Pepper's Ghost

February 22, 2007

I was curled up in my son's toddler bed last night finishing up our nightime routine of 4 books and a song about the moon when a streetsweeper two stories below drove slowly past the house . The flashing lights refracting through the window panes lit up the dark room painting the walls with bright orange and white squares. After the vehicle turned the corner and the room fell dark again I heard my son's quiet voice, "Wow." he said. Then after a long pause, "more?" and then, "more!" Before I could say, I couldn't make more, as if on cue, another streetsweeper began it's slow journey down the block. This time my son held up his hands to catch the light making huge shadows on the ceiling. After this too passed my son, content, bumped his head against mine and closed his eyes. Or so I thought. After a few minutes I turned to see if he had dozed off and was greeted by wide open eyes. He was watching me, studying me. "No daddy" he said seeing me notice him. Then he put a hand over my eyes. "Sleep Daddy," he said. I played along closing my eyes waiting for him to fade and for the hand to drop but while I was waiting I was the one who drifted off.

We parents complain about the lack of sleep, the length nighttime routine, and the hoops through which we have to jump to induce sleep... time gallops by so fast it's often hard to slow down and say, I want to hold on to this particular day and not let it get lost in the slippery blur of life... I woke up an hour or two later, my son finally asleep, his nose pressed up against my ear and slowly began to make my escape. As I was sitting on the edge of the bed clearing my fuzzy head I had one of those moments where time folded and I was suddenly a kid again on a similar small bed somewhere in Houston Texas a lifetime ago. In the middle of the night a firetruck's siren broke my sleep. I opened my eyes to a room painted in red flashing light. I'm pretty sure I said, "wow." Looking down at my son I wondered if this evening would lodge somewhere deep in his memory. Probably not—those early memory banks are most often reserved for bee stings, and tumbles, and getting lost in department stores. Maybe he'll remember, but probably not, and if not, I hope I have the wherewithal to remind him someday.

How to buy good corn tortillas

February 21, 2007

1. Look at the ingredients.

2. Good tortillas have 3 ingredients: corn, lime, water. That's it. If anything else is listed in the ingredients you your tortillas are no good. If your supermarket doesn't have tortillas with these ingredients (and these ingredients only), go somewhere else. As far as I know there is no national brand of real tortillas. Those circular things Mission calls tortillas are lifeless tasteless cardboard-like abominations.

3. If there are no tortillas in your supermarket, find one of my fellow Mexicans. If he has any love of eating at all he will be able to tell you where you can find real tortillas.

In Brooklyn you can find good tortillas here: Tortilleria Mexicana 271 Starr St., between Wyckoff and St. Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn 718-456-3422

In LA you can find good tortillas in little bodegas all over Echo Park. Also at Acapulco Tortilleria @ 1309 S Vermont Ave or at the Santa Fe Tortilleria 1715 W Sunset Blvd


Good flour tortillas:

1. Look at the ingredients. Good flour tortillas generally contain lard, salt, flour, salt, baking powder and water.

2. Good flour tortillas are virtually impossible to find in the US because Americans are terrified of lard. "Lowfat tortillas" are an abomination. Why even bother?

3. Your best bet is to make them yourself. This is a good flour tortilla recipe.

Double bonus:

Sugar tortillas: Right after you put your tortilla dough on the comal you can smear it with a little bit of sugar. Then instead of flipping the tortilla you fold it over to make delicious sugar tortillas, my favorite childhood breakfast treat. Instead of sugar you can also substitute a bit of honey. Equally delicious.

Japanese Photoblogs

February 19, 2007

After a post a few weeks ago featuring a Japanese photographer, several emails came in from Japan pointing me to this big list of Japanese photoblogs. The list features a huge range of sites from serious art portfolios to casual everyday "I ate eggs this morning" kind of blogs. Navigation is often obtuse so be warned. Images from a few of the photographers whose work caught my eye are listed below (click on the image to launch the respective sites).


hondaart.jpgOkajimax S.Hondart


dionnejp.jpgKoji Takiguchi

nakamuraayao.jpgAyao Nakamura

nijino-kizashi-petit.jpgSachiko Kawanabe

digikazi.jpgYoshihisa Kajioka


everybreathyoutake.jpgAtsushi Saito

Here's a bonus: The project "broken" on this blog by Akihiro Takahashi adds snippets of live sound to the images... I find it adds a real immediacy... nice idea.

