Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bread & Roses Centennial and my last ditch attempt and Zoe Strauss

 Fortunately S. came for a visit, arrived Wed. evening and we drove out to Lawrence in the morning. Labor history is one of her many interests so the Centennial celebration was particularly meaningful to her. We got there just as Rosario of Justice for Janitors was speaking...and I dearly wish that we'd heard all of her speech and been able to get a glimpse of her... The room was packed, standing room only  behind informational flats ...or crowding against the back wall. It was great to see this group, many of whom were students listening or not, but who perhaps had the chance of walking down Essex Street in the rain behind flags shouting strike, strike, strike early in the day. We missed that, but I would have liked to walk in that crowd, to, in some way, mimic the original march. And it's nice that it was so dismal, a bit icy, since Jan. 12th, 1912, was one of the coldest in recorded history, as were those two months of active striking.

 I didn't realize until the next morning that I'd been holding my breath in worry that someone wouldn't like his or her interview. But of course they couldn't have seen them, newly installed, and turned off in all the noise and celebration.

At any rate, when the History Center gets earphones, it will be an attractive video installation, the mechanics hidden by two vintage wooden boxes...quite handsome. I'll try to add a few more in Spanish before long, just not right now.

I'm tired. Partly from all the work I've been doing this summer and more particularly in finishing up these seven interviews in English and two in Spanish, but also by trying to hold my stomach in, and push my shoulders back and do the exercises necessary to make this last ditch attempt to straighten myself out...having seen a physical therapist, Lorna Brown, who somberly instructs me that I am responsible for making a decision about whether I want to continue this work everyday, everyday, and not slack off because even if I make progress in these eight weeks while she's watching me, it's easy to fall into my stoopedness.

Having considered myself a head carried around by a not too important, but often annoying, body, it's a big adjustment to pay quite this much attention to the mechanics of learning to undo extremely bad habits.

One of the few things that I remember from the otherwise nearly blank first twelve years when my mother was alive, is her saying, "Don't sit on your spine." How can I remember that if I've forgotten her? Almost entirely. But never mind, that reprimand has lodged in my brain and I can recall it, though I can recall nothing else of what she might have said that I've used as unconscious reasons for being so self-destructive and making such poor choices that I know would have annoyed her.

So, what was also interesting is that S. brought Zoe Strauss's book, Ten Years...and I had a chance at it...

I've never been in love with photographs, though I've seen hundreds of thousands and made an endless amount myself. It's just not a medium I find very interesting unless there is text.

So I didn't find her photographs particularly interesting, except a few, one of which is totally magnificent and covers the hard binding, though you can't see it because of the dust jacket...but it's a fabulous image of these two men on a bed with what seems to be such a display of affection, dare I say's exudes warmth and spontaneity...

I couldn't understand what all the fuss is about, all these color plates and three essays, a fat, heavy book with a boring dust jacket...

since many of her images have ordinary right angles and not very inventive framing, the sort of images we're used to seeing, (though I'm certain they are considered by many curators to be remarkable in themselves,  not as emblems for her original thinking, etc., )

But once I read her introduction, I really liked her thinking, her premise, her tenacity, her ambition......her ten year plan to make herself into a photographer...(she's one of the blessed few who are young and haven't been through MFA programs!!! and wasn't programmed, except by her own intelligence and competitive nature..).to exhibit prints once a year on pillars under the I-95 in Philadelphia, arranged in four categories, one of which is  defining gender.

I understand now why S. has been so enthusiastic about her work, the broader social concerns and the intelligence with which she defined her process.  

I can't remember whether Strauss explains the wedding ring gold teeth image in her introduction, but the woman she photographed has one (or two?) gold front teeth because her husband works as a mechanic and his ring got caught on various objects, so they decided to melt them both down and cap their teeth with the gold...this is the reason I need text, why I love text. It's far more interesting to me to look at that image, a smiling woman near a gas pump, if I remember correctly, and know that she's wearing her wedding ring.. she's okay on her own, but nothing like with the story...

but that's my personal bias...and my take on photographs in general...that they're flat and silent, but for the visual noise that they might or might not supply......

From my point of view, Strauss' premise is unusual as is her thrust toward photographing folks from the lower end of the economic scale, the often subtle references to what's befallen us as a country over the last ten years and I do enjoy that she occasionally throws in a photograph to tweak the images (made by men) in the canon of well-known photographs.

And I greatly appreciate the very small footnote at the very back of the book remarking that even though Strauss refers to Lynn Bloom as her wife, it is not legal for two women to marry in Pennsylvania.

(It is from my seventy-two-year-old perspective quiet amazing that marriage between two people of the same gender is legal in Massachusetts...we, (the human race), advance glacially, but that is an advance..Let's hope for Pennsylvania...)

I can't wait to read her blog....


  1. I used to be floored by photography, too, when I was much younger. I guess it comes from our ability to take photos and the lack of effort in doing it. How can something that is so ordinary be considered art? But good photography escapes the boundaries of the frame. Good photography, especially before the advent of Photoshop, gives you depth and dimensions.

    Thanks for the fabulous post.

    Greetings from London.

  2. Thanks, Cuban...I was happy to read your post....