Bedtime Story

September 22, 2007

You never know what you'll miss about a house until you've been gone a while— sometimes it takes years to know what was important about a place. But I know when I think about this particular house, I'll miss the pattern of lights that play across the living room ceiling as seen from the foot of my son's bed when it's my turn to tell the bedtime stories.

Related: Pepper's Ghost

Late Last Night...

September 20, 2007

Very late last night I found myself in the City Hall subway stop with 8 other stragglers waiting for a non-existent R train. We were all spread out across the platform, all standing, but after half an hour everyone had migrated to the benches and we were all sitting in a row. Nobody had anything to read, cellphone service wasn't working, and most unusually, no one was attached to an ipod.

After a few minutes a very tall girl with long brown hair who I would later learn was a Parsons design student, broke social convention, turned to her fellow benchmates, and said, "My God, wasn't today beautiful." At first she just got a few quiet affirmations,"yeah, gorgeous", "best day yet" etc, but then a young woman in a business suit again broke social convention and revealed personal information: "It was so nice, when I woke up I decided I didn't want to feel miserable about anything, and broke up with my boyfriend. I ditched him at 7:30 in the morning. He didn't know what hit him." This revelation shattered the dam of silence and soon the entire group: a couple from Denmark, the Parsons student, the businesswoman, a somewhat scruffy writer named Mike, a lady carrying a violin, and a young tough-looking couple from Coney Island were all chatting. In short order we covered breakups, design books, Facebook, muggings (The Danish couple were surprised to learn none of us had been violently mugged...), and Thai food in Brooklyn. Another half hour passed. Finally Mike, said, "screw the train, let's walk, my car is on the other side and I can take some of you home." We immediately lost the Coney Island couple ("That's foolish man. Foolish.") but everyone else was on board. The violin woman slipped out of her heels into white tennis shoes and we headed out into the night.

Midnight walks across the Brooklyn Bridge are always beautiful, but last night, particularly so: a half moon hung low in the sky, the lower deck of the bridge was covered in little red flares which gave everything an otherworldly light, and the air was velvety cool. Perfect walking weather. Except for Mike who apparently walks the bridge regularly, and myself, for most of our group this was a new experience. "The only time I've ever walked across was going home on 9/11", said the businesswoman, "It was my first week on the job, my first week in New York."

The Parsons girl who had not known the bridge was walkable looked out over the water towards the city, "I was 13 on 9/11. Afterwards my weird reaction was that I wanted to move to New York. From then on, I knew I would end up here." Mike, who had been deep in conversation with the Parsons girl beforehand was startled. "You were 13? My God." He crossed himself.

At the second tower we lost the Danish tourists. They had been headed to the Fulton Ferry Landing and decided the view from down below couldn't be better than the view from the bridge itself. They said no goodbyes, and as we walked away they practically lunged for each other and began making out. "Name the kid Brooklyn," Mike called out after them. The conversation turned to PDAs. Mike felt they were unavoidable. The Parsons girl pled guilty. The businesswoman said, "I've never been with anyone that made me want to kiss them outside," and the violin lady just giggled.

On the other side of the bridge we all headed up Henry Street in silence into Brooklyn Heights where we found Mike's car am old Volvo. "I can walk," I said, I'm pretty close." "Me too," said the businesswoman. Mike insisted. "

It's more fun if everybody goes," said the violin woman who had hadn't said much since leaving Manhattan. We bundled into the car and rolled down the windows. "Such a pefect night," said the businesswoman sticking her hand outside. " A few minutes later we dropped her off. "Thanks," she said, "that was fun."
"You make me feel like we were on a date," Mike answered.
"Hey, I'm available now," she smiled, "and you know where I live."
We drove off leaving her waving on the curb. "I don't think she's over her boyfriend yet," noted the Parsons girl.
"No way," said Mike, she's much too happy. Can't be real."
"Nope," chimed in the violin woman.

