Sunday, January 29, 2012

What the dogs found and what I'm doing...

 So, what I'm doing as a project to go along with teaching the Workshop this semester is making these one-page-fold books.... I've done that before, and asked students to make them as a first project, before. Ice Breaker.

But now what I'm doing is inspired by 24th Street Irregular Sacramento. I don't remember the name of the guy who runs it/or ran it, as the case may be...but somehow I heard or read that he printed very, very small, as in very, one or two page books of poems that he then distributed by leaving them around, tucked, maybe, in odd places. They would be found, or not. Of course, I submitted a poem, New York Story,The Sixties, about finding a bag of white powder on top of the ice cubes after I'd let a guy and his great dane stay overnight and that he took it away the next day, a funny story, I thought, until someone I told it to said, "Are you crazy? Your daughter could have been taken away" and woke me up from my foolishness. I didn't even smoke dope (the only person who didn't), but why would they  have believed me?

So, anyway, the poems he chose had a political bent, and I was happy that he used one of mine and that it was left in various places...     Now what I'm going to do, with the cooperation of friends who live in different parts of the country, is to have copies of the one-page-fold books left around, hopefully in places where someone will find them and contact me. My friend, E., helped me by suggesting a designated e-mail in the hope that folks are willing to let me know where they'd been picked up.

So, the first book if quite predictable...about me and my photographs. But then I'll  branch out...I have no idea how many I'll do. But here's the first stage.

After I had tea with a friend I hadn't seen in forever, and the dogs found things at Revere Beach, I had 200 copies of the first book made..

Then I went home and was attacked by that rollicking 6 hour flu that totally cleans a person out. I'd heard stories about it.

So, my plan to get the pages folded, and signed and numbered, was put on hold...

and, in the meantime, the time when I was lying in bed, reading, the cat thew up on the bag that they were in, ruining five or six. But that's no matter. I can print them again...

So, today I'll start again... That's the story, starting again.

Note: thanks to this magic of internet!!!
I found that Richard Hansen is still distributing Poems-for-All, and that if you send him a business size envelope, self-addressed, with $1 of postage on it, he will eventually send you some little poems, less than half the size of a business card..
    1008 24th St., Sacramento, CA 95816.
He distributes them with tips, leaves them on buses, puts them in backpacks, etc., something he does between his life -- which seems to be a bookstore?, family, a press? Anyway, he's busy and this is a labor of love... so if you send an envelope, he says it may take a while before you receive it back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sherlock and I are awake...

and it's impossible to lie there, trying to get back to sleep when I'm exhilarated, either from too much coffee or the sheer pleasure of teaching that three hour class that I swore I'd never teach again. Right now I'd like to teach one class a week for the rest of my see what on earth those folks are going to do in 13 weeks. We have 36  more hours of class-time left...  There is a Carrie, a Rose, a Maxim and a Melissa, among others...

I haven't heard the name Carrie since it referred to an aunt Carrie, a contemporary of my grandmother, Laura... in the backyard of that house in Liberty, Indiana, fireflies and darkness, listening to them talk, hearing her ask about my half-brother who I hadn't, until that moment, understood was different than a 'real' brother. I was eight.                

It's doubtful that this group understands my sense of humor and it must be very difficult to understand what I'm getting at if English isn't the native language and that cement floor is death on my back, sending shooting pains after an hour and a half of standing, but here I am, awake and thinking about photography. And glad to be teaching again.

(Unfortunately I can't find my camera and transfer the illustrations, but it will turn up. They are very dull images, but record the chair I always sat in and the new building appearing outside of the catwalk....)

Part of what is keeping me awake is thinking about a Robert Coles book. He taught at Harvard and was something of a rage when I moved up here, though I never liked his writing very much. But he did one book about Eskimo people which was illustrated by a guy who had studies at RISD in those Harry Callahan days. So he produced very formal, large format, photographs, beautifully composed, these somber people staring into the camera. And he had the good sense to write an essay about how different his photographs were from those taken by the Eskimos themselves and to publish their snapshots which were just all over the place, no straight horizon line, no standing and staring into the camera, just a jumble of laughing faces, mostly outside, in snow, on sleds. They were, to my mind, fabulous and gave a glimpse at the enormous fun they were capable of having, of the natural groupings and clusters of friends. He was well aware that those images had much more vitality than his did, though his gave information about the interiors and the clothing in their formal way.

I know I bought that book, at least I think I did, though it's been years since I ran across it.

