Lenka Clayton, discussing her art practice, in the attic-turned-studio of her home in Polish Hill on October 17, 2014 © Carnegie Museum of Art. Photo: Bryan Conley.
“I start every project with a structure, with some set of invisible rules,” says Lenka Clayton, sitting behind a desk in the attic-turned-studio of her home in the Polish Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
The 37-year-old artist, originally from Cornwall, England, is relaxed as we talk, sipping tea from a ceramic mug designed by her husband, sculptor Seth Payne, as early morning sunlight illuminates the room. Two floors beneath us, in the living room, Clayton’s father, visiting from England, plays mandolin for her 1-year-old daughter Early. Occasional squeals of laughter can be heard as the music emanates through the house.
Matthew, 1965 © Kenneth Josephson.
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.
Charles “Teenie” Harris, Children wearing Halloween costumes at Bedford Dwellings, October 31, 1941, black and white: Agfa Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.6426 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.
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…”
Duane Michals, Self-Portrait as a Devil on the Occasion of My Fortieth Birthday, 1972, Carnegie Museum of Art, The Henry L. Hillman Fund.
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.
“Los Angeles,” 2003. From Ed Templeton’s Wayward Cognitions (Um Yeah Press).
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