (apparently,) so we had to adjust to people strutting around, faces uncovered, knowing it was within their right to do so.

Plus, they have In-N-Out in Denver now, so we reveled in the absolute deliciousness of a perfect burger, (Double-Double, animal style,) while sitting at an outdoor table, overlooking a mall-parking-lot.

 

 

Frankly, feeling the friendly SoCal vibes in Conservative South Denver was enough to make my head spin.

(But the burgers! OMG! I rarely eat beef anymore, and can’t stress enough how phenomenal they were.)

 

 

 

That said, Denver on Monday, Chicago on Thursday, and you can perhaps understand why I’m brain-fried.

(Plus, yesterday was a full-work-day, while also parenting the kids, who are home on Fall Break.)

I’m cooked.
Out of gas.
Running on empty.
(Insert random tired cliché here.)

So let’s cut to the chase.

As I’ll have fresh, Chicago-based-content for you in the near future, we’re going in the opposite direction this week.

We’re keeping it local.

If you can believe it, I’m going to review a terrific exhibition I saw at the Harwood Museum of Art, right here in Taos, New Mexico.

 

The Harwood Museum of Art

 

 

 

Unfortunately, as with the stellar show I saw at the Albuquerque Museum recently, the exhibit I’m about to discuss has just closed.

(I apologize, but as pretty-much-none of you live in Taos, it’s not like you were going to see it anyway.)

Full disclosure, I had a solo show at the Harwood in 2019, and was part of a three-person exhibit there in 2014, so I do have ties to the institution, but both curators with whom I worked have since moved on.

I’ve never met the newish curator, Nicole Dial-Kay, who came to Taos from Colorado not-too-long-ago, so there’s no reason for me to be extra nice.

I’m telling you this, because I want to stress my objectivity, as I thought this show was dynamite.

Fantastic.
Inspiring.
Supremely well-done.
(Insert random compliment here.)

 

 

 

In the exhibition, “Santo Lowride: Norteño  Car Culture and the  Santos Tradition,” the deep roots of Spanish/Hispanic culture in Northern New Mexico, (which go back more than 400 years,) and the Native roots, which are more than 1000 years old, were honored and respected in vast and obvious ways.

Everything came together so well, as the art presented to the public was shiny, flashy, smart, though-provoking, rich and fascinating.

It’s literally a curator’s job to show off artists’ work.

To make it look as good as possible.

To create context, in which ideas, feelings and objects are synthesized, presenting a message in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

And boy, did that happen.

 

 

 

There were photographs by Cara Romero and Jack Goldsmith, in the entry hall, that announced the work was by the culture, for the culture.

Religious iconography on low-riders: that set the tone.

 

Three images by Jack Goldsmith

Two images by Cara Romero

 

We cut right after those photos, instead of walking down the long hallway, and wandered through a permanent installation of historical Taos art, before entering the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery, where the bulk of the exhibit was waiting.

I’ve got plenty of photos, because this was art to be experienced, but that’s not possible, so images become the next best thing.

Shiny cars and motorcycles, costumed super-heroes, scary skull heads, Aztec-inspired paintings, all sharing space with a set of Retablos, which were made in the 19th Century as low-tech, hauntingly beautiful advertisements for the Catholic Church.

(I’ll drop the pictures for you now.)


 

 

I covered Cara Romero’s work in my first exhibition review of 2021, when I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art, and published Kate Russell’s work in the same article.

I’d seen her pictures, (of low-riders, ironically,) in a restaurant in Santa Fe, where I ate in April, right after my second vaccine kicked in.

I remember that feeling, where just taking a mask off in public and eating indoors seemed so uncomfortable, so absurd, I might have been in the Upside-down world.

Still, at that moment, I assumed “regular” life was right around the corner.

Instead, Delta hit, and our fellow Americans decided, by the tens of thousands, they’d rather die than give in to the the libs.

So…that’s the world we’re living in.

Straight up.

But Kate Russell’s photos here felt like they were hyper-charged by someone else’s creativity, and I mean that as a compliment. Perhaps it would be better to say she was collaborating with another artist, whose vision was so distinct, so AMAZING, that you’ll leave this article happier than you entered.

Just look at this.

 

The low-rider-hood is displayed on the wall, featuring designs that around here are associated with pottery, from the Santa Clara Pueblo.

(The black on black is common.)

In the photos, Rose B. Simpson presents as a Native American super-hero, like a female, indigenous Zorro, and for all the movie reboots these days, I dare you to find a protagonist you’d rather watch on screen.

This is SO FUCKING BADASS.

From there, we saw more blingy-bikes and creepy skulls, before going upstairs, (past the massive painting of a pin-up model,) to see a new installation of even more Retablo paintings.

 


My friend Ed was with me, (along with the kids,) and he agreed that in all his years visiting the museum, (he’s a long-time patron,) he’d never seen these paintings hung in such a modern, crisp way.

I luxuriated in the work.
Standing there.
Admiring the magnificence.

We all did.

 

 

It was so easy to travel back in time in your mind, to a dark, mud-walled church, two hundred years ago, with flickering candles, Latin-chanting priests, and huddled heads, where every now and again, someone would look at an image of Jesus, or Mary, and find hope.

Or solace.

So that’s where we’ll leave it today.

Art is, and has always been, a huge part of humanity’s salvation.

Art is an act of creation, and represents the best of us, as a species.

So let’s not forget that, in 2021, when so much bad-behavior gets us down.

This Week in Photography: Visiting ABQ in 2021

 

 

Identity politics are fascinating.

 

The belief we should be reduced to our race, religion, gender identification, sexual orientation, or even nation of origin seems to come back around, every so often, and occupy the intellectual high ground of American culture.

Personally, I think the advent of identity politics, in the 70’s and 80’s, is one of the best things to ever happen to this country. (And if you’d like to extrapolate beyond our borders, feel free.)

From the 2021 vantage, that it was ever acceptable for all the jobs, all the opportunities, all the press coverage, and all the $$$$ to go to “White Christian Men Only” is laughable, tragic, and most definitely hard to comprehend.

(It’s beyond WTF.)

So the people who fought that, and made space for women, people of color, and those of other genders, religions and sexual preferences, they did us all a solid.

We should, and hopefully do, honor their efforts, which most certainly required sacrifice.

But when I matriculated to Pratt for grad school in 2002, those ideas, particularly as structured by the French Post-Modern theorists Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, were back en vogue, and dominated much of the campus discourse.

 

Jacques Derrida, courtesy of the Freedom from Religion Foundation
Michel Foucault, courtesy of Brittannica

 

At the time, I’d arrived with a digital project I’d shot in Mexico the previous summer, only to learn there was no existing Digital Photography program at the Graduate level.

Literally nothing.

