26 June 2007

"What Vacation Days?"

Last Saturday my oldest son Douglas graduated from High School. That marked the true end of the school year and beginning of summer. So, it is time for vacation right? Doug has a summer job but also is heading out for a trip to the west coast to see his baby brother August.

For those of you lucky enough to get some time off, enjoy it. While you are at the beach, or camping, or at some ball game, or visiting the in-laws, have a look at this essay "What Vacation Days?" by David Moberg over at In These Times. Then you can see how lucky you are and wonder what might happen when you get laid off and have to look for another job. As Moberg explains:

"Americans now work more every year, on average, than workers in any other industrialized country (except for a virtual tie with New Zealand). With women working longer hours each year, the average annual work time for a married couple is growing steadily, and family time—including the crucial bonding experience of vacations—has suffered. Full-time workers in much of Europe typically take seven to eight weeks of vacation and holidays each year—that’s double the American average for full-time workers. Overall, the average private sector worker in the United States gets about nine paid vacation days and six paid holidays each year. Low-paid, part-time or small-business workers typically get far fewer, sometimes none. The same holds for paid sick leave: 72 percent of the highest-paid quarter of private sector workers get paid sick days compared to only 21 percent of workers in the lowest-paid quarter."

Unions and government - Americans tend to not like or trust either. But, legislation (yes, government action!) regulating working hours was passed under pressure of labor unions. So, when you have no time for family, friends, recreation, travel, and all that, just ask yourself "Which Side Are You On?". There are sides here - as you work your ass off, the corporate types and their right wing apparatchiks in government and the media and the think tanks are working hard to keep you doing just that.


P.S.: For those interested in issues of labor and leisure a good place to start is the work of Juliet Schor
especially her The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (Basic Books, 1992). Her empirics may be a bit dated after 15 years, but I suspect newer numbers hardly will be any less bleak!

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25 June 2007

Bernd Becher (1931-2007)

Bernd Becher, pictured here with his wife Hilla in an unattributed 2004 photo, has died. The pair are well known for their collaborative series depicting industrial structures of various sorts, including water towers, blast furnaces, gas tanks, industrial facades, mineheads, cooling towers, and grain elevators. Their influential large format work is relentlessly "objective" and typological in presentation.

“Pitheads 1974" © Bernd & Hilla Becher

P.S. (1 July 07) You can find the Obituary from The New York Times (26 June) here.

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Alan Johnston Crisis

The group claiming responsibility for abducting BBC Journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza over three months ago have released a video showing Johnston wearing what he says is an explosives vest. Johnston states in the video that that his captors plan to detonate if there is any move to free him by force. This is an extremely disturbing turn of events. I simply want to add my voice to those who are calling for retraint on all sides.


Text of latest Alan Johnston video:

"Captors tell me that very promising negotiations were ruined when the Hamas movement and the British government decided to press for a military solution to this kidnapping, and the situation is now very serious.

"As you can see, I've been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there is any attempt to storm this area. They say they're ready to turn the hideout into what they describe as a death zone if there is an attempt to free me by force.

"I do appeal to the Hamas movement and the British government not to resort to the tactics of force in an effort to end this. I would ask the BBC and anyone in Britain who wishes me well to support me in that appeal. It seems the answer is to return to negotiations, which, I am told, are very close to achieving a deal."

23 June 2007

Burtynsky & Politics Redux

Dam #6, Three Gorges Dam Project,
Yangtze River, 2005
© Edward Burtynsky

My recent post on Edward Burtynsky generated a number of longish, thoughtful replies, at least half of which disagreed pretty vigorously with me. Instead of adding to the comment thread I figured I would write another post. I guess the replies suggest why discussions at or about the intersection of politics and photography often seem mostly like a train wreck to me. I appreciate the comments because they are pushing me to try to be clearer. So, here goes ...

Joerg Colberg, with whom I have disagreed on this before, writes: “I simply don't see why Burtysnky would have to climb on a soap box and rant about waste and pollution when his photos show just that.” Nolan Smock agrees, saying: “Allowing these images to be associated with didactic rants would be a disservice.” And Miki Johnson herself also seconds Joerg’s assessment. (Arcim & Ed Nixon largely agree with Jeorg, too.) I don't think I could disagree with this convergence of views more strongly.

First, it is important not to identify “politics” - especially critical or progressive politics - with “rants” or “preaching.” If we do we’ve given up the battle, we’ve succumbed to the conservatives or the merely complacent who insist that we should stop “complaining” and simply be thankful that we are here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Dissent involves discussion and debate, speaking up and speaking out. Politics is about speech. And it is about using ideals and principles and commitments in ways that might shape the future for the better. We demean ourselves, we evacuate the public terrain of citizenship if we automatically characterize political speech reductively as “rants.”

Even if one thinks most of what passes for political speech in fact amounts to little more than ranting and preaching perhaps it is possible for photographers (and other visual artists) to alter that in big or small ways. Consider Salgado and Nachtwey, to take two photographers of Burtynsky’s stature. When they discuss the political implications of their work would you say that they “rant?” Are they up “on a soap box?” No. Both do, however, see themselves as engaged in politics in the broad sense I’ve been depicting. They both repeatedly proclaim that they hope their work will promote discussion and debate about political problems. Burtynsky, as we will see below, abjures even so restrained an aspiration.

Second, is environmental degradation of the sort that Burtynsky depicts less lethal, less of a humanly created catastrophe than war or famine or massive forced displacement? Would it be acceptable to simply remain non-committal (and, as I suggest below, that is precisely the stance Burtynsky strikes) about the latter sorts of events? Again, think of Salgado or Nachtwey. How would we judge them if they adopted so non-committal a stance regarding the political and economic implications of their photographs of devastation and mayhem? Why is it easier to let Burtynsky off the hook here (in say his pictures of large dams in China like the one I've lifted above) than it would be to allow Salgado or Nachtwey to remain analogously silent regarding, say, their images of corpses of cholera victims in Zairean refugee camps? I simply do not get this.

