I am so pleased that my daughter Willa loves to take photographs. And she's good.
ART BY TECHNIQUE: photography
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
I know a lot of you enjoyed reading about the Nanny Photographer at my other blog, Small Equals. The more we see of her work, the more amazing her story is. She was such a brilliant photographer with no formal training. And worked in total obscurity, leaving a legacy of thousands of images.
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.
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.
I was looking through some of my old magazines the other day and came across two items on really big photographs. The first comes from Collier's, January 9th, 1904. That was the year the Russo-Japanese war began, foretold by the cover Collier's headline, "The Russo-Japanese Crisis".
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 for holding the developing fluid. The tank for fixing was 45 feet long by 7 feet wide and three 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 three 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.
Clouds Over The Field, Canada. Liza Cowan photo
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.
"In 1937 she became the first female photojournalist hired by New York's Associated Press. She was photographer and Hollywood columnist for New York's progressive tabloid PM, shot photo stories for Look Magazine, and produced a variety of award-winning projects in a world-roving career. "I was good in the newspaper business," she said, "because I had this way of wanting to get the dope. I had an aggressive nature, a creative spirit." Her trail-blazing career is chronicled in books and periodicals, one describing "a 23-year-old wisp of a girl, with a thick mass of tousled brown hair and dancing blue eyes, Miss Mary Louise Morris ... daily faring forth with camera slung over her shoulder to cover every variety of news and feature story." SF Chronicle, Aug 23, 2009
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.
Visitors to the gallery often ask me if I still paint or take photographs. The answer, by and large, is "no." I don't have time to make art and run a gallery. It's not that I don't have a free minute here and there, but it is almost impossible for me to flip my frame of mind from business to art. That's particularly true for painting, which, for me, requires a lot of uninterrupted time with paintbrush in hand. If you paint, or write, or do any kind of creative work, you probably know what I mean.
What I still do, however, is graphic design. From greeting cards, to ads to postcards, I can do it all on the computer and somehow manage. It's fairly easy for me to move freely back and forth between design and retail management: customers, ordering inventory, answering the phone, research, dusting, planning shows etc. It is a boon that I can save the work in progress and come back later and it's exactly how I left it. No drying time either.
Another great reason to make postcards : they are future collectible ephemera. So hang onto yours. And for goodness sakes, if I hand you one, don't fold it in front of me. Few things grate on my nerves as much as watching someone mangle my art.
So here are two of my latest. My postcard printers - I use Image Media and love them - were having a 25% sale, so I made a new general card, as well as the one for the August exhibit by Los Angeles photographer Aline Smithson.
Pine Street Art Works, Postcard. Design: Liza Cowan 2009
Here's my grandmother, Lena Spiegel, as my poster girl. Isn't she elegant? You've seen her before in this blog, and she's at it again - helping me out. No stranger to retail, her husband, my grandfather, Modie Spiegel, started Spiegels, yes, that one, the big mail order company. His portrait hangs over my desk and I try to absorb some retail moxy from him. I am the only person in my fairly large extended family who is in retail, so I like to think I get all of his attention.
But it is Lena who claims attention for her own foxy self in her feathered hat and varnished nails. The text next to her, in case you can't read it on the screen, says "I'm Lena Spiegel. My granddaughter owns the store. So shop already."
Aline Smithson, Arrangement in Green and Black #3, postcard for Pine Street Art Works 2009
Aline Smithson's amazing photograph does the heavy lifting in this postcard. Her show is going to be fantastic. Four photos each from three series - can't wait. Come by in August if you are around.
I took this photo in Greenport, NY in 2000. A misty early morning at the circus. For some reason, I feel like posting it today.
Circus. Greenport, NY. 2000. Photo by Liza Cowan.
Houston photographer Cara Barer has scored again, with a stunning cover photograph on the new book, The Late Age Of Print, by Scott Esposito. Published by Columbia University Press - kudos to them as well, for having the great taste and style to publish one of Cara's
Cara has had two solo shows at PSAW and we always carry an assortment of her prints.
Aline Smithson will be showing her photographs here in August. Meanwhile, mazel tov on being on the cover of the online photography magazine, F-Stop Magazine.
