Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Hugh Thompson- Hero, Role Model, Rebel

Talk about the ultimate unholy trio of overused, overrated buzz words in existence- made only the worse (if humanly possible) by using them in tandem! Yet, there is no question that Hugh Thompson owns the whole lot in every way imaginable for the actions he executed one insanely murderous day in Viet Nam. Namely, it was his direct intervention that prevented even more people from being butchered that infamous afternoon in 1968 at a hamlet called My Lai. And it was his basic sense of common decency that ignited his moral outrage into action- not the wanton blood lust of a rampaging Rambo, but the righteous indignation that allows someone to assume the role of one who saves lives, no matter the cost.

Thompson was the man responsible for turning US arms in the direction of... US troops, and threatening to shoot them down should they advance to kill one more baby, one more innocent human being. With the temporary cessation of the slaughter, he then went about rescuing whoever was still alive, reporting what he had seen, and in so doing so, possibly saving countless other innocent lives in similar operations to come.

He received many a death threat (and many a dead animal on his doorstep) for his courage to speak out; and his partner revealed that his four chopper crashes in the following two months after My Lai may have not all been attributable to the Viet Cong. Ironically, it was Thompson who proved that at least some Americans were, in fact, still the good guys- by his ability to think beyond the myopic xenophobia of "My country, right or wrong," by his willingness to call out Nazi atrocities, no matter who conducted them. Rather than shirk from a showdown with authority, as had innumerable others who diligently murdered with military approval (and dutifully remained silent)- he made it live up to its stated moral obligation.

This humble helicopter pilot, who a whole nation should look up to with pride, has no streets or schools, stadiums or ships named after him, there are no statues standing nobly in his honor. And Clint Eastwood will never have the balls to make a movie about him- but he damn well should, someone should...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Open Road...

Greatest Hits compilations whether musical, photographic or otherwise are usually uneven affairs; the usual played out, super hits squeezed under one rock for those who must have been living under one, and the mixed bag compilations containing a few of the aforementioned thrown together with a few B tracks or outtakes. I opened this delightfully designed book and it most certainly didn't have that run down, retread, let's milk the very last penny out of it feel. Yes, it does lead with the best and brightest usual suspects in the genre, but the graphics, layout and editing make for one impressive presentation! I anxiously leafed through a world class collection, all under one roof that made me want to purchase it right then and there- even though I already had many of the photographs in separate monographs (save for Inge Morath's impressive showing); beautiful reproductions that often contained one or two "new" finds (at least for me) for each photographer featured to add some zest and make it all the more worthwhile. Why then did I leave it lying on the shelf?

Two thirds of the way through I was pretty much besides myself at how solid a find this was; the damn thing had no weaknesses, no filler, no questionable additions whatsoever- and then... and then, the inevitable weak links finally surfaced as the book progressed in its timeline (ie- the eighties and beyond). More recent photographers with their own post modern versions of reinterpreting, reinventing and reconstructing the great American road trip. Not that they were necessary all bad: I do love Doug Rickards' A New American Picture, but Todd Hido's recent work (good as it is) looked kinda pale in comparison, and dare I say it, even Ryan McGinley's selected photographs weren't as bad as expected- but if ya even have to go there... not to mention the few I had no interest in whatsoever (so much for a clean sweep). Pity it didn't include Lizzy Oppenheimer's remarkable Rest Stops- it could have ended on a much needed high note!

Final verdict? A must get if you don't already have the monographs of included favorites- it's one beautiful, well laid out compilation, no doubt about it. And still worth getting, if ya got the idle cash to spare... better yet- save it, and take to the road!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Beyond Success...

The very saddest aspect of the whole Edward S.Curtis legacy is not only that he died penniless, but that in the end, he did not even retain copyright of his own work. The work for which he struggled and  fought and worked himself ragged for (every single glass plate and photographic image of The North American Indian) was ultimately usurped by the multi-million dollar estate of J P Morgan's heirs. And although it was J P Morgan himself who was largely responsible for funding the work- Curtis never received a nickel in salary, every penny went to the creation of the work, and he operated mainly in an overwhelming, though thoroughly disguised, deficit.