If you think it sheer hyperbole to compare the construction of big dams to refugee camps created in the wake of genocide, perhaps you should read Arundhati Roy’s essays on the topic (find her essays on "The Greater Common Good" at Outlook India) where she documents both the true technological idiocy of such projects and the way they target vulnerable populations. Perhaps you will think she is ranting and perhaps she ought to be. I actually find her writing on the topic pointed and reasonable and often extraordinarily funny. And lest you think it unseemly for photographers to speak up about such matters, please read the essay on Elliott Porter in Rebecca Solnit’s new book. Or read Robert Adams's interviews and essays. Neither Porter nor Adams seems remotely to be a ranter or preacher. Neither was an activist - the prospect of which seems to worry other commentors - Ed & Arcim. But neither refused public comment as Burtynsky seems to do.

Since the other commentors essentially endorse Joerg's remarks I will take issue with some of what he says. In particular I want to contest the notion that it is "obvious" what Burtynsky is up to. In so doing, I will set aside a disagreement I have with him about the relative impact of small vs large scale items in the creation of our carbon footprints.

To start I will recommend this brief audio clip of an intriguing 2005 interview with Burtynsky that's been posted over at lensculture. The interview is about Burtynsky's recent work in China. In it he addresses some of the themes (e.g., matters of gaining access to China) that commentators raised in the comment thread oon my earlier post. It also offers, I think, insight into why Burtynsky affords so provocative an example for discussion. I want to make it clear that I find his work incredible in visual terms. I also think that, as the interview makes clear, he has pretty firm sympathies with those for whom environmental degradation is, as he puts it, "a global concern." On his account - which I have no reason to doubt - he was quite straightforward with high government officials in China about that concern. Burtynsky claims to have warned the Chinese not to repeat the environmental errors that we in the west have made in our pursuit of progress. In that sense he provides a commendable example.

But let's pay attention to how Burtynsky talks about his photographic work. It is (I think, and as I already have intimated) fair to say that he is pretty much entirely non-commital. Here are some passages from the interview (with apologies for minor transcription errors I might've made):
"I like to keep the work - and I think visual art is particularly suited to kind of keeping the reading of it somewhat open. To make it overly political, and say 'this is wrong,' is too simplistic . ..."

"[T]he work could be seen as a critique or it could also be seen as what they're celebrating in terms of their transition ... because they could look at that and say 'look we've joined the rest of the world' ..."
Earlier on, discussing the industrialization and urbanization he depicts in China, and the displacement caused by large dams in particular, Burtynsky suggests "one can read both good and bad in that" and rationalizes this by noting "there's a consequence to progress." [I could not have made that up except I suggested something quite like it in my initial post.] As with the images in his earlier project Manufactured Landscapes he very strenuously resists the notion that his photographs are "an indictment." My point is that Joerg is infering from the photographs something that their maker, at least, hardly thinks they portray. Joerg is perhaps correct (I personally would like to think that most folks saw what Burtynsky depicts as "waste and pollution." I simply don't think they do.) But, if we are to take Burtynsky at his word, what Joerg thinks is "obvious" is not quite that. If Joerg is correct, Burtynsky has failed.

In this interview Burtynsky operates with a sort of dualistic view of politics. Either it is a command driven, top down enterprise of the sort practiced by totalitarian regimes or it is characterized by a "cacophony" and "anarchy" of views, as under capitalism. This too seems a caricature of politics. Perhaps democratic politics can shape and constraint the cacophony of views in ways that are less objectionable than coercive techniques deployed by dictatorships? That would allow Burtynsky, like Salgado, Nachtwey, Porter or Adams, to speak out in ways that might address fellow citizens. But that brings us back to where I began.


21 June 2007

a new american portrait (NYC Opening)

press release :: a new american portrait

NEW YORK, NY - Jen Bekman is pleased to present A New American Portrait, a group exhibition of photographs featuring artists at the vanguard of contemporary portraiture in America. Co-curated by Ms. Bekman and Jörg Colberg, editor of the influential fine art photography blog Conscientious, the exhibition will be on view from June 22 – August 3, 2007 at jen bekman, located at 6 Spring Street between Elizabeth and Bowery, New York.

Jen Bekman will host an opening reception for the artist on Friday, June 22, from 6:00 – 8:00pm at the gallery.

A New American Portrait features photographs by Christine Collins, Jen Davis, Benjamin Donaldson, Amy Elkins, Peter Haakon Thompson, Todd Hido, Alec Soth, Brian Ulrich, and Shen Wei. Their portraits, environmental, posed, and self-portraits among them, express the wide range of practice in modern American portraiture. Mr. Colberg observes: “A portrait lives in the interaction between the photographer and the sitter, a relationship which banishes any notion of objectivity. The work included in this exhibition explores, and at times exposes, this fragile intriguing dynamic.”

These photographs illustrate the inherent contradictions in contemporary portraiture, as seen from a distinctly American point of view. While they appear to be "honest" representations, some revealing and confessional, in truth the subjects exist within narratives and environments carefully constructed by the photographers. Gallery director Jen Bekman comments, “Alec Soth's Bonnie smiles sweetly while holding her photograph of an angel, serene in her faith, having just shared a Bible passage with Soth condemning people to hell for their sins. Soth's presence, however, remains as it does in all his work: compassionate rather than condescending. In an untitled portrait from Ulrich's Thrift series, a young girl assumes a Classical pose amid the glare and chaos of a shopping mall. Hido's portraits are suffused with sadness and sexuality, ripe with a mysterious narrative. Davis's self-portraits brutally confront our abiding obsessions with thinness and desirability. The eighteen portraits in this exhibition explore potent themes and emotions which shape contemporary America: sexuality, gender, desire, heroism, consumption, fear, class, hope and loneliness are all in the mix.”

A New American Portrait at jen bekman, 6 Spring Street.
Hours: Wednesday - Saturday, noon – 6pm or by private appointment.

For images or more information, please contact Michael Duong: 212.219.0166 or press@jenbekman.com.


20 June 2007

Gao Brothers

"Ruins, 1998" © Gao Brothers


19 June 2007

Man Bites Dog - Economic Inequality is Bad for Globalization

My friend Peter Loewen from up in Montreal brought my attention to this paper in Foreign Affairs on how increasing political-economic inequality informs the growing protectionist atmosphere in the U.S. ...

"Advocates of engagement with the world economy are now warning of a protectionist drift in public policy. This drift is commonly blamed on narrow industry concerns or a failure to explain globalization's benefits or the war on terrorism. These explanations miss a more basic point: U.S. policy is becoming more protectionist because the American public is becoming more protectionist, and this shift in attitudes is a result of stagnant or falling incomes. Public support for engagement with the world economy is strongly linked to labor-market performance, and for most workers labor-market performance has been poor. ...