Some of these artists I've already posted about, some not. I'm so excited about the lineup of shows at PSAW. Even though times are tough, and businesses are tumbling like dominoes in an earthquake, we here at Pine Street Art Works (and Atelier Tove) are determined to keep going and thriving.
APRIL - TIM MATSON/ PILOBOLUS
Tim Matson photo of Pilobolus. Dance called Untitled.copyright 1978. Used by permission of the artist.
The dance troupe Pilobolous began in 1970 at Dartmouth College. Tim Matson began photographing them early in their career, and, in conjunction with a Pilobolus April 11th performance at Burlington's Flynn Theater, PSAW will exhibit a dozen or so of Matson's original prints. Matson's book of Photographs, Pilobolus, was published by Random House in1978 and is still available through used book dealers.
MAY OR JUNE - DAVID POWELL
Plattsburgh NY/ Burlington VT artist/educator David Powell will show his collages and prints at a date to be announced. I've been a fan of David's for a few years. He had a show last year at Burlington's Fleming Museum which was super.
Into the Future. David Powell. Copyright 2000. Digital print mounted on Wood Panel. Used by permission
AUGUST - ALIINE SMITHSON
Aline has been winning awards and grants left and right, and I'm happy to say I knew her when. She will be exhibiting here in August.
Aline Smithson. Arrangement in Green and Black. Portrait Of The Photographer's Mother. Copyright Aline Smithson. Used by Permission
SEPTEMBER - TMNK - THE ME NOBODY KNOWS
I've blogged a lot about TMNK, but here's another image and a reminder that this amazing NYC street artist will be here on Sept 11th for the Burlington South End Art Hop.
TMNK-The Me Nobody Knows. Copyright 2009. Used by Permission.
APRIL 2010 -CAROL GOLEMBOSKI
How To Read The Hand. Copyright Carol Golomboski. Used by Permission
"Psychometry is a series of black and white photographs exploring issues relating to anxiety, loss, and existential doubt. The term refers to the pseudo-science of "object reading," the purported psychic ability to divine the history of objects through physical contact. Like amateur psychometrists, viewers are invited to interpret arrangements of tarnished and weathered objects, relying on the talismanic powers inherent in the vestiges of human presence. These images suggest a world in which ordinary belongings transcend their material nature to evoke the elusive presence of the past.
Copyright Carol Golomboski. Used by Permission
Through an examination of fortune-telling and clairvoyance, many of the images confront the desperate human desire to know the unknowable, historically referencing the Victorian interest in spiritualism as well as the look of the nineteenth century photographic image. Illegible text and arcane symbols in pictures with themes like palm reading, tea leaf reading, and numerology force the viewer to consider man's insatiable need to anticipate his own fate.
The concept behind each picture dictates its darkroom manipulation, sometimes requiring research and revisions that last weeks or months. Combining photography with drawing, seamlessly incorporating photograms, integrating appropriated text, and scratching the emulsion of the negative create images where horror, history, and psychology occupy the same imaginative locale." Carol Golomboski from Photo Eye Gallery
I found these photos and text over at Aline Smithson's blog, Lenscratch,
"We live in a world full of technical distractions. I see my children gathered around their computers as though it’s a summer campfire, faces aglow, as they peer into a world of friends and fantasy, participating in a new forms of entertainment that further remove them from the childhood that I experienced." A. Smithson
"Today’s generation has lost touch with the activities that previous generations have enjoyed—reading a good book in a comfortable chair, playing board games on a rainy day, flipping through Life magazines, or sprawling out on the living room rug while listening to records and reading the backs of album covers." A. Smithson
"And it’s because of this that I have been looking at bookshelves and untouched childhood pursuits with a new eye. With great sadness, I realize that these objects will someday be obsolete, at least in their current incarnations. And like a curator of antiquities, I see them now as beautiful objects to be admired and preserved, if only on film.
I can only hope for rain, a heavy rain and maybe a power outage." A.Smithson
Aline Smithson will have a solo show at Pine Street Art Works in August 2009.
Mille Congratulazioni, Cara. Ciò è meritata bene.
AND... today Cara became one of the Photolucida 2008 Critical Mass Top 50 winners in their annual juried competition. Very big Mazel Tov on that, Cara.