New round of Hot Shots

February 19, 2007

Ka-Man Tse

Jen Bekman and her panel have announced a new round of Hot Shots winners. I particularly like the work of Ka-Man Tse (her image is shown above) and can't wait to see her prints in person. You can find more of her work on her website.

Babbling (a bit of a ramble)

February 19, 2007

After being turned away from In the Lives of Others at the Angelica, Jenn and I finally got around to seeing Babel tonight... Neither of us was excited about the movie as we both thought Iñárritu had lost his touch after the success of the great Amores Perros (hostile reviews also put a damper on our enthusiasm). We both found 21 Grams to be heavy handed and sort of falsely arty, and feared Babel was more of the same—maybe even more annoying. But both of us were pleasantly wowed. Jenn deemed it 'pitch perfect.' I kept thinking about how the scenes that were supposed to evoke 'the other'—the scenes in Morocco, and Mexico, and Japan—were all familiar to me via both travel and family... so the film felt oddly close even though all the situations were extreme...

Anyway in the cab home, we were discussing what we had just seen, when the cabdriver, a man named Mohammed from Dhaka turned to us and said, "You are talking about Babel. I didn't understand this movie. Why did they have a story about Morocco boy shooting tourist together with a girl looking for love in Japan and a story in Mexico?" We explained as best we could.

The conversation reminded me of discussions with my grandfather who remembered being confused during his first movie experiences by cuts. He remembered not being able to figure out how the actor got from one place to another so quickly.

Jenn's mother, a woman who grew up in the shadow of the Korean war, has a hard time understanding fiction. "Is this story a real thing?" she will ask. If it's not "real", more often than not the story will be dismissed. Movie flashbacks are confusing to her. "Why is it out of order," she asked once, "They should put the beginning at the beginning."

The parents of a friend of mine from India have a somewhat different problem. Having grown up on Bollywood films in which plots are endlessly recycled, they only accept a narrow set of possible storylines. They dismiss American films by saying, "No singing. No dancing. No hero. No wedding." It's almost as if for them the building blocks of narrative are hard coded and they can't deviate from the pattern.

The cabdriver listened carefully to our explanations about the connections between the various storylines. We explained things literally: The Japanese man gave his gun to the Moroccan and the woman who was shot was the mother of the kids the maid took to Mexico, but I wanted to say this, "The director is Mexican, all good Mexican directors tell stories about death. These were all stories about dealing with the death of family members." But I said nothing, knowing the words would have been wasted. "This was a strange movie" the driver replied, "you know it was very hot in the theater. It was hard to think."

Creation Myths

February 17, 2007

Before your first child is born, if you are like most of us, you tell yourself lies.

You say, "We won’t change our lives."
You say, "We’ll won’t be like those other parents."
You say, "We won’t be like our parents."

But of course your lives change. Of course you’re like those other parents, obsessing over every burp and gurgle. And maybe not initially, but after a bit, you find yourself doing and saying things that remind you of your own parents. That much is inevitable. It happens to everybody.

When preparing for the first you have this illusion that you can make things perfect, or almost perfect. "If I just plan everything in advance," you think... So you buy too much gear, you paint and prep and read too many baby books. You develop plans to avoid the sleep deprivation everyone talks about.

And then the kid arrives and those first few weeks almost kill you because while your kid is booting up all his systems nothing goes according to plan. Nothing happens the way it’s "supposed to". There is always some crisis you can’t solve. There are never enough hands around to help and of course, you never get enough sleep. Your life changes, fundamentally and irrevocably.

