Gordon Parks was born in Kansas and died in New York City. In between he spent a lot of time in the American South. His best known images from the segregated South are from an assignment he had for Life magazine in 1956 to document the everyday lives of an extended African American family living in rural Alabama under Jim Crow segregation. The article “The Restraints Open and Hidden” ran with text by Robert Wallace.
I was fortunate enough to see some of Mr. Parks telling images at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts just about this time last year in the exhibition “Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott.” Fort Scott, Kansas was the town that he had left more than 20 years earlier, when after his mother died, he found himself—a teenager and the youngest of 15 children—suddenly having to make his own way in the world. His pictures bring the places he photographed to life. He is one of my favorite photographers. As we celebrate African American History Month I encourage you to learn about Mr. Parks and look at his images.
*An American South post about the Southern storyteller and horse and mule trader Ray Lum is coming next week. ox
Just when I was beginning to think I had fallen victim to the magic troll-mirror, trapped in a snowy kingdom where everything seems ugly and depressing, the sun came out, it stopped snowing, and we had a couple days with temps above freezing. Even the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm have seemed happier recently – they have been clucking away in the barn unable to romp around outside and somehow on the warmer days they seem more content – as if they know what I do – the snow is slowly very slowly melting. My Tuesday trip earlier this week to The Holy Donut for a Fresh Lemon Donut might have helped my mood a bit. So did the productive evening I had last week when I made a couple pillow covers from the brightly colored fabric I purchased in the Democratic Republic of Congo last spring. And then, there is the pot of basil on the dining room table by the one bouquet of pretty cut flowers I allow myself each week. Anything to brighten up the place!
Sunday I will visit the beehives out back and give them enough candyboard to keep them fed and presumably happy till they can begin foraging. The bees always cheer me up. They remind me of the promise of warmer weather and with it gardening and long days full of light spent hands and sometimes feet in the dirt. On the bright side, on one of the warmish days I cleared a path out to the hives (wish I had taken a photo of the feathered gals lined up in the doorway looking at me and all the snow anxiously wanting so badly to go out). No wading through thigh high snow to get to them. Yay!
Better Late Than Never
King Arthur Flour introduced Sift Magazine this week. It has recipes (hot cross buns!), beautiful images, and an article by my friend Monica Michael Willis “At the Middle Eastern Table” – hello Pita Bread with Baba Ghanoush accompanied by a glass of Pomegranate Punch. I also love the article on Jeffrey Hamelman – Master Baker and a beekeeper!
As someone who loves East Africa I encourage you to read this article in The New York Times on how international terror/travel warnings are ruining Kenya’s coastal tourism industry. If you adhere to every warning the U.S. State Department puts out well you might just never go anywhere outside and maybe not even to Western Europe. American officials are fear mongers. Nairobi has a reputation for security issues – robbery, petty theft, and armed carjacking – and the police for being corrupt. That said, if you use common sense (don’t flash money, dress like a tourist, walk around at night by yourself, or protect your money…in crowded markets) and/or travel with an established tour agency chances are you will be fine. I sure hope to go in the next year! After that it would seem between Islamic militants and our own government it may not be that safe a place to travel to. Heck, while I was in Uganda folks were telling me how friends of theirs cancelled their safari tours to Kenya and Tanzania because of Ebola. Ebola! Seriously, that’s like a case being reported in Maine and someone from Africa not traveling to California because of it. Seriously.
Looking for ways to give back? The book A Path Appears by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn shines a light on ways individuals and organizations can help transform lives. Biggest takeaway from the book – the idea of creating a giving circle that meets once every month to explore ways to make a difference – donating money, organizing an event, helping out at a local food bank… I met with a friend yesterday regarding starting one up – maybe combining it with a book club.
I have also approached a couple organizations – one in Rwanda, one in Uganda – about my holding a marketplace this summer or next holiday season – selling their beautiful handmade goods (think wooden bookends of giraffes or lions) and returning 100% of the profit to them to support their educational/craft… programs for women.
