My new photography show, Saki, Pug For Fun opens in two days but I'm still shooting for it. Crazy, right? Today I took four pictures I'm very satisfied with. One will go in the show, maybe two.
Recently I started painting old chairs. This was my first. It's been a lot of fun and I'm so pleased with the results. I paint on any surface, really. Glass, walls, wood, canvas. And in the past I've painted some furniture, but discovering Annie Sloan Chalk Paint really made a difference. That suff goes on so easily and covers so beautifully. And no smell. And water cleanup.
Today I decided to photograph the chairs, on a beat up old table in front of my living room wall. I painted the wall 11 years ago when I moved into my house. You can see I like spots. I'm shooting with my iPhone 4, using the Camera+ app.
Here's Saki on the spotted chair. Saki is a very good poser. For a dog who doesn't relax even when she's asleep, it's fascinating to me that she will calm down and pose as soon as she sees a camera.
And here is Stella, the doxy. Stella's not quite as happy in front of the camera but the floor was a long way down and she was not about to attempt a jump. So she sat. Here she was listening to the sound of a car outside. It's best when something captures their attention.
Most of these images will soon be available as greeting cards on my online store.
My daughter and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly at the Pug Fest at Alice Austen House Museum last weekend. Not only are we pug fans (and owners) but we are fans of Alice's life work as a pioneering 19th Century photographer. See more about Alice on this blog here and the Alice Austen House Museum website here.
This view across the Narrows would have been very different in Alice's day. But it is still gorgeous.
At the Alice Austen House Museum, Pug Day. What a beautiful day to be at Clear Comfort, Alice's Staten Island, NY, house on the water. Here, my daughter and I recreate Alice's self portrait with her pug, Punch. I bet Alice would have loved to be able to wear jeans and boots, and keep her hair short. Imagine lugging hundreds of pounds of camera equipment around wearing a corset and floor length dress. Kudos to Alice for managing so beautifully.
Alice Austen and Punch, self portrait. Willa and Saki by Liza Cowan
Last week I posted this image of a billboard in progress in Greenwich Village, NYC.
Photo ©Liza Cowan
Today my friend Penny sent me this picture of the finished billboard. It's for Barneys New York.
And here's the inspiration for the billboard:
"Helmut Lang's cast-resin replica of five front-row seats from his final fashion collection are installed in a concrete room in the window of Barneys, replicating the artist's own basement, where the piece has been stored. Flat-panel plaques on the floor display the fashion items the artist selected as highlights of 2009"
Missionaries of Charity Enter Chase Bank. Photo © Liza Cowan
When I started following the sisters it was because I loved the flow of their saris and the way they walked so closely together. When they entered the bank I had to laugh. I'm sure that the Missionaries of Charity have bank business, but for a brief moment I had a vision of them robbing the joint. You know - to give to the poor.
Walking around New York City is never dull. I grew up in the city but now I am just another visitor with a camera.
This is my first post via iPad do bear with me as I learn. Always a journey, right?
Just a few months before she died, Alice Austen made her second appearance in LIFE Magazine.
Alice Austen Day. Life Magazine, October 29, 1951
"Alice Austen, America's first great woman photographer, had been rescued from the poorhouse and oblivion by the sale of her superb collections of pictures (LIFE, Sept. 24). But until this month the 85-year-old artist had never had a public showing of her work. On Oct. 7, however, the Staten Island Historical Society, custodian of her photographs, celebrated "Alice Austen Day". More than 300 of Miss Austen's old and new friends crowded into the museum to look at her pictures and say hello to her once more. Miss Austen herself was an hour late. Worn out by a television appearance two days earlier, she at first refused to come. But her friends convinced her that she would enjoy herself, and enjoy herself she did. There were speeches and orchids and gifts and refreshments, but above all, there were friends. Some, like Mrs. Charles Barton had posed for her in the old days on Staten Island. Others, like Coapes Brinley of the Staten Island Historical Society, helped win recognition for her work. Miss Gertrude Tate, her closest friend, had lived with her for 27 years at the Austen home until the two ladies lost their money and the home was sold.
The old lady in the wheelchair knew how to get the most out of every moment, although she mostly wept when Mrs. Barton bent over to kiss her hand. As the newspaper and magazine cameras recorded the afternoon, Photographer Alice Austen said proudly, "I'd be taking those pictures myself if I were 100 years younger." When the pictures and the refreshments were over, she went back to the private nursing home where she now lives, a little tired by the festivities but glad that she had lived to see Alice Austen Day."