I was the next to be dropped off. "We'll look you up on the web," everyone said. "Just google raul", I replied. We waved goodbye and I wondered what observations would be made about me when I was out of earshot. I smiled and watched the Volvo headed down Henry towards Cobble Hill marveling at how little takes to transform a group of tired grumpy New Yorkers into friends if only for the span of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Clayton Cottrell and Jaret Belliveau

September 19, 2007

cotterell.jpgCheck out SVA MFA student Clayton Cotterell's project 'Teens'. The series is shot without the sentiment or judgment or worship so often seen in series about that age group taken by older photographers.

Cottrell's series brought to mind another somewhat darker set of portraits called The Dirt Squad by a young Canadian photographer Jaret Belliveau. Belliveau has several hyper intimate portfolios most centered around his family and their friends...

Berkley's Japanese Historical Map Collection

September 17, 2007

I was doing research on a Meiji Era World Map I'm about to sell when I came across the Japanese Historical Map Collection at Berkley.

The collection is full of graphic delights and is highly recommended. Safari 3 users note the site uses some custom code that works much better in Firefox. This collection is but a small part of the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection which seems to be a garden of delight so vast I have yet to jump in for fear of getting lost for hours.

As a side note during my web wanderings I also came across a few sites with Meiji era photography. The best I found were this small gallery of vintage Japan photos (by Western photographers) collected by curator Richard Gadd and this larger database of photographs taken by Japanese photographers from the University of Nagasaki.

Because things are happening out there...

September 17, 2007

I've been looking at lots of art photography lately and realize I am, for the most part, tired of posed pictures. I'm hungry for images with the spark of life, pictures that raise more questions than they ask- those that force you to look and look again.

Two of my favorites from this week:
eliotshepard2007.jpgEliot Shepard

emilystein.jpgEmily Stein

Celine Clanet

September 13, 2007

Celine Clanet is a versatile photographer with a wide ranging set of portfolios covering editoral and photojournalistic work, but I'm most drawn to her personal portfolios. Check out her sets titled Maze and Une mélodie japonaise.

On Saying Goodbye to a House

September 13, 2007

I spent last week down in Texas packing up my childhood house. My parents built the place when I was 12 and ever since it’s been home for me. When we moved there the roads were dirt and the nearest neighbor was over a mile away. 28 years later the woods behind the house are still wild full of coyotes and snake and deer, but the city has moved closer, other mailboxes dot the road, and the nights are less dark. It is hard to pack up a house you have lived in so long. What do do with the junk drawer by the kitchen not so much full of junk, but of small memories?

And this house had another burden. It was where my mother and brother died. With them much of the life of the house was frozen. My mother was constantly reinventing the place, in fact she had planned to build a new house and sell this one, but my dad, after the deaths, perhaps out of comfort or perhaps out of a need to hold on, changed very little. So for the last 17 years the house has been almost a museum piece. My room was exactly as I left it when I drove away to college. My brother Christopher’s room remained full of his unfinished model planes, a kite ready to fly, and stacks of astronomy magazines none dated later than 1989. What do do with all this stuff, so sentiment-laden and yet inert?

I received the call that the house was sold and I was needed to pack it up at the worst possible time. We’re moving here too (just a few blocks away but of course we still have to pack everything), so instead of the normal amount of time we would give ourselves to do such a job, we only had 3 days. I was dreading the flight, dreading the 2 hour drive from Houston, dreading the drive into the dark pines. We flew into thunderstorm-the type of pounding rain and violent thunder you only see in Texas. The drive was long, but of course familiar and pulling into the driveway I was, as always, shocked by the size of the trees. The house is surrounded by forest but the trees close to the house were planted by us. I remember the magnolia as a sapling. Now it towers some 30 feet. The dogwoods have canopies. The holly tree is so big some limbs have fallen. The heat at this time of year in Texas was oppressive and lends a heavy quiet to things. The dirt dobbers were busy building their mud tubes. Hummingbirds were buzzing everywhere. There have always been hummingbirds.

Opening the door, the slight cedar smell overwhelmed. I was home. I looked down at my childhood handprint in one of the tiles on the floor. My 2 1/2 year old ran into the house, "Daddy’s old house", going from room to room, pulling toys and books from the shelves, and mixing things up that had been so carefully kept apart for years. Within minutes he had set up a fort of sorts and was happily engrossed. And seeing him playing in rooms that have not been enjoyed in so long suddenly made the whole task easier. We would be clearing the way for another family to live there—to fill the place with their stories as we once did before the house became immobilized in memory. With that thought, it became easier to give away what needed to be given away, to pack what needed to be packed, and to finally say goodbye.