Doris Ulmann beautifully and gracefully photographed the southeastern United States around the turn of the 19th century. Her images of the farmers’ wife, a fruit-stand owner, a blacksmith, grandmothers, grandfathers, and great-grandsons transport the viewer back in time into the rural valleys of Tennessee and North Carolina.
In lieu of the weekly Thursday Weekend Reading and Friday Photographer posts, I’m posting on my day trip to Boston.
I am writing this from
aboard an Amtrak train, which is sitting in the station, where we just found out the train has been delayed 40 minutes due to mechanical (aka weather) problems has finally left the station and is slowly (no exaggeration) edging it’s way north home.
Bonus, the wireless service kept going in and out (mostly out – as in for an hour, flickered back on for a couple minutes and then off for the duration of the trip).
Have you traveled by train? It is not the most reliable mode of transportation, but then what is when traveling “great” distances?
I have been wanting to go down to Boston – and specifically the Museum of Fine Arts – for a few weeks, since the exhibition “Gordon Parks, Back to Fort Scott” was announced. If you read this blog on any sort of a regular occurrence you will know I greatly appreciate fine photography. In 1948, Gordon Parks (1912–2006) became the first African American photographer to be hired full time by LIFE magazine. Two years later he returned to his home state of Kansas to document racial discrimination/school segregation (note, this was four years before the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education). His pictures are of family, neighbors, and childhood classmates. The stories are entertaining and the images soulful and telling.
Open thru September 13, 2015.
Afterwards, while wandering around the museum I came across the exhibition “Nature, Sculpture, Abstraction, and Clay: 100 Years of American Ceramics” featuring ceramic art from the late 1800s to today.
Open thru January 3, 2016.
Later, I explored the Ancient World collection. In addition to coins, mummies, coffins (two in one), and jewelry – I saw beautiful sandstone walls from an ancient Egyptian burial chamber (1550 – 1293 B.C.) and alabaster reliefs from an Assyrian palace (883 – 859 B.C.). The silver vessel in the photo above with “cocks and flowering plants “ (cocks = chickens) from Persia (224 – 651 A.D.) is a favorite.
All images are mine from MFA (where they graciously allow photography w/ no flash).
Eugene Richards has been a photojournalist since the 1970s. His images both personal and on assignment for magazines including National Geographic and The New Yorker are some of the most disturbing and gentle. This incredibly talented man is a poet with a camera. His eyes see things no one else does and to view one of his images is to be in the room – whether a psychiatric hospital in Mexico or in a gym in St. Louis, Illinois. His subjects range from drug addiction to child abuse to child birth and everyday life in Brooklyn, NY – where he lives now – and Dorchester, MA – where he was born and grew up. A student of the legendary Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he carries on the gift of instilling this extraordinary sense of intimacy in the darkest and brightest of days.
Following are images from the Phaedon 55 book on Eugene Richards and his work.
(Above) Grandmother, Brooklyn, New York, 1993. (Below) The Son He Abandoned, East New York, 1992.
Return from Prison, New York City, 1986. and (Richards writes) the crack is in the air, he’s just gotten out of the joint, you snap the picture and that night she disappears for ever
Hi all. I’ve got some kind of busy day tomorrow with a deadline for an article looming, so I am posting Photographer Friday a day early. Oh, and I am featuring my work – not that I am a professional or anything near that – but you know what that is OK. In fact, this year I plan to share photographs taken by friends who are not pros either – you do not have to have been published in magazines to be in my blog. Photography is an amazing way to express one’s self and to see the world through literally a different filter. I was recently reminded by friends how important photography is – there are a few I see as modern day philosophers – great men (sorry ladies, there are plenty of incredibly talented female photographers – it’s just my favorites happen to be men) – who tell stories with their cameras and see things regular folks like me don’t – James Nachtwey, John Goodman, Antonin Kratochvil, Ron Haviv, and Marcus Bleasdale. I don’t want to live in a world without their images and minds, they are extraordinary beings who live beyond straight lines. But, again today is not about them, but about us regular folk.
