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.

2020-2021 Photography Directories & Sourcebooks Report

© Amy V. Cooper, Photography Consultant https://www.amyvcooper.com

In 2019 I wrote the first ever Photography Directories & Sourcebooks Report, an analysis of all of the major paid directory-style resources for commercial advertising photographers in the United States.

This year I was excited to follow up with my clients and contacts to discover how these companies managed the challenges of 2020, pivoted their businesses and adapted to better support their artists.

While this is not a scientific analysis, I’m grateful for the insight that I received both from a survey of photographers based in the United States as well as input from the directory representatives, including advice for creatives going in to 2021.

With all of the directories, this year and in past years, I’ve received both positive and negative feedback from my clients. Different directories are better for different photographers depending on your experience, genre, location, service needs and preference for hands-on or hands-off maintenance of your listing. If you are not sure which directory is right for you, I invite you to jump on my calendar for a free call to discuss.

One of the positive aspects of the constraints of the 2020 pandemic is the shift toward virtual reviews, which has allowed more photographers and creatives to participate. Interestingly, photographers report that these virtual reviews feel more intimate and that they often get more time with the reviewer than when meeting in person.

In 2020, the directory Wonderful Machine received the highest praise from photographers in regard to pivoting and supporting them, with Found Artists coming in at a close second. Here is a selection of feedback I received about all of the directories, edited for length:

Wonderful Machine
https://wonderfulmachine.com/

Photographer Feedback: (I am respecting the privacy of the photographers who contributed by publishing their input anonymously.)

Wonderful Machine stepped up, both by lowering the cost of membership and increasing their marketing and exposure for members. They have been doing a weekly photo prompt and then promoting that work in their newsletters. They’ve been really great.”

“I’m happy with the conversion of traffic I’ve been getting from Wonderful Machine. They have also been sending out requests for stock imagery with more frequency. They have great resources and information on their website for photographers and seem to be more connected to their members. I received a few smaller job requests through my listing and they promoted one of my projects on their blog and Instagram.”

Bill Cramer, CEO, Wonderful Machine:

How have things changed at Wonderful Machine in 2020?

“In the past, we’ve arranged in-person meetings with publications, agencies, and brands on a regular basis to learn more about their needs and to share our photographers’ portfolios and to share our shoot production capabilities. Now that most of those clients are working remotely (and reluctant to have visitors), we’ve pivoted to video calls.

“We also added a section of our website called Creative In Place where our photographers can share a mini portfolio of shoots they’ve done during the pandemic.

“In March, when we saw how the pandemic was affecting our photographers, we significantly reduced membership and consulting rates and we guaranteed that through the end of 2020.

“In 2021 we’re launching a completely new website early in the new year. We’ve added some features including bookmarking and sharing features for clients, and a calendar feature that allows our photographers to update their travel plans so clients can find them wherever they are.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“I think there are several things photographers can do to stay competitive. First, they need to educate themselves on appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols so their clients can feel confident hiring them and so their subjects are comfortable. Next, photographers need to consider whether there’s any technology they need to incorporate into their process that will allow them to shoot remotely or that will allow their clients to monitor the progress of a shoot remotely. Finally, they have to continue to push themselves creatively, update their marketing materials and connect with clients that are right for them. Yes, that’s a tall order!”

Found Artists
http://foundartists.com

Photographer feedback:
Found rolled out #shootsolutions, which highlighted creative solutions photographers were offering during physical distancing.”

“The biggest job I got this year was through Found, and I was able to take advantage of their bidding services.”

Jennifer Perlmutter, Director, Photography & Creative Services, Found Artists:

How have things changed at Found Artists in 2020?

“We launched our Shoot Solutions page to help creatives find artists who had workable solutions to shooting and creating through all phases of quarantine and lockdown. Our Executive Producer, who helps many of our non-exclusively represented artists with estimating and negotiating projects, educated herself in COVID-safe production guidelines to make sure we knew how to safely produce during this time.

“We stopped sending printed materials from March through August and focused our efforts on collecting information. We were thrilled to receive many home addresses and direct quotes from creatives to share with our members that showed a genuine interest in receiving (print materials).

“Volume 12 of our book will drop in late February to an adjusted list of creatives who provided those home addresses and updated office information. This book is also turning into a beautiful collection of personal projects created during this time as well as interesting and thoughtful commissioned work. These addresses are only to be used for our books and promo decks, so we are still being very careful with single mailers.

“We have retired our reviews for now but are hopeful we can resume those in 2021. Time will tell. We are planning virtual showcases to launch in early 2021 that will be pre-recorded and then promoted for the creatives to view at their leisure, which has always been more our speed.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“Keep creating. I have seen so many beautiful personal projects, projects that inspire creatives and clients, come out of this time. Keep reaching out. Email creatives and share your solutions to keep productions rolling. We can all continue to help each other make it through this unprecedented time.”

Workbook
https://www.workbook.com/

Photographer Feedback:
Workbook did a great job navigating the challenges and their Where Are We Now webinar series helped with much needed and wanted answers to figure out how to move forward.”

Heidi Goverman, Senior VP, Development & Client Relations, Workbook:

How have things changed at Workbook this year?

“Our company is built on the printed book, and the spring 2020 book had already been created when the pandemic hit. Additionally, the fall 2020 book was deep in production. So, we reached out to creative buyers to see if they would like to receive their own book at home. The responses were very positive, and many books were shipped right to their doorstep. For anyone who preferred to get their books at their offices, we continually monitored the situation and shipped when appropriate.

“We have been working on a new enhanced digital edition that will debut around spring 2021. But in 2020 we’ve launched a new website, upped our social presence, and showcased our clients’ work with all-new campaigns. We also took a look at pricing and added a new subscription level with the understanding that tiered pricing is a way to help more artists.

“We have launched a nationwide virtual portfolio event for our Pro level clients and have six events on our calendar for 2021 and are planning even more.

“We’ve also found webinars to be powerful tools for information. We have a series called Where We Are Now. We discuss the current state of the industry with expert panelists. Another of our webinars is First Impressions. We evaluate websites in real time with a panel of art producers and art buyers.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“Consistently marketing your work is key right now. Now is the time to be nimble and bold. The good news is there will always be marketers and they will always need imagery, so stay with it; keep marketing. It’s also really important to keep adding to your skill set and create fresh work. There’s always that chance during a time like this that something interesting gets created out of necessity. Creative buyers are always looking for the person who brings a new take on things. Every brand in the world has been pivoting; think about that when reaching out to them and show them your vision for their brand.”

AtEdge
http://www.at-edge.com

Photographer Feedback:
“I had two high-profile meetings through AtEdge this year and hope to do more. I’ve seen some website traffic conversion from the directory as well as new Instagram followers when they promoted my work.”

Francesca Galesi, Associate Director of Photography, AtEdge:

How have things changed at AtEdge this year?

“This summer AtEdge launched a new website to include a more robust search engine that can further pinpoint photographers, directors, post-production studios and imagery. Our new ability to filter by location is especially relevant in today’s industry given travel restrictions.

“Our revamped Campaign Spotlight and eBlast have resulted in a 25% uptick in overall traffic to our site in 2020.

“Face-to-face events have morphed into virtual one-on-one meetings, which will be a permanent additional perk for AtEdge photographers. Our virtual meetings are scheduled Zoom calls, 20- to 30-minute meetings, though we hear that many are lasting for an hour (or more). Each creative has a profile on our proprietary platform that shows the company they work for, along with the clients and accounts they service and an availability calendar. AtEdge photographers can peruse these profiles and schedule virtual meetings directly via the creative’s availability calendar.

“We are still sending out our printed books. Our team has reached out for home addresses, and we’re also making note of creatives who are still picking up their mail at work.

“We now offer an à la carte approach to pricing, allowing our talent to choose where they would like to spend their marketing dollars. There is a base price of $3,400 for an AtEdge Digital presence (website, Campaign Spotlight and social shout-outs). Add-ons for the printed books and virtual meetings are purchased separately.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“It is important to continue to photograph, to work on those personal stories that so often are what draws attention to you and makes you unique. The ones that maybe you never had time for. Focus on those.

“It is also vitally important to continue to market and continue to share your work. Advertising does not hit pause. Creatives are looking. Those who show strength in slower times are always the first to prosper when economies come roaring back. Now is not the time to fade into the background. Quite the opposite — now is the best time to boost your marketing and poise yourself for the expected surge in opportunities.

“Photographers have risen to the very real challenge to include COVID protocols and have created incredible campaigns since March 2020. The world will continue to open and close, but work continues.

“Your messaging is important. How one works, what are your current capabilities, where are you located…To be in tune with the current market happenings, to be positive and flexible, and above all, to be safe.”

Boulevard Artists
https://www.blvdartists.com/

Joshua Herman, Director of Operations, Boulevard Artists:

How have things changed at BLVD in 2020?

“Instead of being able to host our series of agency visits around the country and our portfolio review events, we’ve instead had to find ways to supplement those opportunities from a distance; from monthly agency-wide conference calls with art producers to online portfolio reviews to increased email marketing.