And then, if you are like many of us, after about eighteen months or so you start having so much fun, you forget those first hard months and go for a second. During the second pregnancy you are so busy with the first child so you don’t think about the pregnancy much at all. You don’t plan or read books, it just kind of progresses on it’s own until the last few weeks when you realize "holy cow we’re having a another whole kid" and fear begins to creep over you as you remember those first hard weeks. "We’re not ready yet, we need more time. How did 9 months pass?" you ask yourself. You worry about how the first child will accept the second. You worry that you won’t have enough time for the second, and you worry about how life will change again just as you were starting to figure things out and become yourselves again. But there a line of thought that provides deep comfort at what lies ahead, "Things will not be perfect. We’ll fail just as we did before. It’s going to be hard. We’re not going to sleep. Nothing will go as planned. But everything will be ok. Just as we did the first time we’ll ride things out. Make things up. Break a few rules, and it will all be just fine. We know it will."
. . . . .
p.s. This evening Jenn turned to me and said, 'We can't have this baby yet, we still have too much to do.'
'Like what', I asked.
'We don't have enough onesies.'
'You aren't going to have the baby because we're low on onesies?'
'What's he going to wear?'


apropos of nothing she turned to me and said:
"When I'm in labor nobody is allowed to say to me, I'm opening like a flower."
"Did anyone say that last time?"
"No. But If I hear it I'm going to hit someone."

The Ethnographic Image: Film, Photography and Ethnography

February 16, 2007

New Yorkers should note that tomorrow night (tonight actually as it's after midnight) Nelson Hancock will be moderating a panel discussion on ethnographic images at the School for Visual Arts... sounds pretty interesting and I'm going to try to make it there. The image above was taken in Guinea by panelist Robert Gardner and is titled Ritual War.

The panel will include:

The aforementioned Robert Gardner, filmmaker "Dead Birds," "Rivers of Sand," "Forest of Bliss." Author most recently of The Impulse to Preserve (Other Press 2006). Founder of the Film Study Center at Harvard. images

Susan Meiselas photographer and filmmaker, books include: Nicaragua, Carnival Strippers, Kurdistan and Encounters with the Dani. Meiselas is a member of the Magnum Photo Agency and has held solo exhibitions in major cities around the world. She has received numerous awards, including the Leica Award for Excellence, The Hasselblad Foundation prize and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Rosalind Morris, professor of anthropology, Columbia University. Her writings include monographs on spirit mediumship and the mass media in Northern Thailand, and the archive of visual anthropology. Other essays have addressed photography and its discontents, art in South Africa, the history of fetishism and the violence of culture in anthropological theory.

For more information, please contact the Artist Talk on Art office at 212-779-9250 or contact Nelson Hancock, the panel organizer and moderator at 718-408-1190.
@ School for Visual Arts (209 East 23rd) in the amphitheater. It's $7.

Book of Portraits, 1987

February 15, 2007


The amusing thing about being an regular diarist is that if enough time goes by you eventually discover stuff you've utterly forgotten. There must be a term for looking at some younger version of yourself and feeling embarrassed because in looking back you once again get wrapped up in the emotions of that particular time. You are ashamed for yourself for not knowing what you know now.... Make sense?

Anyway... in college I had this idea for a "book of portraits" with one portrait per day for 50 days. But I was basically too shy to ask anyone else to participate so it became a book of self portraits. On the next page I included a list of girls I wanted to shoot. I never worked up the courage to ask any of them to be photographed.

If you haven't guessed it already from the cluster of posts of content from 1986/87, I recently found a box full of journals/photos from that era...

Romualdo Garcia

February 12, 2007


I'm always surprised when my fellow photographers don't know the work of Romualdo Garcia. After Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Agustin Casasola he's one of the icons of early Mexican photography. Garcia was based in Guanajuato where he ran a busy portrait studio for almost 60 years. Unlike most studio photographers who toil in obscurity his mastery was recognized in his own lifetime and he won the bronze medal at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris. Despite his fame, he never travelled outside the city of his birth, always giving the excuse that there were too many clients waiting, too many portraits to take.

There are several Spanish language books on Garcia. The best is probably Romualdo Garcia, un fotagrafo, una ciudad, una epoca.