Alice Austen fans...great news. The Alice Austen House has a beautiful new website and Facebook page, and is proud to be one of the only museums in the US devoted to a Lesbian. Yes, that's right. They are proud of it. As they should be. Here's an interview with Alice Austen House directors Carl Rutberg and Ann Marie MacDonald on New York City TV show, City Talk.
You will note that they talk about Alice as a Lesbian, which is great, yay, and that they discuss the first time Alice was "outed" at the 1996 NY Public Library Stonewall Aniversary Exhibit. Now, we know this is not true, because DYKE magazine ran an article about Alica as a Lesbian in 1976. However, they filmed this interview before I posted the Alice article here at SeeSaw and at the DYKE A Quarterly Annotated Online Archive...so we forgive them for not knowing, right? Right. Because Dr. Rutberg got in touch with us immediately, and we have been emailing ever since. He now knows that we had the scoop on Alice. And as he said in a Facebook comment to me, "We want to make sure the LGBTQ community rallies around Alice"
And we will.
I posted this article earlier this week on my other blog, DYKE A Quarterly, an online annotated archive. DYKE A Quarterly was a magazine I published with Penny House from 1976-1979. Copies of the magazines are now housed in the library at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City, and also at The Schleisinger Library at Radcliffe College, which also has the collection of all the ephemera and collateral materials for the magazine that we kept over the years.
If you are interested in DYKE A Quarterly it is HERE.
I know that you, my regular SeeSaw readers, will be particularly interested in this article about 19th Century pioneer photographer, Alice Austen. originally published in 1976.
By Penny House and Liza Cowan, written & published in 1976
Alice Austen was a Lesbian born on Staten Island, NY in 1866. She started taking photographs at the age of twelve and continued until the nineteen thirties. She was an enthusiastic athlete, excelling in swimming, cycling, boating, golf and tennis in an age when women were just being allowed to do any sports at all. She was an excellent mechanic who with her lover, Gertrude Tate, and other friends, took long car journeys in a time when there were almost no paved roads.
She thoroughly documented her own life and that of her friends, where were well-to-do young women, both Lesbian and straight, and who were straining against the last remnants of Victorian morality. She photographed extensively the immigrants and street life of the lower east side of New York City. The style of her photographs was unusually realistic for her time.
Alice Austen Photo. Violet Ward and her lover. DYKE A Quarterly, no. 3 p 36
In 1929 she lost all her money. She and Gertrude supported themselves by selling their furniture, renting rooms in their home, running a tea room, and by the income from Gertrude's dance classes, which she taught until she was in her late seventies. They were finally forced to leave their home on Staten Island in the nineteen forties. They moved into a small apartment, but soon were forced to separate. Alice, 83 years old, suffered from severe arthritis and Gertrude had a difficult time caring for her. Gertrude's younger straight sister, who had long tried to separate the two, took advantage of Alice's ill health and the morality of the time which dictated a two bedroom apartment which they could not afford. Gertrude went to live with her sister and Alice to a nursing home. Gertrude visited regularly, bu they were both very lonely. Alice was kicked out of several different nursing homes for her too independent nature, and at 84 was admitted to the hospital ward of the Staten Island poorhouse.
Her plate glass negatives had been sold to the Staten Island Historical Society, and in 1951 were "discovered" by a photographic historian. He sold some of the photographs to magazines and turned the money over to Gertrude, who moved Alice to a pleasanter home Alice began to be recognized for her life long work as a photographer. A year later, in June of 1952, she died, sitting in her wheelchair in the sun. Gertrude lived on for ten years, and when she died her sister was unable to bury her next to Alice, as they had wished.
Violet Ward and Daisy Eliot. Photo by Alice Austen. Violet was a childhood friend of Alice's. Daisy Eliot was a professional gymnast. Violet, an enthusiastic cyclist, invented a mechanism for bicycles that was universally adopted. Alice took the photographs for Violet's book, Bicycling for Ladies, published in 1896. Daisy was the model.
Bessie Strong's Bedroom. Bessie was a friend of Alice's. One of the special aspects of Alice's work is that she was interested in documenting the the intimate details of young women's lives, where few other photographers were willing or able to do so. Note Alice's photographs tacked up on the walls. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976
Of the estimated seven to eight thousand glass plate negatives that Alice took, approximately one half are known to survive. Alice was a stickler for detail, often making her friends pose for hours and hours until she could get the exact expression, setting and light she wanted. She carefully marked the envelope for each glass plate with the time, date, place, exposure and lens type.
Alice Austen, Newsgirl on NYC's Lower East Side. DYKE A Quarterly No 3, 1976
Alice carried nearly fifty pounds of photographic equipment on her journeys. She always liked to have at least two cameras with her, as each camera could take only one size print. No enlargements were possible in those days.
