Conflict Kitchen, open for business: Last Friday, the operators of Conflict Kitchen, a local restaurant that serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict, made a troubling announcement: “We have received a letter today containing death threats and we will be closed until the credibility of the letter can be established by the Pittsburgh Police.” The threats came after recent scrutiny by media outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart, and the Washington Free Beacon, which characterized the eatery as “anti-Israel.” Additionally, in a letter sent to the Heinz Endowments on October 31, Israel advocacy organization B’nai B’rith International expressed “dismay and deep concern” about Conflict Kitchen’s current programming, citing a $50,000 grant the Endowments awarded to the eatery to aid its relocation from East Liberty to its current location in Oakland’s Schenley Plaza. Prior to Conflict Kitchen’s closure last Friday, co-founders Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski responded to the recent press in a blog post: “The real story on our Palestinian version is that it is the most popular iteration to date, with 300–400 people a day coming to the restaurant. Our public is approaching us with trust, support, and open minds.” Conflict Kitchen reopens today.
“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.
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.