Since I am not about to get a photography book deal, and because I want to share images from my trips to Africa, my friends M and S suggested I create a photo book using Mac. My oldest best friend S, whose work will be featured this spring on Delicious Musings, inspires me in all ways – oh and she is a she 🙂 S sees things in vibrant colors and has traveled all over Asia, India, Australia, and Europe. She and her boyfriend are travel partners encouraging each other visually. They go places in ways by means I am not up to, and so we learn much by looking at each other’s images and talking about what is in and outside the frame. We critique each other’s work and because she is so technologically advanced than me – plus oh my goodness her lens collection (!!) – I think I get more out of the deal. Anyhow, making a book on Mac is super easy and fun and if you don’t go adding pages (I did!!) not too expensive. Maybe just maybe my friends will get calendars next year, guess we will have to see where I travel this year and what I end up with.
Thank you for letting me share this with you! OH, and p.s. my plan is to share stories from Rwanda and Uganda next week – finally!
Years before surfing was popularized in Beach Boy songs and the television show “Gidget”, and before it became a billion dollar industry, Don James and his buddies were part of the Southern California surfing culture. In 1936, at the age of 15, James began photographing himself and his friends catching waves and hanging out along the coast between San Onofre (near San Clemente) and Point Dume (near Malibu).
He continued taking pictures of surfers between lifeguarding shifts and later dental school classes at the University of Southern California.
Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936 – 1942: Photographs by Don James is a book I have carried with me from my early days in Los Angeles. It remains a favorite.
One of my most cherished photography books is Arnold Newman: Five Decades. One of the most important photographers period. His work greatly influenced portraiture, his personal relationship with the camera and subject’s life are rarely approached. He called his style “environmental portraits,” and said considered his work symbolic. He was interested in not just documenting someone’s life, but in conveying his impression of the individual.
I am in awe of his portraits of Eugene O’Neill (NYC, 1946), Otto Frank (Amsterdam, 1960), Aaron Copeland (Peekskill, NY, 1959), and Jerry Uelsmann (Gainesville, FL, 1980). Beautiful and emotional, his images are windows into the very souls of these persons in those moments when he clicked.
I.M. Pei, NYC, 1967 and Martha Graham, NYC, 1961
Al Hirschfeld, NYC, 1983
It’s Friday, I am a longtime Chicago Bears fan, and where I am in Maine anyway it is pretty chilly, so I figured we could all use something humorous this morning. Jeff Bridges is best known for being an actor, but he is also a photographer. He grew up on movie sets and has spent most of his adult life on them, so it seems reasonable all that creativity would have rubbed off on him in more ways than one.
In 1997 he produced a book for members of the crew of The Big Lebowski. I had just arrived in Los Angeles at the time and a friend on the film gifted me a copy. It’s a keeper. Sure I love the film and the Dude, and don’t even get me started on how awesome Steve Buscemi is, but for me it was one more welcome to Hollywood. Oh man did I love my years there and all the opportunities to work with incredibly talented and cool people. I never worked with Bridges, but from what I have heard and read he was/is a class act. There are a few of them and he is a reminder of the good ones on screen and off. He made 5,000 copies of The Big Lebowski book with his own money and distributed it to everyone who worked on the film. Bridges took pictures between takes on the set and what he chose to snap shows his knack for storytelling and humor.
In the introduction to his book Pictures, published in 2003 and now out of print, Bridges wrote about his camera of choice:
The Widelux is a fickle mistress; its viewfinder isn’t accurate, and there’s no manual focus, so it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.
Following are a few of Bridges’s images from The Big Lebowski book. Oh Dude!!