Here at Pine Street Art Works in Burlington, VT, we have some amazing shows lined up. People often ask how far in advance I book shows, and the answer is anywhere from a couple of months to a year. I like to have some flexibility and I also like to know where I'm headed.
So here are three upcoming shows to look forward to:
Illuminations - Studio Glow - November.
I've scheduled a show of light. Yes, the days are getting shorter and we all start to crave illumination. Heading towards Winter Solstice, dozens of important traditions worldwide honor the return of the light and have done so since the dawn of human life.
Well, we're jumping in a bit early with a show of lights by Studio Glow - the light sculpture studio of Riki Moss and Robert Ostermeyer. The whole gallery will be aglow with these beautiful lamps and lights.
Aline Smithson, from the series, Arrangement In Green And Black: Portrait of the Photographer's Mother. Used by permission of the artist.
Aline Smithson, August.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Aline Smithson on my last trip to Los Angeles. I'd only seen her work online, which is how I find a lot of my artists, by the way. And I'd quite fallen for her photography. Aline is a highly respected photographer and teacher and a great person to go to art galleries with. We had a blast looking at art together. I'm so excited about presenting her work in August, and I will be blogging a lot more about her. Meanwhile, I urge you to check out her website - linked above.
TMNK - The Me Nobody Knows - Save My Ass Too, used by permission of the artist. Mixed media on canvas.
"Some of the wealthiest, most powerful money brokers screw-up and you say you want to use my money to bail them out? They make millions, hundreds of millions, fly first class, live in mansions, and have yachts. Yet we, the poor-ass-struggling folks are about to loan them 770 billion dollars?
I have a better solution. Let the greedy idiots who caused this mess take their lumps and loose everything. Then do for the American people what we do for developing third world nations, simply forgive our debts. Bail us out. Keep all of us from going bankrupt, and pay our bills, our homes off. After all we're the backbone of the nation, right? Good, for once let those at the top of the mess suffer the consequences.
Now you've already wasted a bunch of my money looking for weapons of mass destruction, then starting a very expensive war, funded again with MY money. So the way I figure, if you really care about a nobody like me: Dear Uncle Sam, Save My Ass Too! Save My Ass Too" TMNK
TMNK- The Me Nobody Knows. September.
If you've been following my series Picture The Future: Obama in Art, you've seen two of Nobody's paintings. I found New York City artist TMNK as I was researching for this series and, as I said in one of my posts, I've fallen in love with him. With his work. We haven't met yet. But...here's the best part of my job - I wrote and asked Nobody to do a solo show here at Pine Street Art Works next September for Art Hop. And he agreed! Sometimes I love my job so much. Follow the link to Nobody's website and blog and I think you will be as excited about his work as I am.
Lordy. It was in the nineties and humid as the tropics. But we had over a thousand visitors to PSAW during Art Hop to see the amazing exhibit of photographs of the last free days of Tibet, taken Heinrich Harrer at the request of the young Dalai Lama. Harrer was the author of Seven Years In Tibet. Publisher Leslie DiRusso, who came up from New York for the opening, was astounded and gratified that even in the thick crowds, even with all the other events and exhibits going on for Art Hop, people stood and read all the commentary, stayed to ask questions, and were so engaged with the work.
Dalai Lama's Flight from Tibet. 1951. Photo by Heinrich Harrer. Used by permission.
Text for this photo, taken from writings by Harrer:
The wind springs up early across the treeless, almost lifeless, Tibetan plateau. By midday it sweeps with gale force, carrying sand or snow, stinging and cutting travelers' faces. What light there is casts a bleak twilight pall over the wastelands.
Here, second from the left, the newly invested Dalai Lama, flanked by two of his personal khenpo (abbots), staggers against the winds on the Plain of Tuna in his flight from the Chinese advance. In the foreground struggles Phala Dronyer Chenmo, the Lord Chamberlain.
Obama Or Else postcard. Design by Liza Cowan, Pine Street Art Works. 2008
I got a wonderful email about the cards on Saturday, after the opening of Art Hop.
Liza, I just had to tell you how awesome your "Obama - Or Else" card is! You have said it all with just a few words. I am 71 years old and have never been so worried about the outcome of an election. I just pray that he makes it for the sake of my grand children and the next generation.