“There are several pros of this (virtual review) format: a longer amount of time to meet, a more intimate setting since it isn’t taking place at an event where there’s a significant amount of background noise, a seamless showing of video and still work, and it’s highly cost-efficient and convenient since there is no travel expense and meetings are scheduled according to the reviewers’ and photographers’ availability. This provides continuous opportunity for photographers to meet with creatives all over the country instead of just during set event dates.

“As we continue to roll out our online reviews, we are beginning to focus on smaller markets that we aren’t able to host events in, such as places like Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Portland, Atlanta, Houston, etc. Once our in-person events are back in the larger cities, I think this will make a good ongoing opportunity for photographers to personally connect with creatives in the second- tier cities that may not be able to support a larger in-person event.

“Although I sometimes hear photographers say they prefer to show a book, which is understandable, I think there’s much more to be gained by showing their website (in online reviews) as the feedback from the reviewer will be focused both on the work itself as well as how the photographer is presenting themselves ‘publicly’ in terms of branding.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“Giving advice within this ever-evolving industry, especially during this unprecedentedly difficult time, may be a bit audacious, but what I can say with certainty for photographers and directors is that given the new working reality, putting forward your “turn-key” solutions is vital. Agencies aren’t just looking for great content creators now, they need problem-solvers who are able to bring solutions to the table. Therefore, I would suggest that photographers present a summary on their website regarding where their capabilities lie in creating work under these new circumstances and what assets they have at their disposal to address those issues. From having a comprehensive understanding of your state’s guidelines and regulations to having access to talent you may know personally to produce shoots amongst family and friends. The more solutions one can offer to overcoming these challenges, the more attractive one becomes for hiring. When this pandemic first struck, everything came to a standstill. Now agencies are playing rapid catch-up, and they’re continually looking for content producers who can produce quality content under these new working restrictions. So, address that directly on your website.

“Other than that, I would suggest taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to connect directly with creatives working at agencies. The best way to keep your finger on the pulse is to stay personally in touch with as many art producers and creative directors as possible so as to anticipate what they’re looking for and where things are heading.”

Production Paradise
https://www.productionparadise.com/

Mark Peel Lewis, Head of Creative Relations, Production Paradise:

How have things changed at Production Paradise in 2020?

“During the first main lockdown in March when 90% of our members were unable to produce content, we thought it would be a good idea to start organizing live talks with our community. The first talk we did was with producers and photographers based in China who had just come out of their own lockdown and were therefore able to relate with what everyone else was going through, give tips on how to make the most of their time and share their new reality with the rest of world. We also organized online courses and classes to share our knowledge on how to best promote your work online.

“Apart from this we kept publishing our spotlights and showcases as it was important or our members to keep being visible even if they weren’t working. Finally, we automatically extended all of our members memberships for 4 months so they wouldn’t lose any time on their current yearly membership with us.

“In terms of new services, we are about to launch new marketing consulting services for Instagram, LinkedIn and Portfolio Review/Personal branding with industry experts.

“We care a lot about the branding of our members so with our new services and the support of our experts/coaches for Instagram, LinkedIn and Personal Branding we can now help our members cover their most crucial marketing needs and make the best impact possible when being seen by their potential clients.”

What is your best advice for photographers navigating physical distancing and decline in photography production right now?

“Stay positive, spend time doing more personal projects, keep pushing your work out there and show that you are still here and kicking. I would also make sure that you get into 2021 with a proper marketing strategy, goal and plan so you won’t miss out on any opportunities that will occur during the year.”

Although I did not receive feedback from other directory sources, I know that LeBook shifted their Connections event to online and Komyoon has been adding new features to their app as well as their website. PhotoPolitic suspended events but continues to send emails.

I was happy to see an increase in support for photographers as well as shift in attention to diversity at some professional photographer associations such as ASMP and APA. The two offered portfolio review opportunities, grants, help with applying for federal aid, and resources for producing during COVID-19.

Black Women Photographers, Natives Photograph, Women Photograph, Color Positive, DiversifyPhoto and other listings gained much deserved media attention and support this year and provided community to their members.

Interested in investing in a photography directory? Read my extensive directories report and consider these steps:

  • –  Take your time and do a lot of research.
  • –  Define what services and levels of support are most important to you.
  • –  Understand who your competition is within each directory. (Is it over or undersaturated?)
  • –  Reach out to existing members who are similar in location and/or genre and ask abouttheir experience with the directories.
  • –  Speak to directory reps over the phone and ask lots of questions.
  • –  Pay attention to how these businesses are able to pivot and innovate with changes in theindustry, economy, and social influences.
  • –  Be a squeaky wheel. Check in with your directory rep(s) frequently to ask aboutanalytics, changes, initiatives, as well as more opportunities to be featured, promoted or introduced to creative buyers.

How to Survive (and Thrive) During the Pandemic:

  • –  Keep shooting and producing.
  • –  Work on your personal projects.
  • –  Stay consistent with networking and marketing yourself.
  • –  Be a problem solver, equipped with the information and resources to produce safely intoday’s environment.
  • –  Share that information on your website and with your clients.
  • –  Highlight capabilities, including remote shooting options, access to talent or locations.
  • –  Include your location on your website and in your marketing materials.

As with all marketing, you get back what you put into it. Good luck, #ImRootingForYou

This Week in Photography: A Year in Review

 

I’m writing on Wednesday this week.

I never write on Wednesdays.

 

It’s weird. Strange.

Odd.

 

By the time this column is posted on Friday morning, I’ll be reviewing portfolios, virtually, for Photo NOLA.

It’s commonplace, by now, that festivals and events have migrated online, and we’ve all adjusted.

Adapted.

Sorted it out.

For whatever reason, the other day, I was thinking of my word of the year, whether I could encapsulate the entire bonkers, tragic, confusing experience of #2020 in just a few syllables.

My choice was adapt.

The verb tense, not the noun. (Adaptation.)

I feel like we’ve all had to adapt, whether we wanted to or not. That word always annoyed me, when used in conjunction with Climate Change, as if we could never surmount our problems, so we’ll simply have to adapt to a new environment.

Now, after seeing our inability to come together as a species to battle corona, I guess I’ve been disabused of my naiveté.

But as we’re almost halfway through December, the last month in this mountaintop of a year, I realized just how little I was able to travel, and experience cool things for you, the readers, in #2020.

I got to Amsterdam and Houston just moments before travel became impossible and lockdowns the norm, in the early part of this year, but ever since, I’ve been out here on my farm.

Looking at books.
Walking in circles.

And, occasionally, reminiscing.

 

On the canal behind my hotel, Amsterdam, 2020

 

But most of the column this year has been generated from reacting to things in my house, holding photo books in hand, and then making judgements.

(So different from wandering the world, and then telling you about it.)

If ever there were two opposite years, lived back to back, it’s #2019 and #2020.

#2019 was the year to celebrate, rather than begrudge, (in retrospect,) because I got to visit so many brilliant cities, smashing up against people from every walk of life.

I was on airplanes constantly, bouncing around America, and then I even got to England.

(What a celebration of all the things we can’t do now.)

In late March, I drove up along the spine of the Rocky Mountains to Denver, to meet my friends Kyohei and Jeff, at the Month of Photography, Denver.

We had really good beer at Union Station, Denver’s downtown train hub that also became a social center, with tons of bars and restaurants. (Remember, all of this is #2019. No masks, and no issues with humans congregating.)

In April, I went to New Jersey and New York, which I wrote about here at length. From this vantage point, crushing against all those people on the High Line, with the skyscrapers behind us, seems downright decadent.

And I recall the beauty of stepping in off the street, into one of my all time favorite restaurants, (Grand Szechuan,) and having a piping hot pot of tea delivered, so quickly, to warm me up.

(What seemed commonplace now seems unimaginable.)

April brought me to Portland, for Photolucida, which has been postponed for 2021, due to the pandemic.

Last year, though, I partied in a heavy metal concert at Dantes, and pressed through a packed Portland Museum of Art, for the festival’s portfolio walk. (At Photo NOLA this year, the portfolio walk will be held in virtual reality.)

Dante’s, in Portland, 2019

 

In May, I went to London for a week, and was in and out of more public spaces than I can even believe.

Galleries, museums, trains, shops, squares, baths, movie theaters…

All of it.

Trafalgar Square, London, 2019
Inside the National Gallery of Art, London, 2019
Sir Antony Gormley sculpture, Tate Modern, London, 2019
Art and Ecology conference, London, 2019
Walking around, London, 2019

If I could teleport, and eat a pizza margherita with mozzarella di bufula, from Zia Lucia, right near Hugo’s house on the Holloway Road, that would be ideal.

Zia Lucia, Holloway Road, London, 2019

 

June was quiet, but then July brought California, bouncing from Oakland to San Francisco to Monterrey to Carmel to Oakland to San Francisco and back to Oakland. (A microcosm of the year.)

Sitting on the steps of the 19th Century City Hall building in Monterey, at twilight, with my wife all dressed up for a wedding that we’d just escaped round the corner, just the two of us, was one of the best moments I can recall.

That week we ate Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Salvadoran, and Mexican food.

(And totally took that for granted.)