 

Teotihuacan, Mexico, 2002

 

So I was forced to pull bits of knowledge from a variety of departments, including digital art, undergrad photo, graphic design, computer science, and even printmaking.

There I was, seeing the new digital reality, and none of my fellow photographers wanted to talk about it.

I took an Art History class, with the brilliant Marsha Morton, which had the boring title of “The Beginnings of Abstraction,” and it was so dynamic, I still get chills thinking about it.

She had meticulously reconstructed the personal, cultural, and geo-political history of artists like Picasso, Braque, Malevich, Kandinsky, O’Keefe, and others, and taught us the intellectual backstory that led to such a radical change in art.

 

Kazmir Malevich Suprematist painting, 1915, courtesy of Clemens Toussaint/Heirs of Kazimir Malevich

 

The basic premise was, at the turn of the 20th Century, with the invention of the automobile, airplane, mechanized warfare, the theory of relativity, these changes were so seismic, from 19th Century life, they led to an entirely new world.

I sat in class, at the beginning of the 21st Century, and it was clear such things were happening again.

Just the internet alone, 9/11, and cell-phone-technology, made life almost unrecognizable from the 80’s and 90’s.

So I’d ask, “If life is this different, and our problems are so new, why are we turning to a 30 year old philosophy to explain what the fuck is going on in the world?”

It was less about people battling over race and class, and more the construct that every single sentence anyone says, (or writes,) is so loaded with cultural/identity baggage, that every utterance can be deconstructed, and rendered meaningless.

I wondered what would happen if and when such ideas migrated from the left wing to the right?

(Now we know.)

At one point, in a History of Digital Art class, I proposed a paper theorizing about the impending reality-shift, once images and videos could no longer be trusted, presaging the world of Deep-fakes. (I’d recently read William Gibson’s amazing “Pattern Recognition,” and like many before me, got my big idea from a sci-fi genius.)

The professor couldn’t fathom such a thing happening, nor why it might be important, so she denied my paper idea, and I wrote about Jackson Pollock, Carl Jung, and the Collective Unconscious instead. (Meaning, the part of the human psyche we all share.)

After Marsha’s class, I went around quoting Kandinsky, talking about how art was driven by “Inner Necessity,” and I still use that phrase with my students today.

 

 

 

In 2021, identity politics are of paramount concern again, and over the last month or so, I can not count how many people have wanted to talk to me about it, always confidentially.

(Off-the-record, just-between-us, please don’t quote me, that sort of thing.)

I believe efforts to increase diversity and inclusivity in the arts, in culture, and in our society, are insanely important, and to be commended.

If you’ve been reading this column for 10 years, (or even 5,) you’ll know I’ve always been an “ally,” standing up for disenfranchised people, owning my privilege, reporting on what’s going on out there, learning about and then practicing outreach, and generally trying to be a good dude.

At the onset of the #MeToo movement, I began alternating male and female book artists each week, for a year, and put a submission disclaimer at the end of each book review, soliciting books from artists of color, and female artists, so we could maintain a balanced program.

And still, someone came at me recently, accusing me of having never, not even once, reviewed a book by an artist of color.

It was easily disproven, but still, I responded politely, offered to have dialogue, and respected the other person’s opinion.

(Because in 2021, antagonizing anyone who’s that wound-up never seems to work out well.)

 

 

 

But the reason everyone wants to talk to me about this, (secretly,) is there seems to be a fervor for downgrading or degrading straight White male artists, which feels like it’s bordering on vengeance more than reason.

(Or at least, the idea that such people no longer “deserve” opportunities has become conventional wisdom.)

I’ve compared it to something my people, the Jews, have done, as the Israelis got a country due to 6 million dead in the Holocaust, but then become occupiers and racists of the highest order. (Denying basic human rights to Palestinians, and Israeli citizens of Arab descent.)

Hell, a few years ago, I even tried to re-brand myself as Jewish-American, rather than be known as a White Guy, but it doesn’t seem to have stuck.

As usual, I’m working up to a point, so please bear with me, as this has been on my mind lately, and I always try to find (and share) the nuance in difficult situations.

(While others have their heads hiding behind parapets.)

So allow me to reiterate: it is inherently good that so many people are now going out of their way to cultivate opportunities and support for, to honor and respect BIPOC artists.

All good.

But maybe, just maybe, the world will be a better place if we take some advice from Jesus, and the Golden Rule?

Is that such a radical concept?

 

 

I know this article might be controversial.

I get it.

So let’s give it some context.

Just last week, I went to Albuquerque to see two museum exhibitions, and speak to my friend Jim Stone’s Intermediate Photo Class at UNM.

As soon as I got to the city, I headed to the excellent, criminally underrated Albuquerque Museum, (in Old Town,) the site of the exhibition that launched my art career in 2008.

 

The Albuquerque Museum

 

(Though that’s not why I love the place. It’s a genuinely great institution.)

I met up with Adrian Gomez, the arts and culture editor of the Albuquerque Journal, as we’d hit it off when he interviewed me for an article about my work last year.

 

Adrian Gomez at the ABQ Museum

 

Adrian and I come from very different backgrounds, and had never spoken before the interview, yet we vibed immediately, and stayed in touch via IG DM’s, and the occasional text.

Though we’re both of the same gender, and love art, we had little in common, beyond a shared sense of morals/ethics, a believe in respecting others, and perhaps an artsy-hipster-energy that is less common in Northern New Mexico than you might think.

We were there to see “Another World, the Transcendental Painting Group,” a show that has unfortunately since closed, which featured Transcendental Paintings by a NM based art movement in the not-quite-mid 20th Century.

Founded by Raymond Jonson, who was also a leading arts educator at UNM, the group made mostly, (but not entirely) abstract paintings that used color theory, and shapes and forms, to communicate spiritual energy. And the exhibition featured work by Jonson, Emil Bisttram, Agnes Pelton, Lawren Harris, Florence Miller Pierce, Horace Pierce, Robert Gribbroek, William Lumpkins, Dane Rudhyar, Stuart Walker, and Ed Garman.

 

 

 

These paintings, which were heavily influenced by the early abstractionists like Kandinsky, Malevich, O’Keefe, and Arthur Wesley Dow, (who taught O’Keefe at Pratt,) were about mining the aforementioned Collective Unconscious, and the ineffable, mystical powers that exist all around us, but are never seen.

They tried to use art to tap into a universality of experience, and of the Universe itself, things often undervalued when we reduce people to their differences, at the expense of any sense of a larger shared understanding.

Adrian was knowledgeable about art, obviously, and we, the two critics, walked around the huge galleries slowly, feeling each painting, and discussing what we thought was going on.

(Including a running joke about how much opium some of them must have been smoking.)

It was clear some paintings, done in very consistent color palettes, filled with cool blues, lavenders, and such, were soothing, and made us feel relaxed and good.

