30 August 2007

Jeff (4)

For those readers who have followed the posts I've written about my son Jeff, I thought I would call your attention to this this story from the Democrat & Chronicle which is our local Gannett newspaper. Many readers will recall that I have been regularly critical of the D&C - especially for its coverage (or, more accurately the lapses in its coverage) of the Iraq debacle. That said, Jeff DiVeronica who wrote this story and several of the others about Jeff's death has been a very good reporter throughout - decent, sensitive, and objective in doing his job. This story simply makes a final public statement about the County Medical Examiner's report. Jeff died of "natural causes" - a ruptured aneurysm. The was no reason to suspect he had the aneurysm and no way to predict it would burst. Given that, there is nothing anyone might have done to prevent him dying so young. Regardless, I miss him every single day.


Holiday Weekend? (2)

Well, I am once again spending my Labor Day weekend communing with thousands of other political scientists at the annual convention of the American Political Sciencee Association. This year we are in Chicago, my old place of residence. The weather is supposed to be pleasant and mild and, if nothing else, the meetings give me a chance to see some old friends. The point? It is likely that I will be posting irregularly for a few days.

One good thing about being in here this weekend is tha Chicago Jazz Festival which is free, outdoors, and generally very good. I used to come downtown to the Festival pretty much every year while I was in graduate schoool here. So where the nerdy talk gets to be too much, a short stroll will get me to some good music quickly. This year there are a series of performances by bassist Charlie Haden including one with the "Liberation Music Orchestra" which he has been leading for several decades.

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Solidarity (16)

“Coal miners going home from work. Omar, West Virginia”
September 1938 © Marion Post Wolcott

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29 August 2007

Local Congressman Thwarts Anti-War Violence!

CarolAnn Mitchell, left, and Marlene Baiz, both of Elmira,
protest Monday outside Rep. Randy Kuhl's locked Bath office.
© LARRY WILSON Elmira Star-Gazette.

It appears that my Congressman Randy Kuhl (R-Hammondsport) is terribly concerned that anti-war protesters will stage an outbreak of violence at his local offices. According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle Kuhl has ordered his staff to keep the office doors locked in order to prevent dangerous protesters like the women pictured here from carrying out their nefarious plans. Thank god! While the spokeswoman for the Congressman insists that his staff will not exclude constituents from the office, she clearly must be able to differentiate harmless citizens from dangerous protesters. Perhaps it is the sunglasses?

Solidarity (15)

Three Generations of Welsh Miners (1950) © W. Eugene Smith

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28 August 2007

Solidarity (14)

Zhdanovskaya Coal Miners, Ukraine, 1992 © Shepard Sherbell

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Speaking Spontaneously Against Censorship

It is funny how things happen. Usually when someone leaves a comment here, I usually follow the links they leave behind (not possible, of course, for anonymous visitors) and try to see what they are up to. After all, I find it odd how people end up visting me here. Last night I had a visitor - Brenda Burrell - who keeps an interesting blog or two. In any case, I traced Brenda's comment back to one of her blogs and found this image:

Clicking it lead me to this post. As you can see Brenda is coordinating a sort of one woman campaign against net censoship, offering to send a button bearing her logo to anyone anywhere, just so long as they will send her back a picture of themselves wearing it. So I wrote her and will send the requisite pic in return once the button arrives. Please note that Brenda also provides links to handful of organizations who adopt anti-censorship stances. While these organizations - Amnesty International, Net Freedom, Privacy International, and Cyber Rights & Liberties - surely are admirable and deserving of support, I think initiatives like Brenda's are creatively subversive in much more basic ways than signing on to an established campaign by an established group.

PS: Festooned across the top of Brenda's blog is this accurate reminder: "The idea that professionals are commercial hacks but artists are free and independent image-makers wipes out practically the whole history of photography" ~ David Hurn

i (p + r)/n

I was visiting the Gomma portal and came across a link to the International Photography Research Network web page. It is a cool page and a cool conception. From what I can tell, the network coordinates photographic projects commissioned by one country that will be carried out and/or exhibited elsewhere. So, the results have an intriguingly collaborative appearance.

iprn is an organisation linking the work of art schools, practitioners, academic institutions, museums, galleries and archives internationally. Its mission is to stimulate the quality and presentation of contemporary photographic practice, academic and artistic research and photography related theory. iprn seeks to achieve this by providing a platform for international exchange leading to collaborative projects, exhibitions, publications, research, symposia, publication, networking, shared databases and archives.