Transamerica Tower, San Francisco, 2019
Yee’s Restaurant, Chinatown, San Francisco, 2019
Beef with pan fried noodles, 2019
BBQ Pork with cabbage, 2019

 

In early September, the wife, kids and I flew into Philadelphia, for a family wedding at the Jersey Shore. (Down in South Jersey, near Cape May.)

The wedding on the beach, Avalon, 2019
The last time I saw the ocean, Avalon, 2019

 

The kids and I picked up wedding confetti off the beach, and we ate pizza each day until we were sick of it.

My wife showed her first real symptoms of depression; moments that DEFINITELY got my attention.

(The Geno’s cheesesteak at the Philly airport was the best airport food I’ve ever eaten, fyi.)

In mid-September, I went to Chicago, for the Filter Photo Festival, and even wrote here how such partying and festival hopping had become the norm.

View of the Hancock Tower, from the rooftop bar, Chicago, 2019

 

How will they top what they’ve done before, I wondered?

Entertain me!

I’ve been to so many festivals, in so many cities, that I’m no longer satisfied by good food, music, and friends.

I’ve seen the concerts, and done the karaoke.

I want next-level fun, your hear me!!!

Of course, that attitude seems silly now, nine months into a quarantine that might well last that much longer, depending on when my family gets the vaccine.

It seems out of whack, that I’d take such things for granted. (Or that I’d travel 20,000+ miles and think nothing of it.)

October was Albuquerque, and then Boulder in November.

Airport hotel lawn, where we played football, Albuquerque, 2019

I remember in Colorado, finding a quiet balcony at the Boulder Hilton, with no people around, and Jessie and I would do some stretching, staring at the Flatirons, so close we could touch them.

Though we were above all the shopping centers, all the cars and the activity, up there on that balcony, it felt so peaceful, and private.

View of the Flatirons, Boulder, 2019

 

It felt like we were the only people in the world, with our bird’s eye view, and our mountains right there in the sky.

Just us, all alone.

Now, at the end of #2020, that’s how I feel every day.

Alone.
Quiet.
Hoping I can travel again in 2021.

 

 

 

This Week in Photography: The Power of Art

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

 

Hope.

Such a powerful four-letter word.

[ED note: I swear I wrote this before Hope Hicks and Donald Trump tested positive for the Coronavirus.]

As a long-time cultural critic, who discusses American politics and global themes, of course things have been a bit dark here lately.

How could they not be?

Given the colossal shit-show that was the Trump-Biden debate on Tuesday night, and the foul mood it put me into when I woke up yesterday, you’d be right to assume that this column, written the next day, would be pessimistic and fraught.

 

 

It would be the obvious move, what with Trump telling the Proud Boys to stand by, like his personal white nationalist army.

Normally, I’d lean into that.

Right?

Well, we all get tired of Doom and Gloom, and frankly, I had the most amazing, life-affirming experience yesterday.

It represented pretty much the best that humanity, and art in particular, has to offer.

So I’m going to write about it for you now.

(No frantic fear today, thankfully.)

We’re going positive, courtesy of some inspiring artists from America, England, France and Germany.

 

Part 2. The backstory

 

As you might imagine, writing about photo books as I do, I get a lot of emails from publishers and press agents.

It’s literally part of the job.

Every now and again, one such person begins to seem like a whole, fully realized human, not just an email signature at the bottom of a piece of business.

In this case, I’m thinking of Liv Constable-Maxwell, who does press for MACK, the highly successful, independent photo-book publisher based in London.

The truth is, I’ve been doing this column long enough that I actually interviewed Michael Mack, the titular publisher, on a trip to London back in 2012.

He gave me some great advice about photo books having the potential to be art objects, (when they’re done right,) and I’ve quoted him on that many times, even though we never spoke again.

(I turned up at the MACK offices sweaty and late, which was not my finest hour. Sprinting around Tottenham Court Road, looking for an office building without knowing where you’re going, will give the stress sweats to anyone.)

But I’m getting off topic with an unnecessary diversion.

The point is, Liv seems proper cool, and in our back and forth communication about the MACK fall offerings, she invited me to a new-school, hybridized, online event that could only exist in Covid-reality. (Though it was intended to be IRL, and some of the planners actually met on the day before the world shut down.)

 

The gist is this: SFMOMA had an exhibition last year, (in San Francisco,) featuring a set of polaroids of a man dressed in drag.

They represented a persona, April Dawn Alison, who was adopted by a Bronx-born, Oakland-based commercial photographer named Alan Schaefer.

Like Vivian Maier, he lived and died unknown as an artist, and when the museum was offered a look at his posthumous archive, which featured more than 9200 prints, they jumped at the chance.

 

The curator, Erin O’Toole, (whom I once interviewed for the NYT,) put together a show built around the multiple mini-series that April shot, and then did a book on the project with MACK as well.

(So far, it makes sense, as museum shows are turned into books all the time.)

From there, though, things get perfectly #2020.

Michael Mack showed the book to Robert Raths, the German-born, London-based head of Erased Tapes, an East London recording label, and he showed it to Douglas Dare, a young, gay singer in his roster. (Who also dresses in drag.)

As a result, Douglas wrote three original songs based on the photographs, and yesterday, MACK and its partners put on a live-streamed concert, including a panel discussion, in which Douglas Dare debuted the music to a global audience following along on Zoom.

Which thankfully included me and my 8 year old daughter, who loves to sing and dance, in addition to play the keyboard, strum the ukulele, paint, draw, take pictures and sculpt.

 

by Amelie Blaustein

(What else is a kid going to do in lockdown?)

Watching the performance, with her on my lap, was one of the best hours I’ve spent this year, and in a world devoid of much creative interaction, (IRL,) this was the next best thing for sure.

 

Part 3: The performance

 

I know that Liv played a big part in producing the event, which she said took a year to pull off, which was also partly led by Claudine Boeglin, a French creative director who was on the panel with Michael Mack and Robert Raths.

The sat together, maskless, while Douglas Dare was off to the left at a piano, and Erin O’Toole Zoomed in from SF.

(Liv later sent me this behind-the-scenes image of everyone masked up beforehand. I imagine the panelists might have had Covid tests?)

Courtesy of Liv Constable-Maxwell

 

I admit I haven’t seen live music in a while, and once wrote of acting like a drunk donkey at a Mississippi Hill Country Blues show in New Orleans, so one might say I was primed for something like this.

But the first song, “April” sent chills down my spine, it was so good.

I hadn’t heard Douglas Dare’s music before, but it was immediately engaging, and, frankly, perfect.

 

I made some quick videos of the screen, which I’ll be able to share with you via Youtube, and by the end of the song, Amelie was singing along, which I also captured. (She launched into “Who Let The Dogs Out” at the end, which I later learned was because she had just seen “Trolls World Tour”.)

 

There were interview segments in between, and Douglas said he tried to only go on what he saw in the pictures, and not to make too many assumptions.

“I love writing songs that are stories,” he said. “Getting a picture and then writing the songs feeds my creativity completely. Having the restriction allows you to play a lot with it. With April, there’s so little to go on.”

Erin O’Toole picked up on that thought, in her brief comments. There was no set of instructions left behind with the archive, so she had to make her own moral, ethical, and curatorial decisions about “what it means to show pictures that were once private.”

“The consensus was there was so much they offered to people who were living, who could benefit from seeing the pictures,” she said. “They cried out to be seen. What Douglas has done has reinforced that for me. If we hadn’t put these pictures out into the world, he wouldn’t have made these beautiful songs.”

The second song, “Your Face is Her’s,” was equally compelling, and the way the producers interspersed April Dawn Alison’s images with the concert was super-rad.

 

It amped up the emotional connection to both artists, as well as the bond between them, one living and one dead.

“She’s become an angel in my mind…and I wanted to do her justice,” Douglas said.

Speaking of the word bond, as some of the images featured symbols of bondage, my daughter asked, of April, “Did he get arrested?”

“No,” I said.

“Then what’s with the handcuffs” she replied?

Ever attuned to shock value, when I asked her at the end what she thought of the April Dawn Alison project, she said, “I thought, stop talking about this guy. So he dresses like a woman. So what? It’s not like he’s nude or anything.”

“Is that what you actually thought, or are you just trying to be funny,” I asked?

“Both,” she said.

 

Part 4. The Big Ideas

 

You know by now that I love linking columns together, and it was only two weeks ago that I discussed the male gaze, and the impact that it has on women, even at a young age.

So the above quote by my 8 year old daughter is telling, as she would have found nudity, by a man dressed as a woman, to be a whole other story entirely.

And the question also came up in the Q&A, when someone asked what the panel thought might have influenced Alan Schaefer the most, when he became April?

Erin O’Toole answered she thought it was “based on the kinds of images of women that Schaefer would have absorbed as person living in the US at that time. Images types you would see in noir films, or advertisements in magazines. He was mimicking visual tropes about women that were in the media.”

That her words were beamed from San Francisco, through London, and back to New Mexico via a vast array of undersea cables and internet routers, was never lost on me.

The whole hour was simply riveting.