And ever lovin' insult to injury- the heirs would then sell off the vast majority of his grand legacy (that cost millions to create even then, and was heralded far and wide as a major artistic achievement) to some Boston rare book dealer for the not so princely sum of (ya ready?)... $1,000!!! And some of the remaining work would then be ultimately thrown out with the trash.

Many an artist dreams of success, fame, and fortune; Curtis had all of it, he was literally the toast of the town- Seattle's home grown contribution to the great American success story!  And he gave it all up to produce art highlighting a segment of humanity that most of society actively sought to obliviate. His legacy endures because of a willingness that went beyond success.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bruce Davidson Today...

Good, recent interview with Bruce Davidson by Owen Campbell on American Suburb X that explores how the man works and thinks. Interestingly, this remarkable photographer is usually thought of as a very "traditional" photographer, despite the fact that he has established his reputation by photographing unique subject matter in a fairly unique manner- one that requires the gift of time, and mutual acceptance and recognition whenever possible (something a Mr. Edward S. Curtis discovered a few years prior) .

Also interesting to hear that the next project from this "traditionalist" will be a digital endeavor!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Salt Of The Earth: Epilogue

Finally, saw Salt Of The Earth. And what can I say... a better than expected film about a great photographer who has seen, experienced and documented many incredible, as well as horrendous things that life has created, and man has wrought. And as alluded to before, with all that said and done, with all the good he has (obviously) done in his life- why oh why, would he then so casually ally himself with an entity whose very existence threatens and belies everything he's ever stood for

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Call To The White Nation!

WOW!!! Must admit that upon reading the title, then seeing the face- expected yet another call to arms to defend the beleaguered White race (kinda like this) from the invading mongrel hordes of mud people and yada, yada, usual suspects...

So you can imagine my Surprise! when the man starts spewing all kinds of... (non) sense!?!? Dang, this man is out to make a mockery of my whole world view. God- I so do love it when I'm wrong!!!

PS- Of course, despite his well predicted plea to dispense with the immediate impulse to go on the defensive, the naysayers nevertheless raced to the rescue of White honor claiming that this is a "character," not a "real person." White, racist caricatures incapable of conscious thought and reason are a lot more real in their world than someone who looks just like them, and yet professes such thoroughly alien practices as rational thought and... understanding.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Belle de Costa Greene

Photo: Edward Curtis

One of the more intriguing figures in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is none other than Belle de Costa Greene. In a book which chronicles the White witness extraordinaire of the vanishing culture(s) of the American Indian, here was a Black woman, passing for White, who was the guardian of JP Morgan's (the world's richest man) fortress of renowned artistic treasures. Edward Curtis had to first get through her, before having any chance of getting to the man who would become his number one patron.

Yeah, you heard right! This self professed librarian, this high society, New York celebrity and art world  juggernaut, this highest flying curator amongst curators was a woman of color gliding ever so discreetly under the most oppressive of racial radars... Her's was a world few White women could maneuver comfortably or successfully in- let alone someone who could ordinarily aspire to be little more than a domestic in a White household.

In response to her many, very wealthy suitors, she wrote a friend, "I sent word that all such proposals would be considered alphabetically after my 50th birthday."

Friday, April 10, 2015

Operation Tomodachi

The Fukushima catastrophe changed the world. Nuclear reactors melted down on live television and twice as much radioactive material was released as during the Chernobyl accident in 1986. The disaster drove 150,000 people from their towns and villages, poisoned entire landscapes for centuries and killed hundreds of thousands of farm animals.

There's an old Saturday Night skit in which a Black janitor (Garrett Morris) is ordered to get his mop and bucket and clean up... a radioactive spill at a nuclear power plant. It was one funny skit- it's also basically what  Navy Captain Thom Burke told his crew to do on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when they entered the radioactive plume dispersed by the critically damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. Not so funny...