September 10, 2007

For the last several months I've been working with my friends Jen Bekman and David Yee on a project called 20x200. 20x200 is a company that aims to change the art world. Sounds ambitious and it is. We're starting with getting high quality prints from fine artists and photographers out into the world in a way that makes sense for the artist, for the buyer, and for the gallery. We're in preview mode now, but starting next week we'll be fully launched, shipping prints, and introducing two new editions two per week... Please check it out and let us know what you think. We'll be tweaking and polishing based on your feedback... I have a feeling 20x200 is going to be a big deal.

Still in Texas...

September 6, 2007

One thing I keep noticing: All the people my age (40) have kids graduating high school. All the people with kids the age of my kids are in their 20s.

Much more when I get a decent internet connection.

Dylan Chatain

September 2, 2007

I've mentioned Dylan Chatain on this blog before... he recently updated his website... there are no new images, but the edit is somewhat different than before and it's fascinating to see how a new edit can dramatically change the mood of a particular project... The work on the site was culled from thousands of images taken during some very long road trips in which he did nothing but shoot film for days on end....and from what I've seen there are several projects in there just waiting to be curated...

Miranda Lehman

August 29, 2007

Like many young photographers Miranda Lehman's portfolio is full of moody pictures of couples in bed, but the photograph on her site that hooked me is one above that evokes classic Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia imagery..

Weronika Łodzińska & Andrzej Kramarz

August 26, 2007

Andrzej%20Kramarz.jpgI'm almost always a fan of photography of interiors of places that look well lived in... the type of photography that people like Bert Teunissen or Seth Thompson do so well, so I was pleased to come across a team of Polish photographers who work in this subgenre. Their projects can be seen here or (in bigger sizes but with fewer images) here.

The Alchemy of Oatmeal

August 25, 2007

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to camp out in the open under starry skies you know that if you stare up long enough and get yourself into the right frame of mind you can see the stars slowly rotating through bowl of the sky. If you happen to be near a mountain the little dots of light blink out as they pass behind the silhouette. I am always overcome with the hard to resolve simultaneous feelings of slowness and extreme speed. Some geeky part of me knows the earth is spinning at almost 1000mph and barreling around the sun at 67,000mph and yet you almost have to slow your heartbeat down to experience that nightly show starry transcendence. Look away for a second and the sky stills, the show ends, your brain readjusts to a normal recording speed and it takes a long time to find your groove again.

A few have asked what life with 2 kids is like now that we’re almost 6 months down the road and the first thing that comes to mind is that same sense of paradox: of speed and of slowness. Our baby Gabriel sometimes demands to be held in the middle of the night. So we will spend an hour, two hours rocking him while he ever so slowly falls back into sleep. Time stops. It is almost possible to believe the world is all still and yet.... overnight he grows, literally. He’ll fall asleep fitting his pajamas, he'll wake up and we'll find they are too small. Fingernails must be cut every few days. Pictures from a month ago are almost unfamiliar.

Our other child, a 2 1/2 year old might spend an hour preparing his oatmeal—picking exactly the right blueberries to add, carefully spooning in brown sugar and a single icecube. It is a s l o w process. And then he’ll put his head on the table looking deeply into his bowl and say that the milk is the ocean and the oat grains are like the land—a first metaphor, a leap of imagination he couldn’t have made a few weeks ago. The terrible twos for all their whininess and tantrums are also a time of staggering sweetness. You’ll be sitting there sleepily, grumpily accompanying the daily oatmeal extravaganza when apropos of nothing you’ll get a heartfelt hug, "I love you daddy. I love mommy too. Daddy, Mommy, Gabriel," and then it’s back to eating the oatmeal. "I love oatmeal! All done. I dump it out?" And as much as you enjoy the moment you know it will pass quickly, the baggage of life will accumulate. Things will not be spoken. You see yourself and your own father and your father with his father. You see the little boy next to you chattering away and can’t believe he was was once like the infant in your arms. You try not to be distracted and look away too much because you know it can take a long time to find your way back.