Douglas Dare sang a final new song, “Camera” which was also terrific, before he ended with a previously recorded song that reminded me a bit too much of Radiohead.

 

And there was another question in the Q & A that really turned up the inspiration juice, (by asking how Mack and Raths made their creative choices,) as Robert Raths offered up some really great advice about his practice, which I think applies to us all.

 

“I believe in flow,” he said. “I believe in the natural power that guides my hand and my mind. I’m curious. I try to do as little as possible. I try to observe.”

“To not get involved too much, only when it’s needed. I’m really fine with that. But sometimes it’s really hard work to do almost nothing.”

He continued by saying “when I come across a project or idea, I try to make it as approachable as possible for as many minds.”

Michael Mack challenged him, by stating there was nothing “mainstream” about his record label artists.

“I try to guide people to the subject matter in the most effortless way,” Raths elaborated. “I always go with how my mind works. With what gets my attention. How much information do I need to get curious about something?”

When it was Michael Mack’s turn to answer, he said that he was often asked if he wanted to be more commercial, and his answer was, “I have absolutely no interest in that. It’s almost a luxury to maintain a focus that is on the specific things that interest me. Not to choose things for other reasons.”

“It almost sounds selfish. But that’s true. It’s what I think I can contribute to because I think it’s valid.”

Robert Raths concluded by extrapolating out of his own role, to ours, the audience.

“We all have talents,” he said. “There is no difference between the performer and the listener. Listening is a talent. Being in the moment and being intuitive is very important.

People don’t give themselves time to.”

So that’s where we’ll end today, in this column I couldn’t have dreamed I’d write when I woke up yesterday.

Yes, things are scary right now.

Yes, we don’t know what comes next.

But as I’ve exhorted you many times during the last 6.5 months of chaos and quarantine, get out there and make things. Share your thoughts with the world through your art.

And don’t forget to make time to listen, watch, and think as well.

The quiet can be a powerful teacher.

This Week in Photography: Visiting Houston in #2020

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

I went to Houston six months ago.

Went is the past tense of the verb to go.

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

So I would say Je suis allé a Houston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 2. Getting there

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a different part of town.

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

 

Part 3. Being there

 

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

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

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

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

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

The signs were there.

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

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

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

There was not much around, he said.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Part 4. Get on with it already

 

Honestly, no one did.

Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

My broccoli cannelloni was delicious.

 

Part 5. Finishing strong

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Will I ever see an art show again?

Will I ever get on an airplane?

I hope so.

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

Visiting London, Part 7

 

Part 1: the Intro

I was watching “Project Runway” with my family last night.

(Well, that’s not exactly true.)

They call it “Making the Cut” now, though it’s still Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum leading a panel of judges on a fashion design competition.

(They rebooted “Project Runway” with younger hosts, and Amazon bought the high-end talent, much like “Top Gear” begat “The Grand Tour.”)

Anyway, (spoiler alert,) on episode 6, the judges were just about to cut an Israeli designer who’d won the previous week. Her victory had gone against the run of play, and then she reverted to her regular poor form.

Despite the ugliness of the clothes she’d made, in gross yellows and blues that were tacky, (and cheap looking,) no less a hardcore critic than Naomi Campbell was defending the woman to the other three judges.

Pleading, really.

Naomi Campbell, the supermodel known for throwing things at people, for tantrums, and whom my kids had called the toughest judge earlier in the series, was being sweet, and compassionate, going to bat for the young Israeli woman.

She gave it all she had, truly.

And then when they asked Heidi, an Italian influencer judge, and Joseph Altuzzara if she’d changed their minds, one at a time they said no.

They made the right call, as the contestant’s awful clothes that week, and tepid efforts earlier, left her as the least talented or capable designer at that point.

I tell you all this, because the best part was watching the look in Naomi Campbell’s eyes as the cold, serious Heidi, and the others said no to her.

It was like someone being told no for the first time in their lives. I could feel her pupils dialing millisecond by millisecond.

 

Sad Naomi Campbell

 

She took it well, god bless her, but it was highly entertaining.

I could read her mind, as she thought, “Rules? There are no rules!”

And like Naomi, I tend to agree, when it comes to creativity. (Give or take.)

There are no rules with this column.

It’s a part of what’s kept it fresh over 8.5 years, each week.

Now, we’re stuck in our homes, and can’t go anywhere.

So I tried to force myself to write about Amsterdam today, but my creativity was letting me know it wasn’t quite ready yet. And I just did two book reviews. No book review today!

Just as I was wracking my brain, the computer beeped from FaceTime, and it took me a second to recognize the ring.

It was my friend Richard Bram, calling from London to check up on me, because I’d tweeted the day before that my mental health was cracking.

I met Richard on Twitter 10 years ago, and he’s been in this column many times before. (He’s Zamir to my Tony.)

But I met two other friends on Twitter as well, and they both live in England.

That’s three IRL friends I made on Twitter.

All in England, and I visited with each last year. Honestly, I always had this article in mind, but never got around to it.

So today, we’re going back to London, in May of #2019.

 

Part 2: A Monday in London

Shortly before arriving in England, I changed my plans, and asked Hugo if I could stay in his place for six nights.

It was a big ask, but he’s gracious, and I cooked, cleaned, and was out most days, all day long, to minimize my impact.

Still, I thought it wise to take a day trip out of town.

I was aware of Colin Pantall from Twitter, years ago, and knew he was a great blogger. But we’d never interacted much directly, that I can remember.

8 years of reading someone’s tweets and you get a sense of their taste and character, I guess. So I sent him a DM and told him I was in England, and would he be around London by any chance?

He wrote back pretty quickly, and said I was welcome to come visit him in Bath.

I looked up “Best Day Trips from London,” and sure enough, Bath was near the top of the list.

(Less than an hour and half by train to the West, on the way to Bristol.)

I wrote back sure, and he wrote back let’s do it, and then we made a plan to meet somewhere tangible, at a set time, because as I’ve said many times, my Verizon phone wasn’t working.

Once done, I hit up Brian David Stevens, another photographer with whom I’d been trading jokes and silly links on Twitter for years. I also knew he was a good photographer, having reviewed one of his books years ago, and I kept up with his exhibitions via social media.

He suggested we meet near a train platform in Paddington Station, at the coffee cart, because it would be easy to find. I had a rough idea what he looked like, and I’m sure he had the same, so when he walked up, though we’d never occupied the same continent before, it was as if I knew him.

Because I did know him.
(The digital him.)

And now, in the #2020 pandemic, that stands in as real enough, doesn’t it?

I told him I was in no rush, and could grab a train in a while, as my meeting with Colin was late in the day. (I asked if he knew Colin, and he said he did, digitally.)

We walked out of the station, and he took me around the block a bit. I remember taking some nice photos, so it’s cool I can share them here.

He told me he knew West London well, because most Londoners stuck with the quadrant of the city they lived in when they first moved there. Even if they changed houses, or neighborhoods, they tended to stick to East, West, North or South, depending.

He was a West London guy. Felt comfortable there, though he later admitted he and his wife were leaving the city for a house in the burbs.

I was ready for a coffee and croissant, as I wasn’t eating much those days, and needed a top up. So we cruised a few more blocks, and came to a likely contender.

Up just 50 yards from there corner there was a flashy looking cafe to the left, which caught my eye, and an understated one I barely realized was a cafe to our right.

I was inclined to the first, and Brian said we should go to the latter.

He’s the local, I thought, so of course he’ll know.

Turns out, it was the shop/cafe for über-trendy Monocle Magazine. And of course the young guy at the counter was a stone face hipster as well.

 

The coffee was good, and the baked goodies were good too. But I can’t say as I remember either a year later, but I could tell you about the pizza at Zia Lucia like it was still in my mouth.

Know what I mean?

Brian told me about a series he was working on, shooting pictures of a musician friend who’d tried to commit suicide.

Now, it’s a year later, and I’ve seen links to the work on Twitter.

We chatted for an hour or so, and then he walked me back to the train station, insisting on escorting me through the ticket office, where I’d get a better deal than the machines.

(You’d think it would be the other way around, but he was a local, I trusted him, and he saved me money.)

We said goodbye at the gate, and I headed down to what became a very comfortable train ride, replete with good wifi.

 

Part 3: The Baths.

When I told Brian I wanted to go to some hot springs in Bath, he told me that as far as he knew, you couldn’t go into the baths.

Meaning the famous Roman baths.

But I meant there was a resort in town, Thermae Bath Spa, with a decent day rate, where you could have a soak. (I saw something about it on the internet.)

I was right, and as I read you didn’t need a reservation, I turned up shortly after arriving in Bath, but unfortunately right after I ate a street sausage. (Bad call.)

I booked a spot in the outdoor communal tub, which was featured by itself, across the street, in its own private ancient courtyard.

No lie.

I turned up at the appropriate time, and waited where they told me to wait.

There was a young man sitting nearby, wearing a fedora, and he was singing to himself and making lots of noise. Rocking back and forth a bit too.

I moved away, but didn’t realize that since he was waiting where I was waiting, he was to be my tub mate, along with two other dudes.

So much for my plan to sit in silence, working out muscle kinks after a week of walking 15 miles a day.