This website was produced as an output of and is funded by the EU Culture 2000 project 'Changing Faces.' The idea of this site is to give a range of people access to a very varied range of information. That could include photographers, curators, writers or researchers or just someone with an inquisitive mind.

You will see from the navigation system that we have already worked with a lot of countries in Europe and the iprn UK is going to be working with even more partners in Asia.

For news on the stage of development of these projects please see under country involved in hosting the commission. Or contact: amanda.ritson@sunderland.ac.uk



Surfing a bit this evening and I found photojournale which contains "photo stories and photo documentary from around the world" and while the site is a bit cubersome to navigate, there seems to be some quite interesting work by a good many photographers or a diverse range oof subjects.


27 August 2007

Farewell to Alberto

Well, according to The New York Times, Alberto Gonzales supposedly is set to resign this morning. This picture, taken as Gonzales was testifying before Congress last Tuesday is interesting in at least two ways. First, there is the slightly goofy look on Gonzales's own face. It makes you wonder what (or if ) he is thinking. Second, check out the faces on those seated behind Gonzales. Do any of those people look like they are happy to be there? In any case, this means Gonzales cannot be impeached. I wonder if he can still be indicted.


Solidarity (13)

"Slantsy, Russia: A miner looks out of a carriage in Leningradskaya
slate mine." Photograph © Anatoly Maltsev/EPA
(from The Guardian)

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26 August 2007

New Crocs - A Bit of Perplexity Then A Wicked Grin

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Enthusiasms (10) - Lafayette Gilchrist

Lafayette Gilchrist © Rarah Photo

In a post a couple weeks back I asked rhetorically "where are the younger musicians who should be this close to the edge?" Just about that time I heard this interview on npr (look here also) with pianist Lafayette Gilchrist who quite directly responded to my question by announcing 'right here old timer!' Gilchrist incorporates the jumps and beats and rhythms of hip-hop and its variations into jazz, so while his music is off-kilter it is assertive in ways that make it distinctive. Here a good contrast would be Kahil El'Zabar who, traveling in the opposite direction, recently has released several albums of re-mixes on Deeper Soul Records. Gilchrist unmistakenly is playing jazz even while he is driving it toward the edge. He explicitly embraces the jazz tradition without treating it as a museum piece like so many of the indistinguishable Marsalis minions. Gilchrist currently is the pianist in David Murray's Black Saint Quartet and, to date, has three records of his own out on the very cool independent Hyena label. The most recent is a trio recording, the previous two incorporate various iterations of his large band the New Volcanos. On the trio disc Gilchrist invokes (singly and sometimes in combination) James Brown, the Underground Railroad, Sun Ra, C.L.R. James, Andrew Hill, and the blues, as inspiration on various of his tunes.

Lafayette Gilchrist "3" (2007)

"Towards The Shining Path" (2005)

"The Music According To Lafayette Gilchrist" (2004)

You can find a revealing story on Gilchrist here at CityPaper.online from his hometown of Baltimore.

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Solidarity (12)

"Needs are not equally recognized because, first, owing to the norms and values of a particular society, they receive unequal recognition, and secondly, because certain needs are not expressed, or not expressed strongly enough. People may not be able to express needs owing to legal constraints, lack of education, lack of organization, or lack of access to the public sphere. ... The good citizen does not substitute his or her values for the persons and groups whose needs are in want of recognition, or are not fully recognized, but rather displays solidarity with them. ... Solidarity is due all persons, and groups of persons, whose needs are not recognized, or not fully recognized. The virtue of solidarity is not the virtue of charity (of the righteous person). Solidaritydoes not entail the gesture 'Here I am, and I will satisfy your unrecognized need.' Solidarity has nothing to do with need satisfaction. It is the virtue invested in need recognition ... But the virtue of solidarity is not simply a 'good wish' either, nor is it restricted to the recognition of needs and values on the part of those who display solidarity. It is an active virtue. The person who displays solidarity makes his or her best effort (everything which is in his or her power) to ensure that the needs and values in question are recognized by all." - Agnes Heller Beyond Justice (Blackwell, 1987).