 

 

Those tended to have everything line up together, value wise, with respect to color theory.

Then, images that had jarring colors mixed in, or which were based more on oranges, mustards, and ochres, were less pleasing to the eye, less soothing to the body, but they engaged the mind, as the artists were introducing juxtaposition, or dislocation, which makes you think.

There were female artists included, but if I had to guess, all the artists were White.

Adrian shared stories and insights with me, as we walked, and as that is often my job, it felt wonderful to listen and learn, rather than teach and pontificate.

(As I do here each week.)

As soon as we left the gallery, we walked into an education room, which was designed to engage children and citizens, and it was another example of why IRL museums are so vital to our sanity and quality of life.

 

 

We walked around the museum some more, and Adrian dropped knowledge bombs, like the fact that NM was once known as the Sunshine State, on its license plates, before rebranding as the Land of Enchantment, as the richer, more populous Florida took the Sunshine State as its own.

Then, as we left the building, we inevitably walked by the famous bronze sculptural installation of La Jornada, about which I wrote during the riot phase of 2020.

Someone was actually shot in the street, right near this piece of art, because some activists were trying to tear down the statue of Don Juan de Oñate, who violently colonized New Mexico, and a right-wing-psycho gunned a man down. (As a creepy, armed militia stood by.)

The installation is over the top, as the artists Betty Sabo and Sonny Rivera created a full wagon-train, with conquistadors, cows, and colonists, and it is life-like, and educational, as nearby plaques include the family names of those who came from Spain. (Some of whom were hidden Jews, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.)

 

The spot where the Oñate once stood

 

Adrian and I discussed how complicated the situation was, with Spanish New Mexicans traditionally revering their history, and the Native Americans viewing the same events as tragedy and genocide.

As such, after the riot, they hacked out the statue of Oñate, but left the rest of the art piece, and the bronze-man is now locked-away inside the museum. (Though there are apparently still discussions as to whether to remove the entire installation.)

We compared that type of decision with the subsequent removal of Confederate statues that honored men who fought to preserve slavery in the South.

Men who fought to break up America.

The conquistadors, by contrast, were just like the Protestant English Pilgrims.

The English, Dutch, French, and Spanish carved up this country, wreaked havoc, and killed millions of Native Americans. (Or American Indians, to use the term again popular in the NYT.)

It is the shared history of this country, a society built upon blood, yet as Adrian said, “If they hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t exist.”

And neither would I.

If America had not been colonized, my ancestors would still have been in Europe in the mid-20th-Century, and would all have been gassed, shot or burned alive by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.

America has created evil in this world, and I have personally written about the injustice of the American Conquest, and the history of slavery, more times in this column than I can remember.

But as an artist, and a critic, I wasn’t so sure that cleaving off Oñate from the rest of a piece of history was entirely the right move.

I understand why others feel that way.

But people getting shot over art makes me think of the Taliban.

Or the Cultural Revolution in China.

Is that really the best we can do?

 

 

It was time to move on, so I drove through some California-style-gentrification, and the first California-style-sidewalk-tent I’ve seen in Albuquerque, and got to UNM in time to meet Jim Stone for lunch.

There were big, white tents set up on campus, where musicians practiced violin, or students studied outside, as concessions to our current Covid reality.

It was great to be back at my alma mater, (Post-Bac 1997-99,) and after a nice teriyaki chicken lunch outside the Student Union, I chatted up Jim’s class for an hour.

 

Jim Stone, outside the UNM Student Union

 

All five students were either Native American, Hispanic, or female, (or some combination thereof,) and their teacher was a bearded White guy. (Who was named SPE honored educator in 2016.)

We talked about how hard it was for them, having their entire first year online, and they treated me with so much respect, as I did them.

Jim asked me to talk about the festival circuit, and portfolio review industry, as the non-profit organizations that run them offer the opportunity for community, education, and camaraderie after students leave the University nest.

I empathized with the students, and shared my knowledge and passion with kindness, and it felt wonderful to be back in a classroom in 2021.

 

 

I try to find nuance in things, as Jews are reputed to “run the world,” yet we’ve been attacked, killed and discriminated against for Millennia.

Growing up, it was implied we should hide our “Jewishness,” for fear of being persecuted, so I don’t really identify as a “person in power.”

But I grew up with some privilege, as I’ve admitted here before, and have always tried to use my platform to support others.

Which I will continue to do.

And starting with my next book review, I’ll re-institute our call for submissions by artists of color, and female photographers.

Not b/c someone suggested I was racist, (when I identify as Woke,) but because outreach is vital.

And just so we’re clear, I previously removed the submission info because I have nearly a year’s waiting list for review, and it seemed unethical to call for books, knowing I’d have to make people wait so long. (Though I do tell that to any artist who looks me up on his/her/their own.)

 

 

As my time in ABQ wound down, but before I headed to the Asian market for some groceries, I went to the UNM Art Museum, which recently re-opened after being closed for more than a year during the pandemic.

Though it’s known for its brilliant photography collection, begun by former professor Beaumont Newhall, (who founded the photo department at MoMA in New York,) there was a painting exhibition by Raymond Jonson, who as I said was a big deal on campus back in the mid-20th-Century.

 

Raymond Jonson Self-Portrait

 

I saw more of his paintings in one day than I had in my lifetime, yet this exhibition, decontextualized from the larger Transcendental movement, was less satisfying than the one at the ABQ Museum.

Fortunately, while the other exhibition has closed, this show will be up for a while, and the museum is free, so I highly recommend you check it out if you’re passing through NM. (Or if you live here.)

While the vibe at the ABQ Museum was ethereal, this was squarely in the trippy, strange territory. (I called it super-funky to Mary Statzer, who curated the exhibit, and she found that term on-point.)

The bulk of the exhibition was built around triptychs and mini-series, and feels spectral, or like Aliens were just around the corner, and maybe that’s just right for New Mexico in 2021.

 



In an alcove, separate from the rest of the work, were portraits, which were pretty phenomenal, so Raymond Jonson, (of Iowa, having done a stint in Chicago,) was clearly a talented dude.

 

 

But one portrait from 1919, of a prominent actress, Miriam Kiper, rubbed me the wrong way.

 

 

Her name was Jewish, her nose was exaggerated, as were her eyes, and hands. It seemed to be touching on Anti-Semitic tropes, and I felt bad inside.

 

 

(In 10 years of writing this column, I’m pretty sure I’ve never made that accusation before.)

I know such ideas were more acceptable back then, or perhaps Raymond Jonson was not even aware of his “implicit bias.”

Still, it never occurred to me to complain, or protest.

To demand the museum remove the painting.

Or destroy it.

Others are more comfortable with censorship, or the belief that if they get offended, the perpetrator of such offense is bad, or the enemy.

Worthy of punishment.