I remember thinking, “You’ve got to be shitting me.” But it’s all true.

 

The tub had seen better days, if I’m being honest, but was more than nice enough. And the water was warm and soothing, if not hot.

It was the setting that was priceless, and I’d go back.
If I could.

But this dude swam around, singing, the entire fucking time.

And I did my best, martial-arts-Zen-monk-on-the-mountain routine to chill out my mind, and tune him out.

There was the sound of water flow, which also helped, and I was pretty happy, except for the one time I opened my eyes and caught him staring right at me.

Once done, I walked across the city, which is so, so beautiful, and met Colin at the outdoor cafe at the stately Holborne Museum.

I watched him approach from a park entrance, opposite from where I’d arrived, and was a bit surprised when he turned up. He was a tall, strapping guy, with graying hair, glasses, and a big, open smile.

(Like a slightly nerdy action hero.)

As with Brian, it was an immediate ease, though we’d never communicated outside Twitter, and we chatted for an hour and a half, easy.

When the cafe closed, he suggested we go for a walk, so I got a guided tour of the small city. I recall him telling me it was so very beautiful because money coming back from the slave trade had been pumped into the local architecture.

He thought it might be a fair English comp to Santa Fe, for its beauty, nature, and artsiness.

Jane Austen was mentioned.

Then the pub was discussed, and so we headed there. But not before stopping at a church, across the street, in the middle of a graveyard, where we met a man prepping an art exhibition for an upcoming Bath festival.

Colin took my picture in the graveyard, and then we went into the pub and had one too many. By the time we realized it was late, and dark, we were both hungry, and the train schedule suddenly got unfriendly.

From leaving every half hour, it appeared I’d need to catch a train getting me in well after 11 pm. (Not the best time to be coming home as a guest.)

We walked down the hill, through a secret staircase that led through a supermarket shortcut, (Waitrose, I think,) and then down to a Chinese restaurant Colin was fond of.

He’d lived and taught in the area for years, and like Brian before him, had an ease of movement through his town.

The place was closing, but they knew Colin, and we ordered two beef noodle bowls immediately. I think these folks came from Hong Kong, and the noodles had a flavor palette that was a bit new for me. (They hit the spot.)

Like Brian before him, (these polite Englishmen!) Colin also escorted me to the train platform, but we saw it was to be delayed.

He offered to wait with me, but drunk, and fed, I told him to head home to his family.

The wait for the train sucked, no lie, and walking through Paddington Station to catch the tube at 12:30 am was no fun either.

Much worse was the feeling, once I got back to Hugo’s, and crawled into bed, that I was going to throw up.

It was 2am by then.

Hugo and his girlfriend were sleeping a floor below, but there were open doors, and sound traveled.

If I woke them up, on my 5th night there, I’d never, ever be be invited back.

What to do?

I crept down the stairs, into the bathroom, and used my entire mind energy to vomit silently.

And it worked!

Can you imagine? Puking without making a sound?

 

Part 4: Meeting Richard

So I slept late the next day, and nearly blew Richard off. (We had longstanding lunch plans, though we’d already done Photo London together.)

He was gracious, and told me we could meet for a later lunch, so after I hit up the Arsenal store at the Emirates Stadium, for some swag, I took a train to a train to a train to see Richard.

If I recall, it required the overground, to get to his neighborhood, Limehouse, but wasn’t a terribly long or difficult trip. (Such great public transport.)

As good as Richard is at looking at art, he’s an equally excellent tour guide, and told me stories about buildings and streets in Limehouse, East London.

But, because I was hung over, I don’t remember the details. I think it used to be warehouses, given the waterfront location, but is now totally chic.

 

We ate in Ian McKellen’s pub, which I chronicled already, and took a stroll around the waterfront.

We went to his apartment, and his studio.

It was beautiful weather, and it felt so wonderful to be in the company of a good friend, IRL. The entire day, it didn’t even occur to me that we met on Twitter.

But yesterday, when my mental health was cracking, he saw my Tweet.

And today, he called to see how I was doing. (I was about to write my column, and rushed him off the phone.)

So I’m going to hang up on you guys now, and call Richard back, because that’s what friends are for.

Visiting Amsterdam, Part 2

 

Part 1. The Intro

 

Why do people travel?

Why do we go places?

Right now, it’s a good question, because we can’t.
Go places.

(Those of us not headed to “life essential” jobs each day, I mean.)

Speaking of which, two of my former photo students work at the local Smith’s Grocery store. I haven’t been there in three weeks, but I’m assuming they’re still at it, and hope they’re safe.

Big shout outs to Jason and Dylan! And to my father-in-law Mike, and sister-in-law Jemery, who are both Taos doctors.

The rest of us, anyway, are stuck at home.

Not going places.

And even though the uncertainty of it all makes it feel like this pandemic will be permanent, that’s not the way these things go.

Humans hate uncertainty more than anything else, which is what gave rise to monarchs and autocrats and totalitarians in the first place.

In China, for instance, as I have previously written, the depth of the bloodbaths that would occur under disorder caused many people to trade freedom for security, from certain Emperors to Mao on down.

Hitler came to Germany after the shitfuck of WWI and the Great Depression, (Please watch Babylon Berlin on Netflix,) and ancient royalty, from Egypt to England to Guatemala, has claimed to have a relationship with, and blessings from the divine.

 

 

So where we are now, with no clear answer as to how long “this” will all last, humans do lean into the hunker mentality. (Rhymes with bunker.)

But life will go back to some semblance of normal again.

It might be a different normal, like life was never quite the same after the Great Recession.

(You know I’m right.)

The Gig Economy, Uber, the permanent street class.
The first African-American President.

Donald Trump.

All of that came Post-Great-Recession.

Wait, I’m getting depressing again.

Sorry.

What I mean is, this scary phase will end.
It will.

And we’ll be able to travel again.

So, to get back on topic, why do we do it?

 

Part 2. The asshole

 

What kind of asshole writer opens a section with a question, and ends it with the same question, without ever answering the question?

Me.

So, here’s my answer.

I think we all love a proper adventure.

All of us.

It’s why we’re binge-watching all these shows and movies, and reading all these books.

We escape into the fantasy of adventure and drama.

Traveling to other cities, towns and countries, with different languages, foods and landscapes.

It is the hero’s journey.

It is the “actual reality” version of “virtual reality” that so many people like in their stories and video games.

(Minus the murder and mayhem, of course.)

When you’re out there, somewhere new, you never know what’s around the next bend?

How could you?

There is an inherent and proper romance in a great voyage, and somehow, even after the insanity that was #2019, I got to have a perfect, rambling, symbol-laden adventure in Amsterdam in February of #2020.

 

Though I am writing on April Fool’s Day, (just so you know,) I promise all stories told in this series are true.

And to be clear, I’m not saying I was James Bond, nor that it felt like my trip should be made into a movie or anything.

It’s just that it was MY movie.
My story.

And to relive it in my head right now, on lockdown, is kind of fun.

 

Part 3. Take my last Euro

 

When last I left you, I was departing the Jolly Joker, jet-lagged, on my first half-day in Amsterdam.

Saturday, February 15.

As an experienced traveler, I knew I was likely to need a bit of quiet time, and some food, to chill out before I hit the city hard again.

So I popped into a cute looking bakery/cafe, (they’re everywhere,) and got a bresaola, arugula, and fresh mozzarella sandwich, on fresh baked bread, with a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino to go.

(General advice, of the many munchies on offer in the city, including some with silly names, the bakeries and delis seemed to have the most consistent, high-end Euro product, that I observed.)

 

Dubble Trouble

It set me up for the afternoon, looking out the my window on the shimmering canal, watching a spot of local tv, and getting a bit of jet-lag-rest.

 

Hotel Room View

 

Once done, I left the Hotel Mai for my first big walk.

Is it creepy that I could consult my iPhone now and see how long I walked that day? (5 miles. It only went up from there.)

I remember that I cut through Dam Square, headed West a block or two, and then and just let whimsy be my guide.

Twisting and turning through the canal ring.

There really are few better feelings.

Turn here.
Look there.

Stop in a coffee shop and get stoned.

After a couple of hours, it got dark, and I realized I’d need food and another smoke.

I had 20 Euro left.

Decisions, decisions.

Coffee shop or restaurant?

There’s nothing wrong with having a smoke in the street, (except for the constant devil-wind,) so I opted to go with my grinding stomach.

Before me stood a Vietnamese restaurant with a cute name, Pho King.

Say it fast.
Get it?

 

 

It was cash only, which meant my commitment was complete, because I was hungry, it was relatively early, 7 or 8pm, and I wanted to be done purchasing food for the night.

To say the place had a great vibe is not an undersell. It was small, but clean, and my spider-sense tingled that it was going to be good.

I asked for some recommendations, and the smart, young Vietnamese woman behind the counter said the Pho was the best thing.

She was serious in all the right ways, and after I made a few jokes, all the ladies behind the counter liked me.

“OK,” I said. “I’ve got only 20 Euro. You’re the boss, now. I’ll do what you say, and you can use up all the money, including a small tip.”

