30 January 2013
29 January 2013
Passings ~ Balthazar Korab (1926-2013)
Wind Turbines, Birdies and Cute Kitties
Labels: wind turbines
Best Shot (235) ~ Trish Morrissey
28 January 2013
Best Shot (234) ~ Ian Beesley
27 January 2013
Local Event: John Tagg at RIT
William A. Kern Lecture Series
Professor of Art History and
The lecture looks at the emergence of photo theory and new kinds of theoretically informed photographic practice in the 1970s, in a decade of social conflict and political activism in Britain when the impact of new social forces, new forms of theoretical writing and new forms of social mobilization changed the conception of the place of the political and put a new emphasis on "the politics of representation."
Carlson Auditorium (76-1125)
* John Tagg is Professor of Art History and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University. His books, which often focus on the relationship between photography and power, include The Burden of Representation: Essays of Photographies and Histories, Grounds of Dispute: Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discursive Field, and The Disciplinary Frame: Photographic Regimens and the Capture of Meaning.
Labels: Local Event
The Priority of Pragmatics Over Aesthetics
Labels: Data Graphics
26 January 2013
And Worth Every Smoloka . . .
Just before his demise, having usurped Presidential powers, co-opted the media, implemented his repressive 'Border Area Improvement Initiative' and punished citizens suspected of disloyalty for voicing qualms about the genocide, Phil warned: "I wouldn't be surprised if some of us didn't start getting smaller and doing mathematical proofs. We'll have to watch that. We'll have to be vigilant."
* George Saunders. 2005. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. Riverhead/Penguin.
24 January 2013
So Much for the Idea that Obama is a Progressive
First, as James Thindwa notes here at In These Times: "During his re-election campaign, and in his personal reflections about the election, President Obama went to great lengths to avoid publicly acknowledging the valiant and very consequential contributions of organized labor to his re-election." This sets the stage for the perennial post-election move by Democrats - dump organized labor after they help get you elected.
Second, on Thursday Obama nominated the fox (Mary Jo White) to guard the chicken coop (financial sector). (He is proposing her to head the SEC.) My friend, the estimable Lester Spence, brought to my attention this piece on the matter from Salon. The relevant line from the author (David Sirota): "So I fired up Google this morning and sure enough, I discovered why my superficially good feeling was quickly turning into a deeply ominous nausea."
Unions tossed (once again) under the bus, Wall Street keeps getting a pass. So much for the new progressive' Presidency. So much for the ability of the red-state crowd to gauge political reality. Maybe Obama really is the most centrist President in recent memory!
23 January 2013
CHOBI MELA VII
21 January 2013
Paglen - The Last Pictures
"If we think about the point of a democratic society, I understand the American project in its ideal form as people poking at society, contesting it, constantly asking questions about what it is exactly that we’re doing."
Fair enough. The opening remark is taken from this odd "conversation" with Trevor Paglen - geographer and maker/interrogator of photographic images - published at The Straddler. Why "odd"? Because there is no actual interlocutor; just a set of paragraphs that, I assume, Paglen wrote. In any case, he apparently is talking about this project.
President Obama, Doctor West, Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Tradition
Political Traditions are crucially important. They are in some respects a non-renewable resource. We are thus well advised to protect them from manipulation. So, while I am not nearly as eloquent as Doctor West, and while I do not agree with everything he says here - mostly because my own religious commitments are roughly non-existent - I nonetheless find it ironic that Obama is seeking to lay claim to the tradition of the struggle for civil rights via a symbolic appropriation of Martin Luther King, Jr.. The irony is two-fold. First, as Doctor West points out the President's party and policies are rife with that Doctor King would find deeply objectionable. There is no need to recount the items. But even the sanitized version of King that I have repeatedly complained about here over the years would surely resist being recruited into the mainstream of the contemporary Democratic political establishment. And, second, it is important to remember that, notwithstanding his accomplishments and stature, Dr. King's relationship to 'the movement' in fact was fraught with conflict and contestation. I have mentioned that here before as well. The inauguration today is yet another attempt to sanitize the American political tradition and it's debt to African Americans.
P.S.: And if you think that centrists like Obama are the only ones seeking to appropriate the King legacy, have a look at this post and the various links it contains.