I understand ideas go in and out of fashion, and you will NEVER find me defending Robert E. Lee, or Donald J. Trump.

But maybe, just maybe, we can all walk back from this current, contentious ledge together?

 

 

America, as we know, is broken.

And perhaps it’s time we stop waiting for someone else to fix it?

Maybe it’s time to pull on our work gloves, cut each other a bit of slack, and do the heavy lifting ourselves?

Together.

 

This Week in Photography: Ten Years!

 

 

Happy Anniversary!

 

It’s officially been ten years since I began this weekly column.

(And so much of the world has changed.)

 

 

 

In September of 2011, my son was four years old, and my daughter was yet to be conceived.

9/11 happened only a decade prior, and the wounds were still so fresh.

Donald Trump was a loud-mouth reality television star, and Barack Hussein Obama the President. Joe Biden was VP, Obama’s wingman, and wasn’t-yet-known for his signature aviator sunglasses. (Or for calling people “Folks.”)

 

 

James Gandolfini was alive, and no one knew he had an odd-looking kid. Joe Biden’s son Beau was also living, as were Tony Bourdain, David Bowie, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

 

Courtesy of the BBC

 

The United States was mired in the after-effects of The Great Recession, which was the biggest thing to happened since 9/11. (The two defining events of GenXers lives, up until the pandemic. Probably Millennials too, now that I think about it.)

Most people weren’t using social media yet, in 2011, so no one had heard of fake news, and anti-vaxxers were a small subset of the population who mostly got grumpy about the measles.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The New York Football Giants, now the laughingstock of the NFL, were about to win the Super Bowl. (Go Eli!)

 

 

 

 

If you had told me in September 2011 that my column would turn into a diaristic, long-running critique of American culture and politics, I would have stared like you had a magical-third-eye in the middle of your forehead.

(Inconceivable!)

 

 

Those first few weeks, in September 2011, I reviewed several books at a time, just a couple of paragraphs each, and my signature style was still to come.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving, when my mother-in-law banged on our door at night, brandishing a .45 handgun, afraid of intruders, that things fell into place.

I felt compelled to tell that story, and then connect it to a photo book by superstar Taryn Simon, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

 

These days, my mother-in-law, (who was one of the smartest, fiercest people I’ve ever known,) is in a near-vegetative state, due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

As bad as the pandemic has been for many people, (in particular those who lost loved ones to Covid,) I’ve had my hands full, battling my wife’s clinical depression, and then watching Bonnie’s brain melt, day by day, until there was nothing left.

 

Jessie and Bonnie on May 14th, 2021. The last day she was cognizant.

 

Being Trapped in Paradise, walking in circles, with the beautiful mountains as a backdrop, would have been a nice way to spend a plague year-and-a-half, (in theory,) but I can’t say as I enjoyed it much.

Writing for you each week, having an outlet for my emotions, and a desire to share my experiences with others, (so they might have better lives,) was a big part of what kept me going.

So… thank you.

Thank you very much!

 

 

 

I’m not going to review a book today, as it’s the rare week when I’m writing on a Wednesday, and I thought a 10 year anniversary was enough reason to freestyle, and celebrate the achievement.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Albuquerque for the first time in 18 months.

I came home from the Burque on March 8, 2020, from my trip to Houston, and then never left. (At least until I went to Amarillo a year later, to get my first vaccine shot.)

The plan is to eat my favorite food at The Frontier, visit with my friend Jim Stone, speak to one of his UNM classes, and then see an art exhibit at the UNM Art Museum with a new buddy who writes for the Albuquerque Journal.

It is highly likely I’ll be able to tell you about it next week, if the food and art are any good, but after 18 months, even shitty water tastes delicious when you’re dying of thirst.

 

 

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a second to thank Rob Haggart, the founder and editor of this website.

These days, I get a lot of compliments for my honesty and vulnerability, as it’s literally become a part of my “personal brand.”

And that stems directly from the advice he gave me, when I first began writing here in 2010. (The weekly column came a year + into my tenure at APE.)

Rob has always given me creative freedom, and let me stretch my wings from a place of trust.

But at the very beginning, he did give me a particular piece of advice.

“Be honest,” he said, “and write what you really think.”

“But Rob,” I replied, “if I’m honest all the time, writing about the industry, won’t I burn bridges? Isn’t that a bad idea, as I’m just trying to make a name for myself?”

“You might burn a bridge or two,” he said, “it’s true. But in my experience, you’ll open many more doors by telling the truth, and those people who don’t want to work with you, those few bridges you burn, they probably weren’t the right people to work with anyway.”

“That makes sense,” I said.

We’ve been going strong each Friday, ever since, and I can say, without exaggeration, that Rob’s unwavering support, and his belief in me, changed my life forever.

Thanks, Dude!

And see you all next week!

 

(ED note: I had a great trip to ABQ, and will write a travel piece with exhibition reviews for next week’s column.)

This Week in Photography: Going Home

 

 

I wasn’t on the road long, before I saw the wild horses.

It sounds metaphorical, but it’s true.

 

Wild horses in Southern Colorado

 

 

The entire drive north, I was salivating, excited to buy some tasty indica gummies from one of the many weed dispensaries along the way.

But I waited.

I had fantasies, visions of eating a few tasty-treats in the airport parking-lot, having them hit in woozy-waves, just as I was settling into my seat, ready for a sweet-warm-fuzzy nap, until I woke up in Newark, New Jersey.

 

Newark Airport

 

I raced to Denver so I could buy them, and have a nice meal, before I got on the plane.

Four + hours after I left home, I made it to The Clinic, right off I-25 at Colorado Blvd, and some tow-headed, blonde, chubby, frat-boy walked up to the door two seconds before I did.

Typical.

I watched through the glass as he fumbled for his ID, before comically dropping the entire wallet; his money and credit cards scattering in all directions.

(They actually hit the floor.)

What a schmuck, I thought.

I’m so much cooler than that guy.

When it was my turn, I sauntered up to the counter to present my ID, and the guy smirked, before saying, “Do you by any chance have any un-expired identification?”

“Say what now?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Look right there, your ID expired in April. Sorry, man, I can’t let you in.”

“I don’t care about the weed, man. I’m about to go to the airport. If I can’t buy pot, how’re they going to let me on a plane?”

The weed guy was stumped.

I was dejected, and limped to the back of my SUV, where I sat down and sent sad-boy-texts, before calling my Uncle to tell him I wasn’t coming.

I was fucked.

He and my brother, though, on the phone, encouraged me to go to the airport and wing it, bc the pandemic meant they’d loosened up the rules on ID.

There was traffic, of course, so I sped to the airport as quick as I could, after grabbing a bad piece of pizza and even worse burrito at Whole Foods, in a mad dash to eat, as I’d skipped breakfast. (Shame on you, Jeff Bezos.)