I looked at the menu.

 

I love BBQ pork bun, and there it was. The meat is served over cold, or room temperature, rice noodles, typically with shredded carrots and cucumber, with crushed peanut, and then you add a cold, sweet fish sauce, nuoc cham.

“I love that,” I said. “It’s my favorite.”

The young woman behind the counter shook her head no.

“No?” I said. “I can’t get that.”

She shook her head no.

“No,” she said.

“But you have my best interests at heart, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “I do. We’re gonna get you a Beef Pho, with all three kinds of beef. It’s what we do best.”

“Great. Fine. But I can’t have the BBQ Pork Bun. It’s my favorite.”

“No,” she said.

I was bummed out, but keeping the faith.

She smiled.

“But look. The fresh spring roll. Look at number 14.”

I looked down, took a second, the marijuana and hash slowing me perceptibly.

I read: BBQ pork, rice noodle, shredded vegetable, peanuts, dipping sauce. Inside the fresh spring roll wrapper!

I looked at the price: about half of what I was badgering her to let me order.

“It’s the same thing,” I said, “but in a spring roll, and cheaper.”

She smiled.

Meaning: I could have the soup, and the spring rolls for my 20 Euro, including a small tip. (But no drink.)

I asked for it to go, and again, she shook her head, No.

“No,” I said? “I can’t take it to go?”

“No,” she said. “You eat the spring rolls now, while they’re fresh, and I’ll pack up the soup for you to go.”

“OK,” I replied. “If you say so. Like I said, I’m in your hands.”

The spring rolls, when they came, were a meal in themselves, and as good as any version I’ve had. The bbq pork was sweet, and succulent, and I didn’t think I’d have room for soup later. (I did.)

Nor that I’d eat BBQ pork this good again that week.
(I did.)

But after I cleaned the plate, I said thanks to my new friend, and headed back out into the night with my goodie bag.

Pho King, 2 locations in Amsterdam, Cheap eats, Highly recommended.

 

Part 4: I have a question

 

Were any of you drunken slobs in college?

I know I was.

(Thank you, Duke University. You trained me so well.)

I used to sleep until 1 or 2 in the afternoon each day, if I could.

Not since then, not since the mid-90’s, have is slept until 1pm.

Until Sunday morning, February 16th, when my jet-lag, weed-hangover, and a properly silent hotel room conspired to let me sleep.

Long and deep.

When I finally woke up, rather than food, I needed some tea, and then a fresh smoke.

The Hotel Mai had opened only a week or two before I got there, so the rooms were properly fresh. With a no-smoking policy.

They had a tea kettle and a Nespresso maker included, with green tea and coffee replacements each day.

Very classy, this hotel. (I hope they make it…)

In addition to the no-smoking policy, the windows were sealed shut. Jimmy at the front desk said it was because the city had too many jumpers, tourists high on magic mushrooms, and made a law sealing the hotel windows up.

So out the door I went.

For a moment, I stared at the water.

 

Then, down to the Jolly Joker I went, and as always it was crowded.

I spotted a seat up top and sat down next to an young Indian guy, wedging myself into the corner of a wooden banquette.

Like Gerrit had the day before, I introduced myself, since there were open seats around.

He asked if he could use my lighter, which I’d bought at the local head shop. It was black plastic, and said I heart Amsterdam.

“That depends,” I replied.

“That depends?” he asked, looking at me like I had a hole in my head.

“Yes,” I said. “It depends upon your answer to a question.”

“It depends upon my answer to a question?” Again, he looked at me like I was a two-year old.”

“Yes,” I said.

“OK,” he said, “what is the question?”

“Do you love Amsterdam,” I asked?

“Do I love Amsterdam?” he said? At that point, he looked at me like I didn’t speak English. What kind of a stranger asks that question, in these circumstances?

“Yes,” I said. “Do you love Amsterdam? If you answer correctly, you can use my lighter.”

“OK,” he said. “OK. OK. Yes, I love Amsterdam. Are you satisfied.?”

I showed him the lighter, he laughed, and then I passed it his way, as he had just rolled a joint with tobacco and marijuana, as was the custom in the city.

(There were little rolling paper dispensers on the bar, like napkin dispensers in a traditional cafe, and most people took them.)

His name was Yogesh, he was from India, on a business trip that took him to Poland, among other places.

He was in Amsterdam to get high and have fun, more or less.

My kind of guy.

The bar man was playing Travis Scott.
Drake.
And lots of trap music.

Things I listen to at home.

And there I was again, chatting up a stranger, listening to brilliant music, out in public, in a crowded, life-affirming, gorgeous, historic, European city.

Shout out to you, Amsterdam!

In the end, after an hour or so of chatting, we made plans to have dinner, but it wasn’t meant to be, as our timing was off.

So my final shout out today is to Yogesh, my erstwhile stoner buddy.

I hope he, and all of you, are safe out there!

 

Visiting Amsterdam, Part 1

 

Part 1: The Intro

Blue New Mexico sky, #2020

 

I was scared shitless to go to Amsterdam last month.

Like, palpably afraid.

I cried, before leaving, I was so terrified.

My wife and daughter looked at me with deep empathy, and my son, nearly 12.5, had the awkward grin I recognized from my own youth.

A look that said, I’m uncomfortable with your naked display of emotion. Men aren’t supposed to cry. I’m not quite sure what to do here, so I’m going to smile like a paralyzed snow-monkey.

I understood how he felt, as for a moment, I could see myself though his eyes: the bearded, aviator-sunglasses-wearing hipster Dad, always cool.

And there I was, crying like a baby because I had to go to Europe.

We’d all discussed the risks, as there was not yet Coronavirus in Holland, no tourists were leaving China, and it wasn’t thought you could just pick it up in an airport.

So after my best mate and my book’s designer, Caleb Cain Marcus, told me the book could be 10% better if I supervised on press in Holland, he, my wife and kids all pushed me to spend the money and go.

To spend that much, (though I did get a great deal,) and to head out into a world where this new virus was taking root, it triggered some deep fear in me.

From the distance of only a month, (that feels like two years,) I now know why I was so fucking scared.

The wave that was coming was so much bigger than I could have anticipated, but I felt it in my bones.

Walking to my car, with my bags over my shoulders, I swear, I could hear the Jaws theme with each step I took.

Duh duh.
Duh duh.
Duh duh duh duh.

And then, (other than almost dying once,) nothing bad happened.

Nothing at all.
Quite the opposite.

I had a magical week, alone, in a shockingly cool European city.

 

Part 2. The journey

 

I bought a package trip on Orbitz, and the airfare and hotel were together what the plane ticket was supposed to cost. So when we all start traveling again, (which WILL happen,) I’d recommend you consider the tactic.

It meant I was able to leave my home, drive the 2.5 hours to the Albuquerque Airport, and board a flight to Houston, where I’d grab my international leg straight to Schiphol Airport.

In retrospect, the flight to the Netherlands, which I found obnoxious at the time, now seems like something powerful and special that I neglected to appreciate.

There we were, in the middle of the plane: A middle-aged, tall Dutch businessman to my left, an older Afro-Caribbean lady to my right, and a young Indian woman, living in Holland, to her right.

The four of us, crammed in tighter than a miser’s butthole, in a plane full of diverse humans.

Again, that was just over a month ago, as I write this on Wednesday March 18th.

I took two Benadryl to get some sleep on the flight, and it messed with my brain, because I know I watched two movies, but all these weeks later, for the life of me, I can’t remember one of them.

Seriously, what the hell did I watch?

The other movie, “Booksmart,” directed by Olivia Wilde, was a clever, Post-Me-Too update on “Superbad,” and maybe all teen movies like it, by flipping the protagonists to female, and making one gay.

Not that I saw the parallel until this very moment, but after my 4 hour nap, I watched the beginning episodes of “Killing Eve,” which I finished on the flight home. (A proper 10 hour binge watch!)

Killing Eve promo pic

 

Highly, Highly recommended.

Talking about flipping the script? Who needs James Bond, really, when you have female characters this badass, complex, sexy and surprising?

Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh are brilliant, and some of the foreshadowing, in particular in season 1, when Phoebe Waller-Bridge was show-runner, was bone-chilling.

(I won’t do a spoiler alert. I just won’t spoil it.)

In our new world, with plenty of spare time, watch this one and you’ll thank me.

 

Part 3: The arrival

 

If you think I’m teasing this out, well, maybe I am?

Do you have anything else pressing at the moment?

I’m reliving it in my memory, and if I savor every morsel of the now-forbidden-travel-fruit, would you blame me?

But as I said earlier, everything went so smoothly. Me and the other humans, pressed up against each other, and I was through customs in twenty minutes.

The train station is in the airport in Amsterdam, out at Schiphol, so it’s the easiest thing in the world to grab a 5 Euro train ticket into Amsterdam Centraal Station, the rail hub of the country. (Though all the other cities, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht are close by as well.)

Schiphol Airport

I remember sitting on that train, closing my eyes, and enjoying a moment of quiet, after I’d been traveling for 16 hours or so.

Then, I heard some loud American teenagers, and they wouldn’t shut up.