The fundamental explanation ... : policy is becoming more protectionist because the public is becoming more protectionist, and the public is becoming more protectionist because incomes are stagnating or falling. The integration of the world economy has boosted productivity and wealth creation in the United States and much of the rest of the world. But within many countries, and certainly within the United States, the benefits of this integration have been unevenly distributed -- and this fact is increasingly being recognized. Individuals are asking themselves, "Is globalization good for me?" and, in a growing number of cases, arriving at the conclusion that it is not."

The punch-line? Here it is:

"The best way to avert the rise in protectionism is by instituting a New Deal for globalization -- one that links engagement with the world economy to a substantial redistribution of income. In the United States, that would mean adopting a fundamentally more progressive federal tax system. The notion of more aggressively redistributing income may sound radical, but ensuring that most American workers are benefiting is the best way of saving globalization from a protectionist backlash."

I guess that market fundamentalists need to realize that aggregate gains mean little unless they have some distributive recommendation. We should not be surprised that the benefits of globalization are mal-distributed. They are. We should not be surprised either, if that pisses off people who are being left behind or left out altogether.

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18 June 2007

Back to Burtynsky & Politics

Over at State of the Art Miki Johnson (no relation) has a brief review of what seems like a not terribly interesting "documentary" film that is not-quite-about Ed Burtynsky and his work. I've not seen the film, but will get our library to buy it. That said, I find the review interesting because it raises the matter, once again, of in Johnson's words "why he [Burtynsky] hasn't gotten involved in the politics of environmentalism -- even though his large-format prints of humanity's effects on the landscape could easily serve as its posters." Although Johnson praises the visual aspects of the film ("with beautiful long pans and careful attention to composition"), she (I think, she) finds the soundtrack to the film irritating and distracting because it is ominous and seems to be prompting the viewer to find Burtynsky's "enthralling pictures" similarly darkly disconcerting. Johnson seems to think the images simply are disconcerting. And she therefore criticizes the filmmakers for departing from "Burtynsky's diplomatic apolitical" stance.

I find Burtynsky's stance here (and Johnson's endorsement of it) irresponsible. Given his purported concern for the environment, and given the pressures of environmental degradation, how does he justify being diplomatic or apolitical? His images are big and colorful and striking and they could well be "posters" for virtually anything. The notion that they somehow speak for themselves, or that they necessarily prompt viewers to reflectively examine their environmental "footprint" is amazingly naive and complacent.

About Burtynsky, Johnson writes: "With his vast photos he has uncovered the disturbing breadth of our greed and ambition." There are people who might look at the picture reproduced above (lifted from Johnson's post) and see not waste heaps but, at worst, the inevitable by-product of economic progress and, better, an opportunity. Various sorts of entrepreneurs, after all, can collect wire, strip the insulation, and sell the metal as scrap. And are there not more direct indications of 'our greed and ambition?' If you want to get people to reconsider their carbon footprints, why not look at the 'big ticket items' instead of simply the waste to which they contribute only marginally?

"Glowing" © Patti Hallock

For instance, compare the Burtynsky image above to any in this terrific series Nocturnal Suburbia by Patti Hallock.* These images reveal immensely wasteful patterns of resource use - McMansions built in sprawling subdivisions. [1] (Let's leave aside the tacit commentary on family or community life in suburbia.) They are no more preachy than Burtynsky. The composition and use of color and lighting all are, I think, striking. But, this image is no more "political" than Burtynsky's. It might serve as a "poster" for real estate developers, home security firms, lighting systems, etc. - what about those ominous shadows!?! ... And I know lots of folks who would find the images in this series (or Burtynsky's!) not in the least discomfiting.

I have, in the past, recommended this review of Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes by Rebecca Solnit. She has reproduced it in her new book and it gets directly to the heart of what I like about Burtynsky and what I find troubling about him too. Solnit argues persuasively that Burtynsky "approaches" the task/accomplishment of getting viewers to think about the causal structures and processes that generate the startling scenes he depicts. I think he does, but only incompletely. And in order to go further and accomplish that task, he really needs more than pictures. They don't speak for themselves. Someone needs to speak for them too. ... Ed?

* Thanks to Alec Soth for bringing Hallock's very impressive work (as well as that of a couple dozen other photographers) to my attention.

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16 June 2007

Hamas & Alan Johnston

The battles between Hamas & Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank are a disaster in nearly every respect. It is hard to see how average Palestinians benefit from this violent conflict. That said, it is promising that Hamas has called for the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist who was abducted in Gaza roughly three months ago. Let's hope that their intervention will be effective.

PRIVATE n.37 (summer 2007)

The Summer 2007 issue (No. 37) of PRIVATE is out. The theme is "An Ecological Question" with photography by: Antonin Kratochvil; Danny Veys; Dean Sewell; Fabio Domenicali; Joe Zammit-Lucia; Kai Bornhöft; Luca Buti; Mike Berube; Nanda Gonzague; Natalie Behring; Olivier Culmann; Pedro Isztin; Ron Haviv; Stefano David; Wolf Böwig; Mira Zdjelar. As always, the issue also includes written text too, this time by: Agata Spinelli; Srinjay Chakravarti; Shanta Acharya; Alessio Zanelli; Antonio Diavoli; Marco Giovenale; Lucy Conticello.


Best Shots (Five)

Given the number of these I missed, I thought I'd split what would've been one really long post into two only moderately long ones! One extremely odd feature of the archives at The Guardian is that they typically do not actually reproduce the "shot" that the photographer is talking about. I've hunted images down on the web where possible. I suppose that is some ncentive to keep a sharper eye out.

(19) Jurgen Schadeberg. "Nelson Mandela, 1951"
(14 June '07)

(18) Grace Robertson. Sheep Toss (7 June '07)

(17) Jonas Bendiksen. Bus Stop, Birobidzhan (31 May '07)

(16) Elaine Constantine. "Model Feeding Seagull, Brighton"
(24 May '07)

(15) Dennis Stock. "Tree, Provence" (26 April '07)

[Each Image is © the photographer.]