It's time once more for Art Hop, Burlington's once a year art festival.
Over 600 artists will be showing work in over 100 places in
Burlington's South End.
Check out the SEABA (South End Art's and Business) website for the full scoop.
This year Pine Street Art Works is excited to present a series of photographs by Heinrich Harrer taken in the years preceding the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1951. The prints are from The Heinrich Harrer Limited Edtion Portfolio, Leslie DiRusso,Pubisher.
From the website of The Heinrich Harrer Limited Edition Portfolio
"Heinrich Harrer, noted Austrian explorer and mountaineer, escaped over
the Himalaya from a prisoner-of-war camp in British India with Peter
Aufschnaiter, and then lived and worked as a fifth-ranked nobleman in
the forbidden city of Lhasa. As confidant and informal tutor to the
Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Harrer was afforded access to ceremonies and
customs that had been rarely witnessed by Westerners.
" In the company of the Tibetan nobility, Harrer photographed a virtual family album of their lives and, in so doing, captured the richness and heart of a people: the moments with friends and family who had long accepted the photographer's eye. The Tibetans' joy at play, the leisure of the nobility, the splendor of the Buddhist rituals, the windswept plains of the high plateaus,Harrer's photographs document this with a mountaineer's sense of scale and an explorer's sensitivity to culture.
"Harrer left Lhasa in advance of the Chinese army in December 1950. Harrer's memoir, Seven Years in Tibet, has been translated into 53 languages, with more than four million copies sold. In October 1997, a motion picture based on his book, starring Brad Pitt as young Heinrich Harrer, was released by Tristar to major box-office success. Seven Years in Tibet, the book, again soared on best-seller lists around the world.
Harrer's body of work spanned more than six decades of exploration on six continents. Harrer received numerous honors, including the Eiger Gold Medal, Gold Humboldt Medal and the Explorers Club Medal, for his many expeditions and explorations, which number more than 600. He wrote 23 books and received credit on more than 40 film productions.
"Heinrich Harrer probably didn't realize it at the time, but his photographs captured a culture that has now all but vanished. His photographs are significant because he was actually shooting for the Dalai Lama, documenting Lhasa so the Dalai Lama could see what life was like outside the Potala. That gave Harrer unique access to ceremonies and scenes of everyday life that no other Westerner has ever had.
It's really miraculous that these photographs exist at all. Heinrich Harrer discovered a can of unexposed 35mm movie film and bought a used camera from a Tibetan friend. He didn't have a light meter, but he had five years to study the city and its people."
In October 2002, His Holiness the Dalai Lama presented Harrer with the International Campaign for Tibet's Light of Truth Award to honor Harrer's humanitarian effort to bring the situation in Tibet to international attention.
Heinrich Harrer and the exiled Dalai Lama remained steadfast friends until Harrer's death on January 7, 2006. "
Leslie DiRusso, Publisher
Harrer's Nazi Past
At the time that the film Seven Years In Tibet was being made, the German Magazine Stern came out with an article disclosing that Harrer had been a member of the Nazi Party in Austria. Google it, it's all over the place.
As a curator, an ethical person and a Jew, I had to think a lot about this information. To say that I spent many a restless night would be an understatement. My decision to exhibit the pictures is based on a couple of ideas.
These photographs are do not exist in the realm of fine art. That is, they are not a statement Harrer is making about himself or his beliefs, but about the subject he was shooting. They are documentary images, meant for that purpose. (I understand the complexities of documentary photography, but perhaps another time...) They were taken at the request of The Dalai Lama and document a moment in history that is not only crucial in the history of Tibet and China, but of which there is almost no other visual documentation.
A close reading of Seven Years In Tibet (which I loved, by the way, it's a great read) did not convince me of any racial, political or eugenicist motivation, at least as far as Tibet is concerned. We don't know what Harrer thought about Jews, Gypsies or Homosexuals - the usual victims of Nazi Terror. He claims to have joined the Nazi Party to be able to secure a position on a state funded climb, and to teach skiing. He claims he only put on the Nazi uniform once, to get married.