"Alice luckily was a tall and strong woman, perfectly capable of carrying her own heavy camera, tripod, and box of plates...She spent hours on end in her closet -like darkroom, developing plates and 'toning' and 'fixing' her prints...Because there was no running water in the house when she was young, she carried [the plates] all downstairs and out into the garden to be rinsed in a basin under the hand operated pump, winter and summer. sometimes she changed the rinse water twenty five times, she recalled. Gertrude Tate attributed Alice's photographic success to a combination of artistic sense, the tirelessness of an athlete, and sheer stubbornness of will."
"The originality of Alice Austen's work becomes strikingly clear when it is compared to that of other photographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Women photographers in particular succumbed to the fashion of making photographs to illustrate romantic tales of childhood, and of colonial village life or popular works such as The Rubiayat of Omar Kayyam... Daily American life, if pictured at all, was sentimentalized beyond recognition. The children picked posies of wild flowers in sublime landscapes while their mothers struck classical poses in diaphanous flowing garments of some eclectic style...most photographers of her period did [their] best to prove that photography was a form of art by trying to disguise the fact that [their] pictures were made by mechanical means -the precise fact that Alice enjoyed about photography. Alice's work was out of tune with the fashionable dictates of her time.
"Alice Austen...photographed people and places as they actually appeared, focusing her lens so sharply that every small detail of leaf or woodwork, facial expression or lettering on a sign, was recorded. She approached her subjects straightforwardly, without any attempt at the refinement, grace and decorative sense encouraged in the photographic journals of her most productive years...Pictorialists may have portrayed nymph-like young women floating apparently weightless in unruffled ponds and dancing on tiptoe effortlessly through flower filled fields: Alice Austen recorded her friends in the flannel skirts and woolen stockings of clumsy bathing suits calculated to impede the movements of the strongest swimmers, and she showed them doing their daily gymnastic exercises to develop the strength their daily lives required. Alice Austen's women ride bicycles and horses, work in the streets and market places and are a vigorous and real as Alice herself."
Thanks to Ann Novotny for help, information and photographs. All quotations are from Ann's book, Alice's World - The Life and Photographs of An American Original: Alice Austen 1866-1952, which will be published this fall by Chatham press. Quotations printed with permission of the author.
Cover photo. Alice and her friends, Trudy, Julia and Sue formed a cooking and sewing club. "The four girls spent so much time in each others company that disgruntled young men referred to 'the darned club,' a name the members delightedly adopted." Alice is on the left, once again holding the remote control shutter release.
Ann is chairwoman of The Friends Of Alice Austen, who are trying to restore Alice's house and turn it into a museum of her life and work. They plan to have rotating exhibits of women photographers. Anyone who is interested or would like to help should write to Friends of Alice Austen, 315 W. 78 Street, New York, Ny 10024 #1,
Photographs courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society.
See more about creating the cover for issue No.3. using Alice's photo That Darned Club, here
The Alice Austen House did come to pass. It is a National Historic Landmark on Staten Island. Ann Novotny died of breast cancer shortly after we wrote our story, but her work and passion lives on. Read about the Alice Austen House HERE.
For more on women and photography at the turn of the last century try this wonderful blog, Kodak Girl. Kodak invested heavily in marketing their cameras to women, quite successfully.
Bicycling for Ladies. ME Ward. Maria Ward aka Violet. See more HERE
Frances Benjamin Johnston, American photojournalist, took this self portrait with a bicycle. Johnston wrote What A Woman Can Do with a Camera for the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, a year after Bicyling For Ladies was published. Notice the painted on moustache.
The ladies did like to lark about.
And do check out the ALICE AUSTEN HOUSE WEBSITE
and their Facebook Page, filled with images
The Frozen Butcher
photo Liza Cowan
Using contemporary technologies, this small, family-run, Vermont business brings their farm- raised, organic beef to local farmers markets. The refrigeration in their mobile shop, aka the truck, is powered by Solar Energy. Yes, the panels on the top of the truck are solar. So they can run all day and not burn any fuel. Cool, eh? And the meat is delicious too.
Snug Valley Farm
East Hardwick, VT
Vivian Maier, street photographer
How do vintage perfume bottles lead to an historic Lumiere Brothers factory in Burlington Vermont? Follow me.
Yesterday I stopped by to chat with my friend Mary Heinrich Aloi at her wonderful antique store, Vintage Inspired Antiques/Whistle Stop Antiques, on Flynn Avenue in Burlington. I went to discuss business but I cant help looking around her packed- to- the- gills shop whenever I stop by. I spied some antique vintage perfume bottles. Not only were they beautiful, but I'm kind of a perfume nut.
