October 2, 2006
In case you haven't discovered it, UbuWeb is an archive of avant-garde and outsider arts, a rich repository of films, mp3s, papers, and images. The ubu film archive is a particular favorite with films by everyone from Duchamp to Leger to Rauschenberg.... My only complaint is that films are sometimes presented very small and in mac-unfriendly formats. Avant-garde film not your thing? Head over to the 365 days project which includes 365 outsider mp3s. There is bound to be something that delights. Start with Muhammad Ali singing Ali's Historical Theme Song (download songs by clicking the mp3 document icon).
October 3, 2006
My son doesn't talk in his sleep, he makes siren sounds.They always startle me awake-the imitation is getting good. Sirens are his shorthand for ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. My wife rarely sleep-talks but through the baby monitor I swear I just heard her sigh and say, "No joy for the scullery maid."
October 4, 2006
125 West 18th Street
New York, New York 10011
Friday & Saturday Noon-7. Sunday Noon-6.
October 4, 2006
A sweet looking little Korean lady in Times Square game me this pamphlet warning me that if I receive the mark of the beast on my right hand or forehead I will go to hell. It went on to explain that the mark would be delivered as a bar code in an injectable RFID chip and that the program has already been started on dogs and cats. The end-of-worlders seem to be all over the place these days. Project anyone?
October 6, 2006
On 7th Avenue at 18th Street today I ran into a group of 7 or 8 blind men teaching two blind teenagers, a boy who looked to be about 14 and a girl who was little older, to navigate the city. The men walked in a huddle around the kids, explaining their navigation techniques step by step. It was late afternoon and all the men and canes made long shadows. Most of the men wore dark glasses. Both the boy and the girl were newly blind and moved awkwardly. The girl's face was burned; the boy's eyes were clouded. They reached out for steadying hands every few steps, but the men kept saying, 'Nobody is going to hold your hand out here, you have to see with your ears and your stick." The sidewalks were full of obstacles- construction, uneven concrete, street vendors, and of course people in a hurry. Every few steps brought a new crisis. The boy got turned around. The girl stumbled. A dog on a long leash got caught up in the group. But everyone kept moving. Near the corner of 19th Street one of the older men detected a construction barrier with his cane. He stopped and waited, listening to hear if his charges would navigate it, but both slammed straight in. The girl fell again this time in a muddy puddle. The man helped her up, took her hand and demonstrated how she had missed the sawhorse. He repeated this with the boy. The girl was on the verge of tears. She was silent, but you could see all the frustration and fear well up on her face. Somehow the boy knew what was happening. He took her hand, "You'll get it, don't worry you're already better than me." The men in the protective circle moved in a bit tighter. Everyone patted the kids on the back murmuring encouragement; one squeezed the girl's shoulders and you could see her relax. "I'm ok. It's ok. Let's go." Then they all continued moving ever so slowly down the avenue.
October 7, 2006
One of my favorite childhood books was a hand me down from my mom titled the 'Tall Book of Make Believe'. The inscription on the front page read "Greetings from Santa Claus, 1951" followed by mom mom's name written in her 6 year old hand. My guess is she wrote her name on that very Christmas day — her 'e's are rendered backwards. I knew the book was something special even as a kid. The worn corners of the cardboard cover and taped up back gave it the patina of love and I always kept it in a place of importance by my bed. When she died it was one of the first things I took from the house.
The text, mainly poetry, was a bit archaic even in 1955 with lines like "Their wings were blue and they sang 'Tilly-hoo!' Till away they flew." There are poems by well known authors like Robert Lewis Stevenson and Carl Sandberg as well as authors you've probably never heard of like Midred Plew Meigs, but the reason I loved the book (and the reason my mom loved it) were the illustrations by Garth Williams.
You might know Williams from his illustrations of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, or Little House on the Prairie but the illustrations in the Tall Book of Make Believe are dreamier and occasionally scarier than anything you would find in those other books. Here the man in the moon looks like a sorcerer pulling clouds through the sky, rogue shadows follow wary bunnies through the fields, bad elephants are forced to eat coal, and teddy bears come to life to make mischief. This is just-about-to-fall-asleep—flashlight-under-the-covers reading at it's best. Today's children's books are too often filled with practical lessons about sharing, or diversity, or going to the potty. I prefer tales of an uninvited lions who lives under the table and out of control lollipop growth any day.