"Coal Miner, Harlan County, Kentucky, 1997" © Ken Light

"Coal Keeps the Lights On, Cabin Creek,
West Virginia, 2002" © Ken Light

"Raw sewage runs into the Elkhorn Creek. Rolfe Bottom Road,
Northfolk, West Virginia, 2002"
© Ken Light

I agree with Heller when she distinguishes between the satisfaction and the recognition of needs. I also agree with her regarding the active character of solidarity. And I agree too that it consists not in the ascription of needs to others but the recognition of needs that they might voice, but that for various reasons they do not or cannot express. Sorting all that out in a clear way is, I think, a complicated, but not insurmountable theoretical task.

I disagree with Heller, though, when she characterizes solidarity as a virtue; here I side with Hannah Arendt, for whom solidarity is a principle. It is, therefore, not something internal to me, or a feature of my 'character.' Instead, Arendt insists, “solidarity is a principle that can inspire or guide action.” Like other principles, solidarity on her view operates externally, in the public world, and so differs qualitatively from passions and emotions that serve as internal motivations. This public character underwrites an instrumental conception of principles and of how we do things with them. On such a view we deploy the principle of solidarity most broadly to establish what I would call "similarity relations" between ourselves and others. Solidarity enables us, for example, to call attention to the plight of those who perform very dangerous work in the dark and who often live in squalor because, in some fundamental way, we see that they are like ‘us.’

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25 August 2007

Solidarity (11)

Federico Patellani "Minatori di Carbonia (Miners of Carbonia),
Sardinia 1950" © Archivio Patellani

Here are a couple of provocative columns from The Washington Post and The Huffington Post addressing the toxic legacy of coal mining for our environment, national security, mining communities ... voicing solidarity does not imply any romantic vision of mining or the damage it does.

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Solidarity (10)

“Coal Mining, Dhanbad, Bihar, India, 1989" © Sebastião Salgado

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24 August 2007

Independent Radio in Mogadishu

I want to call your attention to this post by Tim Atherton over at Muse-ings detailing the efforts of three Somali-Canadians to launch and operate independent media in Mogadishu. The three men are Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, Ali Sharmarke, Mahad Ahmed Elmi. They founded HornAfrik Media Online. For their troubles Sharmake and Elmi were murdered August 11th. Adan was, at the time, in Canada but has since returned to Mogadishu. On August 19th two HornAfrik reporters - Elmi Ahmed Waare and Sowda Hussein - were reported to have been jailed by order of a regional governor.

I urge you to consult Tim's detailed post for a fuller account of the remarkable endeavor these men have undertaken and the dispicable attacks on them. So far as I can tell, neither Index on Censorship nor Reporters Without Borders have picked up the story yet. But the Committee to Protect Journalists has done so and according to Reuters these deaths are part of a spate of fatal attacks on journalists in Somalia this year.
P.S.: For some idea of the context within which Adan, Sharmarke, and Elmi have been seeking to establish an independent voice see this report from Human Rights Watch.

Solidarity (9)

Walker Evans, "A Miner's Home, West Virginia, 1935"

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More of the Same - Republican Lies, Half Truths & Bullshit

A purportedly "grass roots" effort called 'Freedoms Watch' has emerged that aims to influence Congressional and Senate campaigns in relatively tight races. The FW folks are trying to put pressure on incumbants not to switch their votes on the Iraq debacle and are running a series of Television Ads for that purpose. Several things are important to note about this effort.

First it is coordinated and funded by Republican big-wigs. It hardly is a swelling of public outrage from the hinterlands. You can find information on those involved here - nearly all have prior ties to BushCo. These are the usual suspects and they are behhaving in the predictable ways.