I bought a few bottles and carried them back to my store, not to sell but to photograph, and to delight in the lingering scent of Bandit by the infamous perfumer Germaine Cellier, and whatever delightful aromas might be waiting in the other bottles.
In addition to Bandit I found Tabu, Geoffrey Beene and the alluring Private Collection 1973 by Estee Lauder.
I set up the bottles in many different configurations, with the sunlight changing as I went. The next one, along with the one at the top, are my favorites. The bottles have a strange sensuality, evoking not just their scent, but a presence bestowed by the somewhat anthropomorpic shape of the glass itself.
Two Perfume Bottles,Estee Lauder Private Collection and unknown, photo @Liza Cowan 2010.Available online at small equals store
These photographs reminded me of the work of a photo secessionist artist, but I couldn't remember who, so I went on a little cyber hunt to see what might be lurking in the back of my visual memory.
Heinrich Kuhn, Austrian photographer. 1866-1944. Worked initially with the multi-gum bichromate process, and platinum and oil transfer prints, In 1907 he met up with Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, and they began experimenting with the new process developed by the Lumiere Bros, the Autochrome.
Here's a Kuhn Autochrome.
How does this lead to Burlington Vermont? It's a little known fact that the Lumiere Bros. set up a factory to make autochrome plates in Burlington Vermont. The factory was here in Burlington for about ten years, starting around 1902. And where was the plant? In the very building, or at least on the very spot - because the original factory building burned down - on Flynn Avenue where I bought my perfume bottles at Vintage Inspired Antiques/Whistle Stop Antiques.
Want to know more ? Use these links to get you started.
From The Photo Miniature Vol 3, 1902
More from the Cowan photo vaults:In the summer I put white curtains behind the show window at Pine Street Art Works. The bright west light throws everything into silhouette in the afternoon. You have to be inside the gallery to get this view. Mannequins by Ralph Pucci International (left) and Adel Rootstein (right)
Woman with umbrella in front of poster for Rubin Museum. Photo by Liza Cowan 2008
I just unearthed this photo from my files and thought I'd share it with you. I was on the street in New York City, watching people walk in the rain in front of this poster for the Rubin Museum. The poster was for the exhibit, Earthly Immortals, Arhats in Tibetan Painting (which I didn't see, alas.)
I waited for the right moment, and along came this woman whose umbrella seemed to match the red stripe around the Buddah. I think Picasso would have called this a visual rhyme.
If you want to give a shot at reading the things at Pine Street Art Works, I'll give you a hint: Spring Cleaning. Yes, after a long winter here in Burlington, with the gallery set up as a wonderfully crowded and fun store, I decided to go simple for Spring. Intern Par Excellence, Daniel Weinberg, and I spent a couple of days moving furniture and products, art and artifact. Grueling, but worth it. So welcome to Spring on Pine Street in Burlington Vermont's Arts District. Why the interest in reading objects? Carol Golemboski's amazing show here at the Gallery: Psychometry (the ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact.)
Next big project: The street garden. Charlotte Albers of Paintbox Garden Design is planning something special, and I'll keep you posted.
1904 was the year The United States gained control of the Panama Canal. That year British troops invaded Tibet and Longacre Square in New York City was renamed Times Square. It was the year of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair (Meet Me In St. Louis) and it was the year the first subway opened in New York City. Cary Grant was born that year. And it was a BIG year for photography, if size matters.
Text: "A photograph 40 feet long and nearly 5 feet high, which has just been completed in Italy, will be exhibited at St. Louis this summer. It is a picture of the Gulf of Naples, and the negatives were taken from the highest point available near that city, on the Castle San Marino, showing a view of Vesuvius and the sea. Each separate negative of the many which go to make up the entire picture, measures 8 1/4 x 10 3/4 inches. They all fit end to end, thus showing a continuous panorama."
Sliding the photograph into the toning and fixing bath.
"From these negatives enlargements were made 6 feet long and 5 feet high. the joining of the several parts, although very difficult, has been most cleverly done, so that the junctures are hardly discernible, even to experts. To develop the negatives a wheel was constructed some 12 feet in diameter and 6 feet wide, with a circumference of about 40 feet."
"Three separate tanks were used fo holding the developing fluid. the tank for fixing was 45 feet long by 7 feet wide and tree feet deep. The entire operation of developing was carried on in the open air during a dark night. In order to restrain local development liquid was poured upon certain portions of the negatives from a hose, while other parts which required forcing were treated with a sponge filled with developer. Eight hours were required for washing the photographs in running water and ten hours for drying. Little retouching was necessary."