The Tall Book of Make Believe is highly sought after by collectors. There was a short run reissue in the early 90's but otherwise the only copies to be had are vintage and are hard to find at a reasonable price. The best place to look is Amazon where sellers will occasionally post copies in the $80 range (mint copies fetch up to $600). Less hard to find, but another great book for toddlers is The Tall Book of Nursery Tales".
October 8, 2006
"The final small color Polaroid camera of any distinction was the SX-70. The company got into the practice of giving film and cameras to well-known photographers, who would repay the gift by the donation of some pictures made with the materials. Toward the end of his life Walker Evans could be found with multiple cameras, and a case or two of SX-70 film. When he found a suitable subject, Evans would expose a case or two of SX-70 film. When he found a suitable subject, Evans would expose a full pack of eight sheets of the same thing, stuffing each successive exposure in his jacket pocket while they were developing themselves. ... Evans tended to find a young man to drive the car, make the tea, and carry the packages, so he could keep working even as he became more and more frail with advancing age. He had the habit of collecting old signs and detritus from the roadsides, and those of us who traveled with him were often pressed into service to steal the old advertising signs or even, on some occasions, actual road signs."
excerpt from The Physical Print
As an aside: I'm sad to report that my beloved SX-70 with sonar autofocus has died. 20 years of rough handling and several trips around the world have left the plastic body cracked. A few shots from this camera can be found here.
related: The Polaroid Collective
October 12, 2006
I discovered about 150 pages of negatives from my days as high school yearbook photographer today. Most of it is awful stuff, but even so, at least for me, the images bring back the era full force. The pictures posted were from the first three pages and were dated 1984. They are of a homecoming dance, a football player, and double exposure of a prom...
October 12, 2006
I got word today that a childhood friend has a terrible stomach cancer. He's my age and has a three year old. We haven't had more than 4 or 5 conversations since high school and yet he's someone I've known since I was 5 when we were in kindergarten together. When you grow up in a small town you know everyone's stories; there is a shorthand you have when you run into people—you say hello, exchange pleasantries, give updates. It is a way of being friendly without keeping up a friendship. The last time I saw him he had been recently married and his wife was pregnant.
They say all the surgeries that can be done have been done and he's now just waiting to die. Someone close to him says he has accepted his fate and is peaceful. It wasn't supposed to happen this way. He was the the tennis star, the prom king, and the hometown guy who made good. He left for school but returned home and became a huge success.
When I was a kid I imagined adult life would be a kind of paradise. At age 10 I wrote, "When I'm 30 it will be 1997 (almost 2000!), I'm going to do all the astronomy I want and stay up as late as I want every single night. I'll eat watermelon every day and eat hamburgers cooked on a grill. After work I'll shoot model rockets and on weekends I'll take trips in my hovercar like in Star Wars. I'll probably have a wife who will let me see her boobs whenever I want. We'll read together and go camping and skinny dipping for fun. She'll probably have long hair and a good personality. I'm pretty sure we'll crack each other up. My friends will come over all the time to use the trampolines and the pools in the back." What I couldn't have imagined back then was by age 30 I wouldn't be in regular contact with a single of my childhood friends I had imagined on my trampolines and that by the age of 39 tragedy would have touched so many of them. Still I do stay up rather late, I eat an awful lot of watermelon, and my wife usually has long hair and always has a good personality. We do indeed crack each other up. It is news from home like this that puts all those things in high relief and forces us to pray for small miracles.
Update: Nine days after I wrote this my childhood friend slipped away. I was told he was surrounded by his family and had found some peace with his fate. Although I know his wife and child are well cared for this news has left me with a heavy heart.