Cambodia, 1992

August 18, 2007

From an old journal on this date:

Was advised against train travel because the tracks are regularly bombed.

Opted for the bus instead.

Bus stuck in mud for 6 hours near Kempong Thum.

Lunch was a surprisingly delicious soup made with an unclassifiable meat, cilantro, and chilis.

At around 8PM the bus stopped and was boarded by 4 masked men carrying guns. Actually one boarded, 3 were outside. One of the gunman, a kid—he couldn't have been more than 16—shouted something and everyone ducked down in their seats or went down to the floor. I was left sitting there like a jackass. He smiled at me and pointed his finger down. I went down to the floor as best I could hugging my backpack. He was looking for someone. Robbed the bus driver. Rattled the hell out of everyone else.

Ended the night very late near Phlouk. No electric. Totally pitch black. Bugs. Sleeping in one of those big platform houses. All the men are on one side women are on the other. We all have little mats on the floor protected with mosquito nets that hang from the rafters. I'm being urged to shut off my flashlight.


4:54am Woke up in the inky dark to a a woman's blood curdling screams. Then everyone started screaming. Men turned on their lighters. Quite a scene with all the yelling and shadows dancing all around.

A giant snake had fallen from the rafters onto a pregnant woman's mosquito net getting itself (and the woman) trapped. The bus driver clubbed the snake to death with a stick. Everyone laughed when they discovered it was just a snake (I was sure the screamer was being murdered...). The snake, conservatively 70 pounds, is being cut up to be eaten for breakfast. Everyone is in an oddly good mood. Even the woman is sort of jolly/teary.

Bus departs at 6 sharp. Wondering if I should have taken the train.

Donald Weber

August 14, 2007

Donald Weber is a Guggenheim fellow and a Lange-Taylor prize winning photographer based in Moscow. His portfolios whether they be from the Ukraine or Turkish Kurdistan or Chad are reminders of just how muscular and illuminating photography can be when in the hands of a fearless observer... Please stop wasting your time here and click over to his site right away.

The Perseids

August 14, 2007

Few things in this world better than a good meteor shower. Sadly it was hazy here last night... here's a better veiw:

Lois Hechenblaikner (and 21 other Austrian Artists...

August 11, 2007

The image above is from an Austrian artist named Lois Hechenblaikner who shoots the "iconography of mass tourism". This series is part of an exhibition of 21 Austrian artists titled '21 Positions' at the Austrian Cultural Forum here in NY (pdf catalog of the exhibit). It's a nice lineup of artists most of whom were new to me...

As an aside, and I know this is completely unfair, but when I heard about an exhibition of Austrian artists my head instantly went to that scene in the film Before Sunrise where the two characters meet a pair of non-professional actors on a bridge:

Continue reading "Lois Hechenblaikner (and 21 other Austrian Artists..." →

Keith Arnatt

August 9, 2007

Although I'm generally not big on conceptual art, I've had a soft spot for the work of Keith Arnatt since discovering a zine-like book of his images many years ago in my college art library. The book, consisting mainly of people being buried in one way or another, was unexpected, amusing, and compelling.

The Photographer's Gallery in London is running an Arnatt show through September and if there are any English readers of this blog who want to win my eternal gratitude, I'd love to be sent a catalog (catalouge!), a postcard, or even a review of the show...

Continue reading "Keith Arnatt" →

Neil Rough

August 6, 2007

neilrough.jpgImage ©Neil Rough
I always like hitting up my photo minded friends for the names of photographers to watch for.... today a friend forwarded the above image and recommended I check out Neil Rough's Tunisia Portfolio which she described as "mysterious and enigmatic"... It is indeed. "Who are these people," I kept asking myself. "People he met along the way? Guests at a party?" They seem to exist outside of normal time. This is the kind of portfolio I love.

I should also note that Mr. Rough does a great self portrait.