On this subject Orville Schell said ''There are not that many moments in life when to claim to be a craven careerist of the most calculating sort is a step up from ignominy.'' At any rate, Harrer was in a Prisoner Of War Camp during the war and what he did politically before the war we don't know. After his time in Tibet he dedicated much of his time to helping the Tibetan cause. He was vetted by Simon Wiesenthal, came out OK, and that's good.
"We must look at these photographs and remember that China invaded Tibet in 1950 and since then has systematically destroyed the indigenous cultural and religious practices. We must remember that Tibetan culture now exists primarily in exile. We must acknowledge the haunting nature of images of a culture now erased. We must realize that imperial nations destroy and create. After all, it was the imperial agenda of the Nazis, one that sent a young SS officer named Heinrich Harrer to India in the first place. And we must acknowledge the imperial and expansionist nation that we too live in, a country that is destroying Iraq even while it produces beautiful and haunting images of this destruction. We must remember for that is what Harrer's photographs insist we do. We must remember Empire and be moved by Art. "
Laurie Essig, Professor Of Sociology, Middlebury College, written for PSAW
I'm off to LA for a week. One of the things I'm going to do is spend some time with Aline Smithson, who will be having a show at Pine Street Art Works next summer.
See the Paint By Number painting on the wall? How could I not love her!
I hope to visit a bunch of galleries and shops and steal ideas think of new things to feature at the PSAW. I probably won't be posting from the road but I'll bring back pictures and stories.
I adore the photographs of Stephen Wilkes. I particularly love his series of photos of abandoned spaces. I place them in the genre of modern ruins. I don't know if Wilkes does or not. It's certainly not all he does, but they are the ones that resonate most for me. Wilkes is the photographer I'd like to be if I were a good enough photographer. I have a good eye. Wilkes is a good photographer with a good eye. "Good", of course, is totally loaded with cultural and subjective suppositions. Wilkes is good. And by "good" I mean "I feel faint from their beauty, technique, and emotion."
If you will be in or near Chicago from July 11 to October 15th, really try to get to this show. The Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Galleries, 78 East Washington St. 312 744 6630 www/cityofchicago.org/cultural affairs.
This series of photographs is breathtaking. Those of us who live in the US (and many of my readers do not) probably understand the cultural and historical backstory of these photographs. Ellis Island has a fascinating history, the most famous of which is it's role as the port in New York City through which came 12 million immigrants from all over the world from 1892 to 1954.
Wilkes photographed the hospital and contagious diseases complex at the ruins of Ellis Island over a five year period starting in 1998.
These images look great online, but seeing them in person is an experience. This one, for instance, I'm sure contains the ghost of a little girl. I actually own a print of this, and it took me weeks to make my peace with her. I didn't feel any pain or malice coming from her, but it was spooky. And sometimes she wasn't there. I know this sound really screwball, but I swear it's true. It happens that Wilkes named his book on Ellis Island Ghosts Of Freedom. I urge you to follow the link to the book website and if you want your own copy, Buy the book from my Powells partner account
I first saw the Wilkes Cibachrome prints at The Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, where I bought my print in 2003. I had already been making my own series, Shipyard Archeology, and was in love with the genre of modern ruins. When I saw the Wilkes photographs they stopped me in my tracks.
If you are or will be near Santa Fe, New Mexico, and you love photography, go to the Monroe Gallery. Owners Michelle and Sidney Monroe are my role models for owning a gallery, although in fact, mine is nothing like theirs. They specialize in "classic black & White photography with an emphasis on humanist and photojournalist imagery." They curate wonderful shows, which I wish I could go see regularly, but hey, I'm stuck in Vermont.
From Oct. 3 - November 16th 29, 2008, The Monroe Gallery will be showing Stephen Wilkes' new collection of photographs taken in China over the last three years.
From The Authors Note, Ellis Island Ghosts Of Freedom, Stephen Wilkes:
"The Statue of Liberty loomed over my shoulder, yet I felt no less an archaeologist than those who ventured into the Mayan tombs. I wore a respirator against the ravages of asbestos and lead paint. I saw the shoes of immigrants long forgotten; shards of mirror; remnants of beds; the ruins of the autoclave, a chamber where tuberculosis-infected mattresses were sterilized with scorching heat. I saw Eveready batteries hooked to strange pipes...