20 January 2013
Another Fashion Disaster
I hardly am a fan of fashion photography or of the more general preoccupation with glamor. I've made that plain here many times before. My objections are not just that the industry exploits and endangers teen girls. Indeed, the urge to exploit seems to recognize no bounds. Now, apparently, when fashion photographers and editors exercise questionable judgement, exploiting hardship and suffering for fun and profit, everything is OK just so long as their melding of models and militarism rises to the level of "not wince inducing?" I will grant that Anie Leibovitz's new series for Vogue perhaps is not as politically tone deaf as several made in recent years by, say, Rankin, or, worse, Steve Meisel. Indeed, it may not be as bad as some of the recent projects she herself has undertaken. So what? If you set the lower bound of offensiveness low enough, anyone can clear it.
All that seems to be lost on Rosie Swash who in this column at The Guardian operates less as a journalist than an enabler. Her claim that, because Vogue worked with other fashion industry types to raise funds for disaster relief, they have "earned the right" to exploit calamity to boost circulation numbers is, to be polite, facile. Imagine the uproar if the scruffy activists at Occupy Sandy made an analogous claim! The Occupy volunteers gave time and effort not just money. Swash, in other words, is making excuses for the well-planned-out bad behavior of the folks who ultimately pay her salary. No fashion mags, no 'runway,' no need for Rosie's column. And, of course, absent the photographers and models and agencies, the 'industry' could not function. Hence, no need for Rosie's column. Pretty simple.
As a matter of substance, it is indeed an open question whether the various men in uniform delivered more "official" aid to those displaced or injured by the recent hurricane than, for instance, the Occupy Sandy activists. Even the Daily News, recognized the contributions the volunteers have made. And, as Rebecca Solnit has argued in A Paradise Built in Hell, that is part of a broad historical pattern.* It is no disrespect to "first responders" in uniform to suggest that much of the most immediate and most effective response to disaster comes from regular people, unpaid, in civvies.
* Rebecca Solnit. 2010. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. Viking. You can find my assessment of her argument here.
18 January 2013
Hey John Mackey! - News Flash!
17 January 2013
Passings ~ Shomei Tomatsu (1930-2012)
16 January 2013
Which Images Would You Want Hanging on your Walls if You could Have Any Images of Your Choice?
Grief Without A Religious Safety Net
As a kid the nuns at Sacred Heart School beat the 'faith' right out of me. So, when my boy Jeffrey died, I discovered that most of the 'help' with grief was - to be polite - useless. What is located on the self-help shelves is pretty much all crap. And, I have spent the five plus years since Jeff died trying to sort out my life. Most importantly, I do not want to be the dead boy's father. I work at being Jim who, among very many other things, has lost his teenage son. I've had incredible help from Susan and Douglas and August who each is walking more or less the same path. I've found exactly two books worth reading (Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking and Elizabeth McCracken An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination). But Didion, McCracken & I sit on quite different branches of the family tree of grief. So, when I heard this story on NPR this morning, I felt like yelling THANK YOU! Instead, I wrote this for my friends.
Quick Brown Fox
Quick Brown Fox is a curated blog by Alex Rose, in which photographers have to create a piece of work based on a single word. The first photographer is given a word and then they pass on a new word to the next featured photographer.It is, in other words, something of a photographic chain letter - or maybe, given the one word limit, more like a chain tweet. You can find Quick Brown Fox here. I very much recommend you have a visit.
Labels: New Blogs
15 January 2013
Nerd Jokes: The German Idea of Freedom
14 January 2013
Best Shots (233) ~ Ana Casas Broda
13 January 2013
On Zero Dark Thirty
At The Guardian you can find this essay/interview with Kathryn Bigelow, director of Zero Dark Thirty a controversial film depicting the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The controversy revolves around the role of torture in that "hunt." Here are some parts of the essay I found interesting:
"Her assiduously neutral position on the politics of the film brings to mind, ironically, a politician."The point? Engaging with the time one lives is important and admirable. But doing so by narrowing one's focus so relentlessly as to miss the contextual differences from one situation to the next is, well myopic in the pejorative sense. And to do all that with supreme, unquestioning self-confidence is, frankly, astounding. This is a political story, after all. Political at the core. And Bigelow seems oblivious to that.
"In [The Hurt Locker]the wider controversies of the war in Iraq are sidelined in favour of the experiences of the soldiers: the beads of sweat, the dust, the fly dancing on an eyelash as it looks, unblinkingly, down the barrel of a gun. These small details accrete, over the course of the film, into something like a moral force. Bigelow justifiably won the 2010 Oscar for best director, the first woman to win in that category.
Zero Dark Thirty takes "a similar perspective", she says, with its focus on the individuals, a group of CIA agents tasked with finding Bin Laden and played with brilliant understatement by Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Ehle and Jason Clarke. 'It's a very human piece and it's a story of determination,' Bigelow says. 'We can all, as human beings, identify with believing in something – believing in something so strongly that there is nothing else in your life.'"