Night Trains, Morning Trains

August 5, 2007

Almost every night when everyone is asleep, I'll rearrange my son's train tracks. We have wooden tracks, the kind I wish I had when I was a kid. (The secret to buying kids trains is to not worry so much about the trains themselves, but get a good variety of tracks). I sit on the floor in the semi-darkness and try to come up with an interesting design because I know in a few hours my son will wander in dragging me by the hand and the first thing he'll do is study the new tracks before sitting down and playing trains for a while. He's never asked why the tracks are always different, it's just how things are in his world. It's little my way of telling the kid I love him. Sometimes, like this morning, I'll fall asleep on the couch while he's there playing and when I wake up I'll be covered in carefully placed cars and trains covering me from head to toe. I figure that's his way of saying he loves me back.


August 3, 2007

In the office of Melvin Hurwitz you will find fourl guys in ill fitting grey suits hunched over metal desks, all in a row. The lights are florescent and harsh, the walls are dingy, haphazardly decorated with pictures of wives and old pictures of Mr. Hurwitz who sits at the last desk. While the other men chat on the phone or sort through papers, Hurwitz sits with his hands on his desk with a look of real calm. He's ready to do business.

Melvin Hurwitz is a notary public. He is also a lawyer. On his desk you will find a roll of peppermints. He'll offer you one if you stare at them long enough.

I was having a car title notarized. Mr. Hurwitz asked for ID and I slid him my passport. "This could be you, but maybe it's not," he said after a cursory examination, "what do I know?"

"It's me." I said.

"So you say," he said. "you know, I see everything here. Marriages. Divorces. Buying and selling. Right here at this desk. Half the time people lie. You can't trust anybody."

Then we sat in silence as he fiddled with a desk drawer to find the notary stamp. I signed. He stamped. I paid my 3 dollars.

"I had a very good friend. Dear friend. He got locked up. My age. Good guy. You want to know why?" Mr. Hurwitz took a ballpoint pen out of his breast pocket, tore a scrap of paper from a legal pad, wrote something on it, folded the paper 3 times, and slid it to me. "Read it," he said.

I picked up the paper, and unfolded it. 'HUBRIS' was written in all caps and circled.

"Do you know what that word means?" he asked.

"Yes of course." I answered. He gave me a look that said, 'I don't believe you,' so I elaborated "excessive pride, um, insolence."

He studied me, "I looked up that word. Do you know it originally meant in Greek? It meant laughing at the gods? You know what happens if you laugh at the gods. Tragedy. My friend, good guy, but he laughed at the gods."

We sat in silence looking at each other for a moment.

"You know you're the first person who knew that word."

I slid the scrap of paper back to him. He folded it neatly, pushed it into his breast pocket, and wished me good day.

La Notte

July 31, 2007

la-nottestill.jpgStill from Antonion's La Notte, click for a clip
It is rarely tragic when old men die, especially when those men have lived rich and varied lives and yet the deaths of Bergman and Antonioni within hours of each other have a poetic touch of tragedy about them — it is the quiet departure of a generation. In their time both men were wildly popular figures in Europe and, if not wildly popular in the United States, respected and adored by serious film goers. My dad, a lifelong film buff, remembers it took a week to get tickets to an Antonioni film at The Thalia here in New York back in the 60's. A family friend remembers that even in Houston a new Bergman movie was a big deal. "Suddenly there would be all these people gathered together that you would never expect to see in Houston and everyone was turned on. And I mean TURNED ON. Do you know what I mean? They were excited about these films in a way you can't even imagine. They seemed to be revolutionary and new, dangerous and beautiful, sophisticated and sad all at once and you felt lucky to be watching." The passing of these men reminds us how hollow our prevailing culture has become. The tragedy for me is that they, perhaps, did not inspire enough, or maybe we didn't pay enough attention. Where are our Antonioni's and Bergmans? I don't see them out there.

Denis Dailleux

July 31, 2007

I first heard about Denis Dailleux from an Egyptian friend who said the photographer 'gets' Cairo like no other photographer she knows. Later I found a few of his images in the Aperture book Nazar: Photographs from the Arab World (more info on the Nazar show on the 2005 Fotofest site). Now I've finally found a few of his images online. While he has several portfolios of other subjects, Cairo seems to be where his heart lies.

Images can be found here, here, and here. Can't find his book anywhere...


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