October 13, 2006
I was standing at a gas station on German autobahn at 2am holding up a sign that said 'Belgium' not expecting anyone to stop. But this guy in a floppy beret filling up the tank of his Citroën told me he would be happy to take someone away from Germany and back to his country. His English had been influenced by summers in Scotland and a year spent doing graduate work in Alabama. The resulting accent was absurd, but his utter seriousness made laugher impossible.
He was s supervisor in an industrial plastics in a factory and talked about his work with gentle enthusiasm. He talked about his Flemish wife's fish stew—"I dream of her visbouillon." He talked about his tulips. He smoked. I tried to imagine a house smelling of fish and cigarettes surrounded by gardens.
When we reached Luxembourg he breathed a sigh of relief, "I hate Germany. The language, the people, the landscape. Irrational. Racist probably, but there it is. Soon we'll be home." He smiled to himself and threw the cigarette out the window. The car accelerated. He turned the radio on, and turned the radio off. I tried to sleep.
I was woken with a nudge. "Here we are," he whispered. It didn't look any different to me except for the huge streetlights which line all the major roadways in Belgium. In the morning dim they lit the road with blue clarity. He noticed me noticing the light. "You know the astronauts can see Belgium from the space shuttle at night. The lights make it look like map. They say it is beautiful." He looked over at me. "Some day, I'd like to go up there."
He turned on the radio again. It was a someone with a slightly nasal voice giving a speech on the independence of the Congo. "Our king," he explained. Then the radio announcer said that the king was dead. That speech was the most important one he had ever given. The driver shut off the radio. "My god," he murmured, "Queen Fabiola will be devastated."
We drove in silence, but I noticed him tearing up. "I'm glad I heard it Belgium," he said. After that we didn't talk any more.
October 16, 2006
....is a boy if sonograms are to be believed. The lady technician didn't announce the news but rather typed it on the monitor over a shadowy picture of a gently rolling fetus dropping the letters one by one, "i t ' s a . . .", and then a dramatic pause. I looked up and noticed the technician studying my wife's face before typing the next letter, perhaps she was looking for tale-tell signs of joy, or disappointment or even grief knowing our reality would turn on it's axis at that moment. For a few seconds she held the secret of our future life in limbo. A lifetime with 2 boys is so different from that with a boy and a girl. I noticed my wife literally holding her breath. The technician takes 15 sonograms a day so this was a practiced flourish. She half-smiled, typed a "b", and my wife exhaled. Jenn had sort of been hoping for a girl. Her reaction was not disappointment exactly but was not what she had imagined. Perhaps our last experience of being told we were having a girl, expecting a girl, and then having a boy, made her feel we were owed a girl. That girl lived in our imagination for so many months she become real to us. But just as our reality shifted the moment Raul Andres was born when our shocked doctor exclaimed, "it's a...boy? a very big boy," by the time the technician had finished typing "oy!!!" those exclamation points were justified... as for the girl... well, perhaps she will be #3.
October 16, 2006
I've only spent a very short time in Finland, but I found the place and it's people to have that rare quality of simutaneous seriousness and silliness. Pekka Turunen's photography catches a bit of that. The online galleries available don't show his work well (there are some bad scans, odd edits), but some of his images can be seen here and here.
I was reminded of Turunen by this post on fellow Finn, Tiina Itkonen today.
Related: Tiina Itkonen
October 16, 2006
October 18, 2006
When you grow up in a hot sunny place, you dream of rainy cold days like today. Days like this make the city feel like the city. It is always this way I think. One of the greatest things I have ever seen was a group of Indian honeymooners from a small village on the Arabian Sea in the south arrive to a snowy mountain near Kulu Manali in the north. They had traveled for days first by bus and then by train and then by bus again. Upon arrival they all piled out into the snow without coats like excited schoolchildren. They threw vermillion powder on the brides, flowers at the grooms, made snow angels, and rolled around until everyone was thoroughly wet and freezing. But even so there were only smiles. On days like today with the tight scrums of black umbrellas and the rain and the wind I am like that—like someone from Pondicherry seeing snow for the first time.