Related: Seydou Keita, more on Seydou Keita, part of my collection of photostudio portraits from tibet, Colors Magazine issue on Photo Studios

American Wasteland 10:47PM

February 9, 2007


Channel 2:
"Are you saying the blood was used in ritual sacrifice?"

Channel 21:

Channel 39:
"Lo voy a matar!"
"No, No puedes matar un niño!"

Channel 41:
"Vivo en un casa de sangre."

Channel 66
"When they come to that conclusion that babies go to heaven, they are even more in revolt against the word of God."

Channel 203
"He was found in a bathroom without his clothes on with his head severed."

Channel 208
"Look at this big tall guy. He takes it as it comes which makes for a nice bullride. Oww! Look at that guy holding on with those big long legs.-

Channel 227
"Are you serious? You can't be serious? $68 for display case with the bear claw? You can't be serious Shelia, are you going to start sending out cash with these babies? Every knife in this set—the swamp lizard, the bear claw, the avenger, the american hero, the dragon claw, and the green beret—is a hand crafted fighting machine. Can you say fast, these are fast knives. They DO NOT want to mess with you when you are packing one of these. So get off the porch and pick up the case."

Channel 244

Channel 254
"I'm scared. I'm scared. No. No. LET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!"

Channel 261
"Hanna refused to give in to the unthinkable, especially in the case of Lady her favorite."

Channel 276
"A hardened witness to battle the hyena will eat it's own in times of drought and famine."

Dorthe Alstrup

February 6, 2007

I discovered Dorthe Alstrup's photography via her entry in Jen Bekman's Hey Hot Shot competition more than a year ago. Her body of work is full of evocative imagery suggestive of fairy tales or short stories. Look at this one for example... or this one or this one... oh hell, they're all great, just go browse yourself. I hope someone gives her a show here in New York soon. I'd love to see these as prints.

Ugo Mulas

February 5, 2007

the new york art scene

For years I've tried to find a cheap copy of Ugo Mulas' The New York Art Scene to no avail. I saw the book for the first time 15 years ago at house of one of my friend's parents. I didn't really get far through it as I was grabbed by the cover which seemed almost criminally perfect. It's an image of two New York City cops watching over a gathering at Warhol's Factory. Can an image capture a cultural moment? That one seemed to. A few minutes into my book browsing, I had to leave never to return.

Anyway today I discovered a Mulas web site maintained by a foundation that bears his name (he died in 1973). The site is surprisingly rich complete with long texts and a portrait archive of 60's art world figures like Giacometti, Duchamp, Jasper Johns, and so on.

The book keeps going up in price. When I first started looking for a copy you could find a first edition for $100 which seemed outragous to my 25 year old mind. In recent auctions good quality copies have been going for 3 to 20 times that. Grrr.
the new york art scene

Feb 4th, 1986

February 4, 2007


I recently came across this (somewhat self conscious) self portrait taken exactly 21 years ago. You're looking at my freshman year dorm room, a two room triple I shared with Nick ("The Rage") and Scott (Scott was the kind of guy who never merited a nickname. He was leader of the mime troupe and was always proudly proclaiming his virginity.) The things that draw my attention the most are the typewriter on my roommate's desk (which makes the picture seem ancient) and my dorky hat. I was trying out the hat thing... I've tried the hat thing many times over my life. These episodes usually last a week or two and, thankfully, fade quickly.

I remember taking the picture... A brand new Hüsker Dü tape was playing in the cassette player and I thought, "I'll probably want to remember this room someday. Nick is out raging, Scott is out miming, now's my chance, but then again I'll probably look back at the picture someday and think, man what a jackass I was. Oh well, at least I'm wearing a cool hat."

Where to go?

February 2, 2007


Blog reader Paul from Madison Wisconson asks, "If you could go anywhere in the world right now. Where would you go? Your budget is $1600. This is really a way of asking where should I go. I want to travel to the type of places you've been and I want to travel around for about a month. I'm into mountains but not mountaineering."