Cut to the chase: I made the plane.

But only because the parking-guy magically waved me into the closer, more expensive garage, assuring me I wouldn’t be up-charged. And all the nice-people in the security-line let me cut to the front, frogger-style, as I begged apology, and swore I was about to miss my plane.

Yes, I was THAT GUY, on my first plane trip in nearly 15 months.

I was that guy.

 

 

I made the plane by exactly 1 minute.

I had nice nap, and oh by the way, THE ENTIRE FLIGHT WAS FULL.

Every single seat.

Sure, people were wearing masks.

But any prior concept of social distancing, or enforcing the need for personal space, went out the window.

That was Thursday.

 

 

On Friday morning, my cousin Dylan and I agreed to go the pool store with my Uncle, if Dylan could get some coffee, and I could get some pizza, once it got to be lunch.

(I skipped breakfast, in anticipation.)

On the drive West, my Uncle, who had been a professional photographer in the 70’s, told me he had a little spot we should see, maybe for pictures.

I had no idea what he meant, but we headed even further into farm country, from my hometown of Holmdel, NJ.

We cruised out past Marlboro, almost into Freehold.

Right there off the highway, there was a little road, and then a parking lot, and then a totemic 18th Century building.

Right off the highway.

It was radiating power, this old house.

 

The 18th C Craig House

Ironically, a local, professional photographer had just turned up, to take some portraits of a child, set against the creepy structure.

There was a little kiosk with information and literature, and I learned this was the Craig House, at the edge of the Monmouth Battlefield State Park.

The famed Revolutionary War battlefield!

 

 

At its edge, this, the former residence of a Scottish family, who colonized the area in the 17th Century, and owned slaves!

This was the place where George Washington fought the English, and drove them back in June of 1778.

George Washington!

I’d been here with Jessie nearly 20 years ago, from the main entrance, on the other side of the park, by the visitor center, so I really had no idea where we were.

Such a gorgeous, important place.

And we’d just casually drove up on it, on our way to the pool store, by the side of the highway.

My uncle says it’s normally empty when he goes there.

 

 

I live in a part of America that was founded by the Pueblo Native people.

The history, here, is of long-extinct volcanoes, ancient migration, Spanish colonization, and the Wild West.

Where I’m from, in Central New Jersey, those pastoral suburbs by the Jersey Shore, the history is completely different.

Holmdel, New Jersey, was founded by Dutch Colonists, in the 17th Century, but belonged to the Lenni Lenape Native people before that.

England battled for, and won, colonial territory from the Dutch and the French, to control the East Coast, and then of course America rebelled against England to become its own country.

Out where I live now, (home for most of my adult life,) Spain took the land from the Native Americans, then Mexico became independent from Spain, and finally America took New Mexico from Mexico in the 19th Century.

 

 

The Monmouth Battlefield has miles and miles of walking and hiking trails, across some beautiful country.

 

 

It is free and open to the public, so if you live anywhere in the Tri-State area, or the Mid-Atlantic or New England regions, you might consider a Post-Covid visit.

And the Shore is just up the highway.

This is the landscape that made Bruce Springsteen, these farms that rolled East to the Sea, in Asbury Park.

In addition to miles of beaches, Monmouth County has 18th Century architecture wherever you look, and small downtown main streets in which old churches have been repurposed as real estate joints, or lawyers’ offices.

 

Scary old barn, across the street from Crown Palace

 

 

 

Dylan and I took a few walks through public land.

One was nearly 7 miles.

We needed it because we ate some gut-bomb pizza on the way back from the pool store, after the battlefield.

Dylan was in a food crash, and anxious to check his work email, and I wanted pizza, so the three of us compromised.

We went to Marlboro Pizza, for slices, in a strip mall on the corner of Rt 34 and Rt 79, and I walked in the door assuming any average, Jersey-strip-mall-pizza-joint would be awesome.

 

Marlboro Pizza

 

This was not.

They had so many choices in the window, so many fancy pies to excite the eyes, but they could not deliver on the pretty visuals.

Let that be a lesson.

Maybe stick to a few things, and do them well.

I got suckered by the specialty pies, and strayed from tradition, ordering a vodka sauce w/ fresh mozzarella slice, and a grandma pizza slice.

 

Vodka sauce pizza and Grandma pizza

 

Both were severely under-seasoned, and a bit greasy.

Not special.

Dylan was also underwhelmed by his slices, and my Uncle’s piece left drips of grease on his plate.

On the plus side, we shared 1 slice of chicken-parmesan-pizza, (cut three ways,) and that was pretty great, but I only got a few bites, and it wasn’t enough to overturn the very mediocre review.

Marlboro Pizza
1 star out of 4

 

 

To burn it off, Dylan and I headed into the nature trails in the Ramanessin Brook Greenway, which connects swamp land, creek trails, and beautiful, public meadows & farmland across the entire town of Holmdel.

 

The map to the Holmdel trail network

 

We walked 6.5 miles, all told, and barely scratched the surface, but it gave us plenty of time to talk about life, as Dylan is 26, with a great head on his shoulders, and just got engaged to his high school sweetheart.

(I gave lots of older-cousin-advice, but we’ll keep that between Dylan and me.)

 

Dylan, my wingman for the weekend
Approaching Bell Works
The back of Bell Works
Ramanessin Brook

 

We walked to the back of Bell Works, the super-fancy-redevelopment I wrote about in 2019, and they have restaurants and coffee shops in there now.

And plenty of parking.

You can check out the shops, (Exit 114 on the Garden State Parkway,) leave your car, and enjoy all the nature, for free.

At the far end of Holmdel, the public land connects, across a school, to Cross Farm Park, which has ball fields, walking trails, and an early 19th Century cemetery.

 

19th C Cemetery at Cross Farms Park

 

The massive Thompson Park, where we walked for an hour on Sunday, is across the street, linking further miles of trails.

 

Thompson Park

 

So a trip to the suburbs in Jersey, these days, can be a day-vacation with hours of amazing walking, in the footsteps of Native Americans, Dutch Settlers, and Revolutionary War soldiers.

 

 

The Chinese food we had Friday night from Crown Palace, which has one location in Marlboro, and another on Rt 35 in Middletown, was brilliant, as expected.

It’s been there forever, and has always been great.

My Aunt ordered way too much, sticking to classics, so the table was covered in food.

Inhaling the egg rolls, with the ground pork and cabbage marrying perfectly with the spicy mustard and sweet duck sauce. Gnawing on the chewy, moist pork spare ribs.
Slurping down the lo mein.

 

Interior, Crown Palace in Marlboro, Looking out at the parking lot

 

It was one of the big reasons I schlepped across the country at the end of a pandemic; to taste the flavors, and remember the smells of home.

To see where I come from.

To reconnect with the people who’ve known me my whole life.