“Seriously?” I thought. “I travel halfway across the world, and my jet-lag-headache gets lit up by some dumb teenagers on a pleasure trip with their wealthy parents?”

Eventually, I moved, and then they got off at the wrong station, got back on the train on my new end of car, and sat down near me again.

After they kept yapping, I shot the Dad a look, and he quieted them down for me.

It’s an important thing to remember in these new times.

A lot of important information can be communicated through body language. (Nearly all of what we need to tell a stranger, anyway.) So as you approach people, and step into their personal space in the next couple of months, (or whatever,) just think like a martial artist, and read their energy and intent first.

I stumbled off the train, having to take a piss like you wouldn’t believe, and would you know it, but after walking up and down the train station, I found a public toilet, but you had to pay to use it?

I had no European money yet, much less coins, but the nice guy working there let me in, because I was polite, and obviously had to pee.

Why do I tell you this?

Because up and down that city, people were so cool and friendly. I’ve been around the block, and I can’t say enough about the Dutch, and the Amsterdammers in particular.

After leaving, I quickly arrived at the Hotel Mai, which is somehow located in a quiet, chill vortex that is both right up the street from the train station, and right on the cusp of the Red Light District.

Hotel Mai, looking North
Hotel Mai, Interior Entry
Hotel Mai, Chinese statues in the entryway

There is no reason for that spot, on the Geldersekade canal, to be mellow and relaxing, but it was.

I arrived shortly after 10 am, woozy from the jet lag, and met Jimmy, a nice young guy behind the desk, who told me there would be no Hurricane Dennis. (Which I wrote about previously.)

I asked if he’d take my bags, and he said sure, but then I kept asking about when I might be able to check in early?

The entire time I was in Europe during 2019-20, having a Verizon phone, which only works with Wifi, was a big downer.

Except for this once.

Because each time Jimmy said, “I’ll text you when your room is ready,” I could truthfully say, “I won’t get it. My phone doesn’t receive SMS here.”

He pushed some buttons around a few more times, and then said, “You want a king bed, right,” and I said, “Of course.”

“I have a room for you now,” said Jimmy, and then, all of a sudden, at 10:15am, I had a hotel room, a place to clean up, and my goodness, if that wasn’t a gift from the travel gods, and an omen of good things to come, I don’t know what was.

 

Hotel room view

Part 4: The coffee shops

 

So what do you do, standing in your beautiful, brand new hotel room, staring out at the shimmering water of the canal, now that it’s 10:30am, and you’ve washed your face, smacked your cheeks, and talked to yourself in the mirror to get psyched up?

Well, the first thing you do is change money.

I’d been to Amsterdam 4 times before, including one that I wrote about here in the column, so I had a rough mental map of the area. (Now it’s much sharper.)

I cut Southeast to Dam Square, though the tourist throngs, so I figured I could get my Euros there. (Cash only in the coffee shops.)

Dam Square, the former palace

It was easy to find the action, and I went to the money changer in the middle, because the ones on either end grab the first tourists to happen by.

The man behind the counter was friendly, and gay, with big chunky glasses, and we chatted for a few moments. I came back two days later, to get the rest of my money changed, and he told me about one of his favorite places in town.

It’s called “This is Holland” and is a 5D experience in which you get to simulate flying over the country. Though it sounded dope, I never made it. (But when things open again, you might want to try it.)

After I got that first batch of money, though, I hightailed it straight to the Oude Kerk, a beautiful 17th Central cathedral, because my favorite coffee shop was there, the Cafe Oude Kerk.

Though it seems like not much changes in Amsterdam, (until now of course,) the cafe was now called the Old Church, the English equivalent.

And it wasn’t open yet.

I walked around for 10 minutes, killing time, and finally the woman working there came out to talk to me.

Apparently, the “coffee shop” moved to a different part of downtown, and this coffee shop only sold coffee and food.

No weed or hash.

Luckily, they’d printed a map, (for all the idiots like me,) and I walked there in 10 minutes, like she promised.

Why did it have to the be the same place as last time, when there are hundreds of “coffee shops” in Amsterdam?

Good question.

The Old Church had a Cannabis-Cup-winning-hash, from 2004, a blonde hash that was my all-time-favorite.

(Brand loyalty, if you will.)

But the young woman behind the counter sold me something that didn’t seem the same, though it had a similar color, but she was confident.

Pineapple Express pollen hash.

I’d bought a pipe and a lighter at a little convenience store before I walked in, so a gram of hash and a pear Looza juice, (silky, from Belgium,) set me back 17 Euro.

I sat down, smoked a couple of small bowls, and felt a nice buzz, but that was about it.

Disappointing.

I overheard the ladies behind the counter saying “California, California.”

There was scorn in their voices, but also jealousy, so I went up to investigate.

“What’s that about California,” I barged in? “Their stuff is great, no question, but I’ve been thinking of coming to Amsterdam for years. You can’t get this hash back home in the US.”

“Well,” one young woman said “if you look at the menu, all the top strains are now from California. 30 Euro a gram or more.”

“I hear you,” I said. “I can get that back home. It’s great. But what about the hash? This doesn’t seem like what I had before. That won the Cannabis Cup?”

“Ah,” said a deep, smoker-throaty-voiced, blonde women in the corner. Obviously the boss. “You mean the Royal Cream.”

“Yes,” I exclaimed! “Yes. The Royal Cream. That’s what I came back for. That’s the shit you can’t get in the US.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” she said. “You can’t get it here now either. It doesn’t leave Morocco anymore. They have a new King, and new rules. Plus, most of the old timers are retiring, and their kids don’t want to do the work.”

“Bummer,” I said.

“Yeah, well.”

I left, with my mild buzz, and headed over to The Jolly Joker, a centrally located coffee shop, where I hung out with Hugo in 2013. (I still wear the T-shirt.)

The Jolly Joker

I bought some weed to go with my hash, the Tangerine Haze, for 14 Euro. A lot of the local strains had “haze” in the name, and all of them were pretty average, compared to what I have access to in Colorado.

It’s a blanket statement, but I’ll make it here and now.

The best part of the coffee shop experience was the social interactions, the music, the vibes, the people watching, and the fact that smoking decent weed and hash only made it cooler.

At The Jolly Joker, I sat down at a table for two in the window, and watched the world go by. Within minutes though, a young man approached and asked if he could join me.

As is (or was) the etiquette, I said sure, and as he rolled a joint, I began to ask him questions.

His name was Gerrit, he was a social worker from Munster, Germany, in town for a big guys-night-out.

10 German dudes, meeting up to go out for beers and grilled meat. (But he only knew two of them, and was therefore a little nervous.)

Gerrit made no mention of sex clubs, or anything illicit, and I took him at his word.

10 German guys in a food, booze and weed feast only.

I asked if he’d send me a picture, and eventually he did.

The Guys

I bragged about my luck, getting a hotel room a block away at 10:15 in the morning.

Gerrit’s face fell.

“What?” I asked.

He said he was waiting for his buddies to come to town, and he couldn’t check in to his hotel for 4 more hours. He was tired, dirty, and couldn’t wait to get some private space.

And there I was bragging!

I felt awful.

“The least I can do is help you pass the time then, since I can go shower and lay down whenever I want. My hotel is just up the block.”

“Thanks,” he said.

So I stayed, and we talked for another hour.

That a month later, the simple pleasure of smoking and chatting with a stranger, in a public place teeming with people, in a busy city crawling with humans, would seem so luxurious?

So impossible?

We’re all still trying to comprehend it.

 

Considering the Crucifix in the Wild West

Part 1. The Intro

 

Buckle up.
We’re going for a wild ride today.

(But at my wife’s request, I’m going to keep it moving.)

She liked that last week’s column was info-dense, but also clocked in at 1200 words, rather than the 2500 I was dropping with regularity in #2019.

After all the time I spent hoping that 2020 would finally come, it’s hard to believe the year is already 1/12 done.

And what does 2020 mean, anyway?

Obviously, I know that years are sequential, but who decided to start at 0?

We’re now exactly, or approximately 2020 years after Jesus, a Jewish guy in the Holy Land, was born?

Jesus, a young Jewish preacher, a rebel and an upstart, challenging the status quo in Israel, which was then a vassal of the Roman Empire.

He kicked up shit for the Jews the Romans put in charge, and also for the Romans themselves, and was killed for it in an awful way.

I did a bunch of reading on the subject this morning, readying for the piece, and was not surprised to learn the sad ending of the story, (for the man Jesus, anyway,) was all about money and power.

The Rabbis were charging people to get “clean” enough to pray, making bank, and Jesus called them out for it. (All this I learned from an archived BBC website.)

Later, a massive religion grew up in his name, with billions of people believing he rose from the dead, after being crucified to death, and that he was actually a combination of man, God, and the Son of God.

Judaism, the religion Jesus was born, lived and died believing, claims that no Messiah, no divine being, has yet come back to Earth, but billions of Christians disagree.

Honestly, as Jews, we must see some missed opportunities, with Islam and Christianity sprouting from our religion, becoming the two biggest faith systems on Earth, while we’re a few measly million people in this world.