"Bigelow's absolute conviction in her own rightness is a habit of mind she has had since childhood."
"Bigelow's diffidence is something she acknowledges with wryness and regret."
"When she gives any thought to the vastness of the story, and to the radioactive sensitivity of so many of its elements, she reassures herself that, "as a film-maker, it's a responsibility to engage with the time I live in. You're kind of creating an imagistic version of living history." And with all the risks that entails."
Here is how The Guardian depicts the film:
"Not even its harshest critics dispute that Zero Dark Thirty is a beautifully made film, with clean, sharp lines, completely gripping, and light on any extraneous material. There is almost no backstory for the characters, just the grinding sense of mission that propels people working in extraordinary circumstances. There is nothing glorifying about the torture scenes, either, which illustrate both the hideous reality behind the euphemistic language and the fact that you can't trust information coming out of them: when asked for details of an imminent attack, the detainee – beaten, waterboarded, dragged on a leash and finally shut in a box – mumbles in terror and bewilderment every day of the week. (Later, when not under duress, he gives up a key name, which critics of the film say sets up a false causality: there is no conclusive evidence that torture led to this particular disclosure.)"So the nub of the issue in much of the critical commentary seems to revolve around whether Zero Dark Thirty does or does not establish or gesture at or . . . whatever, the efficacy of torture in eliciting 'actionable' information in the hunt for bin Laden. You'd have to see the film to decide.
Regardless or how one comes down on that matter, there are other questions at stake. I have read that Bigelow sometimes defends the film as fiction; but in this interview she places supreme confidence in the factual interviews - the research - conducted by screenwriter Marl Boal. Which is it? An interesting question that. But not my primary concern. One makes political judgements in context and with an eye to consequences of more or less wide ranging sorts. That is the point of this essay by Karen Greenberg. What is at stake here is not whether Bigelow or Boal personally endorse torture or defend the Bush war crimes apparatus. Of course they don't. It is not a matter of whether depicting torture is wrongheaded or gratuitous. That depends. It is about how the details a film depicts are contextualized. And, it seems, Bigelow has adopted a radically personalized, largely decontextualized focus. Hence the uproar - and Bigelow's seemingly uncomprehending reaction to it. Then again, I've not (yet) seen the film.
N.B.: An afterthought - It occurs to me that Bigelow/Boal are in something of a bind. If, as they seem to claim, they are depicting practices in the Bush War on Terror in a way that is not didactic, that allows audiences to make up their own minds, draw their own conclusions, they can hardly complain that audiences are, in fact, interpreting the film as giving torture or torturers a pass.
Best Shots (232) ~ Ghulam Rasool
12 January 2013
Parachuting In To Rochester
". . . we are trying to make a documentary archive of Rochester at this particular moment in time." ~ Alec Soth
I noted here last spring that a gaggle of photographers from Magnum had descended on Rochester and dispersed around town to pursue individual projects. They were nearly departed before I knew about the enterprise. You can read about their stay here at The New Yorker (work up from the bottom - the comment from Alec Soth I lifted above comes from the initial entry). A couple of days ago two of our smart graduate students called attention to the first installment of work from the Magnum visit that I have seen (Thanks Barbara and Peter!). It is a series by Paolo Pellegrin published in Germany by die Zeit. You can find the written story here and photo-essay here. I have to say that while the photography, unsurprisingly, is striking in many ways, the overall story Pellegrin presents is rather shallow and moralistic. We get a cat and mouse interaction between drug dealing ghetto youth (mostly racial/ethnic minorities) and officers (mostly white residents of the suburbs) from the Rochester PD. That "game," I suppose, is meant to stand in for the racial and economic segregation that characterizes the Rochester metro area. There is a garnish, but no more, of reference to underlying political-economic and racial complexities that generated this stereotypical view of urban America. In short, we get a narrow glimpse of how things are, but nearly no understanding of how things got this way or, god forbid, any insight into what might be done to remedy the current, dire situation. It makes me wonder what photojournalists do to prepare for assignments and what they think their work is for.*
Coming to Rochester, for instance, the Magnum folk might have viewed local filmmaker Carvin Eison's feature July '64 about the racial and political-economic circumstances prevailing in the city at mid-century and the explosive consequences those circumstances generated. They might have read urban sociologists like Bill Wilson or Doug Massey (to pick only two luminaries) about the complex underlying processes that generate urban disasters like Rochester - think industrial collapse, high crime rates, crushingly bad public education, concentrated poverty, and so forth overseen by political and economic elites who seem (at best) interested in containing or papering over rather than remedying those conditions. I have noted these things here repeatedly in the past. They might have consulted with photographers like Brenda Ann Kenneally or Greg Halpern who are from or currently live in urban upstate New York. And they might've done some or all of that together so that they had some sort of shared background, however partial or incomplete. Perhaps the Magnum photographers did some or all of this. Pellegrin's essay - despite the skillfully crafted images - provides no evidence that they did. If this is part of an "archive" of Rochester, as the Magnum folks suggest, they seem to have missed the history and context and underlying dynamics almost completely.