Second, the ad campaign falls back on an old canard, namely that somehow, despite all reliable information to the contrary, there was a relationship between Saddam Husssein's Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. So, once again the minions of BushCo are simply lying. What does the still shown above - taken from the FW adverts - have to do with the Iraq debacle?

Third, the adverts exploit for partisan political purposes the 'sacrifices' made by veterans and their families. This is shameless. Yes, let's be very clear, the people shown in the ads have made sacrifices - literally life and limb. And I am sure they would like to think that their sacrifices have been meaningful. But the evidence is that BushCo lied up front to rationalize the Iraq war. These ads simply divert attention from the abuse of authority that the administration has engaged in. The folks in the adverts would be better served by directing their concern toward speaking out for the democracy and freedom that the Bush administration has been undermining.

Fourth, there is scant evidence that in any meaningful sense we are "making progress" in Iraq. The adverts assert that too, despite the newly released intelligence estimates that say, 'yes our military forces are making some progress in clearing the streets,' but 'no, there is not much political progress at all.' So, that would be lie number two (perhaps a half-truth).

Finally, the Press Release that FW put out read "August 22, 2007 – New Group, Freedom’s Watch, to launch Major Advertising Campaign in Support of Victory in Iraq." Conveniently, and again in step with the BushCo party line, there is no definition of "victory," no criteria for what might count as success. So, on top of the deception we get an extra big helping of bullshit too.

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23 August 2007

Solidarity (8)

Lewis Hine, Child coal miners - drivers and mules,
Gary, W. Va., mine, 1908

Lewis Hine, Miner's family, Scott's Run, West Virginia, 1936

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Best Shots (9)

(27) Jayne Fincher. "Princess Diana, Oman, 1986" (23 August 07)


21 August 2007

Utah Search for 6 Miners Is Suspended Indefinitely (Solidarity 7)

Here are two postcards depicting people who gathered following a mine explosion in Eccles, West Virginia in April, 1914. Somewhere around 185 miners died (accounts differ) in this disaster. I must say that the crowd scenes here remind me in an uncanny way of postcards that were made bearing photos of spectators at lynchings in the U.S during this period and subsequently.

By the way, the six miners burried in the Crandal Canyon mine have names - Kerry Allred, Manuel Sanchez, Don Erickson, Luis Hernandez, Brandon Phillips and Juan Carlos Payan. The three men killed while trying to rescue them also had names - Dale Black, Brandon Kimber and Gary Jensen.

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20 August 2007

Solidarity (6)

Mines #19, Westar Open Pit Coal Mine, Spawood,
British Columbia 1984 © Edward Burtynsky

It is perhaps difficult to comprehend the daunting scale of mining operations that coal miners confront on a daily basis insofar as many are more or less wholly underground. This picture of an open pit coal minie offers a hint of the magnitude of the excavations.

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This graphic accompanied this story in The New York Times on July 18th and I neglected to post it then.

Copyright 2007 - The New York Times Company

So, while it may be unclear that other forms of sex education work terribly well, it does seem that we have strong warrent for doubting the efficacy of the 'just say no' approach.


Strange Culture (2)

A while back I posted on a documentary Strange Culture that chronicles the Federal mis-prosecution of Steve Kurtz, a long-time member of the Critical Art Ensemble and his collaborator, biochemist Robert Ferrell under anti-terror laws. Kurtz's friend and comrade, artist Lucia Sommer just sent me this schedule of upcoming screenings. See the film at an event near you - perhaps you will appreciate how the over-reaching of the exectuive branch can impact you, your friends, and intellectual or artistic collaborators.