 How much of this have you heard or read about on the news???

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Curtis Critique

Photo: Edward Curtis
Curtis has received considerable criticism from contemporary critics who object to the fact that he sometimes asked his subjects to dress in traditional clothing. He even had the audacity to retouch a clock out of a photograph! Seems he wasn't exactly being true to today's professional PJ standards- established several decades after the fact. So what on earth was he thinking!?

Curtis slowly came to the realization that traditional Indian life as practiced for centuries was coming to an end with the very generation at hand. After them, the centuries old tradition of Native American life would be forever broken. They would be the last to experience and actually live it in a personal, daily context. It was the foreign life and customs being forcibly imposed on them by Whites that were totally alien and disingenuous. In fact, had Curtis presented images of Indians in their then current state, as they were forced by Whites into a life of abject poverty and misery- those representations would have simply reinforced the prevailing attitude that Indians were lazy, slovenly beggars; regardless that they had been reduced into complete reliance and subserviance by the government for their food, livelihood and well being- and that none of those most basic of needs were sufficiently addressed in any humane or satisfactory manner whatsoever. Native Americans were legally prohibited from practicing their religion (in a country claiming freedom of religion as one of its founding principles), customs and traditions, including the potlatch- where notable families would give away their wordly possessions (smells like socialism!). They were not even allowed to speak in their native tongue! Did I mention that their White overseers also stole the overwhelmingly vast majority of their land?

Curtis was pretty emphatic in what he was trying to preserve in his photography- a way of life as practiced by those who would be the last to live it. His goal wasn't so much to idealize the American Indian, as to present them as a once independent people of a once independent culture. And he was most certainly not a working photojournalist bound by a code of ethics which had no relation to him or his work, and which for all practical purposes- did not even exist as of yet...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Picture That!

Woulda done anything to get a picture of this...

Wish the Right would question their leaders as directly... (see 13 min into video below)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

Photo: Edward C. Curtis
Photo: Edward C. Curtis
Honestly, I don't know where people get the time to read books (no matter the medium) these days- I lead a boring, humble life and even I don't have the time. Anyway, I'm actually three quarters of the way through Timothy Egan's biography of Edward Curtis; not exactly a gripping page turner, mind you, but it does help if you're into: photography, history and the American Indian.

It's also interesting to see how a simple case of photographic curiosity, voyeurism and outright exploitation (sound familiar, anyone?) developed into a case of full blown obsession (sound familiar, anyone?), and he- into an outright genuine advocate. Curtis was a true American success story whose enduring artistic legacy was completely reliant on the precipitous decline and virtual demise of an entire race's way of life. And unlike so many of the viewers of his work, he became increasingly cognizant of that fact as he struggled to continue documenting their vanishing, centuries old culture(s) using the available technology of the day, including: language and music on wax cylinder, movie footage of customs and myths, and the plethora of still images which he would show in galleries, exquisitely bound books, and in concert halls with full orchestras and tinted slides projected by "magic lanterns."  .

Again, while somewhat plodding and tedious (at least for me), what helped retain my interest throughout Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher were the small human and historical details full of the irony that speak volumes in any era. Of these I will report in future posts...

Japan Camera Hunter- In My Bag

Always been a big fan of the In Your Bag section (live vicariously!) of Japan Camera Hunter, yesterday I was honored to be featured...

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Christian Capitalist

Remember how Christ always preached that charity began with Capitalism, how he lovingly reminded lepers to stop begging for entitlements and pick themselves up by their bootstraps, and commanded the dead to raise their own damn selves up without the aid of Big Government?

Well my friend, THIS traces the history of those classic Christian economic, self help favorites- and if you act now, we'll also throw in Christ's Twelve Easy Steps To Wealth and Prosperity at no extra charge (and that's one parable you won't find in your Bible)!