Hmm. The place that immediately came to mind is Leh in India. It will be around $1100 to get yourself to Dehli ($800 direct from NY). From there you get to Leh by bus and as long as you stay in backpacker type places your costs are minimal. The journey up to Leh is an adventure in itself, Leh is spectacular, and then from Leh you could take a bus to Kulu Manali and then back down to Dehli. I haven't scanned my negatives from Leh, but the snapshot above taken a few blocks from the bus station might give you a sense of the lost in time feel of the place... There are great day treks from Leh in all in all directions and the road to Manali is is flanked by some of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. I'm getting itchy feet just thinking about it.

Late in the Game

February 2, 2007

You know your wife is very very pregnant when the OB can't help but exclaim, "Wow! Now that's a belly." Officially there are 30 days left, but it looks like it could happen yesterday.

In My Language

February 1, 2007


A video posted by autistic woman titled "In My Language" has sparked lively online debates on personhood, the essence of language, and the nature of her condition (some claim that someone who expresses herself so clearly can't be autistic). While these debates interest me, they weren't the questions that came to my mind on seeing the video. Instead I was fascinated by purity of experience it portrayed, a kind of purity most often seen in children, and which artists are always talking about trying to reclaim: a state of elemental awareness, an almost painful sensitivity to the world...

Last weekend 60 minutes profiled Daniel Tammet, a savant who was able to recite pi to 22,514 digits (it took him 5 hours), and was able to learn conversational Icelandic within a week. Unlike most other known savants, he can interact fairly normally with other people in everyday social situations. And unlike most other savants he can narrate his mental process. Numbers for him aren't abstract things, but objects with mental geographies, "Every number up to 10,000, I can visualize.... [each] has it's own color, has it's own shape, has it's own texture," he explained in the interview. He spoke of the beauty (and ugliness) of numbers and illustrates their forms as landscape-like paintings.

I believe savants are not much different that the woman in the first video, it's just that the focus of their intense gaze happen to to have practical application in our world—descriptions of numbers versus descriptions of water or some other more ineffable obsession. The cerebral wiring that allows this focus, limits human interaction. Daniel Tammet for all his startling abilities can't remember faces a few hours after meeting a person, instead he memorizes the number of buttons on a coat, or the count of stripes on a shirt, but even so Tammet is unusual amongst autistics. He can have human relationships. Most severely autistic people have trouble relating to anyone. What "In my Language" was saying, I thought, was that this was ok. The author wanted no pity. Her life is not empty, her gestures are not randomness, or madness as is often supposed by outside viewers, just the opposite, it is a life emotionally overfull- her brain is saturated with dense thought much of it beyond our comprehension.

Most anyone who has dabbled in the arts, I think, can relate to these inward impulses. We become immersed in the clarity of a particular interaction, in the love of the word, in an idea, in a particular emotion, or in a fleeting vision and the artistic instinct is to fix time telegraphing the moment so it can be remembered. We live for those moments of heady transparency when the mundane veneer of our lives is peeled back to reveal something extraordinary. But of course usually we fail even at holding on to the thing for ourselves. It is the rare individual who can marry impulse, idea, and technique to produce something that allows us to peek into that hidden world of extravagant beauty surrounding us... Despite our clumsy fumblings the important thing I think is to try. Because in trying we build bridges between the worlds and we become more adept at living in them both.

Related: Tammet on Wikipedia (contains many other links)

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

January 29, 2007

That's the first line of Michael Pollen's article Unhappy Meals in yesterday's Times magazine on the food industry. Odds are if you are reading this blog you've already read the article, but just in case, there's the link served up for you. We're big Michael Pollen fans in this house and happen to be in the middle of reading The Omnivore's Dilemma which is excellent (Jenn is further through it than I am and keeps hitting me with corn facts... read the book and you'll understand). The Botany of Desire is another must read book we push on all our friends. If you love food and incisive writing, these books are for you.

Travis Ruse

January 25, 2007

If you have ever tried to make photographs in the New York City subway system, you know what a difficult task it is. The lighting is terrible. People are wary. It's hard to get a clear shot because of the crowds. Etcetera. And yet Travis Ruse has managed to take countless beautiful candid shots in the subway, day after day, year after year.

