I love Stephanie Flati’s photo response to this month’s This Picture, which is a snapshot by Kenneth Josephson of his son, Matthew, from 1965. The subject of both Stephanie’s and Josephson’s pictures is a young boy whose face is obscured by the paraphernalia of photography; in Stephanie’s case an enormous lens and in Josephson’s, a snapshot. On the surface, both reflect a childhood fascination with imaging technology with which any parent who has struggled to remove a smartphone camera from his or her child’s hands will be familiar. On a deeper level, both seem to me to hint at a subconscious search for self through photographic representation. In her powerful essay, Nancy West, author of Kodak and the Lens of Nostalgia, dives into the visual Mobius strip of Josephson’s image and raises compelling questions about photographic authenticity and the search for meaning that also echo for me in Stephanie’s response, albeit in a different way.
The caption of this image published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper on November 8, 1941, page 22, reads: “Inclement Weather forced cancellation of outdoor celebrations Halloween night but the Bedford Dwellings party, sponsored by the Parents Commission and the Tenants Council, attracted over 450 costumed kiddies from the Hill area. This was the largest party held in the Dwellings. The above picture shows part of the huge youthful gathering. –Harris Photo.”
Bedford Dwellings was among the country’s first housing projects. Built over the former sites of Greenlee Field and Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in the Hill District, it offered safe affordable housing with heat, plumbing, and electricity—necessities that were sometimes lacking from other slum landlord-owned neighborhood buildings. It was also home to a large immigrant population—both African Americans coming up from the South and Europeans seeking jobs in the area industries. In 1941, the buildings were still nearly brand-new and according to the Pittsburgh Courier, out of 800 residents, nearly 400 were children. A large Halloween celebration was planned for them, but the weather did not cooperate—an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that ran on November 1st, stated: “Maybe the witches were riding fire hoses instead of broomsticks, for during the afternoon and evening more than a half inch of rain fell…”
With a deep-seated reverence for his Pittsburgh roots and a dogged determination to express himself through art, Duane Michals tells his stories his way. At long last, Pittsburgh will celebrate these stories, and the man behind them, through a definitive retrospective at Carnegie Museum of Art.
Duane Michals is an 82-year-old world-famous photographer, but as he talks he suddenly transforms into a 7-year-old boy in McKeesport. He recalls one day vividly. He and his mother have ventured inside Cox’s dress shop. His mother finds a chair, plants him there and says, “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, she loads a few shopping bags onto her little boy’s lap before disappearing into the dress racks again. He sits patiently for five minutes or so. Then panic grips him. Why hasn’t she come back? Has she left me?
She returns. But seven decades later, Michals can still feel that childhood fear of abandonment and death—emotions he has channeled into his photographic works. His images about childhood are among his most poignant and, until now, among his most overlooked. They will be exhibited as part of a major retrospective of his work that opens November 1 at Carnegie Museum of Art.
The handwritten text on the yellowed and stained page of a notebook, reproduced on one of the first pages of Ed Templeton’s Wayward Cognitions (Um Yeah Arts), ends with an announcement of the end of the world, which was supposed to happen in 2012: “Say your goodbyes. You will not survive.” However, it has not yet come to that and we are still alive in 2014. Templeton undoubtedly came across this unfulfilled prediction somewhere on the street, just like the images he has gathered together in this photo book. These images always presented themselves in passing, just ‘around the corner’ from his home in Orange County during informal outings, and on the many trips he made around the world over the past 20 years as a professional skateboarder and visual artist.
Templeton previously published his photos in clear-cut series, grouped thematically like in the books of photographs entitled Teenage Smokers and Teenage Kissers. Other publications dealt with young people growing up in the suburbs of Southern California and with street scenes that were all shot from the car. But for his latest book, Wayward Cognitions (Um Yeah Press), he has totally renounced this serial approach. With no preconceived plan, he has gone through the now gigantic quantity of material from the past two decades once more, and made a new selection solely by the intuitive eye of the artist-photographer. It was a time-consuming occupation that formed just the beginning of the process of creating a book that in the end can best be characterized as an artist’s book, as Templeton, a fanatic collector of books of photographs himself, has taken all aspects of the book’s production in hand. Besides selecting the photos, he was also responsible for making the prints in the darkroom and creating the layout and design of the book. In this book, we find photos based on negatives, taken with a keen eye for composition, and with great feeling for the creative possibilities of the camera. And then there is also the interplay of combined images, achieved through sequencing techniques, subtle reflections, tricks of repetition, and visual rhymes. Continue reading
Art school graduates, take heed: BFAMFAPhD, a collective concerned about the impact of debt, rent, and precarity on the lives of creative people, recently released a report titled “Artists Report Back: A National Study on the Lives of Arts Graduates and Working Artists.” As Alexis Clements at Hyperallergic points out, there’s one very clear take-away from the report: “people who graduate with arts degrees regularly end up with a lot of debt and incredibly low prospects for earning a living as artists.” If that slap of reality somehow left your idealism intact, the actual language used in the report might effectively snuff it out: “the fantasy of future earnings in the arts cannot justify the high cost of degrees.”