15 June 2007

Don Byron ... (at RIJF)

The 6th iteration of the Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF) has been up and running for about a week. Tonight I finally made it downtown for what my AWOL research assistant Caroline Kobick would call “a show.” I heard a trio headlined by Don Byron (clarinet/tenor) with Jason Moran (Piano) and Billy Hart (drums). Byron refers to this as his “Ivey-Divey” trio partly beause it is modelled after a group led by the legendary tenor saxaphonist Lester Young (w/ Nat King Cole and Buddy Rich) in the late 1940s. ('Ivey-Divey' being one of Young's off-beat phrases of praise or resignation.)

Among the extremely cool things about this trio is that it spans generations; Hart is nearly 70 (but do not let that fool you!), Moran is in his early thirties (don't be fooled there either), while Byron is just shy of fifty. In any case, the music was superb, not a revivalist exercise, but subtly understated and edgy at the same time. The "show" was at Kilbourn Hall at our very own Eastman School of Music, which is a terrific medium-sized venue. Byron, who studied at the New England Conservatory of Music joked tonight that he'd last been in Rochester three decades ago for an audition at the Eastman School, noting too that he was not admitted. Byron released this CD on Blue Note in 2004. I recommend it as well as his many others.

All in all the show was well worth the trip downtown. But enough with the praise. The RIJF is really quite embarassing. For every show like this evening there are at least three or four that are not Jazz by any description. Those that bear a family resemblance to jazz are pretty much as mainstream and unthreatening as you might imagine. Glancing down the schedule, it 's a safe bet that the dissonant notes likely are as scarce as meatloaf in my Irish Catholic grandma's pre-Vatican II kitchen on a friday night. The vast majority of the performers (especially headliners) are white, which might be fine at a bluegrass festival. This, however, is an undertaking allegedly presenting an art form whose virtually every major innovator has been, and continues to be, African American. Basically, though, the organizers have taken the label Jazz and plastered it on a line-up of sundry pop acts that will appeal to - read not challenge or threaten in any possible way- suburban ticket buyers. And, speaking of those ticket buyers ... the audience. which was overwhelmingly white (in a city with a population that is nearly 40% African American), seemed to think they were attending the all-you-can-eat buffett at a strip mall Chinese joint. There were massive migrations in and out of the hall following and during virtually every number. You'd think well-brought-up suburbanites would know how to behave more appropriately.

[The photo of Don Byron top right is © Cori Wells Braun.]

P.S.: In a post on trumpter Dave Douglas some time back I noted that his music publisher is called "Noenmity Music." Byron's compositions are published by "Nottuskegeelike Music."

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Best Shots (Four)

Somehow, after noting the first ten in the series [1] [2] [3], I have missed a whole slew of these nice focused and succinct interviews from Leo Benedictus at The Guardian. I'd been watching for them but obviously not very well! In fact, I thought that the series had ended. As before, the photographer's name links to her or his web presence and the date links to the relevant article in The Guardian.

(14) David Corio "Bob Marley" (17 May '07)

(13) Chuck Close. “A Couple of Ways of Doing Something”
(19 April ‘07)

(12) Don McCullin "Scarborough Beach" (29 March ‘07)

(11) Gered Mankowitz. "Rolling Stones, Between the Buttons, 1966"
(22 February '07)

[Each Image is © the photographer.]


M/M (Paris)

A recent story in The New York Times on the design duo Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag (pictured above) confirmed my suspiscions that they are typically self-important but actually quite shallow fashionistas. Most of what they say seems to me to either (1) completely self-absorbed or (2) banal bullshit [e.g., “This is where we got the idea that there is no such place called art or culture but it’s all interwoven ...”; who cares which one uttered this profundity?] You can find a slideshow of their work here. None of it seems worth the viewers' effort. That said, they have created one image - "Bébé avec Deleuze" - about which I've posted before that is simply a stitch. Hardly redeeming enough I'm afraid.

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14 June 2007

Jeff (3)

My son Jeff would've been 15 today; he died two months ago this past Monday - well before he could finish even his freshman year in High School. Yesterday a packet came in the mail from the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network. They are the folks who coordinate organ donations in this region. They sent a letter describing all the people who received some part of Jeff; his lungs, his liver, his kidneys ... his heart - all went to someone who was in a desperate situation. The recipients included an 11 month old baby girl, a 17 year old boy and several men my age or older. As I've written here before, and as I joked in my eulogy, I hope they each get some of Jeff's wacky spirit too. I miss you every day Jeff.

The other night my oldest son Douglas played in a local high-school senior all-star lacrosse game. I love Doug and am incredibly proud of him.* The game was held at the High School in the neighboring town of Irondequoit (the local champs). As I was watching the game I recalled this sequence of pictures (taken by a friend, Nell Hurley) of Jeff playing against Irondequoit earlier this spring.

Look for the ball in the upper left corner of the net in the final frame. Nothing made Jeff happier than playing lacrosse, except probably scoring on really good older players like this. (The goalie here made High-School All America this year.) Happy Birthday Jeff. I love you.

* (Added later) As I fell asleep last night I realized that I should have said this - Jeff is the only person who might've been prouder of Doug the other evening, who might've been happier to see his success, or who loves him more than me.

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Moving Walls 13 (Soros/OSI)

The Open Society Institute, funded by George Soros, runs a Documentary Photography Initiative that concentrates on funding the distribution rather than the creation/production of long-term documentary projects. I don't have any quarrel with that focus since the problems of getting good photography out into the world where it can be seen are notorious. The Initiative has two components: (1) Distribution Grants to photographers working with some "partner organization" to get their work out, and (2) the Moving Walls Exhibitions, the 13th iteration of which is just now opening at OSI headquarters in NYC.

Here are a couple of observations occasioned by line-up of Moving Walls 13, which includes work by Edward Burtynsky. The first observation concerns whether Ed really has so much difficulty getting his work seen. It seems to me that funding his work through this grant process is a bit like bringing sand to the beach. Perhaps including Burtynsky in the exhibition will draw larger audiences than it might otherwise attract. But, come on, he hardly is hard pressed for venues to exhibit his work and including him presumably meant excluding someone else, almost surely someone else with fewer resources and opportunities. (I assume that the OSI initiative, which is a competitive one, in fact is funding Burtynsky in the same way it is funding the other participants in the group show.)

The second observation is this - and here regular readers likely will say "There he goes again!" - I'd like some clear account of why Burtynsky's work is "documentary" rather than "art" photography. I have nothing against Burtynsky; as I've said here before, I actually like his work quite a lot. I can imagine an argument for categorizing his work as either art or documentary. But I think Burtynsky is a perfect example of why we ought to chuck that conventional distinction altogether! Of course, I have said all that at greater length before.