The Film

Strange Culture (2007, 75min) chronicles the surreal nightmare of Steven Kurtz, an art professor at SUNY Buffalo and a founding member, with his late wife, Hope, of the internationally exhibited art and theater collective Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). In May 2004 the Kurtzes were preparing to present Free Range Grain, a project examining GM agriculture, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), when Hope Kurtz died of heart failure. Police who responded to Steve Kurtz’s 911 call deemed the couple’s art suspicious, and called the FBI. Within hours the artist was illegally detained as a suspected "bioterrorist" as dozens of federal agents in Hazmat suits sifted through his work and impounded his computers, manuscripts, books, his cat, and even his wife’s body. Today Kurtz and long-time collaborator Dr. Robert Ferrell, Professor of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, face trumped-up charges of “mail fraud” and “wire fraud,” punishable, thanks to the PATRIOT Act, by up to 20 years in prison.

Don't miss these upcoming screenings of Lynn Hershman Leeson's critically-acclaimed Strange Culture (http://strangeculture.net), which chronicles the ongoing story of artist Steven Kurtz and scientist Robert Ferrell, accused by the US government in 2004 of "bioterrorism" and now awaiting trial:

Aug 17-23
Buenos Aires
2nd Human Rights Watch International Film Festival

August 21-23
Albuquerque NM
The Guild Cinema

Aug 24-30
Chicago IL
Facets Cinema

Aug 29-30
Northampton MA
Maine Street Media Festival

Sept 8
St. Louis MI
Global Fusion Conference
Q&A with Lucia Sommer

Sept 8
Buffalo NY
Hallwalls & Market Arcade Benefit Screening
Market Arcade Film & Arts Center
Discussion with Steve Kurtz

Sept 7-13
Buffalo NY
Market Arcade

Sept 16-20
Pittsburgh PA
Regent Square Cinema

Sept 14-19
Seattle WA
NW Film Forum

Sept 21-27
San Raphael CA
California Film Institute

Sept 21-27
San Francisco CA
The Roxie Theatre

Sept - TBA
Waterville ME
Railroad Square Cinema

Sept / Oct - TBA
Oklahoma City
Museum of Art

Oct 1
New York NY
Q&A with Lynn Hershman Leeson & Steve Kurtz

Oct 5-18
New York NY
Cinema Village
Q&A with Lynn Hershman Leeson & Steve Kurtz

Oct 10-14
Woodstock NY
Woodstock Film Festival

Nov 8
Philadelphia PA
First Person Arts
Q&A with Lucia Sommer

Nov 8
Location TBA
First Person Festival of Memoir & Documentary Art

Nov 22
A Space Gallery
Reception with Steve Kurtz

Los Angeles CA
Laemmle Theatres


19 August 2007

Armed with Peer Reviewed Science

Protesters leave the Camp for Climate Action
near Heathrow Airport for their day of action.

This photo (unattributed) is from a story in The Guardian shows protesters marching (or trying to) against the office of the company that operates Heathrow Airport. There is a plan to add a nother runway at Heathrow and the protesters argue that this will contribute negatively to climate change. I wanted to comment on the slogan festooned across their white banner - not exactly 'eight hours for what we will!' It is a bit silly. But I also wanted to note that the report in The Guardian observed that police forces "flooded into the area to restore order." There was no indication that the rotesters had been dis-orderly or that they have no right or reason to be so if they had. So much for fair and balanced. Peer reviewed studies are not much use against riot police.

Light Documents

I wanat to call your attention to a promising new blog called Light Documents - On Photography Documentary Cinema that is being launched by Mike Lim in Adelaide. Mike is only a few posts in to the enterprise, but his comments seem sharp to me and he almost surely knows more about these topics than I do. So pay him a visit.


Déjà Vu [Solidarity (5)]

This graphic from the CDC/NIOSH shows the historical pattern of mining disasters in the U.S.; one might think that historical patterns are irrelevant. But hearing the mine operator in Utah this week insist that the cause of the cave in there was an earthquake (despite all evidence to the contrary) one need only think back a short time to January 2006. Then the head of the International Coal Group attributed the explosion at their Sago Mine in West Virgina to an "act of God." A dozen miners died in that disaster.