"...I felt the palpable presence of humanity everywhere I turned, in every room. It was an energy in whose presence I felt tremendous humility.
"...Strange things happened. I'd photograph a mirror that had hung on a wall for half a century, on to return to find its shattered remains. I'd photograph a show, which several days later had disappeared though no one had entered the space after me. I photographed the 500-foot long spine of the hospital, Corridor 9, a long tunnel of decay. In the photograph, a golden glow of sunshine warming the walls at the far end is visible. In all the times I returned to it, I never again saw this glow, nor can I discern its origin."
OK, here I have to digress to make a comparison to one of my own photographs from my Shipyard Archeology series from 1999. The photographic quality of his is better. I have no idea what kind of camera, lens, film he was shooting with. His website is not filled with information on technique, but Wilkes is a master of light and capture. I was shooting with a Nikon F100 with a 50mm lens. Still...
All the Stephen Wilkes images in this post are from The Monroe Gallery Website. Thanks Michelle and Sidney! Love ya!
More about Ellis Island
Forgotten Ellis Island by Lorie Conway.
This book , Forgotten Ellis Island: The Extraordinary Story of America's Immigrant Hospital by Lorie Conway
looks great, too. I haven't read it yet, but I've ordered it. Dr. Fitzhugh
Mullen, who I have known literally all my life, was a consultant on the
book and film. There's a DVD as well, which is available through the Forgotten Ellis Island Website
You can also check this link to PBS to see when this film will be shown in your area.
From Forgotten Ellis Island. Faces of the Feebleminded. Author Laurie Conway found files at the National Archives from Dr. Eugene Mullan, an Ellis Island psychiatrist.
"Since I had researched Dr. Mullan's files before, I was not expecting to find anything new, but tucked behind several letters written by Dr. Mullan were these original, black and white images, complete with typed captions indicating various mental conditions: constitutional apathy, low grade moron, juvenile paretic, surly, and the catch-all description, "feebleminded."
Public health physician Fitzhugh Mullan, grandson of Eugene Mullan and one of the advisors to the Forgotten Ellis Island film/book project, analyzed the photographs from his grandfather's file as attempts to "distinguish between normal and abnormal and various levels of abnormality." Since the feebleminded were automatically deported, one can only assume that the people in these pictures were denied entry to America and sent back to their homeland." Laurie Conway,from Forgotten Ellis Island Website
Christopher Barnes Ellis Island Photographs
These photographs are by Christoper Barnes from 1986, obviously predating the Wilkes portfolio. The Barnes photographs were used in Forgotten Ellis Island. I urge you to check his website to see more of the series.
It's probably a good omen when a car trip starts out with seeing a truck with your name on it.
I took some time off last weekend with my parenting partner, Laurie Essig, and our two kids to visit our old house in Greenport, NY. We sold the house about five years ago and none of us had been back since then.
Naturally, we visited the carousel.
I hadn't remembered that there are several Charles Dare horses on the Greenport Carousel, which was a wonderful surprise for me.
I got to spend a little time at the Greenport Shipyards, site of my Shipyard Archeology photo series. I only had my point and shoot camera with me, and I just can't get the same quality I got from my trusty Nikon F100 and a roll of film, but still it was nostalgic just walking around.
On our way home we stopped for a few hours in New York City so Laurie could tape a TV Show about Gay Marriage. (No, we're not. Families have all kinds of shapes and configurations.) The show was the Laura Flanders show on GRITtv, and although the kids wanted to go shopping during the taping, we did manage to catch the last few minutes and hang out in the control room to see the backstage operations. You can watch the segment here
And then a quick hello to the panel and Laura.
Laura Flanders, left. Laurie and kids, right. Not in this picture is panelist Kenyon Farrow, whose excellent blog is worth taking a look at.
So if you watch the show and Laurie briefly mentions her kids and parenting partner, that's us. I'm in the Vermont media fairly often, usually about art, so it was fun to be on the sidelines and out of the spotlight.
The best part about travel, when you know things are going really right, is when you are happy to get home. We were all glad to cross Lake Champlain and be back in Vermont again.