Crown Palace
4 stars out of 4

 

On Saturday morning, Dylan took me for a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel at The Bagel Store in Colts Neck, the neighboring town famed for Mafia horse farms, but while at first he claimed he was bringing me to the best bagel sandwich, (to make up for the shitty Marlboro pizza,) he later admitted, under cross examination, that we only went there because his favorite coffee shop, Rook, was next door.

 

 

Still, it was a great sandwich.

The Bagel Store
3 stars out of 4

 

More pizza for lunch on Saturday, this time from Luigi’s Famous Pizza in Lincroft, (one of my traditional favorites,) as my cousin ordered a pizza margherita, and a half-meatball-half-plain, square-pie.

The margherita pizza was low on flavor, and it had cardboard crust. Not special.

 

Luigi’s Pizza Margherita

 

The meatball half was great. But the regular pizza was just OK, and I actually left New Jersey without having eaten great pizza.

 

Luigi’s half-meatball half plain square pie

(Sad but true.)

Lincroft Pizza
2 stars out of 4

 

After a Saturday pool party at my Uncle’s place, I walked the half-a-mile to my friend Mandi’s house, as she was throwing a birthday party/ mini-high school reunion, at my behest.

 

Putting my feet up

 

(It was her birthday, but I suggested the party, as I’m not in town often.)

Everyone thought I was crazy to walk, even though it’s just around the corner.

I was almost there, rounding the bend, really when a shiny, white Tesla rolled by, and like something out of an 80’s movie, it suddenly stopped ahead of me, the tail lights blazing, and slowly backed up.

It could be anyone, behind the wheel, but I was sure it would be good.

The reveal.

Who would it be?

The window rolled down, and it was: Brett Frieman, my childhood-best-friend, who dumped me when I couldn’t attend his wedding, (because of a last-minute scheduling change,) twenty years ago!

We made-up at the official 20th HHS reunion in 2012, but I hadn’t seen him since.

He’s known me since I’m 4 years old.
Since pre-school.

Those bonds are old.

 

 

And so was the house.

From 1750, though it’s been updated since.

Mandi put out a feast, and the crowd was a bit random, (if I’m being honest,) but there was as much booze as there was food, and several people had not socialized indoors yet, post-pandemic, so they let loose.

Mandi’s Mac and Cheese was pretty delicious, and probably better than my version.

 

Mandi’s Mac and Cheese is better than mine
The scary room was behind that door

 

We drank and caught up for two and a half hours, but as I’d been partying for two days straight, despite the nostalgia, it was time to go.

Mandi agreed to walk me out, but I was in the lead.

Immediately, we stepped into an old, wooden, pitch-dark room, right off the modern kitchen, and I got the super-creeps. The heebie-jeebies.

The hairs raised on the back of my neck.

No joke.

“C’mon, Mandi, that’s not fair,” I yelled.

“What,” she replied, “I’m right here with you.”

“Well, turn on the lights,” I said. “You might like getting freaked out in a pitch-dark, haunted, 300 year old house, but I don’t.”

 

 

On Sunday, before another pool party, my Uncle drove me to the beach in Long Branch, at Pier Village, which is 20 minutes away, but we were only there for 10 minutes.

Beggars can’t be choosers, so I put my face and feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

We walked along the water.

I felt the sun on my skin.

It was perfect, as I hadn’t seen the sea in nearly two years.

 

 

The last restaurant review has no photos, I’m afraid, as it was Sunday afternoon, on the third straight day of my bender.

I was no longer functional enough to get the photos. It’s true.

My Aunt catered the pool party from Livoti’s, and it was perfect Italian-American food.

 

 

Insanely good, so I finally ate too much, forgot to take that one final walk with Dylan, and regretted it later.

Chicken Parmesan, Eggplant Rollatini, Broccoli Rabe, Cavatelli and Broccoli, Penne with Vodka Sauce.

All flawless.

It’s a shame there are no photos, but we still have to rate them.

Livoti’s
4 stars out of 4

 

 

Today, to gather my thoughts, I went on a big walk around the farm.

I listened to the birds.

I washed my face and hands in the stream.

I ran into my father-in-law, as he checked on the horses.

 

My father-in-law, doing the rounds

 

I asked myself, why do we travel?

Why make the effort?

Well, it’s super-fun, and that’s a huge part of it, for sure.

But I think the crucial thing is, travel makes us smarter, and better.

It challenges us, so we can grow at hyper-speed.

Having new experiences, encountering other cultures, getting lost and having to figure it out, it allows us to evolve into wiser, more capable versions of ourselves.

See you next week.

 

This Week in Photography: The 2nd Annual Advice Column

 

I’ve never swung an axe in my life.

(Before today, that is.)

 

 

I suspect it was connected to do the dream I had, as I woke up at 3 am.

I was driving up a steep hill in my old neighborhood, where I grew up in New Jersey, and just as I was about to make a left turn, towards my old street, Shadow Ridge Court, I noticed an impediment.

Right there, in the middle of the road, was the biggest fallen tree I’ve ever seen.

It was massive in circumference, as big as King Kong’s middle finger, and there was simply no way around it.

Luckily for me, my childhood home, (and the cul-de-sac on which it was located,) was accessed from Galloping Hill Circle, which was appropriately named, so I was able to turn right, and go the long way home instead. (Ending up at the same point, but avoiding the road-block.)

 

The tree was right there, blocking my path.

 

I woke up in the morning, (after having fallen back asleep,) certain of what the dream meant: I needed to help my wife circumvent an energy blockage impeding her happiness.

For once, I’ll keep the details to myself, but she had the same feeling when she arose as well, so I was sure the dream was prophetic.

 

 

I’ve been doing a lot of life re-evaluation in the last few weeks, as the world has begun to open, and I suspect you have too.

How could we not?

(And I wrote this just a few hours before the CDC said it was time to ditch our masks.)

Everything we knew about reality was interrupted for 14 months, and we were powerless to do anything but stay home, if we had the luxury.

I’ve found that in May of #2021, I’m a very different person than I was in March of #2020, as are my wife and children.

We’ve changed in profound ways, and it’s impacting our relationships and decision-making, in cool and powerful directions. (I’ve even begun dispensing random advice in Facebook posts, because I want to share some of the things I’ve been learning through this mind-altering-experience.)

Recognizing a blockage, and either removing it, or going around it, is a difficult life-skill, but I believe it can be learned, if we’re aware of our emotional reality, and what’s causing our underlying feelings.

 

 

For example.

I’ve loved watching sports my entire life.

It was the one way I could communicate with my father and brother, as we didn’t have much to talk about, beyond baseball, football, and basketball.

I cannot even begin to estimate how many hours I’ve watched games on television, and in the last ten years, I’ve spent a fair amount of money for all the channels on satellite TV, and then for special streaming services.