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18 August 2007

Lieberman + Cheney = Real Worries about More War

Individually, Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman are loathsome; in tandem they seem intent exponentially increasing the possiblity for mayhem in U.S. foreign policy. I call your attention to this report by Gareth Porter at the Huffington Post via Alternet concerning the bellicose designs Cheney and Lieberman are peddling on the need to provoke Iran into war. I have posted on this truly idiotic prospect several times - most recently here. The fact that BushCo this week officially declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a "global terrorist" organization raises obvious concerns since the RG is an official military organization of the Iranian government. As The Guardian rightly points out, this is a "very provocative" act and can be aimed only at escalating tensions with Iran.

Consider one possible analogy - what if any one of several possible South and Central American governments declared the CIA a "global terrorist" organization for its nefarious interventions in their domestic politics over the years. the analogy fails largely because none of those Central or South American countries have the capacity to credibly threaten to bomb the US.

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Solidarity (4)

A miner of Pailaviri (Potosí), [Bolivia] 1928 © Roberto Gerstmann

Bolivian Miner (1920) © Roberto Gerstmann


PS: The news from the Crandell Canyon Mine in Utah is worse. A second cave in yesterday killed at least three miners who were attempting to dig out their co-workers who have been buried for over a week now. Rescue efforts are on hold.

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17 August 2007


Tadeusz Różewicz

four drab women
Want Hardship Worry Guilt
wait somewhere far away

a person is born
starts a family
builds a home

the four spectres
hidden in the foundations

they build for the person
a second home
a labyrinth
in a blind alley

the person lives loves
prays and works
fills the home with hope
tears laughter
and care

the four drab women
play hide-and-seek with him
they lurk in chests
wardrobes bookcases

they feed on gloves dust
kerosene mud
they eat books
fade drab and quiet
by icy moonlight
they sit on paper flowers
the children clap
trying to kill a moth
but the moths turn into silence
the silence into music

the four drab women wait

the person invites
other people
to christenings funerals
weddings and wakes
silver and gold anniversaries
the four drab women
enter the home uninvited
through the keyhole

first to appear is Guilt
behind her looms Worry
slowly there grows Want
baring her teeth comes Hardship

the home becomes a cobweb

in it are heard voices groans
gnashing of teeth

the awakened gods
drive off
importunate humans
and yawn

Copyright Information: Originally from Szara Strefa [Gray Zone], Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, 2002. Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston, in Tadeusz Różewicz New Poems (achipelago books, 2007)

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Blasphemous Preaching

While shopping yesterday I discovered The Reverend Billy's most recent offering What Would Jesus Buy? (Public Affairs Books, 2006). I admit that, unable to help myself, I bought it! I highly recommend this catechism for his "Church of Stop Shopping" as a guide for the perplexed and instruction manual for serious political high-jinx.

PS: Once again, a good next step on the learning curve would be writings by Juliet Schor who has a very keen eye for the political-economy of consumption.

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Solidarity (3)

Miners going home to Nyassaland after serving their twelve-month
contract on the gold mines Mayfair railway
station, Johannesburg,
December 1952
© David Goldblatt

“Boss Boy”, Detail, Battery Reef, Randfontein
Estates Gold Mine. 1966 © David Goldblatt

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16 August 2007

Max Roach (1924-2007)

© Herman Leonard Photography

Drummer Max Roach has died in NYC; he was 83. Roach was a masterful musician who revolutionized jazz drumming in the bebop era. In the 1950s he formed a quintet with trumpeter Clifford Brown and in the 1960s recorded a series of pointedly 'political' records with his then wife, vocalist Abbey Lincoln. Among the most stirring pieces of music I have heard is a drum solo Roach constructed in 'dialogue' with a recording of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech." (I cannot recall which of his recordings this is actually on.) In 1988 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. Roach had, since roughly 2000, been suffering from complications of hydrocephalus, a brain disorder. Among my favorite recordings by Max Roach are - Max Roach/Charles Mingus/Duke Ellington Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962), Max Roach/Anthony Braxton, Birth & Rebirth (Black Saint, 1978), Max Roach Quartet, In the Light (Soul Note, 1982). On these records Roach transforms the drum kit into a lyrically expressive instrument.

© John Abbott Photography

PS: Added 18 August - For a wonderful appreciation of Roach, much more articulate and well-informed than I could hope to offer go here.