October 19, 2006
Sometime last week in Brookline Massachusetts Alan Gagne died alone in his room of a heart attack. He was a mailman, a social misfit, virtually without friends and his death would have gone unnoticed, not even meriting an obituary, had his house not been found full of 20 years of undelivered mail. His kitchen cabinets were stuffed with junk mail, circulars mainly, his drawers were overflowing with letters, and under his bed they pulled boxes and boxes of postcards. Entire closets had been stuffed as had the extra bathtub. Virtually all the pilfered mail was undeliverable for the usual reasons—address changes, deaths, bad handwriting, that sort of thing. None of it was opened. Five mailtrucks were required to haul it all away.
The New York times titled the story "In Postman’s Death, a Mystery of Mail Left Behind", another newspaper said the death was "shrouded in mystery", but the story doesn't seem the least bit mysterious to me. I once asked my mailman in Santa Monica, an odd character himself, if he ever got tired of delivering mail, he answered something like this, "I carry invitations to weddings, birth announcements, death announcements, letters from girlfriends, bankruptcy papers, checks from grandma, you name it. People send postcards from vacations all over the world. They put them in a mailbox in Japan or Africa and they end up in my mail bag. Nobody ever writes to me, but it doesn't matter, I get mail every day." I imagine Gagne kept all the undeliverable mail because he felt it was safer with him, because it connected him to the river of life outside his door which he apparently found impossible to enter. Maybe in odd hours he would imagine the mail was for him, waiting to be opened. No longer would he be a living illustration of Thoreau's quiet desperation, but a man with friends near and far, a man with a place in the world beyond the neighborhood he walked every day in sun and rain and snow. Maybe, just maybe, those letters allowed him to feel something which was sorely lacking in his life, maybe in them his empty house felt full of love.
October 21, 2006
This is the last week my show Travels Without Maps will be up at the Nelson Hancock Gallery... The show has led to more good things than I ever could have imagined and has been great fun. Please stop by if you happen to be in the Dumbo vicinity.
111 Front St. #204 (Dumbo)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Gallery Open Wednesday-Saturday 11-6
**Update, the show was extended a week and now runs through Nov. 4th.
October 22, 2006
Here's how you know what kind of collector you are: Most collectors at some point in their childhoods go through a rock faze. The garden variety collector will put together a broad selection of rocks, the usual stuff—feldspar, Mexican pyrite, sulfur, sandstone, maybe even a meteorite fragment... but the serious collector after putting together a rock grouping will fix one one specific rock and devote his time to finding all the variations of that particular rock searching out the rare and exotic examples.
My thing was geodes. My collection never got as big as I wanted but the thrill of cracking those mysterious round rocks open in the hopes of finding one full of rare black calcite or red amethyst never got old. For a time I could hardly have a conversation without throwing in a few good geode facts. That collection was lost at some point, but many others have taken its place.
Here is a list of things I don't currently collect but wish I did.
18th century volcano paintings
acupuncture practice models
wooden Tibetan butter molds
1960's Polish and Czech posters for American westerns
promotional photos of of 18th century morality plays
vintage Vietnamese desk fans
painted sideshow announcements for knife throwers and fire eaters
wooden artist model figurines
beheaded saint retablos
19th century dog portraits (must have the name of the dog as part of the painting)
World War II era military themed paint-by-number kits
World War I pierced case watches
constructivist architectural drawings
19th century hand painted lotaria boards
1920's era unicycle promotional paintings
world maps from African public schools
taxidermied beetles and parrots
vintage English walking sticks
North Korean propaganda posters
1920's Japanese children's books
1950's Russian children's books
Soviet era tractor toys
Venezuelan figurines of Dr. Jose Gregorio Hernandez
partitioned letterpress typecases
and so on...
What do you wish you collected?
October 24, 2006
Years before I ever stepped foot in India or Pakistan I traveled to those places via the words of Eric Newby, the great English travel writer. Newby died yesterday at the age of 86. If you are a fan of great tales told with understated humor pick up A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush or Slowly Down the Ganges. You won't be sad.
October 25, 2006
My brother-in-law Paul carries his dad's face. But his dad died when he was three and Paul has almost no memory of him. My wife who is six years older than her brother remember Paul chasing other toddlers around the coffin and laughing at the funeral in the happy unawares of childhood.