All that time.
All that money.

This year, just in the last few months, I’ve lost the taste for it.

The joy is gone.

Ironically, my favorite basketball team, the former-New-Jersey-and-current-Brooklyn Nets, are the new powerhouse in the NBA, as they have three of the top 15 players in the world.

The Nets are likely to win an NBA Championship in the next few years, (if not this July,) yet I’m jumping off the bandwagon, instead of on.

What gives?

Well, the team radically re-invented itself, and invested heavily in some head-case-talent, while clearing its roster several times over, and treating the entire enterprise like a corporate re-brand.

Old-fashioned concepts such as loyalty, leadership, continuity, and respect for the fans, have all gone out the window, for specific reasons I don’t have time to enumerate.

But I’ve taken no pleasure from the Nets’ ascent, so after a bit of griping, I just stop watching.

Similarly, my favorite English soccer team, Arsenal, is run by an American Oligarch, who married Walmart money, and he’s basically run the club into the ground, slowly and steadily, since I became “addicted” to the team ten years ago.

 

Stan and Josh Kroenke, Arsenal’s owners

 

So again, I exercised the only power I have, and turned off the TV.

Stress relieved, problem solved.

At the moment, I despise the system that is delivering sports to me, as it is filled with the type of greed and inequity that I wouldn’t stomach in my real life.

So why would I want to pay to feel shitty with my “entertainment?”

 

 

Last year, a week or two after the Covid-19 lockdown began in earnest here in the US, I wrote an advice column for you.

It had nothing directly to do with photography.

I suggested things would get hairy, and even entering into other peoples’ physical space, their 6 foot window of safety, would likely lead to drama, and perhaps violence.

We all know that prediction came true.

My article, or the points within it, was featured by Michael Abatemarco, in the Santa Fe New Mexican, because that type of direct, let’s-talk-about-what’s-happening rhetoric felt of the moment.

 

Excerpt courtesy of the Santa Fe New Mexican

Today, I decided that America’s re-opening, and how we deal with it, was worthy of an Advice Column Part 2.

So here we are.

 

 

Next week, I’m going home to New Jersey, to my hometown, to visit with my family and high school friends.

It will be the first airline trip I’ve taken in nearly 15 months, and the first travel I’ve done since returning from Houston on the eve of the lockdown in March #2020.

I’m scared and nervous, but also excited and thrilled.

My wife and kids gave me permission to go anywhere, really, as a thanks for how I’ve been a support to them through this trying time, and I wanted to go home.

To see my people.
To eat my favorite pizza.

And visit the sea.

I’m going to write about it for you as a travel piece, and will share how it feels to get so far out of my comfort zone, all so that I can return to the place that made me.

As a new man.

 

 

Which brings us back to the beginning.

Why did I swing an axe today?

What was it all about?

Well, we had an aspen tree stump, and a dead aspen tree, clogging up our front garden.

They were eyesores, abutting our big red fence, and every time we sat outside, or came in from the driveway, they were a symbol of death and decay.

 

The stump
The dead tree

 

All around them, new aspen shoots were coming up, ready to take their place.

Life was trying to start anew, to begin fresh, but the deadwood, (a term they use in English soccer,) was blocking the growth.

And reminding us, visually, of what had come before.

Of what what we had lost.

So today, after having that dream about a fallen tree, and telling my wife I was willing to make some sacrifices to help unblock her Qi, I headed over to my in-laws, looking for a hatchet.

But there was no hatchet.

Only an axe.

 

The axe and the saw

 

Turns out, chopping down trees, and taking out stumps, is hard work.

 

Getting psyched up to swing the axe
Making friends with the tool

 

(Harder than I expected, anyway.)

And it requires a lot of concentration, to ensure the axe doesn’t rebound back and cut off your toes.

I had to shoo the dog away, so she didn’t get hurt, and then use a saw to finish the job.

It was gratifying, and the yard looks much better. (My wife said so, and she knows what’s up.)

In the end, though, as I tried to remove one last little stump, I found the axe and the saw wouldn’t work.

I tried, and tried, but to no avail.

I used my Kung Fu grip, (shout out to Eddie Murphy,) and still, no dice.

Effort upon effort, but no success.

This one little root just wouldn’t let go.

Then I had a new idea.
What about the clippers?

I climbed down the sloping rock wall, grabbed a new tool, and the tree stump came up in no time.

It was instantaneous, really.

 

Sweaty and sore when the job was done

 

So yes, I’m leaning into metaphor today, and if you came looking for a photo book review, I apologize for the disappointment.

But the world is so different from how it used to be, and you’re different too.

We all are.

My best advice is to embrace the change, think carefully about your world, and what you want it to be.

And when you hit a roadblock, go around it, or move it out of the way, gracefully and efficiently.

If you need the clippers, instead of the axe, no worries.

Just grab the tool that’s right for the job.

 

 

This Week in Photography: Returning to Normal?

 

 

Transitions are difficult.

 

The time in between what was, and what’s coming.

People crave a sense of security, and fear the unknown, so when things are uncertain, it leaves a resonance in the air.

(Which might explain the timing of the January 6th insurrection.)

But I’m not writing about politics today.

I promise.

Rather, this week marked the beginning of whatever comes next, in my life here in New Mexico, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

 

 

It began on Saturday when The Paseo Project, which hosts a massive outdoor installation and projection festival in the fall, (which was cancelled in #2020,) partnered with the Taos Spring Arts Festival, and put on a mini-shin-dig on the plaza in Taos.

 

Courtesy of The Paseo Project’s website

 

Jessie and I took the kids and the dog, to go out in public for the first time in 14 months.

As soon as we approached the plaza, the first group of people we saw were maskless, and the kids nearly freaked out, as it was so strange to see and feel.

Everyone else we encountered that night wore a mask, so the jarring introduction didn’t represent the will of the crowd, but by the middle of this week, the CDC was saying that behavior was OK now.

While The Paseo is known for bringing “edgy” art to Taos, this event featured projections of the type of antiquated paintings of Cowboys and Native Americans for which we’ve been known for more than a century.

Does projecting an image of a painting of a serious-looking Native American warrior, on the side of a building in public, make it “edgier” than showing the canvas on a white wall?

For that night, anyway, I didn’t feel like an art critic, and was just glad to see other humans out on the streets, without the air of fear that pervaded so much of Earth since March #2020.

 

 

Yesterday, things really got wild, as I headed to Santa Fe for my first official day on the town in seven months, but even in the fall, I was smash and grabbing, getting in and out of the city as fast as a jewelry-store robber on a motorbike.

This was different.

I had a coffee set up with a NM public art official, who’s also a friend, and then a visit to the New Mexico Museum of Art, where another friend, Kate Ware, had curated an exhibition called “Breath Taking.”