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A Challenge for Presidential Hopefuls

© Chris Carlson / AP file

Mitt Romney is running for the Republican nomination for President here in the U.S.. According to this The New York Times story he is a very, very wealthy man - worth roughly $350 million (US). There is not much suprise in that since, as The Times also reports, none of the candidatates vying for either party nomination are hurting financially. A couple of weeks back Romney announced (you can look here too) that, should he eventually be elected President, he likely would donate the official salary (which is set by law at $4000,000 annually) to charity. That is an admirable thing. You might call it a nice gesture, I guess. It does suggest, though, a slightly distanced view of the economic reality in which most folks live.

So, I have a suggestion for Mr. Romney - each year you are in office keep the official salary and live on it while donating the annual income from all your business investments to charity. Indeed, I would lay that down as a challenge to any future president. Try to make ends meet on only four hundred thousand dollars per year (plus, of course the free room and board, staff, transportaiton, and so on!). My friend Susan Orr thinks they should have to try to make it on minimum wage but, being more compassionate, I think they ought to be able to take the salary that comes with the job. After all, the President's salary is dwarfed by that thrust upon many, many corporate CEOs.

Think about the implications. Such a policy would put the President "in touch" with regular Americans. like you and me. And it also would eliminate some of the immediate conflicts of interest that emerge when administrations seem to favor their business cronies in one or another way. Perhaps others already have offered this suggestion. It does seem a no brainer to me.


13 June 2007

Isn't this why ...

... spam filters were invented!



My friend Susan Orr pointed out to me this evening that Demos and the Institute for Policy Studies recently have launched a collaborative web-based resource Inequality.org. The site provides lots of (down-loadable) data graphics, news, and other resources on, you guessed it, economic inequality in the United States. This seems like a terrific undertaking. My only suggestion would be that they have a look at Ed Tufte's [1] [2] [3] writings on data graphics and work toward a higher information to ink ratio.

P.S.: You can find a recent encomium on Tufte in New York magazine. Thanks 3QD!

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12 June 2007

The Uses of Photography - Science & the Manipulation of Images

There is an interesting story in The New York Times on Felice Frankel and her work in using photography to communicate various things about scientific phenomena. Here is the interesting part (from my perspective):

"But she does not feel that her photographs have to explain everything. “To me the idea is to engage somebody to look at something, and they don’t even know it’s science,” she said. “People are not intimidated by pictures. It permits them to ask questions.”

To achieve this goal, she sometimes alters the images. For example, when she photographed bacteria growing on agar, “the agar was cracking,” she said. “But I wanted the reader to pay attention to the bacteria pattern. So I digitally deleted the cracks.”

Another time, she photographed rod-shaped orange bacteria, and her film was somehow unable to reproduce the orange she could see when she looked through the microscope. “I added it,” she recalled.

These practices are acceptable, she said, because their purpose is not to disguise or twist scientific information, but to make it clearer. And when images like this appear in scientific journals, [her collaborator] Dr. Whitesides said, the “untinkered original” is posted online with supplementary material.

For Ms. Frankel, the main point is that “I always tell the reader what I do when I manipulate an image.” And she negotiates with her research colleagues about how to go.

“I think this should be part of every scientist’s education, the manipulation and enhancement of images,” Ms. Frankel said. “To just have a blanket statement — ‘You cannot do anything to your image’ — that does not make sense.”

“You can get a little crazy with objectivity. If enhancing your image gets you to see something better,” it’s acceptable, she said, “as long as we indicate what we are doing.”"

Here the discussion of 'objectivity' is striking; I find Frankel's notion that photography is a tool of communication not just a medium of representation to be very congenial. And, of course, it raises clear contrasts with the notions of 'objectivity' and 'truth' that surround many discussions of how photography is used in, say, journalism or advertising or politics.

11 June 2007


"Honolulu, Hawaii: A young boy laughs as he lines up against a
professional sumo wrestler during an exhibition before
the start of the second day of the Grand Sumo Tournament."
Photograph: © Gabriel Bouys/AFP

I lifted this from The Guardian today. It just tickles me sometimes to think about how silly the world seems to kids. And this photo captures some of that glee.

Teddy Cruz

One of the chapters in Rebecca Solnit's new book is an essay she wrote under the auspices of the Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College, Chicago. The Center has commissioned a set of profiles entitled Democratic Vistas. As part of that series Solnit has written an essay entitled "Non-Conforming Uses: Architect Teddy Cruz at the Borders of Tomorrow" on ex-patriot Guatemalan architect Teddy Cruz. You can find a pdf version of her essay here. And you can find a recent story on Cruz from The New York Times here. Basically, Cruz works on the border of San Diego & Tijuana looking at the insights that flow in both directions as practices and living patterns on each side cross back and forth at the border. In April 2005 Cruz delivered the James Stirling Memorial Lectures on the City under the title "Border Postcards: Chronicles from the Edge." Solnit reproduces the image at right - Border Wall Sequence, 2004 © estudio Teddy Cruz - as part of her discussion.

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Conference on Visual Democracy I: Image Circulation and Political Culture

The Center for Global Culture and Communication at Northwestern University will sponsor a conference on Visual Democracy this November 2-4, 2007. The conference will feature plenary addresses by scholars in anthropology, art history, communication studies, gender studies, and other disciplines, as well as concurrent presentations. Speakers include Ackbar Abbas, Jean-Paul Colleyn, Beatriz Jaguaribe, Wendy Kozol, David Lubin, Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Christopher Pinney, Maren Stange, and Marita Sturken.

Scholars who wish to be included in the concurrent sessions are invited to submit abstracts by August 15, 2007. Those selected for presentation will be notified by September 1.

The study of visual culture increasingly foregrounds two significant assumptions. The first is that, contrary to the hermeneutics of suspicion characterizing both ideology critique and theories of the public sphere, visual images can provide important resources for democratic politics. “Visual democracy” goes beyond instrumental use by elites and documentary witness by the press to also include diverse actors, media, practices, audiences, and functions. The second assumption is that visual images are the leading edge of technologies and practices of circulation that are becoming increasingly characteristic of all media use in a global communications environment. These circuits can be large and small, public and private, legal and pirated, stable and ephemeral, serious and comic; as images circulate within and across social networks, political identity, agency, and solidarity can be gained and lost. This conference will explore these assumptions and related claims about the role of visual practices in political cultures around the globe.