Archiving social media for future audiences: Rhizome, a nonprofit organization known for its support and conservation of digital artworks, has developed Colloq, a software tool that preserves the complex and immersive experiences that play out on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The Knight Foundation has already awarded Rhizome a $35,000 grant to refine its prototype, and software developer Ilya Kreymer, formerly a programmer for the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, has made the underlying code available for free. As a beta test of sorts, Amalia Ulman’s social media performance Excellences & Perfections was used to capture the Instagram portion of her performance.
When museum visitors become part of the art: “While visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Andrés Wertheim noticed a disparity between the crowds gathered to look at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, and the lack of people noticing just about anything else.” In response, “Wertheim began creating double exposure images combining [museum] crowds and artwork to capture this disparity, creating images that are sometimes humorous and sometimes ironic and always a bit surreal for his series ‘The Museum’s Ghosts.’”
Chuck Close discusses Big Self-Portrait (1967–1968): “There’s no question, I had some attitude about the way I wanted to be perceived,” said Chuck Close in discussing his Big Self-Portrait (1967–1968) at the Walker in 1980. “Now it seems very funny wanting to look like this tough guy with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of my mouth and a big, aggressive image of myself and saying to the viewer, ‘Hey, notice my painting, notice me.’ … I think I was trying to find out who I was as an artist.”
Before gentrification, a city covered in graffiti: In the wake of COST’s high-profile arrest last week, the New Yorker‘s Hua Hsu considers the legacy of illegal art: “Graffiti no longer represents the menace it did in the seventies and eighties. It’s arguable whether most New Yorkers even find it offensive anymore. It is part of the romantic, rough-and-tumble past, preserved in museums and coffee-table books. You are just as likely to see graffiti on the streets of Brooklyn as on the Web site announcing a new Brooklyn condo, an evocative signifier of urban bona fides.”
In memoriam: Susan Sollins, cofounder and executive director emerita of Independent Curators International and founder and executive director of Art21, died on October 13. For Art in America, Julia Wolkoff writes: “Along with curator Nina Sundell (1936-2014), Sollins cofounded Independent Curators Incorporated, now Independent Curators International (ICI), in 1975. During her tenure as director at ICI, a nonprofit organization that organizes traveling contemporary art exhibitions, 75 shows featuring over 1,700 artists traveled to more than 360 institutions in Europe and North America.”
On a storied merger of music and pop art: The Color of Noise, a documentary about the artist Haze XXL (aka Tom Hazelmyer) and his record label, Amphetamine Reptile Records, will be screened this Thursday night at Club Cafe on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Hazelmyer is notable not only for the bands that he worked with (i.e., The Melvins, Superchunk, The Jesus Lizard, etc.), but for reviving the medium of the concert poster through collaborations with artists like Frank Kozik, Coop, and Ed Fotheringham.
In memoriam: Independent filmmaker, writer, producer, and actor L.M. Kit Carson has passed away at the age of 73. Hunter Carson, who starred as a child in Paris, Texas, the Wim Wenders’ film that his father wrote, posted this remembrance on his Facebook page: “RIP dad. Your light was and always will brighten the pathways of our future. It will never be extinguished. You did everything the way you wanted and never let anyone else do less than they were capable of doing. You mentored, taught, learned, fought, excelled as both athlete and student. I loved and loved and will love every moment we spent together. Thanks for everything. See you in the movies.”
Artist Talk: Charles Jencks, The Architecture of Hope: On Friday, October 24 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, Charles Jencks—architectural theorist, landscape architect, and co-founder of Maggie’s Centres—will present the lecture “The Architecture of Hope.” The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free to the public.