In a moment of random coincidence, the next magazine I picked up, Calling All Girls, from June 1944, contained this ad:"Imagine a camera so big the photographer must work inside, using a loudspeaker telephone to give directions to his assistants outside. Largest of its kind in the United States, this camera can turn out negatives six feet long and tree and a half feet wide - as many as 800 a day. It copies valuable tracings of research drawings by telephone scientists. Another example of one of the many ways the Bell Telephone Laboratories is helping to speed new developments in the dependable communications equipment for our armed forces."
I wonder what they were really used for. If anyone knows, please leave a note.
So the 1904 photograph was really the world's largest print, but not the world's largest negative. Made, one supposes, for entertainment but not for war, it didn't really matter that it was so time consuming and difficult. All part of the thrill.
It turns out that the world's largest photograph to date was made in 2007 Irvine California by The Legacy Project using a variation of a pinhole camera obscura. Check out the Legacy Project website. It's fascinating.
Camera Obscura and pinhole cameras have been used since antiquity, although the early versions did not fix the image on a surface. In the 2007 photograph was taken in converted airplane hangar, turned into a camera obscura, by opening a gumball sized hole in the wall.
The image from the hole projected onto a light sensitive fabric the length of one third of a football field and three stories tall. 60 volunteers developed the image by moving the fabric into an enormous 1 foot deep tray.
Well, it sounds a bit like the 1904 operation after all.
Your comments are always welcome.
Driving home from Montreal yesterday afternoon just after a rain. The clouds were so pretty, the cornfields so autumnal, and the light so perfect, I had to stop and snap a few pics. South of Montreal, north of Vermont, on Rt.133.
L to R: Max Lerner, Lou Cowan, Mary Morris Steiner, Polly Cowan, Ralph Steiner (biting my mom's shoulder,) photo set up by Mary or Ralph, shot by Edna Lerner.
The SF Chronicle article omits the fact that Mary was married to Ralph Steiner, iconic American photographer. Mary told me in a phone conversation last year that when she and Ralph were partners in their New York City photography studio, they split the shooting equally, but he got all the credit. They didn't really pay attention to who was shooting, who was setting up the shots, who was climbing the ladder. It was all in a day's work. She didn't care. The paycheck came in and that was pretty much what mattered at the time. I don't think either one of them realized at the time how famous he would become and how relatively, but not completely, obscure she would become. So those Ralph Steiner photographs that are now highly collectible, the ones done in the NY studio might be by Mary.
Photo by Mary Morris Steiner (Mary Morris Lawrence, for google's sake) Polly Cowan and baby Liza Cowan circa 1950
Another obit, somewhat more substantial, from The Oakland Tribune: "In his 1938 book, "Get That Picture!" cameraman A.J. Ezickson described her as a hard worker and a cunning "scout," gaining access with her small RolleiFlex camera to scenes her less enterprising colleagues (the same ones who made "sly jibes" about Morris Lawrence) were barred from by using her wits but never "feminine wiles."
Last year Mary and I discussed the possibility of her having a retrospective exhibit here at PSAW, but there were more technical difficulties than I could overcome from 3,000 miles away. The 95 year old Morrie lived in San Francisco and had only original prints of her work, which she did not want to ship to Vermont. I'd have been happy with scans but we never worked out the logistics of having them made and printed. Alas.
Morrie only published one book in her lifetime, Bringing Up Puppies, A Child's Book of Dog Breeding And Care, written by Jane Whitbread Levin (another Sarah Lawrence chum)
Bringing Up Puppies, by Jane Whitbread Levin and Mary Morris Steiner (Lawrence)So here 's to you Morrie, talented, brave and wise. You will be missed.
Postcard for Smithson Exhibit. Photo, Aline Smithson, design PSAW
The Aline Smithson exhibit has been up for a couple of weeks and visitors are enjoying it immensely. Here's what they look like on the wall.
And here are some of the pieces- all images copyright Aline Smithson, used by permission of the artist.
From the series, In Case Of Rain. Archival Jet Prints from scanned negatives:
Next from the series, Arrangement in Green and Black. Hand painted silver gelatin prints:
Aline Smithson. #10, Last Supper
Aline Smithson, #5, Ballet
From the series, Toy Camera:
Aline Smithson, Venice, Once Remembered
Aline Smithson, Harmony
Aline Smithson, Unguarded Area
Aline Smithson, New York Skaters
and here's some cool press for Aline:
Aline Smithson Venice Once Remembered on the cover of Light Leaks
Aline Smithson, Arrangement in Green and Black, cover (and inside) of Silver Shotz.