The conference is the first of two that will lead to publication of a university press book to be edited by the conference organizers. All papers presented will be eligible for consideration for publication. Applications for presentation, including a letter and a two-page, single-spaced abstract, should be sent to Robert Hariman at r-hariman2@northwestern.edu. The conference will be held on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Inquiries about attendance should be sent to Patrick Wade, wpatrickwade@gmail.com.

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10 June 2007

Richard Rorty (1931-2007)

Richard Rorty - Oxford (7 May 2003)
© Steve Pyke

Richard Rorty died of cancer on Friday (8 June) in Stanford, CA.; trained as a philosopher, Rorty was an outspoken "public intellectual" and extremely influential in the resurgence of pragmatism in both intellecctual and political discourse. I will link to obituaries as they appear. And I will post something on Rorty in the near future.

P.S.: (Added 11 June) - Obits and recollections here from The New York Times, The Philosopher's Magazine [2] , The Nation, Chronicle of Higher Education, The Progressive, Huffington Post, The Guardian, The New Republic, Sign&Sight ... more to follow.

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Campaign Observations

Here, are comments by Timothy Garton Ash, drawn from his brief reflections on the recent debates among U.S. presidential candidates:

"What remains fundamentally different from the old continent is the way American politicians not merely have religion but wear it on their sleeve. ... Jesus -- I found myself inwardly exclaiming, as a post-Christian European -- Jesus, what century are we in? ... Next to the Atlantic ocean, this is perhaps the greatest European-American divide."

And Garton Ash is talking about candidates of both parties, not just the Republicans!

With that as background, here, from today's New York Times is the gist of a long story about John Edwards, he of the putatively extreme-left-of-elect-ability among Democratic candidates:

"The significance of what Edwards is saying, though, goes well beyond messaging and tactics. As the first candidate of the post-Bill Clinton, postindustrial era to lay out an ambitious antipoverty plan, he may force Democrats to contemplate difficult questions that they haven’t debated in decades — starting with what they’ve learned about poverty since Johnson and Kennedy’s time,
and what, exactly, they’re willing to do about it. ...

The main economic debate in Democratic Washington revolves around how to do this [mitigate economic inequality]. It is a debate over the tools of economic policy — taxes, trade, welfare — and how to use them. The argument here breaks down, roughly speaking, along an ideological continuum from doctrinaire conservatives on the right all the way to reborn populists on the left. And the challenge for John Edwards, if he really wants to reset the national agenda on poverty and inequality, is to figure out where on this continuum he’s going to live. ...

This word — “populist” — is thrown around a lot in connection with John Edwards and his presidential campaign. The New Republic titled its Edwards profile “The Accidental Populist,” and the word has been used to describe him, at one point or another, in virtually every major newspaper in the past several months. It is a word with a specific meaning to the historians who study political campaigns: it describes someone who appeals to deep-seated resentments against corporate interests and the wealthy. Attaching the populist label to Edwards implies that he has planted himself on the far left of the inequality continuum, alongside the antitrade, anticorporate, predistribution Democrats. ...

Aside from the price tag, however, what stands out the most about Edwards’s antipoverty ideas is their familiarity. It’s as if he has taken most of the proposals that have been talked about in policy groups and at university forums since the 1990s and thrown them all together into one comprehensive and expensive package. The individual proposals themselves, far from being radical or populist, basically sound — there’s no other way to put it — Clintonian. ...

In fact, the more you talk to Edwards, the more apparent it is that the populist label doesn’t quite fit. While he talks incessantly about economic injustice, Edwards isn’t proposing anything ... that would strike a serious blow against multinational corporations or the top tier of American earners. Even in his rhetoric, Edwards seems to deliberately avoid stoking resentments or pitting one class against another the way a true populist would, unless you count taking a few easy shots at Wal-Mart."

The Dems, Edwards included, simply are averse to actually talking about the large and increasing mal-distribution of income and wealth in the country. They clearly have no persuasive diagnosis of its sources. Nor do they surely have any interest in running deficits to address it (unlike BushCo who are happy to run deficits in pursuit of their insane agenda) or interfering with the sanctity of "the family" in order to try to set young kids on something like an equal economic footing. Perhaps, like the sanctity of the family, economic mal-distribution is ordained by God. That, perhaps, would account for the theocratic leanings of all our candidates. What is remarkable is that the right has succeeded in mapping - actually circumscribing - the terrain of political possibilities here in such a frightentingly narrow and skewed a way.

PS: I lifted the unattributed photo at the top from Alternet.

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08 June 2007

Storming the Gates of Paradise

"There [at the Nevada Test Site] I also learned that the
is no less beautiful when you are wearing
handcuffs ..." - Rebecca Solnit


It is funny how these things work. A couple of days ago I posted on Robert Adams and his recent book Along Some Rivers and I imagined a conversation with him. Extending on that I tried to imagine the perfect interlocutor and settled eventually on Rebecca Solnit. Whereas Adams is a photographer who likes to talk and, on occasion, write, Solnit is a critic and writer rather than a photographer. She surely is more directly active politically and arguably is less conservative aesthetically than is Adams. Yet their preoccupations overlap or intersect to a remarkable degree - photography, hope, environmental degradation, the landscape of the American West, and beauty. I suspect that a conversation with Adams and Solnit would be lively and truly engaging.

In any case, this evening I stopped to look for Vaclav Havel's new memoir To The the Castle & Back and ended up buying not just it, but this new collection of Solnit's essays Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes of Politics. The opening quote, above, is from the introduction to the book where Solnit attests to having learned to write at various protests at the Nevada Test Site in the late 1980's. I cannot imagine Robert Adams connecting beauty and politics in quite the way Solnit does there. But I would be interested to hear how he might reply to such a statement.

P.S.: The cover photograph on Solnit's book is Cloud, #5 (1987) by Richard Misrach.

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07 June 2007

State Sponsored Abduction & 'Rendition': Kidnapping as a Political Weapon (4)

In the inital post in this series [2] [3] I wrote: "kidnapping is not a legitimate tool of politics; it is a tool of terror. It is inexcusable and unjustifiable regardless of whether it is carried out by shadowy non-state actors or by governments as a matter of policy." As it turns out, the Bush Administration and at least fourteen of its European Allies are implicated in a coordinated policy of kidnapping and torture. See the stories here and here and here for details.

