Road trip to Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh

Went there yesterday to see Dawoud Bey's exhibit Class Pictures at the Silver Eye Center and hear his lecture at the museum. I was specifically interested in this project because Bey had combined written statements from his subjects along with his portraits. This is similar to what I did in Precious Objects so was pretty interested in his approach and how it might have differed from mine.  Bad news was that they closed the Center for the afternoon so I had to depend on looking through the window plus the projected images in the talk. Good news is that I learned and saw a lot.

First, from an historical marked in front of the museum, I learned that Victor Herbert conducted the Pittsburgh Orchestra at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cool enough, albeit irrelevant.  What was relevant was the absolutely stunning (and a bit overwhelming) exhibit of the work of Pittsburgh photographer Teenie Harris. It is a show not to be missed.   It is an amazing document of a community over a very long time span. There were a number of things that struck me personally.  One was that Harris had documented the history of racial segregation that was a background theme (nice way of saying it was pretty much just some statistics) when I put together Every Place - I have ever lived. The foreclosure crisis in twelve neighborhoods. He brings alive what my project only hinted at. Second was the cultural iconography - from the images of Duke Ellington and other jazz musicians (my son's middle name is not Edward by accident) to the Negro Baseball leagues. Maybe a coincidence that I was recently photographing League Park, the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes?

The other thing that struck me was one of my discoveries about myself that came out of Precious Objects, my sense at wonder at the power of African-American fraterernities and sororities.  I do not claim to the understand them, but still can hold them in respect.

The lecture was an added treat.  Bey did a kind of history from how he got started in photography to his present work. 

Back to the original question.  Bey's portraits are more classicly done - they clearly reflect his esthetic.  His statements are compelling, there is no question about that. In Precious Objects, for better or worse, I did the images more as records of how the subjects presented themselves with minimal intrepretation by me. On the other hand, the statements were critical to understanding each piece in Precious Objects.  Not just the content, but the look of the statements was important.  Sort of sweet to see two projects that schematically appear very similar but followed a different path.



Started with the bebop, but everything is connected

Sunday's Plain Dealer featured an article about Doan's Corners, Cleveland's "second downtown". This happens to be the neighborhood where my parents lived when I was born and was featured in the first piece, 44102 in my project Every Place I have ever lived - The foreclosure crisis in twelve neighborhoods. Every Place is currently installed at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus OH and will be opening at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor MI on September 28, 2012

In the 40's and 50's Doan's Corners was the home to theaters and clubs, including Lindsay's Sky Bar, one of the great jazz clubs. Turns out it was owned by the parents of one of my Precious Objects subjects Bonnie D. Bonnie was a complete stranger to me when she participated. Friends keep on prodding me to do a project based upon my love of jazz music. While this remains to be done, I love the connection here. Lindsay's was gone by the time I became interested in jazz music in the early sixties. Pretty much the only club still open in the neighborhood was La Cave which featured folk music. I was lucky enough to hear the Stoneman Family and a very young Jose Feliciano at La Cave. The article also mentions the Jazz Temple which it wrongly locates. The Jazz Temple, only open for a couple of years, was located about a mile a way on the site where MOCA Cleveland is now being constructed. Another connection. While pretty young, I was able to hear some stunning music at the Jazz Temple an experience which certainly changed my life. It too was featured in Every Place on the third piece in the series, 44121.

There is a clear line between Lindsay's, The Jazz Temple and the next club in line, Leo's Casino, when you chart the history of jazz in Cleveland. How fortunate for me that Bonnie, a friend of a friend, allowed me one more way to benefit from it.


Respect, part II

While not wanting to be morbid, it has been an unusual two weeks. Birthday yesterday (is there anyone else that thinks the happy birthdays on Facebook almost make the whole thing worthwhile?), three funerals and the 18th anniversary of my dad's funeral.  My dad was buried on the coldest day in the history of Cleveland.  His drafting set from East Tech was my "Precious Object".

The memorial last Saturday was from a colleague from my first career.  Howard was a couple years younger than my dad, both part of the generation that served in the World War II. I have no idea whether Howard had a college degree but people like him and my dad who worked hard could create a comfortable middle class life - own a home, send their kids to college, retire if they wanted.

The memorial a week ago Sunday was for my friend Rabbi Bruce Abrams.  Bruce officiated at my dad's funeral. He was a few months my junior. His parents and younger brother were (are) remarkably like mine in many, many ways. His brother is a contemporary of my brother. (If he is reading this, I have to note that Bruce's brother still has hair.) What got me off my butt to write this was cleaning my studio yesterday and      finding comfirmation class photos I had done twenty years ago which included Bruce.  My son's confirmation was among them.  At the time, quite the accomplishment for a young man with autism. To be sure, quite an accomplishment for his rabbi as well.

In the end, this ends up a tribute to a friend and to a generation.  As I have said before, every time I revisit the people of my dad's generation that participated in "Precious Objects" I am doubly grateful. Grateful as I am for all the people that participated from five year old Sean to those in their nineties. But grateful again for the optimism and seriousness that the previous generation brought forth. They were not without faults. Equally they brought some ideas, at worst worth recognising and, at best worth preserving.



Last week's passing of Eve Arnold caused me to revisit the question of what it means to be 90 (in her case 99).

When you are closer to 90 than 30, it is more than an abstraction.  I was going to let it go until the passing of a friend of my own age (I will be 64 this month) on Wednesday.

Early in Precious Objects, when it was mostly friends and family, some of my subjects were their parents in their nineties. (To be honest, a lot were 89, but no need to get picky.)  By the time you reach that point in life, most have trimmed out the junk that bedevils most of us. It was not unusual for the "child" to deal with the question of what to bring.  One thing is certain, 90 year olds generally do not have much of a need to impress.

I loved photographing these subjects. Virtually everything they say has some value.



If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck....

Sorry for the obscure title. Recently I saw an exhbition that seemingly had everything. Graphically beautiful, impeccably executed, sound conceptual basis. I met the photographer who is clearly respectful of the people photographed and has gone to extreme lengths to execute the work.  I should have swooned. But I didn't.  Well I did but, was bugged about it.  No matter how much I knew better, I could not get out of my head that I was looking at a butterfly collection. The work even had Latin series titles. We will not say who this is because the point is not a criticism of the work. Frankly, it is admirable work. The question is why did it still bother me and, is it important that it did.

There was a similar problem with The Album Project. I shrugged it off as the viewers not taking the time to get past their superficial impression and to learn why things were the way they were.  I was asked (more than once) why he was cut out?  I stole the idea of the blank backgrounds after seeing Jeffrey Milstein's terrific images of the bottoms of jumbo jets. One of the points of The Album Project is how Isaac's emotional state seems to come from nowhere. He has great difficulty telling you why is happy or, conversely, why he is upset.  Removing the background was intended to show the difficulty of being with him, he gets upset, and you have no idea why. One person asked why it looked like product photography. That had never occurred to me. But,  the comment is not unlike me thinking "butterfly collection."

One reviewer took the time to dig into my other work and into autism and completely "got" the project. Another reviewer was troubled by not being able to see the father/son relationship in the work. He wanted context.

Which brings me back to the initial question. If a group of portraits (the work at the beginning) looks like butterflies on pins, has the artist made a mistake? If a group of portraits (The Album Project) looks like the latest wrenches in the Sears Catalog?