I used to look at Paul wonder what it feels like to carry your dad's face when you didn't know him, but now that I am a father myself I think of it from the dad's perspective. Did he know his son would look like him, have his personality, his laugh? How sad that he never knew Paul, especially when Paul turned out to be such a good guy. Mr. Yun would have been proud.
October 25, 2006
Rineke Dijkstra is photographer whose work always makes me stop in my tracks. I was reminded to look up her work from this post on MAO. Her portraits of bullfighters who have just left the ring are new to me. I don't think this show ever made it to New York.
also: her foreign legion series
October 26, 2006
At least 3 or 4 nights a week at around one in the morning the black car pictured above will stop in the middle of Syndey Place, with it's lights on. The drivers of the car are always men with mustaches and they usually growl in animated bursts into a cellphone in what I'm guessing is a Slavic language. Assuming these were car service drivers cooling their heels, I tried to flag the car and was turned away with a brusk bark, "Get away from car." Sometimes a cop will walk by and the car will circle the block to return to exactly the same spot a few minutes later. Once a second man in a mustache sat in the passengers seat arguing loudly with the driver. Once a fancy looking lady sat in the back, lips pursed without saying a word. Usually by 3am the car is gone leaving behind only cigarette butts thrown from the window.
also on Sydney Place:3:14am
October 27, 2006
This evening I heard photographer Holly Lynton speak about her current show Solid Ground. We happen to work with the same printer (Ben Diep at ColorSpace Imaging on 20th Street) so I had seen some of her images a few months ago around the print studio before I knew anything about the show. They are luminous prints, each one exotic and yet familiar. Taken together they put the viewer in a distinctly feminine and mysterious dreamworld full of blossoming life but also full of hidden dangers and even death. Looking at the images and having heard they had all been taken in the artist’s backyard, I formulated what I thought was a strong theory about the motivation behind the work. I was certain that the artist was trying to show us a child’s perspective where the back yard is indeed the entire world. The low angles, tight crops, short focus and subject matter all seemed to confirm my theory.
For me the work recalled the deep forest I remember behind an apartment that was our home for about a year in the 70’s. I was 5 then and would go exploring with my 3 year old brother. Each journey like all good adventures was fraught with giddy joy and perceived danger. Would there be trees to climb, wild blackberries, or kidnappers and snakes? The trips often ended with us running full tilt, simultaneously laughing and yelling at the top of our lungs, back home.
A few years ago I returned looking for the forest and was puzzled to find only a grouping of tightly bunched thin trees. Convinced the forest must have been leveled I looked back at old photographs to find the scene virtually unchanged, a small stand of trees behind a parking lot ... and yet even with irrefutable proof, it is hard to resolve the memory of the deep dark forest dimly illuminated by occasional shafts of light.... endless.
All this is a roundabout way of saying I had convinced myself I knew what the artist had intended... and of course I was totally wrong. In her talk this evening she said the series had been inspired by a trip to Tanzania shortly after September 11th. In Africa she found death and beauty lurking all around in a real and visceral way. The unresolved feelings the trip inspired, as well as returning during a time when imagined boogiemen were being touted daily led her into her backyard searching for the kind of beauty and danger she experienced in Africa... and to this project...
And yet like that stand of trees, even knowing the truth, it is hard to resolve my original conception of the project. Both narratives remain in my head and both seem equally true.
October 29, 2006
For some reason a few of my friends have a hard time believing I went canoeing in the Gowanas canal last week. Here's photographic evidence.
October 30, 2006
Say no, not because you mean it, but because it's funny.
Repeat: Noooo. Noohhhhh. No.
Be delighted by small things.
Spontaneously kiss the ones you love.
Refuse to look at those who disappoint.
Be wary of the wind.
Hide. Be found. Hide again.
Walk bottomless throughout the house.
Practice closing your eyes remembering to squeeze them tight.
Giggle until you roll over.
Read books about alligators or cars or better, alligators AND cars.
Live for today.
Run. Whenever possible, run.
October 31, 2006
Our contemplative skunk cheered up once the candy started flowing but of course we have no pictures of that...