Why is this policy "wrong"? The answer is quite simple, it has bad, perhaps irreparable consequences. It undermines our ability to criticize this or that Palestinian faction, this or that Iraqi militia, the Iranian government, or whomever, when they engage in kidnapping or other terrorist acts. It generates resentment and suspicion and hostility among populations with whom we might hope to engage in more cooperative, constuctive, productive ways. It places our own civilians abroad as well as our military/diplomatic personnel at risk by inviting actions in kind. And, finally, there is no plausible case for thinking that it generates good, reliable "intelligence."


Fathers & Sons

"Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful."
-W.B. Yeats
My Dad's Hands © Michael Wilson

I discovered Michael Wilson's work on the covers of a couple of Buddy Miller CDs (about whom I plan to write enthusiastially before too long). Turns out that Wilson has done portrait and cover work (many featuing cute pooches) for a bunch of other alt-ish country luminaries; beside Buddy, Emmy Lou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Bill Frisell, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown, Rodney Crowell, Joe Ely, Richard Thompson, Leo Kottke ...

That said, I really am taken by this photograph. It displays a sort of reverential connectedness that a father can only hope to earn. And though the Yeats verse is taken out of context (being written as advice for his young daughter regarding future suitors), it offers keen insight here as well.

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06 June 2007

Latest Detentions in Iran or, Kidnapping as a Political Weapon (3)

Dr. Haleh Esfandiari

Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh

The NYRB this week contains letters demanding the release of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh, both of whom have been detained as "spys" by the Iranian government for nearly a month. These public letters are the latest in a series of such demands. You can find an updated report in The New York Times today. This, of course, is only the most recent of such detentions [*]. And it goes without saying that the Iranians should release both individuals immediately and unconditionally.

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"Scooter" gets off Easily

The newspapers I read report today [1] [2] that “Scooter” Libby has been sentenced to two and a half years in jail for lying and obstruction of justice. This of course stems from the episode that led to the outing of CIA Agent Valerie Plame because her husband Joseph Wilson had made (true) public statements critical of the Bush administration’s lies in the run up to the Iraq war. I am not a huge fan of the CIA since they mostly carry out nasty jobs (fomenting coups, training torturers, engaging in secret renditions and torture themselves, and so forth) for various U.S. administrations. That said, Libby is a lying weasel and he deserves to go to jail. Thirty months seems light time to me, even if there is a fine and subsequent parole - it is just months longer than the minimum required by the sentencing guidelines.

One interesting sideline is that there has been a coordinated letter writing campaign, beseeching the court for leniency on “Scooter’s” behalf. The campaign brought together a rogues gallery and the simply clueless, all attesting to “Scooter’s” decency, integrity, compassion, honesty, patriotism, generosity, ethical bearing, and so forth. You can find the document containing these letters here.

Many of the letters come from the clueless, those writing in to say what a good dad “Scooter” is or how wonderfully charming his wife Harriet is, and so forth. These people seem to think that just because “Scooter” travels in the right circles, he should get a break for having perjured himself. Yet, as one of the many people writing in to encourage a heavy sentence rightly remarks: “Whether he is kind to his dog, a nice guy, a good neighbor, or anything else is, of course, irrelevant to what he did and continues to do." And what “Scooter” did, of course, is lie and obstruct legal inquiry into alleged government wrong-doing that threatened the national security apparatus in the United States. I'd wager these same clueless folk typically are falling all over themselves to throw money and prerogatives at that apparatus. So I am being charitable in calling them clueless. The alternative is that they are hypocritical.

Predictably enough, pleas for leniency came bearing the imprimatur of various right wing institutions such as the Smith Richardson Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Commentary, First Things, the Hudson Institute, the Rand Corporation. They came too from a passel of retired military officers, unknown government functionaries, lawyers and corporate types. But "Scooter's" predicament also brought out the heavy-hitters among the incompetent, the ethically challenged, and the ideologically delusional, each making his or her pitch for why lying in order to subvert the rule of law is really not that bad a deed. Consider this for a bunch of character witnesses - Donald Rumsfeld, Midge Decter, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Mary Matalin, Henry Kissinger, Alan Simpson, Kenneth Adelman, Douglas Feith, Francis Fukuyama, and Norman Podhoretz. A vertible parade of right wingers of just the sort responsible for formulating and/or running interference for the kinds of policies that got “Scooter” into hot water in the first place.

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05 June 2007

Robert Adams

A while back I picked up a copy of Robert Adams' recent book Along Some Rivers: Photographs and Conversations (Aperture 2006). This is the third short collection like this that Aperture has published, the others being Why People Photograph (1994; 2nd Edition 2005) and Beauty in Photography (1981; 2nd Edition 1996).

Adams is on the list of people I'd really like to meet. His work focuses on the ways economic and social and demographic forces intersect with what remains of the natural environment, mostly in the Western United States. It provides a focal point for a complex set of aesthetic, political and personal commitments. Adams manages to hold these commitments together in a provocatively coherent way. In aesthetic terms he is a traditionalist, what one sometimes might call downright conservative. Politically he seems admirably liberal, especially on matters of deep concern like environmental degradation and human rights. His work focuses on the ways economic and social and democgraphic forces intersect with what remains of the natural environment, mostly in the Western United States. (He puts his money where his mouth is. As I noted some time ago, when he won the 2006 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize he donated the $50K award money to Human Rights Watch.) Personally he seems remarkably self-reflective and wryly self-effacing.

"Irrigation Canal, Larimer County, Colorado, 1990"
© Robert Adams

This recent volume sandwiches thirty pages of photographs (taken from 1984 through 2001) between two sections of collected interviews, each twenty-something pages long. I will simply lift a few passages that illustrate what I am talking about.

“Q: What Then is Art?

RA: Basically it's an attempt, by fond attention to the world, to find redeeming metaphor in it. Ultimately, art’s gift to us is the pleasurable implication of coherence, of meaning, of consequence”
“Art has traditionally recognized two obligations: to tell the truth and to affirm the truth. The problem currently is that many artists are saying no, that isn’t my job - I can’t do that, and won’t try. And so they are largely ignored, or held up in the press as jokes. And why not? Who needs more nihilism? Anyone can arrive there without help.