Then I was meant to grab a sandwich and walk around the city with yet another friend, and if you think I’m overusing the word friend, it’s simply because I haven’t seen any friends IRL in so long, I almost forgot what the word meant.

 

 

My plans for outdoor dining were dashed, as it was one of the few rainy days of the year, and wouldn’t you know it, but my windshield wipers were in need of replacing, and one popped off as I entered the city limits.

With rain pelting my car, I drove slowly, and then an undercover cop pulled out directly in front of me, with no room to spare as he exited a gas station, on a slick, dangerous road, and he came so close to causing an accident I nearly peed my pants.

How is it that no sooner do I get to write a travel article for you, shit starts going sideways?

Cops!

What he hell was that guy thinking!

 

 

As I parked my car, ready for my first public meet-up in more than a year, I had to go back to the vehicle three times, before I was settled.

At first, I forgot my mask, then my umbrella, and finally my hand sanitizer.

(To go from global traveler to absent-minded-rube-from-the-sticks in a year was quite the transition.)

My friend and I had both been vaccinated, and sat outside despite the rain, but that first moment, when I took the mask off in public, was so strange.

It’s hard to put into words.

It was like staring at the sun, daring it to blind me, but feeling emboldened to risk it all, out of misplaced bravery.

And then, after five minutes, talking to another person, over a coffee in public, began to seem normal again.

(Though I kind of wish the waitress had brought me the coffee I’d asked for. I was too gun-shy to send it back, as who wants to be an asshole these days?)

 

 

From there, I drove to my favorite public parking lot, determined to get free parking rather than pay tourist prices, and headed across downtown Santa Fe to the New Mexico Museum of Art.

I knew the CDC’s declaration by that point, but kept my mask half around my face, and pulled it up anytime I got within 20 feet of another human.

(Old habits are hard to break.)

Right away, I saw so much bad “Santa Fe Tourist” art, including a painting of polar bears, and a sculpture of a mountain lion.

Who buys that crap?

 

 

The museum was another story, though.

By the end of #2019, I wasn’t even going to museums when I visited cities, because I was so over the experience.

I did it in Amsterdam and Houston, in early #2020, but only to write about it for you.

At that point, I didn’t even feel like the art was entering my brain so much. It was more about what I could share. (I was the conduit for you, the audience.)

Not yesterday.

The first exhibition, by the early 20th C painter Will Shuster, was beautiful, and I returned to the paintings again and again.

Sure, I dodged people, and stayed out of their space, but now-vaccinated, I didn’t operate out of fear, but rather respect.

And looking at the paintings, which captured Native American and Spanish Colonial rituals, felt like drinking an ice cold glass of water on a boiling summer day.

 

 

Refreshing, but also life-affirming.

It wasn’t until later, when I saw Will Shuster’s murals in the courtyard, (which I’d never noticed before,) that I realized the early 20th C Tradition of white men painting and glorifying Native Americans, for profit, would be so frowned upon in #2021.

 

 

And then in the alcove, there was a set of photographs by a contemporary Native American photographer, Cara Romero, that emphasized the point.

Most of the images were good, but one, in which a seemingly-topless model aggressively challenged the camera, while sitting on a desert dune, with her hair covering her breasts, felt like the perfect statement for #2021. (Though it was made in 2017, in the Trump Era.)

Right away, I began asking questions.

Is it OK to stare at this image? Does the artist want me to, or does she want me to feel shame?

It’s not appropriate to objectify the subject, but that’s what’s in the photo, and the photo is on the wall.

Do I look, because she’s beautiful, and it’s an excellent piece of art, or do I not look, as a way of honoring the message of the image?

How’s that for a head-trip?

 

 

 

“Breath Taking” was in the contemporary gallery, down a ramp, and I know that space has not typically been reserved for photography exhibitions.

 

 

But the NM Museum of Art has a new director, Mark A. White, who replaced a long-time director early in the pandemic, so I’m guessing things are different now.

Frankly, after I saw the show, I KNOW they’re different, because while many of the exhibitions I’ve seen Kate Ware curate over the years were made up of framed photographs on the wall, taken from the permanent collection, this was anything but that.

There were videos, drawings, sculptures, installations, pottery, and a theme that was conceived before the pandemic, but heavily altered before the museum re-opened.

(Unlike some states, NM closed its public museums for almost all of the last year. And much of the art was clearly borrowed, opening up a far larger prospective pool of options.)

The watercolor paintings of covid particles, by David S Goodsell, were gorgeous and repulsive, the documentary photos of George Floyd protests, by Tony Mobley, were smart additions, and Cynthia Greig’s grid of images of people’s literal breath, captured on a scanner bed, were lovely too.

 

 

 

Linda Alterwitz had photographs that were made by placing cameras on subjects chests, and recording long-exposures of the night sky, while the people laid on their backs and breathed.

 

 

Poetry as text on the wall, charcoal drawings recording breathing patterns, and documentary photos of typical New Mexicans, but wearing masks.

 

By Don J Usner

 

The interplay between the different art styles, and the more spiritual, political, and topical readings of breathing, was just so good.

It may be the best themed exhibition I’ve ever seen in New Mexico.

And I savored the experience like never before.

Leaving the gallery, I even noticed that the wall text lit up and darkened, in a pattern, like inhalation and exhalation.

Wow.
Brilliant.

 

 

 

I left the museum to meet my friend at a nearby sandwich shop, and though I was wearing a rain coat, I also raised my umbrella for the first time in years.

The light was transitional, dark and luminous simultaneously, and after thirty seconds, I looked up, and saw a lighting strike that cut through the entire, enormous sky.

Wait for it, I thought.

Then…. BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!

The entire city shook with the loudest thunder crack I’ve ever heard, and I don’t think I’ve moved so fast in my life.

I closed that umbrella at hyper-speed, as the last thing I needed was to survive a pandemic, only to be struck by lighting on my first day out of my house.

(As things come in threes, so they say, this morning, my car was almost crushed by a cement truck, on the way to drop the kids at school, so I’ve had enough of near death experiences, thanks.)

The rain meant no walking around the city with a meatball parmesan sub, so my friend and I went to a restaurant in the Railyard called Opuntia.

 

 

Indoor dining?

Part of me equates that with a death sentence, but I realized at some point, I’d have to trust my vaccine, and the world would attempt to normalize.

My friend chose well, as the ceilings sloped to 18 feet high, and the tables were very well spread out.

(It was clear the owners had considered peoples’ post-covid fears, and acted accordingly.)

There was an indoor koi pond, because it’s Santa Fe, and a photo exhibition by local artist Kate Russell, featuring low-riders because it’s New Mexico.

 

 

I had a green-chile-bison-cheeseburger and fries, because again, it’s New Mexico, and once the food came, we dropped our masks, talked for an hour or so, and things almost felt like they used to.

Almost.