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Solidarity (2)

Miners, Cuba, 1989 © Milton Rogovin

Cuban miner at home with family, 1989 © Milton Rogovin

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15 August 2007

No Joke

One anonymous commentator here has dismissed solidarity as “a joke.” I will set aside the great cowardice of those who speak so confidently on political matters only so long as they don’t have to identify themselves. There is nothing like shedding responsibility for one’s views. That said, I want to suggest that solidarity is not at all a joke. In fact is actually quite simple and quite important. I agree on this point with the recently deceased Richard Rorty who, when asked how he understood solidarity, replied as follows:

“As I’m using the term, it’s a sense of other people and ourselves
as being ‘we’ - we feel that what affects them affects us because
we, to some extent, identify with them. I ... describe
social progress ... [as] the expansion of ... the ability to take
in more and more people of the sort fashionably described
as ‘marginal’ and think ofthem as one of us, included
in us. The argument I make is that this is
mainly done by going into concrete details about
marginal lives rather than by having theories about
what all human beings have in common.”

We might argue philosophically about whether solidarity is a "feeling" (as Rorty tends to suggest) or a principle, and so more cognitive or conceptual in nature (as I would claim). But the issue, it seems to me, is simple, especially for those interested in photography and its uses. How can we familiarize ourselves with the “concrete details” of the lives those different from ourselves lead in a way that expands our capacity to see them as one of ‘us.’

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Solidarity (1)

Bill Brandt - Miners Returning to Daylight, South Wales (1931-35)

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14 August 2007

Miners - Tragedy, Hope, Resistance & Solidarity

Some time ago I posted asking for help in identifying the source of what is a fairly common quotation from John Berger. A reader pointed me in the right direction (Thanks!). And I eventually tracked down this succinct piece in Keeping A Rendezvous (Vintage, 1991). It is essentially an elegy, a searing lament for the striking British miners who, at the time it was written, had just been defeated by Margaret Thatcher. It is not included in Berger’s Selected Essays (Vintage, 2003) for what seem to me to be obvious reasons. In it Berger writes approvingly of the urge to violent revenge that the defeated and downtrodden surely feel. It also is interesting that, as I searched for the passage on art and justice (in italics below) that initially caught my attention, nowhere did I find reference to the first paragraph of the essay. It seems as though readers might be discomfited by the un-sanitized views that Berger not only describes but embraces.
"When the just cause is defeated, when the courageous are humiliated, when men proven at pit-bottom and pit-head are treated like trash, when nobility is shat upon, and the judges in court believe lies, and slanderers are paid to slander with salaries which might keep alive the families of a dozen miners on strike, when the Goliath police with their bloody truncheons find themselves not in the dock but on the Honour’s List, when our past is dishonoured and its promises and sacrifices shrugged off with ignorant and evil smiles, when whole families come to suspect that those who wield power are deaf to reason and every plea, and that there is no appeal anywhere, when gradually you realize that, whatever words there may be in the dictionary, whatever the Queen says or parliamentary correspondents report, whatever the system calls itself to mask its shamelessness and egoism, when gradually you realize that They are out to break you, out to break your inheritance, your skills, your communities, your poetry, your clubs, your home and, whenever possible, your bones too, when finally people realize this, they may also hear, striking in their head, the hour of assassinations, of justified vengeance. On sleepless nights during the last few years in Scotland and South Wales, Derbyshire and Kent, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Lancashire, many, as they lay reflecting on their beds, heard, I am sure, this hour striking. And nothing could be more human, more tender than such a proposed vision of the pitiless being summarily executed by the pitiful. It is the word ‘tender’ which we cherish and which They can never understand, for they do not know what it refers to. This vision is occurring all over the world. The avenging heroes are now being dreamt up and awaited. They are already feared by the pitiless and blessed by me and maybe by you.

I would shield any such hero to my fullest capacity. Yet, if, during the time I was sheltering him, he told me he liked drawing, or, supposing it was a woman, she told me she’d always wanted to paint, and had never had the chance or the time to do so, if this happened, then I think I’d day: Look, if you want to, it’s possible you may achieve what you are setting out to do in another way, a way less likely to fall out on your comrades and less open to confusion. I can't tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumour and a legend because it makes sense of what life's brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour."