Before digging into today’s post I just want to give a shout out to the San Francisco Giants. I was lucky enough to attend one of their games while in town a few weeks ago and see Bumgarner pitch. The team won big that night (and loss bigger the next night). I have always enjoyed attending sporting events, there is something thrilling about the crowd’s energy. That night in San Francisco you could feel the energy and all the fans waving around their orange towels and taking pics in front of the stands – they knew this team was going to do something big. Sometimes I think I love the fans as much as the teams. As a child I attended a lot of Baltimore Orioles games and was a little sad to see them not make the World Series, but alas that was simply not meant to be – at least this year. Not sure I will be able to see any of the games where I’m heading, but am sure folks are in for one heck of a series.
So, to my last Photographer Friday post for a while….Rick Smolan is a former National Geographic photographer and co-creator of ‘Day in the Life’ book series. What I know him best for, however, are his images in the beautiful coffee table book From Alice to Ocean. In 1977 Smolan went to Australia to do a story on Aborigines when he met Robyn Davidson—the so-called “camel-lady” who undertook a 1,700-mile trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean on foot with four camels and a dog as her companions. During Davidson’s the nine-month trek Smolan visited her several times and eventually they became friends and then lovers. Davidson went on to write the best-selling account of her journey across Australia Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback. Smolan went home to America, got married, and inspired by his time with Davidson ventured out on his own to do the ‘Day in the Life’ series.
The experience calls to mind that of the famed primatologist Dian Fossey and National Geographic photographer Bob Campbell, who during a year of working together at Karisoke Research Center, a remote rainforest camp in the Northern Province of Rwanda, entered into a brief affair (Campbell was married). If only Campbell had captured his time in Rwanda with Fossey in a book similar to what Smolan did, but alas his images only exist in 40-year-old issues of National Geographic.
A few images from Rick Smolan’s book.
During college I had my first opportunity to visit Paris while studying in Strasbourg, a beautiful and much smaller city on the border of France and Germany. One weekend I took the train into Paris to meet up with a couple girlfriends who were studying in Madrid. We walked throughout the city seeing churches, eating in bistros, and studying the stylish Parisians. Somewhere between the pastries, the cobblestone streets, and Notre-Dame I fell in love with the city.
Since that first trip I have been back a few times and during each visit I walk almost everywhere, visit Notre-Dame (though I no longer feel the pull to have to go inside), sit in cafes and eat pastries. I have added seeing the Louvre’s collection of Egyptian antiquities to my short list of must do’s while in Paris. Beyond that I just follow my best friend “S” who has lived there for several years (and who studied with me in Strasbourg) to any number of delicious ethnic restaurants, cinemas, wine bars, art exhibits, and parks.
When missing Paris I turn to a stack of photography books with images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugène Atget, and Brassai and know the city and her streets full of handsome people and scenes is never too far away.
The late Hungarian born photographer Brassai (real name Gyula Halász), who lived most of his adult life in Paris, was a master photographer of the city’s nocturnal streets. During the 1930s he was known for wandering the streets alone with his camera and tripod, seeking out the bizarre, whom he captured in in candid photographs.
“Thanks to my endless walks through Paris, I was able to go on and do a kind of social study of the creatures who peopled the city at night. I was familiar with all the low life, and even with the criminals of that time,” Brassai as quoted in Taschen’s book Brassai: 1899 – 1984.
He was good friends with Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti (one of my favorite sculptors), Henry Miller, and other members of the Parisian artistic and intellectual elite.
Between 1949 – 1960 he photographed for Harper’s Bazaar throughout Europe. He is best known in France for his drawings and sculptures.
Studying his images has taught me what his fellow Hungarian Antonin Kratochvil first tried to instill in me – get close to the subject. Very close. Don’t be intimidated by the intimacy of the space or subject. Brassai’s work to me is honest, fearless, beautiful, and magical in that it captures these everyday, but also historical moments – each image I would frame and hang on a wall. That he went out at night makes them that much more unusual and special. When I am taking pictures (and granted, I am an amateur) I think about how he framed his images – what he chose to include and that he did not go for the obvious.
Some of his images (from Brassai: 1899 – 1984):