Tonight a show of his subway photos will open at 6:30 at Redux Gallery (116 E. 16th St. 12th Flr). I happened to see several freshly printed images over at Gabe Greenberg's studio and they look spectacular, so much more alive than any image on a screen could ever be, can't wait to see them on the wall. The show runs through March 9th.

Related: Bruce Davidson's Subway

New Digs

January 25, 2007

Last night I finally hunkered down and ported this blog from blogger to Movable Type. Nothing exciting design-wise, just a more functional (I hope) layout with some long overdue new features (categories, search, custom feeds, tags, etc).

I've only tested on Safari and Firefox, so if there's any wonkiness in Internet Explorer (or just in general) let me know. There is still quite a bit of fine tuning to be done and a few features I want to add. I also need to get busy tagging/categorizing old entries.

Jenn hates the new design (or lack of design) by the way ("is it finished?" she asks).... Ultimately I don't think the design matters much as the vast majority of you read this site via RSS.

Continue reading "New Digs" →

Photo Eye Galleries

January 25, 2007

For the past couple of years Photo Eye has been my favorite photo magazine/photobook source with consistently smart editorial choices and thoughtful reviews. Tonight I gave their website a spin for the first time in a very long time and discovered they host online galleries with scores of artists. Unlike many similar sites these gallery feature decent sized images (on each artist click the small thumbmnail, then the medium sized one, to get a pop out window with large images). Many photographers also have prints available. Navigation of the galleries is clumsy, and artist selection is somewhat tame, but suffering bad HI is a small price to pay to be able to check out so many excellent photographers in one place.

From a book of imagined conversations

January 21, 2007

We were on the grass looking at the sky and you asked, "What if we had never met?"

And I said, "Hey that cloud looks like a Japanese castle."

And you said, "I've never seen a Japanese castle, but if they look like that cloud, I can imagine them."

And when I finally turned to answer your question, you had fallen asleep.

-July 12, 1986

My iphone "i want" list

January 20, 2007

Like everyone else, I'm pretty exited about the iphone. But I won't be head over heels excited until I find out if 3rd parties can develop apps for it, because a slick phone would be neat, but a real version of OS X with 3rd party apps would be like cherries every day. This list of "I want" apps came to mind almost immediately. What's on your list?

1. I want to be able to find photographs on the net geotagged to my current location with a scroller that goes back chronologically. Imagine standing at a particular spot, and instantly be able to see what happened there last week, last month, last year. (idea originally from Jakob Lodwick)

2. I want fingerpainting. (allowing you to choose between watercolors, gouache, oils, etc... and with paint running down the screen based on the phone's orientation)

3. I want an intruder alert. In other words you lock your phone with a special code, and if someone picks up your phone it starts taking pictures, recording sound and sending you an email with photos and the recording. Also it should have a siren.

4. I want an alarm clock set to one of my itunes playlists.

5. I want Netnewswire.

6. I want a portable antfarm with virtual ants.

Continue reading "My iphone "i want" list" →

Yamasaki Ko-ji

January 18, 2007

If you've ever wandered the streets of Tokyo you've no doubt wondered what was going through the minds of all those Japanese salarymen in their identical suits... Click through to the world of Yamasaki, a salaryman with a camera to find out...

The Central Paradox of Dentistry

January 16, 2007

All day long you look into their mouths
Teeth unflossed.
Gums receding.

You hate candy.
You hate garlic.
You hate their hot breath on your hands.

This pain you inflict,
The pain they feel—
It's their own fault.
You have no remorse.
You think, "Go ahead curl your toes in agony,
I'm helping you."

You live with knowledge
This woe is preventable.
If they would just listen.

And yet
If they do listen.
If they really listen
And change their ways.
You're out of a job.

365 Days Project

January 15, 2007

One of my favorite radio stations, WFMU, is hosting the 2007 365 Days Project featuring a new set of outsider recordings in friendly MP3 format each and every day of 2007. The original 365 Days Project from 2003 is revered by my sound obsessed friends both for it's impossible to find recordings and well researched scholarship. This year's edition promises to be equally relevatory.

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