Why am I on about this today?

Where can this possibly be going?

I know you must be asking yourself that.

Come on.
Admit it.

 

Part 2. Leaving comfort zones

 

The truth is that 2020 has felt different than #2019, and I’m shaking things up accordingly. (For example, no early-morning email check, to keep the cortisol down for a few hours.)

So last Friday, my wife and I decided to do something we never, ever do.

On Friday late-afternoon, after our son has his Hebrew practice, the four of us piled into the car to leave Taos, driving the hour and forty-five minutes to Santa Fe, just beating the dark, so we could attend a public opening at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

I’d been overdue to see an exhibit there, curated by Christian Waguespack, which focuses on the Penitente culture in Northern New Mexico.

It was a 17th through 20th Century local, Spanish Colonial Catholic tradition in which men would pray together, whipping and flagellating themselves, in a small building in each community called a Morada.

They also staged fake crucifixions, and other seemingly extreme Catholic traditions imported from Spain.

By the time we rolled into Santa Fe, the sky was rapidly blackening, and our collective hunger was rising.

The parent in me thought: we’ve got to avoid a collective food crash.

The art critic in me thought, let’s get to the museum first, since it’s on the way, and we’ll get more time there.

(Quick snack at Trader Joe’s it was.)

We arrived at the New Mexico Museum of Art shortly thereafter, after a short walk across the plaza, which featured large trees extravagantly lit in non-harmonious colors.

There were nice snacks in the lobby, and free admission, so my kids each ate a cheese chunk or two, though I was waiting for good restaurant food.

(The Santa Fe food scene is much better than ours in Taos, IMO.)

We headed through a lovely tent, covering the open courtyard of the early 20th Century building, and then into the special exhibition section in the Museum.

Only then did I learn the exhibition, “The Birth, Death and Resurrection of Christ: from Michelangelo to Tiepolo” was all about Jesus, his life, crucifixion, lamentation, and resurrection.

(I’d decided to come trusting it would be cool, not bothering to learn the details ahead of time, if I’m being honest.)

And there were indeed masterpieces on the walls, some of which were drawn, others a wash in a light ochre.

Michelangelo, stood out, as did Filippo Lippi.

Cornelis Cort, The Crucifixion, after Giulio Clovio, 1568, Hand-colored engraving with bodycolor, heightened with gold and white, printed on blue-gray silk.
Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum
School of Andrea Mantegna, The Descent from the Cross, 1470–1500, engraving.
Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum
Michelangelo, The Three Crosses, 1521-1524, red chalk.
Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum

My daughter fled quickly, with my wife in tow, and I only briefly heard, “she wants to draw at the kid’s station out there.” (I later learned the pictures freaked her out.)

My son and I flitted about, getting hungrier by the moment, with many of the pictures being properly ogled by the a nice-sized crowd.

All the masterpieces were on loan from the British Museum, so it was an opportunity for New Mexicans to see old-school, proper European art, without having to leave the continent.

Frankly, I felt like the smart move would be to come back, without the crowds, to sink into the details of admiring a 500 year old drawing, without someone waiting their turn.

(Selfish, maybe, but it’s how I felt.)

But you can certainly see how Jesus imprinted on my mind rather fiercely, and off we went to the Penitente show, “Picturing Passion: Artists Interpret the Penitente Brotherhood.”

Here’s where I tell the truth, because the same curator was responsible for both exhibitions.

The paintings, drawings and photos in the smaller Penitente show, while local and younger, had a creepy, scary, powerful, religious juju that blew me away.

Paul Burlin, The Sacristan of Trampas, 1918, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 19 1/2 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase, before 1922 (118.23P) Photo by Blair Clark.
Russell Cheney, New Mexico (Penitente), 1929, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Russell Cheney, 1942 (1181.23P) Photo by Cameron Gay.

I kept saying, “I need to come back. I need to come back.”

(Rather than, “I’d like to come back.”)

Because each object was so tight, and in the smaller rooms, with the lower ceilings, in which the Northern New Mexican architecture so clearly matched the subject matter in the work, everything felt just perfect.

And experiential.

B. J. O. Nordfeldt, Penitentes – The Crucifixion, n.d., etching, 10 1/8 × 12 1/8 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Emily Abbott Nordfeldt, 1957 ( 597.23G) Photo by Cameron Gay.
Gustave Baumann, Penitente Ceremony, Gustave Baumann, 1922, woodblock print, 7 3/4 x 6 7/8 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Museum purchase with funds raised by the School of American Research, 1952 (1752BH.23G) ©New Mexico Museum of Art. Photo by Cameron Gay.
Gene Kloss, Penitente Good Friday, 1936, drypoint etching, 14 3/4 x 17 in. On long term loan to the New Mexico Museum of Art from the Fine Arts Program, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration (646.23G) Photo by Cameron Gay.

For all the talk of Meow Wolf, (which in fairness I have yet to visit,) and the Instagramification of the world, with backdrops mattering more than reality, I thought this show was a breath of fresh air.

(Of creepy air, I mean.)

I didn’t have enough time to process each piece, with my stomach rumbling, but the self-flagellations were there and the crucifixes.

Ernest L. Blumenschein, Penitente Procession (Study for Sangre de Cristo Mountains), circa 1925, ink, watercolor, Chinese white on paper mounted on paper, 9 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Helen Greene Blumenschein, 1985 (1985.507.4) © The E. L. Blumenschein estate. Photo by Blair Clark.
Cady Wells, Head of Santo (Head of Christ), circa 1939, oil and watercolor on paper, 22 3/4 × 15 1/4 in. New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of the Cady Wells Estate, 1982 (1982.16.40) Photo by Blair Clark.

There was one standout, black and white documentary photo by Miguel Gandert, of some 20th Century Northern New Mexican Penitentes, in street clothes, outside the Morada.

Miguel A. Gandert, Hermanos de La Morada, NM, 1992, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center, 2016.20.1, © 1992, Miguel Gandert

So Badass.

You know, week ago, I hadn’t given Jesus much thought.

(Though with American politicians like Mike Pompeo actively awaiting the Rapture, maybe we should all think about Jesus more often?)

But then I saw those two art shows, and the imagery bore down into my consciousness like a dental drill.

 

Part 3. Kick it up a notch

 

After a weekend spent moving washing machines, learning stick fighting, and hanging pictures, we kicked it up a notch on Tuesday, when my wife had the day off from work.

She suggested we cross the border to San Luis, Colorado to visit the Stations of the Cross Shrine that looms above town. (Among other reasons.)

Jessie had always wanted to do it, and again, in 2020 we’re gunning for new things, so I said yes.

I swear, I made no connection to the intense, Catholic work I saw in Santa Fe, nor did I plan to write this column.

We parked the car next to the humble town hall, and were instantly met by a huge old dog, who leaned into me for pets.

He was sweet, and a chunky collar said his name was Bam Bam, the Mayor.

It had snowed the night before, and Bam Bam accompanied us across the street, and a little foot-bridge, where we soon blazed our own trail in the 5 inch snow, as no one had yet gone all the way up the hill.

Bam Bam seemed an apparition, or a spirit guide, there was no way around it, and when he chose to turn back, we waved, and kept on alone.

We broke trail in fresh snow against a perfectly blue sky.

There were no people around.

It was all ours.

Up we went, stopping occasionally to check out the sculptures honoring Jesus’ last ascent, with his cross, to be crucified.

I believe there were 14 bronze sculptures in all, by local artist Huberto Maestas.

(You knew I’d come back around to it, right?)

Jessie and I remembered the Carmel Mission, and how it was similar in its intense combination of beauty and spirituality.

But the setting here, on a mesa-top called the Hill of Piety and Mercy, surrounded by snow-covered, jagged Rocky Mountain peaks in the Wild West, was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

I stopped at the Pieta sculpture, Jesus draped across Mary’s lap, (which I now know is a subset of the Lamentations, thanks to the excellent NM Museum of Art Gallery Guide,) and made this video for you.

 

I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a more stunning location for a piece of art, nor at a more perfect moment to view it.

I’ve seen better art, in more famous places, but nothing more perfect than this spot.

Finally, we circled around to try to enter the shrine, which is in a Spanish Colonial style, (in honor of the local ancestors,) but it was obviously locked on a snowy morning.

So down we went, occasionally pausing to take in the Sangre de Cristos to the East, and the Conejos Mountains to the West, with the sun burning happiness into our cheeks.

Listen up.

If you’re coming to Taos, or Santa Fe, or Southern Colorado, I can not suggest this place more highly.

(And I didn’t even get into the Shrine.)

The strangest part, if you ask me, the one that ties this tale together, across the Millennia, is that I would have bet anything the chapel, La Capilla de Todos Los Santos, was built in the 19th Century.

Taos families pushed North into the San Luis Valley in the 1840’s, and the town was officially founded by those Spanish Colonial Catholics in 1851.

But it was a town made of dirt back then, at the edge of nowhere.

With no resources.

(I guess I didn’t think it through.)

So my research turned up that it was built, as an offering of peace and love from the San Luis parish, in 1986!

The 80’s!
Again!

Are you kidding me?