Maybe, as one of our students suggests, this sort of presentation simply appeals to German sense of superiority. Here in the U.S., though, we - meaning people who reside in and around decimated cities like Rochester - need considerably less moralism and many fewer neo-liberal responses (like feel-good music festivals, ineffective mayoral control of schools, official indifference to inequality and poverty) and more attention to underlying political-economic realities. The Magnum photographers might have tried to demonstrate that need. The evidence so far is that they did not.
* Let me be very clear. These are fabulously talented photographers. And everything I know about the individuals involved suggests they are men and women of conviction and integrity. That includes Paolo Pellegrin.
My complaints here are not about their intentions or talent. These reflections instead are about the practice of photography, the conventions that dominate the field. If the Magnum crew, with all the resources and prestige at their disposal, misses the story, I fear what less talented, more mercenary photographers might do in analogous circumstances.
Walter Mosley (12 January 1952 ~)
10 January 2013
Max Roach (born 10 January 1924)
09 January 2013
Idle No More
I do not know much about Idle No More, the incipient grassroots movement for indigenous rights (among other things) in Canada. You can find a brief report from the CBC here and a couple of reports from The Guardian here and here. The strategy seems to be to re-set the relations between the Canadian government and the First Nations and, in the process, leverage changes in diverse policy domains such as economic development and environmental protection. From what I can tell the mainstream American press has neglected events up north despite indications that movement is moving across the border to the U.S. - which would be a good thing.
Against Hatchet Jobs
"Someone out there should offer an annual prize for the most lethal review of an art exhibition, because art reviews are getting way too polite. [. . .] The bloated reputations of so many artists of our time offer critics a lifetime's supply of truth telling, so why hold back? We should be going after this lot (and loads more) all the time, and at full volume. Instead, they are more or less guaranteed nice reviews that ignore the pustules of badness that seep out of chic galleries." ~ Jonathan JonesThis is the punchline from this essay at The Guardian today. I agree with the estimation of most product from the contemporary art world. However, I don't think we need more prizes. Indeed, part of the problem with art world denizens is that they too often have their eye on the prize (whichever one). And, while I admit to often finding myself tempted, we hardly need more caustic commentary. Critics should, I think, instead write mostly about work they admire or find compelling. Ignore the dreck. Silence is more effective than vituperation.
I have posted here many times about critics and what they are - or should be - up to. None of the best critics I've read - John Berger, Rebecca Solnit, David Levi Strauss, Dave Hickey - have taken the advice Jones offers - of publishing 'hatchet jobs.' Commenting some years ago on what made John Szarkowski so perceptive and influential a critic, Robert Adams wrote:
"Szarkoski's writing made him envied, but the irony is that his competitors seem to miss some of the most obvious keys to his success. Among these is that he writes only about what he likes. It is a practice that cuts down competition from the start; to be clear about how and why something is difficult, whereas just to turn one's animosity loose on something weak is both fun and safe (who can accuse you of being sentimental). No wonder the affirmative essays stand out, and, assuming they are about respectable work, last longer. Weak pictures drop away of their own weight, as does discussion of them, but the puzzle of stronger work remains: we are always grateful to the person who can see it better."*None of that means being un-critical, or failing to acknowledge the political, economic, social currents that conspire to render good work - creations worth discussing in the first place - so rare and exceptional. But I do think Adams is right. Need examples? How about John Berger's essay on sculptor Raymond Mason? Or, the essay on Susan Meiselas that Adams himself includes in Why People Photograph?** These are the sorts of critical assessments I remember. The 'hatchet jobs' I forget.
* Robert Adams. 1996. "Civilizing Criticism." In Beauty in Photography. Aperture, page 59.
** I admire Meiselas and her work very much as I have noted here repeatedly.
07 January 2013
A Charter for the 99%
My two cents? Any such campaign should include a demand that the right to vote be written in to the Constitution and that the now nearly moribund first amendment right to free assembly be rehabilitated.