The challenge for artists is just as it is for everyone else: to face facts and somehow come up with a yes, to try for alchemy. No wonder the instances of artistic success are costly and rare and impure. And deeply loved.”
“Q: With all of the pictures and all of the books, what are you trying to accomplish in your life of photography?

RA: I suppose to learn how not to complain. Robert Frost said that the best achievement in life is to learn to be good-natured. That sounds pretty close. And very hard. I’m like that woman who took her little boy to the beach and saw a wave each him out to sea. She promised God that if He’d return her child she’d never ask for anything else., and the next wave deposited the boys safely back on the shore. She ran and hugged him but then noticed that he’d lost his cap. ‘The hat Lord!’ she demanded, ‘What about the hat?’.

Q: You’ve always struck me as being good-natured, so apparently you’ve succeeded.

RA: For the odd millisecond [laughs]. Some of the best times are when I’m photographing. It helps me to pay attention to the beauty of what has been given. Photographers, unlike philosophers, tend to focus on what’s there rather than what isn’t.”

“Student: I like art with intellectual complexity.

RA: So do I, in some respects. But it’s easy to confuse philosophy and art. They’re not the same. It’s an easy distinction to forget in school ... where you’re urged to live an active life of the mind. A great picture is a concretized universal. The strength of that is that it can and has to be cross-referenced out to life in the street. Philosophy carries within itself no such test.”
“There aren’t many big rivers in the American West, but there are a satisfying number of washes, creeks, and irrigation ditches, the roots and branches of rivers.

Should I, having photographed this landscape, try to talk about it? By what right or obligation? Perhaps only by privilege of having seen the West when it was more open, so that nothing that has happened since then, no matter how bad, can entirely obscure its promise.”

So, Adams weaves his views about himself, the landscape, art, photography, writing and philosophy together through these interviews. As I sit here I imagine a lively conversation about these themes - in part, because I think we disagree in different ways about the "nature" of both art and philosophy. The last passage, though, strikes me as being about hope, about a concern for what is not, or at least is no longer, there but might well be and, also, for what remains. I suspect that Adams and I might agree about the importance of that topic.

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04 June 2007

Promoting My Canadian Heritage

"Stock Photo of a canadian Flag waving on an Outhouse with a View during sunset. The Outhouse is the best seat on the property because it overlooks the Strait of Belle which separates Newfoundland from Labrador. " © Rolf Hicker

My maternal grandfather Harold Jones migrated with many other Canadians from the Maritimes down into central New England to work in the textile mills that then existed. (Today, this no doubt would been seen as a great plaid, Molson-swilling, 'Hey'-saying hord, even more threatening to American culture than the Latin American's streaming acrcoss the borders in the Southwest!) My current relatives are part of a long line of undertakers on P.E.I. ...

My sidebar has for some time now included links to several interesting publications from the motherland - e.g., Brick and The Walrus - as well as to a dormant Canadian photo-venue. Today (thanks to Tim Atherton over at Muse-ings) I've learned of a promising, new -ish Canadian photography magazine - Magenta - that I can add to my links. You already will have found Prefix there. Both publications seem well worth checking out - although as Tim notes, they seem to have limited circulation/distribution.

In any case, Tim, from P.E.I. it seems somewhat parochial to refer to Toronto as the "East"!

P.S: A comment from Jeremy Tan alerted me to yet another new photo magazine from the great north - Photosho


Wolf & the Seven Dwarfs

© C.J. Gunther/European Pressphoto Agency

I cannot bear the Democrats. If I vote I suppose (despite intense lobbying to the contrary) it will be for Kucinich. Why? He is straightfoward about what the Dems ought to be for: end the war - now; provide single payer, tax-finded universal health care; support trade unions, etc. ... I couldn't bear to watch the debate last night; fortunately I had the opportunity instead to hear local blues. But this from (a very funny report) in The Guardian -

"Chris Dodd's blog has calculated the speaking times for each candidates:

Obama: 16.0 minutes

Clinton: 14.26

Edwards: 11.42

Richardson: 10.48

Kucinich: 9.02

Dodd: 8.28

Biden: 7.58

Gravel: 5.37

...and CNN host Wolf Blitzer spoke for 13.24 minutes."

So, unfortunately, it only seems like my title is a mixed-up plot from a fairy tale.

03 June 2007

Local Event: American Harvest (Film Screening)

Local Film Maker Angelo Mancuso will screen his award-winning documentary American Harvest tomorrow, Monday June 4th, at 6:45 pm in the Little Theater (240 East Ave., Rochester). You can read a story about the film and its making here in The City Newspaper. The film traces the migrant agricultural workers from Mexicon up the Eastern U.S. to western New York. It focuses on the travails of immigrant laborers and the politics of "immigration reform." There will be a discussion following the screening.

Contact Information:

Angelo Mancuso, White Hot Films
76 East Blvd. Suite B-4, Rochester, NY 14610


Poetry & Commitment

Yesterday afternoon I picked up this very slender volume by Adrienne Rich. Her concern is with "poetry as it's created and received" in a "violently politicized and brutually divided world." I find Rich's remarks on poetry and politics congenial. Hers is an incisive voice, one part of an estimable tradition of committed American writers that, as she rightly depicts it, represents less a "canon" to be authoritatively invoked, than a group of compatriots who, their "voices mingling in long conversation," each have "written against the silences of their time and location."

Despite its brevity, the argument Rich advances, spills over, well beyond the confines of poetry or even literature. For instance, there is a passage that strikes me as relevant to ongoing discussions of the uses of photography. And in it Rich endorses much the same view that I espouse:

“Poetry has been charged with ‘aestheticizing,’ thus being complicit in, the violent realities of power, of practices like collective punishment, torture, rape, and genocide. ... If to ‘aestheticize’ is to glide across brutality and cruelty, treat them as merely dramatic occasions for the artist rather than as structures of power to be revealed and dismantled - much hangs on the words ‘merely’ and ‘rather than.’ Opportunism is not the same as committed attention. But we can also define the ‘aesthetic’ not as a privileged and sequestered rendering of human suffering, but as news of an awareness, a resistance, that totalizing systems want to quell: art reaching into us for what is still passionate, still unintimidated, still unquenched.”

Replace the first word in that passage with "photography" and we hear the direct echo of too common criticisms of 'aestheticized' images of mayhem and pain and suffering. In response to such claims, I would reply: "Yeah! Like Adrienne said."

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