Partly I've been thinking about this in relation to most of the Zoe Strauss' images which do, to me, seem very much what I've seen before, except for that glorious image printed on the book covers, hidden under that bland dust jacket. Those two men, an illusion of those moments of tenderness or happiness.

At any rate, I seem to be longing for photographs that express that joy that the snapshots taken by Eskimos on their trips and hunts...while my own photographs are dull as dishwater.... Much as I'd like to stop it, I do use right angle and I do take photographs as if I'm staring straight to the horizon and I edit out those on a tilt...  I remember hearing about one fellow teaching a workshop of old camera club people, who certainly always photograph in an upright way, and suggesting that they just toss the camera in the air, spin around, loosen up.

On the other hand, when someone, like Gene Richards, uses the intense 28mm lens to emphasize the poverty, or addiction or danger of a situation, his predictable style becomes editorial...though it's a passionate editorial....

But I am muchly inspired by having read the introduction to her 10 year project that Zoe Strauss has the quality of those eskimo images...funky and lively and thoughtful and crammed with ideas...  and want to do a gorilla show with the class, if I can prod them in that direction... and want to do a scattered project myself..more about that later...when it's day light and I can take photographs to illustrate what I'm trying to write about.

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....

Sunday, January 1, 2012

a tantrum on the 30th...

My car drives to Lawrence automatically after first stopping at Starbucks for a latte. It drove there three times last week, or was it twice, I can't remember. One was for an interview with Whimpper who seems to me like an angel in a human form that grew up in Ecuador, became a lawyer and also a volunteer firefighter two nights a week before moving to Lawrence where he teaches AP Spanish in one of the six high school divisions. He loves Lawrence, and I don't think that's a misplaced word, and the potential of the kids to whom he teaches language and life. He speaks in a marvelous way and I did a visually boring, but intensely interesting video of him. Now I'm hoping that he might facilitate an interview with five or six students about their lives. I was impressed by his mild-mannered dedication.
Lawrence, like Chelsea, is a city of immigrant, a gate-way city.
 And then my car took me to interview Esther, from Spain, who I first met in Cafe Verde where I crawled after photographing my brains out on the third floor of the Lawrence Public Library, aided immeasurably by Louise Sandberg, the archivist, who keeps candy on her desk and had a box of figs covered and filled with dark chocolate that someone had given to her husband. If I were to die by chocolate, I would die happily eating those....  

Esther was eating at another table and we smiled at each other. The next time I went there, she was eating with friends and I stopped at her table to talk and, no, I don't live in Lawrence, I'm doing blah and blah for the Centennial Celebration which will open on the 12th, interviews that will then be deposited in the Lawrence History Center, which is another whole story with a terrific staff and Susan Grabski who is part of getting that exhibit up.
 I have taken well over a thousand photographs, which doesn't mean that I've photographed a thousand pictures, but that I've bent over the table in that history room at the library, taking many of the same one, or stood by a shelf in the History Center, taking many of one...and then gone home and sorted them out and dumped the bad ones and turned what I wanted into jpgs for a long, long, long video of Jonas which was the first one I did, way back in June, when I was starting to hunt for interviews which I imagined would be quite short and shown at the Essex Art Center....
 Now I have to do another whole set for that show because I somehow got caught up, thanks to having met Karen at one of Cathy McLaurin's workshops, in this upcoming celebration.
 In general I have worked very hard this year, 22 videos about folks in Chelsea, and many photographs for 2 local shows, and now this. I have been productive and proactive and not really been in a rush, except now when I put more on my plate than I could manage, technically. Luckily Cathy put out a call and Stephen responded so my car also goes toward the Museum School where it obligingly finds a parking space and I find him waiting for me at the desk. He has saved the two long interviews with Jonas ...  dolled them up and made them more interesting than watching one person talk for an hour would be. He added some pizzaz to all the photographs I stuck in there, a good rough edit, but no fancy stuff. He's responsible for the fancy stuff, I'm overjoyed to say.
But I have three more videos to edit by tomorrow and I just couldn't do even one yesterday. My first tantrum. Generally I've been quite good this year. I've gone to openings and turned up at various activities and participated, etc., etc., The usual depression that starts on Thanksgiving and ends in early January skipped over me and I've managed to work in Lawrence this December and come back and, if necessary, go out with K. to shop or have a bit to eat or whatever....only occasionally going to sleep at 6, calling it quits.

But yesterday I could not force myself to go to Madeline (spelling) and Muna's party. I could not say happy new year to one person, not one. Bogie and Sherlock only demand treats and no wishes for the year to come. Oh, another year. How is that possible?