It seems clear that dreams of violent retribution leave Berger uneasy. For even as he blesses those dreams and pledges to protect the "avenging heroes" that they conjure, he also worries that the aims such heroes pursue could be misconstrued or, worse, provoke reactions that might well "fall out on" others. It is those worries that provide the context for Berger's oft-quoted remarks on art as an instrument of justice that regularly are taken out of context. In that way, though, the connection he identifies remains abstract, sanitized.

Une Tragedie Dans Le Nord. L'Hiver, La Pluie, Les Larmes
(A Tragedy in the North. Winter, Rain and Tears)
[Bas Relief, 1975-1977] © Raymond Mason

Berger clearly continues to identify with the dispossessed and the disappearing, and espsecially with the resistance they present to the forces that mark them for destruction. One can see that easily in his essay on the Zapatistas from which The Shape of a Pocket (Vintage, 2001) draws its title. But to my mind it is another essay in that collection that most clearly expresses his continuing thenody for industrial workers. The essay addresses the work of British-born sculptor Raymond Mason who is roughly Berger's age and who, like him, has long lived in France. Berger's judgement is frank - Mason's "work has never been fashionable and now never will be." But he nonetheless insists that several of Mason's sculpture's are "masterpieces." Berger explains:
"Mason's masterpieces are awkward monuments made during the last quarter of this century to a class that was slowly disappearing, with many of its members forced into terminal unemployment. A class which today scarcely exists but which left the world its own word: solidarity."
Among the works that most impress Berger is the one shown here which, he tells us, was "inspired by a mining disaster in Liévin" in the north of France. I have been wondering for some days of how to express solidarity with the miners who've been trapped below ground for the past week in Huntington, Utah - and with their families. So this post is a start. You will see others - each day until we learn the fate of those miners.
* This essay originally was published in 1989 in an exhibition catalogue - The Paintings and Drawings of Knud and Slowei Stampe.

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13 August 2007

Kertész (2)

Displaced People, Budapest (1916) - © The Estate of André Kertész


12 August 2007

Enthusiasms (9) - Archie Shepp

I have been listening to saxophonist Archie Shepp since the late 1970s when I graduated from college. My first job was in Amherst, Mass. where I saw him in concert a couple of times and was hooked. Shepp was a long-time member of the faculty at the University of Massachusetts and, to the best of my knowledge, still makes his home in the area. Over the past few years Shepp has appeared on a couple of really terrific discs that demonstrate his contiued links to "avant garde" jazz. I have in mind, in particular, his live recording with trombonist Roswell Rudd (Live in New York - Verve, 2001) and the collaboration with Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio (Conversations - Delmark, 1999). These are truly remarkable performances from a man who is now seventy. And they make me wonder - where are the younger musicians who should be this close to the edge? Even those like El'Zabar and Billy Bang and Dave Douglas about whom I've posted here before (or plan to do so soon) hardly are spring chickens. And others of my favorites, like Paul Motian or Dave Holland or the late Andrew Hill are themsleves roughly of Shepp's generation.

A short while ago I noted that Schoolkids Records in Ann Arbor was closing its doors. Just before the shop closed its doors I bought two cd reissues of reccording Shepp made at roughly the time I first started ot listen to him. Both are duets with pianist Horace Parlan*, both on Steeplechase Records (recorded in 1977 & 1980 respectively). Goin' Home revisits ten traditional African-American spirituals, while Trouble in Mind does the same for a dozen blues standards.

These two records show just how deep and masterful Shepp's grounding in the roots of African-American music actually is. In other words, contrary to the reticence of some and the pronouncements of popular jazz neocons, one can play at the edge and acknowledge one's debt to musical traditions. Archie Shepp is a wonderful reminder of that possibility.

* Parlan, of course, was the pianist on a couple of classic recordings by Charles Mingus - Ah Um and Blues & Roots.

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